What’s Your Emergency?

People ring the emergency police number for the daffiest reasons. For example, this woman troubled the good folk at the Avon and Somerset Constabulary with her concerns regarding a hungry squirrel:

And that brings us, ever so tangentially, to an item of literary news: you should go read Corwin Ericson’s new book, Checked Out OK, a baffling and hilarious compilation of hundreds of police log items from small towns in Western Massachusetts:

9:55 a.m. – A Rolling Green Drive resident told police that his girlfriend has been receiving poems at her Hadley workplace from a 60-year-old man. Amherst police advised the man to contact Hadley police about the problem.

12:51 a.m. – Police assisted people who were observing the salamanders crossing Henry Street.

Other reported concerns include people licking the road and ducks behaving oddly.

How Do I Get My Book Published?

Yes indeed, that is a link-bait title: How do I get my book published? is the webbernet’s third most googled inquiry, after How do I get vomit out of my shoe? and HOW DO I TURN OFF CAPSLOCK? So, following on from our somewhat unhelpful “Should I Get an MFA?”, we present a guide to getting that creepy manuscript of yours into the hands of unsuspecting shoppers.

First up, ask yourself if you have written a good book. You probably haven’t; most books aren’t good. Of course, some books that are not good still get published.

Bad Book

But unless you are recounting that one time you were shot in the face by your husband’s frolicsome teenage lover, you should probably assume your book needs to be good in order to be published. Here are some signs your book is not good:

  • It contains the sentence “As they were resting, Mariuccia prepared a delicious stew with the lukewarm placenta.”
  • Your book is called Peas: The Hidden Menace.
  • You find the whole you’re/your thing so darn confusing.
  • There is only one female character in your book, and her name is Antigone Bean. She wears smudgy blue eyeliner and a dirty denim jacket. She has a tragic past, but cannot speak about it. She draws willows in notebooks. She is irresponsible and irresistible!
  • You would describe your book as being about “finding” something—love; self; self-respect. (Unless that something is your keys, in which case I am very curious how those 80,000 words are going to play out, Nicholson Baker.)
  • You wept a lot while writing it.

So far, so maybe not not-good? Great! Show your book to several cruel and clever friends, and ask them to be brutal. Make sure one of them has a talent for proofreading, since almost any manuscript with a mistake on the first page will be rejected. Do not think “But it doesn’t have to be perfect! The publisher will fix it!” Most people who work in publishing love words, and endeavor to use them well; if you don’t demonstrate a similar love of language, they’re going to think you’re a clodpate. Also, please remember that publishers drink heavily from 11am onwards, and the drink makes them cruel. They are looking for reasons to laugh at you. Don’t give them the satisfaction!

Note that you will need to send this potentially not-utterly-shit book to an appropriate publisher. This is a tricky step for many people. I used to work for a company that published cookbooks—that was all we published: muffins; sausages; quick and easy meals for two—and yet we received many, many submissions from memoirists, children’s book authors, and poets. Dear Sir [my vagina has already condemned you to the dustbin, you dickwizzle!], I have written a children’s book entitled Lester The Giraffe Goes To The Crematorium. It is a confronting tale for children aged 3-5. Would you be interested in publishing it? No! No! Unless Lester the Giraffe can be turned into a nice casserole in twenty minutes and served with a side of blanched escarole, no! What is wrong with you? This step is not difficult. Here we go:

Identify the type of book you have written. Go to a bookstore. Find a book of the same type. Now take out a pen and write down the name of the company that published that book. Bingo!

Finally, the submission itself. Some publishers will only accept submissions that have been vetted by an agent, in which case you’ll need to find an agent. Good luck with that. Other publishers are happy to glance at any old tat that shows up in their slush pile. Some agents and publishers only want to see a query letter, while others prefer to receive the entire manuscript. It’s a crapshoot. If google won’t help you discover the particular requirements of your prospective agent or publisher, I’d just go for broke and send ’em the entire thing.

