If you would like to support Sirens, our presenters, and our programming, we invite you to sponsor our programming. The cost is $35 per presentation, and assuming we have your donation by August 15, 2018, we will include your name next to your chosen topic below and in our program book for this year’s event. Please review the presentations below, and once you have made your selection, click here to donate.
The Beauty of Feminism, the Beast of Patriarchy: Investigating Subversive Retellings
Nivair H. Gabriel
“Beauty and the Beast” is one of the most retold tales in young adult fantasy literature by women, yet it is inherently problematic; it features a male monster enacting patriarchal violence, and a beautiful girl tasked with loving and saving him at the expense of her own development. In retelling this story, authors Robin McKinley, Renée Ahdieh, and Robin LaFevers have worked to subvert the tale's foundation in patriarchy and instill their interpretations with feminist values. While the tale's resonance with young women in a patriarchal society seems troubling, a closer look at these retellings reveals women performing powerful acts of feminist reclamation.
“Cold as a Witch’s Tit”: Gender and Magic in Early Modern Witch Trials
The witch trials of early modern Europe are a fascinating and often misunderstood historical episode that offers important insights into women’s lives in the past. This paper will provide a comparative overview of the witch hunts that occurred in Europe between roughly 1450 and 1750 within their legal, social, and religious contexts, with particular attention to the British Isles.
Crafting Works of Marginalized Resistance Through the Reinvented Myth and Modern Fairytale
Maria Dones, Hannah Warren
This presentation will focus on the methods through which poets and fiction writers craft works that utilize reinvented myths and modern fairytales as a form of resistance to racial and gendered oppression. Marginalized authors within the writing community often create a space in which their voices are recognized through genres that are well-established but that often misrepresent or undervalue these voices. This presentation will discuss how authors craft that space.
Creating Proposals and Compendium Submissions for Sirens
Are you thinking of submitting a program item for next year? Want tips on how to prepare your ideas for consideration by the vetting board? We’ll cover abstract formats for papers, panels, workshops, afternoon classes, and roundtable discussions. Also, your talk, paper, workshop, or roundtable discussion can become part of a published book; every three to four years, Sirens products a compendium of presentations. We will discuss formatting issues, editing, bibliographic citation and why it matters, and some differences between writing for oral delivery and writing for print. The presentation will be very informal; attendees are welcome to drop in for a few minutes to ask a quick question or to use the time for group brainstorming.
Intersecting Magics: Examining Assemblages of Magic and Technology in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti
This paper examines the intersections of magic and technology in the novellas of Nnedi Okorafor. Okorafor’s Binti series prompts us to think about the particular ways in which the black fantastic and black technological practices align to create moments of history-making and memorialization, especially in the community-building moments after persecution or state violence. This paper examines not only the operations of such magic and technology in the text, but also gestures to the affordances of such magical and technological thinking in what can be seen as analogous memorializing and community-building moments in black contemporary culture.
Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Ava DuVernay
Sarah R. Kozloff
A Wrinkle in Time is about to assume renewed cultural importance because Disney hired Ava DuVernay to direct an adaptation that will premiere in 2018. Pre-release publicity indicates that DuVernay has transformed A Wrinkle in Time through her casting decisions. The vivid trio of magical women is now multiracial: Oprah Winfrey is Mrs. Which, Mindy Kaling, Mrs. Who, and Reese Witherspoon plays Mrs. Whatsit. This presentation examines how DuVernay’s role as director, and the “Ws” transmutation, may alter common perceptions of who has magic (and power).
Our Trashy Grandmother: Historical (Mis)Perceptions of the Fantasy Genre
Nearly every reader and writer of fantasy has been told, at least once, that fantasy literature is silly, trashy, and not properly literature at all. But the origins of fantasy stretch back through myth, legend, and “old wives’ tales” into prehistory and the farthest realms of the human imagination. This paper will briefly sketch the origins of fantasy before examining ways in which genre, particularly in the West, has been constantly redefined in order to perpetuate hierarchies of gender, race, and class--and how fantasy can act as a literature of liberation from those hierarchies.
The Power of Contracts
Whether you’re signing with a publisher, hired to sew someone’s coat design, or co-creating a musical, contracts are the ultimate protection for your art. But many artists ignore contracts because the language is hard to understand or they think they don’t need them, until they’re hit with a worst-case scenario. This presentation will go over contract basics, issues to consider before entering into any agreement, and tips on negotiating without burning bridges, all with a focus on contracts specific to the art world. Please note that this presentation will not include specific legal advice.
