Fun fact: The person who thought of the last contest we had (Be an Agent for a Day), is now a client of mine: hello Jim Duncan! Also, the person who won the contest before that (The 2nd Semi-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge), is also now a client: hello Natalie Whipple!
We’ve also had three finalists, Stuart Neville, Terry DeHart, and Victoria Schwab go on to be published/soon-to-be-published authors respectively.
In other words: NO PRESSURE.
(Bonus fun fact: I didn’t actually call the inaugural first paragraph challenge “stupendously ultimate,” it was actually “largely indispensable,” which throws into doubt whether this could properly be called the “third sort-of-annual.” We’ll just agree to forget that part, hmm?)
It is time. Time to test your paragraph against… other first paragraphs. Time to see if your sentences can wage successful word combat in order to defeat other sentences and emerge victorious on a field of battle.
Oh, and there are prizes. Let’s start there.
The GRAND PRIZE STUPENDOUSLY ULTIMATE WINNER will receive….
1) Their choice of a partial critique, query critique, or phone consultation
2) A very-sought-after galley of THE SECRET YEAR by Jennifer Hubbard, which will be published by Viking in January:
3) A signed THE SECRET YEAR bookmark
4) The envy of their rivals
5) The pride of a job well done
6) I think you get the picture
The STUPENDOUSLY ULTIMATE FINALISTS will receive….
a) Query critiques
b) A signed THE SECRET YEAR bookmark (assuming you live in a place that is reached in a reasonably affordable fashion by the postal service no offense forraners)
c) Pride. Lots of pride.
On to the rules!!
I) This is a for-fun contest that I conduct in the free time. Rules may be adjusted without notice, as I see fit, in ways in which you might find capricious, arbitrary, and in a possibly not fully comprehensible fashion. Complainants will be sent to the Magister, and trust me, you don’t want to get sent to the Magister (who’s been watching True Blood? This guy)
II) Ya hear? Angst = prohibited.
III) Please post the first paragraph of any work-in-progress in the comments section of THIS POST. Do not e-mail me your submission. The deadline for entry is THURSDAY 4pm Pacific time, at which point entries will be closed. Finalists will be announced on Friday, at which time you will exercise your democratic rights to choose a stupendously ultimate winner.
IV) You may enter once, once you may enter, and enter once you may.
V) Spreading word about the contest is strongly encouraged.
VI) I will be sole judge. Unless I chicken out.
VII) I am not imposing a word count on the paragraphs. However, a paragraph that is overly long may lose points in the judge’s eyes. Use your own discretion.
VIII) Please remember that the paragraph needs to be a paragraph, not multiple paragraphs masquerading as one paragraph.
That is all.
And now I shall retreat to my stupendously ultimate bunker.
UPDATE: CONTEST IS CLOSED!! Thank you so much to everyone who entered.
up so many floating bells down says
Night was no respite for Lone Wilder. Sleep never came until the early hours of morning when the streetlight slipping through the narrow slit window of his basement room turned into the thin grey light of predawn. It was not for lack of trying. Each night he laid his head down on the barely nonexistent mattress of the cot that served as his bed and pulled the thin, tatty blanket up to his chin. Each night he felt exhausted. Each night he closed his eyes. But then the dreams would begin—dreams that did not even wait for him to fall asleep.
The mouse squeaked when Adam put it in the machine. I wrapped my arms around my stomach and concentrated on not puking. Calm down, I thought. Take a deep breath. But sucking air past the lump in my throat felt enough like swallowing crushed glass to make me forget the whole breathing thing, at least for a while.
Susan R. Mills says
I took a step backward as he stumbled toward me. His breath smelled like my great aunt Ruby's ashtray when it hadn't been dumped in weeks. His bloodshot eyes were vacant and dark–so dark that it was impossible to tell where the pupil ended and the chocolate brown began.
Jennifer K. Sights says
“Elena, can I see you in my office?”
“Sure, Sarge. What’s up?” I followed Sergeant Gerald Lancaster – call him Jerry – down the hall and into his office where he closed the door. “Uh oh, did I screw up?” My mind raced as I tried to think of what I could have done wrong.
