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Where to buy

Natural Attraction is sold at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa (signed copies!) and The Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.

Cleaner, Greener Labs is self-published and sold here.

Mixed In, a comic dystopia set in the near future United States from City Owl Press. When passions are regulated, which laws will you break? Buy here:

 Amazon US

Kobo

Indiebound

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Mixed in is also available at Beaverdale Books (DSM) and The Central College Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.

Click here for Wolves and Deer 

or here for the paperback.

Click here for Nook.

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Or enjoy the first chapter here.

It’s also available at the Spirit Shoppe in Pella. Thank you for your interest!

The Great Blood Pudding Debate

If you’ve ever been privy to a church debate or argument, you know it’s a hurtful thing and can stick with you for a long time. The debate about blood pudding was fiercely fought in England in the mid 1600s to late 1700s. Sir Isaac Newton didn’t leave behind many papers or correspondence when he died at the age of 84 in 1727. But he did leave behind a treatise on his thoughts about the raging blood pudding debate-the question being, should Christians eat blood pudding?

First of all, what is blood pudding? Also called black pudding and blood sausage, it’s made from animal blood, a grain such as oatmeal, fat, and various spices, and is sometimes stuffed in a casing like a sausage. It’s considered an English breakfast staple. Bloedworst in the Netherlands, Boudin noir in France, morcilla to Spanish speakers, this dish is popular in many cultures. It’s said to be softer than a regular sausage but still meaty, with a taste you can only really describe as “dark.” But you might have never heard of it. In the US, it’s banned for sanitary reasons, however, it’s important in French and Cajun cooking and some versions have passed inspection.

In Newton’s day it was a staple food of the poor, particularly the Irish, who bled their oxen to make it without killing the animals.

Why was this food once worth a religious brawl? The debate centers around the book of Genesis. In the first part of Genesis, humans are told to eat only plants. Later, Noah is told it’s okay to eat animal but not their blood. For Christian scholars, the holy book held three sets of rules–Moses rules, Noah rules, and post-Jesus rules. No blood was a Noah rule. The argument is that drinking/eating blood is barbaric, consuming a life force that is not yours to consume. But according to some scholars, post-Jesus rules say you can eat the blood. Isaac Newton himself was squarely in the anti-blood pudding camp. He was a great reader of scripture and did his best to interpret it. He said,”the prohibition is a check to savageness and cruelty.” He was not alone in equating blood with sacred life. You could eat flesh but not blood in many opinions. To eat blood defiled the person who consumed it. It might give the person a thirst for blood.

In Newton’s day, many also thought that trophy hunting was forbidden by the bible, again, because it incited cruelty of the spirt. Newton was opposed to eating anything killed in a cruel manner because “such actions incline men to …unmercifulness.” The Methodists joined him in being anti-blood pudding. Newton, it should be noted, was not particularly merciful. He was full-Noah in regards to blood eating yet in the “post-Jesus” camp and against circumcision. But if anything, people in religious debates are not known for their consistency of stances.

The debate still goes on today in some circles. The tempest, however, subsided, possibly around 1797 when John Rollo, surgeon General of the Royal Artillery, prescribed it as a cure for diabetes, along with opium.  Clinical Diabetes(Vol. 14, Issue 3).

The anti-puddingers have largely been forgotten. It’s popular throughout the world. There is even a Black Pudding Club and a Blood Pudding Press, which publishes poetry. A man saved his life by using a frozen one as a battering ram when he got stuck in a freezer.

Next time you get in a pointless debate, remember the Black Pudding.

At least he’s not getting hit with Black Pudding. You can buy this cute decal here https://www.etsy.com/listing/37437973/isaac-newton-gravity-decal-macbook?ref=shop_home_active_67

Decal link.

Word of the year: oligarchy

An oligarchy is when a few people rule over the majority. The rulers are put in power due to wealth or nobility. At its core, oligarchy involves concentrating economic power and using it for political purposes. 

