Critical Sirens Update

Due to delays in the renovation of the Hotel Talisa in Vail, Sirens is moving to the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek for our 2017 conference. Attendees will need to make new hotel reservations at the Park Hyatt as soon as possible. Please click here for reservations and other information about this relocation.

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 9 (August 2017)

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: VICTORIA SCHWAB

We’re interviewing each of our Sirens 2017 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, as well as the role of women in fantasy literature, as befits this year’s theme of women who work magic.

Victoria Schwab

This month, we interviewed Victoria Schwab about writing to conquer fear, how much she owes to J. K. Rowling, all manners of monsters, ambitious characters, and being ambitious herself: “When I sit down to construct my characters, I first ask myself what they fear, what they want, and what they’re willing to do to get it. Thus, their ambition is one of the pillars of their design. And one of my own pillars, too.”

Our feature on Victoria also includes a review of A Darker Shade of Magic by B R Sanders, as well as a list of books recommended by Victoria herself centered on badass ladies and their power.

 

SCHEDULE & PROGRAMMING SUPPORT

The conference schedule for 2017 is up! Click here to see how many of your favorite things we scheduled across from your other favorite things!

There’s still time to sponsor our programming sessions; the cost is $35 per presentation. Thank you again for all your support!

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

In our latest community post, Kate Larking shares with us her experience at Sirens versus the other literary conferences she attends: “One thing that unites us at Sirens is that we love developed, complex voices in speculative fiction. We embrace worlds that are different from our own and seek out the experiences of those who live within them.” Read the rest of her post here.

 

MENUS

Registered attendees, please check your inboxes for the full menus for this year’s conference. (You can also view our menus on our Conference and Sirens Supper pages.) If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, please email us at (help at sirensconference.org) by September 8—after which, we’ll assume you can eat from our standard menus.

 

REGISTRATION TRANSFERS

Although Sirens is officially sold out for 2017, we have several attendees looking to sell their registrations (and sometimes other Sirens tickets as well). If you’re looking to sell yours and you’d like a signal boost, please tweet at us (@sirens_con) or feel free to post information on our Facebook. Please keep an eye on our Twitter for any announcements.

 

9 SIRENS SHUTTLE TICKETS REMAINING

Sirens offers a $95 round-trip shuttle from Denver International Airport to Vail, significantly cheaper than commercial shuttles which can cost upwards of $200. We encourage you to buy your shuttle ticket soon, even if you don’t have flights yet—there are only 9 spots left before our shuttle is sold out!

 

HOTEL RESERVATIONS

We are close to filling our block at the Hotel Talisa for the third and final time. If you have not yet made your hotel reservation, please do so as soon as possible. We have only four rooms left on the main nights of Sirens, and on September 22, the hotel will release all remaining rooms. Any reservations made after that date will not receive the Sirens discount. For more instructions on how to make your reservation, please visit our Hotel page.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Practical Magic

Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Alice Hoffman’s modern classic Practical Magic this month, which she admired for its focus on “a bunch of women…all doing the best they can. Sometimes solutions are magic, sometimes they’re determination, sometimes they’re taking your fears in hand and charging forward.” Full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

An Inheritance of Ashes

This August, Faye read Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes for her Reading Challenge pick! She found it “a quiet book…full of surprises, and not shiny at all, in the best way possible.” Find out what that means by checking out her review over on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

The Guns Above

Longtime Siren Casey Blair read Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above, which she loved for its complex world-building, amazing female characters, and masterful tone: “If you love wit and self-awareness in your fantasy to go with your airships, I highly recommend checking this one out.” Read her full review here.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links


Fabulous, Free Reads!

 


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

 

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Badass Ladies, Liminal Magic

By Victoria Schwab (@veschwab)
When it comes to my tastes, the strange and magical will always take the cake. Here’s a list of titles where strong female protagonists of all ages learn to wield their power.
 

The Bear and the Nightengale
1. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Blackbirds
2. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Sabriel
3. Sabriel by Garth Nix
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
4. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Skullsworn
5. Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
 Deathless
6. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

 
Victoria Schwab (also known as V. E. Schwab) is the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Her first young adult novel, The Near Witch, was a dark original fairy tale and her next one, The Archived, is about a world where the dead are shelved like books (and has a sequel, The Unbound). Victoria’s first adult novel, Vicious, is about two brilliant and highly disturbed pre-med students who set out to generate their own superpowers and end up as mortal enemies; the series will continue with Vengeful, expected to be published in 2018. Vicious received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which named the novel one of its best books of 2013 for SF/Fantasy/Horror; the American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association awarded it the top fantasy book in their 2014 Reading List. The first book in her adult series, A Darker Shade of Magic, is about Kell, a magician who can move through multiple versions of London, and Lila, the pickpocket who steals a talisman that could end them all (its sequels are A Gathering of Shadows, which is already out, and A Conjuring of Light, expected to be published in 2017). Most recently, Victoria published the first book in the Monsters of Verity Duology, This Savage Song, in 2016; the sequel, Our Dark Duet, is expected in 2017. When she’s not haunting Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, Victoria’s usually tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up monsters. She loves fairy tales, folklore, and stories that make her wonder if the world is really as it seems.

