News

Archive for June 2018

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 10, Issue 7 (June 2018)

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE

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

Earlier this month, we spoke to Anna-Marie McLemore on lovers, found families within the LGBTQ+ community, her lyrical, transcendent writing style, and, as a Latina queer woman, not having the option to leave politics out of her art: “I want to write fairy tales for my communities. I want to write stories that are honest—in all their blood and history—and also hopeful—in placing LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color at their centers, in giving them space to claim the magic that belongs to them.”

Our feature on Anna-Marie also includes a review of When the Moon was Ours by B R Sanders, a list of books we feel would be friends with Anna-Marie’s books (in a new feature titled “Book Friends”), and a fantasy book list curated by Anna-Marie on the lovers theme!

 

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: GUESTS OF HONOR

This fall will mark our tenth year of Sirens. With our conference theme of reunion, it’s the perfect chance to reflect on past conferences and revisit some old friends. In this series, we check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. In 2010, our theme was faeries, and our Guests of Honor were Holly Black, Marie Brennan, and Terri Windling.

Read the Full Post

 

REGISTRATION AND TICKETS UPDATE

Our Sirens Supper is sold out, and we currently only have 8 tickets remaining for the Sirens Studio. If you’d like to register or purchase a ticket, we recommend you do it soon!

To individuals who have submitted programming proposals, a reminder that you have until July 10, 2018, to register and be paid in full for this year’s conference.

Register or Purchase Tickets

 

PROGRAMMING

After the presenter registration deadline of July 10, we’ll be revealing this year’s highly-anticipated presentations on our Twitter and on the Accepted Programming page! If you proposed programming and missed the email with the result of your proposal, please email (programming at sirensconference.org) right away. Thank you again to everyone who proposed programming, whether it was your first or tenth time, for another wonderful year of presentations!

 

SIRENS BOOKSTORE, ATTENDING AUTHORS, AND BOOK DONATIONS

A few years ago, we began stocking our own bookstore as a fundraiser for Sirens. This allows us, in defiance of the commercial market among many other benefits, to stock our bookstore exclusively with fantasy books written by, or featuring, amazing women. Bookstore stocking is well underway for this year’s conference!

If you are an attending author with published books, we’d like to make sure your books are in our bookstore! Please email Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

In many ways, our bookstore operates like any other bookstore: we acquire new books for sale just like anyone else. But in two ways, our bookstore is different. First, the Sirens community frequently donates new books, just to make sure that the bookstore includes them in its inventory; sometimes these attendees work for publishers or are donating books that they’ve written, but often, these attendees simply want to help make our bookstore as amazing as possible. Second, we have a used section of our bookstore where we offer gently used fantasy books for $5 each. That section of our bookstore is stocked entirely through donations.

If you would like to donate books to our bookstore, please send your books to the following address, to arrive no later than August 1, 2018. (And remember, if you’re shipping only books, the USPS media mail option is terrifically cheap, but terrifically slow, so please leave time for your package to arrive.)

Sirens
c/o Narrate Conferences
P.O. Box 149
Sedalia, Colorado 80135

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST

Sirens veterans know that we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invite attendees to bring their breakfast on conference mornings and discuss them. Here are this year’s selections:

Hauntings

The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Rebels and Revolutionaries

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Lovers

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Women Who Work Magic

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Please check out the first Books and Breakfast post on the blog, here.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Prey of Gods

This month for her book club, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink reviews Nicky Drayden’s The Prey of Gods: “To envision a realistic world, set in the near future, that includes both sentient AI and a living mythology, and then to envision that world saved by an almost random group of often-marginalized people is an act born of tremendous ambition.” More thoughts on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Her Body and Other Parties

Communications Director Faye Bi reads Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties for her reading challenge this month, which she describes as “punch-you-in-the-face, unabashedly feminist. Darkly hilarious. Sex-positive. Queer. Smart as hell. More often than not, brutal … [these stories] know exactly what they are and do not have the time—or patience—to beat around the bush.” Read her full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

From Unseen Fire

Our Logistics and Art Director Manda Lewis reviews Cass Morris’s debut, From Unseen Fire, the first of her Aven Cycle trilogy; she found Morris’s historical research of a Romanesque republic particularly noteworthy: “I was easily pulled into the world with her rich descriptions of the city, its people, the architecture, the food, and even the fabric!” Read her full review here.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT …


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

 

Read Along with Faye: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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!

