How I Wrote Lost in Waste & the dangerous “art” of satire

Cali Van Winkle doesn’t plan to find romance in her life. After all, normal men are practically an endangered species after that last chemical spill. So when she spots genetically modified men while she’s on assignment to clean up a sewage lagoon, she vows to make the best of it. Thus began the first scene I wrote for Lost in Waste, which you can purchase here. (ebook only for now.)

I wrote this scene back in 2017. I wasn’t sure where to go with it. I made progress at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival that year. At the week long workshop style course, I developed the character of NezLeigh, an abandoned pre-teen with a potty mouth and a genetic defect–very small eyes. I based this on a sad reality, although I gave NezLeigh ability to see in the dark and to create clothes and rope from plastic bags. I got some laughs when I read aloud to my festival class, so I kept going.

I expanded the relationship between Cali and the GMO man, Remmer, who’d been genetically modified but botched. Using Crispr gene editing as inspiration, I envisioned him as one of many CrispEr men, with the E standing for erotic. No, it’s not an erotic novel; he and his fellow Crispers are meant to be an enticement for women to get them to conform and work harder. Thus, I watched plenty of male stripper videos and Magic Mike as I crafted it. And from there, it grew, little by little, with the help of my English major daughter, into an 89,000 word novel. How long did it take? Nearly a year and a half.

Remmer was modified using the Crispr process, which involves cutting DNA

This was my second novel in my Unstable States series, in which Iowa has turned into an authoritarian nightmare known as Cochtonia. However, there was no guarantee the second book would be accepted, nor did I promise I’d write a series. Despite this, the idea stuck with me and I persisted. Some have said that the authoritarian society emotionally resembles my own home town. I didn’t intend this but obviously, it must have influenced me. I didn’t finish Lost in Waste and submit it to the publisher, City Owl Press, until December 2018! Fortunately, I received a contract for publication soon after.

My next half year was spent working with my editor, Christie. She encouraged me to develop a Style Sheet to keep track of the series so there would be consistency going forward. It turned out to be 14 pages long.

Christie was incredibly encouraging. I tend to write “brief”–I don’t want to be boring– and she was able to tease expansion and elaboration from me. I most certainly need other readers who are willing to critique. One major change she wanted was a new opening. For a moment I was stumped but after a trip to Petoskey, Michigan and some relaxing stone finding and polishing, it came to me.

She also suffered through having to proof read me. Thank-you, Christie.

Next came another proof reading. I admire anyone with the eye and patience to do this! When I wrote my first novel, I hired both a copy editor and a proof reader. Lost in Waste was my first venture into trusting my publisher to help me with this.

In October, City Owl artists and editors created the cover. We knocked around a title for the work. My grandkids loved Lost In Space and I wanted to be sure to have one that hinted at comedy. This is how I got the final title.

And now, at last, it’s almost here. Am I nervous? Yes. While grief flows from us with sad universality, and love is a hormone regulated experience we share, comedy, like plastic, isn’t a natural thing.

A satire is dangerous, too. A satire expresses frustration with the status quo. Satire is intended to expose our foolishness by deploying humor. It exposes and criticizes foolishness by being foolish. For example, Iowa has enacted a ban on banning plastic bags. Thus, you will find plenty of them blowing in the wind in Lost in Waste.

Satire intends to improve humanity by criticizing its follies and foibles. A writer in a satire uses fictional characters, which stand for real people, to expose and condemn their corruption.” It can’t be a middle of the road experience. It has to take a stand. Most comedy writers use a pseudonym because of the dangers comedy writing involve. In the words of famous satirist Johnathan Swift “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own. Which is the chief reason for that kind reception it meets with in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.” It must “claim no right to absolute truth or goodness.”

Thus, I hope, you will identify with and be appalled by the “out group” in Cochtonia, with the life in the oppressive nation of Cochtonia, and even with a few of the decisions the “good” characters make. Yes, satire can exploit stereotypes and will have some. I use stereotypes for the authority figures. As in Mixed In, there is a ridiculous boss who thinks highly of himself and demands far too much. Do I personally have a boss I hate? Absolutely not. But most can relate to the sense that they are working harder and sacrificing more and getting less glory than others around them.

Why can’t I stop writing comedy? Because, if I don’t laugh, I might cry. Also, I don’t want to “kill my darlings.” I won’t shock you by killing off the main character or even a dog even though I do parody a scene from The Bear.

If you find much about society, including yourself, absurd and unpredictable, you might enjoy escaping into a satire. You’ll be glad you don’t live in the nation of Cochtonia. Then again, maybe you do.