 

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B Reviews Guests: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

We’re excited to share a mini-series of posts by friend of Sirens, B R Sanders, who will be reviewing books by this year’s Guests of Honor during their featured weeks. This week we welcome their review of A Darker Shade of Magic!

V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic tells the story of four parallel Londons, each linked and locked by magic, each with its own history and relationship with magic. Within each of those worlds, there are only two people—Kell and Holland—who can walk across the worlds. Only two people who can see these other worlds and report back and forth. Or, at least, we think there’s only two who can travel between them.

Throughout the book, Schwab plays with the idea of distorted reflections. The various Londons are all distorted reflections of each other: each are very different, but each are wed together by peculiar bones, similarities of names and fixtures of space. The two travelers who can walk between these Londons are also distorted reflections of each other. Both are brilliant, secretive, complicated men bound to the rulers of their London. Both live lives where they are valuable tools as much as they are independent people. But Kell, from Red London, is young and brooding and nostalgic for a life he’d wish he’d lived. And Holland, from White London, is older, and ruthlessly, viciously pragmatic in pursuit of his goals.

Everything about A Darker Shade of Magic is contrasted sharply with Grey London—our London—a London which exists without magic. Schwab’s masterful and tragic opening scene sets up the dynamic between Grey London and the other Londons in a way that beautifully sets the stage for everything to follow. Kell visits Grey London with news. On his way out, as an act of mercy, or pity, or both, he visits Mad King George. It’s clear from their interaction that they have known each other for years, and that the knowledge of other Londons and magic has thrown King George’s life completely off-kilter. It’s also clear that, while Kell knows this, and knows that he is part of this, that he is reckless with it. This is a tale of obsession and sacrifice, and all of that is spelled out in those opening interactions Kell has.

Grey London also gives us the heart of the book: Lila Bard, hungry thief and sharp-tongued street rat who dresses in men’s clothes and dreams of being a pirate. Kell and Holland are interesting characters, but Lila was what I was reading for. She is smart, and she is alone, and she can smell danger on the breeze, but she has absolutely no safety net. She is a girl with hidden talents just breaking through caught in a mess not of her making, drawing on strengths she did not know she had. She is a wonderful and lively character. When her life and Kell’s grow tangled, they cut a blood-soaked trail from one London to the next, plagued by an artifact they only half understand, while hunted by the sadistic rulers of White London—a London hungry for power and dominance.

V. E. Schwab has two enormous strengths going for her in this book: first, she can write; second, she can fascinate. She constructs effortlessly emotional sentences. For example, when she writes that Lila “would rather steal a thing outright than be indebted to kindness,” I laughed, but my heart broke in the same moment. And she is just as good with worldbuilding: “Kell—inspired by the lost city known to all as Black London—had given each remaining capital a color. Grey for the magicless city. Red, for the healthy empire. White, for the starving world.” She has a way of quickly, efficiently punctuating her prose with these asides that cut you to ribbons and emotionally fill in the gaps and leave you craving more.

I loved this book. It wasn’t perfect—the plot took too long to fall into place, which meant the pacing was uneven, but the story and the world was fascinating enough that I kept going anyway. I wanted to know more about the histories and cultures of each of the other three Londons. Why do they have different languages? Why is the magic distributed differently across them? What, exactly, happened in Black London?

A Darker Shade of Magic is great fun. It’s exciting and adventurous, with a rich and evocative world. Plus Lila Bard, the fast-talking pants-wearing pickpocket is my new book crush for the foreseeable future.


B R Sanders is a white, genderqueer speculative fiction writer who lives and works in Denver, Colorado, with their family and two cats. Outside of writing, B has worked as a research psychologist, a labor organizer and a K–12 public education data specialist. They write about queer elves, mostly.

 

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Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Victoria Schwab

We’re pleased to bring you the next 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, and discuss our 2017 theme of women who work magic—particularly women who have power and wield it. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Vail this October! Today, Amy Tenbrink interviews Victoria Schwab.

