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FW writer will tickle your funny bone with bad fiction

By Dave McKenzie, special to The Mirror

For those who may not have seen last Saturday's edition of the Mirror, local writer and Mirror contributor Dave McKenzie won this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, challenging writers from all over the world to submit the best (er, worst) opening sentence to a bad novel.

McKenzie is the 27th grand prize winner of this popular contest, having won sub-categories in both 2007 and 2008. (For more on the contest go to www.bulwer-lytton.com). Mention of the win is all over the Internet. McKenzie has also done a few radio interviews since the results were announced June 29. And while entrants do it mainly for fun — and maybe some bragging rights — the grand prize winner is awarded with "a pittance."

McKenzie won the 2009 contest with this:

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the 'Ellie May,' a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."

Prof. Scott Rice, the contest's creator, shared some insight behind the win. "The judges liked his sentence because of the way it pulls the rug from under the reader. You compose yourself to hear about another wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, then find that it's just about some drunks having a screaming contest."

"The contest has allowed me to have fun as a wordsmith and keep my comedic edge sharp," McKenzie said.

So, what makes a sentence "bad?"

"This is always a tough call. 'Badness' has to take into consideration such abuses of prose as run-on sentences and inappropriate subject change. But it had also better be at least a little clever or it wouldn't be entertaining and worth reading in the first place," McKenzie said.

There is no limit on how many entries one may submit. "According to the B-L Web site, one guy once sent in 3,000 entries. I sent in about 20. I'm glad the judges liked one, but it wasn't my favorite," McKenzie said.

In fact, McKenzie has been asked to be a judge in the 2010 contest.

"As in 2008, this year there were two of us in the Seattle area who won top honors," he said. "That's pretty cool too."

The leftovers

Asked if he'd share a few of those entries that were passed over in favor of the grand-prize winner, McKenzie was kind enough to oblige:

• Ahmed stormed out of the meeting where they had discussed yet another drawing error discovered on the blue prints for the ark, still angry at his partner, Noah, for taking a job with verbal instructions only — and on top of it all, here it was the rainy season, and he had slipped in elephant poop twice today.

• Poor Herb had been so happy about saving money on the remodeling project; but he had confused “Price Pfister” with “Fisher Price” and now the Smiths had faucets made out of blue plastic and a phone that teaches you how different animals sound.

• Cyril proceeded to open the can of tuna the hard way — with a manual opener — despite the fact that he had an electric opener sitting right there, when who should come knocking at his door but jolly old one-armed Bernard who also loved tuna and would use his left foot to hold the can down while opening it.

• Trista was prone to outbursts of profanity when called a slut, yet my love for her was unconditional and I vowed to someday take her away from the rat-infested tenement she called home and to a faraway island where we would eat fish, take our herbal supplements, and while away the hours sitting on the beach playing "name that tune."

• "No!" cried the sweaty and drunken little man as he watched his ball catch only a piece of the head pin, which was enough to send it careening to the right and into the three and six pins while leaving the five pin inevitably untouched and standing as the others were swept into the bowels of the cruel automaton.

• Colin McLeod, explosives expert with Brooklyn’s elite “Boom! Squad,” paused to steady his hand before snipping the red or possibly the green wire leading to five pounds of C-4, his thoughts returning again and again to Sarah and the plans they had made — like going to Disneyland and paying the extra $20 so they wouldn’t have to stand in the long lines; but all that was on hold now because of a problem in his colon…and what the hell is a polyp anyway?

• The dental assistant's ample bosom struggled against the thin white polyester smock as she reached for the suction tube, causing Stuart to drool with increased fervor and his mind to race with forbidden thoughts, thoughts that now mingled with the music softly playing somewhere and the cruel reality of the $1,500 porcelain crown, all of which told a story about pain, sex, money and rock n' roll.

• Alex was a good boy, a bright boy, a boy whom all the villagers knew would go far; but even as some talked of Alex being a very good boy indeed and even a wonderful boy, little did they know that one day little Alex would grow up to become Alexander — the Great!

• There were no words for the pain that suddenly consumed Josh, unless perhaps it was something like burning knives being thrust into his eyeballs; and he nearly vomited as he froze in his tracks and saw before him a sea of men and women, some clutching their screaming children, in an endless line streaming out the door and around the building of the Department of Licensing.

• Like a big metal frankfurter searching for a bun, the torpedo tore through the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, knowing deep in its torpedo heart that it wouldn’t be going home again, for it had a one-way ticket to the German battleship where it would be delivering a good old-fashioned “How Dee Do” compliments of the good people of the USA.

• How long he had been floating in the life raft Jack could only guess, and the only thing keeping him alive was the occasional game of rock-paper-scissors, which schizophrenics are able to play by themselves; but what cruel irony it was that Jack had lost his hands years before, and now all the games ended in a tie.

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