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What is a great book that you’ve found in the Sirens bookstore?

s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
Amy is a dangerous fiend, so I can honestly say that I’ve found many great books in the bookstore thanks to her ongoing efforts to ruin my credit score. However, my current fave is the infamous Enchanted Chocolate Pot book that everyone raves about — you absolutely have to get it when you come, and you’d better get it fast, because they always sell out.
 

Sherwood Smith (@sherwood_smith)
I sat here for the longest time trying to figure out which books I’d first encountered in the Sirens bookstore, until it occurred to me that it was less about individual books than about new female names in publishing.

Every Sirens I attend, I come away with a long scribbled list of people to check out, which might take me most of the rest of the year. This is my favorite way of finding new reads: word of mouth from other readers, whose enthusiasm I can see. And I love, love, LOVE the fact that most of these writers and books turn out to be diverse. It’s much tougher these days for these voices to be heard, so I doubly appreciate Sirens for my exposure to these new voices.
 

Edith Hope Bishop (@ehbishop)
The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, edited by Rose Lemberg, made me exceptionally happy when I found it. So many beautiful and breathtaking pieces behind that lovely cover art by Terri Windling.
 

@jazzagold
I was super excited to read Yoon Ha Lee’s collection of short stories, A Conservation of Shadows. I actually first came across Yoon’s games first, as I am a bit of an interactive fiction nerd. So when I found out that Yoon had written short stories, was coming out with a novel AND was a guest of honor?

You can also add A Darker Shade of Magic.

Oh and Fire Logic. I actually bought Earth Logic and Water Logic, as I know Laurie is coming to this year’s Sirens. So mad I can’t come. Cannot wait for Air Logic.

The bookstore is a dangerous place.
 

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What is something about Sirens that surprised you?

Sherwood Smith (@sherwood_smith)
I think my biggest surprise at Sirens was my discovery that there can be many points-of-view, but the atmosphere is not divisive or condemnatory. I have never had a sense that anyone’s opinion is ignored because the speaker is not cool enough, thin enough, young enough, radical enough, or whatever enough. Sirens has become more conscious of making certain that this is a safe space for a spectrum of opinions, something that many women my age have encountered seldom enough for it to be as remarkable as it is appreciated.

I love the fact that Sirens does active outreach with their scholarships in order to make the conference available to those who might not have the wherewithal to attend. I also like the fact that my registration fees make possible those scrumptious shared meals—each sparking so many interesting conversations—that in fact, cost more than the registration actually provides. Whoever does the ordering clearly loves food, and also takes a wide variety of dietary needs into consideration when ordering.

So to help keep costs down, on the last day, there is the fun of the auction, where those with discretionary funds can duke it out in bid wars over some truly remarkable items and offers. The auction is exciting, often hilarious, even if your wallet is flat!
 

Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)
I was surprised by how welcoming and thoughtful the community is. At Sirens people go out of their way to include newcomers and quiet or shy attendees in their meals and conversations. So many of us are introverts, but it’s rare to find a community that knows how to create spaces that aren’t overwhelming. I wasn’t expecting a professional conference to be the place where I felt most comfortable being myself and making lasting friendships.
 

@jazzagold
It was really great to meet other writers both published and unpublished. I expected to meet lots of readers and nerds but I don’t know why I was so surprised to meet so many writers. I knew this but it’s nice to meet people who are writers as a writer. There’s definitely a chance to talk about writing but not in a weird way where you put published people on pedestals.
 

s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
This may sound silly, but I was both surprised and pleased by the level of organization my first year, and now I’m spoiled. The Sirens crew run an extremely tight ship, more so than any conference I’ve ever attended, and every year, I think “oh, so this is how you run a conference.” I always feel so well taken care of from the second I walk into the registration area to the moment we say farewell until next year, and there’s an incredible level of attention to detail, interest in hearing feedback, and focus on making sure everyone has an outstanding time. It means a lot.
 

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I am a __________ and I love Sirens because…

Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)
I am a nerd, and I love Sirens because no one is restrained in their excitement about women in fantasy books. Everyone cares deeply, everyone has thoughts, and not only is every attendee thrilled to share, they’re just as delighted to listen. There’s no distinction between pro or fan, writer or reader or academic: we all want to squee, rant, and learn about books.
 

s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
I am a sh*tstarter, and I love Sirens because it’s a conference for, about, and by people who want to completely upend things, and that makes it my kind of party. Whether I’m paneling, hanging out in the lobby, eating with friends, or attending a workshop, I’m surrounded by people who are as passionate as I am about making the world a better place.
 

