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Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Violet Kupersmith

We’re pleased to bring you the third in a series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor. We’re covering 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 discussing our 2018 theme of reunion, as well as the themes of our previous four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Beaver Creek this October! Today, Amy Tenbrink interviews our third guest of honor, Violet Kupersmith.

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AMY: Women have a long history with ghost stories, from using them to examine cloaked feminine themes to finding themselves in the strange position of, after establishing the genre in the 1800s, now needing to reclaim them as our own. Why did you choose ghosts, hauntings, and horror as your medium for your work in The Frangipani Hotel?

VIOLET: In my family, only women see ghosts. I think this is part of the reason why I was drawn to them when I started writing about Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora. In the American imagination the dominant narratives about the war and its legacy are Western, male, and soldier-centric, so I set my stories in the realm of the supernatural—one of the few spaces where the rules aren’t set by men. Ghosts can act as a stand-in for female characters, giving them agency in a society where they are denied it, and working in the horror genre allows me to shine a light on the kinds of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American characters who are scarred by the war but generally overlooked in stories about it: women in nursing homes, first-generation teenagers who work at grocery stores, long-haul truckers. In so many ways, the Ghost is the perfect metaphor for the immigrant: both are liminal beings, hovering between worlds, and here, both are feared and other-ed. And I think that there’s something fitting about using a literary genre which is often unfairly dismissed as silly or lowbrow to tell stories about a marginalized people. Each is able to empower the other.

 

AMY: Your work frequently, and often subversively, explores culture: its transformation following devastation, its vital connections, its loss and sometimes desperate preservation as people’s lives change. In “Skin and Bones,” Thuy eats her culture, literally, and finds a connection she didn’t think was there through Vietnamese foodways, while the American grandchild in “Boat Story” seeking an “A-plus” refugee story, hears an account of her immigrant grandparents and a boat, yes, but not one she ever expected. Conversely, your work, too, is often about invasion of culture: the American expansion in “The Frangipani Hotel,” where a single American businessman, looking for a Vietnamese woman to take out on the town, stands in for hundreds of thousands of American soldiers; or the American ex-pat in “Guests,” who can’t see her own condescension in her artificial competition with Vietnamese girls for her boyfriend. On your website, you share a bit about your family’s experiences and legacy. For you, how do written versions of stories intersect with the history and culture that you’re writing about?

VIOLET: My stories definitely feed off of my own neuroses about the place my ambiguously-brown Amerasian self occupies between these two cultures, and my hyper-awareness of the fact that I exist because of cruel historical circumstances that put my mother on a boat to America, where she met my father. I’ve always felt a bit like an amphibian, able to move between both worlds but never belonging wholly to either. When I started writing what would eventually become The Frangipani Hotel there was this common assumption, from both my relatives and from outsiders, that the pinnacle of the collection would be something like “My Refugee Family’s True and Terrifying Boat Journey,” that it was the ‘big story’ I had inside me and had been waiting to tell. And I bristled at this. I did want to honor my family’s legacy, but on my own terms. I’ve threaded their experiences into my books in fragments, because our story is one of brokenness, not boats. It started long before they left the shore and it’s still unraveling.

 

AMY: The Vietnam War is woven into every inch of The Frangipani Hotel, sometimes as a literal intrusion as in “Descending Dragon,” but more often as a looming shadow of memory or of devastation. Even—or perhaps especially—the American businessman in “The Frangipani Hotel” reads strongly as the personification of a modern-day capitalist invasion, a deliberate echo of American soldiers, while the Vietnamese men of “One Finger” relive their war-time horror in exacting, horrifying detail. How do you prepare to write work that, like this, is so inherently tied to such a complex, horrific tragedy?

VIOLET: To me, the Vietnam War is like a big, metaphorical black hole. You can’t see the thing itself; instead you see the material bending around it, the light that’s being sucked in. And that’s how I approach writing about it as well—I know that if I, personally, set out to write a realistic story about a bombing, or a battle, I would never be able to capture it in a way that would feel true to the reader, or give it the emotional gravity it deserves. I can’t face it head-on. This is another reason why I turned to the supernatural in my fiction—it lets me avoid writing explicitly about war while doing exactly that, on some level. The ghosts act as both a kind of shield and a conduit. I have to make monsters of my own in order to address the real ones in the country’s history.

 

AMY: You lived in Vietnam for a number of years, and spent much of that time exploring Vietnamese folktales and, I imagine, researching The Frangipani Hotel. What did you love about Vietnam? What surprised you about Vietnam? How did Vietnam change your writing and your stories?

