News

2018 Programming: Papers and Lectures

Sirens programming is the dozens of hours of papers, lectures, panels, roundtable discussions, workshops, and afternoon classes that make up the heart of Sirens. For our 2018 programming series, we’re doing a deeper dive on each presentation format; this information will both help potential presenters select the proper format for their approach to their topic and provide details on proposal requirements. We also suggest that potential presenters read how Sirens programming works and our tips, tricks, and frequently asked questions. Later this week, we’ll review panels, roundtable discussions, and workshops/afternoon classes. You can submit a proposal any time from April 2 to May 6.

Papers and lectures are our umbrella terms for a presentation format in which one or more presenters convey research, analysis, or other information. Maybe you’re a reader who wants to examine the use of technology in fantasy literature, or an educator who wants to analyze course curricula that includes fantasy works, or two agents who want to deconstruct frequently seen feedback on fantasy submissions. These approaches to these topics would make terrific papers or lectures.

The difference between a paper and a lecture, at least to Sirens, is quite small. For Sirens, you’re welcome to read a paper, present with PowerPoint slides, or simply speak from your notes. Please note that you need not provide your paper or slides as part of the submissions process, though you may want to have us publish them in our compendium after Sirens.

Papers and lectures are researched in advance—though “research” can mean a number of things. As this format is great for sharing information, papers and lectures often require some amount of research. Scholarly papers, certainly, are heavily researched (usually for academic work that is relevant to Sirens), but even a reader’s textual analysis, a course curricula presentation, or an overview of legal provisions involves gathering information for presentation. You may do more or less research depending on your topic and your existing knowledge.

Papers and lectures may be 25 or 50 minutes long. Shorter slots generally work out to reading about 6–10 pages of a paper. Some presenters may prefer the longer period, especially if they want to dedicate time for audience questions; these presenters will need closer to 10–15 double-spaced pages to read or the equivalent in speaking notes.

You can collaborate on papers and lectures. Often, individuals with complementary expertise or shared opinions on a topic will co-present a paper or lecture. This can work in two ways: (1) the presenters co-present the topic itself in a way that works for them (perhaps presenting jointly or splitting a topic into sub-parts), or (2) the presenters propose pre-empaneled papers. If you and your co-presenters generally tend to agree on a topic, though, we strongly encourage you to consider proposing a paper or lecture, as opposed to a panel (which is a format best suited for discussion and debate among panelists with different perspectives).

Pre-empaneled papers—a series of two or more papers or lectures on a similar topic or theme—are one option for multiple presenters. Pre-empaneled papers are proposed as a unit, but presented individually in sequence. Each presenter will have 25 minutes to present their individual paper. If presenters prefer, a moderator may organize the group and keep everything on time, perhaps leading the audience question period (or even asking questions of the presenters), and that moderator may also read a paper if they choose.

Proposal requirements include a presenter biography (50–100 words), a presentation summary (50–100 words), and a detailed abstract (300–500 words). We will publish the biography and the summary on our website and in our program book to help attendees navigate our programming and decide which presentations they’d like to attend. The abstract is for the vetting board: It should explain your topic and approach, be far more in depth than your summary, and demonstrate your research, analysis, and conclusion.

In co-presented papers and lectures (including pre-empaneled papers), each presenter must provide a biography. In pre-empaneled papers, each presenter must also provide an abstract for their individual paper or lecture.

Room set-up includes a microphone, a podium and table, projection equipment, and a small dry erase board or easel. We can accommodate a variety of presentation styles, and we ask that, as part of your proposal, you specify how you will use projection equipment so that we can prioritize it for presentations that particularly need it. Presenters are welcome to stand or sit, though we do require that you use the microphone, as it makes your presentation more accessible to the audience.

 

Looking for help or inspiration?

  • Join us for a programming chat!: Anyone interested in submitting a proposal can stop by to brainstorm, find collaborators, and get one-on-one advice from our programming staff. They don’t make the selection decisions, but they’re full of thoughts that might be helpful! Chat will be held here at the following times:

    Saturday, April 7, 1–3 p.m. Eastern (10 a.m.–noon Pacific)
    Tuesday, May 1, 9–11 p.m. Eastern (6–8 p.m. Pacific)

  • Find a mentor!: As a new initiative this year, we’ve asked some past Sirens presenters to be available as mentors for new folks submitting programming proposals. They’re available to share information on the Sirens audience, review your research and arguments, and help you craft your proposal itself. If you’re interested, please email Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org) to get connected.

  • Free Topics: All through April, we’ll be tweeting programming topics that are free for you to take, develop, and use in your programming proposal. You might take them as is, you might use them as inspiration, or you might find that they get your brain moving! Follow us on Twitter @sirens_con or check out #SirensBrainstorm.

  • More Questions: Email us! You can contact our programming team at (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

Examples of summaries of past papers and lectures from Sirens:

  • “All the Queen’s Women”: Female Political Leadership in Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles by Joy Kim: The women of Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles are queens and pawns, survivors and victims, exiles and prisoners, young and old. This paper will explore how the author complicates traditional narratives of male heroism by offering alternative narratives of female political leadership through the stories of Isaboe, Quintana, and Phaedra. It will compare and contrast their leadership styles and journeys, and consider how their leadership and power is influenced by their age, sexuality, and romantic relationships.

