Archive for July 28, 2011

Meet Sue Fondrie, 2011 Grand Prize Winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for “Worst Opening Sentence in a Work of Fiction”

On Monday, July 25, Sue Fondrie was announced as the grand prize winner of the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. As a longtime fan (and occasional perpetrator) of spectacularly bad writing, I blogged that sucker up and, to my surprise, Sue dropped by with a comment. Medium story short: She agreed to satisfy my curiosity by answering a few questions.

Sue, I loved and admired your amazing sentence. Congratulations on the sweet, sweet victory. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living?

Is this victory sweet? I think it soured people on writing, really.

Not true! I think it takes a real appreciation of language to create something that egregiously bad. Just look at the popularity of the contest. We are delighted and charmed. Seriously: Great job.

For a living, I work with future teachers as an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. I teach the secondary English methods courses, the middle school education course, supervise student teachers in English language arts, and generally help students become teachers.

Let us gaze in awe once again upon your award-winning sentence:

“Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”

How long did it take you to craft it? I can’t believe something that over-cooked could have been completed in a first draft.

Don’t tell anyone, but I cranked it out in a few minutes, initially. Then, as I always recommend to my students, I let it sit for a few weeks and then came back to work on it some more. Hmm, maybe I should’ve let it sit longer . . .

Have you entered the contest in previous years? What appeals to you about bad writing?

I’ve never entered before, although I’ve been following it for almost 20 years. What’s not to love about bad writing? It makes my own mediocre efforts seem acceptable.

You are an associate professor at a university, the land of ivory towers, usually a bastion for writing that is dry, tedious, filled with arcane language. The academic world has it’s own brand of bad. But your purple prose draws inspiration from . . . where, exactly? Can you site any specific sources? Just a hunch, but have you been reading the Twilight series?

If you read any of my academic writing, you’d see that dry and tedious describes it perfectly. I credit my Bulwer-Lytton win to being raised in a household of people who love a good pun and like to play with language. We often had long pun-filled contests on a central theme. And like any good teacher educator, I’ve read the Twilight series.

Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes,

knows a few things about academic writing.

What next? I mean, is there a second sentence in the works? A chapter, a book? Do you have serious writing aspirations?

Sadly, I had but the one sentence in me. I’m going to rest on my rapidly decaying laurels. As for serious aspirations, I’m a superior technical writer and an appalling creative one. I’ll have to stick with academic efforts and the occasional (bad) fan fic effort.

Good luck, Sue. Thanks for stopping by. Your parting gift is on the way — a signed copy of my recent book, Bystander. And if you ever do write that next sentence, I’ll be eager to read it. In the meantime, I’ll be left with only forgotten memories and sparrow-like thoughts . . .

Yes, Virginia!

Last week, Florida crumbled into submission. This week, it’s Virginia tapping out under the brute force of my choke hold of a book.

No, it wasn’t you; I have no idea what I just said, either. Gibberish, mostly. I’m gibbering. Perhaps it’s time to contact the people at the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. So let’s try again and not bury the lead this time:

I just learned that Bystander was nominated for the Virginia Reader’s Choice Awards Thingy.

I keep finding out about these award/contests in seemingly random ways. There’s no official letter, no word from my publisher. It’s usually an email from someone who figures I already know.

But I don’t. I so don’t.

Anyway, again, great news for Bystander to be nominated as one of the better books for middle school readers. That’s six states I’m aware of, or seven, if we’re willing to count Confusion as a state. I always make a point of listing the other titles nominated for these awards. I do that because this blog won’t be of interest to anyone, including me, if it’s all about James Preller all the time. Also, I enjoy discovering the titles of these books, something new and unexpected always pops up, and I’m forever looking for good books to read and/or purchase for my kids. It’s an honor to share a ballot with such accomplished writers.

Virginia’s Reader’s Choice Awards for Middle School

Bystander, James Preller

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, James Swanson

The Leanin’ Dog, K.A. Nuzum

Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine

Out of My Mind, Sharon Draper

Pop, Gordon Korman

The Rock and the River, Kekla Magoon

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Tom Angleberger

Ways to Live Forever, Sally Nichols

When the Whistle Blows, Fran Cannon Slayton

Thank you, Virginia!

And Now, Ladies & Gentlemen, the Worst Opening Sentence of 2011 . . .

Congratulations, Sue Fondrie! You have written the worst opening sentence to an imaginary novel in 2011.

That is, according to the good-natured judges over at the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Here’s Sue’s amazing (and surely deserving) effort:

“Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”

Sue, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, is the 29th grand-prize winner of the contest. The runner-up sentence was perpetrated by one Rodney Reed of Tennessee:

As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.

According to Wikipedia (which I love, btw, I don’t care what you say), Edward Bulwer-Lytton was a bestselling 19th-century novelist who coined the phrases, “The great unwashed,” “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and the classic opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Overheard: “Dad, I just got a cool new app.”

Gavin got an iPod Touch for his twelfth birthday. He just downloaded a new app. It’s brought the whole family together. Let’s hear it for technology. Come on, everyone, repeat after us: “BRAAAINS!”

We think Mom has been working too hard. And Daisy the Zombie Dog . . . looks hungry.

Tom Waits Reads Charles Bukowski’s “Nirvana”

Tom Waits reads “Nirvana,” a great poem by an imperfect man, Charles Bukowski.

the young man

thought, I’ll just sit

here, I’ll just stay


but then

he rose and followed

the others into the


You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

I really enjoyed this fan video, created by somebody out there and shared on Youtube. Great job, brother. Hits the mood exactly right.

Nirvana, a poem by Charles Bukowski

not much chance,
completely cut loose from
he was a young man
riding a bus
through North Carolina
on the way to somewhere
and it began to snow
and the bus stopped
at a little cafe
in the hills
and the passengers
he sat at the counter
with the others,
he ordered and the
food arived.
the meal was
and the
the waitress was
unlike the women
he had
she was unaffected,
there was a natural
humor which came
from her.
the fry cook said
crazy things.
the dishwasher.
in back,
laughed, a good
the young man watched
the snow through the
he wanted to stay
in that cafe
the curious feeling
swam through him
that everything
that it would always
stay beautiful
then the bus driver
told the passengers
that it was time
to board.
the young man
thought, I’ll just sit
here, I’ll just stay
but then
he rose and followed
the others into the
he found his seat
and looked at the cafe
through the bus
then the bus moved
off, down a curve,
downward, out of
the hills.
the young man
looked straight
he heard the other
of other things,
or they were
attempting to
they had not
the young man
put his head to
one side,
closed his
pretended to
there was nothing
else to do-
just to listen to the
sound of the
the sound of the
in the

@Charles Bukowski