VIOLET: Sometimes I hear myself talking about Hanoi and I realize it sounds like I’m talking wistfully about an ex-lover. It’s embarrassing. I can’t think of a way to say this that doesn’t sound silly, but I think Vietnam is just enchanted. Old-school, Brothers Grimm-style enchanted—equal parts dangerous and divine. The entire country seems to run on a dreamy and feverish, ‘It’s-4 AM-and-anything-could-happen’ kind of energy, for 24 hours a day. Everybody you meet has at least one truly weird story that they’re willing to tell you. And there is no other place on earth that has better food (there is a reason why the character in my stories I identify with most is sandwich-gobbling Thuy). The biggest surprise was a sad one. I arrived expecting that when I encountered discrimination it would be because of my Americanness. I was prepared to bear this. But instead, every time it was because I was a woman. The anger that I’ve felt about this, in particular, has seeped into my writing; my upcoming novel is simmering.

 

AMY: The nine stories included in The Frangipani Hotel explore a veritable mountain of themes: modernization and reclamation of folktales, an unmistakable indictment of the Vietnam War, the legacy of suffering and loss, the preservation of culture, everyday spirituality as immutable tradition, and about a thousand more. Of all the themes in your work, which do you most hope readers will discover and consider?

VIOLET: I think that in each of the stories the reader can latch onto the idea of inheritance, of what we are handed down—regardless of whether or not we want it or even feel we deserve it—from our parents, our parents’ parents, our nations. The skins, stories, memories, and trauma that we are given, the dangerous weight of these inheritances, and the lengths we have to go to in order to free ourselves from them. And I think that buried within this theme is an even trickier question: what we are owed by our histories, and what do we owe them? This was what I was attempting to answer when I wrote The Frangipani Hotel, and what I hope readers will ask themselves too.

 

AMY: Sirens is about the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, even a character—who has changed your life?

VIOLET: My mother is four-foot-ten and—I do mean this as a compliment—she is the scariest person I know. She is a survivor, a scholar, and an activist, and she possesses the kind of fearlessness that I can only write about. Growing up, she always gave in when I demanded bedtime story after bedtime story after bedtime story. Ghosts do occasionally talk to her. She is a remarkable woman in every way.

 


 

Violet Kupersmith is the author of The Frangipani Hotel, a collection of supernatural short stories about the legacy of the Vietnam War, and a forthcoming novel on ghosts and American expats in modern-day Saigon. She spent a year teaching English in the Mekong Delta with the Fulbright program and subsequently lived in the Central Highlands of Vietnam to research local folklore. She is a former resident of the MacDowell Colony and was the 2015–2016 David T.K. Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Her writing has appeared in No Tokens, The Massachusetts Review, Word Vietnam, and The New York Times Book Review.

For more information about Violet, please visit her website or Twitter.

 

Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Kameron Hurley

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’re covering 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 discussing our 2018 theme of reunion, as well as the themes of our previous four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Beaver Creek this October! Today, Amy Tenbrink interviews our second guest of honor, Kameron Hurley.

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AMY: In a recent series of tweets, you said, “The older I get, the more I feel an artist ruins a piece of work by being expected to talk about it endlessly … The audience brings half the experience to the work. All this creator bloviating takes that away from them.” Edith Wharton once said something similar, that in reading and writing ghost stories, she was conscious of a “common medium” between author and reader, where the reader actually “meet[s] [the author] halfway among the primeval shadows ….” As you gear up for another book release, and all the promotional time and energy that that requires, what are your thoughts on the intellectual, emotional, and experiential exchange between writers and readers?

KAMERON: I don’t recall where I first read that half of the reading experience comes from the reader themselves, but I’ve seen this truth borne out time and again. There are many books I’ve read and adored at a certain time in my life that would have meant nothing to me before or after that time. I remember talking to people about the short story by Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life,” and the movie based on it, Arrival, and not understanding why there were people who didn’t find it brilliant and cathartic. What I realized, on speaking to others, is that you either connected with the emotional truth of the film, or you didn’t. That work evoked the feeling of knowing how difficult and hard and painful and tragic life is but doing it anyway. It’s the feeling that even knowing what you know now … that you would still make the same choices. And that simply didn’t connect with some people. In a discussion with my agent about the book Twilight, she noted that what it did very well was convey the feeling of being in love for the first time. This surprised me, because the book hadn’t connected with me at all. I couldn’t get into it. When she said that, though, it occurred to me that maybe I hadn’t connected with it because I simply didn’t share that feeling; it didn’t convey that feeling to me; it didn’t resonate with my experience.

This is why you can have novels that get a thousand five star reviews and a thousand one star reviews, and how you can get novels that … well, simply have no reviews, or only middling reviews, because they didn’t connect with anyone on any level.

