"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Bewitching Time for All!

This week, I'm taking a break from our regular programing to celebrate the Halloween season with a Bewitching Book Tour.  From October 22 thru November 5, I will visit ten blogs to talk about Magic in Eolyn's World through guest posts and interviews. 

As part of the tour, we will give away two free signed copies of EolynAlso, as a special Halloween treat, Hadley Rille Books has kindly agreed to host a sale of the Kindle edition and the Nook edition of the novel.  For the duration of the tour, you can download Eolyn to your Kindle or Nook for just $0.99!

So treat yourself to some magic, sit back, and enjoy!  If you haven't read Eolyn, this is your chance to learn more about the novel and its soon-to-be-released companion, High Maga

If you have read Eolyn, now you can explore in-depth the traditions of the Magas of Moisehén, including many historical details and beliefs that are not revealed in the novel.  I also welcome questions from all of you about any aspect of Eolyn's story, the world of Moisehén, or my life as a writer.

The tour schedule is listed below, with links to the blogs that are hosting me.  Thank you very much to Roxanne Rhoads at Bewitching Tours for coordinating this event.  I look forward to having all of you along!

October 22:  Why EolynLearn what inspired me to write the novel on Lisa's World of Books.

October 23:  Author Interview on Roxanne's Realm

October 24:  Dragon  Read about the extraordinary legends of this Messenger, the guardian of all Magas and Mages in Moisehén. This stop also includes a new review of Eolyn!  Queen of All She Reads.

October 25:  The Real South Woods  Eolyn's childhood home was inspired by the magical forests of the High Talamanca in Costa Rica.  Find out why at The Solitary Bookworm.

October 26:  I have two stops on October 26th.
Shape Shifting in EolynA special post for Fang-tastic Books that reveals, among other things, why Akmael and Eolyn like to shape shift into wolves.
High Magic.  Many magas and mages petition for a staff, but only a select few are granted one.  The wonderful Claire Ashgrove, also a Kansas City area author, will host me on her blog From the Muse

October 27:  Author Interview with The Creatively Green Write at Home Mom

November 1:  Warrior Magic was first given to the mage Caedmon during the war against the Thunder People.  Read his story and more on For the Love of Film and Novels.

November 3:  Promotional Post for Eolyn on Wormyhole

November 4:  Author Interview with Laurie's Paranormal Thoughts & Reviews

November 5:  For my last stop, I will talk about the sequel to Eolyn, High Maga.  What challenges lay ahead for our favorite maga?  Who will be the new heroes and villains of her story?  Stop by and feel free to ask questions on Always a Booklover.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Curious Case of Rosy's Spectacles

Rosalind Franklin
In 1968 The Double Helix, James D. Watson's personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA, was published.  This memoir, intended to be chatty and informal, met with some controversy even before it went to press.  Harvard University Press dropped the project when Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins voiced their strong objections.  It was, nonetheless, picked up by Atheneum, and quickly became a bestseller in the U.S.

Watson's original manuscript was apparently littered with unpleasant caricatures of the people with whom he worked.  Much of this was edited out, as the people whom he included, such as Crick and Wilkins, were given the opportunity to review the manuscript and provide their (rather enraged) feedback before the book was released.  One person, however, was not granted the opportunity to voice her opinion.  This was the scientist Rosalind Franklin, who had died from cancer ten years before. 

As a result, Franklin never appears in The Double Helix.  What Watson invents to take her place is the fictitious character "Rosy". In the words of Anne Sayre, a colleague and friend of Rosalind Franklin, Rosy was "the perfect, unadulterated stereotype of the unattractive, dowdy, rigid, aggressive, overbearing, steely, 'unfeminine' bluestocking, the female grotesque we have all been taught either to fear or to despise."

Photo 51, produced by x-ray crystallography.
Based on the pattern in the photo, Franklin was
able to deduce the basic structure of DNA.  This
data was stolen by James D. Watson.
Anne Sayre, along with many others who knew Rosalind Franklin during her short yet productive life, realized at once that Watson's Rosy, while meant to represent Rosalind Franklin, really had nothing in common with her at all. 

The real Rosalind Franklin was a dedicated scientist who made lasting contributions to the field of molecular biology.  Her friends and colleagues remembered her as a well-kempt and attractive young woman.  And even if she weren't, does it really matter how any scientist -- man or woman -- dresses? After all, scientist have never been known for keeping themselves at the height of fashion. 

So why was Watson obsessed with the way "Rosy" dressed?  Why the constant attacks on her hairstyle, her lack of makeup, and the spectacles that hid her face?

When Anne Sayre first read The Double Helix, she was willing to consider the possibility that she and Watson simply had seen the same person from different perspectives. 

"That I disagreed with his opinions concerning Rosalind Franklin," she writes in her own book, Rosalind Franklin and DNA, "was proof of nothing except that Watson and I liked different people."

But what didn't sit right at all with Anne Sayre were Rosy's spectacles.

"Rosalind had the eyesight of an eagle," Sayre writes. She never used glasses.

Sayre points out that any departure from known fact in a witness' testimony breaks open for scrutiny all other facts to which that witness has testified.  So Sayre, troubled by this and other departures from fact in Watson's testimony, decided to scrutinize all the facts of his account. The result of her work -- and the work of others that have followed -- exposed a rather unpleasant side of science.

Why was Watson so aggressive in his attack on Rosalind Franklin? 

Well, one possibility is that this excuses him -- liberates his conscience from the fact that his greatest claim to fame, the "discovery" of the structure of DNA, was in fact not his discovery at all but hers. 