“No, calm down. You’re not in trouble. Have a seat.” I sat down, wondering what was going on. Usually when Sergeant Lancaster called people into his office and closed the door it was bad news. He seemed to be thinking of how to say whatever it was he wanted to say to me. He was a man of few words, a fact made more interesting by his night job as a teacher at the community college. I always thought teachers talked a lot, but not Jerry.
Jerry stood from behind his desk and extended his arm, as if to shake my hand. “Congratulations Detective Ronen. You’ve just received a promotion.”
I was too shocked to return the handshake. “But, I’ve only been here six months. Don’t I have to do my time, work my way through the ranks and all that? Protocol or whatnot?” I didn’t know exactly what it took to become a detective. I was just happy to have a job.
“Screw protocol. I have a case I want you on, and this is the only way to do it, so here we are. So what do you say?”
Jenn's Scribbles says
Note to Self: Wear Long Pants In Police Cars. I slid forward, legs sticky and sweaty as I pulled them away from the warm vinyl seat. “Where are we going?” Steel grey eyes met mine in the rear-view mirror, but didn’t respond. “Are you taking me home?” Silence. I glanced out the window. A shooting star flickered over a passing truck. I started to make a wish, but remembered Joel Spenser saying if stars are just burning balls of gas, we should be able to make a wish on a fart. That earned him a two-page report on the difference between flatulence and the gas of a burning star. I didn’t make a wish.
The familiar signal echoed through the roof; three crisp knocks in rapid succession. It was nearly four in the morning, during that block of time the ancient Chinese soothsayers claimed was the time of the moon, that *yin* time of sensitivity, the time when the human soul can most easily be viewed.
MJ Robins says
She got her first black eye when she was ten. Her first knife wound at fourteen. At sixteen she inked her torso with a multi-colored tattoo of two hummingbirds selfishly feeding from an budding apple tree. Symbolic really, when she considered who was buried ten feet from the apple tree on her grandfather's property. Her first kill.
Annalisa G says
Ari flopped herself onto her bed, turning her sore cheek away from the covers. She’d never been struck before, and the shock of having her father slap her across the face to quiet her had almost been more painful than the blow itself. Admittedly, she’d pushed him as far as he could go. Their latest argument surpassed anything they’d had up until now. She cringed remembering everything she’d said, or screamed at him, rather. Her father’s face had gone from pink to red to plum purple and near the end he didn’t even appear to be breathing.
Sitting behind the desk, foot twitching impatiently, Colonel Roy Mustang watched the minute hand on the clock move slower and slower as the day progressed. He had no idea that in just a few minutes he would wish he could return to this peaceful and somewhat boring routine of signing papers and writing directives. Summer's heat, noticeable even in an early morning, crawled in a heady shimmering haze through the open window into his office. The lazy 11 o-clock tiredness settled on his shoulders as Roy put down his pen to stretch luxuriously, pushing the unfinished stack of paperwork into the farthest corner of the desk. Days like this were brought onto Earth by the vengeful gods to torment people with the irresistible longing for a nap in a cooling shadow of the trees in a nearby park. Maybe, if he pretends to have business in the Archives, Roy could escape his secretary's ever watchful eye and get a half-hour break before the blaze of an afternoon makes the outside warmth into the scorching inferno that would be hot enough to melt the soles of the military issued boots. Smiling, Mustang stood up from his desk and having retrieved his gloves from the top drawer, started for the door. Even before he opened it, he heard the commotion and a loud chorus of cheering voices of his usually quiet subordinates. What was going on to rally them up like this?
The armed guards hustled their unbound prisoner through secret passageways and up narrow stone stairways before finally emerging in a secluded courtyard. They motioned for the man to walk ahead alone and he nodded, straightening his tall frame with dignity. He wasn’t sure how far to go, but stopped after twelve paces, waited a few seconds, then turned to see if he was following their orders correctly. They were gone. As he scanned the courtyard for signs of life, debating whether to stay or escape, the king and two of his daughters quietly stepped out of the shadows.