I’ve also found that I’ve been able to go back to works that I didn’t connect with or understand when I was younger, and have found them much more evocative on second attempt. One of those was Joanna Russ’s book, The Female Man. I tried to read it when I just turned twenty and kept bouncing off it. But when I came back to it as I neared thirty, it connected. I’d experienced enough sexism in my life by then that I totally got it.

As you noted, I have less of an interest in speaking deeply about the particular meaning my own work has to me in case it contradicts what a reader took away from it. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes that’s important. There are readings of my work that make me think someone was reading something entirely different from a completely different political perspective. But hey, all I can do is hope that they return to the work after a decade or so and find something different in it. That’s probably the real magic of any creative work, that its meaning for you, as a reader, a viewer, can change depending on when you experience it. Just telling someone, “The Female Man is about sexism,” isn’t going to get them to connect with it. They have to come to it on their own.

 

AMY: The thing I admire most about your work—and I admire many, many things about your work—is that it’s so very unflinching. It is unafraid of conflict, not only between characters, but between the work and the reader. Its presentation of topics such as gender, sexuality, and abuse are, frankly, challenging in their naked honesty—and in their great aspiration. I find your work quite similar, in that way, to the works of authors like Carmen Maria Machado, with her very fuck-you feminist approach, and Sarah Pinborough, with her brutal truth-telling. How much of this do you draw from yourself, and what is it like for you, as a writer, to put pieces of yourself—your hope, your rage, your grief—on the page?

KAMERON: Every great writer puts pieces of themselves on the page. For many of us, this is how we process our own experiences, emotions, and impressions, whether that’s in response to something we have done ourselves or something we’ve seen, read, or heard about from others. War and genocide feature heavily in my work; I’ve never been to war, nor been the target of genocide, but I was watched after often by my grandparents. My grandmother grew up in Nazi-occupied France, and my grandfather’s primary duty after the war was driving truckfuls of bodies out of concentration camps. Most of my family has served in the military, many of my friends. Violence, addiction, family tension, abuse, mental illness, are all things that my extended family has struggled with. My grandmother’s house was the center of the universe for my father’s side of the family, so all of the trauma and grief experienced by that side of the family came through there. I either saw it or heard about it. So while my parents kept us fairly safe and coddled out in the country in the evenings, during the day, until I was twelve or so, we were intrinsically connected to what was, on the face of it, a pretty complicated family bound by love, abuse, addiction, and mental illness. Nothing but love to them all, but whew! Looking back, we were all a hot mess.

As a kid, you don’t know that, of course. It’s just how your family is. Your grandpa grabs you by the hair and knocks your head against the wall. He throws your cousin down the stairs. He calls your aunts whores. Your grandma throws plates and runs after you with a wooden spoon. All strung together like that, it looks like a horrifying life, but the truth is that human beings are complicated. There was always essential love in our grandma’s house. We always knew we were loved and wanted. When my cousins came out as lesbian and me as bisexual, my grandmother the hardcore Catholic thought that was fascinating more than anything; it allowed her to imagine how things could be different. She got a kick out of it, I think. When I look back now I see how isolated she must have been. She had to teach herself English when she finally came to America with my grandfather. People made fun of her accent. She would have my dad go with her to doctor’s appointments so the doctors would take her seriously. She had bouts of deep depression where she’d close all the curtains in the house and just call all her kids and cry about how unloved she felt.

But oh, there was love! She crafted creative lunches for us every day, filled the pool outside and let us romp around the garden and run the hose to fill up puddles in the yard for our GI Joes and My Little Ponies. We were treasures, to her. This dichotomy, this darkness and light, has always fascinated me. It’s something I explore a lot in my fiction, certainly: these abusive families who still care fiercely for one another, but don’t have the tools to love properly, and these human beings who have all the best and all the worst of what makes us human, and who muddle along trying to find their way.

I grew up white and middle class, and believed wholeheartedly in the myth of fairness and equality. “A woman can be anything,” my mom told me, often, “she can even be president!” My parents said, “If you just go to work every day, and work hard, you’ll be rewarded. You’ll make it.” And while I felt I was treated just the same as anyone else in my immediate family, once I went out into the world I was shocked, grief-stricken, and then profoundly angry about the lie I’d been told about fairness and merit. White families like mine can yammer on all day about how life is fair, but it doesn’t make it true. I understood this, as a woman, once I joined the workplace and was treated not as someone with merit, but as, simply, a woman. I was a woman first to the world. I went away to grad school in South Africa, which effectively opened my eyes to the bigotry and racism in our own country. It’s funny, how so many of those who are privileged in certain ways, as I am, have to step outside their own experience, their own family, their own country, to see the world for what it truly is. Travel was transformative for me in the same way that reading fiction has been. It allows me to transport myself someplace really different. To not only imagine, but to see, truly see, the world around me.

