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Archive for July 2016

Read Along with Faye: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

BoySnowBird

Read Along with Faye is a new series of book reviews and commentary by Faye Bi on the Sirens communications staff, in which she attempts to read 25 books and complete the 2016 Sirens Reading Challenge. The series will consist mostly of required “theme” books and will post monthly. We invite you to read along and discuss! Light spoilers ahead.

It took me a long time to process Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird. There were so many things I loved about it—and so many elements that were done brilliantly. The novel starts off from Boy’s, a young white woman’s, point of view set in the 1950s in New York City. Her abusive, drunken father is a rat catcher and Boy takes her first opportunity to hightail it outta there to a small town in Massachusetts, where she meets Arturo Whitman, a light-skinned widowed craftsman and former history professor.

Yes, light-skinned. Because Oyeyemi uses the classic fairy tale of Snow White, with her “skin as white as snow” as a departure point for a truly bold and nuanced portrayal of racial passing. At first, Boy becomes entranced to Arturo’s daughter from his first marriage, Snow, who is so pale, so graceful and beautiful she is practically alight with a virtual halo.  After Boy marries Arturo, she gives birth to the dark-skinned Bird and discovers that the Whitmans have passed as white, or “light enough,” for generations, shunning and ignoring their darker-skinned relatives. Particularly noxious is Olivia, Arturo’s mother, who treats her granddaughter Snow as a treasure to be worshipped and fawned over. For Olivia, Snow represents what her race and her family could be—not black. “Snow’s beauty is all the more precious to Olivia…because it’s a trick. When whites look at her, they don’t get whatever fleeting, ugly impressions so many of us get when we see a colored girl—we don’t see a colored girl standing there.” Contrast this to the aloofness and (hopefully unintentional) shame she has towards Bird.

Boy begins fulfilling the role of the supposed wicked stepmother in the Snow White tale, though Oyeyemi cleverly weaves in the setting of early Civil Rights America and themes of motherhood, race, beauty and identity that she imbues the motifs with new meanings. Boy sends Snow away to live with her dark-skinned Aunt Clara and her husband, far away from Bird, Arturo and Olivia. One could argue that Boy’s act is cruel, and in fact, many would—but even Snow herself, in later chapters narrated by Bird, admits in a letter:

“I may or may not have hated my own face sometimes. I may or may not have spent time thinking of ways to spoil it somehow… But I’m slowly coming around to the view that you can’t feel nauseated by the Whitmans and the Millers without feeling nauseated by the kind of world that’s rewarded them for adapting to it like this.”

Would she ever have come to this conclusion had she stayed in Massachusetts? Boy’s act of sending her away forces Snow to see herself in a new light, instead of becoming part of the same warped system that has rewarded the Whitmans for passing, because ugh, racism is real. And on the other hand how can you blame Olivia, who has lived within this system all her life in fear of being discovered she’s actually ‘colored’?

But where Boy, Snow, Bird exceeds all expectations in delving into the implications of racial passing, with beautiful, poetic writing and the careful weaving of a classic fairytale, it fails spectacularly when it comes to gender. The last twenty pages of the book didn’t completely ruin the book for me, but I could easily see it ruining it for other readers. I will avoid major spoilers, but the plot lurched and took a sudden turn for the random and for the worse. It didn’t relate thematically to the rest of the book, and problematically attempted to address a trans character’s identity through rape, self-loathing, mental illness and trauma. I had such a negative reaction to it I would advise fellow readers to just avoid the last twenty pages altogether.

I still loved Boy, Snow, Bird for the insight it offered me, but due to the last twenty pages (and a very annoying character—Boy’s “friend” Mia) I’d recommend it with reservations.

Next Month: The Strange Way of Dying by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

 

Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and is a member of the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.

 

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Inverness Hotel: It’s Where You Want to Be

In 2016, Sirens’s hotel is again 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, to our Ball of Enchantment, and to our Sunday breakfast and auction. For Sirens, the Inverness is where you want to be.

