Critical Sirens Update

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

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Archive for Sirens 2017

Inclusivity at Sirens: Justina Ireland

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs


When people ask me about literary conferences worth attending the first one that springs to mind is Sirens. Often people will ask me why. Are there great workshops? Do the panels crackle with personality? Is the food good? And of course, all of these things are a yes. But Sirens also has the one thing going for it that so many other conferences don’t: a keen eye for intersectionality.

Intersectionality has become quite the buzzword of late, but few people realize that it refers not to identities, but rather to how systems of oppression impact those identities and that those impacts are situational. So, for example, all People of Color face racism, but the shape and tone of the racism is dependent on race and situation. And People of Color may also face ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and a whole host of other oppressive forces as well. Basically, intersectionality is about recognizing that oppression doesn’t work in any one way, but rather works in many different ways based on the situation.

The term intersectionality was originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how both feminist and Black equality movements tend to leave Black women behind, failing to recognize that the aperture for social justice movements must be widened to include the myriad ways systems of oppression impact marginalized groups. Meaning: we can’t just address sexism. We must also address racism, ableism, homophobia, and any other prejudice that is used to categorize and limit the ability of all people to live a happy and healthy life.

This is what is great about Sirens. It’s rare to see such a weighty (and complex, since our brains are trained to think in binary from an early age) conversation happen alongside discussions of  fantasy literature. And not just in a couple of tokenized panels. A glance at the schedule shows this dedication to inclusivity. The panels always address multiple identities, and not just as a separate diversity panel. Instead, social justice is baked into every panel, all of which feature a multitude of identities and experiences. I always learn something new at Sirens, and even the casual conversations can feel like a revelation.

And this intersectionality is what makes Sirens so great. Attending Sirens is like having a good meal after years of living off of crumbs. Your identity will be respected and embraced, your opinion valued, and you will learn so much it will feel like a weekend of machine gun epiphanies, each one more amazing than the last.

Sirens is the best conference around, and I say that as someone who has been to quite a few conferences. You will leave nourished and satisfied, with a head full of ideas that you maybe hadn’t considered before. And isn’t that what a great conference is about?

 


Justina Ireland is the author of the teen novels Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows. She enjoys dark chocolate and dark humor and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. You can visit her online at www.justinaireland.com.

 

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Read Along with Faye: Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

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

I labored over this review. It felt like nothing I could write would be able to do Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’s Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike justice. When we analyze text, we don’t just read the words on the page. We coax meanings from between the lines; we muse on the influences of a creator’s background and socio-historical context; we inevitably read texts in conversation with what came before. Comics add another layer. Not only must the reader understand and appreciate the interplay between art and words, there’s a reading style—proficiency level, so to speak—one needs to know how to read a comic, and it helps to know its position in the whole wide world of comics. In the case of Pretty Deadly, which is completely uninterested in holding the reader’s hand, I found myself pushed out of my comfort zone in a major way.

Pretty Deadly has influence from fairytales, myths, a western setting, and probably a million other things I’m not well-versed in. I have read Sandman, but not really Weird West (watching Firefly doesn’t count) so I’ve dabbled a baby bit in Death personified in comics. My reaction on those first few page turns were, “What is this?” and a little bit of “WTF?” It is kinetic, violent, and densely-packed with visual details. Words are sparse. If you don’t read a lot of comics—or even if you do—it can be demanding and intellectually challenging… but parsing out the text, bit by bit, was incredibly rich and worthwhile.

We begin with a bunny, who gets shot in the head by an unknown woman, and the butterfly who witnessed the kill, as framers of the narrative. It’s sometime in the 1890s in the American West (I think). We’re introduced to characters—an elderly blind man, Fox, and a young dark-skinned girl with differently colored eyes, Sissy—who are going from town to town telling the tale of Beauty and singing the Ballad of Deathface Ginny. Deathface Ginny, the daughter of Beauty and the personification of Death, is the reaper of vengeance, who can be called by victims of “men who have sinned.” (She has a lot of work to do!) Big Alice, a large, imposing woman in a black coat with silver hair, is sent by Death to bring Ginny back to the spiritual realm. And did I mention, Death isn’t a god, but a post—in the order of things, the mantle of Death gets passed on to the next gatherer of souls.

