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Archive for June 2015

Inverness Hotel: It’s Where You Want to Be

Sirens’s hotel is the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center, a Destination Hotels resort in south Denver. Everything Sirens will take place at the Inverness, from our pre-conference Sirens Studio and Sirens Supper, to our programming, our Insurgents’ Ball, and our Sunday breakfast and auction. For Sirens, the Inverness is where you want to be.

1bed 2beds

 
 
If you’re already planning to book a room at the Inverness for Sirens, here’s what you need to know:

  • Discounted Sirens Rate: $129/night, regardless of occupancy (plus tax and resort fee)
  • Discount Code: 2PX7J9 (enter in the Group Field when making online reservations)
  • Discounted Dates: October 4, 2015, to October 13, 2015
  • How to Make a Reservation: Book online or call the hotel at (800) 346-4891
  • How to Find a Roommate: Tweet and include @sirens_con so we can retweet, post on our Facebook page, or use our message boards

inthebar atthespotteddog

 
If you’re still planning your travel for Sirens—or you’re still deciding on Sirens—let us convince you! The Inverness features:

  • A gorgeous, renovated lobby
  • New, comfortable spaces for chatting, writing, and reading
  • Both single-bed and two-bed guest room options, as well as accessible options, all of which have either mountain or resort views
  • A coffee shop and three restaurants, two of which now offer light options
  • Exercise options, including a gym, a pool, tennis courts, and a 3-mile walking/running path
  • A fabulous spa, with massages, skin treatments, and salon services
  • A gift shop full of Colorado souvenirs, such as local jewelry
  • Dedicated conference space for Sirens

atthepool atthejacuzzi

 
 
Also, in exchange for our use of the hotel’s conference center and a discounted guest-room rate for our attendees, we’ve committed to filling a certain number of the hotel’s rooms. By staying at the Inverness, you’ll help us meet our hotel commitments and keep the cost of Sirens lower for everyone.

If you have any questions or concerns about Sirens—including about hotel reservations or issues you’ve encountered in the reservations process—please write us at (help at sirensconference.org).

corridor

 

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Nine Books with Dragons!

By Sabrina Chin

Who doesn’t love a good dragon? They hoard treasure, breathe fire, and even fly! That’s probably why there are piles and piles of dragon books to read, and I could have made a dragons list five times as long. Here are just a few of the dragon books in my to-read pile.

 

Seraphina 1. Seraphina, Rachel Hartman
So I have to admit I’ve read this one, but the sequel, Shadow Scale, came out recently so it’s on the list to read as a refresher before getting to the sequel. Seraphina Dombegh is a musician and, secretly, a dragon, in a world where no one would believe that a dragon could make music. This book won the Morris Award for a debut young adult book.
 
Nimona 2. Nimona, Noelle Stevenson
I missed this when it was a webcomic, but I’m looking forward to reading this mix of the modern day and fantasy, since it promises “Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism!”
 
HowtoTrainYourDragon 3. How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Crowell
Okay, so I saw the movie and its sequel, and maybe you did too. Who wouldn’t want their very own Toothless? I’ve heard the book and movie aren’t very much alike, so it will be interesting to compare them.
 
ANaturalHistoryofDragons 4. A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan
Lady Trent is a naturalist studying dragons, despite a world that frowns on her doing so. What can I say—I like the idea of majoring in dragons!
 
ToothandClaw 5. Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton
In Tooth and Claw, the dragons are the ruling class, and humans their servants. There is much dragon drama, because they are a complicated folk. I think of this as maybe kind of like Downton Abbey…just with dragons. Dragons who eat each other, sometimes.
 
Talon 6. Talon, Julie Kagawa
After humans hunt dragons to near-extinction, the remaining dragons disguise themselves and humans and try to regain their footing. It turns out that even today, the danger is far from over…
 
DealingwithDragons 7. Dealing with Dragons, Patricia Wrede
Here’s the summary from Goodreads, and I can’t put it better: “Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart—and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon—and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for.”
 
DragonBound 8. Dragon Bound, Thea Harrison
When you steal a coin from a dragon, expect that dragon to be really, really mad. Dragons need love too, though. I’ve heard this is spicy and funny!
 
WheretheMountainMeetstheMoon 9. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin
Okay, another confession is that I’ve already read this one, but I couldn’t leave it out. Minli undertakes a quest, and a dragon is her companion in this sweet middle grade book. It’s got the feeling of a classic tale while still being brand-new.

