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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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.

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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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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.

S15_author_interview_graphic

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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Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Laurie J. Marks

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

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ANDREA: The theme of Sirens this year is lovers, but what struck me about the world of the Elemental Logic books is not so much the Shaftali acceptance of queerness (which: yay!) as the expansive definition of family. In particular, I loved the family that the protagonists of Fire Logic have forged by the time that Earth Logic begins. Was there a particular inspiration or plan behind the way you laid out Shaftali family and gender relations, or did they come to you naturally while you were writing the books?

Laurie J Marks LAURIE: Let me first explain how families work in Shaftal. Large, multi-generational families are the norm there, and nuclear families would be frowned upon, because Shaftali believe that children need many parents. Typically, a young person marries into a pre-existing family and has children with several partners who may or may not also be members of that family, although families also include pairs of monogamous lovers. The children are raised by the entire family regardless of biological relationship, though children are likely to have a special relationship with biological mothers and fathers. People who belong to an elemental order don’t belong to families, but they do treat each other as family members; and although they might have children, they don’t raise or even know those children.

In our real world, a lot of people surround themselves by intimates of one kind or another that substitute for a family they don’t want or that doesn’t want them, and I was trying to model the Shaftali families after those extended friendships and cooperative relationships. Also, I wanted to experiment with a world in which the concepts of heterosexuality (or homosexuality) and gender roles simply don’t exist. Lacking those concepts, it seems like people would not pair off into nuclear families, and instead would group together into practical, multi-generational alliances to operate a farm or business. Because these farm or businesses survive for hundreds of years, these families provide a lot of long-term stability, yet within that stability there’s a lot of room for individuals to have all different kinds of loving relationships, and for those relationships to shift and change over time. Also, in this world, the idea of family is quite flexible as well: for example, the central family in the Elemental Logic series is peculiar, because it formed spontaneously and is crazily diverse: three of its members simultaneously are in orders and nearly all of them have elemental talents; six of its members are in monogamous pairings, and its members come from four different ethnic groups and speak three different languages. Yet it is still considered to be a family because the adults live together, are raising a child together, and share a common enterprise.

 
ANDREA: Colonialism and warfare are major themes in the world of Shaftal, and in particular, the revelation at the end of Water Logic about the origins of the Shaftalese casts the previous events of the series in a very different light. Similarly, forgiveness and reconciliation and negotiation are explicitly issues that the characters struggle with and work towards. The latter set of ideas is not often paired with the former in fantasy works. How do you see the relationship between them, either in the Elemental Logics books or more generally?

LAURIE: In classic fantasy—like the works of Tolkein and C.S. Lewis—warfare was about the battle of good and evil. Certainly, both of those authors were influenced by the ancient belief that wars are won by the righteous. But during my formative years of the sixties, people became opposed to, or at least skeptical of, the idea that war could be just. From then on, I saw a lot of evidence that even in a war that could be said to be justified, the negative effect on the individuals who fought in those wars was profound, and the long-term ability of war to solve problems or even to prevent further warfare was questionable. But I don’t want to give you the idea that my books offer a realistic solution to the problems of warfare and colonialism! In fact, I’m mainly focused on stories about people who are trying to end war and violence, or who become convinced to abandon fighting. But, I’m afraid that when I talk about the books in this way, it makes them sound rather self-righteous and tedious, and they’re not. I work very hard to write exciting, fast-moving stories that have interesting and engaging characters. The ideas operate almost entirely in the background.

I worked on these books over a long time period (more than twenty years), if you look closely you’ll see that my treatment of these themes evolves from book to book. I started off thinking about how fighting for a cause, even a just cause, can turn the fighters into the thing they’re opposed to, and that idea arose from my mix of sympathy for and horror of the guerilla movements that were then prevalent in the world. By the time I was working on the second book, Earth Logic, I had started to suspect that all of humankind’s problems stem from our need to believe that our own values and belief systems are true. Nowadays, I’m thinking more and more about the importance of humility, which shows up much more in the last two books of the series.