Matilda at age nine. The Protector of the Small series at ages 12–14. Daughter of Smoke and Bone at 22.

These are landmark books for me, books that I found at exactly the right time in my life, that now comprise my reading identity. At each of these moments, they were definitive—formative, even. They represented not just what I liked to read, but what I looked for thereon after. At nine, I wanted witty, plucky heroines who were whip-smart and got revenge on mean people who didn’t understand or care about them. In my early teen years, I wanted strength against bullies, deep friendships and family relationships, and a strong ethical core in my protagonists. When I had just graduated college, I was unsure about pretty much everything—as an ambitious person who didn’t know what the next chapter held, I wanted beauty, magic, and a feeling of wonder, even if it was beyond my control. I still love all these books like I love my limbs.

These days, I have a full-time job, a spouse, and a dog. I have bills to pay, white supremacy to dismantle, and patriarchy to smash. My time is limited; between sharing (and negotiating sharing) household management, working, keeping up with our social calendar, and planning for the future, gone are the days when I could read 100 books a year. So, there are books I no longer pick up if I don’t have to: books by men or unwoke white women, books that are super sad or pretentious, or books that do the same-old, same-old.

Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties is brazenly none of those things. The stories are punch-you-in-the-face, unabashedly feminist. Darkly hilarious. Sex-positive. Queer. Smart as hell. More often than not, brutal. Her protagonists are easy for me empathize with and to cheer for. The stories, as I suspect Machado does too as in “The Resident,” know exactly what they are and do not have the time—or patience—to beat around the bush.

Having just turned 30, I consider Her Body and Other Parties a new landmark book.

I could wax poetic about several of the stories, and indeed, I will be presenting a paper at Sirens on “The Husband Stitch,” so I’ll be brief here. I read it, then made my husband read it, and then waited until my (male) friend visiting for cocktails also read it. The symbolism, voice, literary and cultural references, raw emotion, and agony of truth made it one of the best stories I’ve ever read. “Inventory,” a catalog of the narrator’s sexual encounters set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse, was so clever and tender I could only bow my head in awe.

Over and over again, Machado addresses the fears, insecurities, and horrors women and queer people often have. In “Motherhood,” a woman’s female ex-lover confronts her with a baby they’ve conceived, possibly out of their imagination. In “Real Women Have Bodies,” Machado creates a world where a pandemic renders no-longer-young-and-beautiful women invisible. (This one hit me like a metaphorical ton of bricks.) “Eight Bites” made me weep; as someone whose friends are starting to have babies, I can see just how fragile and toxic it can be to pass on your own self-loathing to your daughters. In “Difficult at Parties,” a young woman turns to pornography to cope and heal after her sexual assault. The only slight misstep, for me, was “Especially Heinous,” the Law and Order: SVU parody, which was funny after a few pages but went on a bit too long after that.

There’s too much to unpack in the confines of one review—each story deserves its own paper. There could be the running thread of gaslighting, body image, the female realm of domesticity, the influences of fairytale and folklore, or the grand tradition of ghost stories handed down by Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter. For women and queer people, the fears in Her Body and Other Parties are a day-to-day reality, and Machado’s stories give them validity, truth, and wings. Of her collection, Machado said in a previous interview, “I think of it as surreal, liminal horror about being a woman or a queer person in the world.” For men, shut up. Listen. Believe us.

Next month’s book: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy


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.

 

Books and Breakfast: Spotlight on Hauntings

Each year, we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books—and then, during Sirens, invite our attendees to bring their breakfast and discuss them. Over the years, this program has highlighted the depth and breadth of each of our annual themes and given attendees yet another opportunity to deconstruct, interrogate, and celebrate what women and nonbinary authors are doing in fantasy literature.

This year, our Books and Breakfast program will feature eight books, with two dedicated to each of the themes of our past four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. The complete list of our selections is below, but we’ll also be featuring these books over the next few months so you can pick which ones you might like to read before Sirens!