Your manuscript should be presented in the dullest font imaginable. If you insist on using a whimsical, curlicued font—it’s just so me!—let me save you some money on postage and tell you to promptly throw your manuscript into a pond. Also, do NOT bind your manuscript into some kind of book facsimile. Nothing makes a publisher laugh harder than evidence that you took a trip to the printing department at Kinkos. (Also, everyone knows that the printing department at Kinkos is situated in the midsection of Satan’s fiery rectum.) Here is a conversation that has taken place nowhere ever:

“So, Robert, shall we publish A Fiery Fondness or Make Mine a Mochachino?”
“I like the second one, Jemima. The manuscript has been thoughtfully bound to look quite like a book, and therefore I think it would be more suitable as a book. You see, because I possess no imagination, or indeed any basic cognitive abilities, I appreciate that the author has taken the time to show me that this manuscript could indeed be successfully formed into a book shape.”
“Great, Bobby! Me too!” [High fives.]

No sir, you will not fool anyone into thinking you have written a book just by making it look like a book.

You’ll need to include a cover letter. Don’t make it odd. Here is an example of an odd cover letter we once received:

Cover Letter

Don’t do that. In your cover letter, do not state that your chiropractor enjoyed the book, or that you once had a short story published in the online journal Sunny Summer Tuesdays. No one cares. Do not use fancy paper; you are not inviting the publisher to a garden party. Also, please be aware that writing “I retain all copyright to my work”—or drawing a little © on every page of your manuscript—will instantly reveal you to be nuts; writers who are paranoid about their ideas being stolen are the maddest of the mad. No one is going to steal your daft idea—and if they did, writing “I retain all copyright to my work” in your cover letter is not going to make a blind bit of legal difference in your awesome lawsuit against Bob’s Rectangular Books Inc. Do not mention the possibility of an advance, you gauche bastard. And do not mention that writing the book has healed you in any way. That’s just gross. (As Maya Angelou once said, “Your eczema? Your business!”)

You should also include a one-page synopsis of your book. Make it interesting. If you cannot write an interesting synopsis of your book, I’m afraid you will need to write another book.

I hope this has been helpful. And fear not—if you find you have no talent for writing, you can glue an empty Fresh Direct box to a fox carcass, title it Darling Hunter: Mind Waves III, and call yourself The Mighty Stan. The world of conceptual art will welcome you.

Assorted Astonishments

Here we have a grab bag of artsy bits and bobs for your mid-week delectation. First up, if you live in New York, you should hurry along to the loveliest space in the city, Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, to check out this galloping wonder:

Dancing, noise-making horses in Vanderbilt Hall! Artist Nick Cave (this guy, not this one) creates soundsuits, full-body costumes that make music when you wriggle about. His first soundsuits were made out of twigs:


And then he moved on to space costumes and furry friends:

Soundsuits-Space Soundsuits-Hair

Here’s Cave talking about how the soundsuits came to be:

These look so joyous and silly, and are quite possibly the best thing you could encounter on your lunch-break stroll through Grand Central. Be sure to take a friend, or befriend a stranger, so you can trade secrets (or proposals) at the whispering gallery in front of the Oyster Bar.

Next up: the Northern Lights. Karl Ove Knausgaard has written a short and lovely essay to accompany Simon Norfolk’s photo series, “The Magical Realism of Norwegian Nights”:

Northern LightsOh, that Arctic light, how concisely it delineates the world, with what unprecedented clarity: the sharp, rugged mountains against the clear blue sky, the green of the slopes, the small boats chugging in or out of the harbor, and onboard, the huge codfish from the depths, with their grayish-white skin and yellow eyes staring vacantly, or on the drying racks, where they hung by the thousands, slowly shriveling for later shipment to the southern lands. Everything was as sharp as a knife.

We love Knausgaard, and Simon Norfolk is well worth checking out, too. He’s best known for his eerie photographs of war zones and supercomputers: in this interview, he describes war photography as documenting “the military sublime.”

simon norfolk

And finally, from Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (a book my father has read six times, and can quote from at length, which is what makes Christmas dinner such a special occasion in our household), a few words on the astonishing atom:

Atoms really get around. Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you. We are each so anatomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms—up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested—probably once belonged to Shakespeare. A billion more each came from Buddha and Genghis Khan and Beethoven, and any other historical figure you care to name. (The personages have to be historical, apparently, as it takes the atoms some decades to become thoroughly redistributed; however much you may wish it, you are not yet one with Elvis.)

