Writers spend much of our time agonizing over this word or that word, grammar and punctuation, all in an attempt to turn out a beautiful piece of work. But there’s a special category of writers who use their talents for a different, you might say evil, reason: to create truly awful writing.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest celebrates that talent, and I’m pleased to say that Molly Ringle of Seattle, Washington is its 28th grand prize winner with this gem:

“For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss — a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.”

The contest is the brainchild of the amusing Professor Scott Rice (scroll down and read History of the BLFC at the link above) at San Jose State University. He challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels, paying tribute to the famous “It was a dark and stormy night” opening of the novel Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. The line is also plagiarized repeatedly by Snoopy in the Peanuts comics.

The entries can be any length, but most people seem to cram as much detail as possible into as many words as possible. The judges recommend not going beyond 50 or 60 words, but last year’s winner, David McKenzie, managed 88 words.

The one that made me laugh the most out of this year’s winners was the winner of the Purple Prose category, by Scott Davis Jones of Valley Village, California:

“The dark, drafty old house was lopsided and decrepit, leaning in on itself, the way an aging possum carrying a very heavy, overcooked drumstick in his mouth might list to one side if he were also favoring a torn Achilles tendon, assuming possums have them.”

The official deadline each year is April 15, with the winner announced mid-June. But don’t despair; the contest accepts submissions “every day of the livelong year.” If you’ve got a truly awful one to share, send it any time to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, Department of English, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA 95192-0090, or to srice AT pacbell.net.

Many thanks to my friend Gloria Hildebrandt for reminding me about the contest!