S15_author_interview_graphic

AMY: You’ve said many times that you have an adversarial relationship with fear—and that, therefore, once you knew that you were afraid to write a book, you knew you had to. You’ve now written 12 published books, with more on the way. What still scares you about being a writer? How do you manage that fear?

 Victoria SchwabVICTORIA: Honestly, one of the most important things to realize is that fear doesn’t go away. Fear is something I experience every time I sit down to write—fear that it won’t be good enough. Fear that I won’t nail the style, the flow. Fear that the idea in my head won’t translate to the page. Fear that even if I succeed in finishing the book, it won’t be successful or well-received. Fear is a creator’s constant companion, so the challenge becomes learning to embrace (or at least acknowledge) it and then continue to create in spite of it. Sometimes that means tricking your brain into turning off your self-editing mechanisms for a short period of time, giving yourself permission to suck, or simply acknowledging that the only way out is through. I often switch to pen and paper, because for some reason it’s easier for me to ignore all those external voices when it’s just ink and page. I can cross things out, make mistakes, and keep going.

 

AMY: You have a master’s degree in, more or less, monsters – though, as you’ve noted, in studying monsters, you’re truly examining what humans and society find monstrous. (In 2011, Sirens, too, examined monsters, and we delved deeply into the concept of the monstrous feminine (or the idea that women’s femininity, or sexuality, or unconventionality is viewed by society as monstrous). We hear you!) From your Monsters of Verity duology (featuring literal monsters) to Vicious (with its monster-slash-antihero protagonist), monstrousness, and perhaps relatedly, society’s othering of certain people are consistent themes in your work. Why do these themes speak to you? Who is your favorite monster, monstrous human, or antihero that you’ve created? Why are they your favorite?

VICTORIA: I’m so glad you phrased it that way, because the concept of “othering” is exactly what I love exploring, specifically the concept and creation of outsiders—both those born outside a society, and those born within a society but made to feel excluded. I’m fascinated by the multiplicity of forms, and the societal commentary, how outsiders are judged compared to insiders, how you can be from a place but not of it, and how outsiders can become insiders and insiders can be relegated to outsiders. Asking me to choose a favorite is a rather monstrous thing to do…I love them all for different reasons, but Victor Vale, from Vicious, is the closest thing to an autobiographical character I’ve ever written, so he occupies a special place in my heart.

 

AMY: In an interview with the Washington Post last year, you said, “I really just have no interest in weak females and dominating men.” Many Sirens would applaud this statement. But how difficult is it for you to subvert societal stereotypes and perceived norms in your writing? Do you find yourself accidentally writing weak women or domineering men?

VICTORIA: Not as difficult as you’d imagine. I simply write the kind of people I want to read, to be friends with, and/or to be.

 

AMY: You write about ambition in a way that few writers do: unabashedly, unashamedly, not only for your white, cishet male characters, and not only when ambition leads to reward. As a woman, I found Lila Bard’s unrelenting ambition to be a safe haven in a storm of literature where women are judged for seeking leadership or power. As a reader, I was fascinated that Vicious turned on its characters’ ambitions, which brought them first very close together and then drove them very far apart. How ambitious are you? And are you proud of that ambition?

VICTORIA: I am extremely ambitious, some would say to a fault. I am distrustful of ambivalence, have an aversion to mere contentment, and have a fear of stasis that leads me to be constantly striving for more. When I sit down to construct my characters, I first ask myself what they fear, what they want, and what they’re willing to do to get it. Thus, their ambition is one of the pillars of their design. And one of my own pillars, too.

 

AMY: My last question referenced power, and I find power a particularly interesting fantasy literature construct, especially in your work—whether it’s the contrast of politics of the four Londons in your Shades of Magic series or the leadership styles in This Savage Song, or the characters’ pursuit of literal power as seen in Vicious. You’ve also stated that you took great care in your Shades of Magic trilogy to ensure that non-white and non-heterosexual people were given immense power. Can you share some insight into your process for crafting power structures, be that social class, political theories, magical ability, or societal stereotypes? How do you ensure that your fictional power structures don’t suffer the same failures as our real-world power structures—and if they do, that you’re crafting those failures with intention and transparency?

VICTORIA: I’m certainly fascinated by power dynamics, both in relation to relationships (hence why my love of siblings, familial, and adversarial relationships outweighs straightforward romance) and in relation to the larger world. In the Shades of Magic series, the power structures of the world are molded to the individual Londons. The power dynamics within that world are driven not by gender or race but by magical prowess. In Vicious, the literal powers are determined by the psychology of those at the time of death. In the Monsters of Verity duology, the power structures are molded by morality and the absence of it.