@jazzagold
I am a reader, and I love Sirens because I get to spend time with people who are equally as nerdy as I am about books. I also think that I’ve met people who’ve read more than I have, which makes me feel both behind the curve and also super excited, because I always know I can get a book recommendation.
 

Edith Hope Bishop (@ehbishop)
I am a writer and I love Sirens because I get to spend time with other lovers of literature, many of whom share my particular interests. At Sirens, I learn about craft, as well as the publishing industry, and I always meet fascinating and inspiring women who have stories to share.

 

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Artemis Grey on Sirens

Catskin

We’re so pleased to welcome a post from Artemis Grey, who published her first novel, Catskin, in March 2016! Artemis has attended Sirens since our first conference in 2009. Below she shares her Sirens journey. 

Once upon a time there was a feral girl who loved writing more than anything. She loved many things, horses, and other animals, running barefoot through the wilds, and drinking from springs on hillsides. But she loved writing just a little bit more. The feral girl wrote stories that weren’t very good, and she wrote stories that were a good bit better, and then she wrote stories that were very nearly good enough. But not quite.

She sought out other writers. Her writing, they explained did not say anything Important. In order to succeed, they told her, she needed to learn how to convey Important things. The girl did not know, then, that all of the Important things those writers were talking about were being written and perceived through the narrow gaze of the white, cisgendered male. What she did know, is that those things were not the things she wanted to write and perceive.

So the feral girl looked elsewhere, to the writers she so admired, who wrote stories about women who slew dragons, women who became dragons, and women who ruled nations and ended wars. Stories which were not written from one narrow perspective but through many and varied visions. And she discovered that some of those authors were going to a place called Sirens. It was a conference. The first of its kind. No one quite knew what to expect.

She had never gone on a trip alone, not halfway across the country, through airports congested with people, and on airplanes choked with them. But she wanted to know if there was a place for her, if there were other feral girls out there who wrote stories that were almost good enough, and other women who glided between the borders of expectation and propriety. So she went to Sirens, and everything changed.

The girl was welcomed not as a stranger, but as a sister returning home. She was brought into a fold where authors sat in circles on the floor and discussed how to find ways of writing things that were important, and yet did not fall into the mainstream definition of Important. How to change society’s definition of what was Important. She discovered, within Sirens, a world of women supporting women, supporting ideas, and processes, and points of view. A world of women embracing everything that makes them different while finding unity in everything that they share. Her Sirens Sisters did not teach her how to change herself in order to speak out, they taught her that once she discovered her own voice, it would be loud enough to be heard.

It’s been eight years now, and the feral girl has attended every Sirens. She will always attend Sirens. It is home to her heart, and her sisters of the written word. Sirens was where she grew to become the writer she is, where she wants to grow old as she continues to evolve as a writer, and where she wants to help show other feral girls that they are not alone. That their differences are what make them strong, and that their views, what they have to say, and the stories they want to tell, are all Important.

 

Artemis Grey was raised on fairytales and the folklore of Appalachia. She’s been devouring books and regurgitating her daydreams into written words since childhood. She can most often be found writing by a crackling fire or rambling barefooted through the woods and mountains, napping (yes, napping) on horseback, searching the depths of random wardrobes and wriggling into hollow tree trunks. In her downtime, she herds cats, which is just as entertaining as it sounds. She hopes to make her readers look at the world they’ve always seen, and see the world they’ve always envisioned. Her debut contemporary YA, Catskin was released March 17, 2016.

 

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Why did you decide to attend Sirens for the first time?

s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
I attended Sirens at the urging of someone who had been going since the very first year. She encouraged me to hop on the Sirens train on the basis of our mutual love of women in fantasy, and the need for spaces where people can talk about literature in an environment dedicated specifically to exploring women and intersectional issues. Many larger cons are too sprawling for the conversations that happen at Sirens, and she promised me an intimate, rewarding experience. She was right. 
 

Karen Bailey
I decided to attend Sirens because of the Guests of Honor, Tamora Pierce and Sherwood Smith. I was so excited that both of them would be at the same place, I signed up right away.
 

Gillian C. (@gnomes_g)
A friend invited me. I’d never been to any kind of con before, so Sirens was my first ever con experience, and now I tell people that it’s ruined me for all other cons!