What follows is a very, very, convoluted tale in which Death falls in love and wants to prevent the next Death from coming to power, ending death (his and everyone else’s) for all time. And at the forefront are multiple, fascinating, complex female characters who look very different and get a lot of shit done—Sissy, Big Alice, Sarah, Ginny herself and even Beauty. There’s betrayal, stabbings and vengeance—but also sacrifice and redemption. It’s like the animated sequence from Kill Bill with a splash of Sandman, but its own thing.  And it’s paced incredibly unevenly, with unexplained occurrences aplenty and characters that don’t show up again. But somehow, the denouement pulled it all together in a spectacular manner that made flip to the front page again. Ultimately, it’s an origin story for Deathface Ginny, as well as for the new Death.

It would also be remiss not to mention Rios’s artwork again, which is stunning, fluid and frenetic all at once, colored by Jordie Bellaire in a mostly desert-colored palette with beiges and pinks. Though it made me work for it, Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike is incredible, myth-making, myth-breaking stuff. My brain broke, too, from everything to take in, but I had a fine time putting it back together on re-reads.


Faye Bi is a book-publishing professional based in New York City, and leads the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.

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Sirens Review Squad: The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Jae Young Kim on Ann Claycomb’s The Mermaid’s Daughter.

Ann Claycomb’s debut novel, The Mermaid’s Daughter, is a modern-day retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” mixed in with a healthy dose of opera and composition. Kathleen, an opera student at a conservatory, learns that the stabbing pain in her feet and the phantom sensation of her tongue being cut out are not signs of mental illness, but the consequences of a long and dark curse made generations ago. Kathleen is left with two choices—kill herself or kill her lover, Harry.

I love fairy tales. They’re old stories, some coming from oral traditions going as far back as a thousand years, changing over time with every retelling. Each omission, addition and embellishment reflects the teller’s perspective. So when we read a fairy tale retelling, we know, more or less, what the plot will be. It’s the little tweaks in the retelling that make the read worthwhile.

“The Little Mermaid” is one of my favorite fairy tales. Although I was a kid when the Disney animated version came out, I had read Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale before watching the movie, which could not be more different from each other. Disney’s version is a musical with cartoon animal sidekicks, an evil witch that turns into a giant monster, and a happy ending complete with a wedding between the mermaid and prince. Andersen’s tale is dark and bloody, with cut tongues and phantom knives stabbing the mermaid’s feet—and no happy ending. I love both of them, but I was disappointed with Disney’s: it felt too clean and safe, and was totally at odds with the Andersen’s original.

Claycomb does not go the cartoon route with The Mermaid’s Daughter. She does not shy away from the stabbing pains, the cutting of the tongue, and the gruesome trade made by the mermaid. Told in three acts through four viewpoints (Kathleen, Harry, Robin (Kathleen’s father), and the sea witches), the novel is bleak in tone and possibly even darker than Andersen’s fairy tale. Claycomb uses the first act to establish Kathleen’s life, beginning with Kathleen and Harry’s relationship, a great queer take on the usual heterosexual pairings in traditional fairy tales. She also focuses attention on the father-daughter relationship between Robin and Kathleen, and it’s clear that they love each other deeply. Since the novel has a modern-day setting, some time does have to be spent working through disbelief in magic and mermaids. I admit to being impatient that Kathleen didn’t realize the truth of her heritage earlier, but I did have the advantage of knowing she was a mermaid. The sea witches do provide a touch of fantasy as well as the stories of Kathleen’s ancestors, but it may feel dry for those wanting a book that jumps straight into the fantastical elements.

Kathleen also has the beautiful voice of Andersen’s mermaid, making music and opera an integral part of this mermaid’s story. I am a fan of opera and have sung in choirs all my life, so reading about the various singers and the roles and songs they perform was loads of fun. Robin is a famous composer and I loved reading about his composition process, even though I don’t know a thing about songwriting.

