Archive for 2015

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 7, Issue 11 (September 2015)

In this issue:


Sirens is next month—and we can’t wait to see you! If you haven’t purchased your registration yet, please make sure to do so by September 12. When the clock strikes 11:59 p.m. on September 12, we’ll close our online registration system. After that, you must register at the door at an increased price.

If you have any questions, please contact us at (registration at


The registration deadline is also the deadline to purchase tickets for the Sirens Shuttle, Sirens Supper, and Sirens Studio. The Sirens Shuttle provides attendees and their guests affordable transportation to and from the Denver International Airport. The Sirens Supper is a wonderful way to connect with staff and attendees the night before the conference officially launches. And, new this year, the Sirens Studio offers two days of workshops, networking opportunities, discussions, and flexible time for writers, readers, and professionals. We’ll stop selling these tickets on September 12, and they’re very unlikely to be available at the door, so add them to your registration before the deadline.


No matter how you’re traveling to Sirens, we have information available for you on the transportation page of our website. Denver is a large and sprawling city, but the Inverness Hotel offers some fabulous amenities and dining options right at home. If you haven’t made your hotel reservations yet, please do so by calling the hotel directly at (303) 799-5800; rooms are filling up quickly. (Please do not call the toll-free number, since they don’t seem aware of our room block.) If you have any issues making a reservation and getting the Sirens discount rate, please do let us know at (help at


If you’ve registered for Sirens, please keep an eye on your inbox during the beginning of October. We’ll be sending you emails regarding, as appropriate, meeting the Sirens Shuttle, checking in for the Sirens Studio, finding the Sirens Supper, and claiming your Sirens registration.


If you’ve got all of your travel details set, it might be time to review the accepted programming and schedule for Sirens and daydream about owning a Time-Turner, or to volunteer (see below). It might also be time to review the Books and Breakfast list and pick out something to chat about before the day’s programming starts, or time to squeeze in a few more books from this year’s themed reading list. Remember, if you’ve finished this year’s Reading Challenge, please email us by September 12 to let us know of your victory; we’ll have a button suitable for gloating waiting for you at Sirens!


We’d love your help at Sirens! Volunteer shifts vary in length and responsibilities, but most volunteer shifts are during programming and allow you to attend presentations. You might help people find seats, turn microphones on or off, give presenters their five-minute warnings that time is up, and gather lost and found items. See the volunteers page page on our website for more details. If you’re a returning volunteer, you don’t need to fill out the form—just follow the directions in the email sent through the Google Group. Thank you!


Each year, Sirens raises thousands of dollars in order to hold the conference and to keep registration costs as low as possible for everyone—even as the cost of hosting events skyrockets. If you can support Sirens through a donation of money, auction items, or used books, we’d be very appreciative.



Rae Carson

Read our in-depth interview with Guest of Honor Rae Carson, where she discusses inspirations, gold panning, Princess Leia, writing and more.




Come read with us! Sirens co-founder Amy leads the Sirens Book Club each month. September’s book is An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Join the discussion on Goodreads.



July Recap: Sirens News, Book Releases, and Interesting Links

Sirens Accepted Programming for 2015: Roundtable Discussions

Sirens Accepted Programming for 2015: Workshops

Sirens Accepted Programming for 2015: Afternoon Classes

Sirens Accepted Programming for 2015: Panels

Rae Carson: Five Young Adult Fantasy Works with Adult Crossover Appeal

Andrea Horbinski: Five Fantasies of the Roaring Twenties from the New Gilded Age

Erynn Moss: Eight Fantasy Works That Don’t Over-Explain

s.e. smith: Five Dark and Twisty Young Adult Works

Casey Blair: Six Secondary World Urban Fantasies

Testimonials: If you’ve attended Sirens more than once, why did you decide to come back to Sirens?