 
As mentioned, this is my to-read list and I limited myself to nine books, so I had to leave a lot out. I’d love to hear about your favorite—or to-read—dragon books, too!

 

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Sirens Auction and Bookstore

At Sirens, we’re committed to keeping the cost of attendance as low as possible for all attendees. Because of that commitment, we run an unusual budget structure: the costs of presenting Sirens far exceed our registration revenue.

Each year, exceptionally kind individuals, many of them on our staff, cover approximately half that gap through thousands of dollars in donations. And each year the Sirens auction and bookstore raise thousands more dollars to cover the rest of that gap. In other words, our donors’ generosity, and our auction and bookstore, are necessary to making Sirens, a space that discusses and celebrates the remarkable women of fantasy literature, real.

And you can help.

 

Auction

Our auction includes both a silent component, during our Insurgents Ball, and a live component, during our final breakfast. The items, all donations from wonderful individuals, have ranged from unique articles such as t-shirts, pillows, journals, and jewelry; to professional services such as manuscript editorial letters to synopsis drafting; to art pieces such as custom digital artwork, character naming rights for upcoming books, and original watercolors. The sky’s the limit, and if you are interested in donating an item or two for our auction, please email us at (donate at sirensconference.org).

Quilt-NoSignatures AuctionPile-3
 

Bookstore

Once a year, we dig through our bookshelves, inquire of our friends, and stock a bookstore full of (almost) entirely fantasy works written by women. While we select much of our new inventory, friends of Sirens have been known to send us new books that they want to make sure we have for sale. Our bookstore also contains a used section, where every book is only $5, and that section is stocked with donations of gently used books. If you would like to donate fantasy books by or featuring remarkable women, whether new or used, please send them to us at the following address, so that they arrive no later than September 19, 2015. (And remember, if you’re shipping only books, the USPS media mail option is terrifically cheap, but terrifically slow, so please leave time for your package to arrive.)

Sirens
c/o Narrate Conferences
P.O. Box 149
Sedalia, CO 80135

BookstoreThursNight-5 BookstoreThursNight-1
 

Monetary Donations

We are always delighted to accept monetary donations as they defray thousands of dollars of Sirens’s costs each year. You can donate here. In July, after our programming is finalized, you’ll also have the option of sponsoring a programming topic that inspires your fancy and show your support for presenters.

 

Tax Deductions

Narrate Conferences, Inc., the presenting organization behind Sirens, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Therefore, all donations to Sirens are eligible for tax deduction in accordance with U.S. law.

 

To everyone who donates to Sirens—whether cash, auction items, books, or time—we thank you.

You are the fairy godmothers who make Sirens possible.

 

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10 Fantasy Books with Lovely, Lyrical Prose

By Faye Bi (@faye_bi)

Ah, words. I love them. And I love when I read a book that’s full of beautiful, glistening sentences; pearls of dewdrops on flower petals at dawn.

But seriously, nothing makes me happier as a reader than to really be able to feel that an author has not only beautifully juggled metaphors, imagery and word choice, she made it look like a dance. (It should be no surprise that there are quite a few short story collections and poets on this list, and a whole lot of retellings.) Thus, I present you ten of my favorite books with lovely, lyrical prose.

 

LipsTouchThreeTimes 1. Lips Touch, Three Times, Laini Taylor
Lips Touch, Three Times was Laini Taylor’s National Book Award-nominated collection of three short stories, each centered on a dangerous kiss. Bonus: each story is preceded by a wordless graphic novel drawn by Laini’s husband, Jim Di Bartolo. An excerpt from the first story, “Goblin Fruit”:

The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls. Like Kizzy.

THE WORDS! Basically, I’m Kizzy and Laini’s writing is kissing.

 
Chime 2. Chime, Franny Billingsley
Another National Book Award nominee, Chime opens in early 20th century England with a young woman, Briony, who believes she’s a witch and that her powers have harmed many people. It’s a beautiful book about sisters and family and self-loathing, and has one of the best book boyfriends of all time. Hey Eldric and Briony, sign me up for that Bad Boys Club.

Guess what it is that turns plants to coal.
Pressure.
Guess what it is that turns limestone to marble.
Pressure.
Guess what it is that turns Briony’s heart to stone.
Pressure.
Pressure is uncomfortable, but so are the gallows. Keep your secrets, wolfgirl. Dance your fists with Eldric’s, snatch lightning from the gods. Howl at the moon, at the blood-red moon. Let your mouth be a cavern of stars.