I went through a period after the election where it was difficult for me to write anything that was emotionally resonant, for me. The experience of writing is very often a cathartic one where I’m drawing on and processing real emotions that I’ve translated onto the page for my characters. After the election I didn’t want to feel anything at all, so I spent a lot of time just going through the motions. There were words there, but nothing behind them. Nothing mattered. I had to stop the book I was writing and take a break. When I returned, I began a new project, and whenever I got stuck, I consciously pulled on my own real experiences, on the things that interested me. I made myself feel those experiences again, through the lens of the characters, and it made for a much more powerful book that may be my best work to date. We’ll see what folks think when The Light Brigade comes out in March.

So yes, of course, I’m there on the page. So is my family. The people I’ve encountered. The joys and horrors I’ve read about. You take it all in, you remix it, you try and understand it. That’s really all storytelling is: trying to make sense of this wacky world we got born into.

 

AMY: Your work is tremendously ambitious. The Stars Are Legion is often summarized as “lesbians in space,” and while it certainly is that, I find that description shockingly simplistic for such a rich, vibrant story of a panoply of women that also interrogates a panoply of issues—love, power, revenge, motherhood—from a uniquely female perspective. Your work’s structures, from the gloriously unreliable point-of-view characters in The Stars Are Legion to the sheer complexity of the narration in the Worldbreaker Saga, are necessarily and unusually complicated. Your fantasy worlds, cultures, and societies are minutely detailed: You consider the impact that your fantasy-world creations have on the functioning of society, such as, as you’ve mentioned, what consent looks like in a consent-based society. Would you please share a bit about your writing process? How much of what you do is research or brainstorming? How do you get all of this from your head to the page?

KAMERON: I do a lot of research up front to get the gears turning, then research during the revision process to fill things out, to lend the book some color, some vibrancy, to find those telling details that make a scene or a person memorable.

I tend to look at the writing process like an oil painting. You do an underpainting first, then a second or third layer of increasing detail, and a final finishing layer where you’re adding highlights and low lights.

In the initial research phase I’m often just collecting quotes and anecdotes and ideas from books, articles, random tweets, memes, snippets of dialogue, all of those things. I generally have a character and a “big idea” in mind first, and I’ve learned that the next best step after that is to figure out what they want and what I want their emotional journey to be. That part of the process I used to never figure out until the end, which was an exhausting and backward way to write. I ended up spending a lot more time in revision when I did that. I had to learn that “plot” isn’t just “things happen” but how events unfold that impact the emotional journey or emotional state of the character. What’s their essential emotional wound or emotional driving force? Those deep emotions—a driving force, a wound, a passion—are really key, for me, in whether or not a story or novel of mine works.

A novel like The Stars are Legion could be summed up as, sure, lesbians in space, or an abortion allegory, or a sentient organic worldship adventure, or simply “a space opera” and in fact, it’s all of those things. But the core emotional journey, the question it asks, is if we are more than the sum of our memories; if evil truly is capable of change, and if some abuses are simply too much for a relationship to recover from (spoilers: yes). That is the emotional journey Zan takes throughout that book (and to a lesser extent, so does Jayd). The book could have all the squishy grossness and adventure, but without any kind of emotional core, it would be more forgettable, I think, and certainly less satisfying for me as a reader or writer.

But hey! It is indeed the world building that compels me to write science fiction and fantasy instead of historicals or literature set in the present. Worldbuilding has the ability to strip away all the trappings of what we believe to be “true” and asks us to interrogate it. How could things be really different? Who would we be, if the world was different? Who would we be, with different social mores? Different cultural expectations? It’s the same thing I learn from traveling, but even more disorienting. You can’t ignore just how many things you take for granted when you do really deep, immersive worldbuilding. You have to owe up to how lazy your brain can be.

 

AMY: You’ve talked a lot about failure—and how difficult it is to reconcile failure with that especially American brand of rugged individualism. You, I, and most Sirens attendees struggle every day with the overwhelming juxtaposition of that mythic American meritocracy with inescapable systemic biases. What advice do you have regarding failure and perseverance for women and nonbinary people who live in a society that encourages cishet white men to “fail fast” while demanding insta-perfection from everyone else?