Publishing Magic, More or Less
Where is fantasy literature headed for middle grade and young adult readers? What will young readers be offered in the years to come, and what can we glean from those offerings about fantasy’s values, mores, and community? Using industry sources, this presentation will provide a data-driven analysis of recent book acquisitions--and what those trends might mean for the present and future landscape for children’s fantasy readers.
Sorceresses Transgress: Examining Treatment of Female Magic Users
Fantasy literature is rife with incredible sorceresses, witches, and other female magic users. Magic can be an avenue for female characters to play an integral role in an otherwise patriarchal narrative, but does that approach give women power, or is it another kind of trap? This paper will discuss the ways magic is used to empower and constrain female characters, from the evolution of tropes casting feminine magic as “good” or “evil” to the limitations and opportunities for female magic users in their worlds—and what that says about ours.
Becoming a Better Reader
Amy Tenbrink, Faye Bi, s.e. smith
Edith Wharton once said, “When I first began to read, and then to write ghost-stories, I was conscious of a common medium between myself and my readers, of their meeting me halfway among the primeval shadows, and filling in the gaps in my narrative with sensations and divinations akin to my own.” This idea, that readers must meet authors halfway, implies that readers bear a certain amount of responsibility for the success or failure of their reading experience—and that, ultimately, reading itself may be a skill, something that a reader can improve with education, diligence, and practice. On this panel, four readers will discuss what it might mean to be a good reader and how one might become a better reader.
Conversations with Octavia Butler
K. Tempest Bradford, Kiini Ibura Salaam, N. K. Jemisin
Octavia Butler's novels have taken millions of readers on a fantastic journey—but what about the woman herself? This panel will give participants a glimpse into Octavia Butler, the individual. Through audio clips, we'll hear from the woman who has brought the world fantastic vision, as Sirens guest of honor, novelist N.K. Jemisin, and two speculative fiction writers, Kiini Ibura Salaam and K. Tempest Bradford, engage in conversation with Butler's ideas, visions, and brilliance.
The Link Between Science and Magic
Rhoda Belleza, Kamilla Benko, Miriam Weinberg
This panel will explore the influence of real-world science on the creation of magical systems and/or sci-fi technology, with a focus on how authors across both genres rely on the same pillars to tell a compelling narrative.
The Magic of Beauty: Beauty as Narrative Device and Social Construction
Kate Elliott, Faye Bi, Dhonielle J. Clayton, Zoraida Córdova, Kiini Ibura Salaam
In what sense has beauty been treated as a special magic gift that some girls and women possess? How has it functioned as a narrative device that gives its holders a form of power other girls and women don’t receive? This then obliges us to confront and discuss social constructions of beauty. Who is allowed to be beautiful in narratives and on what terms? For whom is beauty a limiting characteristic? For whom is it an empowering one?
Poor Unfortunate Souls: Women, Magical Power, and the Idea of Evil
Nicole Brinkley, E.K. Johnston, Katherine Locke, Natalie C. Parker, Shveta Thakrar
Traditionally, women with magic in fantasy media are presented as evil: a witch that steals away the innocence of a princess without power, or an evil queen set up against a pure-of-heart prince. But women with magical power being classically seen as evil is being subverted and challenged in today's fantasy stories. This panel will discuss how and why women with magical power were traditionally seen as evil, and what happens when you overlap women with power with other marginalizations: queer women with magical power, women of color with magical power, and—heaven forbid—queer women of color with magical power, as well as favorite magical ladies who got the short end of the proverbial stick.
Reader, I Married Them: Problematic Tropes in Romantic Storylines
Kate Elliott, Zoraida Córdova, Tessa Gratton, Rebecca Roanhorse
Many of us love “love stories” in fantasy, even when they have problematic elements. But what happens when the basis of the love story is harmful? Can genuine romance flourish without consent? Do offensive depictions of ethnicity and religion always undercut the good of a romance? What are some of the problematic tropes that used to be common but have now dropped out of fashion? Which are still with us, and why? Where does “it's okay to love problematic things” collide with stereotypes that can cause lasting harm?