As to your second point. I think a key element of power structures ARE the flaws, the cracks in the system. The world—along with its powers and paradigms—is the first thing I design when starting a series. The people who populate the world come next, because I want them to be a product of their environment, its strengths and its weaknesses.

 

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

VICTORIA: I’m going to say J. K. Rowling. The most obvious reason is that before Harry Potter, I was not a reader. That is to say, I was competent, even proficient, but I had little enjoyment. I’d never been so consumed with a story that I forgot the act of reading. She opened a door in me that has never closed. Then, long after I’d experienced Harry Potter, the longing for that kind of world, for magic and whimsy and darkness and a place you wanted to stay beyond the pages—those things led me to write A Darker Shade of Magic, which took my career—and my craft—to an entirely new place.

 


 
Victoria Schwab (also known as V. E. Schwab) is the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Her first young adult novel, The Near Witch, was a dark original fairy tale and her next one, The Archived, is about a world where the dead are shelved like books (and has a sequel, The Unbound). Victoria’s first adult novel, Vicious, is about two brilliant and highly disturbed pre-med students who set out to generate their own superpowers and end up as mortal enemies; the series will continue with Vengeful, expected to be published in 2018. Vicious received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which named the novel one of its best books of 2013 for SF/Fantasy/Horror; the American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association awarded it the top fantasy book in their 2014 Reading List. The first book in her adult series, A Darker Shade of Magic, is about Kell, a magician who can move through multiple versions of London, and Lila, the pickpocket who steals a talisman that could end them all (its sequels are A Gathering of Shadows, which is already out, and A Conjuring of Light, expected to be published in 2017). Most recently, Victoria published the first book in the Monsters of Verity Duology, This Savage Song, in 2016; the sequel, Our Dark Duet, is expected in 2017. When she’s not haunting Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, Victoria’s usually tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up monsters. She loves fairy tales, folklore, and stories that make her wonder if the world is really as it seems.

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

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 8 (July 2017)

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA

We’re interviewing each of our 2017 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, as well as the role of women in fantasy literature, as befits this year’s theme of women who work magic.

Zoraida Cordova

Our interview with Zoraida Córdova addresses Latinx identity, being drawn to fantasy and magic from a young age, bruja magic and religion in Labyrinth Lost, and becoming a young adult author in the wake of We Need Diverse Books: “I feel more comfortable writing POC protagonists now because it’s in the zeitgeist. I don’t want diversity to become another publishing trend. Because unlike vampires and dystopian novels, POC are real.”

Our focus on Zoraida and her work also featured a review of Labyrinth Lost by B R Sanders and a fantasy book list compiled by Zoraida herself!

 

ACCEPTED PROGRAMMING

Got your planner ready? Visit our Accepted Programing page for the full lineup of this year’s topics, summaries, and presenter biographies. Our brilliant presenters will be examining everything from witches to beauty, inclusion to activism, and so much more—in the form of papers, panels, roundtables, workshops, and afternoon classes. Thank you, presenters!

All presentations are available for sponsorship for $35 per presentation. You might choose to sponsor a friend or family member, or select a presentation on a topic that speaks to you, or show your support for underrepresented voices. Should you like to sponsor a programming session, we will include your name next to your chosen topic and in the program book, provided we receive your donation by August 15. Thank you for your support of our programming.

 

SIRENS SUPPORT

For other ways to support Sirens, we accept monetary donations of any amount, as well as items or services for our auction. Please visit this post to learn more about how we use your support to help keep the price of Sirens as low as possible.

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

This month, we’re thrilled to share a post by s.e. smith, who often has to contend with questions like, “What is someone who’s not a woman doing at a lady conference?” Their response is perfect: “Sirens isn’t a lady conference. It’s a conference celebrating women in fantasy, and one where people of all genders participate in the conversation and work to push it further.” Read the rest of their post here.

 

REGISTRATION UPDATE

We have one registration remaining for 2017! If you’re planning to attend and haven’t registered yet, please do so immediately at this link—or pass it along to a friend.