In an oligarchy, an organized minority controls a disorganized majority. It’s the most common type of rule around. We even see it in high schools with the cliques and power couples.

Some countries such as Saudi Arabia have been oligarchies for a long time. Others such as in Venezuela, form when democracy goes wrong. Cochtonia in my novel series, is such an oligarchy.

Ancient Rome was an oligarchy as was South Africa (established by Caucasians) in the last century.

Today these countries are oligarchies: Russia, Ukraine China, Iran (religious), Saudi Arabia (wealth, monarchy), Turkey (one family, the Kocs), North Korea, and a few others.

Some consider the US to be rapidly becoming a wealth based oligarchy now that over half of our wealth is controlled by a few families, with the Koch brothers and Silicon Valley wealth controlling much of the country’s policies. The Koch brothers have been very bad for any policies protecting the environment, for example.

Why would people put up with such rule? In many ways, it makes life more predictable. You don’t have to worry about politics, which is exhausting and a lot of work. The most powerful oligarchies offer hope that a few select peons will be able to join, lying to people that all have a chance. This is evident in my next novel, Lost in Waste.

The downside is, of course, most citizens become discouraged, disenfranchised, and even rebellious.

Democracy is most often toppled into oligarchy when people complain about government. Have you heard the terms starve the beast and big government sucks? It might sound like a pleasant appeal to independence but the truth is, these are oligarch refrains. These ideas aren’t based on any sort of well-researched, economic policies. They come from the wealthy wanting more and more.

In an oligarchy, you don’t vote out bad politicians. Once they get in, the repeat the lies of the oligarchs. Try writing one of Iowa’s senators these days. If you have evidence that their policies are hurtful, they write back calling you an idiot or don’t write back at all.

One tool of oligarchy is to divide the people. Here in Pella, people use the abortion issue as an excuse to support the oligarchy. If this issue goes away, the oligarchs will come up with something new to control the masses. I’m on the local planning and zoning commission and found that political party did not define how members reacted to a local controversy. People can be unified, but oligarchies don’t want this.

Oligarch’s also make sure that ordinary people depend on them for economic survival. You can see this today, as small businesses are swallowed up by large chains, companies merge, and even the media consolidates. In my town, the local factories sometimes tell people how to vote and run their own insider candidates. In fact, a tool of an oligarchy is to set up puppet rulers.

A third way they survive is to destroy any pubic projects and instead, make people reliant on their charity. An example of this is the American Prairie Reserve, which combines public and private lands, and is funded by primarily oil profiteers. They take and they give, and they expect us to admire them, as all oligarchs do.

How oligarchies fall? It can occur when some oligarchs become sympathetic with the public and fund initiatives favoring them. It is thought that this is why Caesar was killed.

If the majority organizes, they can regain some rights, and even tax the minority. The first step of opposing an oligarchy is to remain informed. This is why oligarchies such as Russia and some political parties put out so much disinformation.

Another way to gain freedom is to follow science. Science relies on independence and evidence based decisions. Unlike the powerful, most scientists have the public interest at heart, Scientists have been oppressed by oligarchs–think Galileo for example. “Indeed, reflecting on what drew him to the study of physics, Stephen Hawking once noted that in his chosen field, “It doesn’t matter what school you went to or to whom you are related. It matters what you do.” (source of quote) The idea that people are free to observe and to think is what moves science forward. The Dark Ages were a time of stagnation for science. Science and democracy grew from the Enlightenment together.

It’s no accident that independent research is being cut in the US.

Another way to fight back is to not share disinformation. Understand that disinformation comes with a kernel of truth to entice you. Misinformers might post a kind meme one minute and a lie the next. They might modify a real video clip, such as was done to make Nancy Pelosi appear to be slurring her words. Misinformers micro-target you. If you like dogs, a meme will carry a dog for example. Do not post or comment on dubious sources of information. If possible, speak privately to your dear old friend or relative who has become a meme-poster. Remember, lies and conflict only help the oligarchy.

To read more, go here and here.

Tall Tale of Privatization

I took a road trip recently. It reminded me of the tall tale of privatization.