KAMERON: I have been using my own anger and disappointment to fuel me for many years. When I was fourteen, I read an interview with Kevin J. Anderson where he said the secret to being a writer was, in one word, “Persistence,” and that really stuck with me. The truth is, of course, not fair or equal. Many of us are going to have to work harder than others to succeed. Many of us, despite all that enduring, will not make it to the bestseller lists or even be able to make it as full-time writers. But we’ll have another kind of success, which is the success of continuing to be a part of this field, continuing to produce exceptional work, long after others have given up.

It sucks, yeah. It sucks that we have to work harder. That we don’t get the attention. That we have to slog in obscurity for longer (or for infinity). But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to build a career. We, too, can get lucky. Being really, really good helps, too. I’ve been conscious that I need to level up my skill with every book. I can’t coast along writing the same thing, at the same level. I made a goal of being the very best writer—not necessarily bestselling or making the most money, because I can’t control those—but being an exceptional writer, among the best in the world. That’s a lofty goal, but it means that my journey is infinite, that I will need to keep pushing, that I can never sit back and rest on my laurels. That isn’t for everyone, but it works for me.

It’s funny—when I play World of Warcraft, I enjoy playing a defensive character, known as a tank, who can endure an incredible amount of damage and whose role in a multiplayer instance is to protect the rest of the party. The purpose of the tank is to endure. To take the hits. And to keep swinging. It’s my favorite type of character to play. This is the same mindset I’ve taken to approaching my writing life. The rejections, the failures, are all hits. I’m a tank. My purpose is to endure until the end.

Maybe not everyone sees that as inspiring or motivating, but I do. There is something about knowing that—if nothing else!—you can outlast your opponent that I find deeply satisfying.

 

AMY: So much of your work is revolutionary. So much of what you advocate is revolution. In the epilogue of The Geek Feminist Revolution, you explicitly state that you want to change the world. So, tell us, what does the revolution look like to you? And what can the women and nonbinary people writing, publishing, and reading speculative fiction do to join you in that revolution?

KAMERON: Revolution is a break from the status quo. An assault on the system. This can be a political revolution, a violent revolution (not my preference), a peaceful transfer of power, an abolition of current power structures. Revolution can also be quite personal—calling out an act of sexism or racism, refusing to participate in an immoral act that reinforces the status quo, refusing to carry out an order, refusing to serve a fascist, not complying with a request to detain an immigrant, even calling out a friend or colleague for perpetuating a stereotype.

Revolution on a grand scale requires us to find our people, to organize with others. But there are also the quiet, individual acts of resistance that groups can rally around—Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus, suffragettes chaining themselves to park benches, a restaurant owner refusing to serve the mouthpiece of a fascist regime.

Resistance leads to revolution, and increasingly I’ve found that simply continuing to do our work, to speak up, to participate in interviews like this one, to create our podcasts and our essays and our stories, is also an act of resistance. The trolls that tried to shut me up with death threats early in my career have now become far more organized and vitriolic. They are desperate to silence us now more so than ever. The simple act of being here, of speaking up, of not looking away, of not repeating the party line, of voting, of protesting, of not being still, not shutting down … that makes them very angry.

And, you know, I’m a tank, so—I like to make them angry.

 

AMY: Sirens is about the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, even a character—who has changed your life?

KAMERON: I found the work of Joanna Russ to be transformative in many ways. I read a great deal of feminist science fiction in my early 20s, and I found Russ’s work to be the most blistering, the angriest, the most unapologetically revolutionary. She was full of a white-hot rage and not afraid to show it.

In particular, her story We Who Are About To … channeled that anger to its ultimate, grimly realistic end. I also saw a great deal of myself in her semi-autobiographical work, On Strike Against God, which helped me understand my own sexuality. No small feat!

Whenever I’m concerned something I’m writing is “too grim” or “too angry” I think of Russ. We should be unapologetically angry. The system isn’t made for us. It’s literally there to reduce our voices and power in the world. That should piss us all off.

 


 

Kameron Hurley is an award-winning author and advertising copywriter. Kameron grew up in Washington State, and has lived in Fairbanks, Alaska; Durban, South Africa; and Chicago. She has a degree in historical studies from the University of Alaska and a Master’s in History from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, specializing in the history of South African resistance movements.