 
2018 BOOKS AND BREAKFAST SELECTIONS

Hauntings

The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Rebels and Revolutionaries

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Lovers

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Women Who Work Magic

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

 
SPOTLIGHT ON HAUNTINGS

Our two Books and Breakfast picks focused on hauntings are Kali Wallace’s The Memory Trees and Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts. Do you plan on picking these up soon? Let us know! Tweet @sirens_con or use the hashtag #Sirens18!

 
The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace

The Memory Trees

Sorrow Lovegood spent the first eight years of her life in an orchard in Vermont, wrapped in not only the love of her mother, grandmother, and older sister, but also the suffocating history of her matriarchal ancestors. The women of her family have lived in this same orchard for twelve generations, despite their harrowing misfortune and a legendary feud with the neighbors.

Then, something awful happens, Sorrow’s heart shatters, and she’s sent to live with her father in Miami. Eight years later, Sorrow, frustrated by her hazy memories of her childhood, returns to the orchard to confront her lost memories, her family’s history, and her haunted heart. What she learns, with the orchard’s help, is both revelatory and devastating: the truth of a tragedy centuries in the making.

The Memory Trees is, in turn, going to shatter your heart. Wallace’s decision to make Sorrow, with her lost memory, the narrator was a smart choice: Sorrow’s heart rends over and over again as she discovers incremental details about what happened eight years ago, and Wallace is such a skilful craftsperson that, every time Sorrow’s heart breaks, so does the reader’s. Much like The Monsters of Templeton, Wallace also uses an unusual narrative structure to convey information in bite-size chunks: She alternates contemporary chapters from Sorrow’s point of view with historical chapters depicting Sorrow’s female ancestors and the origins of the family’s neighborhood feud and perhaps related misfortune. The result is a harrowing portrait of grief, loss, and the very best of what a hauntings book can be—even sans ghosts.

 
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts

While Sirens is a fantasy conference, sometimes we can’t help ourselves. Thus, An Unkindness of Ghosts, an Afrofuturist science-fiction novel set on the HSS Matilda, a leviathan of a space vessel that has been shuttling its inhabitants to a mythical Promised Land for the past thousand years. The Matilda strongly resembles the antebellum South, with the wealthy, white Sovereign and similar inhabitants both occupying the upper levels of the ship and imposing vicious regulations and hash indignities on the inhabitants—people of color, queer people, neuroatypical people—who live on the levels below. Indeed, many of those lower-level inhabitants even farm the land of the colossal vessel under the authority of cruel overseers.

In case you were wondering if An Unkindness of Ghosts would be pulling any punches, it opens with Aster, a healer on the ship and our protagonist, amputating the foot of a child, an extreme surgery made necessary by nonsensical and dehumanizing rules, but a surgery that Aster, the child, and the child’s grandmother nevertheless take in stride. Brutality can make the extraordinary seem ordinary, even when that means carrying an amputated foot around in a cooler. This normalcy of Solomon’s world makes us immediately check our assumptions, our expectations, and our humanity.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is, as you might anticipate, a deconstruction of our society, an interrogation of our values, and a cautionary tale. After all, please remember that its fundamental premise is an Afrofuturist spaceship that replicates the antebellum South. Historical trauma looms large in this book, and Solomon’s examination of race, slavery, and prison is just as incisive as, say, Jesmyn Ward’s in Sing, Unburied, Sing. Similarly, Solomon considers issues of power and control through the lenses of gender, sexual identity, race, class, and ability. As Aster realizes that she can better her world, but only if she’s willing to foment a civil war, we’re all in.

 

Sirens Review Squad: From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Manda Lewis on Cass Morris’s From Unseen Fire.

From Unseen Fire

I’m not saying that while finishing Cass Morris’s From Unseen Fire that I donned a toga and took my meals lounging on a couch (chairs are so old-fashioned!), but I’m not saying that I didn’t either. I think those who know me know which is most likely.

At its heart, From Unseen Fire is a story about a woman discovering the depths of her own power, while overcoming abuse and repression to forge a new path instead filled with purpose and love. This is the story of Latona of the Vitelliae. Latona, a mage in the city of Aven who has spent years in the court of a vicious dictator, has traded her body for the protection of her family. When that dictator dies, she is free of his maltreatment and manipulation. Can she settle back into a loveless marriage of convenience and into the life of a noblewoman, supporting the political aspirations of her father, brother, and husband? It seems that the Goddesses who have blessed her with Spirit and Fire magic have other plans for her. Latona’s long repressed magic starts to manifest more powerfully, and with it, the drive to help her city and its citizens.