Pamela Ross says
“Come on, Izzy!” my cousin Josh begged. “Do something stupid!”
It was hard to do something stupid with a soggy piece of matzoh and thirteen people shushing you to be quiet. Passover seder meals are not the time or place to be belching and throwing tiny pieces of gefilte fish across a crowded dining room table. But Cousin Josh was begging me. Me, one of the only girls in the world Josh spoke to without calling a name like Woof or Barf Face. I, Isabelle Ashley Mason, had my goofy cousin Josh wrapped around my little fingers and I loved it.
Bianca shivered. Horizontal and naked were words that should bring certain images to mind. Not floating five feet in the air staring down at a warm raspberry bubblebath with no frigging idea how to get back into the tub before she turned blue.
Detective Markus Troval drove down the Los Angeles suburban street knowing he was heading toward blood. Turning a corner he could see the red and blue flashing lights of the police cruisers, the strobes creating a strange light show in the thick fog that had rolled in earlier that evening. A yawn escaped him as he parked his car. It was 3:30 in the morning and as rough as it was to be up and moving at this hour he couldn’t blame anyone but himself. It was his standing orders that he be called, no matter the time, if another Painter killing occurred.
From Richard B.
Jacqueline Corcoran says
I woke to screaming. My head ached from too many tequila shots. Okay, I remembered that much. Dry grass crackled underneath me. Lying on the ground outside– oh my, an all-time low.
I submit this report at the request of Deputy Director Clay over my own objection. The incident in question was a personal matter. Dr. Scovil attacked me only as a result of his medical condition. We maintain a productive working relationship and agree the success of our investigation is paramount.
Onstage, the King of Fools rode out on his pantomime horse, waving his sword and holding his head so high that Violet, sitting in the audience, looked toward the sky, wondering if the renegade swan from the lily pool had escaped again. It had developed a bad habit of dive-bombing hats—especially the elaborately feathered ones. Swans are unfriendly creatures on their best days and this one, unaffectionately called Filthy Tom by the garden staff, attacked whatever body, be it man or beast, came within scope of it’s beady black eyes. Luckily, Filthy Tom was acutely nearsighted. Unluckily, he had some kind of homing instinct for feathered hats. Despite several unfortunate incidents, the nobles still insisted on wearing them. Fashion stops for no swan.
A black beetle, the size of a coin, scuttled across the path. Del altered his step so that the bug would not end up crunched underneath his boot. Let this one have a chance at another day. He was in a generous spirit.
CMP IMAGES says
I looked down, my bruised arm hanging limp. “I thought I told you to stay still you little bitch!” he yelled, waving the bottle at me. He took another empty swig, let out a groan and fell onto my bed. The bottle hit the floor hard piercing my reality, then rolled to meet my feet. The air, like me, had become stagnant. I waited, not knowing if he had truly passed out or if he was just pretending in a ruse to get me back near him. I wanted to yell, scream, run, anything, but then nothing. A salty blood taste filled my mouth. Chilled air crept up the back of my legs as I sought my exit, “'till never,” I said.
Sally Clements says
The scream of a peregrine falcon distracted Claire for a moment, and she looked up into the clear blue cloudless sky to watch it drop towards its prey. She held her breath it folded back its wings to plunge towards the smaller bird. A flurry of white feathers and it was all over, and the dove escaped over the city’s ramparts to freedom. It was early, she wouldn’t have to start cooking lunch for hours yet, so she leant against the warm stone watching the people bustle around in the market outside Mdina’s walls. She could make out the familiar figure of her mother, tall and slender, her white blonde hair catching the light as she bought fish, adding it to the stack of produce that Michael was putting into the van. Faro Restaurant was written across it’s side in the dark navy writing that matched the restaurant’s awning.
Karen H. says
My mother still manages to leave behind many bad things, not because she means too, but because she is just plain crazy. I’ve been told not to use the word crazy because there are actual medical reasons why her brain does not work properly. I know I’m only eleven, but if I ever order a 12-slice toaster off the Home Shopping Network and then start hearing voices, you can definitely call me what you like and I won’t mind because it will be the truth. Crazy.
