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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 Equivel’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 Equivel 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. Equivel 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.

 

Where Are They Now: 2015 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 2015 in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2015, our theme was rebels and revolutionaries, and our Guests of Honor were Rae Carson, Kate Elliott, and Yoon Ha Lee.

Rae Carson

Rae CarsonInto the Bright Unknown

The year Rae was a Guest of Honor at Sirens, we were first introduced to a girl with the magical ability to sense gold in Gold Rush-era America in Walk on Earth a Stranger, which made the long list for the National Book Award. Since then, two sequels have been published, completing the Gold Seer trilogy: Like a River Glorious in 2016 and Into the Bright Unknown in 2017.

Fans of Star Wars, check out Rae’s work set in the Star Wars world! In 2017, her short story “The Red One” appeared in the anthology From A Certain Point of View, and her novella “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing,” was included in the collection Canto Bright. In May 2018, Rae also published Star Wars: Most Wanted, a YA novel prequel to the film Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Rae also contributed the short story “Omega Ship” in the Natalie C. Parker-edited anthology, Three Sides a Heart: Stories About Love Triangles, which came out December 2017.

Where She Is Now: Rae and her husband adopted a new kitten, named Whiskey, in June 2017! (You can follow Whiskey’s adventures at #AShotofWhiskey, and quite evidently he has figured out how to sneak inside cupboards in their new home.) She is also working on a fantasy novel, and has promised more news in a few months!

 

Kate Elliott

Kate ElliottBuried Heart

Kate’s Court of Fives, published in 2015, went on to be nominated for an Andre Norton award. Jes’s revolution in a world inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt continued in The Poisoned Blade, out in 2016, and Buried Heart, out in 2017. The Court of Fives universe also includes two novellas: Night Flower, the story of Jes’s parents and how they met, and Bright Thrones, featuring her missing sister Bettany.

Back in July, Kate appeared a WorldCon76 in San Jose—you can listen to an audio recording of her “Writing the Epic” panel with Rebecca Roanhorse here.

Get ready! Unconquerable Sun, the first of Kate’s new Sun Chronicles series, comes out in 2019, and is described as a “genderbent Alexander the Great as space opera in a series of linked volumes that tell the story of an imperial conquest and how it breaks down after the death of its charismatic leader.”

Where She Is Now: Living in Hawaii with her family, writing, and proud owner of a new pup: “A schnauzer. Finn (short for Fingolfin), High King of the Schnoldor. Here he is at 5 months.” (Photo by Kamaaina K9)

Upcoming Appearances: Kate will be returning this year at Sirens in October 2018!

 

Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha LeeRevenant Gun

Since A Conservation of Shadows, Yoon published the spectacular and brain-breaking military sci-fi Machineries of Empire trilogy to much acclaim! The first, Ninefox Gambit, won the 2017 Locus Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for the Nebula, Hugo and Clarke Awards. In their review, NPR writes, “So how much can you screw with a world before you take it completely to pieces? … Lee has turned this elementary concern into a game of chicken he plays with himself.” Yoon recently appeared on the FutureTech podcast to discuss Ninefox Gambit.

The sequel, Raven Stratagem, was nominated for the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novel; the conclusion to the trilogy Revenant Gun was released in June 2018. Yoon has written several additional short stories set in the world of the hexarchate, which you can find here, which will be published as a collection in June 2019. “Extracurricular Activities” was a Hugo finalist in the short story category.

For you and the young reader in your life, Yoon has exciting news to share: “I have a middle grade Korean mythology space opera, Dragon Pearl, due out from Disney-Hyperion in January 2019. It’s about a teen fox spirit girl who goes on a quest to save her brother—in spaaaace!”

Where He Is Now: Busy writing, drawing, and composing “oddments of music,” now featuring his work on Patreon! Check that out here.

Upcoming Appearances: Thalia’s Book Club at Symphony Space in New York, NY on January 29, 2019—and this year’s Sirens in October 2018!

 

Books and Breakfast: Spotlight on Lovers

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 we’ll be featuring the women who work magic selections in the coming weeks. 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 LOVERS

Our two Books and Breakfast picks focused on lovers are Roshani Chokshi’s A Crown of Wishes and Ellen Klages’s Passing Strange. Do you plan on picking these up soon? Let us know! Tweet @sirens_con or use the hashtag #Sirens18!