Chilling requirements (not just for plants)

The tulips are chillin’. Are you?

It’s Imbolc today–the time when Mother Earth awakes in the Northern Hemisphere. The cardinals are singing this morning–my new puppy can’t figure out what that mysterious sound is. It’s hilarious to watch her perk up her ears and twist her head around as she listens. Just wait, sweetie, it’s only the beginning.

We have a nice layer of snow here in Iowa. Snow is a pain to drive in, I admit it. However, it’s wonderful for the garden, providing insulation and moisture. In Japan, people put out special snow viewing lanterns with flat tops to catch the snow. Maybe instead of cursing the cold and snow, we need to look for ways to slow our culture down.

Although we’ve had the paradigm of hard work getting us ahead, many don’t believe it any more. There are studies and editorials about how productivity is killing us. Numerous companies don’t reward hard workers. They are obsessed with driving up stock prices and to do this they do things such as fire workers, cut Research and Development and trash the environment. This isn’t good for the long term health of the company. And constant work isn’t good for our health either. Employee stress eating after work is a sign of a poorly run company. Do you do that? Can you chill instead?

Meanwhile, Mother Nature tells us to chill. Apples and pears set more fruit after a hard winter. Time spent below freezing acts as a rest period for northern plants. Additionally, many plants have a chilling requirement, which is the number of hours of cool but not freezing temperatures they must experience before springing to life after winter. This keeps them from waking up too soon and facing a frost. “High chill” cold climate varieties need 800-1,000+ hours of chilling, while warm climate “low chill” varieties require 500 hours or less. Tulips, daffodils, and other spring bulbs require chilling. So do lilacs, dogwoods, and forsythia. Some of our favorite fruits such as apples, pears, blueberries, and cherries do, too.

My New Pup Chilling

Soon we’ll all be springing to life. It’s a time for new beginnings and spring cleaning. However, don’t forget to get your needed chill hours! There’s still time.

Authoritarians vs Art

It’s almost here. Lost in Waste will be released February 18. It’s a comic look at life and love in an authoritarian society, Cochtonia, which doesn’t regulate its agricultural waste. It only regulates its citizens. You can pre-order the Kindle version right here. Warning: it contains mild sexual references, male strippers, and children swearing. (I have never been a fan of the Victorian Era.)

It’s Book 2 in my Unstable States series. These books are stand alone but if you want an introduction to the wold, you can read about Book 1 here. The sad thing about authoritarian societies is that people put up with them easily and fall into the boring routine of authoritarians. They are usually perfectly fine for the average. I mean no offense to those who are perfectly happy with them. This is why, in Book 2, the overwhelming sense of the place is that it’s simply unfair. It’s ugly and drab and wastes people’s potential. But is it evil? You’ll have to answer that for yourself.

I’ve already gotten a suggestion from readers for the next book: have things turn around for the people. Have the environment saved. Let people get healthcare. Give them some freedom. As I turn to book 3, I need to look at how people resist authoritarianism. One way is through art. Take for example, the Judith paintings.

When society turned its back on an artist’s rape, she created a series of paintings to express her outrage.

It doesn’t take much to spot authoritarianism. Suppressing art is a good sign it’s afoot. And in a land oppressed, the “popular” art that the society produces is usually bad, even to the very citizens who don’t have exposure to good art. In Lost in Waste, the national anthem is absurd, but people sing it.

As explained in The Diplomat “The logic is straightforward: Artistic freedom is part and an aspect of the freedom of expression. Without a guaranteed space to explore and articulate their thoughts, emotions, imaginations and sentiments, artists will not be able to function or flourish….Works that are reflective and critical of the status quo are a crucial element of artistic expression.” In other words, free society needs art. Art is freedom. Art can be rebellion, thus dictators quash it. It’s why we need to support it.

Here in the US, the National Endowment for the Arts is under threat. The 2020 budget allows funds only for closing it. However, it’s not a done deal.

Motto of story–when art is suppressed, there’s an authoritarian lurking about.

Other ways to resist authoritarian rule: don’t let Them scare you, don’t let Them divide you, fact check, support women and minorities.

I like my forthcoming book. I hope you read it. I’d love to send you a copy. Contact me and I will. Or pre-order the electronic version. You don’t have to pre-pay.

And while you are here, give a museum with a Judith painting some love. It has some great art…much of it combines rebellion with humor. Vote for the Detroit Institute of the Arts as best art museum. Thank-you so much!

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

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.

A privatized dam in Michigan burst, due to disrepair, upending people during a pandemic and threatening a Superfund pollution site.

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?