This year, we encourage you to make your hotel reservations early. Last year, the Inverness was sold out for some of the nights of Sirens, and several attendees had to spend some time on the wait list for rooms. Don’t let that be you!

inthebar atthespotteddog

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

  • Discounted Sirens Rate: $135/night, regardless of occupancy (plus tax and resort fee)
  • Discount Code: 2Q20U2 (enter in the Group Field when making online reservations)
  • Discounted Dates: October 15, 2016, to October 25, 2016
  • How to Make a Reservation: Book online or call the hotel at (800) 346-4891 (Also, if you’re finding that the online system says that the Inverness is sold out, please call the hotel to make your reservation; chances are, our allocated rooms in the reservations system are sold out, but the hotel may still have rooms available at our discounted rate.)
  • How to Find a Roommate: Tweet and include @sirens_con so we can retweet, or post on our Facebook page

1bed 2beds

 
 
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, reading, and charging electronics
  • 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).

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Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Renée Ahdieh

We’re pleased to bring you the second in a series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor. We’ll cover a variety of topics relevant to Sirens with each author, from their inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature as befits our 2016 focus on lovers and the role of love, intimacy, and sex. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Amy Tenbrink interviews Renée Ahdieh.

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AMY: Before you published The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger—a duology re-telling the story of Scheherazade of The Arabian Nights with, as you’ve said, some Beauty and the Beast and a bit of The Count of Monte Cristo thrown in—you wrote for travel magazines and food blogs. Would you please talk about making the shift from working as one of my favorite kinds of authors (Travel magazines! Food blogs!) to working as another of my favorite kinds of authors (fantasy literature with smart, powerful women!)? What were the biggest challenges in switching to writing fiction? Were there any surprising similarities?

Renee AhdiehRENÉE: This is such a wonderful question! To me the transition was natural artistically, but decidedly less so in application. Writing about food and travel is about writing from a place of experience, and there’s a certain almost sensual nature to it. Even when the travel itself can be quite unromantic! Travel and food are transportive—both literally and metaphorically—and writing a book like The Wrath and the Dawn was, for me, a wholly immersive experience. I loved steeping myself into this culture. It’s the culture of my husband’s family, so there was also a personal element to it as well. Experientially, writing fiction is about depicting the nuance of emotion, whereas writing about food and travel can often be less so. For me, though, both are so much about a particular moment in time—about conveying the sentiments of that moment as honestly as possible.

 
AMY: You’ve spoken eloquently about why you chose to re-tell the story of Scheherazade, but why did you choose to write your version as young adult novels? Did you ever consider re-telling Scheherazade for adults? Do you think that there’s something inherently important in writing love stories for teens?

RENÉE: I have such a deep and abiding love for young adult novels. They’re what I most often choose to read . . . when I’m afforded the time to make a choice that is, haha! Since I tend to write novels with myself in mind—and with what it is I’d like to read—it seemed most natural to write the story of Scheherazade from the perspective of a young adult.

 
AMY: How did you craft Shazi and Khalid? How did you choose their traits, their passions, their instincts? How did you craft their relationship–a relationship that, for those who haven’t yet read your work, involves a powerful man, a world-class swordsman, willing to trust his wife to take care of herself, thank you very much.

RENÉE: Haha! I love this series of questions! I’m largely a character-driven author, and when I’m beginning to craft a story, I first start with the characters. I spend a great deal of time deciding which traits I’d like for each character to embody. And—as I mentioned above—I write for myself first. It’s never a conscious decision to write a book a certain way or for a certain audience. Or even for a specific message. I tend to find feminist men incredibly sexy, so—of course—I had to write the love interest with that angle in mind. Add to that the fact that Khalid is an alpha male? Alpha males who are also feminists are definitely my jam.

 
AMY: You’ve said in previous interviews that there are no heroes or villains, only people who want different things. Would you please expand on that a bit? What does that mean to you? How does that idea manifest itself in your fiction?

RENÉE: I tend to enjoy writing in spaces of moral grey. The world in which we live is really not as black and white as we’d like to believe it to be. When I began crafting The Wrath and the Dawn, I knew I wanted my characters to be faced with impossible decisions because often that’s what we are faced with in real life. Every choice—every experience—has risk and reward. And those risks/rewards are never as clear-cut as we wish they were.

 

AMY: There are a lot of important themes and choices in both The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger, which feature not only a love for all time, but an evolving bond between sisters, and a girl who risks it all to avenge her friend. Is there a theme that’s especially important to you–and why is it so important?

RENÉE: I think for me the most resonating theme—aside from the power of story—is the importance of relationships in all forms. I define the quality of my own life in terms of my relationships. If something isn’t working in my personal life—be it with a friend or a family member—that often has ripple effects through all else.

 

AMY: Lastly, please tell us about a remarkable woman of fantasy literature—an author, reader, agent, editor, scholar, or someone else—who has changed your life.