In the Elemental Logic series, you see that war and violence can’t be ended without a radical change in values. This is something of a queer perspective, because queer people are born into a world that assumes people are heterosexual and that biological sex and gender are the same thing; then they have to undergo a complete reorientation—a woman realizes she’s actually a man, or that she has fallen in love with a female friend, or, as actually happened to me, same-sex characters in a book I was writing insisted on making love with each other. But this loss and transformation of world view also happen in non-sexual ways, such as when a person ceases to believe in God, or in communism. You see these shifts in world-view throughout the Elemental Logic series. For example, Fire Logic seems to begin with a fairly typical good-versus-evil type of conflict, until Zanja realizes that her allies aren’t any better than her enemies. In Earth Logic, one point-of-view character is a kind and principled human being, despite being a bad guy. In Water Logic, there’s an origin story that reveals how connected the good guys and the bad guys are. And in Air Logic, a subgroup of the good guys are the story’s antagonists. So I guess I’m suggesting that in order for forgiveness, reconciliation and negotiation to happen, everyone has to acknowledge how arbitrary and plastic our beliefs and ways of thinking are. For peace to follow war, it’s not merely necessary for some people to be generous and let go of their anger. Instead, everybody has to take seriously the idea that nobody is right. That’s where the humility comes in. This certainly is an atypical way to deal with good and evil in a fantasy novel. I seem to be writing sword-and-sorcery for pacifists.

 
ANDREA: The ideas of elemental logics, and that “the way you do anything is the way you do everything,” are some of the things I love most about the series, but they’ve also given me some of the more challenging reads of my life. In particular, since I am exactly half air and half fire, I really struggled with reading and understanding Water Logic. (Earth Logic was easier, because by earth logic, action is understanding, so reading the book led me to understand it on some level.) How has your own viewpoint helped or hindered you writing the books and the characters, as they each have their own distinctive ways of being?

LAURIE: I definitely ran into my own limitations while writing Water Logic. If I were Shaftali, I wouldn’t have even a drop of water in my elemental make-up, and as a result, in Water Logic there aren’t any point-of-view characters who are much influenced by the water element. Water logic is so alien to me that I just couldn’t imagine the subjective experience of a water elemental. The story is about the overlapping of past, present and future, because that was one aspect of water logic I could get a handle on, whereas I simply couldn’t write or even imagine a novel that worked like weather or like a piece of music. Also, throughout the series I found that depicting characters who are influenced by air can be a lot of work. It was easy to portray them as bad guys, because they can be so rigid and controlling, but depicting them as valuable and necessary took some imaginative effort. Fortunately, I do value some characteristics of air, such as order and consistency, even though I don’t have a lot of those things in my life, and I admire people who have insight into how or why other people think in particular ways. I could use those values to help me to round out the characters of the air elementals, particularly Norina Truthken, who is a central character throughout the series. I found it easier to write about people who are influenced by fire or by earth, because those are the types I most understand and want to be like, but I have to be careful not to idealize them, or they stop being interesting.

 
ANDREA: Community and negotiation play important roles in your books, which seems somewhat remarkable in a genre that often defaults to stories about heroic individuals and Chosen Ones. To me, these elements (ha) feel very realistic; I think we’ve all encountered people like the farmers so stubborn the only way to deal with them was to magic their dogs. What seems unusual is the way these aspects of Shaftal often power the plot of the books. What was your thinking in making those choices, structurally or philosophically?

LAURIE: Someone once referred to the Elemental Logic series as utopian, and I was rather surprised to realize that I do seem to be depicting an ideal world that’s grounded in a philosophy. But, honestly, childish wish-fulfilment also plays a large role in my writing decisions. Nevertheless, let’s talk about the philosophy. In the same way that the lone hero type of fantasy really is a masculine story, it seems feminist to emphasize the importance of an entire community in accomplishing anything worth doing. In traditional sword and sorcery type fantasy, the story ends when the war is won, but in the Elemental Logic series, the characters engage in an effort first to convince everyone that war is only making matters worse, and then to employ the values that already exist in the culture to make sure it doesn’t flare up again. So rather than using the power of violence and dominance, it’s using the resources of community self-interest along with food and shelter, meaning, love, children, and hope, to convince everyone to lay down their weapons and start doing productive work again.

