Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Book Report: Too Far by Mike Lupica (2004)
Heather gave me this book for Valentine's Day, and I've already read it. So you know where I stand on Lupica. If you don't, here's a refresher course: Wild Pitch; Full Court Press; Bump & Run.

This book, unlike those named above, centers around a crime. A former national sports columnist who retired after the subjective of an investigative story killed himself returns to his hometown on Long Island. A high school student who covers high school basketball games for the local paper comes to the adult sportswriter with a possible clue in the death of the high school basketball manager's death and its possible relationship to a hazing incident with the team.

So there's your setup.

What follows is decent prose and a passable story interrupted too often with exposition about school hazing and its barbarity. I mean, brother, sodomy with a broomstick is enough in its description; you don't have to have two separate characters in a limited omniscient point of view reflect at the page's length about how brutal it is. I mean, we don't get that sort of thing in other murder mysteries, unless I'm missing the entire cockfighting murder mystery subgenre (Well, I wouldn't say I'm missing it, Bob).

The action builds credibly once you get past the editorials against high school hazing and the meticulous recounting of other incidents nationwide (almost requiring end notes). Until we get to the extraordinary double deus ex maquina at the end, where someone else sums up the story and lays it at our investigator's feet and someone else appears to get the investigators out of the climactic jam at the end. Unsatisfying.

However, I still like Lupica and will gladly accept any and all gifts of his work in the future.

Books mentioned in this review:

Who Can Take CNN Seriously?
Here's today's home page:

Featuring the the Secretary of State as Nosferatu and a headline about the sitting president: Doctor plays whack-a-mole on Bush's face.

Well, I guess the world's first and most self-important news network has to compete with the Daily Show.

Friday, February 16, 2007
Painted Days and Painted Nights
It's Mardi Gras time here in St. Louis, which means Soulard is putting on its schizophrenic finery wherein it tries to celebrate in a family-friendly fashion the last minute drive to get in as much debauchery as possible before Lent and repentance came due. But that's neither here nor there.

Fact of the matter is, I've worn face paint twice in my life, and neither time was for a sporting event. The first was, in fact, Mardi Gras 10 years ago. A couple of my friends and I decided to go down the Saturday before Fat Tuesday and take it all in. Familiar with the concept of the New Orleans Mardi Gras and its festivities, I said, "Hey, people paint their faces for Mardi Gras, right?"

"Sure," my lifelong St. Louis resident friend said.

So I designed a concept for my motif: On one side, the happy drama mask, and on the other side, the unhappy drama mask. Done in black and white. We went to Johnny Brock's and got some black and white facepaint so we could do the happy side in black on white and the unhappy side in white on black. Johnny Brock's actually had colored hair spray, too, so I messed the hair up manically on the white side and patted it down flat on the black side. My friend and fellow displaced Wisconsinite Walter, an artist by self-definition, actually did the face painting (and signed his initials under my chin). Dressed in black and white completely and wearing a trenchcoat, my Mardi Gras garb was complete:

Drama masks; no, really, look closer

So my lifelong St. Louis resident friend put on purple mask, and off we went. Once we got to Soulard, I discovered the "Sure" had an asterisk on it. People paint their faces up for Mardi Gras.*

* In New Orleans and Brazil.

I was one of three people in face paint among the thousands thronging the streets and bars. People thought I was supposed to be The Crow, the Joker, or Ace Frehley. Only one young lady correctly identified it; she was a Webster University student and quite probably in the Theatre Department. Somewhere along the line, my lifelong St. Louis resident friend ditched his mask to better blend in with the "beads are the Mardi Gras costume" crowd.

But it was a good night. We drank liquor until the police chased us out of Soulard and ended up at the Venice Cafe, where a bunch of older (mid 40s) women hit on me and kissed on me to my chagrin. My lifelong St. Louis resident friend explained that, at the tender age of 25, I looked like a middle aged hottie. Needless to say, I haven't spoken to that friend since before the turn of the century.

Wow, and I still wear that trenchcoat. Maybe it is time to get a new one.