Rivel Chase had been running for fifteen years; hiding in the embrace of whores and booze, trying not to think about the past. Today was different. Rivel walked quickly to the plaza. Early morning sun filtered into the empty streets of Corvin; the salt tang of sea air mingled with the crisp sent of autumn. Today would make it all worth it.
The counselor asked me what my interests are. I told her I liked writing – or that I was an okay writer, I guess – and she suggested I start a journal. She said it could be about anything really, but I should try to write it like it was about Chase or to Chase or some shit like that. I dunno, it sounded kinda weird and I really didn't see much good in dwelling on it. Then later that day, my dad suggested we go down to the beach house to relax – or 'reflect', I guess is how he put it – but I wasn't really keen on doing that either. It was like no one understood. When something bad happens, especially if you're a kid, everyone starts treating you like you're made of fuckin' glass. I didn't want time off school. I didn't want any journals or any beach house or anything special at all. I just wanted everything to be normal. But it only took a day to see I didn't even know what normal was any more. Normal has left the fucking building.
For a glorious second, I thought nothing was going to happen. Then the lights went out. Screams surrounded us. Annoti whooped (yes, in a positive way, the nutcase) and Mr Bent kept droning about the Millennium Bug for a full five seconds before he even noticed.
The warmth of day vanished with remarkable speed, thrusting the desert under a bone-chilling shroud of twilight. Murky shadows crept across the rocky ridge, and Jackson Neale, cautious now after four bloody years of war, slipped deeper into the concealing darkness. His body tensed with a caution that defined survival. Slowly, his hand lowered to his gun belt and calm assurance settled over him when his fingers folded around the worn, wooden grip of the well-oiled Colt. He could count on one hand the people he’d befriended on the trek westward from Virginia, and knew with absolute certainty that the man riding into his camp tonight wasn’t one of them. Only a fool entered without hailing first, yet this brazen bastard displayed a boldness that truly amazed him.
The buckskin mare three back in the pack train slipped in the driving rain, went to her knees, and in the scramble to get back to her feet went over the edge of the cliff. Kian Adri-nes counted the rest of the animals and cursed quietly—the buckskin had been carrying a good half of the Emperor’s gifts, all of the jewels and his spare poison kit. He could always do without the poisons, but the jewels were irreplaceable, the bribes meant to smooth the way of his mission. Six miles to go, and the rain was turning to sleet. The only good thing about this trail was that it was impossible to get lost, even in the dark. The only way to go was straight up the mountain.
“Remember how I told you my teacher hates me?" Alex said. "He does. Don’t give me that look. He’s totally got it in for me. He’s on my case all the time and I just really wanted to get back at him.”
She did not like me from the very beginning. The moment I stepped into my aunt’s house I knew, – this sweet looking relative of mine hates my guts. Oh, no, she was not rude or cold to me. She pulled me into a strained hug and put a dry kiss on my flushed cheek. Then she glanced at my dad and said, “She looks exactly like her mother!” and I knew that somehow this was not a compliment.
Jennifer Barrett says
Ada is my sister. They call her a Sea Witch. She calls me bossy.
Well, she never really calls me anything. She’s deaf, so she doesn’t talk. Our mother was terrified she would lose her, so Ada has always worn bells and charms around her skirts. It’s the first thing I can ever remember; the constant tinkle that is my older sister. If I can’t see her I can hear her, and I can hear her behind me now as we climb the rocks and tree roots that grow down the cliff face.
Nobody owns land in Mongolia. You can leave the cities and towns and drive across the country, going anywhere you please, and encounter no fences. 2.8 million people live in a country three times the size of California with a full third of the population in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. The rest are scattered across the steppe, mountains, hills, deserts and plains, living in small towns and in yurts spread across the countryside. Traditionally a land of herders, you can still find families living off of their flocks of animals. True to the practice of moving to where the grass is good, there are no boundaries or proper ‘owners’ of the land. The whole country is still a ‘commons,’ yet to be parceled off, fenced in and cleared of people.