Besides this feminist take on war, there are a lot of other (rather random and ill-considered) philosophies behind my emphasis on community and negotiation. Although Shaftal isn’t purely nonhierarchical, it does rely on a consensus process, and there really isn’t much of a social mechanism by which any one individual can acquire political power, or gain control of resources, or exercise control over others. That social system seems like it would work well so long as there aren’t any problems, but I’ve also given them one person whose job it is to intervene when problems crop up. That’s how the recalcitrant farmers end up being herded by their own dogs—they wouldn’t behave responsibly, so they were forced to do so. Also, Shaftal has a kind of meritocracy, except that people with a lot of talent are expected to spend their lives in service. The people they help give them food and shelter, but they don’t pay them, so there’s no way for them to become rich or self-important. The ideals of the Shaftali people are communitarian, they value long-range thinking, and there’s a lot of traditional small town values, like helping neighbors, feeding strangers, and doing their share of the work. It seems like the ways that problems are solved has to be logically consistent with that culture as I’ve described it. A Shaftali way to eliminate the enemy would be to treat them as they treat anyone else—to marry them, for example, or at least to feed them. Of course, it’s not every family that could be convinced to marry an enemy soldier, but it is culturally feasible.

 
ANDREA: I’ve read that there is at least one complete draft of Air Logic in the wild, because Rosemary Kirstein has blogged about reading it. Can you tell us what the status of Air Logic is, and what’s next for you besides that?

LAURIE: I had a pretty awful few years during which I simply couldn’t write very much. A couple of years ago, I thought Air Logic was finished. But it turns out I was wrong, and now I’m revising it again. I’m glad that I’m doing it, because I’m discovering a lot of places that I seem weirdly disengaged from my own story. Revising Air Logic has made me realize how much I was damaged—not just emotionally, but because I didn’t have the energy to maintain my friendships and connections, and so I ended up writing in a vacuum. Anyway, while I finish Air Logic, I have another book on the back burner. It’s called Cunning Men, it’s about a peculiar friendship, and I’m about halfway done with the first draft.

 

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

LAURIE: If you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you about a group rather than an individual. For over ten years, I met more or less monthly with three other women novelists: Rosemary R. Kirstein, Delia Sherman, and Didi Stewart. They served as role models, teachers, healers, advisors, problem-solvers, and, above all, as friends to whatever book I was writing. Delia has an extraordinary gift for understanding what I was doing in my work—far better than I understood it myself—and she is one of the most delightful and literary fantasy authors around, a recipient of several much-deserved awards. Rosemary has a powerful rational mind, and happily grappled with my plotting problems and anything else that perplexed me. Rosemary is the author of a science fiction series that is based in an adage expressed by Arthur C. Clarke (among others), that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Didi, a versatile vocalist and musician, is a thoughtful and pragmatic critic whose insights kept bringing me back to awareness of what my readers needed so that a story would work for them. She has written several unpublished novels that I wish were in print. Those three friends were essential to my growth as a writer, and I’m profoundly happy that after a long hiatus we have started meeting again, despite the fact that we now live in three different states.

 
Laurie J. Marks’s Elemental Logic series is set in the world of Shaftal. The elements of fire, earth, water, and air have sustained the peaceful people of Shaftal for generations, but Shaftal has been overrun, and the ancient logic of the land is being replaced by the logic of hatred. Laurie’s novel Fire Logic, the first in the series, won the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for best novel in 2003, and Earth Logic, the second in the series, won the same award in 2005. The third in the series, Water Logic, was included on the honor list for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2007, and the final book, Air Logic, is currently a work in progress. Laurie’s other works include Dancing Jack, about a girl who is trying in vain to forget a past filled with bloodshed and rebellion, and was short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 1993; The Watcher’s Mask, about a two-souled person on a journey of self-awareness that will lead her to discover the true nature of her race; and The Children of the Triad series (Delan the Mislaid, The Moonbane Mage, and Ara’s Field), where the Walkers ruled the land, the Aeyrie soared the skies, and the Mer reigned over the seas. Laurie currently teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

For more information about Laurie, please visit Laurie’s website.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 8, Issue 5 (August 2016)

In this issue:

 

INVERNESS HOTEL
In 2016, Sirens’s hotel is again the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center, a Destination Hotels resort in south Denver. Everything Sirens will take place at the Inverness, from our pre-conference Sirens Studio and Sirens Supper to our programming, to our Ball of Enchantment, and to our Sunday breakfast and auction. For Sirens, the Inverness is where you want to be.