There were many things I enjoyed about Morris’s debut novel, which is part historical fiction and part fantastic re-imagining of a Romanesque republic. Aven is in a state of flux, as exiled leaders race back to the city in the wake of the dictator’s death. The Aventan society will have to weather rebellion, the threat of war, and political power struggles between several factions as it recovers from the terror under which it was living. I was easily pulled into the world with her rich descriptions of the city, its people, the architecture, the food, and even the fabric! Morris’s historical research shines through when showing us Latona’s day-to-day life, along with her family and several other power players in the republic.

Mostly, I was taken with the relationships between these players and how they affected the city. I enjoyed seeing Latona’s devotion to her two sisters and the interplay between them, as well as her new friendship with Sempronius Tarren, a recently returned senator who has his sights set on a praetorship and military power. In regards to Latona’s newfound power, Morris does a great job contrasting the support from Sempronius, her sisters, and the high priestess at the temple of Venus against the objections of her father, her husband, and the restraints of their society. I found myself asking: to whom will Latona acquiesce, and more importantly, will she follow her own heart?

I must admit, I did stumble a bit over the names of the many characters while reading, which sometimes meant I had to go backwards to remind myself who was whom. This made the early part of the book a little slow-going. Midway, I switched to the audiobook version, which helped me a lot with the pronunciations and keeping the characters straight. That said, their complexity lent to the historic authenticity and the Romanesque feel of the entire culture.

From Unseen Fire gives us an intriguing beginning to Aven Cycle, and Morris has much more to tell us in future novels. I look forward to seeing how Latona evolves and grows, both in her strength of magic and strength of character. I hope that we will see more of her working with the Aven people of different classes as she carves her place in the world; I also hope to see more of Sempronius, and how war and his growing relationship with Latona changes him. Then, the biggest question: will they do what they must to secure a prosperous future for Aven, or will it fall to ruin?


Manda Lewis holds a BS degree in aerospace engineering and a Masters of Tourism Administration, and served in the Air Force for seven years. She currently works for a children’s museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, hosting after-hours special events. She is also the caretaker of two small humans who look like her and often have dragon tea parties. Manda has always made it a habit to draw, color, and doodle on just about everything within reach and loves themes far more than anyone really should. Manda has been a volunteer for Phoenix Rising, Terminus, and Sirens for the last ten years.

 

Where Are They Now: 2010 Guests of Honor

This fall will mark our tenth year of Sirens. With our conference theme of reunion, it’s the perfect chance to reflect on past conferences and revisit some old friends. In this series, we check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. If you attended Sirens that year, please share with us your memories of 2010 in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2010, our theme was faeries, and our Guests of Honor were Holly Black, Marie Brennan, and Terri Windling.

Holly Black

Holly BlackThe Cruel Prince

Holly returns to the dark world of faerie featured in Tithe with The Cruel Prince, which was an immediate bestseller when it came out in January 2018. First in the Folk of the Air trilogy, it features “a mortal girl who finds herself caught in a web of royal faerie intrigue.” Holly went on a six-city author tour for The Cruel Prince—check out a recap here! Fans of Holly’s previous tales of faerie will be delighted to know that this takes place in the same realm as Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, as well as the standalone, The Darkest Part of the Forest. Book two, The Wicked King, releases next January 9, 2019.

In addition to her young adult novels, Holly co-authors the Magisterium series with Cassandra Clare for middle grade readers. The conclusion of the series, The Golden Tower, comes out September 11, 2018.

Where She Is Now: Working on, we’re sure, books two and three of the Folk of the Air trilogy; living in Massachusetts with her husband Theo and her son Sebastian in a house with a secret library. Also, did you know that Holly has real life elf ears now?

Upcoming Public Appearances: Special Guest at ArmadilloCon in Austin, TX

 

Marie Brennan

Marie BrennanWithin the Sanctuary of Wings

We’ll let Marie share the exciting news herself: “It’s been a busy eight years since I had the honor of being a guest at Sirens! My most recent series, the Memoirs of Lady Trent, has done really well: the first book, A Natural History of Dragons, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and won the Prix Imaginales for Best Translated Novel in France; the second book, The Tropic of Serpents, was also nominated for the Prix Imaginales as well as the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire; the fifth and final book, Within the Sanctuary of Wings [editor’s note: published April 2017], recently won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award; and the series as a whole is a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Series, with results to come at WorldCon in August.”