The Unicorn Fallacy: Dissecting the Argument That Dragons Can Be Accurate While Diverse Characters Are Not
Julia Ember, C.B. Lee, Shveta Thakrar
A common argument against diversity in speculative fiction is that its inclusion isn’t historically or scientifically accurate for the time period the work is based on. In this session, the presenters will challenge the fallacy that diverse characters cannot be included in speculative fiction with a strong historical bent, and the historical evolution of this misconception. In addition, the presenters will discuss why this fallacy is especially harmful in genre fiction and highlight works that actively fight against this argument.
Who's a Witch? Gender, Power, and Magical Systems
s.e. smith, Robyn Bennis, Dhonielle J. Clayton, Kate Elliott, Shveta Thakrar
Moon blood, woman power, military magic, enchanted masculinity: across fantasy, magical systems and magic users are often highly gendered. What are the cultural and historical roots of this tradition? Why are some forms of magic so closely associated with binary gender systems, and what happens in a fantasy world where gender is a spectrum? This panel will explore magic, gender, and identity across cultures and eras.
Writing the Fantastic: Magic and Power
Amy Tenbrink, Zoraida Córdova, N. K. Jemisin, Victoria Schwab
Too often, in fantasy literature, women are, literally, powerless. Despite worlds bursting with magic—magical environments, magical beasts, magical men—female characters are so frequently everyday humans navigating these wonders without powers of their own. Further, even when female characters do have power, they are often denigrated, ostracized, or assaulted; even in fantasy literature, where magic abounds, the word “witch” is so often a slur. Join us as Sirens guests of honor discuss women, magic, and power—and what the limitless possibilities of fantasy literature might add to this conversation.
Writing fight scenes, whether physical or magical, requires an understanding of the specialized skill the author wants to portray, but the craft of communicating to the reader is paramount. Between the common strategic advice of “Make it exciting!” and the common logistical advice of “Get the details right!” are the tactics writers need to match strategy with logistics and create compelling fight scenes to reveal character, build the world, and drive the plot.
Tools and Techniques for the Reluctant Rewriter
B R Sanders
Masterpieces are rarely written perfectly the first time around. Revision, rewriting, and editing are key steps in the writing process, but they aren’t always fun, and they aren’t always easy to master. For many of us, learning to write first drafts is more straightforward and easier than picking up the skills necessary to polish those first drafts. In this workshop, we’ll explore a variety of techniques writers can use to structure their revision and rewriting process to get the most out of it. Writers at all stages of their career and of all levels of expertise are welcome.
Bewbs and Brains: Talking About Our Favorite Smart and Sexy Women in Fantasy Literature
You know her: She radiates sex appeal, shows cleavage, and wears a red dress. Her motivations are her own and maybe she’s not bad, but she’s certainly been drawn that way. You know her, too: She’s smart and a little mousy. She’s too busy with her nose in books to be bothered with being attractive, and really it’s better to be smart than sexy. Right? Let’s talk about women in fantasy literature who get to have both boobs and brains. The discussion welcomes examples from real life, fiction, and graphic media, as well as television and movies.
Coming Out Mage: Gender and Sexual Identity Explored in Fantasy Literature
Fantastic societies often explore the roots of power and oppression, and the relation of those onto group and individual identity. In this roundtable, we will discuss how queer identity themes are incorporated and explored in fantastic literature, from gendered masquerades to secret magics.
Kissing the Witch: Fantasy Women as Lovers
Female couples and other romantic pairings, whether lesbian, bi, and/or queer, appear in all kinds of fantasy tales, from Emma Donoghue's nested fairy tale retellings to Xena/Gabrielle fanfiction. Until comparatively recently, however, it's been easier to find coded relationships than explicit ones: women in fantastic couples are often buddies or companions, their love for each other kept on a spiritual plane or described in sisterly terms. Romantic female couples in fantasy are often the province of the small press, marketed to a queer female audience, while more mainstream genre portrayals tend to make those pairings minor characters or wander into the Tragic Queer/Kill Your Gays tropes. How can readers and writers navigate this range of work to find the kind of stories they like? How can we chart the development of different kinds of romantic female relationships in fantasy literature? What areas of relationships between female characters has the genre already explored, and where does it still have plenty of room to grow?
The Magic of “Women's Work”
In fantasy, some subsets of magic-working are framed as “women's work,” whether that means domestic tasks such as cooking or cleaning--as in the Disney-fied versions of some fairy tales--or for tasks befitting a proper lady of a certain class (along the lines of embroidery or singing), as in Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist series. Depending on the book, such magic may be presented as practical or wasteful. This roundtable discussion will explore the topic from both angles and also consider ways in which authors subvert magic devoted to so-called “women's work.”