 

HOTEL TALISA

All of the Sirens programming and events will take place at the Hotel Talisa, and we’ve negotiated a fantastic deal on standard room rates: $139/night for 1–2 people (plus tax and resort fee). But rooms are filling up quickly! We’ve already expanded our room block three times, but when these rooms are gone, you’ll have to book at the Hotel Talisa’s regular rates or find a roommate. Right now, we have only six rooms left in our room block for the conference dates. For more instructions on how to make your reservation, please visit our Hotel page.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Forbidden Wish

In July, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Jessica Khoury’s The Forbidden Wish, which she found “full of marvelous reader delights,” but also “troubling.” Read her review over on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Vassa in the Night

For the Reading Challenge this month, Faye read Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night, a “dark and poetic” modern-day retelling of the Russian folktale “Vasilisa the Beautiful” set in Brooklyn. Read her review on the blog and on Goodreads.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links

 


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

 

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Young Adult Novels That Defined My Young Adulthood

By Zoraida Córdova (@zlikeinzorro)

As an author of young adult books, I’m often asked, “Why write YA?” The answer is simple: young adult novels are versatile; they span countless genres and subject matters; and these books contain some of the strongest protagonists out there. I started writing as a young adult and the protagonist was always me. Years have gone by, but I still find it’s my voice. Here are some of the teen novels that defined my teen years.

 

In the Forests of the Night
1. In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater Rhodes
Published when the author was 14 years old, In the Forests of the Night is one of the reasons I became a writer. When I first read it I was obsessed with anything vampire and fell in love the with the mysterious world of the Den of Shadows. Risika was turned into a vampire as a teen, and has spent 300 years living a quiet (vampiric) life. But when a black rose appears on her doorstep, the same thing that appeared on the night she was turned, she knows she’s being followed. It’s time for her to confront her past. I haven’t read it in years, but when I lost my copy in a move a few years ago I HAD to replace it. This was the book that let me know I could be a writer even though I was only 13, just like the author when she started.
Hawksong
2. Hawksong by Amelia Atwater Rhodes
This is a fantasy retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but with two royal shapeshifters—an avian queen and a cobra king. They marry to create peace between their warring kingdoms only to discover that peace is not so easily won. It’s a really short read, and the way YA books are now, it would probably be a novella.
Sirena
3. Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli
And this is where the mermaid obsession progresses. I hadn’t read a novel about a mermaid before. It was also the first sex scene (though the sex was alluded) that I’d read in my early teen years. Sirena saves a human and nurses him back to health. He’s from an ancient Greek ship (if I recall correctly). The way the romance is developed is beautiful.
Blood and Chocolate
4. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause
Vivian Gandillon is confident in her skin and sexuality, and loves the way her body changes into a wolf’s under the full moon. This book marked the first time I’d ever seen this on the page: a girl who was undeniably herself, but suffering from the loss of her father and pack leader. She’s desired by the wolves in her pack, but can’t help falling for a “meat-boy” from her high school, Aiden. Aiden is sweet, charming, and innocent, but he doesn’t fit in her world. As she tries to determine her place, Vivian deals with pack politics and the desire to reveal her true form to Aiden, a choice that could endanger everyone she cares for.
Tithe
5. Tithe by Holly Black
At this point in my life, I hadn’t been introduced to urban fantasy like this. Holly Black’s combination of beautiful fairies and the grit of the city changed the way I saw my own stories. This is one of the defining books for my writing career because it let me see where I fit in the fantasy genre. Plus, Roiben was my original fairy boyfriend, before Legolas.

 
Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, which centers around Tristan, who discovers his heritage and is thrown into a battle going on beneath the ocean, fighting for his future, his friends, and his life. Her other works include the On the Verge series, which are about 20-something-year-old-girls searching for love and the meaning of life, and Labyrinth Lost, about Alex, a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation who hates magic so much that she performs a spell to rid herself of her power. Zoraida loves black coffee and snark, and still believes in magic. She is a contributing writer to Latinos in Kid Lit because #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Zoraida studied at Hunter College and the University of Montana in Missoula.

 

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B Reviews Guests: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

We’re excited to share a mini-series of posts by friend of Sirens, B R Sanders, who will be reviewing books by this year’s Guests of Honor. We’ll post one of each of B’s reviews during our featured Guest of Honor weeks. First up is Labyrinth Lost!

Labyrinth Lost is a quick, rich read. It is fast-paced and brimming with imagination. The book starts in Brooklyn, but quickly shifts to the netherworld of Los Lagos. In doing so, Córdova immerses the reader in the splendor and the weirdness of bruja magic. The story has an episodic, questing feel that is comfortable and familiar, but updated by the sharp banter between the three leads: Alex, Nova, and Rishi.

The emotional stakes in the book remain high throughout—it helps that they are grounded in excellent character development. Alex grows immensely throughout the book, moving from a scared, insular girl to a self-possessed and confident person. She owns her mistakes and understands why she made them, which is the heart of growing up. For a coming-of-age story, this kind of growth from the protagonist is key to get the story to work. Nova borders on the edge of too heartbreaking—he is one more tragedy away from caricature, especially contrasted with Alex’s intact and loving family. As his exculpatory tragedies unfurl, I was left with more questions than answers.