  • Female Warriors, Magical Beings, Goddesses, Storytellers, and Questing Women in Indian Comic Books by Rachel Manija Brown and Shveta Thakrar: Using storytelling and slides, we will share the stories of female warriors, Goddesses, magical beings, storytellers, and questing women from Indian history and legend, as they appear in Indian comic books. This presentation will be based on the comics by the publisher Amar Chitra Katha, whose books have been beloved by Indian girls and boys since 1967.

  • Intersecting Magics: Examining Assemblages of Magic and Technology in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti by Alyssa Collins: This paper examines the intersections of magic and technology in the novellas of Nnedi Okorafor. Okorafor’s Binti series prompts us to think about the particular ways in which the black fantastic and black technological practices align to create moments of history-making and memorialization, especially in the community-building moments after persecution or state violence. This paper examines not only the operations of such magic and technology in the text, but also gestures to the affordances of such magical and technological thinking in what can be seen as analogous memorializing and community-building moments in black contemporary culture.

  • Sorceresses Transgress: Examining Treatment of Female Magic Users by Casey Blair: Fantasy literature is rife with incredible sorceresses, witches, and other female magic users. Magic can be an avenue for female characters to play an integral role in an otherwise patriarchal narrative, but does that approach give women power, or is it another kind of trap? This paper will discuss the ways magic is used to empower and constrain female characters, from the evolution of tropes casting feminine magic as “good” or “evil” to the limitations and opportunities for female magic users in their worlds—and what that says about ours.

Read Along with Faye: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Each year, Communications Director Faye Bi attempts to read the requisite 25 books to complete the Sirens Reading Challenge. In 2018, a Reunion year, she’ll be reading books from the past four years’ themes: hauntings, revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Light spoilers ahead. If you’d like some structure—or company—on your own reading goals, we invite you to read along!

As someone who works in the publishing industry, I know a few things about what it takes to make a big book. Particularly, a big, popular, bestselling YA book. Have a fast-paced, competently plotted manuscript. Include elements that are immensely popular at the time: dystopias, revolutions, mythical creatures, love triangles, school stories, settings in Ancient Rome or Ancient Persia, athletic tournaments, an “edgy” quality. Have a spec’d out, shiny, eye-catching cover. Take an engaging author, and put her in front of gatekeepers and teens. Send plenty of early copies out for review. Time those ads, promotions and media pitches. Get buy-in from major accounts. Make sure that around the time of on-sale, anyone interested in YA, fantasy, or buying books sees this book everywhere.

I saw An Ember in the Ashes everywhere when it first came out. The book is wildly successful, with healthy sales, widespread media coverage, a full trilogy planned, and a movie deal. It is good to muse on why certain books do so well, so that the success can be replicated for other books. But this is, alas, not a campaign analysis. It’s a review.

I can easily see the strengths of An Ember in the Ashes: I read it in one huge gulp, eager to keep flipping the pages and find out what happened next. At the start of the book, Laia’s family is murdered and her brother is taken to prison; in order to save him, she ends up spying on the most ruthless, dangerous person in the empire—the Commandant, the head of the military training academy—who maims loved ones to discipline those who displease her. Despite my general indifference towards reluctant heroines, I like that Laia’s resistance isn’t flashy nor does she have any experience whatsoever at spying—she’s no Alianne of Pirate’s Swoop. She is insecure about her abilities, yet does everything she can to survive. Laia’s relationships, too, with her fellow slaves Izzi and Cook, are refreshing.

But, as someone who has read a lot of fantasy, a lot of YA, and a lot of fantasy YA that has this book’s basic premise, it’s disappointing. Absent are worldbuilding details that go beyond surface-level, most notably linguistic ones: The Martial Empire conquered the Scholar people (those are the names in the book), with a glimpse of tribes and magical creatures such as djinn, efrits, and ghuls; the military academy’s name is Blackcliff, there’s a character named Keenan. I know the Roman Empire reached the land of the Celts, but this struck me as far more modern than the historic era presented in the book. Absent is a consideration of technology—we know the Martials have steel, but that’s about all. Magic exists only to serve specific plot points or to deus ex machina a way out of a tricky situation. Absent, too, is a thoughtful contemplation of colonialism, and how resistance movements might actually gain steam and succeed.

But perhaps, I’m completely mistaken. Perhaps, you could argue, the main audience for this book doesn’t care about these details. But, as a reader who sees An Ember in the Ashes widely lauded for its worldbuilding, I think teens can and do recognize these failings. It bothers me when people cast down YA fantasy for being more simplistic and less rigorous than adult fantasy, with worldbuilding just the backdrop for the kissing, the angst, and the feelings.

I won’t even begin to touch on the eyeroll-inducing romantic subplots, particularly the—what does one call this? A love parallelogram?—where there are two simultaneous love triangles involving the two main characters. What troubled me most is the constant threat of violence against women, so ubiquitous that it practically becomes background noise, and the suggestion in writing by a sympathetic character that a girl’s chances of getting raped are directly correlated to how attractive she is. Contrasted starkly with the rather chaste romantic developments—there’s some dancing, and one consensual kiss—it leaves the reader with absolutely no examples of sex-positivity in this book.