In West Virginia, the toll has doubled to $4. To cross West Virginia on I-77, a person needs to pay this three times, once every approximately every 30 miles, because the highway uses no state or federal funds. This decision has been made on a state level. Some people take country roads and locals can get a cheaper pass but trucks can’t. Costs get passed on to consumers.

We all pay gasoline taxes to fund our roads. However, it’s not enough and despite promises, infrastructure dollars will not be increased unless cuts are made to other domestic programs. In a punishing move, Trump has said that money will be taken from California, one of our most productive states. In the mean time, states are coming up with solutions that increase inequality.

Indiana privatized its toll roads, using a foreign company. The company then went bankrupt. This is common for privatized toll roads. Despite the disaster in his state, Pence is still a fan of the practice–which requires tax payers to subsidize the private partnerships. These partnerships have a track record of going broke. Additionally, they sell our public lands and roads to profiteers.

In North Carolina, a crowded freeway has some much needed new lanes but people can only drive on them if they have an Express pass, costing $6 or more. The passes are sold and the new highway lanes, where you can go as fast as you want, are owned by a company in Spain, Cintra. I-77 needed more lanes, the tax base did not allow for it, so privatization stepped in. Now there are two tiers of people on the road, the fast people with money and the rest of us.

Me in the slow lane in the rain

This is similar to the anti-Net Neutrality folks, who want people to pay to get their sites into the fast lane. My site will be in the slow lane.

My district once had a politician who promoted private prisons…along with less regulation (he owned a factory). He called them a growth industry. Private prisons pay employees less than government run prisons. However, they don’t appear to save any money because they have a profit motive, unlike government prisons. They’ve been implicated in scandals such as Kids for Cash, bribery, and campaign contributions. They’ve been linked to an increase in incarceration and people returning to prison because they have no incentives to rehabilitate people.

Iowa threw its lot in with Medicaid privatization. Many critics said it was a thank you gift to political donors. In any case, costs of providing coverage have nearly tripled, because, um, profit motive. What did you expect? Unable to learn from others, the U of Iowa president is pursuing privatization of the university’s utilities.

Privatization of city services has increased costs across the country. Services to poor areas of cities have been cut when privatization sweeps in. Drinking water costs have increased while service decreases. Veolia, a private company, was in part responsible for Flint’s water woes and caused problems in Philadelphia. Famously, parking meters in Chicago have been privatized for the next 75 years. (U of Iowa is seeking a 50 year privatization.) Fees went up and meters started malfunctioning. Privatization has a disregard for the environment. It’s all about profits. Despite this, corrupt politicians want to privatize the popular US postal service even as privately held FedEx suffers numerous woes.

Do a search for Privatization Horror Stories for more.

It isn’t just happening in the US. In Australia, privatization has raised costs for everything from airport parking to energy. In Russia, privatization has created oligarchs.

Privatization increases inequality. Privatized entities fall apart. This is why privatization is a part of my next dystopia.

Ditch the myths about poverty and wealth

The problem with the economy here in the US is: it only works for some. Income inequality is at record highs. Food prices are 40% higher than they were ten years ago, in part because investors have been buying commodities. In other words, the rich are getting rich by making the poor pay more for food. Cutting food aid, as our government is considering and the president is pushing, makes it even more difficult for those in poverty to get healthy foods.

Income inequality makes a country less productive. Meritocracy is a lie. Wealthy people aren’t smarter, more productive, and better for society. It’s bad for society and even bad for them to believe this. And let’s be honest–a lot of them make terrible bosses. They aren’t cut out for it.
Plywood highlights this rural city hall and there’s not a Starbucks in sight to blame.

I recently got my salary letter. My raise was not wonderful. The next day, my spouse went to the hospital for surgery. It was needed, unexpected, and tucked in at the end of the year since we’d already hit the deductible with a procedure in June. I have health insurance. It’s not good but I won’t go bankrupt this year. All I can wonder is: why is the economy allegedly so good? Where is my raise? If an educated person is unable to see wealth mobility, is it possible?

