Archive for September 2016

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 8, Issue 6 (September 2016)

In this issue:


Before arriving in Denver, you might want to review the accepted programming and schedule for Sirens—and daydream about owning a Time-Turner or consider volunteering (see below). You might also want to review the Books and Breakfast list and pick something to chat about before the day’s programming starts. Or perhaps you’d like to squeeze in a few more books from this year’s themed reading list; after all, you have a couple more weeks!


If you’ve registered for Sirens, please keep an eye on your inbox during the weeks leading up to Sirens. We’ll be sending you emails about meeting the Sirens Shuttle, checking in for the Sirens Studio, finding the Sirens Supper, and claiming your Sirens registration. If you are a presenter, please keep an eye out for email communications from the programming team as well.

Also, if you’re riding the Sirens Shuttle and haven’t provided your flight information, please check your email for a note from the help desk or write to (help at We’ll track your progress toward Sirens and make sure that you haven’t run into any delays along the way!


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. See the volunteers 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.

We could really use your help filling a few remaining shifts. If you’re planning to stick to a room for the whole morning or afternoon anyway, and don’t mind flagging down help if any problems arise, we’d be thrilled to have you volunteer for a few hours, and so would the presenters! Thanks in advance for your help.


We’re interviewing our Sirens 2016 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature as befits our 2016 focus on lovers and the role of love, intimacy, and sex. We can’t wait for you to meet them this October! Here’s the last of our interviews.

From our interview with Laurie J. Marks on the philosophy of aspects of Shaftal that powers the plot of her Elemental Logic series: “[I]t seems feminist to emphasize the importance of an entire community in accomplishing anything worth doing.”

You may find our interviews with our other 2016 Guests of Honor, Kiini Ibura Salaam and Renée Ahdieh, here and here.


Each year, Sirens selects a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invites attendees to bring their breakfast during the conference and have an informal conversation about those books. For 2016, we’ve kicked Books and Breakfast off early—so all of you have time to choose a couple books and read! This year, we’ve also launched a program to get these books into your hands prior to Sirens.

For extra motivation, we’re giving away copies of each Books and Breakfast book—two each month! Congratulations to @StellaLuna617 on Twitter for winning August’s Giveaway. Check out how you can win Pantomime and Like Water for Chocolate in our post here.


Thank you to everyone who has donated books! We really appreciate your support for our mission, and we hope you’ll stop by during Sirens to browse and maybe find a new (or new-to-you) book to add to your collection. If you’re planning to shop, we’ll have books by the guests of honor, from the Books and Breakfast list, and by attending authors, as well as a selection of other really good reads.


Do you have an item to donate for this year’s auction? Please let us know by the end of the day on Thursday, October 20, so that we can get your donation onto the auction list. All sorts of items are welcome! If you’d like to donate an item or you have questions, please email Amy Tenbrink at (amy.tenbrink at She’d love to hear what you’re planning and address any concerns you might have. Thank you in advance for your support!


Many of our staff will be traveling to Denver as early as Friday, October 14, to prepare for Sirens. While we are in transit and when we’re on site unpacking and setting things up for the conference, we will not be able to monitor our emails as closely as we do at other times. If you have an urgent inquiry during this time, please send it to (help at and we will get back to you as quickly as possible.

During the conference, the best way to contact us is in person! While we do check our email, we’re only able to do so sporadically. If you have any questions or would simply like to chat, please stop by our information desk in the Inverness’s Summit D starting at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 20.


Beginning on Tuesday, October 18, we will be posting the Sirens Studio and conference schedule on our Twitter. If you prefer not to receive these reminders, you may want to mute or unfollow @sirens_con until Monday, October 24. (The schedule will not be posted on Facebook, though a few highlights might be.)



Assassin's Gambit

Last month, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Amy Raby’s Assassin’s Gambit, full of fantasy romance, rebel assassins, and sex: “Assassin’s Gambit has solid fantasy world-building, pretty funny dialogue, and unlike a lot of fantasy heroines, a super-competent heroine who saves the world.” Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.