Kameron is the author of the nonfiction collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, which contains her essay on the history of women in conflict “We Have Always Fought,” which was the first article to ever win a Hugo Award. It was also nominated for Best Non-Fiction work by the British Fantasy Society. Her nonfiction has appeared in numerous online venues, including The Atlantic, Bitch Magazine, Huffington Post, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Entertainment Weekly, and she writes a regular column for Locus Magazine. Kameron’s space opera, The Stars Are Legion, was published by Simon and Schuster’s Saga imprint in February 2017. Her epic fantasy series, the Worldbreaker Saga, is comprised of the novels The Mirror Empire, Empire Ascendant, and The Broken Heavens (forthcoming in March 2019). Additionally, her first series, The God’s War Trilogy, which includes the books God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture, earned her the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer and the Kitschy Award for Best Debut Novel. Kameron’s short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed, Vice Magazine’s Terraform, EscapePod, and Strange Horizons.

Kameron has won two Hugo Awards and a Locus, and been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her work has also been included on the Tiptree Award Honor List and been nominated for the Gemmell Morningstar Award. In addition to her writing, Kameron has been a Stollee guest lecturer at Buena Vista University and taught copywriting at the School of Advertising Art. Kameron currently lives in Ohio, where she’s cultivating an urban homestead.

For more information about Kameron, please visit her website or Twitter.

 

Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Anna-Marie McLemore

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 2018 theme of reunion, as well as the themes of our previous four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Beaver Creek this October! Today, Amy Tenbrink interviews our first guest of honor, Anna-Marie McLemore.

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AMY: Your work is so often based on families: biological families sometimes, as with the feud between the Palomas and the Corbeaus in The Weight of Feathers, but just as profoundly, found families, such as Aracely’s mothering of water-tower-born Miel in When the Moon Was Ours or Estrella’s shocking discovery of Fel in La Pradera in Wild Beauty. Perhaps similarly, your work often addresses the legacies of those families, from the aforementioned feud to the Nomeolvides women’s immutable ties to La Pradera. Why is the idea of family so important to you, and by extension, your work?

ANNA-MARIE: I love that you include found family in this question, because that’s a concept that’s there for so many of us, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. For better or worse, family makes you. No matter your family’s size, no matter if they’re the ones you grew up with or the ones you found along the way.

Sometimes family is something you push against: Cluck and Lace from The Weight of Feathers will always carry their families with them, even as they realize that their own survival may depend on taking paths that lead away from them.

Sometimes family is something you find in the moment of becoming yourself: When Miel spills out of the water tower in When the Moon Was Ours, Aracely becomes someone who exists in the space between mother and big sister to her; at the same time, Aracely also becomes an older sister figure to Sam, the boy who finds Miel in the first place and who hangs the moon outside her window.

Sometimes family is made by common languages: Wild Beauty centers on five cousins who are not only Latina, not only blood-related, but also all queer. They know the strength of community and family. As curious as they may be about the strange boy who appears in the gardens, they wouldn’t make him part of their family if they couldn’t tell how much he respects that sense of community.

The family I grew up with and the family I’ve chosen both hold space in my life, and I think that ends up showing in my books. You’ll find that again in Blanca & Roja, a Latinx reimagining of “Snow-White & Rose-Red,” so it’s all about sisters, but it’s also all about the families we make.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Blanca & Roja is due out in October.)

 

AMY: To me, the most profound, most present theme in your work is a trinity of acceptance, redemption, and forgiveness: Cluck’s saving Lace’s life, Miel’s love of Sam, the Nomeolvides’ welcome of Fel into their home. In your work, acceptance frequently creates a necessary foundation for redemption and forgiveness, and those are lessons that are important to a number of readers. What about those themes speak to you as a writer?

ANNA-MARIE: I think I often end up writing stories about how those around you can sometimes love you before you know how to love yourself, and how you do the same for them. Lace and Cluck in The Weight of Feathers recognize in each other the things that make them outcasts from their own families, and find those things beautiful in each other before they can in themselves. Miel and Sam in When the Moon Was Ours desperately want to show each other unconditional acceptance and love, but can’t until they feel safe acknowledging the ways in which their own hearts are broken. In Wild Beauty, Fel comes into the Nomeolvides family’s lives with a lot of humility, both for good reasons—he recognizes them as the queens of La Pradera—and for tragic ones—he carries a lot of free-floating shame without having any memory of what it’s attached to. They treat him as family in a way that reminds him of his own value, and he’s their reminder of the tremendous power they have as a community of Latina women.

In Blanca & Roja, acceptance becomes even more intertwined with the idea of redemption and forgiveness. In addition to being a reimagining of “Snow-White & Rose-Red,” Blanca & Roja is also a reimagining of Swan Lake, so in many ways it’s a story about the roles we get cast in—as women, as queer women, as women of color—and how we can write our own stories instead.

 

AMY: The first work of yours that I read was The Weight of Feathers, which you set in California’s Central Valley. I grew up in rural Michigan, and your Central Valley read to me as an almost sentient character full of that so-called American quiet desperation. Similarly, La Pradera, the magical garden in Wild Beauty, drives not only characters, but the plot, as the Nomeolvides women react to its apparent power and rage. How do you choose and create your settings?