Chime came out twelve years after Franny Billingsley’s previous book, The Folk Keeper. Which means those twelve years were spent making every word perfect, am I right?

 
PrettyMonsters 3. Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link
If there was a competition for weirdest brain, Kelly Link would win it, and I mean that in the best way possible. Pretty Monsters is her young-adult short story collection with bonus spot illustrations by Shaun Tan. The stories explore a multitude of themes such as textuality, reality, death, myth, and magic, all with mystery and some element of the fantastic. Here’s the down-low on the faery handbag:

The faery handbag: It’s huge and black and kind of hairy. Even when your eyes are closed, it feels black. As black as black ever gets, like if you touch it, your hand might get stuck in it, like tar or black quicksand or when you stretch out your hand at night, to turn on a light, but all you feel is darkness.

Faeries live inside it. I know what that sounds like, but it’s true.

You can’t tell from the excerpt, but Kelly Link is a master of the short story form. In a couple of paragraphs she tells us everything we need to know, and she then does the slow reveal with the punchline at the end. BAM.

 
ThomastheRhymer 4. Thomas the Rhymer, Ellen Kushner
This book will make you love words. Thomas the Rhymer is a novelization of the ballad, elegantly told from the perspective of four people: Gavin and Meg, the elderly couple who take in Thomas, Thomas, and his wife, Elspeth—and all four bring separate pieces of the puzzle to come together. Each voice is distinct, but the words just flow like honey:

“My name’s Thomas. I’m called Harper, and sometimes Rhymer, when I busy myself to make something new, instead of robbing dead men’s songs.”
“Newfangledness,” Meg sniffed. “There’s no dishonor in holding to the old and true.”
Thomas smiled. “Newfangedness indeed. But the lords who hold old lands like new songs to honor them. And who are we to dispute with them?”

For a novel about words (and the truth of words), Ellen’s language is so subtle, lyrical, and magical, some passages near left me in tears.

 
PlainKate 5. Plain Kate, Erin Bow
Erin Bow is a physicist-turned-poet-turned-novelist, and her poet soul shines through in Plain Kate. Carver Kate can make beautiful things out of wood, but also has basically the worst luck in the world. Inspired by Russian folklore, this original fairytale is full of is rich in hold-on-let-me-read-that-again passages, ones that are tragic and heartbreaking and ones that are hilarious and snort-worthy:

Taggle was absorbed in the meat pie. “It’s covered in bread,” he huffed. “What fool has covered meat with bread?”

Also, look out Faithful, Taggle might just be giving you a run for the money for Best Fantasy Cat.

 
TheScorpioRaces 6. The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater
I don’t always click with Maggie Stiefvater’s books, but I am totally in awe with her writing—boy can she string a sentence together! Set in a small town off the coast of Ireland in the 1920s, the novel features Puck and Sean, two of the riders in the Scorpio Races, which are huge cultural and sporting event for the entire island…because the water horses maim and kill people.

It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
Even under the brightest sun, the frigid autumn sea is all the colors of the night: dark blue and black and brown. I watch the ever-changing patterns in the sand as it’s pummeled by countless hooves.
They run the horses on the beach, a pale road between the black water and the chalk cliffs. It is never safe, but it’s never so dangerous as today, race day.

Every scene is dripping with atmosphere; I can hear hooves pounding and taste the salty air. And save me some of those November Cakes!

 
KissingtheWitch 7. Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, Emma Donoghue
Kissing the Witch is Emma Donahue’s short story collection of reinvented fairytale retellings (“Old Tales in New Skins” is a pretty accurate description) one of which, most notably, includes Cinderella running away with the fairy godmother instead of the prince.

I was beautiful, or so my father told me. My oval mirror showed me a face with nothing written on it. I had suitors aplenty but wanted none of them: their doggish devotion seemed too easily won. I had an appetite for magic, even then. I wanted something improbably and perfect as a red rose just opening.

Sigh. Emma Donoghue could write an IKEA manual and I’m pretty sure it’d be beautiful.

 
TheGirlWhoCircumnavigatedFairyland 8. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne Valente
This is the book that made me a Catherynne Valente convert. It’s poetic and refined, a homage to portal fantasies everywhere—but modern and original in its own right. September is a twelve-year-old girl from Omaha who is taken to Fairyland, a place of awesome puns and metaphors made real.

Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.

Like others on this list, this is a story about stories, clever and heartbreaking and courageous. It’s also full of beautiful lines about reading, books, bookish people, libraries and the transformative power of words.

 
RosesandBones 9. Roses and Bones: Myths, Tales, and Secrets, Francesca Lia Block
Roses and Bones, a bind-up of three previously published works, is the sole reason why the title of this post is “Fantasy Books” and not “Fantasy Novels,” because “Psyche in a Dress” is told in verse. Each word, as with poetry done right, is spectacular. Francesca Lia Block does a spin on Greek myths, fairytales and the stunning second story, “Echo.”

Flowers are reincarnation. They come out of the earth of our ashes. Nothing else looks so soul-like.

Yow-ee.

 
NightCircus 10. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
No lovely, lyrical prose list would be complete without a mention of The Night Circus. It’s 80% atmosphere and 20% plot, and 100% words that are utterly dreamy and magical. I’m pretty sure it’s about two dueling magicians who fall in love, but who cares? The circus is in town!

You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.

In that case, my soul has a black-and-white striped canvas tent. Also, Sirens people, reveurs are the easiest group cosplay ever. We already have our Sirens red. Who’s with me?

 

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Testimonials: Why do you think Sirens is important?

Suzanne Rogers Gruber (@srgruber)
Sirens is important to me as an opportunity to interrogate and reflect and celebrate works and genres that I love in a community of readers. It’s my time to connect with old friends and make new ones, to explore other perspectives and approaches, and to let Amy talk me into yet another pile of books from the bookstore. But the real importance of Sirens is in the ongoing evolution of a space where a community of fantasy readers can share and explore and sometimes disagree. I have listened to new publishing professionals discuss how their time at Sirens shaped them and their careers. One author told me, with tears in her eyes, that in decades of writing fantasy and attending conferences, she’d never been in a space so friendly and open to her as a woman who wrote fantasy. I remember the look of utter joy on one reader’s face when an author whose works she adored invited her to join a group for dinner. The magic of Sirens is in all of the people who come and share their complicated, passionate, and insightful ideas about women in fantasy, and who make room for others to share, too.

 
Faye Bi (@faye_bi)
First, some facts: behemoth Comic-Cons are swallowing up smaller, more local cons. Many MFA programs and English departments still scorn genre fiction. The voices of female creators and professionals continue to be silenced or worse, ridiculed. And even though it’s a “fantasy book” and there’s magic and time travel and super-special jewelery, there are still no female characters or characters of color in any position of agency.

Sirens, thus, inhabits a unique space in the word of conferences: intimate, intellectually rigorous, inclusive, and unabashedly geeky. A space where my voice is just as valued as the bestselling fantasy author, the academic with two degrees, and the reader who loves paranormal romance. A space where my voice, as a woman and an immigrant, won’t be silenced or ridiculed. Lucky people may live near friends who already discuss the portrayal of Native American culture in the werewolves of Twilight or how hauntings are inherently women’s stories. But for those who don’t, that’s why Sirens exists: to be a space of conversation, insight, and refuge.

 
Kate Larking (@astres)
Sirens is the one conference that I make sure not to miss. I’ve gone to several fantasy-centered conventions, but Sirens is the one for me. The strong sense of community brings me back again and again. I am always satisfied with the wonderful book recommendations, and divergent and accommodating conversations on all sorts of hot-button topics for women. Most of all, when I come to Sirens, I am guaranteed when to meet someone who has a completely different background from mine, has rich knowledge in areas of folklore and fantasy that I lack, and can stretch my brain to think of things I haven’t before considered. Every time I come to Sirens, I grow as a person, a reader, and a writer.

 
Kate Tremills (@KateTremills)
Sirens offers a space for us to be strong, smart, silly, and joyful. To express our most creative selves in every possible way. I was especially moved by the community at Sirens. These women look after one another, challenge each other, and scream when they see one another again after a year has passed. This conference gave me a space to share some of my most vulnerable personal stories and have them received with kindness and understanding. I have experienced few places like Sirens and no other conference like Sirens.