Shades of Milk and Honey

Are you close to finishing the 2016 Sirens Reading Challenge? Faye is! Last month she read Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, which she found full of Jane Austen analogues and “familiar plot twists like secret arrangements, duels and carriage chases” but she was impressed by the masterful weaving of magic, or “glamour” into the worldbuilding. Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.




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


Books and Breakfast: September Giveaway

As Sirens veterans know, each year, Sirens selects a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invites attendees to bring their breakfast during the conference and have an informal conversation about those books. Over the years, this program has highlighted the depth and breadth of each year’s theme and given early risers both company and book talk!

For 2016, we’ve kicked Books and Breakfast off early—so all of you have time to choose a couple books and read! This year, we’ve also launched a giveaway program to get these books into your hands prior to Sirens.



For September, we’ll be giving away, to one lucky winner, two Books and Breakfast selections: Pantomime and Like Water for Chocolate. You can read more about the books below, but here are the rules:

To enter, you must tell us of your favorite female character in fantasy literature. All entries must be submitted by September 30, 2016, either by Tweeting them to @sirens_con or by emailing them to (help at Each individual may enter only once and you must currently reside in the United States in order to win. By entering, you grant Sirens the right to use your entry and to name you (by name or Twitter alias) in connection with that entry. The winner must provide their address to Sirens in order to receive the prize. This offer void where prohibited.



Pantomime by Laura Lam

Pantomime kicks off a remarkable series about an intersex protagonist, set somewhere between the world of the pampered and over-privileged and the gritty backdrop of a traveling circus. More important than the setting, and the uncertain magic that builds the fantasy thread, is the main character’s questioning—not only of who they are, but who they are going to become, and how they will become.

When Iphigenia—Gene—realizes that her social and class circumstances are forcing her into very strict rules of behavior (and gender expression), as well as continued medical examinations and secrets, she leaves home, joining the circus as Micah. While the secrets don’t exactly end, Micah can finally begin to explore what it means to be Micah, and to explore loving in Micah’s body, and to explore the magic that Micah can make. This leads into future books, so note that this is only the beginning of a series.


Like Water for Chocolate

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate is a worldwide bestseller, a work that many in the US know only in translation, and has been adapted for film. It’s the sort of book that we include in Books and Breakfast because it has fantastical elements—and because we are always discussing and debating whether we can include magical realism as a part of the fantasy family (even if only as a beloved cousin).

Tita lives in Mexico of more than a hundred years ago, and she can’t marry; she’ll have to devote her life to caring for her mother. However, she’s in love with Pedro, her sister’s husband…. Her tumultuous feelings are expressed through the magic of food. Forbidden romance, recipes, family relationships, sex, and tradition all play a part.


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.

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.

My Women-in-Fantasy Book List, by Renée Ahdieh

By Renée Ahdieh (@rahdieh)

1. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
2. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
3. Sis of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
4. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
5. The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson
6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
7. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
8. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
9. And I Darken by Kiersten White

Renée Ahdieh is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her young adult fantasy novel The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and epically told love story centered around Shahrzad and her quest for revenge (and is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights). The sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, was released in May 2016.


My favorite books (and authors), by Laurie J. Marks

By Laurie J. Marks

These are fantasy or science fiction novels that I read over and over again. Some are relatively new and some have been around for years. They have a few characteristics in common: They transcend the tropes of science fiction or fantasy; they are imaginatively plotted, beautifully written, and filled with vivid and memorable characters; and they are (mostly) by women authors, with woman protagonists.