The build-up to the reveal of Kathleen’s mermaid secret is long but necessary. Love and music are central to this retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” Once Kathleen learns of her mermaid curse, third act flies by as Robin and Harry help Kathleen resolve it. I won’t spoil the ending but I think it’s clever and fitting for a fairy tale retelling. The book also includes a bonus short story connecting Hans Christian Andersen to Kathleen’s ancestor. It provides some context for final act and is a welcome addition.

I recommend Claycomb’s The Mermaid’s Daughter and look forward to reading her next book.

 


 
Jae Young Kim is a born-and-bred New Yorker and a lifelong fan of fairy tales, fantasy and science fiction. She is a non-profit attorney by day and writes when she can, not always by night. The only thing that keeps her up until dawn is a good book.

 

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Book Club: When the Moon Was Ours Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was Ours

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

Books have to have a plot.

I said that recently to my six-year-old niece. Last winter, an author-illustrator of children’s books visited her school, read them his books, and taught them to draw a tree. She — a tremendous lover of books — was rapt. And ever since, she’s wanted to be an author-illustrator. That is, when she doesn’t want to be a mom or a boss.

So we make her books. We take a few pieces of paper, fold them in half, and staple them. Then she can write and illustrate her books to her heart’s content.

Her first books were what you might imagine. Pages after pages, and books after books, of scintillating prose like “This is blue,” with an equally scintillating blue dot.

On her own, she progressed. Her next round of masterpieces had pages after pages of statements like “I eat the egg,” accompanied by a picture of an egg. (Not even a fried egg, or perhaps a scrambled egg, mind you. Just an egg, still in its shell.) Each page had the same action, but a different food. Though there was no clear context of time or progression, one could assume that she would eat the egg prior to eating the grapes on the next page.

Next, she moved on to her friends. “I talk to Jenna,” with a drawing of Jenna looking lovely with her stick arms and blue skirt. “I talk to Ben.” Clearly, my niece is a fan of the present tense.

At this point, we had a talk. About plot and how, in the most interesting books, things happen. About how maybe she talked to Jenna, but then went home, learned some Spanish, ate her dinner, read some books, and didn’t talk to Ben until the next day. My niece was shockingly unconcerned about this thing called plot, though in her next book, Ben did accomplish a series of chores at the pet store. (Sorry about those hamster cages, Ben.)

As I read When the Moon Was Ours, though, I considered the accuracy of my assertion that books have to have a plot.

When the Moon Was Ours is a love story. Sam, a boy who paints moons and hangs them around town, and Miel, a girl who has roses that grow out of her wrists, are best friends who find that best friendship can be a harbinger of more. SMALL SPOILER Or, put another way, Sam, a part-Pakistani, transgender boy, and Miel, a queer Latina girl, are best friends who find that best friendship can be a harbinger of more. /SMALL SPOILER

I don’t draw that dichotomy to be reductive. Rather, Anna-Marie McLemore’s second novel is two things: one of them lovely, the other transcendent.

First, When the Moon Was Ours is a fairy tale, a story of two teens, one who paints moons and hangs them all over town, the other who has maybe magical roses growing out of her wrists. It’s about love and community and relationships and magic – maybe not always spells or potions, though there are some of those as well, but more the magic of finding your community, your family, and your romantic love. It’s about discovery and forgiveness. And even if that’s all When the Moon Was Ours were, it would be lovely because Anna-Marie McLemore is one of most lyrical fantasy authors writing today.

But that’s not even close to everything that When the Moon Was Ours is.

SAME SMALL SPOILER
McLemore has crafted a fairy tale – a lovely, magical, hopeful fairy tale – for people who don’t often see themselves represented in such things. Sam is a transgender, part-Pakistani, part-Italian boy with a single mom. Miel, a queer Latina girl who appeared from a water tower, has been raised by Aracely, the town’s curandera. These identities, so remarkable to readers who too rarely get to experience an enchanted love between people like Sam and Miel, are utterly unremarkable to Sam and Miel themselves. Not because Sam doesn’t have to work to come to terms with his gender (just like Miel has to work to come to terms with her water-tower origins), but because it never occurs to Miel not to love Sam, no matter his gender (just like it never occurs to Sam to judge Miel for, essentially, being born of a water tower). /SPOILER

And that, that layering of inclusive identities on top of painted moons and roses grown from wrists, on top of a fairy-tale love story, on top of McLemore’s dazzling prose, that makes When the Moon Was Ours transcendent. McLemore took the best parts of fairy tales and the best of who we, as people, might be, and with her stunning craft, put it all on the page.

