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First Time at Sirens? 11 Tips and Tricks

In just a few short days, we’ll be welcoming attendees to our tenth annual Sirens! While we’re excited to celebrate our conference theme of reunion, we also know that for many of you, this will be your first time attending—so read on for some tips, tricks, and general things to know before you start your journey to Colorado:

  1. Follow us on Twitter at @sirens_con and the event hashtag #Sirens18 (if you haven’t already!). We’ll be tweeting programming reminders, last-minute changes, quotes from presenters and guests, pictures of things like auction items, and more!

  2. Come to our new-attendee session. We’re hosting a session specifically for new attendees on Thursday at 5:00 p.m. in the McCoy’s Peak room. You’ll have a chance to hear more about how Sirens works, ask all your questions, and meet other new attendees.

  3. Find a Sirens Ambassador. We’ve appointed 19 seasoned attendees as Sirens ambassadors, specifically so our new attendees will be able to find a friendly face in the crowd. Our ambassadors will be wearing a special button when they’re available for conversations. Feel free to pepper them with your questions or find them when you’re feeling adrift or out of place—they’re here to help!

  4. Start a conversation. Everyone at Sirens is a reader. Whether you’re waiting for the shuttle, lounging in the hotel lobby, or eating at a table, it’s easy to use book talk to break the ice.

  5. Attend programming. Sirens’s programming is presented by our attendees, for our attendees—and as everyone’s voice at Sirens is vital to our community, our presenters include readers, librarians, and educators, as well as the scholars, authors, and professionals that you might be expecting. We’ve had a record year of proposal submissions and are able to offer four tracks of programming! Check out our full schedule and our summaries of programming, geek out over what’s being offered, and plan out your day. Conversations are highly encouraged in between sessions, and sometimes even during sessions, like in the case of roundtables or Q&As.

  6. Seating is open. Unless the seat is specified as “Reserved,” feel free to sit anywhere while at programming, Books and Breakfast, Bedtime Stories, the community room, or at meals—but please leave the seating closest to doors and aisles open for attendees who might need a closer seat or some extra room to maneuver.

  7. Looking for a group for dinner? Check the program book. We’ll have a list of meet-up times and locations, as well as a list of dining recommendations.

  8. We have a bookstore, specially stocked with over a thousand fantasy titles by women and nonbinary authors. If you want recommendations, we’re holding Books with Amy and Faye at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday and 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Friday in the community room, when the staff will try to sell you books upon books. A word of warning: we’re pretty good at it—some people save their book money all year for our bookstore and some bring a second suitcase to take their treasures home! Shipping is also available for a fee (media mail, in the United States only).

  9. We have an auction, of amazing items, some hand-crafted, some one-of-a-kind, some that you simply won’t want to leave behind. The proceeds are crucial to covering a large portion of Sirens’s expenses and keeping our prices down. Your registration bag will include information about the auction and a list of offered items. We hope you’ll bid early and often!

  10. Check out our accessibility policy. Sirens is committed to making the conference accessible for a variety of individuals, but we need your help to do so. Please take a look at our accessibility policy (and also printed in your program book), and then consider how you might help make Sirens accessible for others.

  11. Bring a bathing suit! The hotel has a heated outdoor pool, and five, count ‘em, five hot tubs. Not to mention Aqua Sanitas—a special water ritual at the spa accessible for an additional fee.

Any more questions? Please do come to our in-person, new-attendee session:

Thursday, October 25 at 5:00 p.m.
Sirens New Attendee Orientation
McCoy’s Peak
(room) next door to registration
Gerald R. Ford Hall (meeting level)
Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa

We can’t wait to meet you at Sirens!

A version of this post initially ran in October 2017.

 

The Official Sirens Guide to Surviving the Altitude

A week from today, some of you will already be frolicking in Beaver Creek, and the rest of you won’t be far behind! And we know, some of you may be thinking, oh, the altitude, it’ll be fiiine. For some of you, that might be true! But those of us whose homes are at sea level, who don’t train for hikes in Machu Picchu or own season ski passes, read on: This post is for you.

Fact: Colorado has the highest average altitude in the United States, and is the seventh driest state. Much of it is actually a high-plains desert. If you’ve been to Denver, you’ll know it’s not called the Mile-High City for nothing: The steps of the State Capitol are at 5,280 feet. In Beaver Creek, the average elevation is a whopping 3,000 feet higher at 8,100 feet. (For reference, most airplane cabins are pressurized between 5,000–8,000 feet as a safe and healthy range for most people.)