Sirens Support


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at and questions about programming to (programming at


Five Fantasies of the Roaring Twenties from the New Gilded Age

By Andrea Horbinski (@horbinski)

As a historian, I’m a huge (if somewhat picky) fan of historical fantasy, and I’ve become increasingly fascinated with the 1920s and with books set in that era. It was a time of headlong social changes and precipitously widening social inequality, of glittering wealth at the top and grinding poverty at the bottom—sound familiar? It’s no accident that this new Gilded Age has produced a fine crop of novels set in the Jazz Age. Here are some of them, both young adult and otherwise:


Moonshine 1. Moonshine, Alaya Dawn Johnson
Set in an alternate 1920s New York City populated by vampires and djinn as well as bootleggers and immigrants, Moonshine is the story of Zephyr Hollis, the so-called “vampire suffragette,” a thoroughly modern woman with a zeal for social reform. Vampire novels are a dime a dozen these days, but this one is appropriately red of tooth, and it’s well worth tracking down.
TheGirlsattheKingfisherClub 2. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine
A retelling of the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses—from the princesses’ perspective—set in Jazz Age New York before the crash, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is fleet on its feet and manages to make each girl believably individual, and desperate, even as it stays within the perspective of Jo, the eldest, the self-appointed general, the one who not only helps her sisters survive their tyrannical father, but escape him.
TheDiviners 3. The Diviners, Libba Bray
The Diviners is a big, ambitious book that’s trying to do a lot of things at once, and though I can’t yet say whether the series (this is the first of four) will be the great American historical epic of magic and race and freedom that I’ve wanted for years, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Evie, who gets sent to New York City as punishment for her inveterate drinking and smoking and truth-telling in her small town, and of Memphis, a young poet and numbers-runner in Harlem, and of the magic, murder, and mystery that brings them and a lot of other people together.
CuckooSong 4. Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge
Frances Hardinge is one of my favorite writers, hands-down, and this book, her first non-secondary world fantasy, is all the crunchier for being set in 1920s England. It’s the story of Tris, who slowly comes to a horrible realization about her own existence that propels her out of her family’s suffocating bosom into a desperate race against time, but what really makes the book is the presence of the hard-bitten, motorcycle-riding flapper Violet, and the bond of grief and magic that ties the two of them together.
Razorhurst 5. Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier
Set in 1920s Sydney, Razorhurst is the story of two very different young women—Dymphna Campbell, the so-called “best girl” of mob boss Glory Johnson, and Kelpie, the street waif who shares just one of Dymphna’s talents: the ability to see ghosts. The hardscrabble neighborhood of Surry Hills, called “Sorrow Hills” and “Razorhurst” by the people who live there, is the setting for a tense and richly detailed story of two people who couldn’t be more different but who also find themselves thrown together against the odds, and against the gangsters who are hunting for them.
Bonus: The Legend of Korra
This isn’t a book, but it is one of the finest animated shows I’ve seen in a while. The sequel show to the wonderful Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra stars the next Avatar, the female water bender Korra, and takes place 70 years later in an around Republic City, which was clearly inspired by 1920s Shanghai. Though the pacing was sometimes rough, particularly in the first season, Korra became an ambitious, complex, and above all engrossing show about one young woman’s development as a person and as the Avatar against the backdrop of a world that is rapidly outgrowing old paradigms. And the animation is frequently pretty darnn awesome, too.


Eight Fantasy Works That Don’t Over-Explain

By Erynn Moss (@erynnlk)

The beauty of Conservation of Shadows to me comes from what Lee doesn’t say. His use of negative space makes the stories elegant and invites the reader to softly feel their way through. I’m hard pressed to come up with a whole list in that style but here are some books that successfully kept me spellbound by not over-explaining.


ConservationofShadows 1. Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee
TheMapmakersWar 2. The Mapmaker’s War, Ronlyn Domingue
NightCircus 3. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
AncillaryJustice 4. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
TheFolkKeeper 5. The Folk Keeper, Franny Billingsley
TheShiningGirls 6. The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes
Deathless 7. Deathless, Catherynne Valente
WestoftheMoon 8. West of the Moon, Margi Preus


Sirens Accepted Programming for 2015: Roundtable Discussions

By Hallie Tibbetts (@hallietibbetts)

Are you ready to talk? Then you’ll want to take a look at the roundtable discussions that will be offered at Sirens in October.

Roundtables are interactive discussions of a topic led by a moderator, and attendees are encouraged to take an active part in the discussion. Sometimes they are a meeting of the minds; sometimes they’re contentious; sometimes they’re boisterous; sometimes they’re contemplative. They’re always interesting.

Please note that seating in roundtable rooms is very limited to allow everyone in the room the opportunity to participate—once there are 24 attendees and one moderator, the discussion is closed.

Follow this link to find out about the presenters and what they’ll be talking about in these presentations:

The Boobs Tube: The Rebellious Women of The Legend of Korra and Steven Universe

Female Game-Changers

How about Real-Life Rebels, Revolutionaries, and Spies?

