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Archive for February 2017

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 3 (February 2017)

In this issue:

 

SIRENS STUDIO FACULTY ANNOUNCED

We have been thrilled this month to announce the faculty and the topics for the Sirens Studio! Each faculty member will teach a two-hour intensive on reading, writing, or career development. The Sirens Studio will take place on October 24–25, the Tuesday and Wednesday before Sirens begins, and will require an additional ticket. For full descriptions of the intensives and short bios of the faculty, please visit our Studio page.

  • Reading
    • Kate Elliott, Rewriting Rogue One: Narratives That Explore Complex Relationships Between Women
    • Suzanne Rogers Gruber, Everything and the Kitchen Sink: Tracing Lineages of Fantasy Literature
    • Justina Ireland, Reading Past the White Veil: Identifying Issues of Race in Fantasy and Science Fiction
    • Victoria Schwab, Writer as Reader
       
  • Writing
    • Kiini Ibura Salaam, Writing What Scares You
    • B R Sanders, Making Magic
       
  • Career Development
    • Mette Ivie Harrison, Taking Time and Finding Purpose in Your Busy Life—What’s Holding You Back?
    • Joy Kim, Know Your Next Step: Navigating Career Pathways and the Leadership Pipeline

 

SIRENS PROGRAMMING

And speaking of programming, you probably already know that it’s time to start thinking about conference programming proposals. Programming at Sirens is crafted, proposed, and presented by attendees, and we hope you’ll lend your knowledge and perspective. Also, all voices are welcome to propose programming: you needn’t be a published author or an accomplished academic; all attendees—readers, scholars, writers, illustrators, publishing professionals, educators, librarians, farriers, knitters, secret-keepers, and heroines—have something valuable to say.

It isn’t too early to start planning a proposal—proposals are due May 8, 2017. Even if you’ve presented before, we encourage you to explore the programming pages on the Sirens site so you’ll be familiar with what we ask you to present to the vetting board.

 

NARRATE CONFERENCES BOOT CAMP

Way back in January 2006—both a lifetime ago and somehow only the blink of an eye—many of the people that you know from Sirens founded Narrate Conferences. As some of you already know, Narrate, the presenting entity behind Sirens, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to creating interdisciplinary educational events that bring together people with many different perspectives to discuss and debate a given topic. Beginning in 2009, the event has been Sirens and the topic has been the remarkable women of fantasy literature. But before that, Narrate spent several years presenting giant Harry Potter conferences, complete with Quidditch tournaments, midnight movies, and 150 hours of academic programming.

Over the years, we’ve gone from very ad hoc methods of developing new team members—all hands on deck for Quidditch tournaments!—to something more considered, if you will: boot camp. Which we’re betting sounds amazing and…just a bit intimidating.

A few years ago, Narrate created boot camp, a combination online conference-planning course and development opportunity for people who were interested in spending more time volunteering for our events. Our goal is to give participants the foundational information you need to jump into a more active role with our team—and to help you decide what kind of role you think that might be. As you might expect, some people have used boot camp to learn that conference planning isn’t really their thing—while others fell in love, joined our team, and have been making Sirens awesome ever since. For more information, please check out the post here.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Graces

This month, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Laure Eve’s The Graces for her book club: a “deliberately slippery” book with an unreliable narrator, shifting truth, and a girl chasing her own power. Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen

Sometimes, Faye has found, a Reading Challenge totally surprises you. She found Marilyn Chin’s The Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen “inspired by Buddhist and Taoist texts and Chinese ghost stories and folklore, mixed with a dollop of hilarious satire…a brilliant and irreverent musing on the Chinese first-generation immigrant experience.” Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

 


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

 

Sirens Studio

If you’d like to extend your Sirens experience, we hope you’ll join us for the Sirens Studio! 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. 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.

The 2017 Studio will feature eight intensives, all led by extraordinary faculty on topics related to reading, writing, and career development. 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, or stuck in a book you can’t put down.

