2016 Contest Winners

Winner

  • #Even from the hall, the overpowering stench told me the dingy caramel glow in his office would be from a ten-thousand-cigarette layer of nicotine baked on a naked bulb hanging from a frayed wire in the center of a likely cracked and water-stained ceiling, but I was broke, he was cheap, and I had to find her.
    William "Barry" Brockett, Tallahassee, FL

The winner of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, the XXXIVth Lyttoniad, is William "Barry" Brockett of Tallahassee, Florida, a 55-year-old building contractor who has specialized in additions, home makeovers, and bathroom/kitchen remodels for about twenty years. His particular enjoyment is reading, with true crime and the "hardboiled" genre being his favorites, hence his winning entry.

Conceived to honor the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton and to encourage unpublished authors who do not have the time to actually write entire books, the contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Bulwer was selected as patron of the competition because he opened his novel "Paul Clifford" (1830) with the immortal words, "It was a dark and stormy night." Lytton’s sentence actually parodied the line and went on to make a real sentence of it, but he did originate the line "The pen is mightier than the sword," and the expression "the great unwashed." His best known work, one on the book shelves of many of our great-grandparents, is "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), an historical novel that has been adapted for film multiple times.

As has happened every year since the contest went public in 1983, thousands of entries poured in not just from the United States and Canada but from such locales as England, Wales, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Botswana, and New Caledonia (see the Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award).

Runner-Up:

  • Her grandmother had mopped her brow with the same antique kerchief for twenty years whilst working in the barley fields, and now Anastasia was to wear it on her wedding night knotted into a baggy loose panty; while her lover Anatoly would wear his father's ancient gray and tattered undershorts tied around his neck to honor the old village custom of marital odor-blending. — David S. Nelson, Falls Creek, VA

Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award

  • #After his seventh shot of Jack Daniels, Billy reflected that only a certain kind of man, a Roman Catholic priest, born under the sign of Gemini, whose loved one had been run down by a bus full of inebriated Lazio supporters on a glorious Sunday morning in early April outside a provincial church whose bells were ringing Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in B minor, would truly be able to understand the abyss of despair in which he was drowning. — Neil T Godden, Nouméa, New Caledonia

Winner, Adventure:

  • #Knowing well the hand signals of his platoon leader, Private James Dawson silently dropped to the dirt, concealed and motionless for what seemed an eternity, a move that he had learned, coincidentally, from his parents whenever the Watchtower ladies would ring the doorbell. — Peter S. Bjorkman, Rocklin, CA

Dishonorable Mentions, Adventure:

  • “Penguins, damnable penguins,” Cooperman muttered bitterly, staring hard into the maelstrom of cheap gin and bargain-basement vermouth swirling hopelessly in the low ball glass he held in his pale, doughy hand, the shards of rapidly melting ice crystals cruelly reminding him of those endless winter nights in the Antarctic weather station, and of Kwakina, with her lithe, lubricious figure, and tuxedo-feathered form. — Stephen Lewis Davis, Sacramento, CA
  • The sea roiled like water in a pasta pot about to boil, an apt simile thought Captain Samuel Turner, because if they didn't fix their engine soon he and his crew would be floating face down like overcooked manicotti—bloated, white, limp and about to be consumed by something that wished it were eating ahi tuna instead.— Alex Bosworth, Ketchikan, Alaska
  • The life of a mountain man like Jedediah Buckman is a simple one, a campfire to warm the person as well as the soul, a full moon to illuminate the forest as well as the mind, and game to nourish the body as well as the spirit, though one wonders how he could stomach beaver without mint jelly and a bold, young pinot noir. — John Hardi, Falls Church, VA
    • As Swordfish and the ever-loyal Ling Cod Boy surveyed the scene of rampant destruction spread out before them—swamped trawlers, shredded nets, the still-smoldering floating cannery—two things were crystal clear: Avenging Tuna was back, and Turner Bay needed some superheroes. — G. Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA
      • Captain Blackheart well knew the penalties for piracy, but out here in international waters there was no one to stop him, so he scanned the horizon with his brass telescope before heading below decks to check on his high speed DVD copying machines. — Phillip Davies, Cardiff, Wales