My Name is Tracey and I Watch Cats

I worry about my brain. I think it’s broken. I blame these little guys:

I used to read Kafka; now I watch cat videos. When I was a kid, I read a book a day. They weren’t the most challenging books—Jill and Her Pony; Misadventure at the Gymkhana; Jill’s Pony goes to the Glue Factory!—but still, they kept my brain busy. Reading occupied all of my spare time, and my most frequent whine was “Just let me finish this chapter!” When I wasn’t reading, I was devising methods for future reading; my parents were strict about lights out, so reading into the wee hours involved some cunning. I tried reading under the covers with a flashlight, but I was quickly found out, and the flashlight was locked away in a cupboard. Then I discovered that if I turned on the hall light and angled my bedroom door just right, I could read in the beam of light—so my parents removed the lightbulb, and for the rest of my childhood we felt our way down the dark hallway at night like the soon-to-be-slaughtered in a horror movie. Cue another brilliant plan: the sofa in the living room faced away from the hall door, so if I crawled silently out to the living room, I could slide myself and Jill’s pony under the sofa without anyone noticing—and the noise from the TV would disguise the sound of my pages turning! This plan worked well until, peeping out from under the couch one night, I accidentally witnessed some post-watershed TV debacle involving a man, a woman, and a very bloody pair of scissors, and had to confess my sofa-crime the next day in order to receive PTSD counseling from my mother. She gave me a hug and told me TV wasn’t real, and then my parents moved the sofa to the other side of the room.

All of which is to say: reading used to be really important to me. And now I watch cat videos. I watch videos of people in Russia driving eccentrically. I look at photos on Facebook. Here is a photo of a bowl of ramen that is about to be eaten by that Swedish woman I met once at a party. I play Candy Crush Saga (don’t pretend you don’t play Candy Crush Saga). I look things up on Wiki—last week I looked up sea otters, Catherine of Aragon, and the tiny island nation of Palau—but I remember nothing. I tell myself I’m reading an insightful Longform essay about autism, but really I’m just google-imaging fat tuxedo cat (try it; you’ll squee yourself). My brain wants screen candy.

kindleI thought the Kindle might help—I’ll trick myself into reading by putting my book on a tiny screen!—but the Kindle is such an appalling device that mostly I just end up ranting instead of reading. I know, I know, a bricks-and-mortar bookstore dissing the Kindle—quelle surprise! But seriously, what a daft piece of technology. It looks like it was ripped from the dashboard of a 1982 Lada. The user interface was designed with someone other than a human being in mind (an excitable squirrel, perhaps?); it’s awkward to hold in bed, where all the best reading is done; and even with the font set at its tiniest size, it takes about three seconds to read a single page, meaning that every three seconds you have to jab at that dim little screen and hope the very next page comes up. Sometimes the very next page does come up; sometimes you jab a little too far to the left and the previous page comes up—ah, previous page, what happy memories of three seconds ago!—and sometimes the Kindle gets all whimsical and skips gleefully to an entirely random page, at which point you realize it was never intended to be used as an e-reader, but rather was designed to be a challenging electronic game called Find My Page! You can try to find your page by selecting “Go To” and then the chapter, but this is no help if you don’t remember the name of the chapter you were just reading, or if the chapters are hundreds of pages long. Or you can “go to” a Loc (location) in your book, but alas this is impossible, because you don’t know your location. Why would you? It’s an entirely meaningless number; a long book has thousands of locations; and memorizing the location at the bottom of each tiny, stupid page would take longer than reading the tiny, stupid page itself. So you’re screwed! Silly you! Pick a location at random, go back, pick another one, and now get ready to jab at that tiny, stupid screen eighty-three times until you reach the very next page. See? Ranting, not reading.

Nope, the Kindle didn’t work. I think the only way to rescue my poor brain is to risk public humiliation. So here’s the Malvern Books book group pledge: in the next two weeks, I will read and finish a book (an actual book, with booky smells, obviously; not a mere collection of dimly lit locations), and then I shall come back here and tell you all about it. If I don’t keep my pledge, feel free to call me a colossal nitwit, and we can all stop pretending there’s any hope for my neurons. I’ll give in and buy a little bib and a sippy cup and just stare at poorly shot ten-second films of cats falling off counters for the rest of my days. You can mop the pixelated dribble off my chin when you come to visit me at the home.

