Thursday, March 24, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Marcella Boveri, the unrecognized scientist

For International Women's Day 2016, I'm not going to write about the fact that women face inequality in every nation on Earth, nor that women face a continual barrage of sexism and gender-based violence.

Instead, I'm going to raise from the depths of the male-dominated history of the sciences a woman so impressive that her story reverberates today, more than a hundred and fifty years after she was born.
Marcella O'Grady Boveri, 1863-1950

Marcella O'Grady Boveri was a scientist in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She holds the distinction of being the first woman to graduate from MIT with a concentration in biology, one of the first female science professors at Vassar College, and she is also an unrecognized contributor to the Sutton-Boveri chromosomal theory of inheritance.

If you think women are lacking in the sciences today, consider what it was like when Marcella was applying to do her doctoral studies in biology in 1887, when women were neither encouraged to enter nor accepted into such programs.

I happened upon Marcella's name in some work-related research about the history of cancer. One of the first scientists who ever proposed that cancer was caused by a single cell's abnormality was the German zoologist Theodor Boveri, and the only reason he did -- and that anyone knows about it -- is because of his wife, Marcella.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to Marcella's story.

Marcella taught biology at Bryn-Mawr College and later at Vassar. In 1896, she journeyed to Germany to study in the all-male science department at the University of Wurzburg -- again, the first woman to do so -- and worked with the head of the zoological department, Dr. Theodor Boveri.

Theodor was studying chromosomal theory of genetic inheritance at the time, and was less than thrilled to learn that a woman was joining him. He didn't think women belonged in the sciences in higher education. (What a pig, right? )

He changed his tune quickly, however. According to this short biography about Marcella written by Margaret Wright, it was soon after Marcella's arrival that Theodor could hardly contain himself around the brilliant scientist. He wrote to a family member that "I now have an American lady zoologist in the institute, and she is not really pretty, but quite attractive. I enjoy her company and must sometimes restrain myself: she does not care for frivolity."

Lab experiments on sea urchins, apparently, made quite the romantic backdrop. The two married at the end of the year.

Marcella worked on Boveri's theories with him for the remainder of his life, though she was not credited with the same achievements awarded to her husband. She researched alongside her husband to prove the theory of chromosomal inheritance, yet she was unrecognized as a contributing researcher.

She also translated a paper titled The Origin of Malignant Tumors written by Theodor Boveri in which he postulated that cancer was caused by abnormal behavior in cells. Marcella was, in essence, offering up to the scientific community a study that was far ahead of its time, which was subsequently proven through the discovery of oncogenes and cytogenetic studies. Again, she was never recognized, though she'd assisted in her husband's research, translated his work after his death, and advocated for the theory. Her name remains absent on the historic document, just as it did for his discovery of chromosomal inheritance.

Marcella Boveri, you were one hell of a strong woman.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Servant and a Spy

I have finally begun the exciting and terrible process of seeking agent representation for my book, A Servant and a Spy.

Who's my dreamboat literary agent? Someone who loves Young Adult literature, for starters. Someone who fancies adventure stories and rides along with characters thrown into situations they never expected. An agent who is passionate about drama, treason, and wickedly tight friendship.

So far, I have queried eight people.

The tally? Two rejections, one full manuscript request (which is still out). The full-manuscript request was from an agent I met at a writer's conference, so I never had a vicious attack of nerves in sending off a query letter to him. Oddly, it was much easier to pitch in person than online, where I agonize over commas and berate my slowness.

I have to remind myself that this process is glacially slow, and that it is highly competitive. I may never be published. Am I fine with that? No. That's why I'm querying.

But it's not the backbone of why I write.

The person I'm writing for at this moment is me. The enjoyment of telling a story and the contagious process of developing characters is my lightening rod of motivation -- not the coveted title of published author.

If I think about the publishing process and what I need to do to query, sell, and market a book, I would give up now.

Among what I'm sending out to agents is a proper description of A Servant and a Spy, or what would appear on the back cover as the book blurb.

Here it is!


Fifteen-year-old Seren lives in a small village where she’s expected to marry early, tend goats, and not punch anyone. So it’s no surprise that she wants nothing more than to escape. With her mixed ethnicity and fluency in the language of Barataya, the warring kingdom to the South, she never really stood a chance of fitting in anyway. 

Seren gets her wish to see more of the world when a distant relation summons her to Castle Kingsforth to be a maid to the princess. Suddenly at court, in a nest of backstabbing nobles and jealous servants, Seren finds that her new life is nothing like what she imagined. When the king of Barataya arrives at the castle and the threat of war looms, she learns the real reason she’s been brought to court, and it leads her to hidden tunnels and treacherous secrets. If she follows orders, she'll betray the princess, the one true friend she’s sworn to serve. And if she doesn't do as she's told, she -- and her country -- could end in ruin.

Not your average princess story, A Servant and A Spy deals with themes of racism and female friendship. It will appeal to readers who enjoy the plot turns in Jennifer Nielsen's The Lost Prince, and those who loved Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling