Bad writing starts here |

Bad writing starts here

“A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade. Notwithstanding, a lawyer writes ‘briefs’ – not much stock in trade there. Do to a common medical condition, usually associated with spending time sitting on a toilet, time away from a litigation lawyer’s billing, my partner keeps an extra set of ‘briefs’ in his briefcase (what else would you keep in a briefcase?) – for changing after an especially arduous and anxious day in court.”


That my friends, would be my entry in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest where entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Frankly, I was pleased no Law Reviews were submitted.

Here are some of the 2003 winners submitted to San Jose State, with the top winner first:

They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white … Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn’t taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently.

The flock of geese flew overhead in a “V” formation – not in an old-fashioned-looking Times New Roman kind of a “V,” branched out slightly at the two opposite arms at the top of the “V,” nor in a more modern-looking, straight and crisp, linear Arial sort of “V” (although since they were flying, Arial might have been appropriate), but in a slightly asymmetric, tilting off-to-one-side sort of italicized Courier New-like “V” – and LaFonte knew that he was just the type of man to know the difference.

It wasn’t the desolate remoteness of the campsite that bothered him, or even the terrifying roar of the rapids beating themselves against solid granite below, so much as the eerie sound of pigs squealing in the distance and the fact that, in this light, cousin Billy looked disturbingly like Ned Beatty.

On the fourth day of his exploration of the Amazon, Byron climbed out of his inner tube, checked the latest news on his personal digital assistant (hereafter PDA) outfitted with wireless technology, and realized that the gnawing he felt in his stomach was not fear – no, he was not afraid, rather elated – nor was it tension – no, he was actually rather relaxed – so it was in all probability a parasite.

Detective Inspector Mike Norman slipped six fingers into his overcoat pocket, five of them clad in a latex glove and attached to his palm, while the sixth was wrapped in a plastic evidence bag and apparently belonged to the kidnapped pianist Ricardo Moore, or, as it now seemed likely, the kidnapped ex-pianist Ricardo Moore.

Mac was the crustiest ex-LAPD homicide detective with three ex-wives, two mortgages, a greedy daughter wasting time at college, a gay son playing acid-blues punk in some Sacramento dive, and a liver that had been bitch slapped by cheap vodka so many times it looked like a bag of yellow fat, who ever walked into my floral and gift shop.

He knew that, at most, he had five seconds left to live, one one-thousand, two one-thousand, the gun barrel pointing at his face like a scolding finger, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, the hired assassin Ricardo’s grip tightening on the trigger, five white elephants, six white elephants, and then a bright blast of light as he wondered which was really the most accurate way to count five seconds.

There was no question about it, my computer was locked up like a crazy aunt in a dark, secluded attic, or like the brakes on my ’73 Chevy Impala on a rainy day when my wife is driving the kids to origami lessons and is running late because Isaiah, my son, made a fuss at the last minute and refused to be put into his car seat.

The sun rose over the horizon like a great big radioactive baby’s head with a bad sunburn but then again it might just have been that Lisa was always cranky this early in the morning.

She lay next to him that night, regretting sleeping with another while they were broken up, knowing she had done nothing wrong but feeling vaguely unclean, like freshly washed, once-folded laundry that has been shoved off the bed onto the floor and slept on by the dog.

The ballerina stood on point, her toes curled like shrimp, not deep-fried shrimp because, as brittle as they are, they would have cracked under the pressure, but tender ebi-kind-of-shrimp, pink and luscious as a Tokyo sunset, wondering if her lover was in the Ginza, wooing the geisha with eyes reminiscent of roe, which she liked better than ebi anyway.

Brock de-holstered his Maxi-Hurt 3000 phaser and blasted off the Narguwullian trooper’s head, the way a teenager pops the head off a zit, except of course on a much larger scale because those Narguwullians are big suckers, and although Brock had personally had some door stoppers in his teenage years, most zits aren’t twelve feet high, blue, and liable to rip your arms off if you look at them the wrong way, and are also much less inclined to leave a mess on the flight deck.

Sarah felt bored and unsatisfied, even though her job as a nurse’s aide included helping patients and keeping track of the billiards equipment in the recreation room at the Venereal Disease Treatment Center, and she wondered what her mother had been thinking all those years when she repeatedly told her that a young lady should mind herpes and cues.

With a shriek like a damned soul tormented by a thousand devils, or by one really mean devil, not the underachiever kind that just stands idly around occasionally providing a pitchfork poke to a soul turning on a spit, but more like the kind that ducks ahead of you into Hell’s only 10-items-or-less aisle with thirteen items and spends all eternity paying for them with an out-of-state check while standing on your toe the whole time with his cloven hoof, yeah, that kind of devil, and that kind of shriek: the vegetable-grater jammed on a particularly burly spud.

Jane was toast, and not the light buttery kind, nay, she was the kind that’s been charred and blackened in the bottom of the toaster and has to be thrown a away because no matter how much of the burnt part you scrape off with a knife, there’s always more blackened toast beneath, the kind that not even starving birds in winter will eat, that kind of toast.

As she contemplated the setting sun, its dying rays casting the last of their brilliant purple light on the red-gold waters of the lake, Debbie realized that she should never again buy her sunglasses from a guy parked by the side of the road.

As Fiona slowly drew the heavy velvet curtain aside, her eyes smoldered black, deep, and dark as inside the lungs of a coal miner, although it would be black in anyone’s lungs if you could get in there because there wouldn’t be any light, even in the pink ones of people who don’t smoke.

It wasn’t the first time Dame Harriet Bundt had discovered a corpse in someone’s drawing room, the head turned in a horribly bizarre, unnatural, rictus-induced pose (so that she quietly retched into the silent butler) and the teeny-weeny hole exactly four millimeters above the right eye that had once oozed the bright red stuff of life, but which now was as hard and brittle as the rock candy her grandfather used to surprise her with every Wednesday, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter-Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at or at the firm’s Web site,

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