In Beaver Creek, the sky is bluer, the sun is brighter, and the air is thinner—which means less oxygen going to your brain. You might breathe more quickly, find yourself in need of a nap, or be prone to headaches. But! You can help avoid dehydration and other dastardly effects of altitude with these tips in mind:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration and high altitude can both bring headaches. Drink water early and often—you can even drink a sports drink, with electrolytes, for an extra boost. For a good rule of thumb, drink whenever you see our conference co-chair Sabrina Chin take a sip. (The rallying call for this is, “When Sabrina drinks, you drink!”) And we’ve got you covered: We’ll have Sirens water bottles, with some of our fabulous artwork, for sale in our community room.

  • Balm it up. Because of the lack of moisture in the air, you might need to apply extra lip balm, nasal spray, eye drops, and lotion to keep yourself comfortable.

  • Eat a snack. May your bellies be full. With high altitude can come a bigger appetite—your body is working extra hard to compensate for less oxygen and lower temperatures.

  • Be aware of the sun. Thinner air means less protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Whether you burn easily at sea level or not, you will in Beaver Creek—so make sure that you cover up and apply sunscreen if you’re going for a hike or enjoying the grounds. Bring your sunglasses, too! Believe us, your eyes can burn.

  • You might need more sleep than usual. Or you might be really tired from the plane ride in, or suffering from jetlag or insomnia. Nevertheless, lethargy is real in the mountains. Who says naps are only for babies?

  • Alcohol will have a greater effect on you, so imbibe judiciously. One drink at sea level equals two or even three in the mountains. Please consider moderating your drinking—and drink plenty of water during and afterwards. If not, your headache the next morning probably isn’t altitude sickness; it’s a hangover. (And if you complain, we will be tempted to give you the side-eye…)

  • If you feel a headache coming in, up your fluid intake and try taking ordinary painkillers. Chances are, you’ll feel much better with some rest, too.

  • If you’re struggling with the altitude, consider altitude pills or supplemental oxygen. Some people have found that these help; some people think these are nonsense to take advantage of tourists. Regardless, the Beaver Creek Market, just minutes from the Park Hyatt, will sell you both.

If your headache does not respond to more water and ordinary painkillers, and is accompanied by nausea, extreme fatigue, inability to sleep, swelling, or continued rapid heartbeat, please see the hotel’s front desk. You are within the small percentage of people misfortunate enough to experience altitude sickness. While altitude sickness generally clears up within a few days, the Park Hyatt can help with treatment options.

For more information in the meantime, you can check out our page on Altitude. Any other questions, please contact us at (help at sirensconference.org). We’re looking forward to seeing you all next week, and we want your experience at Sirens to be amazing!

A version of this post initially ran in October 2017.

 

Read Along with Faye: Books I Read for the 2018 Reading Challenge

Success! After not meeting my goal last year, I’m proud to share that I’ve completed this year’s Sirens Reading Challenge: 26 books. Because it’s a reunion year, I had more books to read than a usual Sirens year—often, I’ve already read a few of the books on the required theme list and can get a bit of a boost. But with four themes to revisit, I was forced to abide by the asterisked rule per category: books I’d read previously, and authors I’ve read previously, were ineligible. That Amy Tenbrink, she’s sneaky.

Reading Challenge Collage: Faye Bi
*Unpictured: Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel, as I made this list prior to the change. But I have read it, though!

Here are some stray observations I offer to you, fellow readers, which you are welcome to discuss with me in the comments or in person at Sirens:

  • Novellas reign supreme in adult fantasy and science fiction. I like reading them, and publishers seem to like publishing them. Perhaps readers like myself—and publishers putting them out—are catching on that you don’t necessarily need a doorstopper to get a great fantasy book. It’s no surprise I chose to read them for this challenge; they’re quicker to read, are the perfect length to truly explore a concept and focus on craft, and you can really sink into it over short stories (some of which are over too quick!). Some of my favorite reads this year were novellas: Passing Strange and The Black Tides of Heaven.
     
