The 2008 Arkansas Writers’ Conference featured a spontaneous writing contest. Yeah, I know, that was seven years ago, but I was thinking about it recently and, for some reason, thought you might get a chuckle out of what came of it.
The gist of this type of contest is that a sponsor, or judge, posts an assignment at a certain time of day—during the lunch hour, say. This will contain all specifications that must be adhered to by authors choosing to enter the contest. By another certain time of day—4 p.m., say—all who wish to enter must turn in their responses.
An entrant is directed to use a pen name, as well as to devise some method for proving that the name chosen belongs to him or her. This minimizes the risk that the judge will show any bias on the basis of identity.
At the 2008 conference, which, as always, was held in early June, the prose assignment went something like this:
“You have received a letter from the Pulitzer Prize Committee informing you that they are deadlocked in their vote for this year’s literary prize. Your novel and John Grisham’s latest are the top vote getters. They are asking for your input to help break the tie. Using only the space on this sheet of paper, reply to the Committee.”
Here follows the winning letter:
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:
Wholly a pleasure, that’s what it was. To receive your letter, that is.
“Imagine that,” I said to McGrath, “the Pulitzer folks, hopelessly deadlocked!” McGrath, you will recall from chapter seven of my novel, is the twelve year-old Cheagle (half Chihuahua, half beagle) who takes her meals shaken, not stirred (one cup Pedigree Small Breed, one quarter cup Moist’N’Meaty Cheeseburger).
When I told McGrath that it was Grisham with whom I was tied for the top spot, she rolled over on the Persian rug and yawned. While John’s work has impressed her, the James Bond works of Ian Fleming will always be number one in her heart.
“It’s Grisham!” I repeated. “Grisham versus me for the Pulitzer!”
McGrath sat up and raised one paw, as though about to take the oath in a courtroom drama. At that moment, an idea flashed through my noggin, and I looked my hound deeply in the eyes. “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
McGrath barked twice, two syllables, clearly signifying “I do.”
“Whose book is better? Mine?”
McGrath remained silent.
“Arf!” One syllable, clearly “yes.”
In conclusion, if you will review pages 112-113 of my book, in which it is demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that McGrath is totally bereft of any literary acumen whatsoever, I believe that you will see your way clear to award me the Pulitzer Prize.
/s/ Demon Plum
Yes, Demon Plum is an anagram of nom de plum.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.