If you’re feeling similarly afflicted with internetitis, or if, you know, you just want to read a book, feel free to join me. Our book group requires no baking, no use of the phrase I just couldn’t relate to his character, and there will be no ten-minute breaks in which we discuss crafts and Kegels. I will serve Negronis and day-old beans. And the book we’ll be reading is Spring Snow, the first novel of Yukio Mishima’s The Sea of Fertility tetralogy. Mishima was recommended to me by two dear friends. That other dear friend, Wiki, tells us that Mishima (1920-1975) is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the twentieth century and, more interestingly, that he founded a private militia and committed suicide by seppuku after a failed coup d’état (dude totally stole Joyce Carol Oates’ exit strategy!) Here’s a 1969 interview in which he looks dashing whilst discussing Japanese nationalism:

So, who’s in? Let’s step away from our screens and spend the next two weeks immersed in Mishimaland. If you’re reading the Vintage Books edition, you’ll need to tear through twenty-eight pages a day, which should still leave a little time for—

Remembering Bodom

Today Malvern’s metal connoisseur, Adam, introduces us to…

Children of BodomChildren of Bodom is one of the most musically eclectic bands in the genre of heavy metal. The lead attraction of this band is the combination of the frenzied, technical guitar solos of vocalist/guitarist Alexi Laiho with the sophisticatedly complex keyboard solos of keyboard player Janne Wirman. The other members of this quintet are Roope Latvala on rhythm guitar, Henkka Seppala on bass guitar, and Jaska Rattikainen on drums. The band has incorporated many different musical styles, including melodic death metal, power metal, thrash metal, black metal, and even old school neoclassical metal. They were formed in Espoo, Finland, in 1993 and have nine albums to their name as of this date. They are also one of Finland’s best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 250,000 records there alone.

Children of Bodom’s name derives from a series of violent murders that occurred in Finland during the 1960s at a location called Lake Bodom. The murders were soon to be dubbed the Lake Bodom murders. Lake Bodom is a lake by the city of Espoo, about 14 miles west of the country’s capital, Helsinki. In the early hours of June 5, 1960, four teenagers were camping on the shores of Lake Bodom. Between 4am and 6am, an unknown person or persons murdered three of them with a knife and blunt instrument, and wounded the fourth. The sole survivor, Nils Willhelm Gustaffason, led a normal life until 2004, when he became a suspect and was subsequently charged. In October 2005, a district court found Gustafsson not guilty of all charges against him. The murder victims in this case were Maili Irmeli Björklund, 15 years old, Anja Tuulikki Mäki, also 15 years old, and Seppo Antero Boisman, 18 years old.

Children of Bodom have stirred up quite a deal of controversy over their name. The band’s members maintain that their name is not meant in any way to glorify or admire the horrific acts that transpired at Lake Bodom, but is an homage and tribute to the memory of the victims who tragically lost their lives. Whether one likes their name or not, however, one thing that cannot be disputed is the band’s extraordinary talent at combining heavy, aggressive sounding rhythms and vocal patterns with intricate and melodic musical pieces.

Their most notable album is still to this day their third album, which is entitled Follow the Reaper. With classic songs such as “Hate Me,” “Bodom After Midnight,” and the highly memorable “Everytime I Die,” Children of Bodom succeed in creating a musical masterpiece with this album.

“Everytime I Die” portrays a rather dark side of the lead singer Alexi Laiho. Laiho is known to have had a difficult life growing up. He was apparently physically abused by people at his school as well as his father. He at one point developed a serious addiction to alcohol and pills, which almost cost him his life. It was suspected that he might have been trying to commit suicide when this occurred by ingesting a large concoction of pills with a bottle of Vodka. The song “Everytime I Die” seems to be a portrayal of the painful emotions Laiho felt as he was being forced to endure mistreatment and was suffering from a serious addiction to pills and alcohol. A memorable passage from the song that serves as the chorus says:

Another night, another demise
Cadaverous wind blowing cold as ice
I’ll let the wind blow out the light
Because it gets more painful every time I die

Needless to say, Laiho was saved and as a result went on to create the legendary heavy metal band Children of Bodom. The lyrics of his songs portray the despair and pain he felt throughout his life in a clear way. Since the release of Follow the Reaper, Children of Bodom has gone on to record six more albums. The band still tours and is planning on putting out another album in the near future. The metal music world can do nothing but wait in intense anticipation for this exceptionally talented metal quintet’s next release.