 

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

A Crown of Wishes

First, a note: Please don’t let the fact that A Crown of Wishes is the second book in Chokshi’s Star-Touched series deter you! We promise, you may read it easily as a standalone—and in fact, only a single scene in A Crown of Wishes is informed by the first book in the series, and even then, only slightly.

A Crown of Wishes belongs to Gauri and Vikram, she a warrior princess struggling under her brother’s rule, he a puppet emperor ascendant of the neighboring kingdom. For reasons you won’t truly understand until the end of the book, Vikram stumbles into the Tournament of Wishes, a deadly game run by the enigmatic Lord of Wealth in a mythical land. Vikram’s invitation is for two, and in a somewhat improbable meeting with Gauri, helped along by the gods, he proposes that they enter the tournament together: He can wish to rule in truth; she can wish to rule in her brother’s stead.

But the gods, of course, have other plans. As Gauri and Vikram navigate myth and magic, they learn an awful lot, through near-death and chance encounters, through conversations and magic. Beautifully, though—and unlike in many romances—they don’t just learn from each other, though they do plenty of that. Here, they learn a lot individually, too: about their pasts, their stumbling blocks, their hang-ups. They see how they need to grow individually, and small spoiler, at the end of the book, when they take time to get their individual hopes and dreams in order before reuniting, you can cheer a relationship of equal individuals who choose to be together in a thoughtful way (even as Guari complains, as we all might: I sent him a gift. He should send a gift back. Why hasn’t he sent a gift back?).

A Crown of Wishes is, in many ways, the best of the rom coms: funny, smart, sexy, and with a twist at the end that levels their happy ending up from merely happy to legendary. Vikram is hot, of course, but also clever and willing to play the gods’ games. Gauri is a revelation: Though she is gorgeous, Vikram frequently describes her as a beast or a monster, in the most admiring terms possible, and it will make your feminist heart melt into a delighted puddle. She’s brute force to his calculated misdirection, a fierce directness to his patience, a dagger to his charm. And they so clearly belong together.

 

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Passing Strange

Passing Strange is, perhaps, best described a tone poem. A tone poem, for anyone who didn’t suffer through classical music classes once upon a time, is this: a piece of orchestral music, typically in one movement, on a descriptive or rhapsodic theme. They’re shorter than symphonies or concertos and, due to their single-movement nature, often lack the variation present in symphonies or concertos as well. Think of them as the musical representation of painting, perhaps. And the same is true of Passing Strange, it’s a glorious work, novella-length, that paints a lesbian romance in airy brushstrokes.

Passing Strange is set in San Francisco against the backdrop of the 1939 World’s Fair, and the city is as much a character as anyone: inviting, enchanting, deviling the human characters themselves. The World’s Fair’s Magic City makes an appearance, as do Chinatown and the city’s famous Painted Ladies rowhouses. For those of you who yearn for sentient settings, drawn with vivid magic and wills of their own, this one’s for you.

But this one is also for anyone who loves a love story for the ages, a moment in time where two people meet and everything else falls away. Where abusive husbands and judgmental people and your own limitations pale in comparison to the person in front of you. In this case, its two women finding each other, improbably, impossibly, despite the violence and discrimination of so many in the city. They are helped along the way by more women, and while the form of their happy ever after won’t surprise you, the beauty and transcendence of the scene depicted on the cover just might.

 

New Fantasy Books: September 2018

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of September 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 9 (August 2018)

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: VIOLET KUPERSMITH

We’re interviewing each of our 2018 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, as well as the role of women in fantasy literature, as befits their corresponding reunion theme.

You won’t want to miss our illuminating interview with Violet Kupersmith about her family’s experiences and legacy, ghosts, folklore, the Vietnam War, and genre: “In so many ways, the Ghost is the perfect metaphor for the immigrant: both are liminal beings, hovering between worlds, and here, both are feared and other-ed. And I think that there’s something fitting about using a literary genre which is often unfairly dismissed as silly or lowbrow to tell stories about a marginalized people. Each is able to empower the other.”

Also, our feature on Violet includes Alyssa Collins’s review of Violet’s collection of short stories, The Frangipani Hotel, our Book Friends feature, in which we suggest books that would pair well with Violet’s work, and finally, a list of hauntings books selected by Violet herself.

 

MEET THE 2018 SIRENS PROFESSIONAL SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS

Two educators, a librarian, and a bookseller chat jobs, books, and what they’re looking forward to at Sirens. Meet Traci-Anne Canada, Nia Davenport, Alexandra Pratt, and Sami Thomason, this year’s—and our first ever—professional scholarship recipients!

