Toasty halibut overtones

Do you enjoy reading phrases like, “the agnosticism of lugubriousness is almost independent in its nobility” and “the 1998 Semillon from Bear Valley Winery unites free-love-inducing Home Run Pie elements with a feminine mustard essence.” If so, the 2017 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is for you. (Personally, we detected notes—highly nuanced, mind you—of tsetse fly dung (local, organic and sustainable, to be sure. We believe they were Namibian tsetse flies, not the oh-so-last year’s ones from Ethiopia.)

The Contest honors the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (even his name is too long). One could argue Bulwer-Lytton’s fame is based on a beagle. Charles Schulz’s Snoopy adopted the first line of Bulwer-Lytton’s novel “Paul Clifford” for his own adventure stories: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Rarely quoted, for obvious reasons, the entire opening line reads, “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.” (One of us thought of having this opening line tattooed somewhere to help remind her to avoid writing turgid prose, but she ran out of leggy real-estate.)

The 2017 contest is upon us, with only a couple months until the June 30 deadline to compose epic opening lines: epic as in of unusually great size or extent, not epic as in impressively great. For those seeking a pinnacle achievement for their writing career, visit the website for contest rules. We suggest you also read through the contest winners from 2016 at Some of our favorites phrases from 2016 include “when your home smells like a three-week-old buffalo carcass” (for one of us it is only 2-weeks since she’s had the carcass) and “my mind bent under the weight of it all like a cheap paper plate at a family barbecue when it is filled with all the wet heavy stuff like baked beans and sauerkraut.”

We leave you with the overall winner of the 2016 Bulwer-Lytton Contest:

“Even from the hall, the overpowering stench told me the dingy caramel glow in his office would be from a ten-thousand-cigarette layer of nicotine baked on a naked bulb hanging from a frayed wire in the center of a likely cracked and water-stained ceiling, but I was broke, he was cheap, and I had to find her.” —
William “Barry” Brockett, Tallahassee, FL


So an Axe Murderer Walks Into A Bar…

We had you at “axe murderer,” right? (Axe murderers, we note, are people, too, and need to be respected in the interests of diversity, which we think means we shouldn’t discriminate against them in favor of poisoners, garden variety stranglers or plain old push-off-a-cliffers. Wood-chipper offers, of course, are in an exalted category because they exhibit the ecologically correct murder technique of recycling dead bodies as mulch. It’s so important to help the planet through homicide…)

But we digress.

One of the challenges we have in writing short stories as opposed to novels – as we alluded to in an earlier blog—is finding new, exciting and not oh-so-last-year’s-untrendy way of offing people (literarily speaking, of course). Another challenge, which we didn’t allude to (but are herein) is making murder mirthful. Our natural bent is to make something funny. That said, playing murder for laughs is well, murder, because unless the offer or off-ee is a stand-up comic, it’s hard to generate a giggle when presenting the reader with a stiff. Worse, the more descriptive you are about random missing or maimed body parts, the harder it is to play it for laughs without generating a high (and highly unfunny) “ick” factor—unless of course the depraved murderer managed to cut off all the victim’s cellulite, in which case it becomes a fat-free murder, ba-da-bing! Though in one of our novels, With Murder You Get Sushi, we went for a laugh after a car bomb exploded at a gold course by having a “hand”—in reality, a golf club cover—land near our part-time sleuth, Emma Jones. Eew.

You can definitely play murder for laughs, if not 18 holes.

In truth, some of our short stories are taking a decidedly dark tone, like a recent one in which a loving couple find out that signing up for TrueSociopathLove dating service wasn’t a wise move. Never fear, the evil couple walk into the sunset together, holding hands and gazing longingly into each other’s … gun barrels. (Just kidding, let’s just say that it’s a rude awakening for each of them to realize he/she is dating another wacko – I mean, “misunderstood yet sensitive homicidal being” and…but we won’t spoil the ending except to note that at last one of them gets what he/she deserves.) So, our ending is perhaps ironic but that doesn’t count as funny, strictly speaking. Does it?

There are of course, ways to make murder funny, besides have the victims suffocate in a surfeit of sloth sh- …OK, we admit to overdoing the alliteration. One of them is through ancillary characters. Specifically, snarky comments made by ancillary characters. One short story we did featured murder in a white out. The search and rescue team recovering the body had choice—and funny—comments about the deceased, which we used to paint an idea of just how unpleasant the playboy perp was. (Ok, it’s bad now, one of us needs to join Alliteration Anonymous.) We used wordplay at the end—the murderer’s shoe size being used to nail the “heel”—to add a last humorous touch to the story.