Finally, as much as I did like elements of Laia’s point of view, An Ember in the Ashes also features the perspective of Elias, a privileged guy and the eventual love interest. I do think Tahir succeeded in that she captured Elias’s melodrama and whininess (really, he thinks that absolutely no one else in this rigid military academy thinks the way he does?) to a tee. The problem is, I think the reader is supposed to like him, and I would have much preferred his best friend Helene’s narration. As racist as Helene is, you don’t get to be the only girl in a generation to train at this fancy military school and not question some stuff, even if your one big failing is falling in love with an anguished privileged dude who thinks only he can save the Empire.

For me, there are too many books that do this age group, genre, and premise better. I recommend turning to Kate Elliott’s Court of Fives instead, which didn’t break out in the same way but improves on my complaints in An Ember in the Ashes on nearly every count. But I’m only one reader, and given the immense success of these books, there are plenty of readers who disagree.

Next month’s book: Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann


Faye Bi is a book-publishing professional based in New York City, and leads 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.

 

2018 Programming: Tips, Tricks, and Frequently Asked Questions

Several days ago, we posted about how Sirens’s programming works—and we highlighted how, each year, our programming is the collective work of our attendees. Regardless of your vocation, your level of experience, or your number of years at Sirens, you have something to say. And we hope that you’ll take a crack at sharing your thoughts and expertise as part of our programming this year!

Today, we have general programming information, how to find help from real people, tips and tricks for proposing programming, and answers to frequently asked questions on our programming process. Here we go!

 

General Information

  • We are accepting proposals from April 2 to May 6. All proposals must be submitted in full, including any supplemental abstracts for panels, by May 6.

  • The Sirens vetting board will make decisions by June 11. All accepted presenters must be registered and paid for Sirens by July 10.

  • We will have three scholarships (a 2018 Sirens registration and round-trip shuttle ticket) available for exemplary programming proposals. You can apply for these scholarships as part of the submissions process.

  • You can propose programming in a number of formats: papers or lectures (including a set of pre-empaneled papers/lectures on a single topic), panels, workshops, roundtable discussions, afternoon classes, or a combination of multiple formats. (Please consult with the programming team before you submit a combination!)

  • You are welcome to present with co-presenters (except for roundtables, which must have a single moderator). Please note that the person submitting the proposal will be our main contact for the proposal (and in the case of a panel, will be the moderator). Please make sure that your collaborators are aware that they will need to confirm their participation by May 6—and in the case of panels and pre-empaneled papers, will need to submit a 300–500 abstract of their own (note that the vetting board will review all abstracts in determining whether to select a proposal).

  • All communication is via email. Please use an email address to which you’ll have access throughout 2018, and that you check regularly.

  • Programming is reviewed and approved by an independent vetting board. All proposals are kept confidential.

  • Additional information can be found in Sirens’s official Call for Proposals.

 

Help from Real People

  • Programming Chats: Have questions? Looking for topic ideas or collaborators? Want some advice on selecting a presentation format? We’re holding two online chats with our programming team. They don’t make the selection decisions, but they’re full of thoughts that might be helpful! Chats will be held here at the following times:

    Saturday, April 7, 1–3 p.m. Eastern (10 a.m.–noon Pacific)
    Tuesday, May 1, 9–11 p.m. Eastern (6–8 p.m. Pacific)

  • Mentors: As a new initiative this year, we’ve asked some past Sirens presenters to be available as mentors for new folks submitting programming proposals. They’re available to share information on the Sirens audience, review your research and arguments, and help you craft your proposal itself. If you’re interested, please email Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org) to get connected.

  • Free Topics: All through April, we’ll be tweeting programming topics that are free for you to take, develop, and use in your programming proposal. You might take them as is, you might use them as inspiration, or you might find that they get your brain moving! Follow us on Twitter @sirens_con or check out #SirensBrainstorm.

  • More Questions: Email us! You can contact our programming team at (programming at sirensconference.org). They can’t guarantee your acceptance, but they’re full of helpful advice.

 

Tips and Tricks

  • Everyone is welcome to propose programming! Sirens is a conference where readers and students present alongside authors and scholars, not to mention librarians, educators, and publishing professionals. Everyone’s voice is valid, valuable, and necessary to our conversations and our community!

  • Look at past programming schedules. Our vetting board knows what topics have been presented in past years—and you should, too, so you don’t repeat them! New topics, or brand-new takes on old topics, will be considered more favorably. We make all our past programming available in our conference archive.

  • Push beyond 101-level topics and analysis. Sirens is ten years old this year, and we assure you, most Sirens attendees are well-versed in basic topics like “Reclaiming Fairy Tales” and “What is Diversity?” Push further the sophistication of your topic and your analysis.

  • Consider what type of presentation suits your topic best. We’ll be doing a deeper dive on each of these next week, but here’s a preview: papers and lectures are good for experts to convey information or frame an argument; panels are suitable for rigorous debate among experts with differing expertise or opinions; workshops and afternoon classes are perfect for hands-on explorations of practical topics; and roundtable discussions are great for topics where every audience member will have an opinion.