The problem with the economy here in the US is: it only works for some. Income inequality is at record highs. Food prices are 40% higher than they were ten years ago, in part because investors have been buying commodities. In other words, the rich are getting rich by making the poor pay more for food. Cutting food aid, as our government is considering and the president is pushing, makes it even more difficult for those in poverty to get healthy foods.

Income inequality makes a country less productive. Meritocracy is a lie. Wealthy people aren’t smarter, more productive, and better for society. It’s bad for society and even bad for them to believe this. And let’s be honest–a lot of them make terrible bosses. They aren’t cut out for it.

Living in a poor neighborhood can change your biology. It’s stressful to be poor and the stress of being unfairly scrutinized and blamed for your poverty is crushing. This creates a cascade of harmful hormones.

Poverty shortens lives. Poor people live on average, 15 years less than rich people in the US and they are more likely to die from cancer.

Crime goes up when people know the deck is stacked against them. Add this to the tendency of rich people to cheat and you have the makings of an unstable society.

On the other hand, there are some lies persisting about people in poverty. They are NOT terrible parents and they DO value education. In general, poorer people abuse alcohol and drugs LESS than wealthy people do. Most families in poverty have two working parents.

The welfare budget in the US is less than one half of one percent in the US. About 60 percent of people in the US will spend at least a year in poverty. This is a rate twice as high as in Europe. There is little government assistance to help. Poverty in the US is escalating despite the low unemployment rate. The new jobs do not pay well. The raises these days go to those making above $100,000.

Poverty myths are so prevalent here that even poor people believe them. It’s why they can be convinced to vote against the social safety net and be proud of voting that way. There have been a few people here in the US who got rich on their own–kind of–not considering that the government seized lands from the natives who had cleared and settled the land. Americans grossly overestimate economic mobility with less educated people being the most likely to believe the meritocracy and poverty myths.

The myths exist to keep people in their place. How many politicians have you heard hint that if you don’t vote for them, the economy will go south, the rich will yank your job, you’ll slip into poverty and it will be your fault? Politicians will repeat the lies of welfare queens and poor people buying too many lattes. Ironically, the boyhood home of the politician who spoke so dishonestly of welfare queens is having hard times financially and needs government assistance.

Lattes do not create poverty. An unequal society and persisting myths do. The poor do not need financial advice. To assume this is snobbery. An occasional latte is not making anyone broke. Poor wages and high fixed costs such as for housing and health care are doing that. A latte is a cheap treat to keep them from wanting to die. As one woman said, “I’m poor and I like doing face masks to cheer myself up. I’m poor and I like to eat a meal I didn’t have to make when I’m too tired to keep going. Bite me.”

Since the war on poverty is far from over, we should be putting money into keeping society stable and working towards equality. And when I write dystopias, income inequality will be part of the unhealthy society. You know what else, I’m 100% with the poor woman and face masks.

A burning look at P (phosphorus) and its history

I swear, I’m not obsessed with urine, but we do need to talk about P, and by that I mean, the element phosphorus. It’s been in the news lately, allegedly used as a chemical weapon against children and civilians in Syria.

The story of phosphorus begins, ironically, with urine. Urine was a well-used chemical in ancient days, staring possibly with the Romans. It’s s source of ammonia and phosphorus which can be used for cleaning, tanning leather, and fertilizing crops. It was used to make tooth whitener and gunpowder and in the dye industry.

It makes sense in a strange way, that urine, plentiful and golden, would be used in experiments and alchemist Henning Brand used it in his quest to create gold in his lab. In 1660 he boiled urine and heated it in a furnace with plenty of stirring. The 1,500 gallons of urine transformed not into gold, but into a glowing, waxy substance. Although he was not sure of a use for it, other chemists soon noted it could catch on fire and produced burns that were slow to heal.