Rishi, on the other hand, is both a breath of fresh air and a cipher. She is an outsider in all respects: the only one among the trio not from bruja culture, the only one not Latinx. Rishi is dragged into this bizarre situation purely through her worry for Alex and her innate curiosity. Yet, she is the most one-dimensional of the three leads. I wanted her character to be more than “Supportive Almost Girlfriend,” but really that’s what she is. She has very little interiority of her own; nothing about the surreal nature of Los Lagos or the many, many reveals about Alex shocks or fazes her. I kept expecting a twist or a reveal about Rishi, but nothing came. Just more devotion. But devotion is not character development.

Still, I enjoyed Labyrinth Lost. I enjoyed its scope, and its intimacy, and I look forward to the next book in the Brooklyn Brujas series. If you’re looking for a queer-friendly book full of wit and magic with where the worldbuilding and cast is steeped in Latinx culture, definitely pick up Labyrinth Lost. This is not a diverse cast for the sake of being diverse; this is a diverse cast where the story and the people are rooted in their culture, history and future.
 


 
B R Sanders is a white, genderqueer speculative fiction writer who lives and works in Denver, Colorado, with their family and two cats. Outside of writing, B has worked as a research psychologist, a labor organizer and a K–12 public education data specialist. They write about queer elves, mostly.

 

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Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Zoraida Córdova

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, and discuss our 2017 theme of women who work magic—particularly women who have power and wield it. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Vail this October! Today, friend of Sirens B R Sanders interviews our first guest of honor, Zoraida Córdova.

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B: You’ve written about how the brujas and brujos in Labyrinth Lost practice a different religion than brujeria as it exists in our world, and how you wanted to parallel the development of your brujas’ religion with the brujas themselves. That is, that there are elements of their religions that are from the indigenous people of South and Central America, from Europe, from displaced African slaves. With that in mind, I was wondering if you could talk a little about how you see colonization/decolonization playing out in the narrative of Labyrinth Lost?

 Zoraida CordovaZORAIDA: Labyrinth Lost has become many things to me. It’s my seventh novel, but my first “big” novel as far as reviews and things go. It’s funny for me because I struggled so much while writing it. I didn’t think people were going to receive it well. I was afraid that my protagonist, Alex Mortiz, was too much or not enough. The reception has been quite surprising. Alex is born and raised from Brooklyn, but she’s also a bruja. I touch on her ancestry, but at the end of the day, she’s a New Yorker. She’s Latinx but she doesn’t speak Spanish. She’s a brown girl, but her area of Brooklyn is multi-ethnic and so her otherness isn’t her skin or gender. It’s her magic. For Latinx kids who’ve assimilated in the states, there’s this fine line to bridge. Tradition at home vs. the outside world. Alex very much likes to keep those things separate. She fears her mom showing up at school smelling like incense and carrying her beaded good luck charms and looking very much bruja. It isn’t until she sees the consequences of her power, the fact that she might lose her entire bloodline, that she embraces her power. The world of Los Lagos mirrors her inner journey because the clans and magical beings have also given up their power to the Devourer. In that sense, Alex and Los Lagos go through the same process of liberating themselves.

 

B: What draws you to the paranormal, and more specifically, what draws you to the idea that there are worlds within our world, hidden from view? The Vicious Deep trilogy was about teenagers drawn into mermaids’ battles. Labyrinth Lost and its upcoming companion novels are about a secret society of brujas who, sometimes, have access to other worlds. What is it about stepping across those thresholds that intrigues you?

ZORAIDA: I’ve loved magical things from a very early age. I was hungry for it, but coming from an immigrant family that didn’t have access to books, I didn’t know where to look for it. My mom worked full time and so did everyone in my house, so when it came to reading, I was given contemporary “sad immigrant” narratives from very well-meaning teachers. I was very quiet back then because I’m sure if I had told my elementary school teacher “I want to read fairy tales instead of The House on Mango Street” she might’ve hooked me up with The Hobbit. What I did have were animated TV shows and magical movies. I discovered the library when I was 13 or 14 and I kept looking for stories with supernatural and magical elements. For me it was an escape from the mundane world. I loved them so much that I wanted to put my own spin on the worlds I grew up with.

 

B: You’ve been active in both Latinxs in Kid Lit and #OwnVoices. What Latinx authors working in young adult today do you recommend, and why?

ZORAIDA: Latinxs in Kid Lit has helped me find so many Latinx authors. I highly recommend everyone go to the website for it. One thing I’d like to see more are Latinxs in fantasy and science fiction. For me it’s an interesting place for Latinxs because where do we belong in a place where Spain and colonization never happened? There is so much to think about.