We strongly recommend making your reservations at the Inverness Hotel as soon as possible, both so that you have the best shot at reserving a room in our block and so, if you miss our block, you’ll have the best chance to get a room off the waitlist. If you are running into issues with availability making reservations online, please call the hotel at (303) 799-5800, and if you still have trouble making a reservation, please email us at (help at sirensconference.org). Check out our latest hotel post for pictures, amenities, discounted rate information, and tips on finding a roommate.

 

TICKETS
Tickets for the Sirens Shuttle and Sirens Studio are still available. The Sirens Shuttle offers discounted group transportation to and from Denver International Airport, for you and any friends or family who’d like a ride too. The Sirens Studio, features two days of workshop intensives (for readers, writers, and professionals), discussion, networking opportunities, and flexible time for you to use however you wish. If you’d like to join us for some—or all—of these, tickers can be added to a registration until registration closes on September 17. Tickets for these events are unlikely to be available at the door.

 

BRING A FRIEND!
If you’ve already registered for Sirens, check your inboxes! Last week, we sent a promotional code to all registered attendees that entitles the user to a $10 discount. It can be used only once, and your friend needs to register between now and September 17, 2016. We can’t wait to meet them!

 

SUPPORT SIRENS
At Sirens, we’re committed to keeping the cost of attendance as low as possible for all attendees. Because of that commitment, we run an unusual budget structure: the costs of presenting Sirens far exceed our registration revenue. Each year, exceptionally kind individuals, many of them on our staff, cover approximately half that gap through thousands of dollars in donations, necessary to make a space that discusses and celebrates the remarkable women of fantasy literature real.

And you can help. Please click the links for more information:

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

 

ATTENDING AUTHORS
If you are a published author attending Sirens, please let us know. We’d like to make sure we have your books available in our bookstore—and if you’d like, a place for you in our author signing time. Please send an email to Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

GUEST OF HONOR INTERVIEWS
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!

From our interview with Kiini Ibura Salaam on what makes a Kiini heroine: “I love people who live boldly. I think we all have parts of us that want to be free. Those are the characters that fascinate me most as well—characters who have impact, who have strong identities, who are pushing against the forces that would control them.”
 
 
 
 

From our interview with Renée Ahdieh on heroes and villains in her novels: “I tend to enjoy writing in spaces of moral grey. The world in which we live is really not as black and white as we’d like to believe it to be… Every choice—every experience—has risk and reward. And those risks/rewards are never as clear-cut as we wish they were.”

 
 
 

Our interview with our third 2016 Guest of Honor, Laurie J. Marks is coming next month, so stay tuned!

 

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 @strixbrevis on Twitter for winning July’s Giveaway. Check out how you can win Joplin’s Ghost and There Once Lived a Girl… in our post here.

 

AMY’s BOOK CLUB

Star-Touched Queen

Sirens co-founder Hallie Tibbetts subs for Amy this month in Amy’s Book Club! Check out her review of Roshani Chokshi's The Star-Touched Queen, on the blog and Goodreads, which she found to be a “lyrical story that incorporates Hindu myth into a romantic, lush read.”

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

BoySnowBird

Read along with Faye as she completes the 2016 Sirens Reading Challenge! This month she read Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, which she loved for how it delved into the implications of racial passing if not for gender. Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

Sorcerer to the Crown

Kayla Shifrin discusses and critiques revolution, political symbols and YA heroines in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince. Check out her full review over on the blog.

 

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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Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Renée Ahdieh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Kiini Ibura Salaam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Rae Carson

We’re pleased to bring you the last 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 forms of resistance in both the craft and industry, as befits our 2015 focus on rebels and revolutionaries. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Hallie Tibbetts interviews Rae Carson.

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HALLIE: I’ve heard that The Girl of Fire and Thorns was originally sent to editors for publication as an adult fantasy novel, back when young adult books were truly just starting to become the business (and art) that we know today. If you’d kept it as an adult fantasy, how would Elisa’s story have changed—or wouldn’t it have? Is it possible to tell all of Elisa’s story arc in an “adult” vein? Does the trilogy bridge category gaps? And do you think that some stories demand to be told for the adult or young adult market, and not the other way around? Or is this all just an artificial divide?

Rae CarsonRAE: It’s true. The Girl of Fire and Thorns was initially sent to editors of adult fantasy. I had a small offer from one of them, but it was roundly rejected by everyone else for being too difficult to market.