  • Focus on one or two proposals rather than several. This will help ensure your proposals are well-prepared and well-argued—and will increase their likelihood of acceptance.

  • Choose your co-presenters wisely. We strongly encourage you to seek out co-presenters with a variety of expertise, perspectives, and identities. Differences in expertise can bring additional thoughts and approaches to your work, while different perspectives and identities can enrich discussion and debate over your topic. (Bonus tip: If your topic is for people with complementary expertise to present information, we strongly encourage you to consider a paper or lecture with co-presenters, rather than a panel; the panel format is best suited for discussion and debate among panelists with different perspectives.)

  • Leave enough time to write a thoughtful summary and abstract. Since these descriptions are what the vetting board will judge your proposal on and will determine fellow attendees’ interest in your topic, it behooves you to not wait until the last minute! This is especially true for pre-empaneled papers and panels, where co-presenters must also submit an abstract by May 6.

  • You are not required to present on this year’s theme. Proposal topics must be relevant to Sirens, but do not need to address our theme for this year. If you’d like to, though, here are our thoughts on our relevant themes for this year: reunion, hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the requirements for being a presenter at Sirens?
The only requirement is that you must be a Sirens attendee, which also means you have to be 18 years old by October 25, 2018. Otherwise, everyone is welcome to propose programming—and if accepted, to present it!

How can I find co-presenters or panelists?
You can tweet @sirens_con or post on the unofficial Sirens Attendees Facebook group. You might also be able to find co-presenters or co-panelists at our programming chats.

How many proposals can I submit?
There is technically no limit, but we recommend focusing on one or two as it usually makes for better-prepared (and better-received) proposals.

Can I change my proposal later?
Before the May 6 deadline, you can submit a correction or contact us to withdraw and resubmit the proposal. Following May 6, however, we will pass your proposal on to the vetting board and you can no longer make changes.

Can I contact the vetting board about my proposal?
Please direct any questions to (programming at sirensconference.org) instead. Vetting board members only review proposals, and we ask them to keep their reviews confidential.

Can I request a specific day and time to present?
The schedule depends on our ability to track presentations by type, theme, and audio-visual needs, so we can’t accommodate schedule preferences. If you have an immovable conflict, such as your grandmother’s 100th birthday party, please write to us at (programming at sirensconference.org).

I have more questions!
We have more answers! Write us at (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: Financial Hardships

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. Each year, Sirens raises funds to provide scholarships to help a number of people attend Sirens and add their voices to those conversations. Our scholarship fundraising will continue through March, but this week, we want to highlight the importance of our scholarships for those with financial hardships. In past weeks, we discussed our scholarships for people of color and those submitting exemplary programming proposals; next week, we will address our hope that we’ll be able to provide scholarships for librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Attending Sirens requires money.

Everyone knows this. Whether or not you’ve attended Sirens, at some point you’ve probably saved your pennies to go somewhere.

And Sirens knows this.

We want Sirens to be available to as many people as possible—and a critical part of that is making the Sirens registration price as low as possible. So each year, we price the Sirens registrations below the cost of providing the food, program book, and other benefits that come with those registrations. And each year, to cover the difference, we ask for additional support from those who can afford to do more.

This budget structure works for us only because the Sirens community is magnificent. Each year, amazing individuals offer additional support—whether that’s an extra $5 or $500 or a handcrafted auction item—to help Sirens continue to suppress its registration prices so that more people can afford to attend.

But those donations also do something more. Because sometimes, a lower registration price isn’t enough.

Most of us have been there. Most of us have stared at an opportunity that we wanted, and maybe we needed, but that we couldn’t afford to take. Most of us, at some point in time or another, have depended on the kindness of strangers.

So each year, the Sirens community raises funds to provide Sirens registrations and round-trip shuttle tickets to those with financial hardships. Assuming that we reach our fundraising goals, we will provide three of these scholarships in 2018. Everyone is welcome to apply; we ask only that you state that you have a financial hardship. We select recipients randomly from among the applicants.

Can you help us reach our goal of including more voices in Sirens?

If you can—whether that’s $5 or a full scholarship of $365—we hope that you’ll help us provide these scholarships!

 

2018 Programming

Welcome to our annual programming series! In these posts, we’ll give you all the information that you’ll need to propose programming for Sirens. Stay tuned: We’ll have a post with tips, tricks, and frequently asked questions later this week, and then we’ll feature a post specific to each type of programming next week. Then on April 2, we’ll open our proposals system.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Sirens programming is the dozens of hours of papers, lectures, panels, workshops, roundtables, and afternoon classes that make up the heart of Sirens. While a thousand conversations happen at Sirens every year, the true vanguard of those discussions are the brave and brilliant individuals who share their wisdom and expertise as part of our programming.

So how does Sirens create its programming?

We don’t! Many conferences select their own topics and then select the individuals to present those topics. Sirens could have done this—but we don’t want Sirens to be limited by the interests, knowledge, and networking of our staff.

Instead, we invite our attendees—from readers to scholars to librarians to authors—to propose programming for our schedule. And each year, dozens of individuals do: they create, propose, and present the lectures, papers, panels, workshops, roundtables, and afternoon classes that become the programming at Sirens. Regardless of your vocation, your level of experience, or how many years you’ve attended Sirens, every Sirens attendee has something to say! And we hope you’ll take a crack at sharing your thoughts and expertise as part of our programming.