That said, here’s where some of you might struggle with this book: The plot is virtually non-existent. There’s a bit about four sisters, maybe witches, who very much want Miel’s roses. There are some revelations, especially regarding Miel’s family, but they don’t drive the story so much as shape the characters. The tension and the minimal action, indeed, are almost entirely character driven. This is a book about coming to terms with yourself, your family, and your community, rather than antagonist witches or saving the world.

It turns out, not every book has to have a plot.

Amy
 


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

 

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Books and Breakfast: September Spotlight

Welcome to the last of our spotlights for this year’s Books and Breakfast! We have three more popular, controversial and just plain brilliant titles related to our 2017 theme of women who work magic. You can also check our highlighted titles for June (which also includes the full list), July, and August.

Read the descriptions below of 2014 Guest of Honor Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns, Angela Slatter’s A Feast of Sorrows, and Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona. Thoughts? Picked out your books for each morning? Let us know on Twitter at @sirens_con and at the hashtag #Sirens17.

 

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Dark Crowns

Every generation, three triplets on the island of Fennbirn are raised to compete for the crown. Each possesses a coveted magic: Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers; Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache; Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions. Raised apart, the sisters are fated to not only fight to become Queen, but to kill her sisters to do so. The night that Mirabella, Katharine, and Arsinoe turn sixteen, the battle begins.

Three Dark Crowns is a brave book. Kendare crafted three heroines: three difficult, conflicted, resentful heroines struggling to reconcile expectations and likely death with what they might want for themselves. Kendare also crafted a world of people who view the sisters as objects, not to be loved, but to be used to gain power. Stick with this one until its cliffhanger end: the sisters will surprise you.

 

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter

A Feast of Sorrows

This collection of short fiction features twelve of the World Fantasy and British Fantasy Award-winning author Angela Slatter’s finest, darkest fairy tales. In them are women and girls—fearless, frightened, brave, bold, frail, and fantastical—who take the paths less travelled, accept (and offer) poisoned apples, and embrace transformation in all its forms. You won’t just find princesses and ghosts, but the gamut of artisans as well: bakers, quilters, crafters, spinners, and coffin-makers. Never have the feminine arts been so magical or so deadly.

Reminiscent of Angela Carter and Emma Donoghue, or even Aimee Bender’s The Color Master, Slatter’s work is both timeless and fresh: fascinating, feminist reflections from the enchanted mirrors of fairy tales and folklore. This one is to be savored, one story, one revelation, and one smart, determined woman at a time.

 

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona

Noelle Stevenson’s award-winning webcomic became an award-winning graphic novel. Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are. But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that his sidekick’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Brilliant, witty, and subversive, Nimona includes everything from dragons to science, archnemesis and secret lovers, assassination attempts and nerdy references all over. But more than that, it’s a terrific exploration of feminine ambition and agency in the all-too-masculine world of superheroism and supervillainy.

 

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September Fantasy New Releases

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of September book releases of fantasy by and about women. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve sold a fantasy work, read a great recently-released story, discovered a fantastic link that we missed, or if you’ve got a book or story review to share, please get in touch and leave a comment below.

 

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

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: VICTORIA SCHWAB

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

Victoria Schwab

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

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

 

SCHEDULE & PROGRAMMING SUPPORT

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

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

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

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

 

MENUS

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

 

REGISTRATION TRANSFERS

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

 

9 SIRENS SHUTTLE TICKETS REMAINING

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

 

HOTEL RESERVATIONS

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

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Practical Magic

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

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

An Inheritance of Ashes

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

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

The Guns Above

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

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links


Fabulous, Free Reads!

