Requiem For a Writing Contest

I entered a 499-word Dan Brown tribute contest — at least, that’s the name of it. It’s not so much a tribute but a contest to see who can present the best spoof of DB. As the Almighty Contest Administrator (ACA) wrote:

What can be said about Dan Brown? He’s one of the most successful commercial authors — not just of our generation — but of all time. He has an English degree and writes very solid sentences. For his short chapters, he is very diligent about making sure there is a hook at the end of every one of them. This makes the pace of his novels very brisk—they are a quick read. For this, he has become an extremely wealthy man. Good for him, he deserves all the comfort and luxury money can buy.

But logic in his scenarios and raw intelligence in his plot twists? Well, I suppose we’re asking too much.

I tied for first place in the DB contest, which wasn’t hard to do since there were only two entries. Two years ago, when I also won, there were thirty or more stories entered, but “everything has its time, which passes all too soon” (as the ACA’s said). The contest was for a writing group called the “Writin’ Wombats,” and so many of the members have moved on to greater glory, either becoming successful authors or publishers, or finding triumph in other businesses, that they no longer have time for such silliness.

Still, I enjoyed the writing exercise, and I’ll be sad to see the end of this contest.

The following story snippet is my entry. (The cover for the story was created by Rand Phares, and is not now or ever will be the cover of a published Pat Bertram book. And, despite what the cover says, I haven’t yet reached New York Times bestselling author status.)


It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents on Robert Langdon— except at occasional intervals when he managed to take a shortcut through an art gallery or coffee shop — and violent gusts of wind swept him onward as he struggled to flee the mermaids, rock stars, steam punks, and academics who were chasing him through the scanty streets (for it is in Mt. Vernon that our scene lies), fiercely agitating Robert who had had enough and wished his creator would kill him and put everyone out of their misery.

“Dammit,” ACA screamed. “This is not the Bulwer-Litton Contest. This is the DB Tribute Contest!” He shredded the entry and tossed the bits off his deck. Then, realizing what he had done, he looked around and sighed in relief. No one had seen this contribution to global contamination, so it didn’t count. And anyway, the entry had been written on toilet paper and would soon degrade.

The sound of pounding brought him to his feet. He hurried into the house, yanked open the front door and snarled, “What?”

A thin, bespectacled man stood there, hopping from foot to foot as if he had a full bladder. “Hurry.” The urgency in the man’s voice mirrored his behavior. “We have to leave. Now. I’m Robert Langdon.”

ACA snorted. “You can’t be. You’re so short.”

“Print adds several inches,” Robert said. “Listen. DB says you’re in serious trouble.”

“For what? Running a contest?”

“No, no. Your life is in danger.” Robert held out a hand. A few shreds of suspiciously familiar paper lay on his palm. “This message came to me, like manna from heaven.”

“And you think the message came from DB,” ACA said flatly.

“Yes. DB, the Divine Benefactor—my creator. And yours.” Although the last two words were spoken reverently, the dubious look in Robert’s eye clearly said he could not imagine DB ever being able to create such a colorful character as ACA. “Read this.” He laid the bits of paper end to end to reveal the message: aca-m-ust-flee-or-they-will-kill-him.

ACA rolled his eyes. “Those are isolated bits of a paper I just tore up. The edges of the pieces don’t even match.”

“Who cares about a few minor details? DB sure doesn’t. And you are in danger. There’s a gang of Wyverns waiting for you outside.” Apparently noticing ACA’s look of incomprehension, Robert added, “Wallabies?”

“You mean Wombats?”

“Ah, yes. Wombats. Sorry. I’m a bit dim, but I am what DB made me.”

ACA peeked outside. The Wombats were camped on his front lawn, armed with pens, netbooks, tablets—writing furiously.

“They’re planning a terrible writing accident for you. Come. We must go.”

ACA slipped out the door and followed Robert around the side of the house. He smiled to himself. He’d get even with his erstwhile friends. After this contest, he’d do another. And another. And another.

“There he is,” he heard Kat call out. “Write faster before he gets away.”


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

4 Responses to “Requiem For a Writing Contest”

  1. Carol Says:

    Good for you! A winning entry if I ever saw one! 🙂

    I don’t enter many contests… just a few well-known ones. I figure if there aren’t knowledgeable authors, agents, editors or whatever as judges offering feedback, there isn’t much to be gained by the effort (unless, of course, there’s the possibility of prize money). Still, the writing, revising, submitting and waiting process has the benefit of practising writerly disciplines. And it can be downright fun.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I really don’t like contests. So many of them now seem to be peer-to-peer contests without any real meaning. The winners are those who get the most people to vote for them, which seem more of a popularity contest (or a test of one’s abitlity to cajole people to vote for them) than an indication of worth. Many writers enter contests as a way of getting bragging rights, but I am so sick of all the brags that I don’t want to go that way.

  2. Juliet Waldron Says:

    How did I overlook this? Writing wombats, onward to glory! + Now we need the 50 Shades of Sadism contest.

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