      Winner, Children’s Literature:

      • #When your home smells like a three-week-old buffalo carcass, your Mom is constantly being mistaken for a guy, and your sisters keep using your ears as their personal chew toys, life is no laughing matter—at least that's how it seemed to Hubert, the baby Hyena.   — Anna McDougald, Winnipeg, Manitoba           

      Dishonorable Mentions, Children's Literature:

      • She couldn't decide whether it was the tail-less rat devouring another neighboring rat's brain in his glassed cage, or just the way the doctor and his white-haired assistant were applying the saw to Aslan's skull casing as he lay dismembered on the great table, but something told Lucy they'd tumbled through another portal and out of Narnia.— "Lionrhod," Winter Park, FL
      • Tinkerbell the Fairy and Amy the Elf were BFFFs (best fairyland friends forever), and they loved having adventures in Big-People Land, like eating marshmallows for dinner, galloping fast on the backs of tiny lizards, and taking naps on the pillows of very important people like Judges, Mayors, and Millionaires.— David S Nelson, Falls Church, VA
      • Little Billy Wonka spent his days running through the Gumdrop Forest, dashing through the greenery of Marzipan Valley, hopping along the banks of Honey River and racing to and fro between the Chocolate Factory to his Gingerbread Abode . . . which is not surprising considering his colossal daily sugar intake.— Russ Wren, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

      Winner, Crime/Detective:

      • #She walked toward me with her high heels clacking like an out-of-balance ceiling fan set on low, smiling as though about to spit pus from a dental abscess, and I knew right away that she was going to leave me feeling like I had used a wood rasp to cure my hemorrhoids. — Charles Caldwell, Leesville, LA

      Dishonorable Mentions, Crime/Detective:

      • “We got a stiff on the sidewalk all bled out; a stiff on a tugboat tied up with enough cement to build the Hoover Dam; Louie Miller empties out his bank account and falls off the face of the planet; Jenny Diver, Sukey Tawdry, Lotte Lenya, and Lucy Brown all get death threats . . . I got no goddamned proof, but five’ll get ya ten that Macky’s back in town.” — William Lattanzio, Boyertown, PA
      • Detective Hammer Logan III woke with a start, images of the bizarre bayou murder still fresh in his mind’s eye—a dame in trouble, body covered with bloody toothprints and saliva—but as sleep lifted, the grizzled detective remembered that he was a dog and the dame a coyote, so he spun on the bed three times and slept the rest of the day. — Jacob Smith, Dallas, TX
      • As he gazed at Ming's lifeless body draped over the sushi bar, chopsticks protruding from his back, Det. Herc Lue Perrot came to the sobering realization that tonight, there had been a murder at the Orient Express. — Andrew Caruso, Akron, OH
      • It was almost teatime, late June, with no likelihood of rain any time soon and I was wearing my olive-green anorak, Snoopy Dog T-shirt, beige slacks and navy blue sneakers, odd socks with holes in them, hadn't shaved, had a stinking hangover and felt like crap; I was everything a penniless down and out ought to be—I was calling on the Salvation Army for soup. — Ted Downes, Cardiff, Wales

      Winner, Fantasy:

      • #The handsome man bent down to kiss the pale lips of the catatonic maid just as the first small bubble appeared in the corner of her mouth, followed, in slow motion, by a stream of popping translucent spheres, and Prince Jarris, heir to the throne of the Kingdom of the Seven-and-a-Half Mountains straightened up, climbed upon his horse and rode away to search for another sleeping beauty. — Domingo Pestano, Caracas, Venezuela

      Winner, Historical Fiction:

      • #It was the worst of times, although I suppose if I were really pressed I could come up with a time in history even worse than the French Revolution, such as the Black Death, to name but one, but on the other hand it has to be said that it was also the best of times, particularly for those of us that were rich and living in England rather than France. — Michael D. Hill, Burton, England