1. The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss (Tor, 1998)
Gloss is an amazing stylist. In this novel, she presents a thoroughly realized and believable culture at three different stages. The prologue is one character’s meditation on the ecologically devastated planet she is abandoning just before she leaves to board the spaceship, never to return. The body of the novel tells the story, through four points of view, of the crisis that challenges the culture when, after 175 years of space travel, they arrive at a possible destination. The epilogue is a character’s meditation about a difficult day, several generations later. The vast scope of this book is balanced by its close attention to the everyday experiences of its very ordinary characters. Another excellent book by Molly Gloss (a historically grounded page-turner that doesn’t seem like science fiction at all): Wild Life (Mariner Books, 2001).
2. Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler (Putnam, 2004)
Karen Joy Fowler edits collections and writes short stories as well as novels. As far as I know, this is the only book she has written that can be classified as science fiction, although, like Gloss’s Wild Life, it could also be classed as historical, with a science fiction component so subtle you could miss it entirely. I loved this book from the beginning because it is profoundly funny, sometimes because of the ridiculous (but believable) things people do, sometimes in the peculiar characters that people it, and especially in the way that all the characters choose to understand the mysterious woman, Sarah Canary, in whatever manner best suits their needs. Most of Fowler’s fiction is realistic, also beautiful and hilarious. I highly recommend her short stories, which are collected in Black Glass and What I Didn’t See.
3. Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor, 2011)
Typically, fantasy stories end when the evil witch is overcome, but this is a story about the aftermath. Set in Wales and England in the 1970s, it follows 15-year-old Mori during the year or so after a magical battle in which she and her identical twin vanquished the evil witch (their mother) but her twin was killed and Mori was crippled. For Mori, the real world is populated by fairies, which are wild and strange and not particularly good friends to her. As she figures out how to live under the care of a father she never knew (and his really weird sisters), and struggles to get settled into an English boarding school, which is every bit as alien an environment as the space ship in Dazzle of Day, she longs for a group to belong with, and discovers that her mother isn’t done yet, and her beloved sister isn’t totally gone. It’s a riveting and haunting story, a book for book lovers, about book lovers. Jo Walton has written and continues to write a lot of books, and I am happy to read them. This one is extraordinary.
4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf, 2006)
I had never read anything by McCarthy, and I stumbled across this book because I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction…don’t ask me why. I didn’t even realize that this book—by an author who has not written any other science fiction—was a bestseller, won the Pulitzer, and was made into a movie. This is a gritty and grim story of a father and his young son, engaged in a desperate day-to-day struggle for survival. In the physical and spiritual darkness of their world, as human civilization gradually grinds to a halt, the father’s heroic love for his son is blindingly bright and completely compelling.
5. The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
Delia Sherman is a prolific writer of short stories and novels, and all of them are sensational for their historicism, sensitivity, and style. In The Freedom Maze, set in 1960 Louisiana, young Sophie is transported into 1860, is mistaken for a slave, and must survive and help her fellow slaves survive on a southern plantation. Sherman grapples with some difficult racial issues, but what matters most in this beautiful book is the strength of the characters. This is a powerful coming of age story, one that transports its readers into two eras, each of them alien and grim, but also shot through with beauty. I admire everything Sherman has written, such as The Porcelain Dove, a masterpiece of historical/fantasy. Her more recent books (such as The Evil Wizard Smallbone) are primarily YA, but her intelligence, wit, and style are always appealing to and appreciated by adults. She writes with great sympathy about the very human experience of young people who are making their way through fantastical places—many of them in or near New York City.
6. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
In Un Lun Dun, China Mieville’s amazing inventiveness and love for the grotesque are displayed in a fast-moving narrative that turns the traditional quest story on its ear. Deeba is not supposed to be the hero of this story—she’s supposed to be the sidekick—but she ends up on a journey to save the City of London that is reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Wizard of Oz. In the city below London, almost anything (including an empty milk carton) can be alive and have a personality, and the most unlikely things are dangerous—giraffes and broken umbrellas, to give two examples. I really like some of Mieville’s other books, such as Perdido Street Station and The City & The City, but this is by far my favorite.