 

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Five Amazing Science Fiction/Fantasy Works for Fantasy Readers Who Struggle with Science Fiction

By Amy Tenbrink (@amytenbrink)

It’s not a secret that my brain doesn’t know what to do with science fiction novels. Despite my many, many friends who dive happily into the science fiction universe—seemingly, any science fiction universe—science fiction leaves me perplexed, confused, and often frustrated. (It’s not you, science fiction; it’s me.) I try, over and over again, to figure out what it is about science fiction, but the best explanation I have is that it’s just not my thing. (Neither, for the record, is navel-gazing literary fiction.) So, please, don’t ask me about whatever the latest and greatest science fiction book is; I haven’t read it.

But I keep trying. Every year, I read a handful of science fiction books, some that sound interesting, some that are zeitgeist books, some that do something interesting with gender, and some because my science fiction-loving best friend made me. And some of them are good.

Because my friends have been terrific enough to hand me science fiction books that cross over into fantasy, knowing that I’m going to be a much happier reader if a sword or a mage or some wings show up once in a while, I am passing on the favor. Here are five amazing science fiction/fantasy works that I loved. I hope you love them, too.

 

TheBookofPhoenix 1. The Book of Phoenix, Nnedi Okorafor
When someone asks me about science fiction, I can’t say “Nnedi Okorafor” fast enough. Nnedi sometimes writes complex, raw, angry women, and I have to tell you, as an angry woman, that angry female characters are still one of those writing taboos. As if angry women aren’t a thing—except wait, we’re not supposed to be, are we?

The Book of Phoenix, Nnedi’s latest, is a prequel to Who Fears Death (and if you haven’t read Who Fears Death, can I help you with that?). It tells the story of Phoenix, a two-year-old experiment in a forty-year-old woman’s body, who starts a revolution. In a world where magic and science have merged, and are continuing to merge, not always deliberately and not always in ways that anyone can control, The Book of Phoenix examines what it means to be free—from mutilation, from a cell, from fear, from government control. And the epilogue just kills.

 
ConservationofShadows 2. Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee
I have friends who are my book friends—meaning that we tend to like the same books—but most of my friends aren’t my book friends at all. But I have smart friends, so when a friend who rarely recommends books thinks I should add a book to the bookstore at Sirens, I do—and then I sell it out based on her recommendation and have to go buy my own copy after the fact. That book was Conservation of Shadows.

Conservation of Shadows is a collection of short stories, most of them about female protagonists, most of them about war, all of them stunning examples of the form. Yoon once gave an interview to Clarke’s World discussing, among other things, the short story form and how a short story author must assassinate the reader; you don’t have time for elaborate maneuvers or large-scale war. And I have to tell you, Conservation of Shadows is, yes, a series of masterful assassinations, but it’s also a dazzling amalgamation of math and music, origami and war, duty and honor.

 
AncientAncient 3. Ancient, Ancient, Kiini Ibura Salaam
Of all the questions I ask—usually aloud—while reading books, perhaps the one I ask most often is: “Why is there no sex in this book?” I grew up in a time when there wasn’t a ton of young adult work (or at least it wasn’t marketed as such), which means I went straight from the Nancy Drew Files to my mom’s romances. This thing where all these young adult romance books don’t have sex scenes is perpetually confusing to my brain because in pretty much all other respects (except, I suppose, the clothes), these are my mom’s romances! But beyond that, there aren’t really many fantasy books with steamy sex. And then I met Ancient, Ancient.

People, Ancient, Ancient is about sex. It’s about finding your sex drive and the value of the energy emitted during sex and cheating on your partner with a goddess and deciding not to decide what you want in a society that doesn’t give you many options. It’s graphic, it’s steamy, and it’s thoughtful and smart and genre-bending and amazingly discomfiting. We read so many books where sex happens in vagueness or off the page; we should celebrate a book where sex and female pleasure are right up in your face. (P.S. The story “Rosamojo” is about rape, so you may want to skip that one.)

 
TheShiningGirls 4. The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes
I circled Lauren Beukes’s work for years before finally picking up The Shining Girls. Years. Because I had this idea, which isn’t even really true, that she was a science fiction writer. So I made someone else read her, and even when the verdict on Zoo City was “holy crap, amazing,” I still didn’t. Until The Shining Girls. Why The Shining Girls? Because I grew up on a steady diet of crime thrillers, and if you had to classify The Shining Girls, you’d probably classify it as a crime thriller. But it’s so much more than that.

The Shining Girls is a time travel book about a serial killer who preys on women. He finds a house in Chicago with the power to spit him out in any time, and he uses that to commit the nearly perfect crime. “Nearly perfect” because The Shining Girls isn’t really about some jerk serial killer; it’s really about an amazing woman, left for dead by our killer, who tracks him down through time. This book masterfully juggles its time threads—so masterfully that, even though your first instinct upon completing this book is to start again so you can double-check the author’s work, you don’t because you know she got it right.