 

CONFERENCE SCHEDULE AND PROGRAMMING SUPPORT

The conference schedule for 2018 is live! But are you ready to make your decisions about what to attend? Click here to check it out.

If you see a presentation you particularly love or a presenter you want to support, there’s still time to sponsor our programming sessions; the cost is $35 per presentation. Thank you again for all your support!

 

TICKETS UPDATE

At this time, the Sirens Supper is sold out. Please check our Twitter for updates from attendees who may want to transfer their tickets.

The Sirens Studio currently has 5 spots remaining. Learn more about our pre-conference Sirens Studio here.

Sirens also offers a $115 round-trip shuttle from Denver International Airport to Beaver Creek, significantly cheaper than commercial shuttles which can cost upwards of $200. We encourage you to buy your ticket soon, even if you don’t have flights yet!

Purchase Tickets

 

HOTEL RESERVATIONS

We are quite close to filling our block at the Park Hyatt for the third time. If you have not yet made your hotel reservation, please do so as soon as possible. We have only a few rooms left on the main nights of Sirens, and on October 1, 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.

 

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 2012, our theme was tales retold, and our Guests of Honor were Nalo Hopkinson and Malinda Lo. Read the full post.

2013 was our first reunion year, revisiting warriors, faeries, monsters, and tales retold; our Guests of Honor were Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Ellen Kushner, and Robin LaFevers. (Robin is returning to Sirens this year!) Read the full post.

In 2014, our theme was hauntings, and our Guests of Honor were Kendare Blake, Rosemary Clement, and Andrea Hairston. (Rosemary is returning to Sirens this year!) Read the full post.

 

PERSONALIZED BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Registered attendees, watch your inboxes for the August attendee news email! For the second time, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink, who has read over a thousand fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors, will be offering personalized book recommendations—but only to the first 50 people to sign up!

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Book of Joan

Check out Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink’s rumination on reader, writer, and Lidia Yuknavich’s The Book of Joan, which she found “largely experimental, vaguely feminist, with thinly explained worldbuilding, a non-traditional narrative structure, shifting points of view… and tenuous timelines.” Full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

This month, Faye read Mary Rickert’s The Memory Garden as she surges to finish the 2018 Sirens Reading Challenge! She enjoyed the book’s &ldquo’poetic language, plant symbolism, strong female relationships, rich descriptions of food, and subtle hints of magic,” but there is still more to unpack. Read her full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

Friend of Sirens Casey Blair wants to sing the praises of Somaiya Daud’s Mirage from the rooftops! “I love its rich setting, a fantasy Morocco-inspired culture in a world with intergalactic travel. I love how deeply that culture suffuses every part of the story: the prose woven through with poetry, the complicated female friendships and family relationships…” Read her full review here.

 

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).

 

Where Are They Now: 2014 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 2014 in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2014, our theme was hauntings, and our Guests of Honor were Kendare Blake, Rosemary Clement, and Andrea Hairston.

Kendare Blake

Kendare BlakeTwo Dark Reigns

We’re so pleased to hear from Kendare that, “Since my time at Sirens, I have hung the gorgeous Sirens artist artwork of Anna Dressed in Blood in my living room and she has frightened many people.”

Kendare’s latest series, beginning with Three Dark Crowns, features “triplet queens with magical powers in a queendom where triplet queens are always born, and must always kill each other until only one remains.” It hit the New York Times bestseller list when it came out in 2016, and its sequel, One Dark Throne, debuted at #1 on the same list the following year! We feel bad for Kendare’s socks: “That news pretty much knocked my socks off and I have been searching for my socks ever since.” Having now expanded to four books and two novellas (The Young Queens and The Oracle Queen), the series’ next installment is Two Dark Reigns, publishing next Tuesday, September 4th.

Some exciting adaptation news: “Three Dark Crowns has been optioned for film by Fox Studios, with one of the producer/directors of Stranger Things to produce via his production company 21Laps. And bonus: so far, all the execs I’ve spoken with have been women, so that’s neat!”

Where She Is Now: Hard at work on the last of the Three Dark Crowns quartet, and proud protector of a new pet: “I got a new baby Sphynx cat, and he is a sweet, naked delight! My husband named him Armpit McGee, and that brings the cat total up to 2, even stevens with the dogs. Maybe it’s the fact that the cat is hairless, and therefore seems quite vulnerable, but I’ve never been as protective of anything in my life.”