7. The Steerswoman Series by Rosemary R. Kirstein
Kirstein is continuing to write this series, which currently consists of four books, but each book has its own discrete plot while also being connected to the whole. Rowan, the central character of the series, comes upon some mysterious jewels, and her effort to figure out what they are launches her on a journey to understand her world. Kirstein tells an engaging and exciting tale about how people know things, and about what happens when the accepted explanation of reality seems to be in conflict with the facts. She simultaneously uses her reader’s expectations of fantasy vs. science fiction to demonstrate the ways that shifting expectations change how we understand the story. Rowan’s journey of discovery through her landscape–sometimes familiar to us and sometimes alien—is recounted in The Steerswoman, The Outskirter’s Secret, The Lost Steersman, and The Language of Power. Kirstein is a careful and vivid storyteller, and her short fiction also is worth seeking out.
8. The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
I find this book gripping and mind-bending, a completely different kind of science fiction that, despite being set on this planet in the near future, is sometimes overwhelming in its alienness. Part of that strangeness comes from the vivid first-person narratives that reveal some very strange internal landscapes. The novel’s two story-lines both are travelogues; one of a young woman who is walking across the ocean, and one of a young girl who on an arduous land journey by truck, and both of them are unreliable narrators. This book is a book that must be dug into, but it’s worth it. This is Byrne’s first novel, and it won the Tiptree award. She also writes plays, short fiction, and essays.
9. Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
I have a complaint: Kushner doesn’t publish enough books. Her first book, Swordspoint, is still my favorite, but I love her stylish writing and eccentric characters, and in the subsequent books, the Privilege of the Sword, and The Fall of the Kings (with Delia Sherman), she portrays the world of Riverside with fondness and clarity. She also wrote a marvelous retelling of the Thomas the Rhymer ballad, and numerous short stories. All this, plus she is a delightful and engaging human being who belongs on a stage…and perhaps that’s why she doesn’t publish more.
10. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
In American Gods, Gaiman mines numerous mythological traditions to populate the commonplace landscape of middle America with supernatural beings—gods—who, being degraded from their original forms, are forced to make a living in various peculiar ways. (I particularly like the cluster of gods who work as surprisingly endearing undertakers.) Shadow, recently released from prison, finds himself working for one of these gods, Mr. Wednesday, which lands him in the middle of a brewing supernatural battle. Gaiman’s prose is powerful and his creativity animates and reinvigorates the legends with great conviction. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is another of my favorites by this successful author.
11. Black Wine by Candas Dorsey
Black Wine is one of the most beautifully-written books I have ever read, the much-deserved recipient of multiple awards, including the Tiptree. Dorsey tells a complex, interwoven tale of five generations of women who discover each other and themselves in experiences lovely and awful, and their lives enlighten each other in ways you never expect. This book is difficult to categorize: its realistic narrative is set in a vividly realized imagined world that’s free of both science fiction and fantasy tropes. Candas also has another novel, A Paradigm of Earth, and she is an acclaimed poet, essayist, and short-story writer.
12. Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie
The three books of this trilogy are titled Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy. This science fiction trilogy is like nothing you have ever read before: a story of power and cultural usurpation, but also of profound humanity. Its point of view character is uniquely devised and realized, and the narrative succeeds as few have done in presenting a genuinely gender-blind tale. Not only do we never know the sex of the narrator; we never know the sex of any but a few characters (and even that is uncertain). Leckie ingeniously solved the language problem by using the feminine gender for all characters, and by having the point of view character acknowledge her own inability to distinguish the sexes. But never mind this marvelous solution; the narrative itself seems genderless as well, presenting a space opera that should be classic masculine science fiction, except that the artificial intelligences whose story this is, and whose characters are so fully realized, are distinctively feminine in their concern for people and the quality of human life. This wonderful series is utterly unique, and if you haven’t read these books, prepare to be delighted.