 
MidnightRobber 5. Midnight Robber, Nalo Hopkinson
When Sirens tackled retold tales a few years ago, Midnight Robber was my poster-child of the theme. Retold tales wasn’t just about Cinderella reimagined as Elle, queen of the prom, or Romeo and Juliet mashed up with the Trojan War, or even Götterdämmerung retold with the littlest Valkyrie. It’s rawer than that, about reclaiming women’s stories and women’s place as storytellers. It’s powerful, uncompromising, and diverse.

In certain Caribbean cultures, the Midnight Robber is a popular costume for Carnival. The Midnight Robber wears an extravagant costume, including a fringed hat and cape, and uses distinctive speech patterns. The Midnight Robber is, traditionally, a man. But not in Nalo’s version. Midnight Robber, set in a future Caribbean where alternate-dimension travel is possible and the Granny Nanny internet is omnipresent, seven-year-old Tan-Tan’s life falls apart. When her father commits a crime, he flees to an alternate universe, taking Tan-Tan with him. Midnight Robber is a bildungsroman, and we watch as Tan-Tan becomes the Midnight Robber, thereby finding herself and claiming her power. If you ever wanted a book about women asserting their rights as storytellers, this is that book.

 

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Testimonials: Why did you decide to attend Sirens the first time?

Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)
By my senior year of college, I had never been to a conference or convention even loosely related to science fiction and fantasy. But our college was hosting a convention for all stripes of nerds—those of us who loved anime, video games, comics, and books—and although I knew nothing about conventions, I’d gotten involved with the staff once I’d learned they had a library of science fiction and fantasy books that was totally disorganized and uncatalogued. I couldn’t let that stand, clearly; how would people find fabulous books to read?

I was researching local authors who might be able to attend our college’s convention, and I found myself on Tamora Pierce’s website, where she’d posted she would be at a conference called Sirens that fall. So I looked Sirens up and saw that it was about women, fantasy, warriors, and books; it was about thinking about all of those things academically, like they mattered and deserved deep analysis, and about being excited about them in the best way. I had no idea such a gathering that seemed like it was practically made for me could exist, and I reminded myself that if something seems too good to be true it probably is. I saw that Sirens was happening in Colorado, and I was in New York. I ran over to my housemate from Denver and asked if she knew where Vail was.

Within the week, we’d bought our registrations and our plane tickets to Colorado. I met Tamora Pierce and managed to contain my instinctive fangirl reaction long enough to invite her to our college convention, which she agreed to attend. And I learned that Sirens was not, in fact, too good to be true; it was everything I had hoped for.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 7, Issue 8 (June 2015)

In this issue:

 

SIRENS SCHOLARSHIPS AND DEADLINES
This year, because of the generosity of the Sirens community, we are pleased to offer scholarships in three categories: via Con or Bust, for programming proposal merit, and for people with financial hardships. Each scholarship includes both a Sirens registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket. Con or Bust is coordinating the first set of scholarships (and two were claimed at the time of this writing), and to be eligible for a programming merit scholarships, presenters opted in during the submissions process. Sirens is taking financial hardships scholarships applications until June 15, 2015. If you need assistance, we hope you’ll consider applying for a scholarship.

 

PROGRAMMING DECISIONS ARE COMING!
Notices regarding programming proposals will be sent no later than June 8, 2015 (and you should expect them close to or on that date, rather than sooner). Please note, however, that if we’re still tracking down your co-presenters, a decision may be delayed. Thank you in advance for making sure that all proposal collaborators have checked in! We’ll be sending programming scholarships decisions with the decisions on proposals. The vetting board and the scholarships committee both thank you for your participation, and are giving thoughtful consideration to your proposals.

 

REGISTRATION PRICE INCREASE AND PRESENTER REGISTRATION DEADLINE
The last day to register for Sirens for $195 is July 7; the price increases to $205 on July 8. July 7 is also the deadline to register for presenters; if you’re a presenter and need an extra day or two to register and pay, be sure to coordinate with (programming at sirensconference.org) so that your accepted presentation is not dropped from the schedule.