RENÉE: I had the wonderful experience of corresponding with Anne Rice early in my career. She gave me some of the most meaningful advice and offered so many words of support. This experience was definitely an epoch in my life, especially since some of the most formative years of my childhood were spent reading her work.

 
Renée Ahdieh is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her young adult fantasy novel The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and epically told love story centered around Shahrzad and her quest for revenge (and is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights). The sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, was released in May 2016.

For more information about Renée, please visit Renée’s website or Twitter.

 

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In the Blur: The Space Where Fantasy, Sci Fi, and Reality Meet

By Kiini Ibura Salaam (@KiiniIbura)

I love sci fi with a soul, fantasy with a brain, reality that’s a little bit skewed. My list is a mash up of sci fi, fantasy, and reality—all featuring situations where the world is atilt and the characters are somewhat dazed as they are trying to regain their footing in a shifting world.

 

TheWindupGirl
1. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Set in a dystopic future, this amazingly layered novel features vibrant memorable characters living in a fantastical sci fi world full of difficult situations where “right” and “wrong” are almost impossible to categorize. The book focuses on a seed hunter, looking for heirloom seeds in Southeast Asia for corporations who control food. In his quest, he comes across a Wind-Up Girl, a robot with a soul. Conceptually fascinating and extremely well-written, The Wind-Up Girl is an convincing meditation on the confluence of forces that destabilize reality and destroy lives. The imagery, characters, and plot provide rich fodder for conversation on the transformative nature of oppression. When the world as we know it has been destroyed, and the destructive forces whose greed caused the collapse of the world are continuing on their paths of dominance, survival trumps all.
BoySnowBird
2. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Unique characters, stunning imagination, and a confident, clear vision makes Boy, Snow, Bird an engrossing read. Taking Snow White as a muse, Oyeyemi tells a multigenerational family story exploring identity and the relationships between women. Her creativity is boundless and her appetite for the strange and lightly sinister is insatiable. Despite my issues with some of the intentionality of tone with the writing, the strangeness of the story won me over. A full-on fiction experience that you can surrender to as it leads you through a bewildering maze of storytelling.
Saga
3. Saga, graphic novel series by Brian K Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Gorgeous images, interplanetary travel, star crossed lovers, what’s not to love. In the graphic novel series Saga, lovers from opposite sides of a war escape their respective armies to have a forbidden child. Chaos ensues, mercenaries follow, and along the way there is death, rescue, ghosts, and traveling trees. Fantasy and sci-fi mix in this intergenerational tale of love, history, family, war, and space travel. A cover-to-cover delight of story telling and visual imagery.
Zeitoun
4. Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers, the story of an immigrant businessman who stayed behind in New Orleans after the levees broke is not fantasy or sci fi, but it may as well be. Fantasy draws from our world and this harrowing story shows what happens when reality splits in two. A heartbreaking tale of how a people abandoned, became hunted and imprisoned. The psychological wounds remain in the city (my home town). It was necessary reading for me.
Inkdeath
5. Inkdeath, final book in the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke
A fantastic fantasy world inside a book brings to life so many rich characters and images that thrill and delight. Don’t be dissuaded if the first book does not fully deliver on its promise. With much of it set in our world, it provides just a taste of what’s to come. Inkspell dives headlong into the world inside the book and Inkdeath brings the series to a spellbinding, satisfying, and moving conclusion.
TheHundredThousandKingdoms
6. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
The author’s fierce imagination fuels this smart, engrossing tale of gods, demons, and mortals in a fractured, complex world. The sense of place is physical, the communities are tightly drawn, and the conflicts and dangers are palpable. Fascinating relationships, multidimensional world, layered characters and connections, and relevant musings on humanity makes The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms a lucid, imaginative, intelligent read.
MySoultoKeep
7. My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood by Tananrive Due
Immortals who can share their gift of blood—though it is taboo to do so—walk among everyday people and, in rare cases, infiltrate their lives. What happens when an immortal is called away from his mortal family, but he does not want to leave them in danger? This page-turner explores the clash between fantastical beings and everyday life—what would you do if the love of your life was not what you thought he was—was not even your species? One of those books you inhale and immediately want to know what happens next.

Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work encompasses speculative fiction, erotica, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Kiini’s writing is rooted in eroticism, speculative events and worlds, and women’s perspectives. Her speculative fiction has been included in publications such as Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, Dark Eros, FEMSPEC, Ideomancer.com, infinitematrix.com, and PodCastle.org. Her first short fiction collection, Ancient, Ancient, was co-winner of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2012; a collection titled When the World Wounds will be released in 2016. Kiini’s creative nonfiction speaks to her two passions: the freedom of women and the freedom of the creative spirit. In essays about date rape, sexual harassment, and the power of the word “no,” Kiini explores the complex layers of societal norms that negatively impact women’s lives. These essays have been published in EssenceMs., and Colonize This! Her creative nonfiction has been included in college curricula in the areas of women’s studies, anthropology, history, and English. For the past ten years, Kiini has written the KIS.list, an e-column that explores the writing life and encourages readers to fulfill their dreams. She works as an editor and copyeditor in New York.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 8, Issue 4 (July 2016)

In this issue:

 

SIRENS STUDIO
We are thrilled to bring the Sirens Studio back in 2016—and to say that it’ll be even better this year, with eight intensives led by extraordinary faculty on topics related to reading, writing, and career development.

While Sirens is terrific, it can be hectic: so many people to see, so many conversations to have, not nearly enough time to grab a seat by the fire and just read. The Sirens Studio, however, gives you both what you love about Sirens and that down time that we all need: small-group workshop intensives led by exceptional faculty in the morning; flexible time to read, write, or relax in the afternoon; and a film screening at night.

Like last year, the cost of attending is $50 for the full two days of the Studio, and we are limiting attendance to 50 participants. If you think you’d might like to join us, please check out our schedule, workshop intensives, and faculty—and then go here to purchase your ticket. We will also offer Studio participants a Monday night Sirens Shuttle option.

 

PROGRAMMING
We’re getting ready to start revealing this year’s presentations! The presenter registration deadline was July 9; if you missed it and are still planning to present—or if you missed the email with the result of your proposal—please write to (programming at sirensconference.org) right away. We’ll start posting accepted presentations shortly, in small batches, and putting together the conference schedule. Thanks for your assistance—and thank you again to everyone who proposed programming for this year.

By the way, once the accepted presentations start being posted on the Sirens website, you can show your support for a presenter or topic by sponsoring their session. The cost is $35 per presentation, and assuming we have your donation by August 15, 2016, we will include your name next to your chosen topic on our website and in our program book for this year’s event.

 

SCHOLARSHIPS
All recipients of scholarships (and those who didn’t receive a scholarship this year) have been sent an email about how to claim their registrations and shuttle tickets. Thank you to everyone who applied!

And thank you again to everyone who donated to support our scholarship program! In the end, we were able to provide eight scholarships.

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST​
Each year, Sirens selects a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invites attendees to bring their breakfast during the conference and have an informal conversation about those books. For 2016, we’ve kicked Books and Breakfast off early—so all of you have time to choose a couple books and read! This year, we’ve also launched a program to get these books into your hands prior to Sirens.

For extra motivation, we’re giving away copies of each Books and Breakfast book—two each month! Congratulations to Kristen B. for winning June’s Giveaway. Check out how you can win Sorcerer to the Crown and Project Unicorn Vol. 1 in our post here.

 

LET’S MEET UP!
Though nothing will replace the awesomeness of four days of Sirens in October, we’re hosting a few casual meet-ups for members of Sirens community to gather throughout the year. Coming up, a meet-up in Denver!

Date: Sunday, July 31, 2016
Time: 3:00–5:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)
Location: Slattery’s Irish Pub in the Landmark, 5364 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard in Greenwood Village, Colorado
Notes: Participants must pay for their own drinks and snacks.

We welcome all members, first-timers and veteran, and you don’t need to have attended Sirens in the past to join us. Are you new and curious? Heard of us but haven’t made it to Sirens yet? Wondering if our community is for you? Come on down! And bring your book recommendations, your friends, and your questions about Sirens.

If you think you might join us, please RSVP to either @sirens_con on Twitter, here on Facebook, or to Faye at (faye.bi at sirensconference.org).

We hope to see you soon!

 

AMY’s BOOK CLUB

LivingNextDoortotheGodofLove

What is Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink reading this month? Check out her review of Justina Robson’s Living Next Door to the God of Love on the blog and on Goodreads. Some things she liked: “A killer opening. Unbelievably skillful, detailed world-building. Writing that is both rich and careful. Fully realized characters. Universe-level themes of love and humanity and society.”