And how does Sirens choose its programming?

Each year, an independent vetting board, a diverse group of tremendous individuals who know and love Sirens, review the proposals for thoughtfulness and relevance, and then select which to include on that year’s programming schedule.

  • Thoughtfulness: Is the proposal well-conceived? This means the vetting board considers the research, logic, and sophistication of the arguments. Is the proposal well-argued? Is it innovative? Is it interesting?

  • Relevance: Is the topic relevant to Sirens’s global topic of women in fantasy literature? The topic doesn’t need to specifically address the theme of any given year, and doesn’t have to be about women and fantasy and literature, but if your proposal doesn’t address at least two of the three, you might want to consider how can make your topic more relevant to the Sirens audience.

How does someone propose programming?

Sirens operates its own proposals system specifically for programming proposals. We’ll open this system on April 2, and close it May 6, which is this year’s deadline for proposals. After May 6, our vetting board goes to work.

Proposals generally comprise five things:

  • Personal information: Your name, contact information, and a biography that we can use on our website and in our program book

  • A summary: 50–100 words about your topic and approach, which we’ll also publish on our website and in our program book

  • An abstract: 300–500 words explaining your topic and approach to the vetting board; this should be far more in depth and should demonstrate your research, analysis, and conclusion

  • Audiovisual requests: Information on your requested audiovisual equipment for your presentation

  • Contact information for any co-presenters: Your co-presenters will then receive an email asking them to provide their personal information and, in the case of panels, a supplemental abstract of 300–500 words demonstrating the perspectives and expertise that they will bring to the panel

So let’s do this!

We know that the proposal process can be intimidating, especially for those new to Sirens: It takes a lot of courage to put your thoughts and analysis out there, first to a review board and then at Sirens itself. But each year, dozens of individuals screw their courage to the proverbial sticking place and, in doing so, make Sirens smarter, more thoughtful, and just plain better.

We hope that that will include you this year!

 

Women Who Work Magic

Sirens logos 2014-2018, 2017 highlighted

In fantasy literature, magic is, in many ways, the most ready analogue for real-world power.

Mages have magic: the ability to call the storm, raise the dead, or control minds. They are awe-inspiring, intimidating, terrifying. Special. They are often kings, sometimes in direct violation of laws designed to prevent that amalgamation of power. Even mages who aren’t kings are so often shadow kings, advisors to kings, or adversaries of kings. And didn’t we all share Harry’s thrill when Hagrid said, “Harry—yer a wizard”? Of course we did, because having magic gave oh-so-miserable Harry the chance to change his life.

Magic, fundamentally, is power.

So consider, for a moment, female magic-workers in fantasy literature.

Most commonly, they are witches, and—even today, even in fantasy literature, even in fantasy literature by female and nonbinary authors—the word “witch” is so commonly a slur. In contemporary fantasy. In books reexamining historical periods. In all sorts of books with fantasy-world settings. Witches—or you might say women who work magic—are dangerous. They are often solitary, often old, and often ugly. They are in the business of crop-wilting, cattle-killing, storm-bringing, and baby-eating. They deserve the village’s righteous justice: burning, drowning, hanging. These women who have magic must be redeemed, so often through death.

Just for having magic. Or, if you will, just for having power.

Having magic gives women the power to subvert expectations. It gives them a way to forge a living, allowing them to choose marriage if they want, rather than relentlessly pursuing a husband (always a husband) for food and shelter and protection. It gives them the opportunity to seek their own path, set their own priorities, and establish their own identity. Magic gives these women choices and independence. And untethered women—women with resources, with skills, with wisdom, with freedom—are dangerous.

May all women have such magic.

Fantasy literature—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not—has an awful lot to say about gender, magic, and power.

  • Witches in our real world—or reexamined versions of our real world: So many fantasy works examine the mythos of witches through the lens of our world. From very traditional tales of witches (Of Sorrow and Such) to criticism of historical societies (Sorcerer to the Crown, Redwood and Wildfire) to modern-day stories of witches and all-too-real expectations (Labyrinth Lost, All the Birds in the Sky, Practical Magic). From new tales of legendary witches (Vassa in the Night) to new legends of all-too-familiar tropes (This Strange Way of Dying, The Girl Who Drank the Moon). From May-December romances of young witches and mentor wizards (Uprooted) to witches finding late-in-life love together (The Memory Garden) to witches spurning traditional betrothal to seek their own way (The Bear and the Nightingale).

  • Witches in fantastic worlds: Sometimes, fantasy works take the witch archetype and build it a new world, one that may be more but is sometimes even less sympathetic to magic-working women: good witches (Sister Mine), evil witches (Sarah Pinborough’s Beauty), and witches still figuring things out (Bayou Magic). Witches who rule their world (Forest of a Thousand Lanterns) or who would rather live quietly at home (The Beast Is an Animal). Witches who seize their own fate (The Bone Witch) or who are a formidable, desired commodity (Truthwitch). Adventurous witches (The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle), ambitious witches (Born Wicked), vengeful witches (The Shadow Queen), desperate witches (Chime), wise witches (The Color Master).