Just Your Average Rebel: When Rebellion Means Not Changing Who You Are

Quiet Revolution

Rebelling against the Binary: Gender in Speculative Fiction

Rebellious Reading: Who—Or What—Do You Challenge by Choosing Diverse Books?

Rogue Resources

If you would like to support both Sirens and our presenters, we invite you to sponsor these (and other) presentations. The cost is $35 per presentation. Unfortunately, at this time, we can no longer include sponsors in our conference program book, but we will include your name next to your chosen topic on the accepted programming page and at the conference.


July Recap: Sirens News, Book Releases, and Interesting Links

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of interesting links and July book releases of fantasy by and about women. Look for this ever-expanding collection of good news to come to you at the end of the month in the future.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve sold a fantasy work, read a great recently-released story, discovered a fantastic link that we missed, or if you’ve got a book or story review to share, please get in touch. Send news to (help at, and see the Sirens Review Squad section below for how to become a reviewer.



Sirens Newsletter – Volume 7, Issue 9 (July 2015)

Testimonials: Write about a good friend that you’ve met at Sirens.

Six Fantasy Books with Non-US Settings

Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Kate Elliott

Five Fabulous Epic Fantasy Works by Women

Friday Books and Breakfast

Saturday Books and Breakfast

Sirens: A Love Letter

Seven Fantasy Books Featuring Non-Western Mythology and Folklore

Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Yoon Ha Lee

Six Fantasy Works for Sirens

June Recap: Sirens News, Book Releases, and Interesting Links

Sirens Accepted Programming for 2015: Papers

Influential Fantasy for Heroines



Interesting Links:


Book Releases:


Click the image for a closer look at the covers.

July 1:
Beneath the Cape: The Superhero Anthology, Angela McPherson, Cheryl McIntyre, Christine Zolendz, D. Nichole King, Laura Thalassa, Lynn Vroman, Magan Vernon, and Sunniva Dee
The Blood Curse, Emily Gee
Bone Swans: Stories, C. S. E. Cooney
Darkness Brutal, Rachel A. Marks
Letters to Zell, Camille Griep
No Time Like the Past, Jodi Taylor

July 2:
Fearless, Marianne Curley

July 6:
An Immortal Descent, Kari Edgren
The Hunter’s Kind, Rebecca Levene

July 7:
The Small Backs of Children, Lidia Yuknavitch
Chicks and Balances, ed. by Esther Friesner
The Child Eater, Rachel Pollack
Cities and Thrones, Carrie Patel
Elisha Rex, E. C. Ambrose
Flight from Death, Yasmine Galenorn
Hallowed, Tonya Hurley
The Heart of Betrayal, Mary E. Pearson
The House of the Stone, Amy Ewing
The House of War and Witness, Linda Carey, Louise Carey, and Mike Carey
Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine
Renegade, Kerry Wilkinson
The Shores of Spain, J. Kathleen Cheney
Silver in the Blood, Jessica Day George
Spellcasting in Silk, Juliet Blackwell
Survive the Night, Danielle Vega
Wicked Embers, Keri Arthur
Witchlock, Dianna Love

July 14:
About a Girl, Sarah McCarry
The Blind Wish, Amber Lough
The Golden Specific, S. E. Grove
Cold Iron, Stina Leicht
Lagoon (US edition), Nnedi Okorafor
Rebel Mechanics: All is Fair in Love and Revolution, Shanna Swendson
The Seer’s Spread, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley

July 20:
Ether & Elephants, Cindy Spencer Pape
Hollywood Witch Hunter, Valerie Tejeda

July 21:
Backyard Witch, Christine Heppermann, ill. Ron Koertge, Deborah Marcero
Bound in Black, Juliette Cross
The Dark Arts of Blood, Freda Warrington
The Obsidian Temple: A Desert Rising Novel, Kelley Grant
Pale Kings and Princes, Cassandra Clare and Robin Wasserman
Resonance, Erica O’Rourke
Stormbringer, Alis Franklin

July 28:
The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden, Emma Trevayne
The Conquering Dark, Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
Every Last Breath, Jennifer L. Armentrout
The Forgotten, Heather Graham
Oblivion, Kelly Creagh
Old Dog, New Tricks, Hailey Edwards
Siren’s Call, Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle
Spider’s Trap, Jennifer Estep
Thor Volume 2: Who Holds The Hammer?, Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman



We’d love to have more volunteers contribute short reviews of works they have read and loved. If you think you could contribute a book (or short story, or a work related to fantasy literature) review of at least 250 words sometime during the next year, we would be pleased—nay, thrilled—to have your recommendation for the Sirens newsletter.