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Sorcerer to the Crown

Follow Faye as she completes the 2016 Sirens Reading Challenge! This month, she read Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, which she found delightfully charming, and hopes that more authors like Zen will be “influenced by the great works of the past and with similar wit and style, create new, original stories for all.” Will you Read Along with her? Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Testimonials:

Last month we ran Artemis Grey’s powerful testimonial on the Sirens blog. Artemis has attended Sirens since our first conference in 2009, and just published her first novel, Catskin, in March 2016. Below is an excerpt:

But she wanted to know if there was a place for her, if there were other feral girls out there who wrote stories that were almost good enough, and other women who glided between the borders of expectation and propriety. So she went to Sirens, and everything changed.

The girl was welcomed not as a stranger, but as a sister returning home. She was brought into a fold where authors sat in circles on the floor and discussed how to find ways of writing things that were important, and yet did not fall into the mainstream definition of Important. How to change society’s definition of what was Important. She discovered, within Sirens, a world of women supporting women, supporting ideas, and processes, and points of view. A world of women embracing everything that makes them different while finding unity in everything that they share. Her Sirens Sisters did not teach her how to change herself in order to speak out, they taught her that once she discovered her own voice, it would be loud enough to be heard.

Please read the rest of the testimonial here.

 


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

 

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Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Kiini Ibura Salaam

We’re pleased to bring you the first in a series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor. We’ll cover a variety of topics relevant to Sirens with each author, from their inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature as befits our 2016 focus on lovers and the role of love, intimacy, and sex. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Faye Bi interviews Kiini Ibura Salaam.

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FAYE: Reading Ancient, Ancient, I’m in awe of how you create a world in only a few brushstrokes—in each story, you use very little exposition and leave it to us as readers to experience what kind of story we’re reading. Where are we? What is magic? What is normal? What is happening? From the timelessness of “Desire” to the concrete details of New York in “Marie,” or to the futuristic setting of “Pod Rendezvous,” you transport us fully but economically. Can you tell us about your draw to speculative fiction, and your world-building process? Do you start from a character, theme, or setting—or a combination? How do you decide which details to include or withhold?

Kiini Ibura SalaamKIINI: I rely on two different resources for world-building: imagination and logic. I’ve always been a what-if thinker. As I move through the world, I’m wondering who people are, layering stories onto everyday life. I wonder what if we could fly; what if we transferred souls when we look at each other; what is this random person’s superpower? World-building is an extension of this what-if thinking. I usually start with a situation—the combination of a character and a conflict—and let my imagination go wild. But then, as I continue to go deeper into the world, I start to filter my imagination through logic. What is possible in this world, what is impossible?

I’m also a very sensory writer. I like to feel what I’m writing and have a story filter in visually and emotionally rather than intellectually. To that end, I use my intuitive reaction to the words on the page to determine how much I need to say. I write what feels good, then I go back and edit based on how well the words communicate the world and guide the reader through the maze of plot. The worlds we build are tricky—they can have the qualities of a mirage. When we craft them, they can seem as solid and as glittering as the Taj Mahal. Hopefully, when we go back to edit, we can see the holes, the places where it’s more ghostly and less reliable, but sometimes both successes and failures in writing are accidents as we work through the process of refining the words on the page.

 
FAYE: Speaking of “Marie,” that story in particular guts me from head to toe. It has a mythic quality about it, not too unlike Rumpelstiltskin. Marie is forced to choose between taking away the constant pain and discomfort she experiences when others assume her racial identity for her and then payback is demanded in the form of her future child. But it’s not really a choice for her, is it? How do your experiences inform your work, in “Marie” or any of your other stories?

KIINI: Yes, in the case of Marie, she doesn’t have a choice—this decision is forced on her. In some way, she lived her life trying to avoid making a choice, trying to hide away from the inconvenience of her identity. She made her choice before the mysterious woman appeared in her life. Choice is not just about what we do in any one moment, it’s about the way we live our lives—whether through avoidance, inaction, or opposition, we are always making choices—and our choices always take shape in our futures, often in ways we don’t expect or desire.

All my stories represent my perspective on life and the challenges of navigating our worlds. Many of the stories in Ancient, Ancient were influenced by my travels. So each one is firmly embedded in a place or time that impacted me: the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Mexico, New Orleans, New York, my experiences in all of these places found their way onto the page. The triggering events of a story often don’t appear in the story—but as the writer, I know them. I know exactly the conversation, experience, person, circumstance that sparked the characters and incited the storytelling.