The Magical Girls of Anime and Manga
The anime and manga genre of magical girls has a rich history of girls wielding magical power with fashion, friendship, and heart. In this roundtable, we'll review our favorite magical girls from famous to unfairly forgotten, and talk about why and how anime, manga, and magical girls work so well together.
The Nonhuman in Fantasy: Female Posthuman Configurations in Speculative Literature
Speculative literature often takes us to new worlds that are not quite Earth and introduces us to characters who are not quite human, offering us a mode of exploration into posthuman spaces where we can interrogate our definitions of what makes us human. This roundtable will discuss these and other questions: How do we envision depictions of nonhuman women in speculative literature? What makes these nonhumans women, and what makes these women nonhuman?
The Price of Power
We say something works “like magic” when it’s easy. But is that really want for our fictional magic workers? This roundtable will examine magic that comes at a price. We’ll look at fictional examples of power with a downside from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” to Kristin Cashore’s Fire and discuss how these bargains reflect how women and power relate in the real world. Perhaps we’ll come to some conclusions about just what magic is worth.
What happens when you don't want to join the rebellion, marry the warlord, or find Mount Doom--but the world needs you to? When a heroine has greatness thrust upon her, whether she will or no? All are invited to join this discussion of the heroines who never asked for adventure and glory, but who found it--or were found by it--anyway.
The Socioeconomics of Magic: Correlations Between Class Structure and Use of Magic in Fantasy Narratives
In the struggle for power that constitutes the plot of many fantasy novels, magic is often the primary tool. This use of magic generally confers a particular social status to the user. Frequently, especially in classic “epic” fantasy, this is an elevated status, but that is not always the case. In this roundtable we will discuss how magic is used to reinforce or break down social structure, and what this might say about how we view class distinctions.
Sorcerous Sources: Emotion in Magic Systems
Jedi power relies on emotionlessness. Harry Potter needs love to defeat evil. The importance of emotion is often part of worldbuilding magic--but what biases limit us? Is jealousy and anger always going to produce bad magic? Are only certain emotions powerful or worthy? Let's talk broadening our worldbuilding and including different experiences of these emotions.
The Magic of Costuming
Jo O'Brien, Susie O'Brien
Imagery in literature lights up our imagination, taking us to places we can't visit, showing us faces we can't see, and constructing clothing we can never wear—but Sirens can do anything! In this afternoon class, you'll get a look at costume creation from description to design to construction, with examples of both cosplay and everyday wardrobe inspired by fiction, film, and video games.
Making Money in Fantasy Publishing
Learn how a literary agent strategizes to make money for her authors! Sara Megibow will teach writers how an agent thinks about profit by looking at format, distribution, subsidiary rights and the ever-changing role of publicity. Then, Sara will help writers evaluate options for their own careers. Writers can have a more active impact on their own bottom line by vetting publishing choices through the lenses of genre, writing style, backlist, and personality. There is no magic wand in publishing, but there are concrete strategies for profit!
Headology: Female Power, Social Leverage, and Emotional Labor Among the Witches of Terry Pratchett's Discworld
The witches of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series are exceptionally powerful women; they are capable of freezing fire with a thought, borrowing animal bodies, and defeating nigh-omnipotent elves and vampires. However, in the usual practice of their magic, they eschew such obvious magics in favor of “headology” which relies on psychology, social leverage, and emotional labor rather than the supernatural. In this paper and roundtable discussion we will question why the Discworld witches (in stark contrast to their male counterparts, the wizards of Unseen University) use headology, and how that plays into gendered expectations around emotional labor.
Turn Inspiration into Action: How Our Favorite Fantasy Heroines Practice Resistance, and How You Can Do the Same
Feeling energized by the brilliant Sirens programming? Transform that inspiration into direct action by channeling your favorite fantasy heroine! In this hybrid presentation and workshop, we’ll discuss different types of activism through the lens of radical fantasy literature by women. You’ll leave with a packet of resources on civil disobedience and advocacy (plus a giant sf/f reading list featuring women dissidents) and the ability to turn the fictional bravery of your favorite characters into real-world change. We’ll compile our collective knowledge and ideas to a shared digital space and wrap up by sending specially-designed postcards to the representative of your choice. #resist