About this project
The purpose of this project is to help an artist achieve her dream, just like the character in my work-in-progress novel, Mercury’s Daughter. My novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old girl with a love of science in 16th century Flanders (modern-day Belgium) struggling to find her place in her world while trying to free her astronomer father who has been arrested for heresy. While my novel is nearly complete, the final chapters hinge on research that can only be done in Belgium itself. I hope to accomplish raising the additional funds I need to travel to Belgium through this Kickstarter project.
During the first week of July each year, the city of Brussels, Belgium hosts its annual “Ommegang” pageant, which is a reenactment of the 1549 visit of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Since this actual historical event plays a pivotal role in my novel, I feel a firsthand experience of the reenactment will help immensely with my research.
As one of the main settings for my novel, Brussels is also host to many sites that are described in my story that would be beneficial to experience firsthand. Brussels and nearby Bruges are also home to specific museums and experts on sixteenth-century Flemish daily life that I will visit and interview in person.
This trip will provide me with unparalleled research opportunities, as I will be able to "time travel" and experience Charles V's procession into Brussels in a way similar to my main character. This is more than a research trip. It will allow me to check for accuracy involving my novel's setting and period details as well as look for more sensory feelings to enhance the story. This trip will allow me to feel the air and excitement of Brussels during the "Ommegang" and visit the places where my characters live.
Early drafts of the manuscript received a first place award in the middle grade division at the Los Angeles SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Writer's Day. A number of agents and editors, who have read portions of the manuscript, have expressed interest in considering the completed novel. Traveling to Belgium for this research will give me the insight to finish the novel and submit it to these agents and editors by late fall of 2012.
The funds raised through Kickstarter will be used to offset the high cost of peak travel airfare, since the event only takes place at the height of the summer travel season. All other expenses will be paid for through travel vouchers, free hotel nights and my own funds.
Please help this artist achieve her dream. Thank you.
The following is a synopsis of my novel, Mercury's Daughter:
Thirteen-year-old Elsabeth Van Berghe fears that she is “sick for the stars,” yet she is no longer the little girl whom her astronomer father used to tell constellation stories to up on the rooftop. As this is her last year of training to become a wife by the sisters of the local beguinage and her great aunt, Peetje Floris, Elsabeth must give up her beloved night sky in order to take her place in society like her own mother, a talented lace maker and ideal homemaker, did in her day. Not only is science relegated to the realm of men like her father’s new apprentice, Jakop, but one must be extra cautious when living in the Flemish city of Brugge during the mid-sixteenth century. Many believe astronomy and science to be “the devil’s work.”
During a last secret excursion up to the rooftop to look upon the night sky, Elsabeth discovers what she believes to be a new star in the constellation, Cygnus. Her father swears her to secrecy after telling him about the discovery, yet when he writes to his peers, his letter is diverted to the magistrates by a disgruntled former patron, Lord Rykeman. Father becomes accused of heresy and is arrested, and it is up to Elsabeth to clear his name.
As days turn into months without Father, Elsabeth undergoes the struggles of growing up while trying every means possible to help him. Local townspeople, other girls at the beguinage, her secret crush, and her closest friend begin to maintain their distance. Even Peetje Floris, the rock of the family, finally succumbs to illness from the stress. Only Jakop, the boy whom she resented for being her father’s apprentice, and Sister Bernadette, her favorite beguine, stand by her during her darkest moments. It is with Sister Bernadette that she begins to heal after Peetje’s death, and where she merges the Flemish art of bobbin lace making, her late mother’s passion, with her own love of astronomy by creating a design inspired by her father’s new star.
When Elsabeth is given the opportunity to visit her closest friend, now newly married to Lord Rykeman, in Brussels during the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s tour with his sister, Queen Maria, Elsabeth leaves the beguinage to plead for her father’s release. Her mission is cut short when Lord Rykeman takes advantage of her during a banquet honoring the emperor in the darkened corridors of Queen Maria's palace, forcing Elsabeth to flee. Yet, the lace design she wears upon her gown is noticed by a loyal lady-in-waiting, and it is this work that finally leads to a meeting with Queen Maria and to her father’s release.