As I mentioned, I've painted up twice in my life, and both were in that year: 1997. Perhaps one could read something psychoanalytical into that. But the second time, in the autumn, was at GenCon, the roleplaying game convention. My lifelong St. Louis resident friend from Mardi Gras, my best friend from college, and I drove up to Milwaukee to attend. Even though we all had jester costumes, something on the GenCon sales floor triggered my imagination; I think it was some press on fangs. Suddenly, I wanted to enter the costume contest. As the Weresmurf:

The Weresmurf

I bought some blue face paint and the aforementioned fangs, and my friend sacrificed a t shirt. I plunked down the entry fee and took my shot at fame. The contest featured a bit where you came on stage, and the MC introduced you. You could write your own intro and have the contest leader make special preparations for you. I asked them to lower the microphone and wrote out my introduction.

When my time came, the MC read my beautiful words: "When the moon ripens to fullness, something dark prowls Smurf villiage. It's the Weresmurf?" Actually, I didn't pen the rising inflection at the end, but the MC turned it into a question. With that, I leapt from behind the curtain, ran sniffing and hunched from one end of the stage to another, snarled at the MC, and ran up to the microphone, where I preceded to howl out the Smurf theme, finishing with a poignant "root rooooo!" I then leapt from the front of the stage, ignoring the stairs so carefully pointed out by the staff, and ran up the aisle snarling and sniffing until I was out of the spotlights.

At the time, I was a regular on the poetry open mike/slam circuit in St. Louis and had hopes I could get some kind of thing going where I'd give readings at colleges or whatnot (I'd seen the Nuyorican Poets Live that year, too, so it wasn't out of left field--you know, like painting oneself blue for fun). But the largest crowd I ever performed in front of to that point--and let's be honest, since--my only vocalization was a Smurf howl.

Adding salt to my pretentious wounds, the only national magazine exposure I'd gotten to that point (and, honestly, up until last month) was in the December 1997 issue of Inquest, which had a photo essay from GenCon:

Brian J. Noggle in December 1997 Inquest Magazine

That's right, it took me 10 years to get my name into a publication with a circulation rivaling that of my appearance in blue paint with a humorous dialogue balloon pointing at my mouth. But wow, blue paint really does bring out my blue eyes.

On the plus side, I did win my category, so I came home with a trophy dish and a pair of commemorative d6. Of course, the category was the equivalent of "everything else" and my only competition was a couple of teenaged girls who put bones in their hair and tried a sitcom skit about feuding vampire sisters. So perhaps my resounding victory isn't a testament to my genius or proper sense of the absurd and only reflects that I wasn't as bad as the kids.

But I got the trophy, and I got the Polaroid, and I got the two d6s. I've also got a scannerful of photographic memories of that brief moment in my youth where painting my face seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I don't know that that time will ever come again, but I haven't been to Lambeau Field, either.

No Hue and Cry; No Hue Or Cry; Very Little Notice
Wow, has this fallen off the front page already? Moscow May Break Arms-Reduction Treaty, Russian General Says:
    top Russian general said yesterday that Moscow may unilaterally opt out of a Soviet-era arms reduction treaty with the America, Russian news agencies reported.

    General Yuri Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian military's general staff, was quoted by ITARTass and Interfax as saying that Russia could pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan in 1987.
Can't anyone muster up some no nuke signs for outside the Russian embassies worldwide?

What You Need To Be A Struggling Writer
(circa 1993-1994--how precious! - ed.)

Whenever I meet someone, one of the questions that always comes up is "What are you going to college for?", usually right after I say "Yes, I go to Marquette University". I usually respond with "Eleven grand a year," but I am really going to college to get my Writing Intensive Bachelor Degree. I would have been a Writing Intensive Bachelor without the help of Marquette University, but I would not have had so much fun doing it. After I explain to these newly met people that I am a writer, the proceed to give me what they think is encouraging advice.

The advice is always the same, "Hang in there. Don't give up. Have something to fall back on". Thank you very much, but that advice is generic for any occupation. When people get specific about it, they always tell me that it takes a long time to break into the writing business. Well, no, I'd like to point out (but I am too polite to) that Tom Clancy and John Grisham "broke" into the biz. The rest of us, or at least I, have to worm our way in. I, on the other hand, am a practicing struggling writer, and I decided that if everyone else is giving advice, I might as well jump on the bandwagon.