 


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

 

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Read Along with Faye: An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

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

It’s the end of August! Which means, according to the rules of the Reading Challenge, I have just over a month to read nine-or-so books. At this point, I’ve read books that were on my radar but hadn’t tried yet, or had been itching to read anyway. But due that other rule that I must read works by authors I’ve never read before (and I have read a lot of these authors’ other works), the books remaining are mostly quiet books, or by authors I haven’t heard of, or hard to find.

Fortunately, Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes wasn’t too hard to find—I’d managed to check it out from my library. Without having read her previous Above, I went into this one without any expectations, nor any idea of the plot, setting or level of shininess (a standard YA measure for me, or also known as: how much kissing, swooning, or angst over a hot, beguiling, usually male love interest is in this book, as oft characterized by their foil-effected covers?). And, well, Ashes certainly is a quiet book. And I’m pleased to say, full of surprises, and not shiny at all, in the best way possible.

Hallie (full name Halfrida Hoffmann) and her pregnant sister Marthe run their family farm in what feels like a pre-industrial, agrarian society. There’re goats to be milked, barns to be repaired, barley to be harvested, and talks of “courting” when considering romantic interests. The next-door neighbors, the Blakelys, look in on Hallie and Marthe, since Marthe’s husband and father of her future child has not returned from the war. The two sisters are struggling, each one emotionally isolated from the other, and they’re barely surviving. But then two things happen: Hallie hires a veteran soldier, Heron, to help out on the farm before winter sets in (even though there’s something off about him), and she finds a Twisted Thing on her property.

Then, another detail. It turns out we’re not in the past. We’re in the aftermath of war—a victorious one, whatever that means—set in a society in post-industrial decline, after cities and all their tech “went dark.” The war that Heron, Tyler Blakely and Marthe’s husband Thom all fought in was one of, well, portal magic, and the Twisted Things are instruments of a Wicked God in another dimension, presumed to be eradicated after the war ended. This unusual setting allows Bobet freedom to come up with new norms and new standards of normalcy: a queer couple’s relationship is featured prominently and unremarked upon, the best scientist for miles around is a young girl, and her characters are a melting pot of ethnicities and skin colors.

But where Bobet shines the most is what I like to call the “low fantasy” stuff—not the epic battlegrounds or complex intrigue of kings and generals, but the mundane, every day, equally significant events in the lives of farmers, soldiers and small townspeople. Heron must come to terms with his past and how the rest of the Great Army perceives him. Tyler, injured from his service in the war, feels constricted by his caring mother and sharp sister who only want him to be healthy. Hallie’s coming-of-age is easy to believe and root for: here’s a girl who constantly feels like she can’t do anything right, but still tries so damn hard. Her fraught relationship with Marthe has scabbed over wounds from years of abuse from their now-dead father—wounds that have festered, reared their ugly heads, and taken flight before finally being healed.

Ashes has all this, plus musings on small-town politics and what it means to be a hero or a villain. It’s set against the backdrop of a refreshingly different time period and a vague but real magical threat. It starts slowly, is sparse with flash, and though there is some kissing, it’s pretty quiet. I am someone who loves quiet books. If you do too, An Inheritance of Ashes won’t just be up your alley, but the reason you bowl.

(I read this on e- so I don’t know if the cover is shiny. Is it?)
 


 
Faye Bi is a book-publishing professional based in New York City, and leads the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.
 

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Inclusivity at Sirens: Kate Larking

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs
 


 

I’m Kate Larking, reading and writing enthusiast, and I am one of the few people who has had the pleasure of attending Sirens every single year. I have been on the literary convention circuit for ten years, nine of them spent visiting Sirens each and every October. It’s quite the commitment, given the Canadian-American exchange rate and the international travel fares. But is it a pilgrimage I gladly make.

Sirens is more than a conference that focuses on women and other marginalized identities in speculative fiction. Sirens has become a community—a family—to me, my writing, and my reading. I’ve developed into the person I am because my wonderful experiences there, above all other conventions. If I only have the opportunity to attend one conference a year, I would choose Sirens—no contest, no comparisons needed.

Sirens’s growth this year has far surpassed expectations. After all, since I’ve been attending, the conference has held steady at a certain size. But for the 80% more new people, I am exhilarated—so many new voices, new experiences, new reading recommendations, and new friends to make!—and yet terrified. Sirens has become a safe place for me where I can be challenged to grow. I’m afraid of what may happen to the literary sphere I love. But the actions of the coordinators, assembling a group to write on intersectionality to ensure a lovely and lively community while at Sirens, gives me hope.