Marie also contributes episodes to the Serial Box serial fiction novel, Born to the Blade, of which the first season is available now.

Where She Is Now: “I just finished writing a standalone sequel to the Memoirs, a book about Lady Trent’s granddaughter, black market antiquities smuggling, and the translation of a lost epic from the Draconean civilization. I also bought my first house a couple of years ago, which has been an adventure all on its own!”

 

Terri Windling

Terri WindlingDartmoor Mythic Arts

Terri began a Patreon as of Fall 2017, which provides a wealth of glimpses into her life in the Devon countryside. Terri has several projects in the works, including:

  • A lightly illustrated novel for middle grade readers “set in a magical version of rural Devon,” involving her “bunny girl” and animal spirit characters

  • The Moon Wife, a novel for adults, loosely connected to her award-winning The Wood Wife

  • A Story of Stories, a collection of Terri’s essays on folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy

  • With Ellen Kushner, “Rat and Blade,” a novella for Bordertown, a shared-world urban fantasy series for teens

  • Paintings, collages, prints and cards, including a “bunny girls” coloring book

In May 2016, Terri gave the fourth annual Tolkien lecture at Oxford, titled “Tolkien’s Long Shadow: Reflections on Fantasy Literature in the Post-Tolkien Era.”

Where She Is Now: From Terri’s Patreon Overview page: “I live in a small village on Dartmoor surrounded by mythic artists and sheep. I work from The Bumblehill Studio, my faithful hound usually curled up beside me, and I write a daily blog about myth, art, and nature, called Myth & Moor.”

 

Book List: Anna-Marie McLemore

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

 

The Secret of a Heart Note
1. The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee
A mother-daughter team of perfume artists, a character who feels so deeply you’ll fall in love alongside her, and a touch of magic that shines through this heart-warming book.
Furyborn
2. Furyborn by Claire Legrand
The word ‘epic’ doesn’t even begin to do justice to Claire Legrand’s latest fantasy, which will pull you completely into its world, and have you swooning into its pages.
Undead Girl Gang
3. Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
In this contemporary fantasy, you’ll find love interests depicted with the same detail and brilliance Anderson brings to every character, but the love for the ages in this novel is the best friendship between Mila and Riley.
The Prince and the Dressmaker
4. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
A designer who’s equal parts innovative and endearing, a prince who loves wearing brilliantly crafted gowns, in a book that has historical atmosphere and romantic chemistry spilling from the pages.
Picture Us in the Light
5. Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
This one comes from the contemporary side, but it so beautifully captures the romantic longing that simmers between two best friends, set within an incredibly moving story about family.
Like Water for Chocolate
6. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
I know this one has made Sirens reading lists before, but I have to include it here, both as an essential work of magical realism, and a depiction of love and heartbreak so visceral you’ll taste it.

 

Anna-Marie McLemore is the Mexican-American author of The Weight of Feathers, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book When the Moon Was Ours, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and won the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award; and Wild Beauty, a fairy tale of queer Latina girls and enchanted, murderous gardens. Blanca & Roja, a magical realism reimagining of Snow-White & Rose-Red meets Swan Lake, is forthcoming in 2018.

Anna-Marie’s historical short stories are forthcoming in the anthologies All Out, The Radical Element: Twelve Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other Dauntless Girls, and Toil and Trouble. Her shorter work has previously been featured in The Portland Review, CRATE Literary Magazine’s “cratelit,” and Camera Obscura’s Bridge the Gap Gallery, and by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.

For more information about Anna-Marie, please visit her website or Twitter.

 

Sirens Review Squad: When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, in honor of Anna-Marie McLemore’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from B R Sanders on Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon was Ours.

When the Moon was Ours

When Miel was five, she poured out of the water of the town’s felled water tower. Sam was the first person to talk to her, and the two of them have been inseparable ever since. Miel, her hem perpetually damp with water from nowhere, grows inexplicable roses from her wrist and lives with Aracely, who cures the town’s citizens of lovesickness. Meanwhile, Sam works the Bonners’ pumpkin patch and wrestles with his gender day in and day out. When the Bonners’ pumpkins start turning into glass, and the Bonner sisters turn their sights on Miel’s roses, Miel and Sam are faced with hard choices and harder truths.