To help out with all you struggling writers out there, I have compiled a list of things you'll need. Strunk and White, ages of English classes, and last month's Writers' Digest can give you all the technical details. You'll need more than words to make it as a struggling writer in today's competitive market, and here's what you'll need.

  1. The Idea You'll Succeed.
    When I started, I wanted to put down "Talent," since that is pretty important to make it as a writer, but it's not actually necessary when you start your jaunt as struggling writer. You can pretty much start with "The Idea You Have Talent" because your writing will get better as you write, so if you think you have talent, you will write more, and it is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Then I thought of some cheap fantasy fiction and pulp detective stories. Some of the stuff I have read has been so bad that I don't think the writer could have thought they had talent. All they could be running on was self-confidence and the dollar signs they must have been seeing, so to succeed as a writer you just need the idea that it can be done, and not much else, but if you do have talent, so much the better.

  2. Something Written.
    When I told a professor my freshman year of college that I was going to be a writer, he asked me if I had written anything. At that point I had written innumerable bad poems, a few bad short stories, and most of a bad-but-hopefully-salvageable novel. I almost laughed, but you never laugh at a full Jesuit or a full Doctor, so I merely said "Yes, sir". Since he asked the question, I can only assume he had run across people who were going to be writers who hadn't written anything, but that's what they were--people who were going to be writers. You're not qualified to be an official Struggling Writer unless you've written something--and don't give me that old "Writer's Block" excuse. That's like saying you're on the disabled list without ever having picking up a baseball. So if you haven't written anything, you might as well not read on.

  3. A Lot of Stamps.
    I mean a lot of stamps. What they say is true, you should receive quite a few of rejections before you get published anywhere. If you don't, well, I don't want to talk to you any more. I must have gotten your share of rejections, too. And at four stamps on the envelope to the magazine, four for the SASE (for short stories and articles mailed flat), that works out to $2.32 per submission. It's more than a lottery ticket, and this should illustrate that you do need the idea you'll succeed (if you want to get lucky, go to Vegas) and a lot of stamps.

  4. A Stiff Upper Lip.
    And, as you receive a lot of rejections, it might hurt. You might wonder as you stare at your ceiling as the shadows of the tree outside your window dances in the wind because you can't sleep why you bother going on when all you get are a few compliments from your friends who are probably lying anyway and form letters that were probably written by the same insensitive clod with Rejection Forms Incorporated from every magazine you ever submit to and you might be tempted to give it all up and get into a respectable and lucrative racket like flipping burgers at the local McDonalds, or maybe that's just me. Keep a stiff upper lip, though. It just takes a while, and once you're in somewhere, it'll get easier. Or so they tell me. Keep trying, and if you want a bit of my personal technique, try a dash of arrogance. Remember that that poor overpaid pencil-pushing mousy looking illiterate moron of an editor wouldn't know a good piece if it was shot through his or her window with a flaming arrow. It's an immature response beacuse deep down I'd like to project the failure onto the poor editor rather than the quality of my writing. If you can rationalize it, use it. It works for me.
  5. A Paying Job.
    By no means confuse this with a REAL job. I realize that being able to support yourself without writing takes much of the authenticity out of the poverty-stricken living-on-the-streets romantic image of the struggling writer, but if you can almost pay the bills, it's easier on the stomach lining. Besides, the real world experience you gain will give you ideas for stories and characters, essays and articles, and you will have the expertise to carry it off. The things I have learned as a produce clerk will be invaluable when I start my great novel featuring tomatoes and overripe watermelons as main characters.

  6. A Sense of Humor.
    A sense of humor is helpful in any profession, and it is completely necessary for a writer. Not only will you be able to laugh heartily at lawsuits ("I plagiarized WHAT? I slandered WHOM?"), but you will also look at old things in new ways and give you endless material. Plus, Reader's Digest pays $300 for short anecdotes, and you don't have to write them well, and if you're shifty enough, you don't even have to live them--just don't tell them I told you so. A sense of humor keeps me going--I have a collection of my rejection slips that I have kept, and I take pride in showing them off to friends. No, wait, that isn't a sense of humor, that's masochism. Maybe I should have added "A Sense of Masochism".
Well, there you have the official Brian J. Noggle method to becoming a struggling writer. To become a good writer or a published writer is something else entirely, and I'd give you advice on either of the above subjects if I had experience with them. Heck, if you find a good list or magic potion that will give you either of those two powers, give me a copy or mix me up a batch.

