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Archive for January 2018

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 10, Issue 2 (January 2018)

In this issue:

 

WHAT SIRENS IS . . . AND WHAT IT ISN’T

The more people who come to Sirens, the more ideas there are about what Sirens is . . . and what it isn’t. We’re kicking off 2018 by addressing both some core tenets and some common misconceptions about our conference. For example, did you know that everyone’s voice, no matter their vocation, identity, perspective, or familiarity with us, is equally important at Sirens? Conversely, did you know that Sirens is not a writers’ conference, though many writers find it valuable? Nor does it consider itself a “feminist” conference for women, though many of its attendees are women who claim the word “feminist.” Whether you’re new to us or a multiple-time attendee, we think this will be helpful.

Read the Full Post

 

FOURTH GUEST OF HONOR, STUDIO FACULTY ANNOUNCED

Leigh Bardugo, author of Shadow and Bone, Six of Crows, and Wonder Woman: Warbringer, will be joining Zen Cho, Kameron Hurley, and Anna-Marie McLemore as guests of honor for this year’s conference! Leigh will represent women who work magic in our 2018 theme of Reunion. Visit our Guests of Honor page to learn more.

 

s.e. smith will be joining our Sirens Studio faculty for 2018, leading a reading intensive. We’ll have full summaries coming next month, but you can check out all of our faculty biographies now on our Sirens Studio page.

 

TICKETS UPDATE

Along with general registration for Sirens, tickets are also available for our pre-conference events, the Sirens Studio and the Sirens Supper. We’ll have information about specific Studio workshop intensive topics in February, so stay tuned.

Buy Tickets

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Bloodprint

Did you know that Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink reads 150 books a year? This month, she read Ausma Zehenat Khan’s The Bloodprint for the Sirens Book Club: “While this story is purportedly Arian’s, it’s really the story of every rebel against an authoritarian regime who has found that their fight is against not only the regime, but their own people’s fear, blindness, carelessness, and ignorance.” Read her full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

The One Hundred Nights of Hero

Are you planning on tackling the 2018 Reading Challenge? If you’d like some company, Communications Director Faye Bi reviews a book from the challenge each month. She adored Isabel Greenberg’s The One Hundred Nights of Hero, which she deemed a “brilliant, irreverent, pure delight of a graphic novel . . . perfect for long winter nights in a cozy reading chair and a big mug of tea.” Read her full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT . . .

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

Read Along with Faye: The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

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!

We’re back, Read Along! January was cold (insert your favorite bomb cyclone pun here), it was dark (it’s finally still daylight when I leave the office, but barely), and it was bloated with the aftermath of rich holiday food and the promise of reading resolutions. I thought we would ease our way into this year’s challenge with Isabel Greenberg’s brilliant, irreverent, pure delight of a graphic novel, The One Hundred Nights of Hero. It’s perfect for long winter nights in a cozy reading chair and a big mug of tea, and it won’t take long to read—perhaps a few glorious hours if you can prevent yourself from being transfixed by every page—and it will be so worth your time to go back and savor it all over again.

The title alone might have you believe this is an homage to Scheherazade, and it is, in a way. The prologue starts almost more ambitiously: with the god BirdMan (gendered male, mansplainer extraordinaire, whom fans of Greenberg’s previous work The Encyclopedia of Earth may recognize) messing with a perfectly good thing a woman has created. In this case, it’s Earth, which was created by his daughter, Kiddo. She’s fascinated by these perfect humans she’s made, who grow up, eat, sleep, love, and eventually die. But of course, BirdMan, a foil for a certain kind of blowhard every woman knows, decides that Kiddo’s Earth is boring and that the humans should worship him instead. So he creates religion, which leads to disciples (who are . . . you guessed it, dudes) called the Beak Brothers and by the time the main story starts, Earth is a weird medieval theocracy-dystopia ruled by the patriarchy. Sigh.

It is in this world that the heart of the story begins. Two dudes, real POS dudes, decide (of course!) that they should have a bet. Manfred bets Jerome that he can seduce Jerome’s wife Cherry while Jerome is away for hundred days. Jerome is like “omg no way, my wife is way too faithful, she’s the pinnacle of purity blah blah let’s compare dick sizes” (not an actual quote) but needless to say, they make this bet and Manfred starts his quest. Little does he know that Cherry is totally in love with her maid, Hero, who is part of the League of Secret Storytellers. Hero does the Scheherazade thing where she saves Cherry from Manfred’s advances each night by weaving a tale he’s desperate to hear the end of. And Manfred, because he’s a cocky dude, just goes, “oh, well I’ll just rape Cherry the next night, no biggie” (also not an actual quote) except this happens for all the nights until Jerome comes home, because Hero lives up to her name.

There’s so much more I could say about Hero’s stories. They’re lovingly illustrated, and Greenberg draws from folklore, mythology, ballads, and fairytales. There’s the story based loosely on the Twelve Dancing Princesses, one based on the child ballad Two Sisters, and one where a man falls in love with the moon and she just goes, “Oh, well I’m the moon. What did you expect besides heartbreak?” (still not an actual quote). Stories of women who lived their lives defiantly, despite jealousy, rage, forbidden love, and accusations of witchcraft; stories of super brilliant, crafty women who find ways to resist and fight back against the oppression they’re expected to endure; stories of “brave women who don’t take shit from anyone” (actual quote). Stories of women who paid for it.

