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Bad Writing Leads To Literary Award

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Bad Writing Leads To Literary Award

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Bad Writing Leads To Literary Award

Bad Writing Leads To Literary Award

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Take A Challenge

Send in your worst writing to NPR's Two-Way blog.

San Jose State University's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest honors bad writing. This year's winner is 55-year-old David McKenzie of Federal Way, Wash., who beat out hundreds of entries from around the world for crafting the worst-written beginning to an imaginary novel. McKenzie discusses his win.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Here to present 87 award-winning words...

Mr. DAVID MCKENZIE (Winner, Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest): Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowing off Nantucket Sound from the nor'east and the dogs are howling 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 flowing and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.

BLOCK: That's David McKenzie of Federal Way, Washington, reading his winning entry in this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which challenges writers to come up with the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.

Mr. McKenzie, congratulations.

Mr. MCKENZIE: Thank you very much. It's a lot of fun.

BLOCK: Well, how did you get the idea for your winning entry?

Mr. MCKENZIE: You know, I don't remember. It was the last of about 20 that I came up with and it was maybe even an afterthought. Call it a moment of bad inspiration, I guess. But, you know, it seems like that's always the way. I don't know if you knew this, I also won last year and the year before that in subcategories.

BLOCK: Subcategories, okay, not the big kahuna.

Mr. MCKENZIE: Right. And in each case, it was always the one that I thought, hmm, maybe I'll write this down. I wonder where that came from, and that one?

BLOCK: Was alcohol involved?

Mr. MCKENZIE: Probably. I probably had some red wine at the time, a good bet on that. And all I knew was after the 2008 contest, I thought, well, you know, I'm determined to win the main category and by golly I did.

BLOCK: By golly, you did. And, you know, here's the thing, you went against the suggested rules from San Jose State University, which runs the contest. They strongly recommend - in all capital letters - strongly recommend that entries not go beyond 50 or 60 words. You chimed in with 87.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCKENZIE: Yeah. And I never even thought to count them, but I did remember seeing, you know, past winners, and they were quite long too. So I think everybody tends to, and thank goodness for the semicolon.

BLOCK: Yeah, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: You just keep going and going, right? When you're in a groove, you're just - it's hard to stop.

Mr. MCKENZIE: That's right.

BLOCK: What's the art to this, do you think, besides liquoring up a little bit?

Mr. MCKENZIE: You know, everybody would probably give you a different answer to that. I'm odd. I tend to look at even creative writing as a problem-solving process. I just seem to be able to sit down and let a combination of logic and inspiration take over.

BLOCK: Well, what do you do when you're not writing really wretched, long sentences like this one?

Mr. MCKENZIE: Well, aside from trying to get an agent for the rest of the stuff that I write, I've got the day job. I'm a quality system consultant for small aerospace companies in the area, and got to eat.

BLOCK: Well, apart from the pride of having won, do you get anything else for winning the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest?

Mr. MCKENZIE: You know, I think there is some, as they call it, a pittance bestowed, and I think I saw that I might get a couple hundred bucks or something like that. So it'll take care of some of my writing paraphernalia, I suppose, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: And the chance…

Mr. MCKENZIE: We do it for fun, you know, that and bragging rights.

BLOCK: So, bragging rights and a few minutes on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. That's about it.

Mr. MCKENZIE: Exactly, that's right. What could be better self-promotion, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, we're glad to help you out with that. David McKenzie, winner of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for really bad writing, sponsored by the English department at San Jose State University.

David McKenzie, thanks a lot.

Mr. MCKENZIE: Hey, thank you for having me on.

BLOCK: And you can find a link to the terrible writing of the contest's other winners at our Web site. Also, we challenge you on our blog, The Two-Way, to write even worse than David McKenzie. You can find out how to submit your most awful first sentence of a novel at npr.org.

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