 

Rosemary Clement

Rosemary ClementNo Good Deed

For those not already in the know, Rosemary also publishes under the name Kara Connolly! Her latest novel No Good Deed is a reimagining of Robin Hood and came out in July 2017: “a modern girl finds herself in the middle of a medieval mess with only her smart mouth and her Olympic-archer aim to get her home.”

Where She Is Now: “I am working VERY HARD on a project. YES, I have been working on it for a VERY LONG TIME… it’s the thing that’s been keeping me tied up like the guy in Misery, minus the broken leg.” We have faith in you, Rosemary!

Upcoming Appearances: FenCon on September 22–24, 2018 in Dallas, TX, and of course, we’re thrilled to welcome Rosemary back at Sirens this year, October 25–28, 2018!

 

Andrea Hairston

Andrea HairstonWill Do Magic for Small Change

Andrea’s 2016 novel, Will Do Magic for Small Change, tells the story of Cinnamon Jones, granddaughter of characters you may already know and love—Redwood and Wildfire! Weaving history, magic, myth and theatre, Will do Magic for Small Change was a James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List pick, and was a finalist for both the 29th Annual Lambda Literary Award and the 2017 Mythopoeic Award.

Looking ahead to March 2019, Andrea’s short story “Dumb House” will appear in the anthology New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl.

Andrea recently appeared as a Guest of Honor at FOGcon 2018 back in March, and also appeared at Wiscon in May, with a presentation on Black Panther and “The Women of Wakanda.” Watch a video of that presentation here.

Where She Is Now: Andrea is the Louise Wolff Kahn Professor of Theatre and Professor of Africana Studies at Smith College, as well as artistic director of Chrysalis Theatre. She also recently finished revisions on a new novel, The Master of Poisons.

 

Read Along with Faye: The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

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!

The Memory Garden

As in much capital-L Literary fiction, Mary Rickert’s The Memory Garden is light on plot but heavy on atmosphere. Let’s set the scene. In a nondescript (Midwestern?) town, people believe the old woman in the cottage with the wild garden may, or may not be, a witch. Nan’s garden is described absolutely beautifully: wild, a life of its own, full of thriving plants that shouldn’t really thrive, in orphaned shoes thrown by passers-by. Each chapter begins with a flower or herb, as well as their practical, magical or medicinal use.

Though well-past her childbearing years, Nan has a teenage daughter, Bay, who she chose to raise when Bay appeared on her doorstep in a shoebox as a baby. And as Nan turns 79 at the outset of The Memory Garden, she invites two very old friends, Ruthie and Mavis, for a visit. The reason is unclear… but it’s evident that all three are haunted by what happened to their girlhood friend, Eve, and they have not seen each other in a really, really long time.

And here, dear reader, is where I interject with, maybe I’m just too young to appreciate this book as it deserves. In my review of Her Body and Other Parties, I talk a little bit about landmark books: the books that influence and shape you because you found them at just the right time in your life. Maybe I’m too early with The Memory Garden, because while Bay is only fourteen or so, she was my lens into this story. She also has no idea why, after all these years, her mother has invited these old friends over. She knows her mother is acting oddly—grappling with guilt and memories—but she doesn’t really know what’s going on, except that Ruthie is really good at cooking and Mavis is really imposing and confident. She hears the line, “How do the girls with dreams as big as the world end up old women with regrets?” but doesn’t quite understand why it’s so heartbreaking… yet. Or when she deduces what actually did happen to Eve, only to have Nan tell her, “You young people know so much more about these things than we did.”

But The Memory Garden is told from Nan’s perspective, not Bay’s. And I did love having Nan’s point of view. She’s so incredibly guarded and complex as a character, and the number of secrets she keeps from the reader (besides what happened to Eve), like: Who is Mrs. Winters? Is Bay actually a witch? means that the novel is structured much like a mystery. And while I did find it somewhat difficult to connect with Nan, Ruthie, and Mavis, I still cheered for them, felt sad for them, and wanted them to forgive, grow, and heal. I wanted Mavis to get to go to Africa! I wanted Ruthie to open her restaurant and get revenge on her bastard husband! (She did.) I wanted Nan to make peace with her decisions—not all of them good ones—but knowing that they were in good faith. I definitely fist-pumped Mary Rickert’s author’s note where she sets out to reclaim the word “witch” as a positive one, as witches are maligned throughout history for being eccentric, old, outsider women with power.