The cost of the Studio 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. Please note that, if you attend both the Sirens Studio and the Sirens Supper, you’ll receive a $10 discount.

Please note that the Sirens Studio is an optional, pre-Sirens event that requires a separate ticket. While you must be a Sirens attendee to join us for the Studio, Sirens attendees will not have access to the Studio intensives or other programs without that separate ticket. The Sirens Shuttle will be available on the evening of Monday, October 23, to facilitate attendees’ transportation to the Hotel Talisa in time for the Studio.

 

Book Club: The Graces by Laure Eve

The Graces

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

I love a good mean girls story.

You know the ones: they’re usually set in high school or college, featuring a queen bee and some sidekicks, boys who are largely props, and a girl who wants so badly to be part of the clique – so badly, in fact, that she inevitably does something catastrophically stupid, or betrays her friends, or reinvents herself into something shallow and vile, wrapped in the ultimate evil of female trappings: hairspray, glitter eyeshadow and miniskirts. You know, something a girl can redeem herself from.

These are stories born of female power, and they almost always evidence our discomfort with that same power: after all, almost all of these stories start by casting the powerful girls – hot girls with dangerous tongues and relentless ambitions – as villains, and then end with the outside girl – that same girl who wanted all that desire and access and dominance – rejecting all of those things in favor of being a good girl with a heart of gold. It’s a uniquely female story – and, I think, a uniquely hateful story that requires that a woman forego her power in order to achieve redemption. And redeemed from what? Why, her desire for that power in the first place. Of course.

So why do I love these stories? Because they are, fundamentally, inexorably, about women’s power. About inimitably feminine forms of power – the monstrous feminine, if you will, at its most potent – and our profoundly complicated relationship with that power. About how, in trying to be skinny and pretty and sexy and desired, what we’re really seeking is not only acceptance, freedom from our society-bred insecurities, but power, formidable, earth-shaking power. The power to walk down a school hallway – or a quad or a street or a corporate corridor – and have so much power and confidence and swagger that you know you’re indestructible. These stories, even when they’re ultimately dissatisfying, address a form of feminine power that almost all of us have wanted at one point in time or another. And much like I read “Bluebeard” over and over and over trying to find a feminist ending that doesn’t make me rage, I read mean girls stories over and over, seeking one where the outside girl, in the end, takes all that power that she’s busted her ass for – that she’s so often recreated her ass for — and revels in it. Because that’s what I want for her.

And that? That is how The Graces ended up on the 2017 Sirens Book Club list.

The Graces is cast just a bit differently: There’s no queen bee here, at least not one with a female hive of friends. Instead, we have the Graces, a nuclear family that is so mysterious and so aloof and so amazing that local lore says they’re witches. (As you do? I suppose in a fantasy book you must.) Thalia, Fenrin and Summer are the hive in The Graces, without a clear leader, but with all the sway and pull of a mean girls pack. Everyone in school wants them: to be their confidante, their friend, their lover.

River wants that, too. She and her mom have just moved to town – dad is not in the picture, and there’s some bitterness around that – and River’s in need of new friends. Like everyone else, River wants in with the Graces: in awe of Thalia, crushing on Fenrin, and ultimately, becoming uneasy best friends with Summer. But unlike everyone else, who has presumptively simple motives revolving around popularity and physical desire, River wants something else too: for the Graces to teach her magic.

The Graces is a dark book and a deliberately slippery one. River is an unreliable narrator, so wrapped up in what she wants to be true that it clouds the truth for the reader as well – and most of the book is spent in an uneasy will they-won’t they seesaw: Are the Graces really witches? Are the spells they’re doing actually magic? If it really is magic, can it be taught? Will they teach River? Or will River get too close to the Grace family secrets, causing them to cast her from their circle?