      Dishonorable Mentions, Historical Fiction:

      • Lieutenant-Commander Keith ‘Rusty’ Brooke-Hamilton of the Royal Navy, serving on Her Majesty’s ship Refulgent (48 guns), which had sailed from Portsmouth early on a Tuesday morning with but a few light, high clouds and a fine, brisk sou-westerly wind blowing across the mouth of the Solent, was terribly fond of bananas. — Leslie Craven, Wellington, New Zealand
      • On March 5, 1836, Lieutenant Colonel William Travis stood before his rag-tag revolutionary army, unsheathed his sword, and drew a line in the sand, followed by a smiley face, some crude stick-figure men, and a few choice words about Mexicans that the State Board of Education has deemed unfit for publication in this 7th Grade Texas History Textbook. — Gwen Dallas, Austin, Texas
      • Eleanor had doubts, as well she should have had, and in truth no one knew the repercussions which might result, yet she felt proud in her way to have been selected to be the first person ever to turn on an "electric light" switch, the woman who would be celebrated forever in history, or fried, which in fact she was, though the inventors combined to hush it up. — John Holmes, St. Petersburg, FL
      • Trevor didn’t care what they thought—yes, they would sigh and roll their eyes at him as they always did, and yes, they were in a bad way, on their way to have their heads separated from their necks by Mme. La Guillotine—but dang it, it did put him in mind of that one really snappy tune from “Les Miserables,” and so, with a song rising up in his heart, he stood up in that filthy French cart and began to sing. — Joshua Long, Harrison, OH

      Winner, Horror:

      • #A cold wind arose from the moss-covered tomb with a haunting asthmatic whistle and horned its way around the ornate marble monuments, increasing speed and raising its menacing sound as it set course towards five-year-old Samantha Wainberry, who forgot to wear a sweater. — Domingo Pestano, Caracas, Venezuela

      Dishonorable Mentions, Horror:

      • As the shambling throng of zombies edged closer Leopold raised his quivering axe to shoulder height, pausing only to consider that the phrase 'living dead' is contradictory; that staggering about implied a fully functioning nervous system supplemented by an intake of oxygen; and that if they were really dead, then why persist in stumbling about in this vastly paradoxical manner?— David Meech, Auckland, New Zealand 
      • The girl screamed, the wind rustled, something moved in the night closer and closer; the moon hung heavily over the night, white as a pearl, blood dripped from Vlad's mouth, the girl’s pale body hung in his hands, sparkling in the moonlight—he was a vampire, after all. — Heather Fougere, Center Conway, NH

      Winner, Purple Prose:

      • #She was like my ex-girlfriend Ashley, who'd stolen my car, broken my heart, murdered my father, robbed a bank, and set off a pipe bomb in Central Park—tall. — Rachel Nirenberg, Toronto, Canada 

      Dishonorable Mentions, Purple Prose:

