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Archive for February 2018

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 10, Issue 3 (February 2018)

In this issue:

 

SIRENS STUDIO WORKSHOPS ANNOUNCED

We’re thrilled to announce our reading, writing, and career development topics for this year’s Sirens Studio! Held on October 23-24, 2018 prior to the official start of the conference, the Studio offers small-group workshop intensives led by exceptional faculty in the morning; flexible time to read, write, or relax in the afternoon, and a film screening at night. New for 2018, participants will also be invited to a Studio attendees-only faculty reception.

Please click on the faculty biographies and course titles for more information on each workshop intensive:

Reading

Writing

Career

Read the Full Post

 

SCHOLARSHIP FUNDRAISING

As part of our mission, we specifically craft Sirens to include and amplify the many brilliant voices of our attendees. Tomorrow, we’ll be kicking off our fundraising campaign to help make attendance possible for people of color, exemplary programming proposals, those with financial hardships, and new this year, librarians, educators, and publishing professionals. We’ll have more information about how you can support our scholarships on our blog tomorrow!

 

PRICE INCREASE AND TICKETS UPDATE

On March 1, the cost of a Sirens registration will increase from $225 to $250.

Along with general registration for Sirens, tickets are available now for the Sirens Studio and the Sirens Supper. There are only 20 Studio and 11 Supper tickets remaining!

Buy Tickets

 

PROGRAMMING PROPOSALS

The deadline for programming proposals is approaching in May, so in March, we’ll be launching our annual programming series with tips, tricks and everything you need to know to submit a successful programming proposal, along with free-for-the-taking topic ideas on our #SirensBrainstorm hashtag. We’re also revisiting each Sirens theme; you can find our posts on Reunion and Hauntings over on the blog now, with Revolutionaries, Lovers, and Women Who Work Magic coming soon!

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Monsters of Templeton

This month, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read and reviewed Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton in her book club: “Anyone from a small town will startle at Groff’s insightful depiction of both the unchanging sameness and the roiling, gossip-worthy drama.” Read her full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Sing, Unburied, Sing

In February, Communications Director Faye Bi read Jesmyn Ward’s highly acclaimed Sing, Unburied, Sing for the Reading Challenge, which impressed with “its lyrical, economical prose, its somewhat archetypal but expertly drawn characters, and its deft handling of the many challenges plaguing black communities in the rural south.” 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).

 

Sirens Studio

If you’d like to extend your Sirens experience, we hope you’ll join us for the Sirens Studio on October 23-24, 2018! Over two days prior to the official start of the conference, studio participants will attend their choice of workshop intensives, and new in 2018, a Studio attendees-only faculty reception.

While Sirens is terrific, it can be hectic: so many people to see, conversations to have, and not nearly enough time to grab a seat by the fire and just read. Sirens Studio, however, gives you both what you love about Sirens and that down time that we all need: small-group workshop intensives led by exceptional faculty in the morning; flexible time to read, write, or relax in the afternoon; and a film screening at night.

The 2018 Studio will feature eight intensives, all led by extraordinary faculty on topics related to reading, writing, and career development. For the full biographies and summaries, please click on any faculty member name or workshop title below.

Workshop Intensives

Reading

Writing

Career

Tickets are $100 for the full two days of the Studio and available to registered Sirens attendees. The Sirens Shuttle will be available on the evening of Monday, October 22, to facilitate Sirens Studio attendees’ transportation to the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek.

If you think you might like to join us, please purchase your ticket here!

In order to keep the experience conversational and somewhat intimate, we are limiting the number of Sirens Studio tickets to 65. If you have any questions or concerns, please write to us at (help at sirensconference.org).

 

Read Along with Faye: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

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!

What can I say about a book that’s won every accolade there is, including this year’s National Book Award?

Well, if you know me, you know I have an opinion on just about everything. I had the great fortune of convincing my local book club to read Sing, Unburied, Sing with me this month, and I confess I wouldn’t have picked it up—at least not for a long time—if it weren’t for peer pressure. The consensus of my book club was that, while none of us particularly considered it a book of our hearts, we were all glad we’d read it.

I’m very selective of my capital-L literary fiction, which I consider a bogus genre. To me, categorizing a book as literary means that hegemonic tastemakers have decided certain books are important and worthy of acclaim, and they’re not usually books I love. As an avid reader of fantasy, romance, and books written for children and young adults, I’m not impressed with Sing, Unburied, Sing’s widespread media coverage and fancy awards. I’m impressed with its lyrical, economical prose, its somewhat archetypal but expertly drawn characters, and its deft handling of the many challenges plaguing black communities in the rural south.