#OwnVoices is more of a hashtag than a prerequisite for anything. My only books that are OwnVoices are Labyrinth Lost and Love on the Ledge (adult romance) because they have Latinx protagonists.

Right now there are some Latinx authors to look out for. Adam Silvera writes thought provoking speculative fiction; Lilliam Rivera’s debut, The Education of Margot Sanchez, is contemporary, but she also has a speculative fiction short story in Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine; Anna-Marie McLemore is our magical realism queen, and I think anyone who wants to write in that genre now should read her work to understand the foundation of Latinidad and magical realism.

 

B: Why do you write young adult fiction? Labyrinth Lost oozed with adolescent turmoil—the weight of choices, the ache to make them, but the fear of doing the wrong thing in front of the wrong person. That the narrative happened largely in Los Lagos instead of our world didn’t dampen that feeling at all. What draws you to that?

ZORAIDA: I write young adult novels because they are full of hope. That’s the major difference between adult and YA. I feel like the angst, heartbreak, end-of-the-world emotions are there for both. Teens are just more resilient.

 

B: You’ve mentioned that when you first started writing as a kid, even though you based your characters on your friends, who were all kids of color, the characters came out all white. Now you’re writing biracial protagonists and extended matriarchal Latina families. Can you speak to how this process of shedding white as normative in your writing looked for you? Is it easy for you now, or do you still sometimes struggle with it?

ZORAIDA: We Need Diverse Books has changed the way we talk about diversity in publishing. When I got into this business it was 2006 and I was an intern at a literary agency. I was 18 and had just finished my first novel. It was a coming of age, very Sarah Dessen, but about an Ecuadorian girl. Our rejections were consistently “this is funny and voicey but we already have a Latino book for the season.” That’s just how publishing worked. I think in some ways, it still does, but no one would say that in public or put it on writing. Though you’d be surprised.

I want you to keep in mind that when I wrote those stories that white washed my friends, I was 13. All of my media reflected whiteness with the brown people being the “other.” The first time I vaguely saw myself in my favorite TV show, Buffy, was when that Inca mummy woke up and started killing people/dating Xander (unbelievable). Cue the pan flutes. In high school I hated the way I looked. I hated having brown hair and brown eyes. I’m fairly light skinned, and if I had grown up in Ecuador (where I was born) I would be considered white. I dyed my hair and wore contacts because the ideal beauty when I was growing up was anything that didn’t look like me.

I’ve gotten over that now, and I love myself and all that, but it didn’t happen overnight. Just like the change in publishing isn’t happening overnight.

After WNDB’s launch as a non-profit organization in 2014, I heard a lot of comments akin to “Why do I have to write diverse characters when so called diverse authors don’t write diversity?” The reason is because we had a harder time selling our own stories. A person of color (POC) author writing an #OwnVoices stories might be “authentic” now, but even so much as a year ago, it was “too exotic.” The politics of the industry are complicated and it’s something readers and bloggers might not understand when they’re a lot less forgiving of books by POC.

This has been a long way of saying, I feel more comfortable writing POC protagonists now because it’s in the zeitgeist. I don’t want diversity to become another publishing trend. Because unlike vampires and dystopian novels, POC are real.

 

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

ZORAIDA: Libba Bray is my favorite author and one that shaped my early writing years. I remember buying A Great and Terrible Beauty at my local B&N (which no longer exists), and this book changed the way I look at my own stories. Back then in 2005, I thought I wanted to write a historical novel. It wasn’t so much that I was discouraged as much as I realized that I had a different path. I’m not a researchy author, so it worked out. Libba’s words meant everything to me. I read her LiveJournal religiously and she was always honest about politics and personal stuff. Her words have always been important to me.

 


 
Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, which centers around Tristan, who discovers his heritage and is thrown into a battle going on beneath the ocean, fighting for his future, his friends, and his life. Her other works include the On the Verge series, which are about 20-something-year-old-girls searching for love and the meaning of life, and Labyrinth Lost, about Alex, a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation who hates magic so much that she performs a spell to rid herself of her power. Zoraida loves black coffee and snark, and still believes in magic. She is a contributing writer to Latinos in Kid Lit because #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Zoraida studied at Hunter College and the University of Montana in Missoula.

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

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 8, Issue 6 (September 2016)

In this issue:

 

SCHEDULE
Before arriving in Denver, you might want to review the accepted programming and schedule for Sirens—and daydream about owning a Time-Turner or consider volunteering (see below). You might also want to review the Books and Breakfast list and pick something to chat about before the day’s programming starts. Or perhaps you’d like to squeeze in a few more books from this year’s themed reading list; after all, you have a couple more weeks!

