Monday, December 03, 2007
By Dave Zobel ’84
It wasn’t the Nobel committee calling last year, but I knew there had been a dreadful mistake just the same. The voice on the other end of the phone that July afternoon was congratulating me on my writing.
It seemed I had just been named the most atrocious writer in the world.
Inferiority is in the eye of the beholder, of course; but in my case the beholder was the 2004 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC), the annual competition named for the Victorian novelist who first penned the immortal cliché “It was a dark and stormy night.” The contest rules are the soul of brevity: Each entry must be the opening sentence to the worst novel never written. Exactly one sentence long. Original. Unpublished And awful.
Unintentionally bad writing comes naturally to us all, I daresay. Surely even an infinite number of monkeys banging away at their laptops could never match the trash-production capacity of Homo sapiens pseudoauctor (or Desktop-publishing man). The trick, however, is doing it on demand, and thus it was with a sensation of prompt, gentle relief that I had managed to squeeze out my contest entry just in time for the April 15 due date:
“She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight . . . . summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp’s tail . . . . though the term ‘love affair’ now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism . . . . not unlike ‘sand vein,’ which is after all an intestine, not a vein . . . . and that tarry substance inside certainly isn’t sand. . . . and that brought her back to Ramon.”
Sand vein? Ramon? I have no idea where any of that came from. I think Voltaire once said something similar about the Holy Roman Empire (though presumably in a different context), and I vaguely recall one rather lively evening of fish cleaning, but beyond that the precise circumstances of my moment of inspiration are a blur.
I do know that I, like Voltaire, harbored no illusions of winning any prize for bad writing and that I was only following the example of Nabokov, who wrote mainly to amuse himself, and of Tolstoy, who wrote mainly to annoy his wife.