  • All manner of other sorceresses, illusionists, and magic-workers: In fantasy literature, beyond the witch archetype, women work magic in a thousand ways and for a thousand reasons. Because of slavery (The Fifth Season, The Forbidden Wish) or for vigilante justice (Slice of Cherry), because of talent (Last Song Before Night) or tradition (Three Dark Crowns), because of a bet (The Night Circus) or a hereditary gift (The City of Brass). Reluctantly (Jade City), mistakenly (The Young Elites), genteelly (Shades of Milk and Honey), cleverly (Passing Strange), with great responsibility (Fire) or great skill (The Mistress of Spices) or great grief (Sorrow’s Knot). Sometimes, the magic they work isn’t even theirs (Monstress).

In 2017, the Sirens theme was women who work magic. Not only women who have magic, but women who work magic. They might work it quietly or shyly or slyly. They might work it with great purpose or great intent or great pride. But these women have power and they use it.

This theme might speak to you in a number of ways. It might be about talent or training or skill. It might be about creation or innovation. It might be about goals and aspirations and drive. It might be about dreams or quests or bargains. It might be about oppression or revolution or revenge. It might be about independence.

And we hope, as we approach this year’s Sirens reunion, that you’ll contemplate women who work magic, as well as the other themes of our past four years, in your reading, your conversations, and your programming proposals.


At Sirens, our reunion years are an opportunity to reexamine the themes of the previous four years, in this case: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. This is the last post on these themes—but please also know, as you begin to plan your programming proposals, that proposals need not focus entirely or even at all on theme topics. All proposals related to women in fantasy literature are welcome. Get inspired by our 2017 Women Who Work Magic book lists, Suggested Reading and Reading Challenge.

 

Book Club: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

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!

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Villain stories are, I think, inherently difficult.

Readers, as a construct, almost always root for the heroine. And why not? She’s inherently good: righting wrongs, battling monsters, usurping despots. She has killer talents: swordplay, magic, leadership. And because fantasy literature is so often aspirational, you know she’s going to prevail. Regardless of whether readers see themselves as the heroines of their own stories, almost everyone wants to take an hour or three to lead the life they would live if they were the heroine of someone else’s.

But hardly anyone envisions themself the villain.

A villain story is, by definition, about the bad guy. Otherwise, the villain wouldn’t be a villain at all, of course, but a deeply conflicted heroine or even an antiheroine. By framing a villain story as a villain story, all the writer has done is cast the villain as the protagonist. The framing itself—good vs. evil, or in this case, the people who eat the hearts of living things vs. those who don’t—remains the same. And the villain is, by definition, on the opposite side of that line from the reader. A reader who, again almost by definition, is rooting for someone else.

To complicate matters further, the question of what makes a woman a villain is deeply conflicting. So often, far too often—especially in young-adult works about female villains—the primary traits that cast the protagonist as a villain are those same traits that we teach young women are profoundly unattractive: rage, ambition, unlikeability, a desire for power, aging. Think back to your fairy tales: How many of those princesses actually sought their power? Craved it? Or alternately, how many were crowned almost accidentally: a fairy godmother and a shoe; an unbidden kiss in the woods; a forbidden curiosity about life on land. What makes a female villain is so often, far too often, a refusal to conform to what society demands: silence, passivity, youth. Which of course raises the necessary question: Are those women even villains at all?

All of which is to say that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns—a retold tale about the rise of the evil queen in Snow White—had a long row to hoe.

Xifeng—our protagonist, but not our heroine—is beautiful. Impossibly beautiful. The sort of beautiful that attracts stares from passersby and commands the attention of the manly Wei, her town’s apprentice blacksmith and amateur swordsman, and eventually will draw the notice of the Emperor. As you might expect in an Evil Queen origin story, much is made of Xifeng’s beauty, both to the reader and to Xifeng herself.

Xifeng lives with her aunt, a power-hungry, magic-practicing village crone named Guma. Guma abuses Xifeng, both emotionally and physically (though always avoiding her face). She’s convinced Xifeng, through blood magic and fortune-telling, that Xifeng is destined to be Empress, so long as she’s willing to sacrifice enough.

What Forest of a Thousand Lanterns never makes quite clear, though, is how inevitable this portent is. Are the cards simply showing the future? Are they showing but one possibility among many? Are they a manipulation of the gods? Are they a trick of Guma’s to bring her niece in line with her lust for power? Is Xifeng a tool—of fate or the gods or her aunt—or is she the master of her own future? Is she merely stepping along the path to her destiny, or making decisions that help her achieve her goal? One hopes for the latter, if only for the sake of agency, but fears that it’s the former, which lends the book an air of plodding inevitability. Did you really think that Xifeng wouldn’t become Empress?