Once something is discovered, it has to be used and even exploited. What does a good alchemist do with a new material? Makes it into a tonic. Phosphorous works in conjunction with calcium to form bones. It’s the backbone of DNA. We need phosphorus to live. Our bones, teeth, and brain contain much phosphorus. The tonics were various amounts of phosphorus in water, cod liver oil, and phosphorus salts in pills. Cures for tuberculosis and mental instability were reported. It was also known to be a poison in high doses and used as such for killing rats, spouses, unwanted children, and inducing abortion. It’s very soluble in alcohol and rum disguised its garlic smell and flavor. Symptoms of phosphorus poisoning include jaundice, vomiting, and thirst–common with liver failure. Phosphorus poisonings were popular through the 1950s. Phosphorus remains in the intestines and can be extracted during an autopsy and detected by its tell-tale glow.

Today the element in phosphate form (combined with oxygen) can be found in all sorts of products: chicken nuggets, hotdogs, processed and spreadable cheeses, instant puddings and sauces, refrigerated bakery products, and beverages. It occurs naturally in eggs, diary products, meat, and chocolate. I found it on the label of several products in my kitchen including kids’ cereal, evaporated milk, Velveeta mac and cheese, BelVita bars, canned clam chowder, and muffin mix from the Amish Store near Chariton. It’s used to adjust pH and enhance flavor.

Count Chocula, anyone?
Evaporated milk: Not just milk

Although miracle cures were reported, the efficacy of phosphate tonics was never proven in the past, but today, people consume too much phosphorus. The excess is damaging to our bones, kidneys, thyroid, and cardiovascular systems.

What about matches? Before the discovery of phosphorus, they were made of sulfur dipped sticks and were unreliable. The white phosphorus friction “strike anywhere” match was invented around 1830. It was a striking success thanks to a tip made from white phosphorus. The new matches were called congreves or more commonly lucifers. They were 20% white phosphorus, 30% potassium chlorate (an oxidant), 15% sulfur, 10% chalk, and 25% glue. Rumors were that battlefields were raided for bones of men and horses–a rich source of phosphorus. Match boxes were works of art. However, the toxicity of white phosphorus became horribly apparent. Workers in match factories began experiencing bone degradation and sores, especially in their jaws! The condition called Phossy jaw was understandably painful and irreversible. Click here to see and read more about phossy jaw. In the 1870, people ate matches to commit suicide. Lucifers caught on fire when stepped on. Archduchess Matilda might have burned to death due to a dropped match. Boxes of matches caught fire when shaken.

Heating white phosphorus converts it to red phosphorus. It’s much less toxic but can’t be ignited by striking anywhere. The red phosphorus is on the striking pad and the match head is a mixture of phosphates, ignitable materials, and wax.

Give humanity credit– the last use developed for white phosphorus was as a weapon. White phosphorus has been used in warfare only since WWI. It’s incendiary, meaning it catches on fire when it contacts air. (It must be stored under an air resistant material such as oil.) It creates billows of smoke. It burns. It burns to the bone. It’s poisonous. The disfiguring effects include lowered immunity and last long after the burns heal. Thus, it’s banned as a weapon. The trouble is, no one cares to enforce the ban.

Phosphorous is also used in fertilizers since it’s essential for plant growth. However, humans use way too much of it, causing algae growth in natural waters. Believe it or not, we are mining so much phosphorous for fertilizer that we are depleting natural sources. If we deplete our mineral sources, such as apatite, we might have to go back to grinding bones and urinating as sources of P.

White phosphorus hazards diamond–highly toxic and flammable.

Quirky Quickies to Inspire Strangeness

There is no beauty without strangeness. Thus wrote the author of The Telltale Heart, a short story about a man who kills his housemate because he doesn’t like his eye. Edgar Allen Poe‘s short stories are still memorable today for their exquisite strangeness. Why does strangeness have such enduring appeal? You don’t learn much from “typical.” It’s not interesting. Flawed characters are memorable because we can relate to them. Strange characters stand out in a crowd of normality. As Janet Burroway points out in her latest text, Writing Fiction, “My advice, then, is to labor in the range of the peculiar. If you set out to write a typical character, you may end up with a vague or dull or windy one.”