While I very much enjoyed Rickert’s poetic language, plant symbolism, strong female relationships, rich descriptions of food, and subtle hints of magic, I can’t help but shake this feeling of determined neutrality. It was fine! It was good! It was… familiar, and not precisely in an exciting way. It was slow-going at first and somewhat confusing—with the multiple uses of present tense in various timelines—but once the mystery began to unravel I found myself racing until the end. It did not feel particularly intersectional. I hear that fans of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Sarah Addison Allen will enjoy this, but having read little of either I can’t make an official recommendation. Maybe ask me in a few decades, and I might have a different answer.

Next month’s book: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust


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: 2013 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 2013 in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2013, our theme was reunion, and we revisited our first four themes 2009–2012. Our Guests of Honor were Guadalupe Garcia McCall (tales retold), Alaya Dawn Johnson (monsters), Ellen Kushner (faeries), and Robin LaFevers (warriors).

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Guadalupe Garcia McCallShame the Stars

Attendees may remember Guadalupe’s Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey with five sisters, Summer of the Mariposas, which was translated into Spanish earlier this May. Her most recent publication is Shame the Stars, a historical fiction novel set in 1900s Texas with a Shakespearean twist, in 2016—a follow-up, All the Stars Denied, is coming out this September.

Guadalupe is experimenting with a number of different literary forms, including a picture book on submission, her first short story “Rancho Nido” which came out in the Kickstarter project Kaiju Rising, Age of Monsters II back in May, and a creative non-fiction writing piece based on the Texas flood of 1954. She is also working on a YA novel she’s labeled her “Borderlands Kaiju Novel.”

Early in 2018, Guadalupe was inducted in the Texas Institute of Letters —you can read her interview on that honor here.

Where She Is Now: Guadalupe recently moved to Oregon to work as an Assistant Professor of English at George Fox University.

 

Alaya Dawn Johnson

Alaya Dawn JohnsonLove is the Drug

We were fortunate enough to get a wonderful update from Alaya herself—we’ll let her tell you what she’s been up to!

“As some Sirens attendees from 2013 might remember, I was planning to move to Mexico City about a month after the conference. Well, the 9-month stay I was planning turned into a complete life overhaul for me, and I’m still down here! I’m absolutely in love with Mexico City and Mexico in general—my interest in ancient Mexican history has expanded to the point that I’m now finishing a master’s degree from UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) in Mesoamerican Studies. My focus is on the semiotics of fermented food in ancient Nahua and Otomí religious festivals. I am seriously eating fermented tamales and atole (a drinkable corn gruel that’s an important part of the traditional diet here) for research. It’s pretty heavenly. All of this research will eventually get turned into a novel, but for now I’m enjoying (and screaming, and then enjoying again) the unique challenges of writing a research paper in my second language (for the record, I barely spoke Spanish before moving here).

Since my last novel, Love Is the Drug, came out in 2014 my writing profile has been a little low-key, but it’s been wonderful and necessary to recharge and dedicate myself to my craft (also, uh, it turns out getting a master’s in your second language can kind of eat your writing time). I’ve been active, but more via short stories. My highest-profile project has been the serialized novel Tremontaine, published by Serial Box. It’s an interactive multi-authored prequel to friend-of-Sirens Ellen Kushner’s groundbreaking Swordspoint novels, and I was genuinely honored to be able to help develop the principal characters and some of the new aspects of the worldbuilding we were bringing to the prequel. Specifically, the role of the Kinwiinik chocolate traders was heavily based on an idea of trade with Mesoamerican societies (specifically Mayan) without a European conquest. So, that was pretty awesome and I’m very proud of my work on the first season. The writers have taken it to incredible places since I left, too.

Oh, and my novelette “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” won a Nebula award and my novel Love Is the Drug won the Norton! In the same year! Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to attend the ceremony, and at the moment the announcement came in I was stuck in my room in an apartment that I was getting kicked out of the next day (due to the screw up of my roommates who ended up stealing my deposit). It was pouring outside. No one answered my calls. It was just one of these hilariously bittersweet moments in the writer’s life—the greatest professional achievement of my life and I find out on Twitter because that’s what gets through on my cell phone. I couldn’t even get online because the Internet had been cut off earlier that day. I got out of that situation and am in a great place now, but what a “best of times, worst of times” kind of night!

