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Wretched Writing Race Moves Into Stretch

April 26, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Judges hoping to find an opening line to rise to the literary heights of ‘It was a dark and stormy night ...’ will approach their task fortified by soggy potato chips and cheap wine.

Judging of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is about to begin, and the poor souls faced with the brain-numbing task of poring over thousands of convoluted, clumsy or just plain bad entries need something else to turn their stomachs.

Scott Rice, the San Jose State University English professor who started the contest eight years ago, calls it a ″literary sting operation to expose the world’s wretchedest writers,″ to flash a ″spotlight on the seamy underside of literature.″

″This year, we’ve gotten a lot of entries from places like New Zealand and Australia ... the people Down Under have taken a big interest in the contest,″ said Rice.

Rice said he goes over the entries before the judging and tosses out anything too well written. After all, you’ve got to keep up (down?) the standards of a rotten writing contest, he said.

Appropriately, judges will be energized by ″soggy potato chips and cheap wine.″ Results will be announced May 5.

The contest is named for Lord Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, who, with a leap of timeless turgidity, wafted to literary immortality with the opening, ″It was a dark and stormy night ...″

The central rule of the contest is to ″write the opening sentence to the worst possible hypothetical novel in any genre they choose,″ like this entry from Conroe, Texas:

″Like an over-ripe beefsteak tomato rimmed with cottage cheese, the corpulent remains of Santa Claus lay dead on the hotel floor.″

Or, from, Coral Gables, Fla.:

″Jake liked his women the way he liked his kiwi fruit: sweet yet tart, firm-fleshed yet yielding to the touch, and covered with short, brown, fuzzy hair.″

If those deliciously rotten examples fail to bring a tear, maybe this slippery gem from Washington, D.C., will do the job: ″Her mouth said, ‘No-no- no,’ but every other inch of her throbbing, glistening body said ‘yes-yes- yes,’ except for her pancreas ...″

The first competition in the unlikely contest drew only six entries, to a high point of 20,000 entries from around the globe three years ago.

Rice said he created the contest to provoke San Jose State students to approach writing playfully and with a sense of whimsy. A campus literary organization is named the Bulwer-Lytton Undergraduate Society.

″We try to promote the philosophy that people should approach the language recreationally as well as practically,″ the professor said.

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