And ultimately, for me, a reader who badly wants the outside girl to do or be or want something other than a heart of gold in the end, this book satisfies. Because there’s a twist, a twist you might guess, but a twist that nevertheless has something to say about female power. (And a twist that, were there not so many other books to read, might make you want to read this book again for all the clues it surely contains.)

I don’t usually do read-alikes for books in this book club, but The Graces has some very similar literary sisters, in terms of the dark tone, the shifting truth, the unreliable narrator, the unclear magical elements, the strong desire to be something or someone else: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Imaginary Girls, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers, The Accident Season. If any of those were in your wheelhouse, The Graces might be, too.

Why read it? If you, like me, are a sucker for an unreliable narrator. If you, like me, like your plot and your world to be a bit unknowable. If you, like me, like stories of girls chasing their power.

Amy
 


 
Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling content distribution and intellectual property transactions for an entertainment company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and seven years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

Read Along with Faye: Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin

RevengeoftheMooncakeVixen

Read Along with Faye is back for the 2017 Sirens Reading Challenge! Each month, Sirens communications staff member Faye Bi will review and discuss a book on her journey to read the requisite 25 books to complete the challenge. Titles will consist of this year’s Sirens theme of women who work magic. Light spoilers ahead. We invite you to join us and read along!

Marilyn Chin’s Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen’s subtitle is A Manifesto in 41 Tales, and I suppose we could start there—it’s a collection of short stories, vignettes, and parables loosely interconnected featuring Moonie and Mei Ling Wong, the Double Happiness Twins, and their fierce, cleaver-wielding grandmother from Hong Kong. Inspired by Buddhist and Taoist texts and Chinese ghost stories and folklore, mixed with a dollop of hilarious satire (OMG, that parody of pretentious academics killed me) and stylized violence of some manga, Revenge is a brilliant and irreverent musing on the Chinese first-generation immigrant experience… and a total surprise.

The first short story, “Moon,” sets the tone in the first five pages. We’re introduced to one twin, Moonie, a fat young girl, who just wants the attention of the two trashy-but-irresistible blond boys out on the beach. With (obviously) shady motives, they invite her on their boat, only to purposely tip her over so she falls in the water. Sniggering and laughing until the boys realize Moonie is drowning (and now twice as heavy now that she’s wet), they save her and expectantly wait for their reward as she regains consciousness. When she does not, in fact, feel gratitude towards them, they humiliate her further by ripping off her clothes and urinating on her. Fast forward to years later, Moonie, with mad kung-fu skills starts stealthily killing blond men in southern California until she finds the original culprits, vigilante-style.

“Your interpretation of this denoument,” Chin admits, “mostly depends on your race, creed, hair color, social and economic class and political proclivities—and whether or not you are a feminist revisionist and have a habit of cheering for the underdog.” Reader, I fucking cheered. I say this as someone who is completely squeamish about physical and sexual violence, but somehow revenge stories light a fire in me in a way that nothing else does. I fantasize about horrible murderers and rapists getting their due, crushed up under a semi or flayed alive by a bear.

Did I feel a bit bad about cheering? A little. Chin does this over and over again, in her book following Moonie and Mei Ling as they deliver Chinese-American food from their Grandmother’s restaurant. The two sisters can’t be more different, with Moonie the no-nonsense, possibly asexual tomboy with fists and Mei Ling the hypersexualized vixen (to call her promiscuous would be polite), as they navigate growing up and eventually settle and into their careers as academics at top universities. Some stories also centre around Grandmother Wong, whose history and character encapsulates the most crazy, wonderful, frightening matriarch personality you’ll find in a book. And can I tell you it’s funny? It’s so funny. Besides the really violent parts, the really thoughtful parts (there are some parables directly inspired by Zhuangzi and Buddha), the really ragey parts, and the really dirty parts (you might give tofu the side-eye after reading this), I could not stop cracking up.