I prefer a dash of strange, a dose of metaphor, and a strong flavor of subtext in my fiction. Writing while strange might not garner an author acclaim, but it’s a way to write unforgettable fiction. Short stories are a great venue for instant quirkiness. If you need a quick dose of inspirational strange, here are few of my favorite strange short stories:

Mural in Detroit’s Eastern Market

The Pukey by Nigel Dennis–a sexualized, vomiting pet is a metaphor for television in this sci-fi classic.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girl’s Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell--how do you assimilate into a normal, human society if your parents are wolves?

The Perfect Match by Ken Liu –after a predictably pleasant date, Sal’s quirky neighbor convinces him to buck the system

Gross Anatomy by Kodi Scheer--a medical student learns more than she plans to when her cadaver follows her around and talks to her.

The above stories can be found in anthologies. I’ll leave you with one of mine. It’s also in an anthology.

I’m looking for suggestions. What are some of your favorite strange stories?

The New Craft

Quite a while a go, my daughter noticed that I had elements of witchcraft strewn about the house–particularly various crystals. She wondered if I could be a witch and alas, I wish I could be. I wish I could cast love spells and attract good fortune. I can’t.I had the crystals because I like rocks and minerals. I’m no witch. But at least I have science.

I wish I could ride on this delightful cinnamon broom but all I can do is enjoy its fragrance.

What did humanity have before science? We dwelled in superstition. The world was erratic and capricious–sometimes benevolent and other times cruel–depending on the wishes of deities. Deities selected the rulers of a nation. They brought the weather–sunny days to firestorms. They spoke to us through calamity and fortune. We did our best to understand, obey, and predict their whim and wishes. A cricket on the hearth signaled luck. In England, black cats were unlucky.

In the US, old shoes in the wall brought good luck as did lucky bones made from codfish. We had slogans such as “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” We had signs–lightning struck towers because the people within were bad, not because static charge accumulates at points. Maybe I’m glad not to have the witch’s craft. It seems so complicated.

As the Renaissance spread in Europe, a New idea took hold–that of verifiable truth. The idea that nature can be observed and understood, not just by the practitioner but by anyone else with the proper measuring tools and instruction. Secrecy and private craft was out and sharing ideas was seen as the only way to make progress.

When science struggled for respect, old women and women with birthmarks and extra nipples were witches. Witches cast low magic, earth magic or practical magic spells. An example of such might be causing milk to spoil or making someone have a “fit.” Interestingly enough, early scientists such as Isaac Newton believed in high magic, involving the planets, angels and demons, and cosmic realms such as alchemy, which involved chemistry mixed with prayer and summoning of powers by the alchemist. Sadly, all Newton got from his dabbling in alchemy was mercury poisoning from quicksilver. The Salem Witch Trials occurred during Newton’s life, although the English were starting to doubt witchcraft and the need to execute witches.

It took a while for magic to live only in the realm of fantasy. What’s the difference between fantasy and scifi? It’s magic vs verifiable truth. How does magic, the harnessing of unknowable forces, differ from science? In science there is the belief that anyone can do it–you don’t need to be The One who draws a sword from the stone or who is chosen to go to a school of magic. In science, nature makes the rules and anyone can discover them. Powers are discovered, not summoned. In science, everyone is a Muggle. Michael Faraday was a great champion of this and his ideas inspired other thinkers such as Charles Darwin who were great proponents of us all coming from the same family tree. (As opposed to leaders being from heaven and some being born better.) Science, at its heart, is the most equitable truth out there. It’s why it’s toppled dynasties, abolished slavery, and why scientists tend to write lab reports in the passive voice. It’s why, it’s so dangerous to those who believe they are innately better and are born better than others.