Review squad volunteering is flexible; we simply ask that you share information about work you’ve enjoyed. (We are, of course, focused on fantasy books by and about women, and we hope you’ll consider interesting, diverse selections; if you’re not sure about a particular work, email help at and we’ll advise!) You can contribute once or on an ongoing basis, and on a schedule that works for you. Please visit the volunteer system and, when we ask you what position you’re interested in, type in “Book Reviewer.”

Testimonials: If you’ve attended Sirens more than once, why did you decide to come back to Sirens?

Meg Belviso (@sistermagpie)
The first time I went to Sirens it was even better than I’d hoped for. As I waited at the airport for my plane home I was already looking forward to the next year, so I’d really already made my decision to return. Often when you go to a conference there are at least some parts that just get to be too much for two days straight. I found Sirens to be just the right mixture of intense and laid back. The conversations made me intensely focused and enthusiastic about the subject, but the social aspect was really laid-back and friendly. It was easy to talk to just about anybody.

Shveta Thakrar (@ShvetaThakrar)
In 2010, I saw Sherwood Smith talking about Sirens on LiveJournal, and my interest was piqued. A conference about women and fantasy—and the theme that year was “faeries,” a topic that always fascinated me. So I proposed a panel and went, not knowing what to expect.

Well, I got so much more than I could have dreamed. Not only was my panel a success, but I also listened to luminaries like Terri Windling, Holly Black, Ellen Kushner, and Delia Sherman share their insights, I talked and talked about books with really smart, thoughtful women, I met wonderful people who later became my good friends, and I experienced firsthand how vital it is to have a safe space where diverse voices are not only welcomed but genuinely sought out. Above all, the conference was just plain fun. My heart full, I left knowing I would be returning the next year and the next and the next.

I had found my home away from home, my conference, where my voice mattered. Where I could talk about things that make me happy and kindle the spark of passion in my heart. Where every year, I learned more and spoke more and found more kindred spirits and books to add to my never-ending to-read pile. Where I belonged.

And that’s why I’ll be returning yet again this year. I hope to see you there.

Erynn Moss (@erynnlk)
I am an overly enthusiastic reader and Sirens is full of fandom fairydust. Finishing a good book, I want to delve into a deeper level of appreciation of motives and characters and worlds. At Sirens, I get to do that. I’ve sat down to dinner with an author and talked about archaic language (can I drop names? Marie Brennan). I’ve discussed diversity in comic books with a writer of non-graphic novels (Nalo Hopkinson). And even though I didn’t realize it was my fantasy until it was happening, I’ve stayed up until the wee hours of the morning with amazing authors (Guadelupe Garcia McCall and Alaya Dawn Johnson!) and a couple cheeky literary agents, sipping wine, and discussing the fascinating and mysterious publishing industry.

Also, Laini Taylor was really cool and wore the horns I made for her to the Monster Ball even after I awkwardly confessed my love to her. I’m pretty sure she got that I meant it in a bookish way.


Five Young Adult Fantasy Works with Adult Crossover Appeal

By Rae Carson (@raecarson)

All the books I’ve chosen are young adult fantasy that have crossover appeal to adults. I have a lot more book recommendations where these came from, so find me at Sirens and ask!


TheWrathandtheDawn 1. The Wrath and the Dawn, Renée Ahdieh
I expected to be underwhelmed by this. The fable of Scheherazade—about a woman charming her way out of horrific abuse—is not one I have ever loved. But Ahdieh’s interpretation surprised me at every turn.
TheWinnersCurse 2. The Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski
The swoony female on this cover does not appeal to me in the slightest. Is she about to use that dagger on herself? Or cry out for smelling salts? Ugh. I shouldn’t have judged this book by its cover, though, because it’s smart, subtle, and detail-rich.
GraveMercy 3. Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers
This book would definitely have been shelved in the adult category a decade ago. It’s about assassin nuns. Assassin. Nuns.
Serpentine 4. Serpentine, Cindy Pon
A critically acclaimed fantasy inspired by Chinese folklore.
Seraphina 5. Seraphina, Rachel Hartman
After reading this complex and mature tale, you’ll never think of dragons in the way same again.