After years of abuse from her aunt, the catalyst for Xifeng’s finally agreeing to flee with Wei is that Guma strikes her face. Something that perhaps Xifeng and this particular retold tale itself take as a greater affront than a different circumstance might warrant, but that, as written, after years of abuse, lacks gravity. Similarly, after years of avoiding Guma’s bloody brand of magic, Xifeng’s catalyst for finally overcoming her squeamishness is, of course, to fix the mark that Guma left on her face. At this point, with the amount of obsessing over a scar, one perhaps longs for an Evil Queen origin story that, for a number of reasons—including, not inconsequentially, a deconstruction of what it means to be beautiful—doesn’t rely quite so heavily on a perfect face. Beauty is frequently a weapon, of course: a distraction, a tactic, an enticement. Both before and after she reaches the imperial palace, Xifeng uses her beauty as all three. But the lack of attention paid to the underlying societal expectations of beauty, especially young women’s beauty, leaves Xifeng something of a silly girl who is willing to eat hearts to maintain her pretty face—and we’re left wondering if, after all this time, a pretty face is still the only way for a woman to get what she wants.

Who is the fairest of them all, indeed?

Amy
 


Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president for a major media company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty-five 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 eight 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.

 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: Exemplary Programming Proposals

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. Each year, Sirens raises funds to provide scholarships to help a number of people attend Sirens and add their voices to those conversations. Our scholarship fundraising will continue through March, but this week, we want to highlight the importance of our scholarships for those who submit exemplary programming proposals. Last week, we discussed our scholarships for people of color; future weeks will address scholarships for those with financial hardships, and librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Sirens’s programming might be different than anything you’ve seen before.

While many conferences select which topics are worthy of presentation, and which individuals are worthy of presenting those topics, Sirens takes a wholly different approach. We invite everyone attending Sirens to propose programming.

Let us say that again: We invite everyone attending Sirens—regardless of vocation, regardless of age, and regardless of past Sirens attendance—to propose programming.

Each year, dozens of individuals—from readers to scholars to librarians to authors—propose the lectures, papers, panels, workshops, roundtables, and afternoon classes that become the presentations at Sirens. And each year, an independent vetting board, a diverse group of tremendous individuals who know and love Sirens, review those proposals for thoughtfulness and relevance, and then select which to include on that year’s programming schedule.

This process can be intimidating, especially for those new to Sirens: It takes a lot of courage to put your thoughts and analysis out there, first to a review board and then at Sirens itself.

But each year, dozens of individuals, some of them Sirens veterans and some of them first-time attendees, screw their courage to the proverbial sticking place and propose programming—and in doing so, make Sirens smarter, more thoughtful, and just plain better.

And so, each year, we award scholarships to those who submit exemplary programming proposals. A scholarship review committee examines the accepted proposals of those who ask to be considered and selects three proposals to receive a scholarship. Each scholarship includes both a registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket. There’s no separate application; presenters can opt in for consideration during the programming proposal submissions process.

Can you help us reach our goal of including more voices in Sirens?

While a thousand conversations happen at Sirens every year, the true vanguard of those discussions are the brave and brilliant individuals who share their wisdom and expertise as part of our programming.

If you can—whether with $5 or a full scholarship of $365—we hope that you’ll help us provide these scholarships!

 

Lovers

Sirens logos 2014-2018, 2016 highlighted

So often, whom we choose to love changes us.

Sometimes for the better: brighter, happier, kinder, more buoyant. Sometimes for the worse: angrier, melancholier, more uncertain, more anguished. Sometimes just different: more confident, more curious, a new passion for dance or art or hiking.

This idea—that your lovers change you—can be true for anyone. Regardless of gender. Regardless of sexuality. Regardless of age, or race, or ability. Regardless of the intensity of physical or emotional connection, or both, or neither. Regardless of whether we have dragon wings or mermaid scales or selkie skin or wolf fur.

Which is why, in 2016, the Sirens theme was lovers.

First kisses. Last loves. Multiple loves. Midnight rendezvous. Forbidden assignations. Thousand-bell weddings. Marriages worth saving, or worth it no longer, or not at all. Discovering sex. Re-discovering sex. Having the best sex of your life. Having no sex at all, and loving someone deeply. A companion—or companions—to last one night or a lifetime.

Love and sex and tumult and desire. Comfort and romance and friendship and home. Ache and wisdom and loss and grief. Life-changing connections. Love as a political act. The idea that what is sexy or romantic means honoring one’s desire, whatever form that may entail.

Fantasy literature explores all of these and more:

  • The naiveté and abstraction of love in children’s books. Medieval worlds in picture books where princesses wait (or increasingly often, don’t) for true love (The Paper Bag Princess) or receive delightfully dangerous courtship gifts (Dangerously Ever After). Or chapter and middle-grade books, where hair-pulling still runs rampant, but magical peril also leads to a grab of a hand: Amira and Sadie’s adventures abound (Princess Princess Ever After), Mary readily forgives Percy’s haplessness (The Case of the Missing Moonstone), and Mal and Molly earn their badges … together (Lumberjanes).

  • The complex intersection of love, identity, and coming-of-age, in the vast array of young-adult novels. From the first flush of first crushes (on uncommonly hot angels, demons, faeries, fellow magicians, and more) to birth-control charms (spells and potions and charms, oh my) and deconstructions of virginity worship (hello, unicorns). When legend says you should fall for the prince, but you fall for his huntress instead (Ash). When Beauty is fiercer than the Beast (Dark Triumph). When loving the Erlkönig comes with both transcendent musical skill and a life underground (Wintersong). When you discover your childhood love is a transgender boy, and your love for him never wavers (When the Moon was Ours). When you realize that love can be possessive, destructive, even fatal—especially combined with a young woman’s beauty (Bone Gap). Or when years later, you come across a reading of a beloved lady knight’s aromanticism (the Protector of the Small series).