With all that said, it may not be to everyone’s taste. It’s meandering, non-linear and to some, possibly confusing—the structure is loose, and the rough story is told in dream sequences, sexual encounters, fables, dialogue and poems. Much of it is whimsical, or depending how you look at it, nonsensical. You might not be happy with how Moonie’s weight or possible asexuality is dealt with, or the duality of Moonie and Mei Ling’s characters (personally, I had come to accept they would be caricatures and larger than life to make a point, just like Grandmother Wong). If you like the magical realism of the Latin Americans, you may like the intergenerational conflict between grandmother and granddaughters and the surreal occurrences that pass by without question.

For me, Revenge touched upon some deep-seated emotions of being one kind of Chinese immigrant in the United States—one whose family emigrated to escape hardship and toiled in the restaurant business or took otherwise low-paying jobs, was pushed to achieve academic success and then to eventually become successful, assimilate and validate the sacrifice of your forebears. Reading it made me confront the ridiculousness, guilt, hilarity, triumph and unbearable sadness that comes along with the territory of living perpetually in between identities.

Next Month: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
 


 
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.

 

Narrate Conferences Boot Camp

Way back in January 2006—both a lifetime ago and somehow only the blink of an eye—many of the people that you know from Sirens founded Narrate Conferences. As some of you already know, Narrate, the presenting entity behind Sirens, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to creating interdisciplinary educational events that bring together people with many different perspectives to discuss and debate a given topic. Beginning in 2009, the event has been Sirens and the topic has been the remarkable women of fantasy literature. But before that, Narrate spent several years presenting giant Harry Potter conferences, complete with Quidditch tournaments, midnight movies, and 150 hours of academic programming.

Over the years, we grew up: went back to school, changed jobs, got promoted, got married, had babies, moved across the country, bought houses, read a thousand books. And over the years, some of us have stayed with Narrate, some of us have moved on—and some of us moved on, realized how much we missed Narrate, and have come back.

Similarly, over the years, new people have joined us, some for a year or two, some for the long haul. And over the years, we’ve gone from very ad hoc methods of developing new team members—all hands on deck for Quidditch tournaments!—to something more considered, if you will: boot camp. Which we’re betting sounds amazing and…just a bit intimidating.

A few years ago, Narrate created boot camp, a combination online conference-planning course and development opportunity for people who were interested in spending more time volunteering for our events. Our goal is to give participants the foundational information you need to jump into a more active role with our team—and to help you decide what kind of role you think that might be. As you might expect, some people have used boot camp to learn that conference planning isn’t really their thing—while others fell in love, joined our team, and have been making Sirens awesome ever since.

For a variety of reasons, we haven’t run boot camp for a few years. But this year, we’re back—this time with a Sirens-specific version!

What is Narrate’s boot camp?
An online course in Narrate-style conference planning, which means that you’ll learn things you might expect, like budgets and hotel contracts and social media, and you’ll also learn things you might not, like interdisciplinary educational theory and the non-profit tax code. This year, we’ll be focusing specifically on planning future iterations of Sirens itself.

What do participants learn?
We cover the basics of all aspects of planning Sirens: mission, scope, schedules, budgets, accounting, law, 501(c)(3) restrictions, educational validity, programming, websites, marketing and promotions, social media, art and design, customer service, systems development, venue selection, working with hotels and vendors, AV equipment, unions, menu selection, and building teams and keeping them on track.

How long is boot camp?
We’ll run a six-month course, starting March 5 and ending with an optional in-person meet-up over Labor Day weekend.

What is the time commitment?
Our boot camp is roughly the equivalent of taking an online, graduate-level course. We will address a topic a week, and each topic will have a reading component and a development component. Some weeks will take more time than others (budget weeks are notoriously difficult), but you can assume, for most weeks, that five hours will cover this.

What does it cost?
It’s free! All we ask is that, if you sign up, you make the commitment. Our staff will be dedicating many hours of their time, expertise, and experience to this endeavor, and we want to make that this is worth everyone’s while.