So let me illustrate to you what Sirens means to me:

When I was asked to write an article on intersectionality at Sirens, I immediately felt unqualified. Anyone would, after all. Each and every one of us is a single person among the world’s population. But I have come to understand that I am a cross-section of identities.

I am a cis white married lesbian mother, and a born-and-raised atheist Canadian. I am under the influence of depression more often than I—well, anyone—would like. This identity contributes to everything I do and everything I experience. Primarily, everything I create and everything I read.

My main creative project at the moment is the queer space opera webcomic, Crash and Burn. I work with a non-binary illustrator, Finn, and together we challenge existing prevalent queer narratives. We work hard to retain control over the comic, which means self-publishing, hand-selling at conventions, and speaking up about queer identities both in real life and fiction. The more I work on the comic and interact with readers in public spaces, the more aware I am of microaggressions and the weight they carry. Each time someone makes an insensitive statement (or asks a question) about the comic or us, the heavier it is to carry on through the day.

Actual statement at a convention: “Queer space opera? Who thinks of this stuff?”

It doesn’t stop at dialogue. The derogative and challenging rhetoric continues online, in review channels and in award nomination roundups:

Actual review excerpt: “I notice that the artist found it necessary to note that ‘they’ is/are ‘agender,’ and uses the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’ in the preface; I do wonder why not use ‘xe’ and ‘xem’ as in the work? It would feel fitting—unless Finn is more than one person.”

As a queer person, working creatively in the face of these hurtful assumptions and comments can be difficult (understatement). On one hand, you want to create more, and assert the presence of these queer identities more. On the other hand, you are exhausted, frustrated, irritable, furious, and still trying to maintain a professional and affable exterior as required at a conference or convention. But it isn’t a queer person’s job to act as a sole ambassador and educator on their identity.

To combat these microaggressions and identity-challenges, we’ve deployed a few marketing tactics:

  1. We put “Queer space opera” on our biggest banner.
  2. Finn made a misgendering jar—like a swear jar but queer. Misgender one of us, pay a dollar (all proceeds go to an LGBT-supportive charity).
  3. We deployed flags from various queer identities represented in our work on the table, as a queer shorthand, to make that representation visible to those identities.

The banner does its job, I have to say. People see us across the hall, come over, and hear what we are about. And we love these passionate, enthusiastic, welcoming readers. They are kind and generous; they listen to our voices and learn from the context of our discussions of what they might need to Google and read up on later.

It works in other ways, too. Other people glance at the word queer and self-select away from our table. More often than not, it’s caregivers guiding their young charges away from us, as though we are more offensive than the scantily-clothed, misogynistic portrayal of women in comics at the table next to us. (In all honesty, we expect to meet the kids in person in a few years when this happens.) So while we’re fine with people self-selecting out, some of those would-be microaggressions become full-fledged aggressions.

Actual statement at a convention: “I want to let you know that I am not buying this because it is queer.”

I’m sharing these anecdotes because I want to make something very clear about these conventions versus this one:

Sirens is different.

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. At Sirens, we don’t attack character identities in our discussions, criticize cultures, or apply an arbitrary-binary the character may or may not belong in.

The reason we read, the reason we gather, and the reason we discuss is to open our eyes, challenge our identity-based perspectives on the world, support representation and those represented, and grow together. And when we go home, we are stronger, wiser, better-informed, supported and supportive in our community.

 


 
Kate Larking is a book buyer for an independent bookstore. In her off hours, between binge-watching anime and leveling-up game characters, she writes speculative fiction for both young adult and adult markets. Her queer space opera comic, Crash and Burn, was a finalist for the 2016 and 2017 Aurora Award for best English Graphic Novel. She cofounded Anxiety Ink, a community of writers dealing with the stress and challenges of writing. She resides in Calgary, Alberta, with her wife, daughter, and six pets.
 

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Badass Ladies, Liminal Magic

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

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

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

 

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Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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