The most exciting news I have is, unfortunately, nothing I can be too specific about. But I have two, count-’em two, new novels coming out next year. That makes it five years since my last novel, so I’m incredibly excited to finally have some novel-length work out in the world. One is my first adult novel in *mumblety* years, and the second is a new YA novel. One is historical fantasy and the other is far-future, mind-trippy science fiction. I can’t wait to share these with the world, but for now I’m busy on revisions.

I had an amazing experience at Sirens in 2013 and hopefully I’ll be able to return someday. For now, greetings from sunny (no, rainy) (wait, sunny again) Mexico City!”

 

Ellen Kushner

Ellen KushnerTremontaine

Ellen’s latest project has been creating and spearheading the oft-mentioned Tremontaine serial novels, which further develop the mannerpunk world of Riverside she created in Swordspoint. Tremontaine will be in its fourth season starting September 2018, and includes two other Sirens Guest of Honor alumnae, Alaya Dawn Johnson and Malinda Lo.

Ellen has also recently contributed to some short fiction collections, having published “When I Was a Highwayman” in The Book of Swords (2017), “When Two Swordsmen Meet” to the Samuel R. Delany tribute collection Stories for Chip (2015), and “The City in Winter” in Sleeping Hedgehog (2015).

Where She Is Now: With an envious glance at Ellen’s Twitter and Facebook pages, you’ll discover that she is on an extended stay in Europe with her wife and occasional creative collaborator Delia Sherman, having visited several towns and cities in France, Scotland, England and more.

 

Robin LaFevers

Robin LaFeversCourting Darkness

Fans of Robin’s His Fair Assassin books, rejoice! Robin shares:

“So basically I have a new duology coming out that is set in the His Fair Assassin world, the first of which is Courting Darkness and publishes February 5, 2019. The second book will follow a year later.”

To accompany Robin’s books’ new looks, the original His Fair Assassin covers are also being updated with some bonus content—Grave Mercy will have a deleted scene and a new epilogue, Dark Triumph will also have a new epilogue, and Mortal Heart includes an exclusive new Q&A with Robin.

Robin also has contracted a middle grade novel currently titled Wild Daughter of Ares, set in the world of Ancient Greece and the Amazons.

Where She Is Now: Recovering from quite a year at home in southern California: “It’s been a crazy year. We had to evacuate five times in four months due to raging wildfires, then floods, followed by mudslides. That I got any writing done, let alone finished a book, feels somewhat miraculous! But I’ve definitely been playing catch up for the last six months.”

Upcoming Appearances: We’re thrilled to welcome Robin back to Sirens for this year’s conference, including the Sirens Studio!

 

Book List: Violet Kupersmith

For our 2018 theme of reunion, we chose Guests of Honor with work exemplifying the themes of the past four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Today, Guest of Honor Violet Kupersmith shares the book list she curated for the hauntings theme. If you enjoy her work, we hope you check out these other reads!

Let’s get haunted! Some of these books are positioned more squarely beneath the fantasy umbrella than others, but all of them are written in or about that space where our world and the spirit world meet, the crevice that the ghosts come crawling out of.

 

Hauntings
1. Hauntings by Vernon Lee
Classic shivers. The kind of lush and extravagant prose that you want to read by candlelight during a thunderstorm.
Freshwater
2. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Brutal and too slippery and brilliant to categorize. A haunted house story where the house is your own mind.
The Ghost Bride
3. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
I gobbled this up in a day. It’s the kind of historical fantasy that’s so richly imagined, when I finished it I immediately flipped back and reread the last chapter another two times in a row because I wasn’t ready to have to put it down and return to Pennsylvania.
Through the Woods
4. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Hello, nightmares! The art in this graphic novel is stunning—it takes familiar ghosts and monsters constructed from timeless fairy-tale DNA and makes them new in terrifying ways.
The Goddess Chronicle
5. The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino
I love Kirino’s detective stories and I love her here, where she is working deep in Japanese mythology. Her female characters are always cunning, poisonous, subversive and wonderfully real.
She Weeps Each Time You're Born
6. She Weeps Each Time You’re Born by Quan Barry
A gorgeously written chronicle of Vietnam’s ghosts, past and present. It’s a book that you feel in your spine long after you’ve finished reading it. I don’t think I’ll ever get it out of me.
The Haunting of Hill House
7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I have to end the list with a genre classic. I return to Hill House over and over. The book is compelling on every level, from its supernatural elements to its feminist themes and queer subtext, and more magnificently creepy than any film adaptation of the story could ever hope be. It is the genuine article.

 

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

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

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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