There’s a kind of dark humor and light sadness Greenberg’s gorgeous book portrays in the fantastical, whimsical illustrations. Her the dark line art and limited palette aren’t unlike those of Emily Carroll or Kate Beaton, but I find Hero and Cherry’s clapbacks harder and funnier. And yet for me, there’s so much truth to these stories not-so-buried under the rapid-fire witticisms each page offers, like these gems (all actual quotes): “Lesson: Men are false. And they can get away with it. Also, don’t murder your sister, even by accident. Sisters are important.” And “Whatever we say will make no difference. Our fates are set. They always were.” And my favorite, “No, I’m not finished yet. I’ve had quite enough of staying quiet thank you very much (sic).”

I won’t say too much about the ending, but Hero and Cherry live in a dystopia, and things don’t always turn out the best for women who dare to dream beyond the confines of their societal roles. Still, their actions and legacy spark something greater-a storytelling revolution among the women of this weird beaky world.

It’s hard to imagine another book that speaks as strongly to Sirens’s themes as The One Hundred Nights of Hero. Present in it are lovers, revolutionaries, many tales retold, various women who work magic, and probably more if I think about it hard enough. Save it for a particularly tiresome day when you’ve had enough of, oh, everything, and you need to rail against another ridiculous, unconscionable patriarchal standard. Or read it again, using Hero and Cherry’s strength as a balm when you need to feel inspired and a little less helpless about the world. You won’t regret it.

Next month’s book: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward


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.

 

Book Club: The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The Bloodprint

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!

Several years ago, Sirens featured a guest of honor who wrote one of my all-time favorite books. Despite not being a please-sign-my-book person generally, I sentimentally dragged my copy of this book to Sirens, and in asking the author to sign my copy, mentioned that I really loved their book.

This guest responded, quite drily and certainly correctly, that they had been sitting in the Sirens community room for two days listening to me talk about how much I loved all the books—with a strong implication that we were discussing but one book in an apparently very large pool of beloved literature. This is neither here nor there, but I did eventually convince this guest that there is love and there is love, and got them to sign my bloody book.

But, you know, they weren’t wrong. I do love many books. And upon reflection, I have come to realize that I do not love them in many different ways, but rather in three very specific ways.

Sometimes, I love a book because there’s something about it: world-building, perhaps, or a certain character, or the writer’s craft. The other elements of the book might be nonsensical dreck, but if I love an individual element or two enough, the book and I are good to go. Last year, memorably, I wrote a review of Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns in which I wished for more coherent world-building and more competent characters and more stringent editing—and then proclaimed my love purely because in the end all three of those hatefully incompetent girl characters made bold, ambitious, hateful choices. Brava, I said, as I fell in love with a book whose world-building, characters, and writing style I did not like.

Other times, I love a book because it tells a good story. Maybe this is because of its world-building or characters or writing, or maybe this is essentially independent of those elements, but sometimes a book invites you to journey with its characters in a way that feels adventurous or relentless or shockingly human. These books are, I find, often compulsively readable. Perhaps A Crown for Cold Silver, where you’re halfway done before you take a breath. Or Bleeding Violet, where I would have followed Hanna and her unreliable narration and her weird hellmouth town anywhere.

But the best books, for me, are the books that—putting plot and characters and story aside—have something to say. They may also, and often do, have great plot and great characters and great story, but they’re something more: an exploration of gender, maybe, or a portrait of grief, a commentary on racism or an examination of the importance of friendship as we age. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, with its all-feminine pronouns, is a terrific example: a great story, a fascinating main character, but also an epiphany for a reader. Or Alif the Unseen, with its incisive intersections of myth, religion, and technology.

The Bloodprint, by Ausma Zehanat Khan, has something to say.

The setting for The Bloodprint, while fictional, will be familiar to anyone who follows the news: a patriarchal group known as the Talisman, led by a mysterious One-Eyed Preacher, is amassing power quickly and over an increasing large area. The Talisman’s methods are insidious: control communications by destroying reading materials, brutally execute rebels to sow fear, and enslave any woman not protected by a father or husband. It’s not too much of a spoiler to mention that, rather late in the book, we discover that many of the people now living under the Talisman’s rule—even for only a single generation—aren’t really bothered by their authoritarian rule. They don’t remember anything different. How horrifyingly quickly things change.

The book opens with Arian and Sinnia about to attack a caravan taking a number of enslaved women to who-knows-where. This has been Arian’s work for years, though despite the number of women she has freed and the number of Talisman men she has killed, she has yet to discover where the Talisman takes the women. She knows only that, until she learns more about what the Talisman is doing, she can’t free them all.

Shortly after the book opens, Arian and Sinnia are summoned home. Both women are Companions of Hira, a group of powerful women whose magic and authority is based on the Claim, a work of sacred scripture. But even in this group of women, called to a higher purpose, intrigue abounds and Arian cannot trust things she thought she knew.