ANNA-MARIE: The settings usually choose me, or, I should say, they choose my story. In The Weight of Feathers, the smaller towns of the Central Valley matched with the idea of the Palomas’ and Corbeaus’ traveling shows. Wild Beauty is so much about heritage and legacy and the terrifying truth that sometimes lives beneath that which is beautiful. So La Pradera, with its stunning gardens, enchanting magic, and bloody history (I won’t share more, because spoilers) became the perfect landscape for the story of the Nomeolvides women.

 

AMY: When the Moon Was Ours is a transcendent fairy tale, especially for readers who don’t often see themselves in such stories. Wild Beauty is both a story of magical women and incisive commentary about class and social struggle. Would you please share a bit about including and balancing both individual identity and societal themes within your work?

ANNA-MARIE: I love that you use the term fairy tale, because that’s really my heart as a writer. Even before I started writing fairy tale reimaginings like Blanca & Roja, it was my heart as a writer. My fairy tales are usually queer, brown, or both, because those are the communities I know. The fairy tales that are truest for me to write are ones grounded in identities I know.

In the process of taking myself seriously as a writer, there was an aspect of awakening, of realizing that my existence—as a Latina woman, as a queer woman, as a woman who loves a trans guy—that all of that was politicized, whether I wanted it to be or not. That it always had been. Leaving identity politics out of art isn’t a luxury I have, and knowing what I know about my own communities, it’s not one I want.

I want to write fairy tales for my communities. I want to write stories that are honest—in all their blood and history—and also hopeful—in placing LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color at their centers, in giving them space to claim the magic that belongs to them. A story about a Latina girl with roses growing from her wrist and a Pakistani-American trans boy who paints the moon cannot exist without acknowledging what it’s like for these characters to navigate their hometown. A story of five queer girls of color can be filled with enchanted gardens and ball gowns and still carry an understanding of the characters’ identities. I may not go around constantly thinking about being a queer Latina, but I never forget it completely, because the world never forgets, and because I have to choose, over and over, to be proud of it.

 

AMY: Your craft is, in a word, exquisite. Lyrical, poetic, honest, unforgettable. Would you please tell us about your writing process?

ANNA-MARIE: That’s so kind of you to say. In terms of writing process on a craft level, I sort of say everything at once and then pare back. I’ll describe something three ways, and then only one of those three ways will end up being the right one. So much of the magic in writing is letting your brain and your heart go wherever they want, and so much of the power of revising is in deletion, in pulling back, in distilling.

 

AMY: Sirens is about the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, even a character—who has changed your life?

ANNA-MARIE: My mother. If she were a fantasy character, she’d be the queen who’s equal parts brilliant and stylish, or she’d be the most glamorous of witches. I won’t say we always agree, but she’s so often been my model for finding power in being a woman and in being Latina.

 


 

Anna-Marie McLemore is the Mexican-American author of The Weight of Feathers, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book When the Moon Was Ours, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and won the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award; and Wild Beauty, a fairy tale of queer Latina girls and enchanted, murderous gardens. Blanca & Roja, a magical realism reimagining of Snow-White & Rose-Red meets Swan Lake, is forthcoming in 2018.

Anna-Marie’s historical short stories are forthcoming in the anthologies All Out, The Radical Element: Twelve Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other Dauntless Girls, and Toil and Trouble. Her shorter work has previously been featured in The Portland Review, CRATE Literary Magazine’s “cratelit,” and Camera Obscura’s Bridge the Gap Gallery, and by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.

For more information about Anna-Marie, please visit her website or Twitter.

 

Guest of Honor Interview: N. K. Jemisin

We’re pleased to bring you the last in our 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 Beaver Creek this October! Today, Faye Bi interviews N. K. (Nora) Jemisin.

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FAYE: It’s a pleasure to be interviewing you! I’ve long admired your keen ability to write about power, oppression and pain, and your dynamic characters that make bold decisions. Recently, I came across your Worldbuilding 101 presentation, which starts with geography and climate and moves to sociocultural factors and magic. As a lapsed anthropology nerd I’m impressed by the breadth of your process. Do you go through this exercise each time you develop a new world? Do you have a similar process or comparable tools for character-building?

NK JemisinNORA: I do use that Worldbuilding 101 process (plus a little more; I actually do a more advanced worldbuilding seminar to accompany the one you saw) to develop worlds and cultures. I do not use a systematized process to create characters, however, because individuals should not be designed by formula. Mostly with characters, I just try to make sure that they are people, with rich internal and external lives.

