(Posted September 19, 2005)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Alison Heft, a Juniata College freshman from Lititz, Pa., is a great writer. How do we know? Because only talented writers could receive a Dishonorable Mention Award in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a nationally known writing contest that celebrates overblown and truly bad sentences.

"I was surfing online looking for scholarships I could apply to my tuition when I found this contest," explains Heft, who has had two poems published before coming to Juniata this fall. "I thought it was funny, so I wrote two sentences and sent them off. I thought if I won. I could apply the money to my tuition."

Heft received a dishonorable mention in the Purple Prose category, one of 13 different categories available to budding bad writers across the globe. Although her award had no monetary prize, her sentence will live on forever, in infamy, and certainly on the Bulwer-Lytton Web site. Here is her entry:

"Our fearless heroine (Well, mostly fearless: she is deathly afraid of caterpillars, not the fuzzy little brown ones but the colossal green ones that terrorized her while she was playing in her grandmother's garden when she was just 5 or 6 years old, which, coincidentally, was also when she discovered that shaving cream does not taste like whipped cream) awakened with a start."

The 18-year-old biology major has always enjoyed writing and still pens poetry and short stories when the mood strikes. She wrote her sentence for the contest in a 10-minute burst of inspiration in fall 2004 and promptly forgot about it. "They notified me in August and my hometown paper did a story the day before I came to Juniata, so I haven't had time to appreciate it," she says. "My parents think it's pretty hilarious."

The Bulwer-Lytton is named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, a 19th century novelist who opened his novel "Paul Clifford" with the immortal sentence, "It was a dark and stormy night." Scott Rice, a professor of English at San Jose State University organizes the contest and says the bad-writing bonanza attracts thousands of entries from all over the world. Rice says it takes superior writing talent to create incredibly bad fiction. Heft's entry was the only one from Pennsylvania to be recognized.

For now, Heft prefers to keep her award quiet, although it might become a resume entry at some future date. "It's not as if I tell all my friends I won a bad-writing contest," she says.

She credits a voracious reading habit for preparing her for college and for the contest. Her favorite authors are Margaret Atwood and Aldous Huxley. She plans on taking a few writing courses during her four years at Juniata, although her real aim is to become a small-animal veterinarian.

"I think winning a Dishonorable Mention is a good boost for my self-confidence," she says. "It's nice to be recognized for something you wrote, even if it's bad. And it's hard to be bad!"

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.