Sirens Accepted Programming for 2015: Workshops

By Hallie Tibbetts (@hallietibbetts)

If you’re ready to dig in to craft, you should take a look at the workshops that will be presented at this year’s Sirens.

Workshops are hands-on explorations of a topic. This category can include writing workshops, practice in strategies for teaching and learning, craft-based presentations, and other hands-on and highly interactive topics. Please note that the seating in workshop rooms is very limited to allow the presenters the maximum hands-on teaching time for each attendee, as well as to control costs that the presenters incur if they provide materials. Likewise, this means that if you’re attending a workshop, you get to ask questions and get instruction in a small group. Attending a workshop is a great way to get your creative gears turning!

Follow this link to find out about the presenters and what they’ll be talking about in these presentations:

Five Ways to Build and Break a World

Infiltrate the Query Pile

Unpacking Character: Creating Dimensional Characters with Distinctive Voices That Live beyond the Page

Writing Women with Agency (workshop and roundtable discussion)

If you would like to support both Sirens and our presenters, we invite you to sponsor these (and other) presentations. The cost is $35 per presentation, and we will include your name next to your chosen topic on the accepted programming page. We’ll also list your sponsorship in our program book for this year’s event if we receive your sponsorship by August 21, 2015.


Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Rae Carson

We’re pleased to bring you the last in a series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor. We’ll cover a variety of topics relevant to Sirens with each author, from their inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature and forms of resistance in both the craft and industry, as befits our 2015 focus on rebels and revolutionaries. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Hallie Tibbetts interviews Rae Carson.


HALLIE: I’ve heard that The Girl of Fire and Thorns was originally sent to editors for publication as an adult fantasy novel, back when young adult books were truly just starting to become the business (and art) that we know today. If you’d kept it as an adult fantasy, how would Elisa’s story have changed—or wouldn’t it have? Is it possible to tell all of Elisa’s story arc in an “adult” vein? Does the trilogy bridge category gaps? And do you think that some stories demand to be told for the adult or young adult market, and not the other way around? Or is this all just an artificial divide?

Rae CarsonRAE: It’s true. The Girl of Fire and Thorns was initially sent to editors of adult fantasy. I had a small offer from one of them, but it was roundly rejected by everyone else for being too difficult to market.

The editor whose offer I fielded wanted more sex, and she wanted it sooner in the text. I would have happily complied. It would have been a slightly different story, but it would have been an interesting one, I think.

“Young adult books” as a reading category is wholly artificial, but it’s useful as a marketing tool. As a reading category, it erroneously assumes a few things: 1) There are specific books only teens want to read. 2) There are specific books only adults want to read. And implicit in those two assumptions is 3) Some kinds of books are better/more valuable than others.

Teens are perfectly capable and desirous of reading books for adults. And vice versa. From a marketing standpoint, though, it makes sense to identify books that are generally about coming-of-age issues. So when readers want that specific subject matter, they can browse in a ready-made section of the bookstore.

Some have argued that all books are actually marketed to adults, because adults are the ones with buying power. So, teen novels are books that grown-ups feel comfortable putting their moral imperative behind and pushing on children. If true, this further justifies the existence of a marketing category, but it’s a shitty lifestyle choice, if you ask me. It takes away agency from teens who are highly qualified to determine their own reading choices.

I must add that I wholly support having a young adult marketing category. It’s an excuse for publishers to produce tightly plotted books with wonderful covers and epic stakes—without apology. It’s a way for teens to find books that treat them like valid human beings. And because young adult novels are officially “children’s books,” it means that society has deemed it acceptable for women authors to be successful writing them.

I can’t emphasize this last point enough. Just like with The Girl of Fire and Thorns so many years ago, adult publishers of epic fantasy are simply not as welcoming to manuscripts written by women. When they offer for books, those offer amounts are often a fraction of what a woman can get from a young adult publisher. When those books get published, they too easily disappear, drowned in the deluge of marketing support, store placement, and review coverage of their male-authored counterparts. Invisibility is the most difficult issue facing female authors of epic fantasy today.

Obviously, I would prefer to live in a world with gender parity. Failing that, I’ll take “young adult” as a marketing category, thank you very much. In the meantime, Kate Elliot and I have promised ourselves a commiserating drink over this exact issue. You’re all invited.