The Bloodprint is Arian’s story: from her traumatic childhood, to abandoning her great love for her calling, to her commitment to saving her country and her people. The driving force behind the book is her discovery that a piece of the Claim, called the Bloodprint, is real—and if Arian can recover it, that might provide the Companions of Hira the power they need to truly fight the Talisman on a grand scale. As Arian journeys through the long-forgotten legends of her land, she learns the true power of perseverance, not only her own, but that of oppressed people.

Note: The Bloodprint is the first in a series, and has a seriously cliffhanger ending. If you like your series finished, you might want to wait.

I don’t usually include pieces of author bios in my book reviews, but this seems especially relevant: Khan holds a PhD in international human rights law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. In reading this work focused so much on war crimes, you’re in good hands.

Should you read it? Absolutely. While this story is purportedly Arian’s, it’s really the story of every rebel against an authoritarian regime who has found that their fight is against not only the regime, but their own people’s fear, blindness, carelessness, and ignorance. And if that doesn’t convince you, perhaps the book’s tag will: The only defense against the ignorance of men is the brilliance of powerful women.

Amy
 


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.

 

What Sirens Is . . . And What It Isn’t

We often tell people that, no matter what you’re expecting when you come to Sirens, you’ll be surprised.

We’re different from other events. We designed a specifically interdisciplinary conference, where readers, scholars, professionals, and even authors could all cross paths and discuss a topic near and dear to them—women in fantasy literature—on equal footing. We invite you to read on to understand what Sirens is … and what it isn’t.

  • Sirens is a conference about voice. Those voices create conversations, and those conversations coalesce into a community. We provide the framework and the topic—women in fantasy literature—but our attendees, with all their opinions, identities, perspectives, and experiences, are the true voices of Sirens.
  • Sirens attendees are readers. Some read a dozen books a year, some closer to 50, some over 100, but every attendee at Sirens is a passionate, ambitious, thoughtful reader with a lot of opinions. Some of our attendees are also scholars, librarians, teachers, publishing professionals, or authors; our common bond is always our love of reading fantasy literature.
  • Sirens prioritizes diversity. Each year, Sirens attendees, like our planning team, include people of different genders, sexualities, races, religions, national origins, and abilities. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is both a foundational tenet of our organization and a daily responsibility, and we hope that you’ll find both evident at Sirens.
  • Roughly 40% of our attendees each year are first-time attendees. Some come with friends, some were referred by friends who have attended in the past, and some find us on their own. Whether you’re a multiple-time attendee or you’re thinking about joining us for the first time, we hope you will feel welcome.

Every Sirens attendee has thoughts, opinions, and something to say. We invite you to use your voice at Sirens in a number of different ways. You might propose a presentation on the monstrous feminine or, as an audience member, ask questions of a presenter on revolution in fantasy literature. You might discuss Essun’s journey over lunch with other readers, or debate femininity and warriors with librarians in the hot tub. These conversations—between reader and scholar, between first-time attendee and veteran, or between people of different races, origins, abilities, and more—are the heart of Sirens.

Everyone’s voice, no matter your vocation, identity, perspective, or familiarity with us, is equally important at Sirens.

Conversely, sometimes it’s important to know what Sirens isn’t, so you know what not to expect! We’ve often heard Sirens called an SFF con, a fan con, a book con, a networking retreat, a writers’ conference, or any number of other things. We think you’ll find that we’re none of those things—or maybe we’re all of them. But to be clear:

  • Sirens does not create its programming. Aside from our guests of honor and Studio faculty, we do not select topics or invite people to lead workshops, present papers, sit on panels, or moderate roundtables. Instead, we invite all attendees to propose programming; our independent vetting board then selects the programming to be presented at Sirens from among those proposals. Our programming is by attendees, for attendees, and everyone—readers, scholars, professionals, and authors—are welcome to propose and present. And we hope they do!
  • Sirens is not a writers’ conference. We welcome and value our writer attendees, and some of our attendee-proposed programming is geared towards writers, just as some is geared towards readers, scholars, dragon riders, or code-breakers. We are careful to value all voices and all contributions equally at Sirens, and we hope that, if you decide to come, you will try some programming perhaps not targeted to your vocation. Much of the fun of Sirens is exploration and discovery.
  • Sirens is not a conference for women, nor does it self-identify as a “feminist” conference. The bulk of our attendees do identify as women and feminist, but we also equally welcome our nonbinary attendees, as well as the handful of men who join us each year. We also recognize that the term “feminism” has different definitions and connotations for every individual; we encourage all our attendees to use the identity markers with which they feel most comfortable.
  • Sirens is not a science fiction conference. Our focus is the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. While that may overlap with science fiction in a number of ways, such as authors, crossover works, or themes, you will not find very much science fiction programming or discussion at Sirens.

If you are new to us, please know that we might be different than other events you know, but we think you’ll like us. We welcome everyone who wants to discuss women in fantasy literature—and if you’re wondering if that includes you, it does!

 

New Fantasy Books: December 2017 and January 2018

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of December 2017 and January 2018 book releases of fantasy by and about women. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments.

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 and leave a comment below!

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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