I was flat out amazed at how many buildings were built in the 1600s and are still there and still being used. Their use today may be different than in times past, but they are still in use. 

This building, for instance, is now a royal palace. When Maria Sybilla Merian lived in Amsterdam it was the City Hall! Very impressive. 

What You See Is…?

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.

130px-Jan_Baptist_van_Helmont_portraitIn 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.

150px-Jan_Baptist_van_Helmontmouseies 3

Chasing Caterpillars is with Beta Readers!

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.

recently emerged butterfly and chrysalis

Dispatch from Suriname: Paramaribo Likes You, Too

Paramaribo Architecture

Image via: Oskari Kettunen aka "aokettun" on Flickr

Picture wooden buildings with red tin roofs, many buildings with peeling paint, interesting architecture…that’s a start. People are very friendly here, and ask me how I like Paramaribo. And when I say I do, some say, “Paramaribo likes you, too.”


Dispatch from Suriname: Fresh Papaya!


Image via Janine aka "janineomg" on Flickr

Got up this morning when I heard the birds singing and people talking out on the porch downstairs. My first order of business, after breakfast (discovered I absolutely LOVE fresh papaya!), was to find the bookstore and buy a map… Next on my list was to book a trip into the rain forest (Monday).

Wandered around a bit; found the Palm Garden and the Presidential Palace…and the big wooden church of Sts. Peter and Paul… If I get a little used to the layout of the city and where things are today, then I can zero in on something tomorrow.

Today it rained — a SUDDEN shower that lasted maybe two minutes. I happened to be enjoying a cold drink out on the porch of TwenTy4 at the time.


Missouri Confluence Conference

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!