Thursday, February 15, 2007
Margin For Error
The common assumption that you're fairly safe if you're worth more alive than dead to your peers and family overlooks a slight margin for error available in the equation. The incorrect equation:

Aw > Dw

that we think keeps us from being killed for our insurance benefits pits that value (Dead Worth, or Dw) against potential for future earnings and the future unrealized monetary value of the goods and services rendered as a friend or husband (Live Worth, or Lw) keeps us feeling pretty safe that we won't get bumped off as long as we remain productive. However, this equation does not capture the slight margin of error represented by the transitional cost. Because we're actually alive right now, a certain amount of fiscal impact would occur in the transition. That is, we need to add to the Aw a certain expense involved in the actual death, whether it's $10,000 for a contract killing, a couple dollars for some poison, a couple cents for a bullet, or the trouble of changing the pillowcase after the smothering. Ergo,the correct formula should be:

Aw + CoK > Dw

That is, you can remain comfortably safe if your Dead Worth remains lower than your Alive Worth and the Cost of Killing you.

And that, my friends, is what passes for optimism some days in the mind of Noggle.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Book Report: The MENSA Genius Quiz Book by Marvin Grosswirth, Dr. Abbie Salny, and the members of MENSA (1981, 1990)
I picked this up at a yard sale or at a book store cheap, much like the MENSA Think Smart Book that I read in 2004.

This book is the same schtick, with chapters on different kinds of puzzles. Unfortunately, this book's previous owner had penciled in a number of the answers, which really rather spoiled it. I mean, I was trying to prove or disprove those answers instead of answering them myself.
So it's worth a quick read and a couple pieces of silverage, but for Pete's sake, open it up and make sure it's unmarked. Don't fall prey to the same problem I did. Unfortunately, the next time I pick up one of these books used, I'll not remember to do that, ultimately proving that I am not MENSA material.

Books mentioned in this review:


Police Encourage Driving While Distracted
Police: Cell phones a weapon against drunk drivers:
    Many drivers in Missouri and Illinois are armed with an important device to combat drunken driving: Cell phones.

    With cell phone use on the rise, drivers are being encouraged to report vehicles that show the telltale signs of driving under the influence, such as swerving into the shoulder and crossing the centerline.
For safety's sake, take your eyes off the road and dial.

Swapping The Good For The Citizens For Good For The State
Missouri bill would trade casino loss limits for a tax:
    A Senate leader proposed a new twist Monday in the long-running debate on loss limits in Missouri casinos.

    Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, wants to remove the $500 loss limit per two-hour period and impose a 1 percent tax increase on casinos. Money generated from the changes would be directed at a new scholarship program available to all high school graduates attending a public or private Missouri higher education institution.
You see, they placed this artificial cap on spending to make sure that the casino clients had to fritter their savings away on the riverboat "cruises" (that's what the two hour periods represent, time when the boats would be "cruising" the river; quaintly, riverboat gambling was supposed to take place on boats, not on buildings in an inch of picturesque river backwaters engineered to appease the letter of the law).

But never mind artificial tips to concern for the citizenry; there's money to be made on it.

Coming soon: decriminalizing murder for hire and replacing it with a licensing fee structure, permit requirements, and an excise tax.

Monday, February 12, 2007
He's Already Denied Links To "Hard" Money
McCain denies links to 'soft money'

His ill-guided support--and passage of--campaign finance reform (aka "make the trained monkeys dance faster when the fundraising organ grinder plays so they can gather smaller peanuts and empower the * Congressional/Senate Committee or Unattributable Issue Advocacy Groups) has ensured I won't support McCain for president this time around, his attempts to deny candidates access to any money now is misguided.

Or maybe I misread the headline.