  • The gamut of adult works exploring love, romance, and sex in all its forms and possibilities. From fantastic erotica to late-in-life second chances with the witch of your dreams. From paranormal romance to epic intergenerational sagas featuring main characters with one, multiple or no lovers at all. Redwood’s lifetime love of Wildfire (Redwood and Wildfire). A delicate tale of lesbian love in historical San Francisco (Passing Strange). Emras’s revelation of her asexuality, as part of her identity as well as her profession (Banner of the Damned). The conflagration of Tita’s passions (Like Water for Chocolate). Hero and Cherry’s tale of love and revolution (The One Hundred Nights of Hero). Syenite, Alabaster, and Innon’s unstigmatized and loving polyamorous relationship (The Fifth Season).

While we always celebrate love in its many forms, we hope that, as we approach this year’s Sirens reunion, you’ll reconsider the role of love and sex, as well as the other themes of our past four years, in your reading, your conversations, and your programming proposals.


At Sirens, our reunion years are an opportunity to reexamine the themes of the previous four years, in this case: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Please look for more posts on these themes in the upcoming weeks—but please also know, as you begin to plan your programming proposals, that proposals need not focus entirely or even at all on theme topics. All proposals related to women in fantasy literature are welcome. Get inspired by our 2016 Lovers book lists, Suggested Reading and Reading Challenge.

 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: People of Color

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. Each year, Sirens raises funds to provide scholarships to help a number of people attend Sirens and add their voices to those conversations. Our scholarship fundraising will continue through March, but this week, we want to highlight the importance of our scholarships for people of color. Future weeks will address scholarships for those who submit exemplary programming proposals; those with financial hardships; and librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Sirens is built on a thousand conversations. We have specifically designed Sirens to be an interdisciplinary conference, where a reader’s interpretation of a book is just as important as an author’s intent in writing it, where a scholar can learn from a librarian, and where a teacher and a bookseller can collaborate on a course curriculum for learning through fantasy literature.

But also critical to those conversations are diversity and inclusiveness. Are people of all genders, all sexualities, all races, all religions, all national origins, and all abilities welcome not only at Sirens, but in those conversations? Are they able to both speak and be heard? Are their voices critical to not only their own Sirens experience, but to everyone’s Sirens experience?

Can you help us reach our goal of including more voices in Sirens?

Over our decade of presenting Sirens, we have learned that, while some voices are readily welcomed and readily heard, other voices—such as those of people of color—are too often lost in the crowd, tuned out, or silenced entirely.

Too often, conferences—even in our speculative spaces where authors can and do write impossible worlds full of magic and wonder—are overwhelmingly white. Too often, the voices at these conferences—guests of honor, presenters, conference staff, volunteers—are overwhelmingly white. Too often, conferences make a broad commitment to diversity, but don’t follow through to make that commitment real. It can be exceptionally difficult for people of color to enter, participate, and be heard in those spaces, let alone play a critical role in them.

One actionable way for our community to increase inclusivity at Sirens is to provide scholarships to help people of color attend. This year, we are seeking funds to provide three people of color with both a Sirens registration and a round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket. Once funded, we will provide these scholarships to Con or Bust, a tremendous organization that provides assistance to fans of color/non-white fans who wish to attend science fiction/fantasy cons. Con or Bust will allocate these scholarships in accordance with its rules.

Sirens is built on a thousand conversations. But the value of those conversations—and the value of the community born of those conversations—is built on the diversity of voices that participate in those conversations.

If you can—whether with $5 or a full scholarship of $365—we hope that you’ll help us provide these scholarships!

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

RSS Feed

The news archive for Sirens is linked below as an RSS feed. If you need instructions or would like more information, please click here. If you have questions about our RSS feed, please email us at (web at sirensconference.org).

RSS Feed Button

 

Archives

2018
April, March, February, January

2017
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2016
December, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March

2015
November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2014
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, March, February, January

2013
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2012
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2011
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2010
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2009
December, November, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

 

Tags

annual programming series, attendee perspective, auction, book club, book list, book reviews, books, bookstore, boot camp, chat, community, compendium, deadlines, giveaway, guests, hotel, inclusivity, interview, meet-up, menus, narrate conferences, newsletter, perspective, programming, read along, recap, registration, review squad, schedule, schedules, scholarships, sirens, Sirens 2009, Sirens 2010, Sirens 2011, Sirens 2012, Sirens 2013, Sirens 2014, Sirens 2015, Sirens 2016, Sirens 2017, Sirens 2018, Sirens Shuttle, Sirens Studio, Sirens Supper, site visit, skamania, special edition, sponsorship, support, testimonials, themes, things we're excited about, travel, volunteering, website
Meet Our Guests of Honor
About the Conference
Attend
Sirens Twitter
Present Programming
Sirens Facebook

Connect with the Sirens community

Sign up for the Sirens newsletter