      • As its newly-incentivized next-gen thought leader, Li-Kwan Patel saw the handwriting on the wall: there was no kicking the can down the road because the paradigm shift at Synergex, Inc. necessitated him to hit the ground running, avoid low-hanging fruit like the plague, and strategize scalable core competencies to close the loop on feedback redundancy, for at the end of the day it all boiled down to boldly going where none had gone before. — Thomas Frohlich, Miami, FL
      • When Glenn left the house, the sky was a satin Spinnaker Blue with White Feather clouds, the still-moist lawn and street were glossy Sunlit Glade and Bastion Grey, and, contemplating the to-do list jotted on Ivory Cream notepaper as he started the Sundance Yellow hatchback, Glenn knew he would go flat Condition Red berserk if his wife didn't hurry up and select a color for the dining room.— David Franks, Greenland, AR
      • When Margie told me we were going to rob the jewelry store instead of going for a pedicures, my mind bent under the weight of it all like a cheap paper plate at a family barbecue when it is filled with all the wet heavy stuff like baked beans and sauerkraut. — Dorothy Harbeck, Fair Haven, NJ
      • As Night fell with the finality of a Sycamore toppled in a windstorm, the neon-clogged Arteries of the great Metropolis came alive with the banshee shriek of asphalt-tortured tires, the ululation of yammering sirens, and the bellow of brazen-lunged air horns, Predator Calls of the insomnolent Urban Jungle.  —Anna McDougald, Winnipeg, Manitoba
      • She was uncertain how or when it had happened, but over the years her svelte figure-8 frame had gone lopsided and become a wretched parody of the symmetrical numeral—indeed, the bottom oval was as lumpy and pear-shaped as the carelessly-thrown-aside velour sack of the average mall Santa.— April Olion, Gainesville, FL
      • The jar was oozing, and the ooze was jarring: a dank fetid oleaginous slime that slapped and slithered across the bourgeoisie marble countertop like loathsome Gerber's Lovecraftian puree . . . — Marlon McAvoy, Oak Ridge, TN
      • As she reclined, naked, on the chaise longue, Constance's breasts looked like two mounds of creamy coleslaw served up on a fine porcelain plate—but the good kind of coleslaw, not the violent, neon-green stuff you get at KFC.— Lisa Liscoumb, Oshawa, Ontario

      Winner, Romance:

      • #Osgood knew he wasn’t popular, well-liked, or even very good looking, and could suck the life out of a room like a fat kid sucking the filling out of a Twinkie, but surely a date with the beautiful blonde in the corner wasn’t out of the question, he thought as he licked the cream from his fingers. — Marie Gaither, Asheville, NC

      Dishonorable Mentions, Romance:

      • She wanted—no—she needed Robert, oh, what she would give if he knew that he was the first thing on her mind at the start of each day, if he knew that she yearned, yearned to be happily by his side at the spring dance, yes, she needed Robert—unless Brian dumped that bleach blond snob Leah in time, in which case she'd need Brian. — Heather Armstrong, Williamsburg, VA
      • Watching Emily sleep in exhausted, naked bliss while bathed by the soft shower of lucid moonlight that titillatingly teased glimpses of her supple features he had come to know, Sebastian tried to remember the last time he had seen a woman's body so beautiful, but after the collision of his '02 Pontiac Aztek with a Bug-X exterminator truck on East Hermosa Vista Drive in Mesa, Arizona, two months ago left him with long-term memory loss, he couldn't. — L.A. Jackson, Apex, NC
      • Francine was intrigued by the idea of a threesome with a unicyle-riding circus clown, a zither-playing contortionist, and a milkman because she didn’t know that the latter still even existed. — Randy Denker, Tallahassee, FL

      Winner, Science Fiction:

      • #Upon hearing he was to appear immediately before the Seturia Nebula's Supreme Council, where, in high ceremony, he would be unclothed, bathed in the sacred Waters of Torg Jas, and presented the uniform of a Qadon Shuu Guardian as reward for his courageous defense of the TH-174 Diijoss Collective against Gnar-al troops from the Xinon-Thur Horde, space adventurer Sunspot Carson could only think, "I picked a helluva Baldorian day to wear ladies panties." — L.A. Jackson, Apex, NC

      Dishonorable Mentions, Science Fiction:

      • Following my successful career as chief medical officer of the Horus 7 on its extended mission to explore the Galaxy, I returned to Earth—what follows chronicles the first seven years of the orthodontics practice I opened in Michigan. — Phillip Davies, Cardiff, Wales
      • “I’m going to be late for work again,” Xyzyx muttered to the Galactic Positioning System on the dashboard of his shuttlecraft, as traffic slowed to a crawl in the fuliginous murk of Wormhole Alpha Beta Supra. — Louise Grieco, Albany, NY
      • The Halkan prediction of galactic revolt did indeed come true when Han Solo seized the throne of Gandolf, was overthrown by Captain Jim Kirk, all the Wookies were slaughtered by a ragtag band of renegade Hobbits, Tribbles were ground up and made the sixth flavor of Skittles, and Saurian brandy was sold as a premixed chocolate-flavored cocktail by the Martian partners of Nestle. — David S. Nelson, Falls Church, VA
      • “Science fiction is the lowest of all possible literary genres,” said ICE-500 into the hover-mic, as he slowly rolled past the vast hordes of mutant alien book critics. — Justin Goudey, Newton, NJ

