Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

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The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC) is a tongue-in-cheek contest, held annually and sponsored by the English Department of San Jose State University in San Jose, California. Entrants are invited "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels" – that is, one which is deliberately bad.

According to the official rules, the prize for winning the contest is "a pittance".[1] The 2008 winner received $250,[2] while the 2014 winners' page said the grand prize winner received "about $150".[3]

The contest was started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University and is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the much-quoted first line "It was a dark and stormy night". This opening, from the 1830 novel Paul Clifford, reads in full:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The first year of the competition attracted just three entries, but it went public the next year, received media attention, and attracted 10,000 entries.[4] There are now several subcategories, such as detective fiction, romance novels, Western novels, and purple prose. Sentences that are notable but not quite bad enough to merit the Grand Prize or a category prize are awarded Dishonorable Mentions.

Winning entrants[edit]

The winning entries are available at the contest website.[5]

Year Author
1983 Gail Cain San Francisco, California
1984 Steven Garman Pensacola, Florida
1985 Martha Simpson Glastonbury, Connecticut
1986 Patricia E. Presutti Lewiston, New York
1987 Sheila B. Richter Minneapolis, Minnesota
1988 Rachel E. Sheeley Williamsburg, Indiana
1989 Ray C. Gainey Indianapolis, Indiana
1990 Linda Vernon Newark, California
1991 Judy Frazier Lathrop, Missouri
1992 Laurel Fortuner Montendre, France
1993 Wm. W. "Buddy" Ocheltree Port Townsend, Washington
1994 Larry Brill Austin, Texas
1995 John L. Ashman Houston, Texas
1996 Janice Estey Aspen, Colorado
1997 Artie Kalemeris Fairfax, Virginia
1998 Bob Perry Milton, Massachusetts
1999 Dr. David Chuter Kingston, U.K.
2000 Gary Dahl Los Gatos, California
2001 Sera Kirk Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
2002 Rephah Berg Oakland, California
2003 Mariann Simms Wetumpka, Alabama
2004 Dave Zobel Manhattan Beach, California
2005 Dan McKay Fargo, North Dakota
2006 Jim Guigli Carmichael, California
2007 Jim Gleeson Madison, Wisconsin
2008 Garrison Spik Washington, D.C.
2009 David McKenzie Federal Way, Washington
2010 Molly Ringle Seattle, Washington
2011 Sue Fondrie Appleton, Wisconsin
2012 Cathy Bryant Manchester, U.K.
2013 Chris Wieloch Brookfield, Wisconsin
2014 Elizabeth Dorfman Bainbridge Island, Washington
2015 Dr. Joel Phillips West Trenton, New Jersey
2016 William Barry Brockett Tallahassee, Florida
2017 Kat Russo Loveland, Colorado
2018 Tanya Menezes San Jose, California
2019 Maxwell Archer Mount Pleasant, Ontario
2020 Lisa Kluber San Francisco, California
2021 Stu Duval Auckland, New Zealand
2022 John Farmer Aurora, Colorado


Six books collecting the best BLFC entries have been published:

  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (1984), ISBN 0-14-007556-9
  • Son of "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" (1986), ISBN 0-14-008839-3
  • Bride of Dark and Stormy (1988), ISBN 0-14-010304-X
  • It Was a Dark & Stormy Night: The Final Conflict (1992), ISBN 0-14-015791-3
  • Dark and Stormy Rides Again (1996), ISBN 0-14-025490-0
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (2007), ISBN 978-1-905548-60-6

An audio cassette of the winning entries in the BLFC was also released:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The rules for the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest are childishly simple:". Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  2. ^ Hesse, Monica (August 15, 2008). "Purple Prose? His Is Truly Bruising". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 30, 2010.
  3. ^ "2014 Contest Winners" (PDF). The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  4. ^ "Our Story". The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  5. ^ "Contest Winners By Year". The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest. 2018. Retrieved 17 December 2019.

External links[edit]