HALLIE: When I first heard about The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I had an “Oh, ha ha, magical bellybutton girl” reaction—that, in retrospect, makes me feel appropriately ashamed and regretful, since when I read it, I was hooked from the first sentence. Also, an advance copy of The Crown of Embers showed up at my house the same day I acquired a stationary bike, and I thought I’d just pedal while I read a chapter or two, but I ended up biking for almost three hours because that’s how long it took to finish the book. Have you had any reading experiences that completely absorbed you? What makes you as a reader happy and satisfied with a story?

RAE: I’m glad The Crown of Embers gave you such a good workout!

Recently, I was completely absorbed by Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. Which is odd. Usually, there must be a character I empathize with, someone who feels so real and compelling that I can’t stop turning pages. Seveneves, on the other hand, is only fifty pages of character and plot shoehorned into a 900-page dissertation on orbital mechanics and sustainable space habitats. I couldn’t get enough.

So I suspect my actual answer is that I don’t always know what’s going to click. Books are so subjective and unpredictable. But it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures when a book surprises and delights me the way Seveneves did.

HALLIE: One of my favorite things to read (and watch and explore) is the concept of a “found family.” Walk on Earth a Stranger is exemplary of that. What drew you to writing about it, and were there times in your life when you went through a similar experience (though hopefully not as a result of a dastardly uncle)?

RAE: I did go through a similar experience, and alas, it was a result of a dastardly uncle. Forgive me if I don’t go into detail about it. Suffice it to say that my family betrayed my trust in the worst possible way, and I have found power, healing, and acceptance with friends who are precious to me beyond words—my new family. So the theme of “found family” is very close to my heart, and I will probably continue to write about it for the rest of my life.

HALLIE: Would you please describe some of the research you did for Walk on Earth a Stranger. The details were so realistic that I was in that caravan with Lee: the rocky route west, with its dwindling food supplies and lack of medical care; the social attitudes of the time towards Native Americans, African Americans, and gay men; the German migrant families; and issues of wealth, labor, and religion. What were some of your sources?

RAE: My elementary school history textbook was titled My Country ’Tis of Thee, and the cover was an inelegant mishmash of the American flag, George Washington, and the Christian cross. Because of my cloistered upbringing, it wasn’t until the college years that I realized how whitewashed and Christian-washed our history is.

So my goal in writing this book was to find lost voices, those people whose stories have not been represented by mainstream history. I relied heavily on pioneer journals, particularly those written by women. I visited museums all throughout gold country; my favorite of these was the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. My best discovery of all was John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, published in 1848. Never has a dictionary been so full of bigotry and condescension. It was delightful to read, and it gave me a wonderful—and disturbing—view into many of the social attitudes of the day.

From a hands-on, practical standpoint, my uncle (the not-dastardly one!) took me into the Sierra foothills and taught me essential gold panning skills. I ended up with a sunburn, a backache, mud stains, and memories—but only a few tiny flecks of gold.

HALLIE: What I admire about your heroines, Elisa and now Lee, is that even though they have amazing powers (magic bellybutton, ability to sense gold) they’re so practical. Even though Elisa’s a princess and Lee could be as rich as she wants, they have such real struggles—eating, managing their reputations, escaping caretakers, and walking for a really, really long time. What draws you to writing such practical heroines? What were some of the inspirations for their struggles? Why is it important to write female characters in these roles? You could have simply written a king with a Godstone or made Lee an actual boy instead of a girl dressing as a boy for most of her journey.

RAE: My most embarrassing moment happened during my senior year of high school, when I was called to the blackboard to write out a French conjugation. The chalk was in my hand, and I was stretching up on my tip-toes, when I heard whispering and giggling behind me.

I turned. The girls in my class were signaling frantically in the direction of my plastic chair, which was smeared with blood.

I had gotten my period in front of French class. Brightly and indisputably.

Casually, as if nothing were the matter, I took off my jacket and wrapped it around my waist. I finished my conjugation, sat back down, wiggled back and forth in my seat to wipe up the blood with my jacket, then excused myself to go to the bathroom.

This incident should have been socially disastrous. One of the girls who signaled frantically was my personal nemesis, someone who had tortured me since the sixth grade. I expected her to crow about it for days. But she didn’t. In that moment, as crimson was soaking the crotch of my jeans, my nemesis had my back.