 
FAYE: Your female characters burst with vitality, life, and vengeance upon the page. They’re all unabashedly themselves or would like to be, sometimes confident and sometimes angry. What makes a Kiini Ibura Salaam heroine? What interests you most about writing women, specifically women at the intersection of black, Creole or alien (WaLiLa!)? Or as a daughter, mother, young woman or crone?

KIINI: I love people who live boldly. I think we all have parts of us that want to be free. Those are the characters that fascinate me most as well—characters who have impact, who have strong identities, who are pushing against the forces that would control them. Beyond that, writing is a very personal project. I do it in my most intimate and quiet moments—so the work I create during those moments needs to feed me. Creating work that reflects me, that speaks to my own life challenges, and celebrates my courage and my personhood is essential. Consequently, I write about what’s closet to me: being a woman—at all stages of womanhood; being alien—as a traveller, as a member of a reviled culture of people, being a southerner in a metropolis; being a human being who is fighting to live a life aligned with her soul identity.

 
FAYE: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you’re working on a novel, and that you find the short story format more natural to write in. As you know, some writers are the opposite, preferring long-form storytelling. How does the longer form of a novel challenge you—transitions? Plotting and structure? Revisions? Tell us about your writing demons and how you’re vanquishing them.

KIINI: My struggles with novel writing is all about the length. I don’t really have an issue with the actual page count, but sustaining an arc over 200+ pages has been a bit challenging. It took me forever to convince myself to even try to write a novel, and when I finally did I struggled to get a handle on its massiveness. Halfway through my career, I did a distance learning MFA with the goal of cracking the novel form. I made amazing progress and continue to get closer to completing a novel. Publishing short stories has been a way to buck the “novel or nothing” thinking. I am constantly writing stories; I love stories, and publishing them has allowed me to honor myself as a writer and the work I have done over the years, and continue to do. I have a bunch of novel ideas in development now, and I predict you’ll be seeing a novel from me soon.

 
FAYE: About the creative life, you recently tweeted, “Being a writer—or any kind of artist for that matter—is like being saddled with an additional mission from god. On top of the need to create conditions for survival, there is this thing blaring in your mind—create, create, create.” How do you balance writing with, well, everything else? Do you have strategies for when and how you work?

KIINI: When and how I work shifts based on my deadlines and the present state of my life. I have found great pleasure in managing to move the work forward without completely sequestering myself from life. It’s a total contradiction: you need time and focus to create; but myself as a writer, I need engagement and community to spark my imagination and fuel my energy. On top of which, I need money to pay bills and attention to dedicate to my child. I went through some very dark years when my daughter was young, when I couldn’t write and I tried to give writing back to God. That didn’t work! I was forced to find a way to make writing work in the edges of life—even though it is at the center of my identity and my vision/desire for myself. I edited my short story collection on the train while commuting to work. I have my work-intensive time periods, where I go straight from my house to a café and commit to writing/editing a certain page count. It’s all about math: the length of the work divided by the hours I can spare. My strategy is to be portable, to be modular, and to have faith. I’ve succeeded at continuing to write while I have all these other encroaching responsibilities by: being able to write anyway, breaking everything into pieces so that I’m not overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, and by believing that with continued, consistent, manageable effort, I can make big things happen. It’s working thus far, and it looks like I’m getting better at it. My first book was collected from years of work. My second book—When the World Wounds—was all newly written from 2013 on. It’s really like writers—all artists, really—house more than one entity inside their bodies. I have got to make the efforts to prove to myself that this is all doable. It’s my worker bee side convincing my dreamer side that together we can create magic!

 
FAYE: Lastly, tell us about a remarkable woman of fantasy literature—an author, reader, agent, editor, scholar, or someone else—who has changed your life.

KIINI: I’m not great with these “name somebody” questions. I’m a little cannibal. I consume books, ideas, inspiration and integrate it and then forget the moment of ingestion! I do write mostly fantasy, but spend a bit of time with sci fi as well. A remarkable woman of sci fi who has had a huge impact on legions of people is Octavia Butler. I love her work, her vision, and her fierce disinterest in her readers’ feelings—she is going to show you the harsh truths of the world and human nature whether you want to see it or not, but what I find most remarkable about her is her commitment to herself as a writer. Artists have to be the first and last believer in themselves. We have to believe in the value of our work before anyone else does. And when everyone stops believing, we still have to hold the torch of faith alive. No one would have ever heard of Octavia Butler if she didn’t decide to become a writer, then decide to remain a writer through years and years of anonymity and disinterest from publishers. She worked every job under the sun and did what she had to do to build her craft and develop her work. She is a self-made woman and a self-made artist. I admire that about her, but I also take instruction from it. We are not writing for the adulation of the world, we are writing to exercise our voices and fulfill the mandate within ourselves. If you believe and understand that, you’ll be okay. Through the rejections, disinterest, and lost opportunities; through being overlooked, ignored, or ridiculed, if you can remember that you are where it begins and ends, you’ll develop yourself into a writer worthy of your own company.