Rosalind Franklin had deduced the structure of DNA through her work at King's College with x-ray crystallography.  Without her knowledge -- data that was stolen from her lab -- Watson and Crick could not have completed the model for which they eventually won the Nobel Prize. 

Most biology textbooks now
acknowledge Franklin's contributions
to the discovery of DNA, but this
image is still referredto as
"the Watson and Crick Model"
Watson's personal attacks on "Rosy" may be annoying, but his attacks on her as a professional are downright laughable. "Rosy", in Watson's opinion, was not only ugly and unpleasant, she was far too fixated on the tedious task of collecting data.  Watson found her constant insistence that the structure of DNA had to be supported with hard facts -- facts that would come from her work in x-ray crystallography -- overbearing and pessimistic.

Watson seems to blissfully determined to forget that data is the foundation of science. If we throw out the facts, we have nothing left.

As we all know, in the end, Rosalind Franklin was right.  Even Watson needed data; he needed it so badly, he stole it from Franklin's lab.

Rosalind Franklin never knew it was her work that earned Watson, Crick, and Wilkins the Noble Prize. They did not publicly acknowledge they had access to her data until years after her death.

Franklin eventually moved on from King's College, continuing her work with molecular biology to illuminate the structure of the virus, which she considered her greatest contribution to science.  In 1958, her life -- which in so many ways had only just begun -- was taken by cancer at the age of 37. 

One of the great ironies of this whole story is that if it hadn't been for The Double Helix, Rosalind Franklin's name might well have faded from history.  By trying so hard to discredit this remarkable woman scientist, Watson set in motion a chain of events that would result in the recognition of just how important her work was in facilitating one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century. 

Not that this justifies in any way Watson's invention of Rosy and her spectacles.  Rosalind Franklin certainly deserved more respect than what she received from him -- and many others along the way.  But at least we now live in a world where we are able to look at cases like this and say, in the words of one of my students,  "That is just wrong." 

Rosalind Franklin died without knowing the full extent of her
contribution to one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Math and Martyrdom: Hypatia of Alexandria

During the first part of the semester, we give our Women and Science students a general overview of science through the lens of feminism.  We talk about how gender stereotypes influence the content and practice of science, and also identify how the structure of science has impeded participation by certain groups -- our focus, of course, being women. 

With that foundation laid, we spend most of the rest of the semester looking at specific case studies. 

Our first case study this semester is Hypatia of Alexandria; a very risky choice, because so little is known about the life and work of this fourth century mathematician.  A contemporary historian, Socrates Scholasticus, gives us this compelling description:

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.

Hypatia's accomplishments did little to save her from a violent death.  In AD 415, she was dragged from her chariot by a Christian mob, stripped, stoned, dismembered and burned.  Although Socrates names her as the greatest philosopher of her time, virtually nothing remains of the work in literature and science to which she dedicated her life. 

Hypatia's crime? 

Well for one, she was a close friend of the Prefect Orestes, who at the time, though Christian, was embroiled in a bitter power struggle with Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria.  This was a period of violent and dramatic change.  Christianity, until recently an oppressed religion, was now the official faith of the Roman Empire, and as such was rising toward unprecedent power with zealous vigor. 

As tensions between Orestes and Cyril reached their breaking point, animosity was directed at Hypatia, from whom Orestes was known to seek counsel.  The Christians blamed Hypatia for Orestes' reluctance to make peace under Cyril's terms. 

Three centuries later, the historian John of Nikiu would also accuse Hypatia of devotion "to magic, astrolabes, and instruments of music", and of "beguiling many people through Satanic wiles". 

But Hypatia was not a witch by any definition.  She was a mathematician, and an extraordinarily well respected one at that.

Often when I think of Hypatia's story, I remember the 1991 Teen Talk Barbie declaring to the world that math is tough.  Mattel received a lot of well-deserved grief for putting those words in Barbie's mouth.  Yet Mattel did not invent this idea.  Math has been declared "tough" for girls for centuries now, capable of causing all sorts of irreversible damage, from hysteria to shriveled ovaries.  And of course, in Hypatia's time, too much knowledge of mathematics could get you dragged from your chariot, stripped, stoned, dismembered and burned. 

Now that is tough.

Is the cultural myth of the "toughness" of math somehow an echo of Hypatia's fate? 

Is it an admonishment to all those girls who might dare to disagree with Barbie and think math -- and in a larger sense, science -- is actually fun, even easy? 

Studies indicate that at the tender age of six, both boys and girls already believe boys are better at math.  And yet, comprehensive assessments of math abilities among boys and girls across many countries and cultures have demonstrated this is not so.  On average, girls do just as well as boys in math, though other socioeconomic factors can influence the performance of both. 

Still, we keep telling our girls that math is tough.  Mothers tend to understimate the math abilities of their daughters, and overestimate the math abilities of their sons.  Even at the university level, female professors are just as likely as their male colleagues to exhibit bias against women students of science.  And why wouldn't they be?  After all, look at Hypatia.  That's what happens when a woman cultivates her mind, becomes self-possessed, and is unabashed about walking into an assembly of men. 

Alejandro Amenabar's 2009 film Agora postulates, in a way viewed as clever by some and far-fetched by others, that Hypatia's study of geometry and the movement of heavenly bodies may have led her to conclude, 1200 years before Johannes Kepler was born, that the earth orbits the sun. 

In truth, we will never know how much knowledge was lost when Hypatia and her work was destroyed, but think about this:

If the death of one woman could set us back a thousand years, how many millennia do we sacrifice every time the barrier of prejudice excludes another girl from the path of knowledge and discovery?