  • I’m hard to impress in YA. YA has been rough for me for the past few years now. I refuse to lower my standards for YA books, having worked in children’s publishing for the last eight years. I have my favorite standbys, Laini Taylor and Megan Whalen Turner, who are ineligible for the challenge. Contemporary YA has been really exciting lately; I think I’m looking for diversity, worldbuilding, and craft in fantasy YA, and I couldn’t quite find a book this year—by a new author eligible for my challenge—that hit all three.
     
  • More pictures, please. One of the best books I read this year was The One Hundred Nights of Hero, which I’m a little surprised seems under the radar (or maybe it isn’t and I need new book friends?) But I didn’t get as much graphic novel love as I did last year, and I miss it.
     
  • I need to pace my reading for next year. What happened, inevitably, is that I inhaled all the books I was looking forward to reading at the beginning of 2018, and then stalled, and stalled, until late August when I realized I still had ten books left to go, none of which I was super looking forward to (though there were some surprises!). Because if I had, I would have read them earlier. It made for a pretty frantic last month.

The quick five-question survey, modified for reunion year.

Favorite Book: Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, which matches the rage I so often feel, especially this last week. Probably the best book I’ve read in the last five years, if I’m being honest.

Favorite Reunion Category: This is a tough one. Rebels and revolutionaries is my favorite theme that we’ve ever had, but this year, all the hauntings books I read were pretty great: The Walls Around Us, The Memory Trees, and Sing, Unburied, Sing. Followed by lovers, a category that was never really my favorite—but I loved The One Hundred Nights of Hero and Passing Strange.

Favorite New (Or New-to-You) Author: Angela Slatter and her collection A Feast of Sorrows. This is how you write a collection of fairy tales!

Favorite Female/Nonbinary Character in a Book: Mary and Ada in The Case of the Missing Moonstone, because they complement each other beautifully and are so freaking awesome. Also known as the Most Delightful Duo.

Book that wasn’t what you expected: Food of the Gods was certainly the biggest surprise, as it’s the most absurd. I also had expectations going into Girls Made of Snow and Glass, Poisoned Apples, and Caraval, which none of them really met. I was also a bit surprised by The Geek Feminist Revolution, which I very much enjoyed, but seemed to be written primarily for a writerly audience that I am not part of.

Here’s the full list of what I read:

Guest of Honor Books: Required

Kameron Hurley, The Geek Feminist Revolution
Violet Kupersmith, The Frangipani Hotel (read in a previous Sirens year)
Anna-Marie McLemore, When the Moon Was Ours (read in a previous Sirens year)
Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone (read previously)
(also Zen Cho, Spirits Abroad)

Hauntings Books: Pick Three

Nova Ren Suma, The Walls Around Us
Kali Wallace, The Memory Trees
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing

Revolutionaries Books: Pick Three

Lara Elena Donnelly, Amberlough
Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes
Christine Heppermann, Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty

Lovers Books: Pick Three

Isabel Greenberg, The One Hundred Nights of Hero
Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere
Ellen Klages, Passing Strange

Women Who Work Magic Books: Pick Three

S. A. Chakraborty, City of Brass
Rin Chupeco, The Bone Witch
Mary Rickert, The Memory Garden

Middle Grade/Young Adult Books: Pick Five

Melissa Bashardoust, Girls Made of Snow and Glass
Lindsay Eagar, Hour of the Bees
Stephanie Garber, Caraval
Jordan Stratford & Kelly Murphy, The Case of the Missing Moonstone
Ibi Zoboi, American Street

Adult Books: Pick Five

Cassandra Khaw, Food of the Gods
Fonda Lee, Jade City
Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties
Angela Slatter, A Feast of Sorrows
J. Y. Yang, The Black Tides of Heaven

Now please excuse me as I read all of the sequels and author favorites in the next month before the 2019 challenge comes out!


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.

 

Where Are They Now: 2017 Guests of Honor

This fall will mark our tenth year of Sirens. With our conference theme of reunion, it’s the perfect chance to reflect on past conferences and revisit some old friends. In this series, we check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. If you attended Sirens that year, please share with us your memories of 2017—last year!—in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2017, our theme was women who work magic, and our Guests of Honor were Zoraida Córdova, N. K. Jemisin, and Victoria Schwab.

Zoraida Córdova

Zoraida CórdovaBruja Born

Since Labyrinth Lost was released, Zoraida has published the second book in the Brooklyn Brujas series— Bruja Born in June 2018—which features Alex’s beautiful older sister, Lula. To celebrate her new book, Zoraida spoke at bookstores across the country with author Dhonielle Clayton and additional guests on the Belles and Brujas Tour throughout the month of June. The next book in the series, featuring Alex’s youngest sister Rose, will come out in 2019.

