Sunday, August 17, 2008

Like a slug in a sandpaper trenchcoat

The winners of San Jose State University's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest were announced this week, and they were sublimely craptastic. The Bulwer-Lytton competition enables amateur writers to come up with "purple prose"--or overly flowery, garish writing that oftentimes changes perspective through a flighty narrative--a kind of ode to author Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Bulwer-Lytton was a Victorian-era writer and politician known for the clich├ęd novel opener: "It was a dark and stormy night." He was also known for such phrases as "the great unwashed," "the pursuit of the almighty dollar," and "the pen is mightier than the sword." Apparently the only work that was widely received when he wrote it in 1834 was The Last Days of Pompeii, which, according to wikipedia:

...culminates in the cataclysmic destruction of the city of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD...uses its characters to contrast the decadent culture of first-century Rome with both older cultures and coming trends. The protagonist, Glaucus, represents the Greeks who have been subordinated by Rome, and his nemesis Arbaces the still older culture of Egypt. Olinthus is the chief representative of the nascent Christian religion, which is presented favorably but not uncritically. The Witch of Vesuvius, though she has no supernatural powers, shows Bulwer-Lytton's interest in the occult - a theme which would emerge in his later writing, particularly The Coming Race.

The winning entry in Bulwer-Lytton's legacy competition came from Communications Director Garrison Spik of Washington, D.C., who cites Devo, Nathaniel Hawthorne and the film "Curse of Bigfoot" as inspirations.

Spik's winning submission:

"Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped 'Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.' "

Brilliantly pretentious. A professor from SJ State explained to the Washington Post why the passage was such a winning failure:

"It starts out in a familiar vein, one more attempt to define the nature of someone's exquisite love," says Scott Rice gravely. Rice is the lit professor at San Jose State University who founded the contest back in 1982. "But mentioning a cab is somewhat of a step down, and finally at the end it degenerates all the way to a manhole cover with the little detail about Piscataway."

Here's a few of my favorite runner-ups:

"The mongrel dog began to lick her cheek voraciously with his sopping wet tongue, so wide and flat and soft, a miniature pink fleshy cape soaked through the oozing with liquid salivary gratitude; after all, she had rescued him from the clutches of Bernard, the curmudgeonly one-eyed dogcatcher, whose tongue--she remembered vividly the tongues of all her lovers--was coarse and lethargic, like a slug in a sandpaper trenchcoat."
Christopher Wey
Pittsburgh, PA

"Mike Hummer had been a private detective so long he could remember Preparation A, his hair reminded everyone of a rat who'd bitten into an electrical cord, but he could still run faster than greased owl snot when he was on a bad guy's trail, and they said his friskings were a lot like getting a vasectomy at Sears."
--Robert B. Robeson
Lincoln, Nebraska

"Our tale takes place one century before the reign of Alboin, the Lombard king who would one day conquer most of Italy and who would end up being murdered by his own wife (quite rightfully, I'd say, since Albion made a drinking cup out of her daddy's skull and forced her to drink from it), when our little Sonnebert was seven years old."
--Edo Steinberg
Beer-Sheva, Israel

I would like to add my own beginning passage. It's something I came across a few days ago when I was cleaning out my documents. I was under the influence of pulp/noir detective stories, and, at the time, was working in a London pub and obsessing over the Liverpudlian restaurant manager. Sadly, I was not aiming for humor when I wrote this. And yes, I thought "eyeshaunting" sounded really good at the time. Here goes:

Adam. Who was this mysterious deep-set eyeshaunting slender, graceful work of art, and of all names that of the original man? Adam: tall and lanky, brilliant sun behind his every move as he breezes through the colorless masses in a parkside London pub on an unforgivably humid summer day. With sun-kissed hair and one eyebrow arched at the sight of a stranger, I was about to find out.

Apologies for any nausea induced upon reading the above passage.

1 comment:

Tessa said...

These totally remind me of my fiction attempts at age 15. An also my fiction attempts at age 25, for that matter.