The cells are built along the outer rim of the orbital station, because that's where the centripetal gravity is toughest on you: good for storage, machinery and scoundrels. The upside is, some cells, like mine, have an honest to goodness porthole, measly palm-sized thing that it is; you can gauge time from the slow drift of the starfield, and reflect upon either the vacuity of the infinite or the size of the synthetic steak you'll get yourself once out, your choice. The downside, it turns out, is that you are way outside the populated segments, and easily forgotten in case of an unplanned emergency evacuation. I have a hunch this may not be my day.
I turned the volume up to max to hear the female news anchor, whose voice was pitched just under hysteria. She tried valiantly to remain professional, however, her shirt was buttoned wrong and her mic wire was showing. She reported that the overwhelmed UCLA Medical Center was the latest hospital to begin turning away patients with the incurable flu symptoms. I felt the blood run out of my face as I watched helicopter footage of the swelling mob outside the hospital. Suddenly, the signal blinked out and a screen full of colored bars appeared. Cheerful elevator music played and the words “We’ll be back soon!” ran across the bottom of the screen and I couldn’t help but wonder, would they?
The air was thick with the perfume of gunpowder and blood, and the soldiers below on the battlefield were left with a metallic tang in their mouths. The three angels could not taste or smell like the humans, but they could sense the slightest discomfort in others. That sense was not neglected that sweltering august afternoon.
Chellesie B. Dancer says
Her eyes glowed with the heat of her passion, her breasts rising and falling as her heartbeat quickened in anticipation. He watched eagerly as she leaned closer, her fervor melting that sly smile into open-mouthed longing. She bent her head, then ever so slowly, her lips closed around it and she was there. Her eyes fluttered closed for a moment in rapture, savoring the taste, the smell, the sensations in her mouth. Reluctantly, she finally had to swallow. Then she opened her eyes for the next forkful of lobster. He looked away, annoyed at his erection.
Latonya Frank says
I knew that people hated me for who I was. Well, “hated” perhaps is too strong a word. I was not hated, per se. “Despised” might be the better word for it. Either way, I was, simply put, not well liked. People thought that I was proud because I would rather spend my time reading than in the company of others, and they thought me arrogant because I rarely spoke to them outside of answering their questions on Amethyrian history (in the rare instances that they actually had any)—and as succinctly as possible, by the way, because, apparently, I would start to bore them if I went on too long.
Christine Castigliano says
Yolanda climbed over the broken-down fence and ran across the frozen fields out to the sycamore at the edge of MacGroder’s farm. She longed to climb into the arms of the old tree as she'd always done before, to get away from Mama, to dream, or to hide in a book. If only she hadn't seen that boy's face staring back at her in the mirror that morning before the dawn. If it wasn't for that, she wouldn't have to run past the sycamore tree and up toward George’s Mountain. This time, she had to tell somebody.
Adorable Cullens says
It had been two months, three days and 15 hours since Sophie had heard from Michael Nariovski Gray. And as the hands of the clock crept toward noon while she sat in the National Central Bureau of Interpol in Washington, DC, it didn’t look like that was going to change any time soon. The wary, pinched look on the face of the agent who finally entered the room, dossier in hand, was not encouraging either. But Sophie was used to hopeless situations. Ten years of working in the midst of the world's most appalling refugee camps does that to a person.
Chandra stood waiting for the show, trying to ignore all the red flags. First, every alt-weekly in Los Angeles wanted to have the band’s children, a sure sign they were overhyped. Second was the crowd, drunken kids from Greek Row shouting and texting each other—the Pabst drinkers of music, she thought. Third was the way the lead singer shambled on stage like he was doped on cough syrup, or something out of a bong. Still, there was hope. Maybe they were introverts, whose genius only showed up on stage. Maybe their music would transport her to a better place, preferably one that didn’t smell like the crowd (too much melon body spray, and not enough deodorant). After all, this was why she scouted bands, to find the rough-cut gems. But as the band’s first notes thundered through the club, her hope succumbed to an assault of power chords, noise so punishing her phone went off like a car alarm in her pants.
Rogue Novelist says
A DEAD body to me is just that, a corpse, a lifeless animal decomposing. How it gets that way is what troubles me.