Post-Dispatch Comments Inappropriately On Performers' Weight
Dixie Chicks are big Grammy winners

Hey, now, that's just inappropriate. I realize Natalie Maines has run a little more voluptious than most contemporary magazines would idealize, but must the Post-Dispatch add disproving adjectives to their headlines?

Book Report: High Profile by Robert B. Parker (2007)
Oh, my God, they killed Rush Limbaugh.

Well, maybe it's not really supposed to be Rush, but a national radio/media figure is strung up in Paradise, Mass, and that means Jesse Stone has to figure out who did it. It's a decent enough crime fiction piece, but it's padded out with the Stone/Randall era Parker relationship musings.

Unfortunately, whereas the Susan Silverman/Spenser stories have 30+ years of real novels to work through, where the relationship was often secondary and vividly lived in Spenser's adventures, in the Stone series the Jesse/Jenn Stone issues are actually co-hosts (and, apparently, the Sunny Randall/Richie issues are special guest stars). Stone, his lovers, his shrink, his co-workers, and pretty much all of the eastern seaboard represented in this book spend an awful lot of time talking about not understanding what's wrong with Stone and his "love" for his ex-wife.

Which almost ruins a decent crime fiction story.

You know, if it evolved as small portions of the books or if the crises were lived out instead of talked out, I wouldn't mind so much. But these Stone novels really do amp up the worst portions of the Spenser novels. As though the fans were saying, "More psychobabble, less detection."

But I still buy all the latest Robert B. Parker books new.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Fields of Wonder by Rod McKuen (1971)
Man, no one can make the quest for sex true love seem as banal as Rod McKuen over the course of several books. I had nice things to say about In Someone's Shadow; I endured Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows. But this book? Blech.

I started reading this to my poor son, but his mother heard the first couple of lines of the first poem:
    I began by loving nobody.

    Then nobody's face
    became the face of many
    as I traveled not to Tiburon or Tuscany
    but battled back and forth between the breasts and thighs
    of those who fancied for a time
    my forelock and my foreskin.
Well, I guess that is a bit graphic. But it's not sexy; it's the banal wanderings of a poet narrator beginning the 1970s hangover to the era of free love. Worse, it's the pseudo-stylings of a longing romantic who seems to be longing for a collection of faceless body parts in his quest for real love or real feeling.

The clever turns of phrase I thought were present in In Someone's Shadow? Nothing. Sure, these poems are as accessible as regular prose without the line breaks, but I didn't want to.

Worst of all, I have a couple more of these books left.

Oddly enough, the course of these books makes me more tolerant of Emily Dickinson's misfires. Over the course of the 1,775 poems collected in the volume I've been wading through for over a decade, Dickinson's pieces run the gamut from simplistic to inscrutable to wow, but her average seems slightly better than McKuen at this point.

Which is why she was taught, almost, in college in the early 1990s, some 130 years after she wrote most of her poems, and Rod McKuen was not, some 20 years after he became an industry unto himself.

Books mentioned in this review:


The Field of Dreams Development Strategy
If you build thousands of lofts downtown, will thousands of loft dwellers appear from the corn fields? Maybe not:
    Even the strongest supporters of downtown growth say that, at least in the short term, demand isn't likely to keep up with the supply of new units.

    "I don't want to be naïve about it," said Jim Cloar, executive director of the Downtown St. Louis Partnership. "There's quite a bit coming online in the spring, and there will be a natural drop-off (in occupancy numbers). But in the next few years, it will get better."

    Demographics, however, suggest it could get worse before it gets better.

    In all, 834 rental and 471 for-sale units are under construction downtown. Another 2,669 rentals and 865 for-sale condos are proposed or planned over the next five years.

    If all of the proposed units are built and occupied, the downtown population would increase by about 9,800 people in less than five years. That would be a 50 percent increase over the growth rate from 2000 to 2005, based on the downtown partnership's estimates.
The culprit for this glut? The Keynesian flat tire:
    But many developers keep going because projects are being driven by tax incentives, such as historic tax credits, rather than market demand, said Dan Woehle, first vice president for CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate services company.

    "It would be better if the units come online as the demand builds, but developers are scared that the incentives are going to go away," Woehle said.
Kinda impedes thoughts of the downtown revitalization, eh, Williams?

To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."