Laurie J. Marks’s Elemental Logic series is set in the world of Shaftal. The elements of fire, earth, water, and air have sustained the peaceful people of Shaftal for generations, but Shaftal has been overrun, and the ancient logic of the land is being replaced by the logic of hatred. Laurie’s novel Fire Logic, the first in the series, won the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for best novel in 2003, and Earth Logic, the second in the series, won the same award in 2005. The third in the series, Water Logic, was included on the honor list for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2007, and the final book, Air Logic, is currently a work in progress. Laurie’s other works include Dancing Jack, about a girl who is trying in vain to forget a past filled with bloodshed and rebellion, and was short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 1993; The Watcher’s Mask, about a two-souled person on a journey of self-awareness that will lead her to discover the true nature of her race; and The Children of the Triad series (Delan the Mislaid, The Moonbane Mage, and Ara’s Field), where the Walkers ruled the land, the Aeyrie soared the skies, and the Mer reigned over the seas. Laurie currently teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.


Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Laurie J. Marks

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 as befits our 2016 focus on lovers and the role of love, intimacy, and sex. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Andrea Horbinski interviews Laurie J. Marks.


ANDREA: The theme of Sirens this year is lovers, but what struck me about the world of the Elemental Logic books is not so much the Shaftali acceptance of queerness (which: yay!) as the expansive definition of family. In particular, I loved the family that the protagonists of Fire Logic have forged by the time that Earth Logic begins. Was there a particular inspiration or plan behind the way you laid out Shaftali family and gender relations, or did they come to you naturally while you were writing the books?

Laurie J Marks LAURIE: Let me first explain how families work in Shaftal. Large, multi-generational families are the norm there, and nuclear families would be frowned upon, because Shaftali believe that children need many parents. Typically, a young person marries into a pre-existing family and has children with several partners who may or may not also be members of that family, although families also include pairs of monogamous lovers. The children are raised by the entire family regardless of biological relationship, though children are likely to have a special relationship with biological mothers and fathers. People who belong to an elemental order don’t belong to families, but they do treat each other as family members; and although they might have children, they don’t raise or even know those children.

In our real world, a lot of people surround themselves by intimates of one kind or another that substitute for a family they don’t want or that doesn’t want them, and I was trying to model the Shaftali families after those extended friendships and cooperative relationships. Also, I wanted to experiment with a world in which the concepts of heterosexuality (or homosexuality) and gender roles simply don’t exist. Lacking those concepts, it seems like people would not pair off into nuclear families, and instead would group together into practical, multi-generational alliances to operate a farm or business. Because these farm or businesses survive for hundreds of years, these families provide a lot of long-term stability, yet within that stability there’s a lot of room for individuals to have all different kinds of loving relationships, and for those relationships to shift and change over time. Also, in this world, the idea of family is quite flexible as well: for example, the central family in the Elemental Logic series is peculiar, because it formed spontaneously and is crazily diverse: three of its members simultaneously are in orders and nearly all of them have elemental talents; six of its members are in monogamous pairings, and its members come from four different ethnic groups and speak three different languages. Yet it is still considered to be a family because the adults live together, are raising a child together, and share a common enterprise.

ANDREA: Colonialism and warfare are major themes in the world of Shaftal, and in particular, the revelation at the end of Water Logic about the origins of the Shaftalese casts the previous events of the series in a very different light. Similarly, forgiveness and reconciliation and negotiation are explicitly issues that the characters struggle with and work towards. The latter set of ideas is not often paired with the former in fantasy works. How do you see the relationship between them, either in the Elemental Logics books or more generally?

LAURIE: In classic fantasy—like the works of Tolkein and C.S. Lewis—warfare was about the battle of good and evil. Certainly, both of those authors were influenced by the ancient belief that wars are won by the righteous. But during my formative years of the sixties, people became opposed to, or at least skeptical of, the idea that war could be just. From then on, I saw a lot of evidence that even in a war that could be said to be justified, the negative effect on the individuals who fought in those wars was profound, and the long-term ability of war to solve problems or even to prevent further warfare was questionable. But I don’t want to give you the idea that my books offer a realistic solution to the problems of warfare and colonialism! In fact, I’m mainly focused on stories about people who are trying to end war and violence, or who become convinced to abandon fighting. But, I’m afraid that when I talk about the books in this way, it makes them sound rather self-righteous and tedious, and they’re not. I work very hard to write exciting, fast-moving stories that have interesting and engaging characters. The ideas operate almost entirely in the background.