The editor whose offer I fielded wanted more sex, and she wanted it sooner in the text. I would have happily complied. It would have been a slightly different story, but it would have been an interesting one, I think.

“Young adult books” as a reading category is wholly artificial, but it’s useful as a marketing tool. As a reading category, it erroneously assumes a few things: 1) There are specific books only teens want to read. 2) There are specific books only adults want to read. And implicit in those two assumptions is 3) Some kinds of books are better/more valuable than others.

Teens are perfectly capable and desirous of reading books for adults. And vice versa. From a marketing standpoint, though, it makes sense to identify books that are generally about coming-of-age issues. So when readers want that specific subject matter, they can browse in a ready-made section of the bookstore.

Some have argued that all books are actually marketed to adults, because adults are the ones with buying power. So, teen novels are books that grown-ups feel comfortable putting their moral imperative behind and pushing on children. If true, this further justifies the existence of a marketing category, but it’s a shitty lifestyle choice, if you ask me. It takes away agency from teens who are highly qualified to determine their own reading choices.

I must add that I wholly support having a young adult marketing category. It’s an excuse for publishers to produce tightly plotted books with wonderful covers and epic stakes—without apology. It’s a way for teens to find books that treat them like valid human beings. And because young adult novels are officially “children’s books,” it means that society has deemed it acceptable for women authors to be successful writing them.

I can’t emphasize this last point enough. Just like with The Girl of Fire and Thorns so many years ago, adult publishers of epic fantasy are simply not as welcoming to manuscripts written by women. When they offer for books, those offer amounts are often a fraction of what a woman can get from a young adult publisher. When those books get published, they too easily disappear, drowned in the deluge of marketing support, store placement, and review coverage of their male-authored counterparts. Invisibility is the most difficult issue facing female authors of epic fantasy today.

Obviously, I would prefer to live in a world with gender parity. Failing that, I’ll take “young adult” as a marketing category, thank you very much. In the meantime, Kate Elliot and I have promised ourselves a commiserating drink over this exact issue. You’re all invited.

 
HALLIE: When I first heard about The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I had an “Oh, ha ha, magical bellybutton girl” reaction—that, in retrospect, makes me feel appropriately ashamed and regretful, since when I read it, I was hooked from the first sentence. Also, an advance copy of The Crown of Embers showed up at my house the same day I acquired a stationary bike, and I thought I’d just pedal while I read a chapter or two, but I ended up biking for almost three hours because that’s how long it took to finish the book. Have you had any reading experiences that completely absorbed you? What makes you as a reader happy and satisfied with a story?

RAE: I’m glad The Crown of Embers gave you such a good workout!

Recently, I was completely absorbed by Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. Which is odd. Usually, there must be a character I empathize with, someone who feels so real and compelling that I can’t stop turning pages. Seveneves, on the other hand, is only fifty pages of character and plot shoehorned into a 900-page dissertation on orbital mechanics and sustainable space habitats. I couldn’t get enough.

So I suspect my actual answer is that I don’t always know what’s going to click. Books are so subjective and unpredictable. But it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures when a book surprises and delights me the way Seveneves did.

 
HALLIE: One of my favorite things to read (and watch and explore) is the concept of a “found family.” Walk on Earth a Stranger is exemplary of that. What drew you to writing about it, and were there times in your life when you went through a similar experience (though hopefully not as a result of a dastardly uncle)?

RAE: I did go through a similar experience, and alas, it was a result of a dastardly uncle. Forgive me if I don’t go into detail about it. Suffice it to say that my family betrayed my trust in the worst possible way, and I have found power, healing, and acceptance with friends who are precious to me beyond words—my new family. So the theme of “found family” is very close to my heart, and I will probably continue to write about it for the rest of my life.

 
HALLIE: Would you please describe some of the research you did for Walk on Earth a Stranger. The details were so realistic that I was in that caravan with Lee: the rocky route west, with its dwindling food supplies and lack of medical care; the social attitudes of the time towards Native Americans, African Americans, and gay men; the German migrant families; and issues of wealth, labor, and religion. What were some of your sources?