How could a simple hospital stay go so wrong? Maybe I died on the operating table and now I'm in hell.
You flail your arms, but they don't see you. You scream, but the water rushes past your lips, drowning any noise. Your legs are not kicking though you think they are. In seventeen seconds you will succumb. When your family scatters your ashes over this water, you will find it insulting, but finally realize it didn't have to be this way.
Papa used to walk through the graveyard on his way home from school. He’d go through the gate, past Mr. Henry’s sarcophagus at the top of the hill, and straight down the path by Mrs. Thompson’s headstone. Folks called it morbid for a child, but Grandma says the dead don’t do as much harm as the living. She says that after she lost my granddaddy in the war, she didn’t have anything except her boy and nothing would touch him if she could help it. So every afternoon, Grandma watched from my room until Papa passed through the churchyard. She’d have had his hide if he ever touched one of the tombstones, but he wasn’t ever like Franklin Ford, who pitched snowballs at the angel over Mrs. Johnston’s grave. Mrs. Johnston might have wailed and rolled about, Grandma says, but it wasn’t on account of Papa. He knew how to behave in a cemetery.
In early June, 1982, the same day “Lawn Chair Larry” soared over Long Beach using weather balloons, twelve year old Mary Pratt lay sleeping in her toyless, sparsely decorated room with a view of the Hollywood sign. Coming down from a parentally induced heroin high, she was dreaming of Lumumba. Not the martyred African leader, but the old black Labrador retriever who was her constant companion until last year, when he died.
With THREE minutes to spare! This has got to be a record.
At this rooftop eruption of pop music and unlimited secret booze, I am a plus one.
It’s amazing Olivia hasn’t seen me and asked me to leave yet. Either she’s too busy playing Barbie Hosts a Grad Party, or she’s just stopped caring. I'm guessing the second, since there’s no way she hasn’t seen me sulking in the lounge area for the past two hours.
The gusty chill was unusual for the middle of February in southern California. I felt silly swapping out my jeans for the white skirt and white sweater ensemble. The romantic mood I had woken up with was now an afterthought as a puff caught my eye. As I stood in the middle of the school quad, my chin raised as my eyes went to the sky. A few million white puffs began their descent to the cement floor. I felt my eyelashes catch moisture as I realized it was snowing. As I stood in awe of this climate miracle, I selfishly gave into a rising fear of blending into the background once again.
Audra Brown says
Vampires make great sparring partners. It's true. If you can find one that trusts you enough. The problem is that most vamps are hopelessly paranoid about anyone who isn't a vamp. They seem to think that we all have it out for them. Therefore they tend to be rather reluctant about letting anyone near them with anything that might hurt them. I know, vamps are supposed to be super tough and all that. It's sort of true, they are hard to kill, no doubt about that. Short of complete decapitation, they can survive just about anything. They also can heal any non-lethal injury, but not instantaneously like they show in all the movies. It still takes some time. If you beat the snot out of them, you can take your time about finding a sharp sword to finish them off, because they're not going anywhere fast. Hence, the reluctance I run into when I want to spar.
My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer told me I had to choose something. A pseudonym. A nom de plume, for all of us studying for the SATs. I know that having a fake name is strange but trust me, it's the most normal thing about my life right now. Even telling you this much isn't good for my case. But without my big mouth, no one would know that a seventeen-year-old who likes Death Cab for Cutie was responsible for the murders. No one would know that somewhere out there is a B student with a body count. And it's important that you know, so you're not next.
Samantha Grace says
Jake Hillary was his degenerate brother’s keeper. Standing in the darkened hallway outside Daniel’s door, he raised his fist and pounded against the solid wood, rattling the door in its frame. His muscles tensed in anticipation of delivering a sound thrashing.
Phoebe heard her mother's frenzied sobbing well before she rounded the corner of her tree-lined street. The sound–jagged breathing and a low, mournful wail–vibrated in her ears, pulling her into the choking anxiety. With still a few blocks to go before she reached home, she ran with hurried breath. Hearing her mother so clearly was a nerve-jarring reminder to Phoebe that her quirk was back.