I worked on these books over a long time period (more than twenty years), if you look closely you’ll see that my treatment of these themes evolves from book to book. I started off thinking about how fighting for a cause, even a just cause, can turn the fighters into the thing they’re opposed to, and that idea arose from my mix of sympathy for and horror of the guerilla movements that were then prevalent in the world. By the time I was working on the second book, Earth Logic, I had started to suspect that all of humankind’s problems stem from our need to believe that our own values and belief systems are true. Nowadays, I’m thinking more and more about the importance of humility, which shows up much more in the last two books of the series.

In the Elemental Logic series, you see that war and violence can’t be ended without a radical change in values. This is something of a queer perspective, because queer people are born into a world that assumes people are heterosexual and that biological sex and gender are the same thing; then they have to undergo a complete reorientation—a woman realizes she’s actually a man, or that she has fallen in love with a female friend, or, as actually happened to me, same-sex characters in a book I was writing insisted on making love with each other. But this loss and transformation of world view also happen in non-sexual ways, such as when a person ceases to believe in God, or in communism. You see these shifts in world-view throughout the Elemental Logic series. For example, Fire Logic seems to begin with a fairly typical good-versus-evil type of conflict, until Zanja realizes that her allies aren’t any better than her enemies. In Earth Logic, one point-of-view character is a kind and principled human being, despite being a bad guy. In Water Logic, there’s an origin story that reveals how connected the good guys and the bad guys are. And in Air Logic, a subgroup of the good guys are the story’s antagonists. So I guess I’m suggesting that in order for forgiveness, reconciliation and negotiation to happen, everyone has to acknowledge how arbitrary and plastic our beliefs and ways of thinking are. For peace to follow war, it’s not merely necessary for some people to be generous and let go of their anger. Instead, everybody has to take seriously the idea that nobody is right. That’s where the humility comes in. This certainly is an atypical way to deal with good and evil in a fantasy novel. I seem to be writing sword-and-sorcery for pacifists.

ANDREA: The ideas of elemental logics, and that “the way you do anything is the way you do everything,” are some of the things I love most about the series, but they’ve also given me some of the more challenging reads of my life. In particular, since I am exactly half air and half fire, I really struggled with reading and understanding Water Logic. (Earth Logic was easier, because by earth logic, action is understanding, so reading the book led me to understand it on some level.) How has your own viewpoint helped or hindered you writing the books and the characters, as they each have their own distinctive ways of being?

LAURIE: I definitely ran into my own limitations while writing Water Logic. If I were Shaftali, I wouldn’t have even a drop of water in my elemental make-up, and as a result, in Water Logic there aren’t any point-of-view characters who are much influenced by the water element. Water logic is so alien to me that I just couldn’t imagine the subjective experience of a water elemental. The story is about the overlapping of past, present and future, because that was one aspect of water logic I could get a handle on, whereas I simply couldn’t write or even imagine a novel that worked like weather or like a piece of music. Also, throughout the series I found that depicting characters who are influenced by air can be a lot of work. It was easy to portray them as bad guys, because they can be so rigid and controlling, but depicting them as valuable and necessary took some imaginative effort. Fortunately, I do value some characteristics of air, such as order and consistency, even though I don’t have a lot of those things in my life, and I admire people who have insight into how or why other people think in particular ways. I could use those values to help me to round out the characters of the air elementals, particularly Norina Truthken, who is a central character throughout the series. I found it easier to write about people who are influenced by fire or by earth, because those are the types I most understand and want to be like, but I have to be careful not to idealize them, or they stop being interesting.