Christ on Toast

ToastA few years ago, my friend Tim and I set ourselves the task of reading the bible and blogging about it. We only made it as far as the first Book of Samuel—it’s quite a task, poking fun at every burning dove and talking ass you come across—but I learned a lot along the way. For example, did you know that every rainbow is an apology from God? Mopping up after the great flood, God saw that it was muddy, and he was ashamed, so he made a solemn vow to Noah (Genesis 9:12):

I establish my covenant with you: never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth. This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

So every time you look up in the sky and see a rainbow, it’s a reminder of God’s great promise—a promise to never again try and destroy you! Sweet! If you run a Christian supplies store, you might consider stocking this awesome celebratory poster I made:


The bible is gloriously batty, and I highly recommend it for your next book group (I’m pretty sure it’s Oprah-approved). Here’s our take on Deuteronomy 22-24, in which Moses declares a bunch of minor laws (it will make more sense if you read the real deal first):

Oh Moses, you gorgeous madman, on and on you go. You’ve said all there is to say about idolatry and warfare, and now you’re dishing out God’s holy oddments. First up, be kind to cows. If a cow gets lost, help it to find its way home again. Be kind to donkeys, too. If a donkey stumbles under a heavy load and falls into a ditch, don’t laugh at it or call it a great gray fool. Don’t poke it with a stick. Join forces with your neighbors and get that poor ass back on its feet.

Men, don’t be wearing lady costumes. And gals, let the men wear the pants. The Lord doth hate a transvestite:

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

If you come across a bird’s nest in a tree or on the ground, feel free to eat the eggs, or kill any little baby birdies, but don’t mess with the mother bird:

Let her go free, and the LORD will bless you with a long and successful life.

Not a day goes by without some idiot falling off a roof. The Lord is heartily sick of this nonsense. If your house has a flat roof, could you please build a wall around the edge. Thanks.

Girlfriend, keep an eye on that husband of yours. If he grows tired of you, he may try to ruin your honor by claiming you weren’t a virgin when you married. If this happens, there’s only one thing for it: your parents must show the town’s leaders the sheets you bloodied on your wedding night. If you threw away those sheets, or maybe washed them, then I’m afraid your husband’s accusation will stand, and you’ll be stoned to death, you wee scallywag.

Surely the women of Israel are incensed by this law? After all, they’ve read every issue of Twelve (the lower life-expectancy Seventeen), and they know it’s, like, totally easy to accidentally bust your hymen whilst climbing a tree, or riding a donkey, or pulling a donkey out of a ditch. That doesn’t mean you’re not a virgin! “Leading a lost cow home through a field, I slipped and sacrificed my maidenhead to a fencepost… are you telling me I deserve a good stoning?” She asks a fair question, Mo, but I can’t imagine you have much sympathy. Perhaps you stare down at your sandals, blushing, as you advise all women to remain as still as possible until they get married. Mind your hymens, ladies!

Men, don’t think your genitals have escaped God’s pervy eye. If your private parts have been cut off, or even if they’re just a bit squishy, I’m afraid God doesn’t want to know you:

He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.

Soldiers, keep your camp clean. If the Lord’s told you once, he’s told you a thousand times: don’t shit on the grass. When thou wilt ease thyself abroad, for heaven’s sake dig a hole. If the Lord pops by for a visit and there are great big steaming piles of turd lying around all over the place, well, he won’t be staying for a cup of tea.

Have you been cautioned against wet dreams, that uncleanness that chanceth upon you by night? They create a lot of unnecessary bother, so try not to have them. Don’t be cruel to runaway slaves. Don’t visit temple prostitutes. And would you please stop kidnapping one another, you ratbags!

If you lend money to a fellow Israelite, you mustn’t charge him any interest. It’s okay to take something of his as a guarantee that he’ll pay you back, but don’t keep anything he really needs. If you take his only coat, for instance, you mustn’t keep it overnight. Give it back before the sun goes down, so the poor chap won’t freeze to death. It will be hugely time-consuming and inconvenient, having to visit all your debtors twice a day to collect and return their coats. This is not the Lord’s problem.

When you harvest your grain or pick your olives, don’t be too thorough about it; make sure you leave a few scraps behind for poor people. Poor people enjoy a good scavenge; it takes their minds off the hunger.

And on and on and on it goes. Are the children of Israel listening, Moses? Does God still speak to you, or are you just making this shit up?