 

Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work encompasses speculative fiction, erotica, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Kiini’s writing is rooted in eroticism, speculative events and worlds, and women’s perspectives. Her speculative fiction has been included in publications such as Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, Dark Eros, FEMSPEC, Ideomancer.com, infinitematrix.com, and PodCastle.org. Her first short fiction collection, Ancient, Ancient, was co-winner of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2012; a collection titled When the World Wounds will be released in 2016. Kiini’s creative nonfiction speaks to her two passions: the freedom of women and the freedom of the creative spirit. In essays about date rape, sexual harassment, and the power of the word “no,” Kiini explores the complex layers of societal norms that negatively impact women’s lives. These essays have been published in EssenceMs., and Colonize This! Her creative nonfiction has been included in college curricula in the areas of women’s studies, anthropology, history, and English. For the past ten years, Kiini has written the KIS.list, an e-column that explores the writing life and encourages readers to fulfill their dreams. She works as an editor and copyeditor in New York.

For more information about Kiini, please visit Kiini’s website, blog, or Twitter.

 

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May Recap: Book Releases and Interesting Links

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of interesting links and May book releases of fantasy by and about women.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve sold a fantasy work, read a great recently-released story, discovered a fantastic link that we missed, or if you’ve got a book or story review to share, please get in touch. Send news to (help at sirensconference.org).

 

YOU’RE EXCITED ABOUT…

Interesting Links:

 

Book Releases

2016MayCollage

Click the image for a closer look at the covers.

May 1
Will Do Magic for Small Change, Andrea Hairston

May 3
The Chimes, Anna Smaill
A Court of Mist and Fury, Sarah J. Maas
Dream On, Kerstin Gier
Holding Smoke, Elle Cosimano
Night Shift, Charlaine Harris
Queen of Hearts, Colleen Oakes
The Rose and the Dagger, Renée Ahdieh
Ruined, Amy Tintera
Time Stoppers, Carrie Jones
Warrior Witch, Danielle L. Jensen
Wishing Day, Lauren Myracle
The Jewel and Her Lapidary, Fran Wilde
Elixir, Ruth Vincent
Heart of the Mirage, Glenda Larke
The Map of Bones, Francesca Haig

May 10
The Last Remnant, Pam Brondos
Unrivaled, Alyson Noël

May 17
The Crown’s Game, Evelyn Skye
Places No One Knows, Brenna Yovanoff
Roses and Rot, Kat Howard
Woodwalker, Emily B Martin
Company Town, Madeline Ashby
Spark, Holly Schindler
Devil and the Bluebird, Jennifer Mason-Black

May 24
All Fixed Up, Linda Grimes
A Clatter of Jars, Lisa Graff
Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks, Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, ill. Dan Santat
Return to the Isle of the Lost, Melissa de la Cruz
The Seven Princesses, Smiljana Coh

May 31
The Sleeping Prince, Melinda Salisbury
The Geek Feminist Revolution, Kameron Hurley
The Pages of the Mind, Jeffe Kennedy

 

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Book Club: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Choksi

TheStar-TouchedQueen

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. This month, one of Sirens programming coordinators, Hallie Tibbetts takes over for July. You can find all of the Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

This month, Amy of Amy’s Book Club is on vacation, so I am PLEASED to be filling in for her. This month’s selection is The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Choksi, a lyrical story that incorporates Hindu myth into a romantic, lush read.

Mayavati—Maya—has a terrible horoscope, such that she is blamed by the other women of the harem for her mother’s death. Death stalks her too; her father chooses her as the sacrificial bride in a political maneuver meant to force a fight on his terms. That’s only the beginning, because Maya’s husband knows something about death, and Maya finds herself a resident of places beyond life.