 

FAYE: You often set religion front and center in your stories, often literally, where gods are main characters in The Inheritance Trilogy to constructing a new religion in the Dreamblood duology. What draws you to writing about religion and faith as recurring themes in your books?

NORA: Mostly I think of epic fantasy as rooted in the ancient epic story form—i.e. Gilgamesh, the Illiad, etc. Ancient epics were often concerned with people’s relationships with deities, and the deities themselves were very people-like, with human drama and human egos and human frailties.

 

FAYE: Jane Jacobs once wrote, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” You’ve set much of your work in cities, from your short stories “nonZero Probabilities” and “The City Born Great” (both of which are set in New York City) to your fantasy cities such as Sky, Shadow, and Gujaareh. What fascinates you about the city? How much of that fascination is a response—or conversation—with the association of epic fantasy with feudal pseudo-Western Europe?

NORA: It’s hard to explain why I love cities. I just do! I’m not sure what my interest in modern cities has to do with feudal pseudo-Western Europe, though. After all, most feudal pseudo-Western European fantasies also center on cities—yeah, there’s a superficial association of such fantasies with the romance of rural spaces, but it’s false, because they never stay rural. The farm boy chosen one always ends up having a showdown in the center of power. The coalition of heroes always has its fateful, game-changing meeting at the Citadel or the White City or the City in the Trees. Fantasy is about people; people gather in cities. Writing fantasy is a quintessentially urban-centric exercise.

 

FAYE: You’ve mused before that much of epic fantasy delivers “white male power and centrality”, which is the very definition of conservatism. Do you think the definition of epic fantasy has expanded in recent years? What makes an epic fantasy “progressive”? In your opinion, what are some cornerstone books that make up today’s progressive epic fantasy canon?

Well, thing is, as I mentioned in that old article, there are plenty of writers of epic fantasy who don’t fit into the boys’ club; it’s a stereotype that epic fantasy is a boys’ club. Certainly, the best-known writers tend to be white guys writing white male power fantasy, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of the genre. I wouldn’t say the definition has changed at all in recent years, but thanks to some discussions that have taken place prominently on social media and other fannish spaces, there’s greater awareness that the stereotype is a stereotype, and more interest in interrogating that stereotype.

And to clarify, what makes epic fantasy conservative isn’t a focus on white men, but a focus on supporting or restoring an authoritarian status quo; that is the definition of conservativism. Progressive fantasies are less concerned (or not concerned at all) with restoring the monarchy or putting down the rebellion or bringing the old ways back. Progressive fantasies might also interrogate power structures in our own world, such as the ones that suggest only cis-het white men can be heroes.

 

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.

NORA: My agent, Lucienne Diver! She’s basically the person who “discovered” me, at least in the sense of helping me transition from being a neo-pro short story writer into a pro novelist. She’s also been one of my staunchest supporters, even back in the days when I couldn’t sell a novel, and she’s also talked me down from giving up or setting manuscripts on fire more than once! She’s also ferocious in negotiations. A great person to have in my corner.

 


 
N. K. Jemisin is an author of speculative fiction short stories and novels who lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York. Her works include the Inheritance Trilogy, the Dreamblood Duology, and the Broken Earth series. In the Inheritance Trilogy (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods), gods dwell among mortals and one powerful, corrupt family rules the earth; three extraordinary people may be the key to humanity’s salvation. The Dreamblood Duology (The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun) is set in the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, the city of dreams, where once the only law was peace but which now knows violence and oppression; it’s a tale of culture and empire, war and religion, and the realm of dreams. The Broken Earth series (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky) is about Essun, who searches for her daughter in the land of the Stillness, which is long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon and there is no mercy. Nora’s work has been nominated for the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the World Fantasy Award and shortlisted for the Crawford Award, the Gemmell Morningstar Award, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. She won a Locus Award for Best First Novel (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in 2010), the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award (The Broken Kingdoms in 2010 and The Shadowed Sun in 2012), and the Hugo Award for Best Novel (The Fifth Season in 2016 and The Obelisk Gate in 2017). Her short fiction has been published in Clarkesworld, Postscripts, Strange Horizons, and Baen’s Universe. In addition to writing, she has been a counseling psychologist and educator (specializing in career counseling and student development), a sometime hiker and biker, and a political/feminist/anti-racist blogger. Nora currently writes a New York Times book review column named Otherworldly, in which she covers the latest in science fiction and fantasy.

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

 

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).

 

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.

 

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).

 

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.

 

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).

 

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.

S15_author_interview_graphic

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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