RAE: My elementary school history textbook was titled My Country ’Tis of Thee, and the cover was an inelegant mishmash of the American flag, George Washington, and the Christian cross. Because of my cloistered upbringing, it wasn’t until the college years that I realized how whitewashed and Christian-washed our history is.

So my goal in writing this book was to find lost voices, those people whose stories have not been represented by mainstream history. I relied heavily on pioneer journals, particularly those written by women. I visited museums all throughout gold country; my favorite of these was the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. My best discovery of all was John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, published in 1848. Never has a dictionary been so full of bigotry and condescension. It was delightful to read, and it gave me a wonderful—and disturbing—view into many of the social attitudes of the day.

From a hands-on, practical standpoint, my uncle (the not-dastardly one!) took me into the Sierra foothills and taught me essential gold panning skills. I ended up with a sunburn, a backache, mud stains, and memories—but only a few tiny flecks of gold.

 
HALLIE: What I admire about your heroines, Elisa and now Lee, is that even though they have amazing powers (magic bellybutton, ability to sense gold) they’re so practical. Even though Elisa’s a princess and Lee could be as rich as she wants, they have such real struggles—eating, managing their reputations, escaping caretakers, and walking for a really, really long time. What draws you to writing such practical heroines? What were some of the inspirations for their struggles? Why is it important to write female characters in these roles? You could have simply written a king with a Godstone or made Lee an actual boy instead of a girl dressing as a boy for most of her journey.

RAE: My most embarrassing moment happened during my senior year of high school, when I was called to the blackboard to write out a French conjugation. The chalk was in my hand, and I was stretching up on my tip-toes, when I heard whispering and giggling behind me.

I turned. The girls in my class were signaling frantically in the direction of my plastic chair, which was smeared with blood.

I had gotten my period in front of French class. Brightly and indisputably.

Casually, as if nothing were the matter, I took off my jacket and wrapped it around my waist. I finished my conjugation, sat back down, wiggled back and forth in my seat to wipe up the blood with my jacket, then excused myself to go to the bathroom.

This incident should have been socially disastrous. One of the girls who signaled frantically was my personal nemesis, someone who had tortured me since the sixth grade. I expected her to crow about it for days. But she didn’t. In that moment, as crimson was soaking the crotch of my jeans, my nemesis had my back.

That story might make some readers uncomfortable. Smearing menstrual blood on your chair? Crotch!? For heaven’s sake, Rae.

We have a lot of hesitation about some of life’s most practical details, especially those details considered feminine. Not all of us want to be reminded that a girl can be hyper-aware of her fat body, or that she might run out of menstrual rags, or even that walking a really, really long time is really, really arduous.

But we all experience those things. Moments when life’s practicalities threaten to ruin our day, or even our lives. Moments that surprise us. Moments that become tragic when they shouldn’t, or add up to nothing when they should be tragic.

I’m not a literary writer. I don’t think stories are wholly found in those details. Give me dragons, explosions, rebellions, and world-altering stakes any day. But I do think that a rebellion is much more interesting if all the girls in camp get their periods regularly and if their thighs ache from walking so much.

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

RAE: I’m going to depart from the question a little, simply because I didn’t encounter a lot of women involved in fantasy literature for a very long time. Appalling, I know. See above about the invisibility of female authors.

I will give a hat tip to my editor, Martha Mihalick of Greenwillow Books, and my agent, Holly Root of Waxman-Leavell. Together, these two fabulous women changed my life by taking a chance on me and tirelessly championing my work.

But the fantasy female who was most formative was fictional: Princess Leia.

I mentioned before that I grew up in a cloistered, religious household. From an early age, I was taught that women had a supernaturally ordained role—raising children, keeping house, supporting the big, strong, money-earning men. It never set right with me. And while I think women ought to be able to choose whatever lifestyle they want—even a supportive, house-keeping, child-rearing one—I always knew that it would be an awkward fit on me, like walking around in scuba flippers instead of sneakers.

Along came Star Wars. I loved everything about that movie, but I loved Princess Leia most of all. Like, her I wanted to be a princess. Like her, I wanted to shoot a laser blaster. And these two were not mutually exclusive. Unlike Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, Princess Leia was a leader. She wasn’t always kind. She didn’t exist to make the men around her feel good about themselves. Yet she was loved and respected. Did I mention the laser blaster?

I’ve been playing with this juxtaposition of ideals in my own fiction ever since.

 

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