That story might make some readers uncomfortable. Smearing menstrual blood on your chair? Crotch!? For heaven’s sake, Rae.

We have a lot of hesitation about some of life’s most practical details, especially those details considered feminine. Not all of us want to be reminded that a girl can be hyper-aware of her fat body, or that she might run out of menstrual rags, or even that walking a really, really long time is really, really arduous.

But we all experience those things. Moments when life’s practicalities threaten to ruin our day, or even our lives. Moments that surprise us. Moments that become tragic when they shouldn’t, or add up to nothing when they should be tragic.

I’m not a literary writer. I don’t think stories are wholly found in those details. Give me dragons, explosions, rebellions, and world-altering stakes any day. But I do think that a rebellion is much more interesting if all the girls in camp get their periods regularly and if their thighs ache from walking so much.

HALLIE: Lastly, tell us about a remarkable woman of fantasy literature—an author, reader, agent, editor, scholar, or someone else—who has changed your life.

RAE: I’m going to depart from the question a little, simply because I didn’t encounter a lot of women involved in fantasy literature for a very long time. Appalling, I know. See above about the invisibility of female authors.

I will give a hat tip to my editor, Martha Mihalick of Greenwillow Books, and my agent, Holly Root of Waxman-Leavell. Together, these two fabulous women changed my life by taking a chance on me and tirelessly championing my work.

But the fantasy female who was most formative was fictional: Princess Leia.

I mentioned before that I grew up in a cloistered, religious household. From an early age, I was taught that women had a supernaturally ordained role—raising children, keeping house, supporting the big, strong, money-earning men. It never set right with me. And while I think women ought to be able to choose whatever lifestyle they want—even a supportive, house-keeping, child-rearing one—I always knew that it would be an awkward fit on me, like walking around in scuba flippers instead of sneakers.

Along came Star Wars. I loved everything about that movie, but I loved Princess Leia most of all. Like, her I wanted to be a princess. Like her, I wanted to shoot a laser blaster. And these two were not mutually exclusive. Unlike Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, Princess Leia was a leader. She wasn’t always kind. She didn’t exist to make the men around her feel good about themselves. Yet she was loved and respected. Did I mention the laser blaster?

I’ve been playing with this juxtaposition of ideals in my own fiction ever since.


Five Dark and Twisty Young Adult Works

By s.e. smith (@sesmithwrites)

Young adult fiction is often dismissed by older readers as being incapable of nuance, literary complexity, or gripping storytelling. Those eager to write it off as an entire genre fail to delve into the huge range of literary genres encompassed within young adult literature—smart, aching contemporaries like The Truth Commission (Susan Juby), thoughtfully studied speculative fiction like Starglass (Phoebe North), and so much more, from graphic novels (Boxers & Saints) to stunning anthologies (Slasher Girls & Monster Boys).

Young adult fantasy in particular is treated with disdain, slapped with the dread dual labels of “fantasy” and “young adult,” something “real readers” wouldn’t be caught dead with. Perhaps the only worse fate is to be labeled “young adult romance,” summing up two of the most derided categories of literature in one fell swoop.

As a genre, young adult fantasy doesn’t need to be defended, because it stands on its own, but for those who believe the genre isn’t capable of literary depth, spooky complexity, and deeply probing, perturbing storytelling, this list is a good starting point to challenge that notion. For all those who don’t think that YA can be literary fiction—or all those who want a starting point to dark and twisty YA fantasy—here you go.

Be warned—all of these books come with strong content warnings for violence and extremely disturbing situations.


TheKingdomofLittleWounds 1. Kingdom of Little Wounds, Susanne Cokal
In her afterward, Cokal refers to her book as “a love story about syphilis,” discussing the fact that the tale is firmly rooted in the very real history of medieval Northern Europe, and that it’s impossible to divorce that history from the scourge of syphilis. Particularly among royalty, the sexually transmitted infection spread like wildfire, and the bizarre cures inflicted upon patients often made them worse, instead of better—and, of course, some of the preventative tactics were equally bizarre, as evidenced by the character with precious stones under the flesh of his penis who believes they protect him from infection.