Zoraida’s short fiction has appeared in two recent anthologies: “You Owe Me a Ride” in the 2017 Star Wars collection From a Certain Point of View (alongside other past Sirens Guests of Honor Renée Ahdieh, Rae Carson, and Nnedi Okorafor); and “Divine Are the Stars” in Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft, which was edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood and was released in late August 2018.

In 2019, look out for the first of Zoraida’s new YA fantasy duology Hollow Crown, which is “loosely based on the Spain of the 15th century, reimagining the Inquisition as a battle between a cruel, autocratic state and rebel magicians.” The sequel will be published in 2020.

Where She Is Now: Hard at work on her next novel! Zoraida can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Upcoming Appearances: Zoraida is making a number of appearances across the country from now until the end of October, including Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia. Check out the full list on Zoraida’s Twitter here. Don’t forget, Zoraida is also teaching at the Sirens Studio and will appear at Sirens this October 23–28, 2018!

 

N. K. Jemisin

N. K. JemisinHow Long 'til Black Future Month

N. K. (Nora) Jemisin made history back in August for winning the third consecutive Hugo Award for Best Novel for The Stone Sky, the last in her Broken Earth trilogy; the previous two books The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate also won Hugos. You can watch her Hugo acceptance speech here, and read a transcript here! The Stone Sky also won the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novel, as well as the 2018 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. Last month, Entertainment Weekly dubbed Nora the “new queen of fantasy.” A special Broken Earth boxed set was released earlier this week.

A Fifth Season television series is also in development at TNT.

Also released this week was the collection, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018, which Nora guest edited with series editor John Joseph Adams.

Nora’s short fiction collection How Long ’til Black Future Month? will come out in late November 2018, which will include new stories as well as her award-winning “The City Born Great.” In a press release, Nora shares, “I think my longtime readers will enjoy the chance to see the evolution of my style and attitude, and I hope new readers will like just seeing what kinds of worlds and weirdness I can come up with.”

Where She Is Now: After three years of reviewing science fiction and fantasy books in the New York Times column “Otherworldly,” Nora stepped down from her post in January 2018 though she occasionally still contributes long-form reviews. She is currently focusing on various book projects, including an upcoming contemporary fantasy. You can find her on Twitter.

Upcoming Appearances: Nora will be at New York Comic-Con on October 6–7, 2018 and the BRIC house in Brooklyn, NY on October 23, 2018.

 

Victoria Schwab

Victoria SchwabVengeful

Victoria has been busy writing, publishing, and promoting books! In August 2018, Victoria’s newest novel for young readers, The City of Ghosts, was published and became a New York Times bestseller. It features a girl who can see ghosts and is set in Edinburgh!

In September, we finally got a sequel to Victoria’s breakout adult novel Vicious in Vengeful, starring a new villain Marcella Riggins who is not above “collecting her own sidekicks, and leveraging the two most infamous EOs, Victor Vale and Eli Ever, against each other.”

For fans of Victoria’s recently concluded Shades of Magic trilogy, a super pretty boxed set will be available in mid-October, and includes some bonus content including a pull-out map. You might also want to clutch your fabulous coat close—Victoria will be helming a prequel comic book series titled Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince, with artist Andrea Olimpieri and colorist Enrica Eren Angiolini. The first issue comes out next week, with the second to follow in November!

Film buffs, you’re covered too—a Shades of Magic movie is in development with Sony.

Look for Victoria’s essay “Black Whole” in the Kelly Jensen-edited collection on mental health, (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health, available now.

Where She Is Now: On the road promoting Vengeful—check out her list of appearances here. Highlights include New York Comic-Con on October 4–6, 2018 and the Texas Book Festival on October 27–29, 2018! You can find Victoria on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Books and Breakfast: Spotlight on Women Who Work Magic

Each year, we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books—and then, during Sirens, invite our attendees to bring their breakfast and discuss them. Over the years, this program has highlighted the depth and breadth of each of our annual themes and given attendees yet another opportunity to deconstruct, interrogate, and celebrate what women and nonbinary authors are doing in fantasy literature.

This year, our Books and Breakfast program will feature eight books, with two dedicated to each of the themes of our past four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. The complete list of our selections and a spotlight on our hauntings selections are here; a spotlight on our rebels and revolutionaries selections is here; and our spotlight on our lovers selections is here. We hope this helps you pick which ones you might like to read before Sirens!

 
2018 BOOKS AND BREAKFAST SELECTIONS

Hauntings

The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Rebels and Revolutionaries

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Lovers

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Women Who Work Magic

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

 
SPOTLIGHT ON WOMEN WHO WORK MAGIC

Our two Books and Breakfast picks focused on women who work magic are S. A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass and Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s Spellbook of the Lost and Found. Do you plan on picking these up soon? Let us know! Tweet @sirens_con or use the hashtag #Sirens18!

 

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass

The City of Brass opens in eighteenth-century Cairo, with Nahri—who despite having readily apparent magic, refuses to believe in it. She gets by on the streets by reading palms, stealing, and performing some rather miraculous healings. As part of a con, Nahri accidentally summons Dara, a djinn, and then all hell breaks loose. The dead rise from the mausoleum, Dara forces Nahri to flee from Cairo on a flying carpet, and a giant bird of unknowable power appears in the desert. How about that magic now, Nahri?

Nahri goes kicking and screaming. Despite her life on the streets in Cairo, she wants nothing to do with Dara, his magic carpet, or his impossible stories of ancient beings of fire and water. Or, for that matter, their destination: Daevabad, a magical city with mysterious ties to Nahri’s magical heritage—and one where secrets abound, plots unfurl, and magic is practically palpable.

Charkraborty has said that The City of Brass began as, essentially, history fanfiction. Scant references to djinn and Suleiman and myths that she researched and then wove into an entire secondary fantasy world stretching from Morocco to Ethiopia to China. In many, many ways, The City of Brass is a tour de force: breathtaking world-building, near-seamlessly dropped into actual history and geography; an extensive fantastic history, about which the reader salivates to know more; myriad distinct cultures premised on war or culture or art. This world is as impressive—and as interesting—as Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse or Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire universe; the art and culture as well-designed as Cassandra Khaw’s Food of the Gods or Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus; the secondary characters as developed and fascinating as Fonda Lee’s or Alex Marshall’s. You’ll want to stay a while.

 

Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Spellbook of the Lost and Found

If you’ve read Fowley-Doyle’s previous novel, The Accident Season, you know her allure: She takes something so everyday, so commonplace, and turns it into a fairy tale, one that you’re not even sure is a fairy tale, as she glides along just the other side of coincidence and conjecture. She lives in the very best of that liminal space between the strangeness of our ordinary world and the merest bits of magic. Her work is gorgeous.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found does for lost things what The Accident Season did for accidents: examine the deeper meanings and interconnected themes of something that happens to all of us. It starts with hairclips and jewelry, but so soon, it’s so much more: a sense of safety, maybe a friendship, seemingly a person.

And while things are lost, others are found: The diary pages of a girl named Laurel—which hint at mysteries and magic. Three strangers squatting in an abandoned estate house. A spellbook. A spellbook that works.

If living in Fowley-Doyle’s enchanted spaces aren’t enough, if her oh-so-Irish, lyrical prose isn’t enough, stay in Spellbook of the Lost and Found for the twist toward the end, which ties everything—shockingly, beautifully—up neatly, almost savagely. No one gets out of this one unscarred, but maybe that’s just everyday life.

 

New Fantasy Books: October 2018

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of October 2018 fantasy book releases by and about women and nonbinary folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, in the comments!

 

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 10, Issue 10 (September 2018)

In this issue:

 

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

Volunteers are vital to Sirens. Our greatest need during the conference is for room monitors—the designated adult for the room! Typical duties involve helping presenters keep on time, closing the doors if the room gets full, and getting help for more involved troubleshooting. Shifts last for a morning or afternoon, for a few hours at a time.

For more details, please visit our volunteer page. 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 to claim a shift or two.

 

IN-KIND DONATIONS: AUCTION ITEMS

Wakanda carvings, a magical adventure kit, a whale of a quilt—these are just some of the items in our auction this year! If you are planning to donate auction items, you’ll need to complete our new in-kind donation form no later than Monday, October 1. (If you are donating multiple auction items, please note that you must complete the form multiple times.) More information is available on our auction page.

