For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss—a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.
I interviewed Ringle over e-mail about how she managed to craft 2010's worst opening sentence.
How, exactly, does one go about writing the worst first sentence to a non-existent novel? Do you know what happens after that first sentence, or was it intended to stand on its own?
In my case, I tend to be on the lookout for potential metaphors (or similes or what have you) on any average day. Sometimes they can find a home in "good" writing, but other times I realized I was entering parody territory, so in a few cases I turned them into Bulwer-Lytton sentences, and emailed them in. For Ricardo and Felicity (and the gerbil), I never got beyond the first sentence, and haven't thought about where they go next. But I do instinctually feel their affair ends badly. Such a fierce flame could not burn long.
You're a published novelist; was the act of writing a bad sentence similar to writing a good sentence? Was the process entirely different?
All too similar! (As noted above, with my daily comparison search.) I even suspect I could use that gerbil sentence in an actual story, if the story was comedic enough—think P.G. Wodehouse or Douglas Adams or such. Granted, I doubt I'd use it as the very first sentence. The similarity in process worries me a little. Surely I've let a few sentences into my "real" writing that will strike a totally false and absurd note with some readers. Drawing the line between clever and Bulwer-Lyttonishly silly is not always straightforward.
Do you think your history of being published helped you in this competition in some way? Do you think that in the future, they should divide the Bulwer-Lytton contest into "professional" and "amateur" categories?
Interesting idea! But, nah, I think that would take away the grass-roots, approachable, democratic appeal of the contest. Anyone can enter; the atmosphere is fun and laid-back; no one needs feel they're too lowly to apply. And plenty of people have a way with words—and comedy—even if they don't call themselves writers. But now I'm wondering if big-time novelists do enter this competition. Has Scott Rice gotten entries from Neil Gaiman or Michael Chabon? I'm curious to know.
Did you learn anything from this experience that you can bring back to your writing career?
Mainly I've begun suspecting that Fate is telling me to focus more on comedy in my writing, perhaps in a more over-the-top way than I've been doing. Though not necessarily involving rodents.
Thanks, Ms. Ringle. You've made Seattle proud.