ANDREA: Community and negotiation play important roles in your books, which seems somewhat remarkable in a genre that often defaults to stories about heroic individuals and Chosen Ones. To me, these elements (ha) feel very realistic; I think we’ve all encountered people like the farmers so stubborn the only way to deal with them was to magic their dogs. What seems unusual is the way these aspects of Shaftal often power the plot of the books. What was your thinking in making those choices, structurally or philosophically?

LAURIE: Someone once referred to the Elemental Logic series as utopian, and I was rather surprised to realize that I do seem to be depicting an ideal world that’s grounded in a philosophy. But, honestly, childish wish-fulfilment also plays a large role in my writing decisions. Nevertheless, let’s talk about the philosophy. In the same way that the lone hero type of fantasy really is a masculine story, it seems feminist to emphasize the importance of an entire community in accomplishing anything worth doing. In traditional sword and sorcery type fantasy, the story ends when the war is won, but in the Elemental Logic series, the characters engage in an effort first to convince everyone that war is only making matters worse, and then to employ the values that already exist in the culture to make sure it doesn’t flare up again. So rather than using the power of violence and dominance, it’s using the resources of community self-interest along with food and shelter, meaning, love, children, and hope, to convince everyone to lay down their weapons and start doing productive work again.

Besides this feminist take on war, there are a lot of other (rather random and ill-considered) philosophies behind my emphasis on community and negotiation. Although Shaftal isn’t purely nonhierarchical, it does rely on a consensus process, and there really isn’t much of a social mechanism by which any one individual can acquire political power, or gain control of resources, or exercise control over others. That social system seems like it would work well so long as there aren’t any problems, but I’ve also given them one person whose job it is to intervene when problems crop up. That’s how the recalcitrant farmers end up being herded by their own dogs—they wouldn’t behave responsibly, so they were forced to do so. Also, Shaftal has a kind of meritocracy, except that people with a lot of talent are expected to spend their lives in service. The people they help give them food and shelter, but they don’t pay them, so there’s no way for them to become rich or self-important. The ideals of the Shaftali people are communitarian, they value long-range thinking, and there’s a lot of traditional small town values, like helping neighbors, feeding strangers, and doing their share of the work. It seems like the ways that problems are solved has to be logically consistent with that culture as I’ve described it. A Shaftali way to eliminate the enemy would be to treat them as they treat anyone else—to marry them, for example, or at least to feed them. Of course, it’s not every family that could be convinced to marry an enemy soldier, but it is culturally feasible.

ANDREA: I’ve read that there is at least one complete draft of Air Logic in the wild, because Rosemary Kirstein has blogged about reading it. Can you tell us what the status of Air Logic is, and what’s next for you besides that?

LAURIE: I had a pretty awful few years during which I simply couldn’t write very much. A couple of years ago, I thought Air Logic was finished. But it turns out I was wrong, and now I’m revising it again. I’m glad that I’m doing it, because I’m discovering a lot of places that I seem weirdly disengaged from my own story. Revising Air Logic has made me realize how much I was damaged—not just emotionally, but because I didn’t have the energy to maintain my friendships and connections, and so I ended up writing in a vacuum. Anyway, while I finish Air Logic, I have another book on the back burner. It’s called Cunning Men, it’s about a peculiar friendship, and I’m about halfway done with the first draft.


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

LAURIE: If you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you about a group rather than an individual. For over ten years, I met more or less monthly with three other women novelists: Rosemary R. Kirstein, Delia Sherman, and Didi Stewart. They served as role models, teachers, healers, advisors, problem-solvers, and, above all, as friends to whatever book I was writing. Delia has an extraordinary gift for understanding what I was doing in my work—far better than I understood it myself—and she is one of the most delightful and literary fantasy authors around, a recipient of several much-deserved awards. Rosemary has a powerful rational mind, and happily grappled with my plotting problems and anything else that perplexed me. Rosemary is the author of a science fiction series that is based in an adage expressed by Arthur C. Clarke (among others), that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Didi, a versatile vocalist and musician, is a thoughtful and pragmatic critic whose insights kept bringing me back to awareness of what my readers needed so that a story would work for them. She has written several unpublished novels that I wish were in print. Those three friends were essential to my growth as a writer, and I’m profoundly happy that after a long hiatus we have started meeting again, despite the fact that we now live in three different states.