 

UPCOMING INSTRUCTION EMAILS

In the coming weeks, we’ll be sending important instruction emails to registered attendees on how to meet the Sirens Shuttle, check in for the Sirens Studio and Sirens, and find the Sirens Supper—which is in a new location this year! Presenters will also receive communications from the programming team.

If you’re riding the Sirens Shuttle and you have not yet provided us with your flight information, please 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.

 

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: GUESTS OF HONOR

To celebrate our conference theme of reunion, we continue to reflect on past conferences and check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. In 2015, our theme was rebels and revolutionaries, and our Guests of Honor were Rae Carson, Kate Elliott, and Yoon Ha Lee. Read the full post.

In 2016, our theme was lovers, and our Guests of Honor were Renée Ahdieh, Laurie J. Marks, and Kiini Ibura Salaam. Read the full post.

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST: SPOTLIGHT ON LOVERS

Sirens veterans know that we choose a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme, and invite attendees to bring their breakfast on conference mornings and discuss the selections. View all our 2018 selections—with four themes to match our reunion year!—including our picks for 2016’s lovers theme featuring Roshani Chokshi’s A Crown of Wishes and Ellen Klages’s Passing Strange.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Like Water for Chocolate

Sirens co-founder Amy read Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate this month: “a scalding, blistering work of fiery passions and violent anger and ultimately, literal conflagration.” Read her review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Are you, like Faye, sprinting to the 2018 Reading Challenge finish line? So close! Melissa Bashardoust’s Girls Made of Snow and Glass had a premise she loved: “the queen stepmother and the princess are pitted as rivals, but realize they are more similar than they are different. They eventually recognize each other’s strength and power, and rule the realm together.” Read her thoughts on the execution on the blog and on 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).

 

Read Along with Faye: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

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

Girls Made of Snow and Glass

The premise of Melissa Bashardoust’s Girls Made of Snow and Glass is stunning: a feminist retelling of Snow White where the queen stepmother and the princess are pitted as rivals, but realize they are more similar than they are different. They eventually recognize each other’s strength and power, and rule the realm together. If someone gave me this elevator pitch, I would ride it all the way up to the penthouse! It’s certainly why I picked this up in the first place.

And that is partly the reason why I was so lukewarm towards the actual execution. It feels as if someone had said, “Hey, do you know what would make a really great book?” but then only gave an outline—or fable, perhaps?—instead of a full-length novel. The outline is pretty good: in a cursed land where the snow falls year-round, Mina has married King Nicholas after the beautiful queen dies, now a stepmother to his infant daughter. Though their marriage is loveless, Mina has ambitions of her own, and plans to build a university in the South, where she is from. Lynet grows to be sixteen, the absolute spitting image of her late mother, and seen by everyone—her father the king, the council, etc.—to fill her delicate, dainty shoes in both looks and personality.

But here is the twist, and it’s a good one. Mina and Lynet are actually close. Lynet wishes to step outside of her dead mother’s shadow and be her own person; Mina has always wanted that for her, even though her husband the king would rather his daughter copy his dead wife. They have a well-established mother-daughter relationship at the beginning of the novel, even when everyone else expects them to resent each other. More yet, they both share a secret: Mina’s heart is made of glass, fashioned by her magician father Gregory, and Lynet—well, Lynet was created by Mina’s father as well. The former queen did not die after giving birth to Lynet… Lynet is fashioned completely from snow. As a consequence of such magic, both Mina and Lynet have power over their glass and snow respectively, including the power to conjure and shape inanimate objects and animate beings.

While the magic is not particularly well fleshed out—Lynet conjures a cloak from snow, but can she create food that’s truly nourishing? Does vanishing something mean it’s destroyed? How do you create organic matter out of thin air? Etc. Etc.—it does have a crucial limitation: life requires blood. Gregory gave his own blood to give Lynet a pulse, so yes, she is a real person and not a hollow body like the Huntsman, and that’s the only indication of magical cost and the crux of the novel’s conflict. But given the misunderstandings galore in this novel, one truly wonders why either Lynet nor Mina didn’t just conjure a bird with a message to fly to the other person and get this Shakespearean drama (including a fake death!) sorted out once and for all.