But we do have standards when it comes to ridding the planet excess human beings.

  1. No dog can be harmed in any way during the story. Even a tick bite is out. Well, maybe not a tick bite, but no real harm, AND
  2. The deceased has to deserve the killing. Okay, biblically we know that all deserve to die, but we’re referring to a looser standard here. No mothers with young children will be offed, unless they are cruel stepmothers (a tried and true trope). No sweet old ladies. In fact, sweet old ladies are allowed to get away with murder in our stories.

You need not ask about lawyers, politicians, drug dealers, used-car salesmen, and agents of the IRS. They are all fair game. So are slimy ex-boyfriends, the Costco clerk who was just rude to you, the neighbor who has sicced the planning commission on you because of recent yard work, the insecure ex-boss who micro-managed you, and the next person to irritate you.

In short, murder can be a stress-relieving activity, and a total scream.




Eating People is Wrong

We’ve been reading a number of How-To books lately on what it takes to get a non-fiction book published, and come across an interesting factoid: a potential customer perusing a table of books on average looks at the cover of a book for 1.4 seconds. Self-evident is that the title of the book matters. A lot. So does having a picture of a hot hunk or hunkette on the cover wearing skimpy clothing. Although that cover art may not work for all books, such as Brain Surgery in 10 Easy Lessons.

With that in mind, we’ve been trying on titles for our new non-fiction book. The site is a great resource for what not to do. Designated worst book titles include:

  1. Eating People is Wrong (Not sure why this is the case, as people are local, sustainable, non-GMO and gluten-free.)
  2. Reusing Old Graves (You know, for authentic Halloween decorations, nothing beats a real skeleton!)
  3. How to Avoid Huge Ships (It’s so, like, obvious: just don’t hang around with mean people who are total shi…I mean. Oops, never mind.)
  4. Why Cats Paint (Because dogs sculpt?)
  5. Mommy Drinks Because You’re Bad (…or Daddy is.)
  6. The Practical Pyromaniac: Build Fire Tornadoes, One-Candlepower Engines, Great Balls of Fire, and More Incendiary Devices (Whoa! Where can we buy that?)
  7. Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them (With the photo of a fifty-something farmer in overalls on the cover, they might have consider Geezers and Gardening Gears: alliteration always makes for a catchy title.)
  8. Wearing Thongs Well: Your Key to a Successful Job Interview (Especially if you are planning a career as a stripp…ah, er…’clothing-optional entertainer.’)

Ok, we made the last one up. But it got your attention, right?

One of us still looking for Finding, Landing and Dispatching The Rich Old Coot of Your Dreams (strictly for literary purposes, of course). Okay, we made that one up too, though clearly, Grade ‘A’ Gold-Digging would work better as a title.

To come up with something eye-catching and unforgettable we spend hours and hours brainstorming. No, we didn’t. We turned to the Internet and found a random title generator for suggestions ( We were given Slave of Mist, The Emerald Years, The Female of the Shards, and Prized Snow, all of which sounded great for Romance Novels, which means we definitely could use scantily-clad hunk or hunkette covers.

Not satisfied with those, we tried an Internet site that promised to generate unique names: We popped in several words about the book and out popped a new words we could use for the title: Gamgamemen, Womlelete, Socfucer, and Enbeer, none of which is particularly catchy and at least one of which sounds like a perversion involving pink bunny slippers.

We thought it would be a good idea to canvass friends and colleagues for title ideas, but ran into a bit of a snag. Under the assumption that the title should reflect the subject matter, we would have to explain the thrust of the book. In order to properly summarize one’s book, it’s necessary to develop a selling handle or elevator pitch that in one sentence will convince readers to buy, bookstores to stock, and libraries to purchase.

Fortunately, the How-To books are rife with examples of pitch lines:

  • Die Hard: A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists.
  • Pretty Woman: A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend.
  • Into Thin Air: Alive without the cannibalism.
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary: Pride and Prejudice in modern London.

Easy-peasie, right? Sort of. We couldn’t agree on the elevator pitch, so we’re giving you two:

  • War and Peace meets Pollyanna; or
  • How we stopped worrying about what to do with our lives and learned to feel downright cheery about large scale armed conflict

Let us know you title suggestions. We’ll consider anything.

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