 

UPCOMING INSTRUCTION EMAILS
If you’ve registered for Sirens, please keep an eye on your inbox during the weeks leading up to Sirens. We’ll be sending you emails about meeting the Sirens Shuttle, checking in for the Sirens Studio, finding the Sirens Supper, and claiming your Sirens registration. If you are a presenter, please keep an eye out for email communications from the programming team as well.

Also, if you’re riding the Sirens Shuttle and haven’t provided your flight information, please check your email for a note from the help desk or write to (help at sirensconference.org). We’ll track your progress toward Sirens and make sure that you haven’t run into any delays along the way!

 

VOLUNTEERING
We’d love your help at Sirens! Volunteer shifts vary in length and responsibilities, but most volunteer shifts are during programming and allow you to attend presentations. See the volunteers page on our website for more details. If you’re a returning volunteer, you don’t need to fill out the form—just follow the directions in the email sent through the Google Group.

We could really use your help filling a few remaining shifts. If you’re planning to stick to a room for the whole morning or afternoon anyway, and don’t mind flagging down help if any problems arise, we’d be thrilled to have you volunteer for a few hours, and so would the presenters! Thanks in advance for your help.

 

GUEST OF HONOR INTERVIEW
We’re interviewing our Sirens 2016 Guests of Honor about 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 can’t wait for you to meet them this October! Here’s the last of our interviews.

From our interview with Laurie J. Marks on the philosophy of aspects of Shaftal that powers the plot of her Elemental Logic series: “[I]t seems feminist to emphasize the importance of an entire community in accomplishing anything worth doing.”
 
 
 
 
 

You may find our interviews with our other 2016 Guests of Honor, Kiini Ibura Salaam and Renée Ahdieh, here and here.

 

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 @StellaLuna617 on Twitter for winning August’s Giveaway. Check out how you can win Pantomime and Like Water for Chocolate in our post here.

 

BOOKSTORE
Thank you to everyone who has donated books! We really appreciate your support for our mission, and we hope you’ll stop by during Sirens to browse and maybe find a new (or new-to-you) book to add to your collection. If you’re planning to shop, we’ll have books by the guests of honor, from the Books and Breakfast list, and by attending authors, as well as a selection of other really good reads.

 

AUCTION
Do you have an item to donate for this year’s auction? Please let us know by the end of the day on Thursday, October 20, so that we can get your donation onto the auction list. All sorts of items are welcome! If you’d like to donate an item or you have questions, please email Amy Tenbrink at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org). She’d love to hear what you’re planning and address any concerns you might have. Thank you in advance for your support!

 

CONTACTING US DURING SIRENS
Many of our staff will be traveling to Denver as early as Friday, October 14, to prepare for Sirens. While we are in transit and when we’re on site unpacking and setting things up for the conference, we will not be able to monitor our emails as closely as we do at other times. If you have an urgent inquiry during this time, please send it to (help at sirensconference.org) and we will get back to you as quickly as possible.

During the conference, the best way to contact us is in person! While we do check our email, we’re only able to do so sporadically. If you have any questions or would simply like to chat, please stop by our information desk in the Inverness’s Summit D starting at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 20.

 

TWITTER SCHEDULE
Beginning on Tuesday, October 18, we will be posting the Sirens Studio and conference schedule on our Twitter. If you prefer not to receive these reminders, you may want to mute or unfollow @sirens_con until Monday, October 24. (The schedule will not be posted on Facebook, though a few highlights might be.)

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Assassin's Gambit

Last month, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Amy Raby’s Assassin’s Gambit, full of fantasy romance, rebel assassins, and sex: “Assassin’s Gambit has solid fantasy world-building, pretty funny dialogue, and unlike a lot of fantasy heroines, a super-competent heroine who saves the world.” Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Shades of Milk and Honey

Are you close to finishing the 2016 Sirens Reading Challenge? Faye is! Last month she read Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, which she found full of Jane Austen analogues and “familiar plot twists like secret arrangements, duels and carriage chases” but she was impressed by the masterful weaving of magic, or “glamour” into the worldbuilding. 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).

 

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My Women-in-Fantasy Book List, by Renée Ahdieh

By Renée Ahdieh (@rahdieh)

 AnEmberintheAshes
1. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
 TheWinnersCurse
2. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
 SixofCrows
3. Sis of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
 Uprooted
4. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
 TheKissofDeception
5. The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson
 DaughterofSmokeandBone
6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Star-TouchedQueen
7. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
 ACourtofThornsandRoses
8. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
 AndIDarken
9. And I Darken by Kiersten White

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.

 

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