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Ann Cannon: 'Tis stormy, uh, writing contest

OK. Let's say I wanted to write the worst novel in the history of the universe. It could be a western or a romance or a murder mystery. Or maybe fantasy. Or sci-fi. Or HEY, what about a little something for the kids? The point is that my wretched hypothetical novel would need a wretched hypothetical opening sentence. Right?

Now where could I find a line like that . . .

I KNOW! I KNOW! I'll just ask our readers to hand me one! That's right, boys and girls. Time for the annual Deseret Morning News Bad Writing Contest, modeled after the famous Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, sponsored by the English department at San Jose State.

Named after the Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton (who never met a piece of purple prose he didn't like), this contest encourages the perverse among us to pen an original opener for the worst novel never written.

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SIZE="2">Previous bad writing winners:

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Oct. 30, 2003: Bad writing truly a sign of greatness

Nov. 21, 2002: For better or worse, bad's a hoot

Nov. 15, 2001: Bad prose makes us grin, groan

This year's winners can (and should) be checked out on the contest's Web site, www.bulwer-lytton.com. This year's sweepstakes winner is Dave Zobel of Manhattan Beach, Calif., who came up with this memorable baddie: "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."

(MEMO TO DAVE: I totally LOVE the way you incorporate "hard science" facts about shrimps in your sentence! Good job!)

My favorite love-gone-wrong line comes from Pamela Patchet Hamilton of Beaconsfield, Quebec, Canada. "The notion that they would no longer be a couple dashed Helen's hopes and scrambled her thoughts not unlike the time her sleeve caught the edge of the open egg carton and the contents hit the floor like fragile things hitting cold tiles, more pitiable because they were expensive organic brown eggs from free-range chickens, and one of them clearly had double yolks entwined in one sac just the way Helen and Richard used to be."

I also love the possibility for adventure NOT realized in this sentence by Siew-Fong Yiap of Kowloon, Hong Kong. "The legend about Padre Castillo's gold being buried deep in the Blackwolf Hills had lain untold for centuries and will continue to do so for this story is not about hidden treasure, nor is it set in any mountainous terrain whatsoever."

And as a Westerner, I was thrilled by the dramatic land-use issues raised by Patrick McNamara from El Dorado Hills, Calif. "This town's not big enough for two of us," growled Slim Jenkins, "but I think that we can get the townspeople to agree to issue a bond to annex the Carter Ranch, we can then incorporate and there should be plenty of room for everyone."

Feeling inspired yet? You should. Because year after year the entries from DesNews readers are every bit as entertaining.

Here are the rules:

1. The sentence must be your original work. Multiple submissions are OK.

2. The sentence can be long, but it must be a single sentence. Commas are fine and semi-colons are OK, but there should be just one period — preferably at the end.

3. The sentence can be from any kind of novel — romance, western, sci-fi, fantasy, detective. You may even consider writing an opening sentence with a specifically Utah setting.

4. The deadline is Oct. 31.

Please e-mail your entries to acannon@desnews.com.