Set in rural Mississippi, Sing, Unburied, Sing centers around one family and two point-of-view characters: thirteen-year-old Jojo and his mother, Leonie. Jojo and his toddler sister Kayla are biracial, as Leonie is black, and his absent, incarcerated father Michael is white. He lives with his grandparents Mam and Pop; Leonie struggles to be a good mother but is too-often stymied by her drug addiction. Like many young black boys in his situation, Jojo has had to grow up quickly. His Mam is ill. His mother is an inconsistent influence in his life—when she’s there, she’s impulsive and often physically abusive. His paternal grandfather, Big Joseph after whom Jojo was named, refuses to even acknowledge his existence. The only father-figure Jojo has is Pop, who tells him stories of a young boy, Richie, whom he protected like a younger brother while they were both imprisoned in the Mississippi State Penitentiary decades before.

What follows is a relatively straightforward tale in terms of plot—when Leonie receives word that Michael is about to be released from prison, she rounds up Jojo and Kayla and drives there to pick him up—but so richly complex in atmosphere, theme, and detail. The novel begins with Jojo assisting Pop in gutting a goat, with unravelling innards and a smell to make anyone retch, and proceeds to Leonie’s meth-induced hallucinations. In Jojo’s, Leonie’s and occasionally Richie’s perspectives, the novel weaves together devastating truths about family, domestic violence, drug addiction, police brutality, the disproportionate incarceration of black men, prison conditions, and the most hateful kind of racism and cruelty inflicted on the young. And ghosts, who only appear after violent death: the kind that Richie experienced fleeing from prison, and the kind that Leonie’s brother Given experienced, being shot by Michael’s white cousin after beating him at a game. It tells these truths with gorgeous writing that feels emotionally detached in the way that you sometimes need to be, when you are wearied by generations of pain and loss. At the same time, Ward’s writing is so deeply empathetic, never making a clear villain of Leonie or even Michael, choosing to show the reader the various ways they are trapped in their circumstances but never absolving them of blame.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not well-read in the literary lineage Sing, Unburied, Sing descends from—I’ve read Beloved and some of Zora Neale Hurston’s ethnographical work, but I know I have a gap. I’m not familiar with voodoo practices or Maman Brigitte, so there were parts of the book where I was actively confused. Was it magic, or was it a spiritual practice I don’t know? I had pointed out to me Ward’s deft use of imagery common in the shared imagination of African Americans, such as trees for lynchings or water symbolism alluding to the Middle Passage. My friend, a scholar of 20th century African American literature, says it’s an easy book to plop on a syllabus, since the lineages can be clearly traced. (There is a Beloved-like reveal near the end of the book, which, even if I knew about, I still would not have been ready for.)

Sing, Unburied, Sing also forced me to consider Hauntings as a theme, which I hadn’t fully engaged with back in 2014. I’d written off ghost stories as horror—perhaps revealing my failures as a reader, as I’m not well-read in that lineage either—but I now better understand the power of a ghost story. Why do ghosts come back to haunt? What compels them to attach to a person, or a place? In Ward’s novel, it’s the unburied voices of those unjustly killed, singing enraged songs of retribution and unrest, and seeking the peace they never found in life.

Next month’s book: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir


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.

 

Hauntings

Sirens logos 2014-2018, 2014 highlighted

Ghost stories are often pulp, supplying fun shivers late at night. Consider, as an easy example, their immense popularity in Victorian England: assisted by the rise of the periodical, not to mention creaking houses and gas-lamp hallucinations, the ghost story was so prevalent as to be traditional English Christmas Eve entertainment. The women of the time, in the wake of Mary Shelley and her classic tale of a man haunted by his own creation, turned out ghost story after ghost story for publication in literary magazines—magazines then read primarily by women.

The Victorians are but one example. The ghost story appears again and again, in myriad cultures, in every region of the world, often handed down by women as oral history, myths and legends. Even in America, we have our own omnipresent, so-often-female ghostly tales: la llorona, the phantom hitchhiker, the dead prom queen.

Time and time again, women have used the ghost story as allegory, as metaphor, and as cautionary tale.

Ghost stories are so much more than pulp, and if you expand your query to all manner of shades, spirits, remembrances, and things that go bump in the night, you’ll see why Sirens chose hauntings—and what it means to be haunted—as its 2014 theme. It was perhaps one of our more surprising themes, but also, unexpectedly, one of our more literary themes. Not only have women authors such as Toni Morrison and Shirley Jackson written brilliantly and incisively of ghosts and women, earlier writers such as Daphne du Maurier and Edith Wharton wrote ghost stories, and just last year, Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for Sing, Unburied, Sing, a ghostly exploration of the ravages of slavery in a post-Katrina south.