Ultimately, however, my biggest complaint with Girls Made of Snow and Glass is the lack of specificity. The setting, for instance, feels incredibly generic, lacking the details that make Arendelle Arendelle, or Winterfell Winterfell. We know it’s cold, and there’s a curse. Most of the court politics and personality descriptors are told rather than shown, and while they’re relevant to the main plot, they feel like unsatisfying filler. So, the reader must hinge on something else, perhaps the characters? Well, there are only five characters total: Mina, Lynet, the king-who-eventually-dies, Mina’s magician father with his own motives, and the young surgeon, Nadia. Seven if you count the Huntsman and the head Pidgeon/court lady whose name I forget. As such, it feels small. That means that a lot of the novel is focused on the inner lives of these characters and their emotions—is my stepmother planning to kill me? Who could ever love a girl with a glass heart? I was going to sell you out but you changed everything for me!—without any textual examples to sink into and make me actually feel those emotions.

Still, that said, there is plenty to like in Girls Made of Snow and Glass. Bashardoust was successful in pacing two perspectives in different timelines—contemporary Lynet and past Mina—and weaving them together for the last act. The romance between Lynet and Nadia is a lovely idea, but the focus between Lynet and Mina is front and center, as it should be. It reminds me much of Malinda Lo’s Ash, with much of the same strengths and flaws (great, underrepresented premise, yet lack of specificity in setting, characters, and plot). I can only hope that, as Bashardoust’s first novel, her subsequent efforts will be more what I’m looking for in my reading.

Next month: A recap of Faye’s 2018 Reading Challenge!


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.

 

Where Are They Now: 2016 Guests of Honor

This fall will mark our tenth year of Sirens. With our conference theme of reunion, it’s the perfect chance to reflect on past conferences and revisit some old friends. In this series, we check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. If you attended Sirens that year, please share with us your memories of 2016 in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2016, our theme was lovers, and our Guests of Honor were Renée Ahdieh, Laurie J. Marks, and Kiini Ibura Salaam.

Renée Ahdieh

Renée AhdiehSmoke in the Sun

In 2017, Renée published a new YA romantic fantasy set against the backdrop of feudal Japan titled Flame in the Mist, starring seventeen-year-old Mariko, the only daughter of a samurai, who is ambushed by a group of lethal bandits on her journey to the imperial court. It was a New York Times Bestseller and won a 2018 Southern Book Prize for young adult fiction. In anticipation of this past June’s second of the duology, Smoke in the Sun, two digital short stories were also published, Okami and Yumi, eponymously titled after supporting characters in the saga.

You can catch some of Renée’s short fiction in the 2017 Star Wars anthology, From a Certain Point of View (her story is “The Luckless Rodian”), alongside the works of other past Sirens guests of honor Rae Carson and Zoraida Córdova. She also contributed to A Thousand Endings and Beginnings, a collection of stories reimagining the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia, with the story “Nothing to All.”

Where She Is Now: “I live in North Carolina (Go Heels!) with my husband Victor and our dog Mushu. In my spare time, I like to cook, mess with makeup, and wreak havoc on the lives of my characters.

 

Laurie J. Marks

Laurie J. MarksAir Logic

Fans of Laurie’s Elemental Logic series, the wait is (quite nearly) over! Small Beer Press has announced that the fourth and final volume, Air Logic, will be released on July 9, 2019. This is not a drill! Twelve long years after Water Logic, Laurie brings us back to Shaftal at last. Check out Small Beer’s book page for more information.

Where She Is Now: From writer Rosemary Kirstein’s website, we’ve learned that Laurie is still working at the University of Massachusetts and hard at work on her next novel.

 

Kiini Ibura Salaam

Kiini Ibura SalaamWhen the World Wounds

In November 2016, Kiini published her next collection of short stories When the World Wounds, which “continues her exploration of the dark, the sensual, and the mysterious with fiction that disturbs, delights, and dazzles” that we have come to expect from Ancient, Ancient. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. One of the stories, “The Malady of Need,” also appeared in the anthology Sycorax’s Daughters—co-edited by 2018 Sirens Studio faculty member Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks and featuring poems and stories by African American women writers—with some slight tweaks.

Kiini traveled extensively to cons, signings, and various events in 2017 to promote When the World Wounds. “I promised I’d spend a year promoting the book, and that’s just what I did. Now 2018 will be a year of minimal traveling and writing, writing, writing.

Apex Magazine re-ran Kiini’s piercing non-fiction essay “‘There’s No Racism Here?’ A Black Woman in the Dominican Republic” in their September 2018 issue.

Where She Is Now: Working as an editor and copyeditor in New York. Kiini and her daughter live in Brooklyn.