      Winner, Vile Puns:

      • #“See, Horse,” said Detective Sam Ohn, “the sting Ray pulled off has you dab in the place with a barb in your hand and the piano tuner filleted on the floor so don’t you carp on all coy like thinking to leave us to flounder in the dark; mull it over or you’ll be frying on a 20,000 volt perch and may God have mercy on your soul.”— Henry Biggs, Sydney, Australia

      Dishonorable Mentions, Vile Puns:

      • The evidence at Evan’s Seaside Bird Sanctuary was mounting: the scattered precocial plumage, the tidal pond encircling a quartet of lifeless birds, the brine-soaked ascot, the cane—could it be that Maurice Chevalier sank Evan’s four little gulls? — Peter S. Bjorkman, Rocklin, CA
      • Patrice—the most-feared henchman of the global terrorist mastermind Ivan Terrible—staggered back to his car, wiped the dead cocktail waiter's blood from his hands, picked up his smartphone, and texted a terse status update to his employer's personal assistant: "Tell IT that our server is down."— Gwen Dallas, Austin, Texas
      • Legendary U of Arizona basketball coach Lute Olsen needed someone to take the charge, someone who was willing to be mercilessly flattened, someone to sacrifice his body for the team, and that someone stood up at the end of the bench and announced, “Lute, I am your fodder.” — Robert Greer, Queen Creek, AZ
      • As the new babysitter, Lindsey quickly learned that in the Hesterburg family, "tow-headed" referred to Billy Jr.'s penchant for dragging his little sister around by the hair. — Kimberly Baer, Woodbridge, VA
      • "Nurse, I need more blankets, and my water pitcher is empty, and also my bedside lamp isn't working," Tom said coldly, dryly, and darkly, yet at the same time patiently. — Kimberly Baer, Woodbridge, VA
      • A murder of crows, ravenous with hunger, alighted on the skeletal limbs of a desiccated oak tree, their cacophonous scolding admonishing the solitary figure, cloaked in black, who had entered the gloomy graveyard to pay tribute to Poe’s tombstone, just as a tintinnabulation of church bells began chiming a counterpoint to the avians’ caws-stick chorus. — Kathryn El-Assal, Middleton, WI

      Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions

      • HI could've waited, he could've waited, but we didn't and now the entire town of Sop-Bottom, Mizzou (pop. 894, in the heart of the heartland, widely considered the tuning fork capital of the world), would pay for our unspeakable act of passion there on the statue of town founder, staff sergeant Ebenezer Winthrop Sop-Bottom, the unsung hero of the Great Bethel Skirmish. — RGlenn Neel, Maitland, FL
      • “Hey, ho! they make the beast with two backs,” Captain Jean Chartraine shouted lustily over the din of the rollicking seaside inn, The Wayward Mariner, but all I could think, preoccupied with the cargo manifest, dueling pistol, and tankard of ale before me, was why anyone would want to be a Bactrian camel.— James Pokines, Boston, MA
      • Quiet mornings, long lazy afternoons, and spectacular sunsets were de rigueur for Elbert and Ethel Salipit since their early retirement and internment at the Happy Valley Cemetery for Eternal Rest and Relaxation. — Tim Petteys, Malden on Hudson, NY
      • It was a dark and stormy night, and that translated into unchecked pandemonium among Los Angeles residents who hadn’t worn anything but open-toed shoes for five years, but tourist Alwyn Brewster was thankful for the scant traffic on Sunset Boulevard as he desperately accelerated his rental car through the tony neighborhoods, too preoccupied with the raging rivers of high-end, plastic patio-ware, which were making a break for the ocean, to notice the black Land Rover with diplomatic plates hot on his trail. — Barbara L. Pawley, Los Angeles, CA
      • The chrysanthemum Sarah had received from Edmund was exquisite, no doubt, but she had other things on her mind the moment that our story begins, like how Edmund had got out of his cage and how a hedgehog could have pulled up a chrysanthemum with his teeth. — Jonathan Nathan, New York, NY
      • Petulantly, William dunked his socks into the basin and scrubbed futilely to remove the last vestiges of succotash that clung there, and absentmindedly slipped into a reverie—not quite a fugue state—in which he thought of Saturday morning cartoons and pondered the nature of sufferin' as part of the human condition and whether Nietzsche was correct, but his reverie was interrupted by Mabel's clarion bellow from the other room, "Springer's on!" — Bradlee R. Frazer, Boise, ID
      • Little Jenny would stop at nothing in her ambition to become an astronaut—that way she wouldn't end up as an unfulfilled cashier married to a dweeb like Colin Snodgrass, with a sizeable mortgage and four lazy kids who couldn't even be bothered to pick up a book like this, never mind become astronauts. — Julie Crowley, Ballyphilibeen, Ireland
      • When the storage tanks backed up and the extraction mechanisms proved non-functional, with pressure rising rapidly and a critical failure imminent, Harve was compelled to take emergency action: an immediate, explosive evacuation of the American Bottoms Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility in Sauget, IL. — Michael Moon, Mountain View, CA
      • 'Oh Mon Dieu, she thought to herself while searching for that Fatboy Slim song she liked, I know this is Paris and I should be making heaven of what I have, right here, right now, but eating this stupid baguette for breakfast every morning is a gum-hurting, head-aching, and anything-but-satisfying process.' — Raluca Murg, Paris, France
      • Just after dawn on the morning of the last day of his life, Anthony Scanzio looked out his window and again saw the two men parked down the street in a Gloss Black 2016 Chrysler 300C, and coincidentally you can buy one just like it from the author's uncle at Lyndhurst Chrysler and get a great deal, ask for Eddie!  — Steve Lynch, Oro Valley, AZ
      • At the bottom of a steep path, beneath the trunk of a slumping oak, I lowered myself into a hole, descended a staircase and crawled to the bottom of a tunnel that led to a dangling rope that dropped me into a shoot from which I slid into an elevator lobby where I pushed the button marked “Down.” — David Bailey, Tillamook, OR
      • As the first shovelful of earth fell on her father’s coffin, Emily kneeled at the graveside sobbing, overwrought by the sudden realization that, not only had she lost her only living relative, but she had somehow forgotten to set her DVR to record this week’s episode of “House of Cards,” an episode she had particularly wanted to see because of a rumored and breathlessly anticipated guest appearance by a nephew of Don Ho. — Rob Rachlin, Greensboro, NC
      • Every where he went, in his mind, 24/7, he thought of nothing but her: her silky white dress, her robin’s egg blue eyes, her flavescent locks, her wildflower scent, her mellifluous voice, her velvety flesh, and her buxom sister. — James Siragusa, Lewiston, ME

Fans, Stalkers, and Others

Sticks and Stones (a “new” contest, last updated August 2010)

Suite.101.com interviews 2008 Winner Garrison Spik (August 16, 2008)

Suite.101.com interviews the Grand Panjandrum (August 16, 2008)

Mariann Simms, BLFC winnr, writes about the contest in her blog. (April 2006)

Celine Shinbutsu: Fantasy Category winner’s blog from Japan.

“The Great Bulwer-Lytton Debate” (Manchester Guardian)

Bulwer-Lytton's Ancestral Estate

Bulwer-Lytton’s Bicentennial Birthday Celebration at Knebworth House. With pictures. (May 20-23, 2003)

Literary Locales: Over 1,350 picture links to places that figure in the lives and writings of famous authors

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night — the game for people who love to read

Dickens or Bulwer?

“Dark and Stormy Night Cocktail” from the Swig Bar in San Francisco: Pour ginger beer into a highball glass and top with Zaya rum.