 

SIRENS STUDIO
For the first time, Sirens is delighted to offer a pre-conference option for readers, writers, scholars, and professionals! The Sirens Studio will start Tuesday morning and feature two days of workshop intensives, discussion, networking opportunities, and flexible time for you to use however you wish. Check out the schedule, workshops, and faculty here.

 

SIRENS SUPPER
If you’ll be in Denver on the evening of October 7, 2015, perhaps you’d like to join us for the Sirens Supper. Each year, our conference staff hosts a dinner for a limited number of attendees and friends, where we get to know each other before Sirens starts, and you’re welcome to come. The menu: petite greens with jicama, orange segments, cilantro-lime dressing and cornbread croutons; local corn and roasted poblano chili chowder; a medley of fresh, seasonal vegetables; black bean rice pilaf; fresh baked rolls and butter; baked salmon with Yucatan spices and coconut; cane sugar-rubbed roasted pork loin with Creole mustard sauce; quinoa-stuffed eggplant with roasted pepper marinara; margarita cheesecake; fruit empanadas; and coffee and hot tea. Tickets are $60, and those who also register for the Sirens Studio get $10 off the dinner price.

 

SIRENS SHUTTLE
Ground transportation in Denver is expensive, and Denver’s public transportation isn’t what it could be. In addition, the Inverness Hotel, the location for Sirens, is out of the way. Sirens offers discounted group transportation so that you can ride to and from Denver International Airport. We’ll pick you up and return you to the airport for $60, less than other vendors want for a one-way trip. You can add tickets for yourself or friends on a new registration or to an existing registration. Get more information and the Sirens Shuttle schedule here.

 

AUCTION AND BOOKSTORE DONATIONS
Each year, Sirens covers thousands of dollars in operating expenses with the proceeds from our conference auction and bookstore. While the bookstore does purchase its new inventory, Sirens attendees and supporters always generously donate both auction items and used fantasy books in order to help us raise these necessary funds. Auction items can—and have been—everything from custom artwork to professional services, advanced reader copies of fantasy books to t-shirts, pillows, and journals. Anything that might interest fantasy readers, writers, or professionals is welcome. Similarly, we accept gently used fantasy books by female authors or featuring complex female protagonists for the used section of the bookstore. If you are interested in donating an auction item, please email Amy Tenbrink at (donate at sirensconference.org) to let her know that you’ll be supporting our auction; if you are donating used books, please send them so they reach us at the following address no later than September 19, 2015 (and you can use media mail!):

Sirens
c/o Narrate Conferences
P.O. Box 149
Sedalia, Colorado 80135

Thank you for your support!

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

TheMirrorEmpire

Come read with us! Sirens co-founder Amy leads the Sirens Book Club each month. June’s book is The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1) by Kameron Hurley. Join the discussion here on Goodreads, starting on Saturday, June 6.

 

YOU’RE EXCITED ABOUT…

Interesting Links:

We are saddened to hear of the passing of Tanith Lee (1945–2015)

Fairy tales, fantasy and dangerous female desire: Celebrating Angela Carter, the literary link between Bros. Grimm and ‘50 Shades’”

Subversive Pleasure”: On Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber

5 Black Women Authors Everyone Should Be Reading”

Dear Marvel and Sony: We Love Movies for Their Kick-Ass Female Heroes, Too, You Jerks”

Feminist Thor Selling Way More Comic Books Than Dude Thor”

2015 Locus Awards Finalists

2014 Shirley Jackson Awards Nominees

The 2015 Norton Award jury has convened and seeks entries; young adult and middle grade books with speculative content published in 2015 are eligible

Lumberjanes optioned for a live action movie

 

Recent Releases:
This month, we’re changing how we tell you about recent releases. In July’s newsletter, we’ll give you the June roundup. We love to hear about new books, whether yours or those you’re anticipating; please send the details to (help at sirensconference.org).

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD
We’d love a few more volunteers to supply us with short reviews of works they have read and loved. If you think you could contribute a book review of at least 250 words sometime during the next year, we would be pleased to have your recommendation for the Sirens newsletter.

Review squad volunteering is flexible; we simply ask that you share information about books you’ve enjoyed. (We are, of course, especially interested in fantasy books by and about women, and we hope you’ll consider interesting, diverse selections.) You can contribute once or on an ongoing basis, and on a schedule that works for you. Please visit the volunteer system and, when we ask you what position you’re interested in, type in “Book Reviewer.”

 

This month, 2009 Sirens Guest of Honor Sherwood Smith offers us a look at two recent releases.

