When scientists began to take a closer look at the natural world all around them, they did not always agree on what they saw. They did not always accurately understand what they saw. They often jumped to conclusions, especially if they were still influenced by the belief in spontaneous generation. The old, traditional belief that living things could come from non-living things-–still held by many––caused some especially heated debates.
In 1620 Dr. Jan Baptista van Delmont wrote and published a paper to prove that living things DID come from non-living things. Based on what he, personally, had seen, he wrote a recipe for making mice! (Why anyone would want to make mice, I don’t know, I guess he wasn’t concerned with that.)
According to Dr. van Delmont, if you put a piece of sweaty, smelly underwear in an open mouth jar and added some wheat, in twenty-one days full-grown mice would emerge. This was considered scientific observation at that time; not quite the way Maria Sybilla Merian handled her observations of the transformations of caterpillars into butterflies and moths. She studied the caterpillars carefully, documenting with notes and paintings all of the changes that occurred. In fact, she thoroughly documented the entire life cycle…proving that caterpillars did not just ooze up out of the ground, but came from eggs that the butterflies and moths laid. Her method of research is still used today.
It is generally assumed that Maria Sybilla’s birthday was April 2, 1647, however that is the day she was baptized. Because the death rate of babies was so high back then, most babies were baptized two days after birth. Therefore…Happy Unbirthday, Maria Sybilla!
My manuscript about the life and time period of Maria Sybilla Merian is finished. Now I wait for comments from my beta readers. I feel like it must be similar to the caterpillar now in the chrysalis stage. One “life” of the book is finished, the middle one is in progress, the final transformation is in the future.
It has been quite a journey, starting with the day my daughter came home from the university and said, “Mom, there’s a lady you need to write a book about.” I remember looking up from the computer, asking who. When she replied, “Maria Sybilla Merian,” my immediate response was “Who?” And that’s the exact same response I get when I mention Maria Sybilla.
I have learned an enormous number of things while researching her life. I had many questions beyond the typical ones, such as: Is it easier to carry buckets of water uphill or downhill? Turns out I didn’t need to know that answer because there was a well located right in front of their house in Nürnberg. Another question was: How did the residents of Amsterdam get drinking water? Not the canals because they contained seawater. Answer: They had to buy their water from a waterboat! And: How hot IS it in Suriname? Answer: Energy Draining! Yet, at the same time the trade winds blow nice breezes. The result is that if you are in the sun it’s pretty bad, but it’s very nice sitting in the shade. No wonder so many people take breaks to sit in the shade!
I managed to travel to Germany and to Suriname, which was great. I love traveling. Didn’t get to be a tourist, but I still loved it.
Thank you, Maria Sybilla Merian.
I have my ticket! (happy dance)
I will be going to Suriname in March 2012!
Saturday, November 5, 2011 a friend and I left early, early in the morning to drive to St. Charles Community College for the Missouri Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Missouri Confluence Conference 2011 in Cottlesville, MO (near St. Charles).
Now that mouthful is out of the way, I have to say that the SCBWI conference was well worth attending. I definitely enjoyed hearing writer Suzanne Morgan Williams (author of Bull Rider)! She had lots of good stuff to give; I took lots of notes. One thing that resonated with me was when she was given the advice to just do research on the internet instead of traveling to where her subject lived and worked, she didn’t agree and went anyway. That’s me right now––trying to raise funds to travel to Surinam to do research for my book about Maria Sybilla Merian, a VIP when it comes to early science. And while we, as writers, always hear “Write what you know,” Suzanne says, “Write what you want to know.”
Suzanne believes that stories and books choose YOU to write about them. Her questions to the conference attendees are:
- What story, what book, what technique is trying to get your attention?
- What story speaks to you?
- What creative places do you need to explore? (Ah, Surinam continues to beckon….)
A useful tip for finding an agent or editor came from Quinlan Lee, an editor with Adams Literary:
- Look at the acknowledgement page of a book on your subject to find who was the editor/agent.
- Write the editor or agent mentioned there, saying “I know you edited/agented this book; I think you might be interested in mine.” Then give your pitch.
Don’t think I’ve ever thought of actually mentioning that. Hmmm….
There was so much more; it’s all still whirling around in my brain. Thank goodness I took notes!
I just read that at the June 13, 2011 Christie’s auction in London that an original copy of Maria Sybilla Merian’s first book (Das Blumenbuch) sold for £565,250 or $915,564.02!
I had once had the passing thought that it would be nice to have one of her originals…good thing it was just a passing thought. Wow!
Yep, that’s right. I was browsing through Google Images for things related to Maria Sybilla Merian for a project I have in mind, when…there on the page was ME staring back at ME! I clicked on my picture and it took me to DevSur.com: Your Suriname News Source. There with that photo of me was the headline “American writer researching Suriname naturalist.”
Check it out! And leave a comment, please.
BTW I found 4 four-leaf clovers near my back door today. Connection…?
On Saturday, March 26, 2011, I spoke to a local writers group about the biography I am writing of early artist/scientist Maria Sybilla Merian. I talked about the various types of research I have done for the book, including travel to Germany and visits to various museums for information. Then I talked about my experience with crowd funding and two of those websites, explaining what crowd funding is and how it is done, differences I found on two of those site, and what all needs to be done before you push that “publish” button. And lastly, I spoke about why I need to travel to Suriname, South America, for that last bit of on-site research in order to complete the book.
I enjoyed visiting with all the people who came up to talk with me afterwards, too.