It was a dark and stormy night.

Bad writing is horribly competitive. If you really want to be the best of the worst, you must:

  • Spend time developing your lack of talent—push it as low as it can go.
  • Be persistent. You may achieve infamy overnight, but most likely, it will take years.
  • Network. Find like-minded writers who are not satisfied with ‘mediocre’, but who push each other down, down, and further down to the horrifically horrendous.

Five years ago, I entered the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest: ‘a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the world of all possible novels’.  I sweated over my sentence until it was the worst I could possibly do.

It was something about a cockroach.

That’s not the sentence. The sentence was something about a cockroach.

Whatever it was, it earned me the highest literary accolade I have ever received: A dishonorable mention. Sorry— A Dishonorable Mention.

I was so thrilled with this award that I  included it in the bio section of the first query letters I sent out in 2007.

It didn’t help.

It’s still my greatest achievement.

If you’re wondering whether you might meet the impossibly low standards of the competition, here are some of this year’s winners:

2012 Historical Fiction Winner:

The “clunk” of the guillotine blade’s release reminded Marie Antoinette, quite briefly, of the sound of the wooden leg of her favorite manservant as he not-quite-silently crossed the polished floors of Versailles to bring her another tray of petit fours. ­–Leslie Craven, Hataitai, New Zealand   (I love this sentence and wish I’d written it.)

2012 Crime Winner:

She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on . . . not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and—just like that cheap paint—the dress needed two more coats to cover here. –Sue Fondrie, Appleton, WI, USA

2012 Purple Prose Runner-Up:

Corinne considered the colors (palest green, gray and lavender) and texture (downy as the finest velvet) and wondered, “How long have these cold cuts been in my refrigerator?” –Linda Boatright, Omaha, NE, USA

2012 Purple Prose Dishonorable Mention:

The drugged parrots pelted the village like a hellish rain of feathered fanny packs stuffed with claws and porridge, rendering Claudia’s makeshift rabbit-skin umbrella more symbolic than anything else. –Jeff Coleburn, West Chester, PA, USA (I love this one, too)

2012 Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention:

Ronald left this world as he entered it: on a frigid winter night, amid frantic screams and blood-soaked linens, while relatives stood nearby and muttered furious promises to find and punish the man responsible. –Rebecca Oas, Atlanta GA, USA


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