Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The contest has spawned a number of books featuring selections from the contest entries. To secure copies of any or all of the books for yourself and your innumerable admirers, you may order from Penguin Books, or you may choose from the selections below. Also see below for information about an upcoming publication. All review quotes from the Amazon page for the individual books.
“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”: The Best (?) of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. First published in 1986. “Many of us know how to write bad Hemingway. Lots of us can write a bad novel noir, after, say, Raymond Chandler. But just a few pages of this book instruct us in a much broader range of bad writing. This book is a true classic and should be in every library. Or maybe, suppressed …” Available through Amazon Books.
Son of “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”. First published in 1986. “If I were you, I’d hunt down these books with the same enthusiasm that a headhunter would go after Mr. Potatohead.” Available through Amazon Books.
Bride of Dark and Stormy. First published in 1988. “Like all of the others of its kind, this book is tremendously enjoyable for those who find amusement in the intentional lampooning of bad writing.” Available through Amazon Books.
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The Final Conflict. First published in 1991. “Sometimes, a race to the bottom can be more difficult than one involving excellence. This book is a collection of sentences of very bad fiction and after you stop laughing and deconstruct the prose, it is easy to understand how difficult it is to write something so bad. … Amusing and atrocious, these sentences will make you groan as you read them and appreciate how bad they are. Which demonstrates how good the writers are, to make something this bad requires significant literary talent. Available through Amazon Books.
Dark and Stormy Rides Again. First published in 1996. “If you enjoy the language enough to appreciate attempts to pillory those who abuse it, and have a sense of humor such that you find satire to be an appropriate form of pillorying, you will enjoy this book …” Available through Amazon Books.
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night. A hardcover, leather-bound limited edition published in 2007 by The Friday Project. “This book is fantastic! I am sure you will laugh at these intentionally bad sentences. I should disclose that I know Scott Rice and am one of the authors (2006 Grand Prize), but just know that all the other people whose silly sentences are in this book were and are my inspiration.” Available through Amazon Books.
In response to your innumerable solicitations (at least three or four), your lacrimonious importunities, and even your questions, I am pleased to inform you that another collection of entries to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is in the works. More particularly, it has moved from the back burner, where it simmered while I completed my manifesto on the commercial infestation of American education (Moneychanging in the Temple – like my title? I coined the phrase myself), to the front burner. Having completed my definitive contribution to the universal improvement of mankind, I am now going to hurl … Excuse me. Permit me to begin my thought anew. I am now going to throw myself into It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: the Second Coming. If they will be so kind, past winners from 1996 on (from the haughtiest Grand Prize Winner to the lowliest Dishonorable Mention) may assist me in the process by informing me of their whereabouts. The process, you see, requires that I secure your permissions to exploit your work for my own gain (albeit and regrettably a modest one). That is to say, whoever is privileged to be my publisher will demand signed release forms. No signed release, no prestigious appearance in another deathless classic. At any rate, given the nomadic character of our unstable populace and the common desire to keep at least one address ahead of creditors, my contact file, like my thinking, is sadly out of date. In sum and not to put too fine a point on it, many of your original addresses, as you well know and by your devising, are no longer current. So please, be helpful here.
To my knowledge, the previous five collections have fallen out of print, a testimonial to the End Of Life As We Know It. Annual response to the contest, howsomever, suggests that interest remains as perfervid as ever. The major newspapers and networks continue to cover the winners. The BBC and Australian Radio continue to run interviews. Parents continue to name their children Bulwer.
— S.R., Grand Panjandrum, Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
Mariann Simms, winner of the 2003 contest, writes about the BLFC in her blog. (April 2006)
Celine Shinbutsu: Fantasy Category winner’s blog from Japan.
Suite.101.com interviews 2008 Winner Garrison Spik (August 16, 2008)
Suite.101.com interviews the Grand Panjandrum (August 16, 2008)
“The Great Bulwer-Lytton Debate” (Manchester Guardian)
Sticks and Stones (a “new” contest, last updated August 2010)
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
The Eye of Argon (a Sci-Fi conference classic)
“Dark and Stormy Night Cocktail” from the Swig Bar in San Francisco: Pour ginger beer into a highball glass and top with Zaya rum.
Did this site give you a smile? Perhaps you would like to give a child a smile.