How do I sign up?
Email us! Just shoot an email to Amy (amy at narrateconferences.org) and Sabrina (sabrina at narrateconferences.org), with a brief explanation of why you want to do boot camp and your current resume attached. (Slots are not limited; we just want to get an idea of what your current education and experience looks like, so we can perhaps tailor boot camp a bit.)

What if I’m not sure?
We’re holding a chat next week so anyone can come, learn a bit more, ask some questions, and maybe decide if this is for you.

Date: Saturday, February 25
Time: 2–4 p.m. Eastern Time
Location: https://www.narrateconferences.org/bootcampchat/

Should I sign up?
You know we can’t tell you that! But we can share what some of our past boot camp participants (and current Sirens staff) have to say:

Faye Bi: It’s weird, but boot camp felt like family: a bunch of women sitting down (virtually), learning how we can put our smarts to work for our community, and becoming part of a terrific team.

Suzanne Rogers Gruber: If you think you know how conferences are planned, think again. Boot camp’s going to open your eyes and give you the tools you need to actually help create this fantastic conference!

Cora Anderson: Have you ever wondered how to give back to Sirens? This is it. I came out with both a new appreciation for what the Sirens team does and a concrete idea of how I could contribute.

I have questions!
Great! Please feel free to email Amy (amy at narrateconferences.org) or Sabrina (sabrina at narrateconferences.org). We’re happy to chat.

Six Authors That Nail Folklore Retellings

By Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)

Fairytale and folklore retellings, while legion, are hard to do well. As with any kind of adaptation, it’s not enough to capture what makes the original work: authors have to bring something new to get me excited about the familiar and often highly problematic originals. These are some that I think nail it.

 

EntreatMe
1. I find Beauty and the Beast pretty creepy, but when I saw Grace Draven — hands-down my favorite fantasy romance writer — had written a take, I decided to give it a shot. Entreat Me doesn’t disappoint, engaging with the problematic tropes of the original and twisting them into a story I adored.
BryonyandRoses
2. In Bryony and Roses, T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) accepts the source material’s problematic tropes outright and re-casts them, incorporating them as world-building obstacles our heroine has to overcome. I did not realize going in that with this take on Beauty and the Beast I was signing up for a straight-up comedy, but I snickered through the entire book. In this interpretation, our heroine is a gardener who couldn’t care less about fancy dresses but will declare war on invasive rose vines, and I for one would not dream of standing in her way.
Star-TouchedQueen
3. In The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi draws on a number of Hindu myths (Savitri and Satyavan, Shiva and Parvati, and parts of the Ramayana, to name a few). Rather than retelling any particular story, Chokshi has taken threads from many and woven them together into a story that is thoroughly steeped in Hindu myth but also thoroughly unique, written in gorgeous, magical prose.
LettersToZell
4. Letters to Zell by Camille Griep also pulls from multiple sources, but this time they’re Disney princesses’ stories being woven together. This epistolary novel is an alternatingly hilarious and heart-wrenching story of three women learning to navigate the expectations their society has thrust upon them of what their happily-ever-after should look like and find their own path in a world that thinks their stories are over.
CrimsonBound
5. Rosamund Hodge’s Crimson Bound starts with seeds from Little Red Riding Hood — as well as a few other fairytales — and then veers sharply into its own direction. Rachelle is broken and dauntless and I love her to pieces. On top of all the magic and sword-fighting, in this dark fantasy Hodge also does great work with disability, class, and religion against a backdrop of a medieval French-esque culture.
TheWrathandtheDawn
6. Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn shares a premise with A Thousand and One Nights, but this is not a simple retelling. Between the stories told at night, there is dark magic at work, and it’s up to the bold Shahrzad to keep their world from falling apart — and to save the caliph she wants desperately to hate. Romance and intrigue tie together to make for a thrilling story.

Casey Blair writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through mountains, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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