Esoteric signs. Vector symbols of philosophy and alchemy, masonic and occult sciences

In my upcoming novel, Lost in Waste, the city-state of Cochtonville has evolved into the country of Cochtonia, run by businessman brothers Bert and Clarence Cochton. They rule through their wealth and capriciousness. Agricultural products are the heart of Cochtonia–and scientists are there to help the country produce more products. What’s lost in this country is that science is a way of knowing based on evidence. It’s a search for the truth. Without this quest, scientists aren’t happy and they aren’t productive. And the truth is, the citizens aren’t be happy in Cochtonia either. The nation’s ridiculous hoops for advancement in society have created a stratified society. It’s conformity and slogans impact productivity.

Inequality makes societies unhappy. Societies which value fairness, equity, and equality are happier and more productive. Yes, science has brought us products and technology. But perhaps the deepest gift is verifiable and predictable truth while retaining the awe and wonder of magic.

“Because I said so.” Didn’t you hate that as a kid? I found it so unpersuasive as evidence. Verifiable truth. No special powers. No divine leaders. Equality. These are tools science gave us to use against oppressors. So wave a wand and cast a spell if you wish. I hope it works for you. In my lab, we’ll be pushing buttons. Because all we have is the new craft of science. And as far as things go, science is much more dangerous to demons.

A short Interview with Central College

How did you get into writing? I always liked reading and writing fiction as a child. In high school, a friend and I wrote comic serial novels to entertain and possibly irritate our classmates. In college, I loved my Short Story Writing course and then became the editor of the campus literary magazine. When I went to chemistry graduate school, I missed fiction writing so I applied to and got accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I’ve been writing ever since, but didn’t attempt a novel until seven years ago.

How do you find time to write while teaching? I try to stay disciplined and write each morning and evening, even if it is just for a short time.

Why did you choose to write romance novels? I don’t really like violence and prefer to write things with a satirical edge to them. Love is a universal topic and gives plenty of opportunity for humor, frustration, self-reflection, and a happy ending.


How does the romance novel community react to your infusion of science into your writing? I mostly publish with a Sci-Fi publisher now so I am not strictly in the romance genre. I am still building my reader base and this has been slow going.


Do you bring your writing (in some form) into your science classes? Yes. Writing requires looking at concrete details and evidence, expressing ideas efficiently, and drawing a conclusion based on what has happened—just like a lab report.

Do you ever teach a novel writing class? No but I would love to if there is a demand.

Has anything from Central worked its way into your books? Not really. There is an adage in fiction writing that “only trouble is interesting.” I enjoy my work here so I don’t find a lot of inspirational trouble. I did one time have someone who no longer works here tell me that they found my field of Analytical Chemistry “far too easy.” I found this arrogant and I had a villain use the line.

Insider’s Guide to the Iowa Caucus

Hal Goetz leads caucus training in Knoxville, Iowa

Not long ago, I went to an Iowa caucus training. A caucus is first of all, a meeting. It’s not a primary. It’s a meeting run by a political party and funded by the party. It’s a meeting to select the party’s nominee for election and to work on the party’s goals and principles–the platform. It’s an expensive undertaking. Here is information about the caucus. Here is the platform of one party and of the other.

A caucus will have an attendance of 5-500 people, depending on where you live in the state. It is a place to register people to your party, register people to vote, and to elect delegates for candidates running for president. Each county has a specific number of delegates based on how many people voted in the last 2 elections and how many candidates from that party received votes. A caucus is paid for by the party but works with the elected official–the auditor–to get this information. There are no official candidates at this point, although many have been vying for the nomination. A caucus can elect “undecided.” However, based on your number of delegates, only so many can move forward as “viable.” A candidate may have supporters, but not enough to win a delegate. If this happens, the supporters have the chance to move to their second choice candidate. As you can imagine, there’s math involved and some rounding.

Since there were allegations of fraud in the last caucus–which turned out to be a Russian hoax–the caucus will be less meeting- like next year. Instead of counting people in preference groups and having people win over delegates, we need to collect cards. And people must sign the cards and declare who they are for early in the process. This is a departure for folks like me, who show up not knowing who they will be for and hoping to discuss things at a meeting. I for one feel that the interference in the past election, starting with the caucuses, was a serious threat. There’s a difference between free speech and perpetuating fraud.