I don’t want to spoil you for this book, but I will give you one enticement. I hate, hate, hate talking animals 99% of the time. I LOVED the flesh-hungry horse in this book, and I want to thank that hungry hungry horse for saying what we’re all thinking: can we just bite somebody already?

Maya’s story comes in two distinct parts, and to me—insert here a big disclaimer about my familiarity with the underlying stories, as well as (an admittedly uneducated) appreciation—it seems like she begins in death, and finds her way to life, as opposed to the journey that the rest of us follow; that is, we head toward our dying days. I’ll give you another riddle to ponder: death, here, is life. Consider, then, reincarnation as a complicating factor…

Amar, Maya’s love, seems at first to be far more mature than Maya, and it’s not immediately clear what he finds so attractive in her, especially as he’s a riddle himself, and unable to tell his whole story. As the tale progresses, we find that Maya not only has strengths she has never known she possessed—both mystical and practical—but that her story with Amar is threaded through time. Again, there is the nudge of awakening, and Maya has to fumble through the darkness (literally and figuratively) to rescue her one true love.

I particularly liked that Maya screwed up sometimes, and screwed up a lot, but with legitimate, logical reasons for doing so. No breaking character here, no failure to understand for story purposes; Maya simply has her reasons to make choices, and then she has to work through her failures and mistakes. It’s a refreshing change from some recent reading with characters who fail to question the world around themselves, even in the direst circumstances. (Am I right, or am I right?)

I found that the story sinks into beautiful prose after a few chapters, but doesn’t necessarily linger, if that’s not right for the moment. This is a book to drink in sips, but it’s nice to gulp as well.

Have you read The Star-Touched Queen? What did you think? What other books with aching, star-crossed love or poetic prose would you recommend?

 

Hallie Tibbetts co-founded Narrate Conferences in 2006, and has chaired many of its events, though of late, she’s happy to devote her spare moments to helping with programming. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s of music in music education, taught, and then headed to New York University for a master’s in digital and print media. She works as an editorial assistant and has a strong preference for subversive picture books, whimsical middle grade, adventurous young adult, and serial commas.

 

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Sirens Studio

In 2015, for the first time, Sirens offered the Sirens Studio, a pre-conference option for readers, writers, and professionals. We are thrilled to bring the Sirens Studio back in 2016—and to say that it’ll be even better this year.

While Sirens is terrific, it can be hectic: so many people to see, so many conversations to have, not nearly enough time to grab a seat by the fire and just read. The Sirens Studio, however, gives you both what you love about Sirens and that down time that we all need: small-group workshop intensives led by exceptional faculty in the morning; flexible time to read, write, or relax in the afternoon; and a film screening at night.

In 2016, we’ve expanded our offerings to eight intensives, all led by extraordinary faculty on topics related to reading, writing, and career development. We’ve also revamped our schedule so that Studio participants will be able to attend half of those intensives—assuming, of course, that you aren’t sleeping in, lingering over breakfast in bed, relaxing at the spa, or stuck in a book you can’t put down.

Even better, the cost of attending is still only $50 for the full two days of the Studio, and we are still limiting attendance to just 50 participants. If you think you’d might like to join us, please check out our schedule, workshop intensives, and faculty—and then go here to purchase your ticket.

Please note that you must be a Sirens attendee to join us for the Studio, though you can purchase both your Sirens conference registration and a Studio ticket at the same time. Also, we are again offering Studio participants a Monday night Sirens Shuttle option.
 

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Sirens Meet-Up: Denver

Denver-ites, if you were jealous of the New York’s tea and books, have we got a treat for you: whiskey and books!

Since once a year isn’t enough, and though nothing will replace the awesomeness of four days of Sirens in October, we thought it might be nice for members of the Sirens community to gather throughout the year. So we’re hosting our second round of Sirens meet-up, the Denver edition. Want to join us?

We welcome all members, first-timers and veteran, and you don’t need to have attended Sirens in the past to join us. Are you new and curious? Heard of us but haven’t made it to Sirens yet? Wondering if our community is for you? Come on down! And bring your book recommendations, your friends, and your questions about Sirens.

Date: Sunday, July 31, 2016
Time: 3:00–5:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)
Location: Slattery’s Irish Pub in the Landmark, 5364 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard in Greenwood Village, Colorado

Notes: Participants must pay for their own drinks and snacks.

If you think you might join us, please RSVP to either @sirens_con on Twitter, here on Facebook, or to Faye at (faye.bi at sirensconference.org).

We hope to see you soon!

 

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Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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