That should give you a hint as to where the story is going. This bloody, dirty, sensual, and horrific book is wrapped in luscious, baroque prose, in a monstrous creation of terrible beauty—akin, in some ways, to the regrettably canceled Hannibal. Complicated subjects of gender and race come into play within Kingdom of Little Wounds, most prominently in the case of Midi Sorte, an African slave originally brought to court as an exotic gift, while new horrors lie in store with every turn of the page, from murder to rape to unabashed greed. Even for adults, this is a deeply unsettling and disturbing book.

Bitterblue 2. Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore
While all of Cashore’s Graceling books are excellent, and can be read independently, Bitterblue is the most chilling, and it plays upon some of the most horrible implications of the Graces that underlie the worldbuilding in the series. In this world, some people are born with Graces—enhanced natural abilities—and in Bitterblue, we meet Leck, a sadistic king with the ability to control and twist minds. Everyone in his kingdom, including his daughter Princess Bitterblue, believes that they’re living happy, fulfilled lives, and the Kingdom of Monsea is largely regarded as a prosperous and peaceful place, but the reality is anything but.

When Bitterblue ascends the throne after his death, she’s confronted by advisors who have stepped in to run the kingdom until she comes of age. Her understanding of Monsea begins to shift, and so do her attitudes on how to handle Leck’s legacy. What could be a fairly straightforward tale of destruction, death, and the aftermath of a deeply terrible person’s stranglehold on an entire kingdom becomes something else when the entire story is written in lilting, beautiful prose—even the awful scenery and depictions of violent abuse.

SliceofCherry 3. Slice of Cherry, Dia Reeves
Reeves’ Bleeding Violet may be better known than Slice of Cherry, but this book is probably even more disturbing and Dadaesque than Violet. Both take place in the utterly surreal environs of Portero, Texas, but this story revolves around sisters Kit and Fancy Cordelle, and they’re not just sisters. They’re violent, bloodthirsty girls with a penchant for serial killing, torture, and abuse, flipping the common fantasy narrative of abused girls who need rescuing—they’re perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, please, thank you, and pass the hacksaw.

As in Bleeding Violet, this book depicts a meticulously constructed, bizarre, monster-filled, and oddly beautiful world through striking writing and sharp, vivid descriptions. Slice of Cherry comes with a much harder edge, though, coming as it does with a murder spree that’s among the least of the town’s problems; this is a book so twisted that underage serial killers seem almost normal and relatively benign in light of everything else that’s going on.

TenderMorsels 4. Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
Fairytale retellings are one of my favorite things, and I’m a fan of Snow White and Rose Red, upon which Tender Morsels is loosely based. The setting places us with our feet in two worlds—one protective, warm, and safe, and the other filled with monsters. What happens next is violently disturbing as two young girls encounter the real world; but it’s accomplished too gracefully to end up becoming a clunky metaphor for growing up as the two young women learn about magic, the darker things in life, and their own power. You can’t take Tender Morsels at face value, from its dark setting to graceful, elegant language.

The book attracted considerable controversy in 2011 when it was included on and later dropped from a summer young adult fiction roundup at Bitch Magazine after complaints from readers concerned about sexual assault, explicit content, and a very troubling scene in which rape is effectively used as a form of vengeance. Yet, this is an interpretation that lacks nuance. Tender Morsels is a morally troubling, challenging, aggressive book—in some ways it reminds me of Sucker Punch, which was graphically, dramatically violent but ultimately took on some complicated social issues surrounding young women, mental illness, and agency. Tender Morsels is designed to be interrogated, not accepted.

Above 5. Above, Leah Bobet
Leah Bobet’s Above is not, strictly speaking, fantasy—it occupies a nebulous space of speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, all of which overlap, of course. It’s also a very difficult book which a lot of critics didn’t like because of the writing style: It’s choppy; it’s coarse; the grammar, spelling, and punctuation are unusual; and the narrative jumps unexpectedly and sends readers skittering in all directions. These traits, however, are integral to what makes Above so successful, as it’s about a world of Freaks—those with unusual physical characteristics—who band together belowground to protect themselves from experimentation, abuse, and torture. Much like the Freaks themselves, the writing style is an amalgamation of confusing elements.

The Freaks occupy their own strange community, which begins to fracture, forcing them aboveground and into the dangerous outside world. The scenery of Above is jagged, graphic, violent—but what really appeals to me about the text is the way it challenges the reader’s preconceptions of race and gender. Telling you how would, of course, ruin the experience, but it’s worth noting that nothing is what it seems in Above and it’s worth keeping a weather eye on your surroundings whilst you read.


Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.


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