For centuries, women have been using this genre—sometimes fantasy, often horror—to explore deeper themes. Their subversions, if you will, illustrate revolutionary ideas disguised as ghosts and other hauntings. Consider, for example:

  • A mother missing, an unhappy daughter, and a jealous house. In some ways, a shockingly good haunted-house story, and in many ways, a powerful statement about the sometimes predatory, jealous relationship between a woman and her home. (White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi)

  • A husband so forcefully demands that his wife, killed in a car crash, not be dead that she comes back. A ghost story, and a sometimes funny one at that, but also a biting commentary on the limitless expanse of wifely duty. (“Clay-Shuttered Doors” by Helen R. Hull)

  • A Cuban-born journalist in Miami investigates a phantom house. A classic haunting in many ways, but also a vivid exploration of Cuba’s history and diversity and what it means to be separated from your homeland. (The Island of Eternal Love by Daína Chaviano)

  • A girl killed in a car crash, left to haunt the highways and roadside diners of America. A variation on the classic hitchhiker story, but also a sophisticated exploration of a woman’s role as caretaker for a seemingly endless parade of men. (Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire)

  • A mother dead and risen again as a horror. Assuredly a nightmare, but also a study of how tightly our grief binds those we have loved. (Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow)

These explorations illustrate only the beginning of the depth and breadth of our conversations about hauntings in 2014. As we approach this year’s reunion, we hope that you’ll contemplate hauntings, as well as the other themes of our past four years, in your reading, your conversations, and your programming proposals.


At Sirens, our reunion years are an opportunity to reexamine the themes of the previous four years, in this case: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Please look for more posts on these themes in the upcoming weeks—but please also know, as you begin to plan your programming proposals, that proposals need not focus entirely or even at all on theme topics. All proposals related to women in fantasy literature are welcome. Get inspired by our 2014 Hauntings book list, Suggested Reading.

 

Reunion

Sirens logos 2014-2018, 2018 highlighted

Ten years ago, we dreamed.

 

And when we dream, we dream big and bold and bright.

 

We dreamed of an annual conference dedicated to the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature.

 

That conference is Sirens.

Each year, Sirens selects a theme: something we can use as inspiration. Something to spark programming ideas, and conference artwork, and guest of honor selections. Our first year, that theme was warriors, and we discussed how most of us feel, in our daily lives, like warriors not so different from Alanna. Whether we’re suited for combat or not, life is so often a battle.

We followed warriors with faeries and monsters, tales retold and hauntings. We examined ruthless faerie queens and what it means, as women or nonbinary people, to be monstrous. We analyzed retellings of some of the world’s oldest tales, and we discussed the early incarnations of the ghost story, a screen for women to discuss feminine issues. We shared how, in so many ways, we are revolutionaries.

But given that Sirens is often less a conference than an annual gathering of a community, it is perhaps inevitable that our theme would occasionally be not rebels or lovers or witches, but reunion. This year, our tenth year, we want to celebrate the Sirens community: the readers, scholars, professionals, and authors who, each year, contribute their time, their energy, their thoughts, and their hearts to sustaining a community that is welcoming, smart, and unabashed.

We have often said that Sirens is an annual respite: a place where you can repair your armor, replenish your magic, and remember how truly remarkable the women of fantasy literature—from readers to faerie queens—are.

If that is true, it is because of our community: truly remarkable (mostly) women and nonbinary readers who join us, sometimes every year, sometimes occasionally, to use fantasy literature as a springboard to discuss gender and power and ambition and, yes, big and bold and bright dreams.

There is nothing more important to Sirens than its community, and so in 2018, as we plan our tenth year, we raise our glasses and declare this community something worthy of discussion, debate, and celebration.

At Sirens, our reunion years are also an opportunity to reexamine the themes of the previous four years, in this case: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Please look for posts on these themes in the upcoming weeks—but please also know, as you begin to plan your programming proposals, that proposals need not focus entirely or even at all on theme topics. All proposals related to women in fantasy literature are welcome. Get inspired by our 2018 Reunion book lists, this year’s Suggested Reading and Reading Challenge.

 

Book Club: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

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!

The Monsters of Templeton

“The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”

Thus begins The Monsters of Templeton.

I read somewhere north of 150 books a year—and when you do that, you have the luxury of tackling books for any number of reasons. I don’t have to jealously guard 12 or even 50 available slots a year, cautiously filling them only with books that come highly recommended. I can read for any reason under the sun. For example, I’m notoriously a sucker for well-designed covers, sometimes for good and sometimes for spectacular ill.