Though she saves her father, Elsabeth decides to teach at a beguinage for a time near him in Germany, where he has gone to help plan a new university. There she can consider what her future holds, whether that be as the wife of her newfound love, Jakop, or something else. No matter her decision, she knows that science and astronomy must always be a part of her life, for it is through studying the heavens themselves that she views the world.
Here also is the prologue to Mercury's Daughter and the first page of chapter one:
Father holds out his armillary sphere to me. “Go ahead, Elsabeth. Have a try.”
My eyes widen at the beautiful instrument. Its shape matches the world’s shape, a perfect sphere, not flat as scientists of old once believed.
The brass of the armillary sphere shines brighter than a knight’s sword. I long to touch it but have never been allowed to before. Reaching out, I run my hands along the sphere’s concentric rings. Circles criss-cross one another, showing the positions of the stars and planets in relation to the earth, the center of our solar system. My fingertips bump along raised numbers that line the circles’ perimeters, feeling like they have finally found their rightful home.
Until the burning begins.
Slowly, steadily, the instrument’s metal heats in my hands, hotter than a cauldron over a hearth fire. I try to pull back, but my fingers stick to the melting rings. Flames flare over my fingers, eating away at my flesh and smelling like charred venison. The fire crawls over my hands and up my arms, leaving only bones in its wake. To my elbows, my shoulders, until finally, the flames brush against my cheek and lips, stifling my screams…
I’m burning! I’m burning!
God’s moon, if Peetje Floris doesn’t retire soon for the night, I think I shall hang myself from the rafters right here over my cot—unless the smoke from the hearth downstairs chokes the death out me first.
I clutch my pillow over my nose and mouth, but a straw sack makes for a poor mask. I can almost taste Peetje Floris’ hare stew from supper again, with a lot less flavor and a lot more gristle. Ugh, its stench is foul enough to fight the devil himself. Families in Brugge shouldn’t feed their fires so many bits of wood in autumn to keep the devil’s breath at bay during the night. It always leads to more houses going up in flames, like Andre the Glazier’s or Chretien the Potmaker’s last year. From the smell of things, I wouldn’t wonder if our house were next to roast at the stake, as the heretics do underneath the belfry in the market square.
Bits of straw poke through my pillow’s thin linen cover and scratch at my cheek, prodding me to stay to my bed. Nay, I haven’t stayed awake this long only to sleep now. It’s already the end of September, the end of the harvest. The sky over Brugge today was as blue as the gown the Blessed Virgin wears who watches over the market square. I have to grab this chance of a clear night by the tail while I still can. Already it’s been over a fortnight since I’ve gone up to the rooftop.
Tonight, I must have my night sky.
I lower my pillow to my stomach, the stench having simmered its fury, and reach for De Astronomica underneath my blanket. I’ve already been deep within the pages of Father’s book earlier, having taken it out of its secret place inside my mattress to pass the time. Andromeda and the sea monster. Perseus and Medusa. Orion the hunter. Pegasus the flying horse. The old tales are as close to viewing the constellations as I can be without being outside in the dark.
As God as my protector, if I were an astronomer, I’d observe the stars and planets whenever I could and not stare at star charts all day, like Father does. He doesn’t even notice when one of his old books on astronomy goes missing, as they are in need of constant dusting from disuse. But I guess one doesn’t need to view the stars or read stories about constellations in order to cast horoscopes for one’s bread and broth. Casting horoscopes keeps the merchants and nobles happy, and one must always stay in the sunlight of their uppers in Brugge.
** Thank you to Hanne Kelchtermans for the use of her incredible photograph as the main image for my Kickstarter project! You can find her beautiful photography at http://www.wix.com/hannekelchtermans/photographs
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