Crimson Bound, Rosamund Hodge
Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Some twenty, twenty-five years ago, I recollect a lot of scorn poured on the pastoral fantasy. Which is fine—no every subgenre pleases every reader, blah blah—but (as people will) the pastoral novel was derided as being not only twee but backward-looking, especially compared to the Cool New Cyberpunk, which was all about the edge of the future.

Of course there were readers who cheerfully admitted to liking both. I remember rolling my eyes and bailing discussions as soon as they devolved into if-this-is-good-that-has-to-be-bad. Especially when “pastoral” was narrowly defined as twee stories about sweetly eccentric English hedge witches and revampings of Beatrix Potter. (To which I once responded, have you actually reread Beatrix Potter recently? Or the poetry of William Blake?)

Anyway, for whatever reasons, pastoral fantasies largely went out of fashion, at least I hadn’t seen any until this month when two came out within days of each other. They contained a lot of similar elements, they were not set in an idyllic England, and they are very, very not twee.

These are Crimson Bound, by Rosamund Hodge, and Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Before I talk about them, I want to address what I think pastoral fantasy is. This is an old form that resurfaces every few generations, in art, poetry, and fairy tales. It’s not always twee or cute, though there is an emphasis on natural beauties. But pastoral fantasy can explore beauty that is dangerous, inspiring but unsettling, powerful and even subversive because it has not been neatly clipped into box hedges, cemented over, and civilized into an urban pretense of order.

CrimsonBoundPastoral fantasy is not grimdark, which emphasizes the ugly and grinds down the dispossessed; it permits the tangle of the forest to get its roots and leaves into the urban walls and streets. Pastoral fantasy can be dark and dangerous but also full of beauty, hope, and tenderness: you can die in the same wilderness you go to experience peace, beauty, and calm. Alone in nature, you become aware that you are not the most powerful force there.

I think that that is the most important distinction of pastoral fantasy: that humans are not the most powerful force.

Neither of these two new novels takes place in fantasy England: Uprooted is set in a semblance of eastern Europe, and Crimson Bound in a fairy tale France circa the seventeenth century—which was a time of dynamic change.

In both, the woods play a fundamental role—a threatening, dangerous, horrific role. Some of the most evocative writing in both books is about the forest and its dangerous nature.

From Crimson Bound:

Erec led them through the Chateau, and it was almost the forest. Bleeding through the marble hallways, Rachelle saw labyrinthine paths between trees whose branches wove together overhead until they seemed like a single plant.

Birds called with warbling, half-human voices. The wind dug its fingers into her hair, burned at her eyes.

From Uprooted:

There was a falling tree stretching across the space, a giant, its trunk taller across than I was. Its fall had opened up this clearing, and in the middle of it, a new tree had sprung up to take its place.

But not the same kind of tree. All the other trees I’d seen in the Wood had been familiar kinds, despite their stained bark and the twisted unnatural angles of their branches: oaks and black birch, and tall pines. But this was no kind of tree I had ever seen.

It was already larger around than the circle my arms could make, even though the giant tree couldn’t have fallen very long ago. It had smooth gray bark over a strangely knotted trunk, with long branches in even circles around it, starting high up the trunk like a larch. its branches weren’t bare with winter, but carried a host of dried-up silvery leaves that rustled in the wind, a noise that seem to come from somewhere else, as though there were people just out of sight speak softly together.

I’d say both books are New Adult or above; both are centered around seventeen-year-old girls who gain terrific powers, tackle adult relationships, and fight their way against terrible odds. Uprooted is pastoral fantasy but also horror, and Crimson Bound, while not horror, is more of a dark fantasy; while it doesn’t have the Die Hard body count of Uprooted, it is no slouch in dealing with duels and death.

UprootedAnd in both the woods are compellingly dangerous.

In spite of these similar elements, they are very different books. To read one is not at all to have read the other. I talk about them more specifically on Goodreads here and here; though they head in different directions (and I’m not getting more specific lest I tread into spoiler territory), there is one important element they share: their exploration of female emotional growth, and agency.

These heroines are not looking backward, nor are the thematic elements of their stories. They are playing out, in entertaining format, what life will be like for young women moving into positions of authority. That includes the cost of moral and ethical choices, and the inexorable ramifications of decisions made when you have the power to effect others’ lives.

Both are immersive, compelling reads, and in spite of the retro-fantasy setting, have a great deal to say about issues right now. –Sherwood Smith


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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