 

Book Club: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

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!

Like Water for Chocolate

In 1989, when Like Water for Chocolate was first published, I was 13. I was reading my mother’s mysteries and bodice rippers, where the girls were either, respectively, dead or had to be told how much they wanted sex. I was consumed with my own perfectionism and already worried about achieving perfect grades, perfect attendance, and perfect extracurricular activities in high school, which I wouldn’t even start for another year. I did not read Like Water for Chocolate when it came out.

But maybe I should have.

In certain Spanish-speaking countries, the phrase “like water for chocolate” means “furious.” Often, in those countries, hot chocolate is made with near-boiling water, so the simile is, essentially, so mad that one is boiling over, rage-filled, livid. And Laura Esquivel’s book is so much like water for chocolate: a scalding, blistering work of fiery passions and violent anger and ultimately, literal conflagration.

Widowed Mama Elena has three daughters: Gertrudis, Rosaura, and the youngest, Tita. Like Water for Chocolate is Tita’s story, born of Mama Elena’s insistence that, as in family tradition, Tita never marry and instead stay home to take care of her mother. As with life, instead, Tita is the first of the girls to fall in love, instantly and fervidly with Pedro, who promptly appears in Mama Elena’s living room to ask for Tita’s hand in marriage. Mama Elena refuses, of course, and instead offers Rosaura to Pedro, who…accepts. Pedro’s reasoning is that, by marrying her sister, he can be close to Tita. Tita is predictably heartbroken and bakes her sorrow into Rosaura and Pedro’s wedding feast, causing sickness and, ultimately, a magical realism river of vomit.

Like Water for Chocolate, while purportedly told in monthly segments full of recipes and cooking tips – as befits Tita’s passion for cooking – in fact covers over 20 years of Tita’s life: her love of Pedro; Gertrudis’s escape from the household (another magical realism moment of unquenchable passion that culminates in a naked race into the desert and sex with a stranger on a horse); Mama Elena’s death (and haunting of Tita); and finally Tita and Pedro’s eventual consummation of their passion, only to have Pedro’s orgasm cause his death – upon which Tita, unwilling to let him go, creates her own death, burning the ancestral family ranch to the ground in the process. Does that sound like a lot? That’s not even the half of it!

Like Water for Chocolate is, even more than Tita and Pedro’s story, Tita and Mama Elena’s. Tita is, fundamentally, a creature of her mother’s making: selfless, abused, oppressed, a perfectionist. The first story in the book is about Mama Elena refusing Tita’s heart’s greatest desire, not because Tita is too young or even that Pedro isn’t suitable, but because Mama Elena wants someone to cook her food, draw her baths, and care for her ranch. Like Water for Chocolate is a slowly accelerating burn, lit when Tita is refused Pedro. The book is Tita’s, as she discovers her agency and how to use it, but every action she takes is in reaction to her mother, her mother’s literal ghost, and her mother’s legacy in Rosaura’s beliefs about marriage, dignity, and eventually, her own daughter staying home to care for her.

Mothers are powerful. As we grow into ourselves and our feminism, so much of that growth is in reaction to what we learned from our mothers. Whether we were encouraged on that path. Whether we were told to be selfless and put our mothers, our fathers, our husbands first. Whether we were taught that cooking, cleaning, and sewing were fundamentally about caretaking. Whether we were taught to suppress our passions, physical and otherwise. Whether we were told that we had to be perfect.

Like Water for Chocolate is that book. It’s about a daughter’s journey as a reflection of her mother’s influence. It’s about finding her own agency and her own path–but always in reaction to what she learned from her mother. Tita’s situation is perhaps extreme–as Esquivel likely intended–but even without violence or a boyfriend given to a sister or a ghost, her story will be so familiar to so many of us because Tita’s story is, ultimately, about her boiling point: her rage, her passion, her reclamation that, in the end, is all about burning it all down.

I didn’t read Like Water for Chocolate at 13, but maybe I should have.

Like Water for Chocolate is a quick read. Twelve chapters, one for each month of a figurative year, each with a Mexican recipe important to Tita’s life. Esquivel is primarily a screenwriter, and it shows, as the book does a lot of telling rather than showing. If it were a longer book, perhaps the writing would be a more significant deterrent, but at a very quick 250 pages, it’s worth the time, if only for a moment of contemplation on how much of what we do, even today, is in reaction to our mothers.


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

 

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