This might, however, be the first time that I chose a book because of its first line.

But look at it. Just look at it.

Even putting aside my preternatural love of monster narratives—which we absolutely should not because my love is legion and we’re going to discuss this monster in particular—that’s a magnificent first line. There’s a gravity to it, a weight, around not just a return to Templeton, but a return steeped (steeped!) in disgrace. But there’s an absurdity as well, as you read on to the dead monster surfacing on the lake. Oh, the questions! Who is the protagonist? Is Templeton formerly home? What is this disgrace? How bad was it? What is this monster? Do you have a lot of monsters in Lake Glimmerglass? Are there monsters everywhere?

I had to know.

And that’s what hooks a reader, right? That need to know what happens next.

Well, it worked.

The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff (yes, that Lauren Groff), is one of my favorite fantasy literature subgenres: the sort of adult fiction that is so literary and so real that the marketing team can readily sideline the fantasy elements, making it all-too-easy for booksellers to shelve it with the general market fiction. (Annoying!) Think Jesmyn Ward or Carmen Maria Machado or Violet Kupersmith, all of whom write fantasy works, but none of whose works live in the fantasy section of your local Barnes and Noble. (Someday, I’ll write an essay that starts with those three and then happily proceeds to Erin Morgenstern, then Helen Oyeyemi, then Cassandra Khaw, at which point we are well and truly down my very favorite rabbit hole.) The Monsters of Templeton lives somewhere in this procession between Ward and Machado: a number of ghosts, some magical realism-style conflagrations, and the aforementioned monster—but we’re wholly and resolutely in a thinly-veiled Cooperstown.

Willie Upton, an archeological doctoral candidate, magical only in the very slightest of ways, opens the book by returning to her hometown: Templeton, New York. The town is important, not only as a predicate for the plot that follows, but also as a foil for the larger, perhaps grander, sometimes more disappointing world outside. The book can suffocate: After Willie’s arrival, her story arc happens entirely in the town of her birth; only rarely does the outside world intrude (the occasional phone call, a single postcard, a number of scientists looking to examine the monstrous corpse). Those intrusions periodically remind Willie—and the reader—perhaps unwantedly, of Willie’s scholarship, her ambition, and her success navigating that outside world.

Willie’s reason for returning home—and indeed, her return home itself—is fraught. She’s had a (perhaps) ill-advised affair with her married professor, found herself pregnant, and fled her summer work in Alaska to return to the bosom of not only her single mother, but the hometown she hasn’t seen in years. Willie’s flight from Templeton was, in her mind, a necessity; her homecoming, even more so. Never underestimate the emotional trauma of returning to not only your family, but your tiny hometown, “steeped in disgrace.” You can never go home again, I suppose, until you think you have nowhere else to go.

Vi, Willie’s mother, is drawn unsympathetically in Willie’s first-person narrative: a hippie-turned-Baptist, a professional caregiver, a descendant of town founder Malcolm Templeton, a woman who (smugly) knows her daughter better than Willie knows herself. Upon Willie’s arrival home, Vi (cleverly) gives her academic daughter a research task: Discover who her long-secret father is. Vi tells her only that he’s a resident of Templeton—and also a descendent of the revered Malcolm Templeton. Willie the archeologist gets to work and uncovering her father’s identity becomes both mysterious plot arc and book structure: sections alternate between historical depictions of Willie’s ancestors and her modern-day discoveries of links between those same ancestors. It’s a clever conceit, but one that causes the book to lose steam about two-thirds of the way through; at that point, the reader yearns for a hastened pace, but the book stoically maintains its structure.

Willie, Vi and the rest of Templeton are written with a lot of sensitivity. Anyone from a small town will startle at Groff’s insightful depiction of both the unchanging sameness and the roiling, gossip-worthy drama. That same group of middle-aged guys runs around Templeton every morning, but the more Willie uncovers in her quest for her father’s identity, the more the reader learns about the scandals of the town’s past. That sameness and that long-buried gossip birth both security and contempt in Willie, but also provide an unexpected accelerant for a story of monsters premised on, of all things, familiarity. Harken back to that first sentence: Willie has gone home, but equally important, a monster has died.

For those of you looking for a “here be monsters” adventure, this is not your book. Instead, that dead monster is a ready metaphor for every small town and for Willie’s story in particular: those churning scandals—an affair, a death, a fire—made manifest and, not coincidentally, surfacing at last. Not an inapt parallel, once you stop to consider, and one that Groff mines to raw, honest effect. You can go home again, in the end, but heaven knows what you’ll find.

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.

 

New Fantasy Books: February 2018

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of February 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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