Laurie J. Marks’s Elemental Logic series is set in the world of Shaftal. The elements of fire, earth, water, and air have sustained the peaceful people of Shaftal for generations, but Shaftal has been overrun, and the ancient logic of the land is being replaced by the logic of hatred. Laurie’s novel Fire Logic, the first in the series, won the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for best novel in 2003, and Earth Logic, the second in the series, won the same award in 2005. The third in the series, Water Logic, was included on the honor list for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2007, and the final book, Air Logic, is currently a work in progress. Laurie’s other works include Dancing Jack, about a girl who is trying in vain to forget a past filled with bloodshed and rebellion, and was short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 1993; The Watcher’s Mask, about a two-souled person on a journey of self-awareness that will lead her to discover the true nature of her race; and The Children of the Triad series (Delan the Mislaid, The Moonbane Mage, and Ara’s Field), where the Walkers ruled the land, the Aeyrie soared the skies, and the Mer reigned over the seas. Laurie currently teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

For more information about Laurie, please visit Laurie’s website.


Five Books With Thieves That Will Steal Your Heart

By Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)

Thieves have the most fun—or at least the most fun stories. There is a time and place for dark and serious fantasy, but sometimes I just want a rollicking adventure story. These are some of my favorite reads that are just plain fun.

1. The Spirit Thief is the first of the (completed) Legend of Eli Monpress series by Rachel Aaron. Eli Monpress is striving to be the greatest thief in the world, and hot on his tail is Miranda Lyonette, my favorite sorceress in fiction ever because no matter what she just will. not. quit. I love the anime-esque magic system, the heist shenanigans, and most of all how Aaron ups the stakes for each character with every book. Eli may be the titular character, and there’s a lot of epicness to go around, but it is 100% the women in this series you have to watch out for.
2. The Death of the Necromancer is a stand-alone novel by Martha Wells, and if you’ve never read any of her work this is a great place to start. When events conspire to ruin the master plan professional thieves Madeline and Nicholas Valiarde have devoted years to, they find themselves neck-deep in dealing with sorcery—as well as with an irritatingly observant inspector and his doctor companion who’ve been trying to catch them for years. I also loved reading a story about two characters already married at the start of the book, with a romance subplot that wasn’t about their getting together.
3. Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani is the first installment in its series (and the sequel Memories of Ash is just as good). Hitomi is a thief on the streets working with a shadow resistance, but she has a secret even from her fellow rebels: she’s a sorcerer, and she is far more dangerous than even she knows—yet. This series portrays cultures and settings inspired by places all over the world, weaving them together beautifully, and it complicates familiar tropes into intriguing new dimensions, making for an immensely satisfying heroine’s journey.
4. Sherwood Smith’s Lhind the Thief has everything. It’s incredibly fast-paced, with adventures that take us across the sea, through forests, and into castles and cultures all around protagonist Lhind’s world. There are dazzling escapes and awe-inspiring feats of sorcery; political intrigue, secret histories, and daring friendships; moments that made my heart twist in sympathy for Lhind and moments where I laughed aloud; and it’s all told in Lhind’s witty and charming voice. The sequel Lhind the Spy is just as delightful, and I highly recommend them both.
5. No list of fantasy novels about thieves having adventures could possibly be complete without A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab. Lila Bard is going to have adventure at any cost, she’s going to be a pirate because being a pirate sounds awesome, and she’s going to learn magic through sheer force of willing the world to fall in line. She is the best kind of compelling protagonist: she has dreams, and she reaches out and seizes them. This series is set in parallel fantastical Londons, and while the world design is fascinating it’s the characters that make this book and its sequel A Gathering of Shadows sing.

Casey Blair writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through mountains, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.


Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.


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