In the past, the chair counted the people in each preference group and the results were verified with name and signature by a delegate for each candidate. The card adds an extra layer. Plus, I have to save the cards in case there is an audit. Here’s a look at the card:

The new preference card, because layers of verification wasn’t enough

I volunteered to be a temporary chair for the next caucus. My goal will be to sort people into their candidate preference groups, elect delegates to the county convention (they represent their candidate preference), adopt platform resolutions, and elect people to leadership roles. I had to have a training and will need to pass a quiz.

The Iowa caucus will be on Feb. 3, 2020. It’s the first test of a candidate’s appeal and organization. The locations will be announced, but any entity supported by state taxes in any way must permit their location to be used at no charge.

Once the caucus is over, I hope to relinquish my leadership role. I have a new book coming out, after all.

Seeking asylum

Seeking asylum has a long history. As part of the Geneva convention, people are allowed to avail a country for protection if they are being persecuted for race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion.

“An asylum-seeker is a person who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, but who hasn’t yet been legally recognized as a refugee and is waiting to receive a decision on their asylum claim. Seeking asylum is a human right. This means everyone should be allowed to enter another country to seek asylum.” (source here)

“A refugee is a person who has fled their own country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there. The risks to their safety and life were so great that they felt they had no choice but to leave and seek safety outside their country because their own government cannot or will not protect them from those dangers. Refugees have a right to international protection.” (source here)

By contrast, a migrant might leave their country “because they want to work, study or join family, for example. Others feel they must leave because of poverty, political unrest, gang violence, natural disasters or other serious circumstances that exist there.” (source here)

According to the Geneva Convention, at the moment of urgency, cooperating countries have to let asylum seekers and refugees into their country. Later, they go though a proceeding that determines if they get asylum. This can be risky because if they get sent back, they could be killed by the people they are fleeing. Asylum seekers need to present a convincing case that they were in danger in their country and had no way to find protection. They are granted temporary asylum and it is up to the government of the country where they seek asylum if they should be detained, locked up.

In the US, Trump etc has decided that ALL asylum seekers and migrants be detained. (At our expense. $$$$$$$$$$) The kids of asylum seekers and migrants are not detained so they are taken from their parents and getting sent to camps. That’s the logic. But why detain everyone? This hasn’t been done before. There are no clear guidelines for caring for the children. Some have even been put up for adoption, leading to accusations of kidnapping!

In the current system in the US, honest people fleeing persecution and violence in Latin America can be detained with criminals. They can be detained for years, by the way, even if they are innocent. This is not the smartest, cheapest, or kindest policy. It lowers the moral standing of the US in the world because no other country separates parents and kids. (Although India won’t let anyone in since they never signed the Geneva convention.)

Sadly, women fleeing domestic violence or genital mutilation are not covered by the convention. People fleeing natural disaster, migrants, have the same rights as asylum seeking but in the US, those from the Bahamas are being turned away.

Right now, there are over 25 million refugees in the world. Here in the US, most asylum seekers are from China, followed by El Salvador.

In the US, asylum seekers could once refer to the highlighted document. However, it is no long available.

The Geneva Convention was created in 1951, as stories of Jewish people fleeing Nazis being turned away and later executed became known. The United States was responsible for turning many away, including a ship load on a vessel known as the St. Louis. The US signed the Geneva Convention and codified the principles in 1980. It is considered to be international law. It’s not illegal to seek asylum but, egged on by cruel policies, some seekers are called criminals. This is a violation of international law and inspires hatred and demonization across the globe.

Here is a podcast on How to seek asylum plus a heartwarming story. Here is the History of the Geneva convention.

BTW, if your state has capital punishment, as Iowa is considering, and as the US has added, you can be a refuge to to another countries such as France. Let’s hope the world gets a little more loving or there could be no place to flee to. We also need to recognize domestic violence as violence.