I am a writer and I love Sirens because the community is so supportive and inspiring. Telling stories is difficult, often lonely work, especially when you have to balance it with a demanding day job, but every year I leave Sirens with a renewed belief in my voice and the stories that I have to tell.
 

@jazzagold
I’ve been an avid reader of fantasy and sci-fi since I was a little girl, but I had always felt a bit isolated as most of the people I knew who were into fantasy growing up were male and mostly white. I didn’t feel as if I could discuss the things I liked about books with them. This continued even on the Internet; I’m old enough to remember a time when fandom didn’t really have the Internet as a space for discourse about fantasy. I would engage in fandoms for many types of media, books, etc. but not necessarily fantasy, as those spaces also felt very male and white. I also hadn’t considered conventions as a place to find that community.

Fast forward to 2015. I’ve since started writing my own stories while still being a reader. I often talk with Kate Elliott on Twitter, and she’d been telling me for at least two years that I should consider going to Sirens as she knew I was both a reader and a writer. As Kate is someone I respect, whose books I had read for years, I decided to take a risk and go to Sirens!
 

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The Effect of Sirens Scholarships

By Gillian C. (@gnomes_g)

Receiving a scholarship to attend Sirens last year meant so much to me: I’m a grad student, and I live on a very small income. I have to plan very carefully to be able to afford any travel, and the scholarship made all of the difference for me. I look forward to Sirens all year, and it was a weight off my mind to know that I could go without having to worry as much about the cost.
 

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The Inclusiveness of Sirens Scholarships

By Shveta Thakrar (@ShvetaThakrar)

Sirens is a conference that means so much to me. I love fantasy, I love intersectional feminism, I love enchantment and wonder and ideas. Sirens has all these things. It is a place where people can go to discuss being queer, being brown, being disabled, being neuroatypical, being a woman or a nonbinary person in fantasy literature—all within a framework that actively seeks to include voices traditionally shut out or even silenced elsewhere.

But Sirens is also just plain fun. It’s a place to celebrate with fellow fans. People who love unicorns and nagas and epic series get together to geek out over the use of language and fashion in books, host workshops on fencing and sewing, trade book and author recommendations while wearing gorgeous costumes. They drink tea and laugh and make friends. They form community.

Not everyone can afford to attend, however, and I can say that Sirens really does make an effort to help ease the financial burden for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to take part by providing scholarships. But it needs donations to do that. If you can, would you consider contributing toward a scholarship to allow another voice to be heard?
 

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The Magic of Sirens Scholarships

By Lisa M. Bradley (@cafenowhere)

I’d heard great things about Sirens, but every time I checked the registration page, I thought, “No way can I swing that fee plus room, plus meals, plus flight.” (I didn’t realize how many meals were included in the registration fee!) But when I learned the 2015 theme was rebels and revolutionaries, I knew I had to go. I’ve always felt a bone-deep affinity with rebels.

But if I had to go, I had to get funds. My best bet was to earn a scholarship. While researching for a novel, I’d learned about Sara Estela Ramírez, a Mexican journalist-poet who helped spur the Mexican Revolution while living in exile in Texas. I couldn’t fit her into my novel, but I couldn’t get her out of my mind, either. Sirens seemed the perfect venue for sharing my passion for this all-but-forgotten revolutionary who’d also written fantasy poetry. To my delight, the vetting board approved my proposal and Sirens gave me the hoped-for scholarship.

At the conference, I was warmly welcomed by staff and fellow attendees. Still, I was nervous. What if my topic was too academic? Too regional to attract a wider audience? What if no one came to my presentation?! Happily, my worries were unfounded. I had a small but attentive audience, some of whom scribbled intensely the entire time I talked. People asked questions and offered new insights. Beyond my presentation, I connected with new friends and old, added to my teetering to-be-read pile, attended thought-provoking panels, and tried to absorb all the wisdom offered by the guests of honor. I might also have had a drink or two in the hotel bar.

I am so grateful for the scholarship that enabled me to attend Sirens. The aid demonstrated, in a very concrete way, that my perspective was valued. The conference itself reinforced that message of inclusion. I left invigorated and determined to return to my fellow Sirens.

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What is it like presenting programming at Sirens?

Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)
I’ve given presentations, run roundtables, and moderated panels at Sirens. I was sort of terrified before running my first panel—I’d never moderated before, and I didn’t really know most of the brilliant women who’d agreed to be panelists—and the Sirens staff was fabulous. They were available when I was figuring out whether and how to propose the panel at all, and when I was jittery before the event itself they were ready with encouragement, distraction by book recommendation (the Sirens bookstore is a dangerous place), and calm reminders of the “just breathe, you’re fine” variety as necessary.

The great thing about programming at Sirens is that people attend because they’re actively interested. If you run a roundtable, you will have no trouble getting audience participation—and they’ll blow through easy questions. I love the opportunity to generate discussions on questions I have no easy answers for, because Sirens have so many thoughtful opinions. They’ll ask insightful questions about presentations and challenge panelists. While I think it’s important to stay generally on topic, trust the audience and panelists to move the conversation forward and adapt with them, because Sirens attendees are sharp.

 
s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
Sirens is absolutely my favourite con when it comes to paneling. My co-panelists are always super-involved and engaged, as is the audience, and it’s wonderful to have a chance to collaborate with guests of honour on panels, which isn’t always possible at larger cons. The broad format also leaves considerable room for opening up panels to conversations that don’t happen in other spaces, especially for marginalized people who might not feel safe at big cons. I’ve paneled on everything from religion to Katniss’ hair, and loved every minute of it.
 

Sherwood Smith (@sherwood_smith)
I was delighted by the enthusiasm of a packed room who wanted to hear the history of fan language drawn from a number of world cultures. Then everyone got into the fun of putting together skits demonstrating fan language, and guessing the coded meanings. The only con at which I consistently have that much fun with other creative smart people has always been Sirens.
 

Edith Hope Bishop (@ehbishop)
I found presenting at Sirens to be a warm and welcoming experience. I was nervous, yes, but the Sirens staff and volunteers worked extremely hard to make sure I had everything I needed. They helped connect me with people who ultimately made our panel on mothers and self actualization a success.
 

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What is some amazing programming that you attended at Sirens?

s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
The diversity of programming is always amazing. I will never forget attending a live workshop where we discussed fencing techniques and choreography—as a fencer, I found it really enlightening to see how other people fence and integrate the sport into their work. I’ve also attended some fabulous roundtables, including one where we went in deep on reproductive issues and the day-to-day of life in fantasy landscapes, and the role that women play—where do people get their clothes, how do they prepare their food, and who cleans the toilets? My all time number one favourite panel, though, has to be one I was on (of course)—in which Andrea Horbinski, Jen Michaels, Rae Carson, and I took on the strong female character archetype and deconstructed it, all while drinking wine, beer, and cocktails.

 
Sherwood Smith (@sherwood_smith)
It is difficult to choose which program items were amazing because there have been so many, on such a variety of subjects. If I have to pick one, it would be last year’s panel on religion in fantasy. The panelists were from a diverse range of religious viewpoints, plus non-religious, and yet the atmosphere was never acrimonious. All treated one another with respect, while delving deeply into the topic.

 
Karen Bailey
Over the years, I’ve been coming to Sirens I’ve attended a lot of wonderful programming. The variety of programming is one of the best parts of conference.

One of my favorite workshops was a class on the language of the fan taught by author Sherwood Smith. We talked about different books that used fans as a language. Then we divided into groups and made up our own languages. We came up with a message and the other groups had to see if they could figure out what we were saying. Some of the misunderstandings had us in hysterics laughing.

Another high point for me is the Bedtime Story sessions. Getting to hear the Guests of Honor read from their unpublished works is a treat. The variety is amazing. I have heard everything from poetry written as a teenager to sneak previews of works in progress.

 
Faye Bi (@faye_bi)
I love all of Sirens’s programming, to the point that my fellow staff-people know that they can’t take programming away from me! (Not that they would ever.) Besides the atmosphere, programming is the highlight of my Sirens experience–I’ll share one of my earliest Sirens memories, which was the roundtable led by Katie Hoffman back in 2009, called “Finding Femininity in a Warrior’s World.” I distinctly remember going around the room, having the moderator ask us to give an example of what it meant to be “feminine,” and listening to everyone’s responses, like “curves” and “nesting in one’s home.” We went on to analyze examples of femininity of characters we read in fantasy books, from Kel’s cool-as-a-lake competence to Nimiar’s strength in etiquette. It was one of the best conversations I’ve had about books, and the stuff college-discussion-section dreams are made of.
 

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