If the description above doesn’t get you interested in reading When the Moon was Ours, then maybe this will: I love this book, and I really think you should read it. It is exactly, precisely, the kind of book I wish I could hand to a younger version of myself. It has not one, but two of the most sensitive and nuanced portrayals of trans people that I’ve read in a long, long time. I took this book slow; I luxuriated in it like you do a hot bath. I didn’t want it to end. As an AFAB (assigned female at birth) non-binary person, the depiction of Sam, especially, read so true that sometimes it made me tender and raw.

At the heart of the book is a rich depiction of small-town America, but that small town is diverse. There are people of color in that small town. There are people with disabilities in that small town. There are queer people in that small town. And there are transgender people in that small town. Just like in the small town where I grew up, where, yes, people were queer even though it was in Texas. My town was a mix of brown and black and white and Asian. It was poor, and with that came a bevy of people living with disabilities. McLemore weaves a story about surviving and eventually thriving in a small town that felt real and true and authentic.

McLemore is a gifted writer. Virtually every character is full of life. The town itself is a character, something living and breathing, a place at once constraining and comforting. This is an essentially character-driven book: one thread of the story hinges on Miel’s need to uncover her past and how it informs her future. Another thread is the Sam’s acceptance of his own gender identity. McLemore writes both characters’ arcs beautifully.

All books have a weakness. When the Moon was Ours suffers from an overstuffed and meandering plot. At times, the plot feels absolutely crucial to Miel and Sam’s self-discoveries, but at other times, the plot feels divorced and separate from them. McLemore is bursting with ideas here, and the world she builds is alive with texture, but there is, perhaps, too much texture. It is entirely possible that she could have had one book of just Sam, Miel, and Aracely coming to grips with each other, and entirely separate (and incredibly creepy) book of the Bonner sisters and their weird coffin and glass pumpkins. There are so many good ideas and flourishes here that some get crowded out. Some are not given the space to breathe and develop. This is a book that either needed to be bigger and longer and even more intricate, or sharper and smaller and more precise. But When the Moon was Ours, as it exists, is still extraordinary and well worth a read.

If you’re in the mood for a rambling witchy story of two teenagers shambling towards themselves and love and happiness, you should definitely check out When the Moon was Ours! This is a sweet and tender book I read months ago, and still think about nearly every day since I finished it.


B R Sanders is an award-winning genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. B writes fantasy novels about queer elves and short fiction about dancing planets. They have attended Sirens in 2015, 2016, and 2017 (and hope to attend again in 2019). They love drinking coffee and sleeping. B tweets @b_r_sanders.

 

Book Friends: Anna-Marie McLemore

Introducing… Book Friends! A new feature of this year’s Guest of Honor weeks, where the Sirens team recommends books that would be friends with a guest of honor’s books. Today, we curate a list of titles we feel would complement the works of Anna-Marie McLemore, the author of The Weight of Feathers, When the Moon was Ours, Wild Beauty, and the upcoming Blanca & Roja. If you enjoyed her work, we hope you check out these other reads!

Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Anna-Marie McLemore

We’re pleased to bring you the first 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 discuss our 2018 theme of reunion, as well as the themes of our previous four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Beaver Creek this October! Today, Amy Tenbrink interviews our first guest of honor, Anna-Marie McLemore.

S15_author_interview_graphic

AMY: Your work is so often based on families: biological families sometimes, as with the feud between the Palomas and the Corbeaus in The Weight of Feathers, but just as profoundly, found families, such as Aracely’s mothering of water-tower-born Miel in When the Moon Was Ours or Estrella’s shocking discovery of Fel in La Pradera in Wild Beauty. Perhaps similarly, your work often addresses the legacies of those families, from the aforementioned feud to the Nomeolvides women’s immutable ties to La Pradera. Why is the idea of family so important to you, and by extension, your work?

ANNA-MARIE: I love that you include found family in this question, because that’s a concept that’s there for so many of us, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. For better or worse, family makes you. No matter your family’s size, no matter if they’re the ones you grew up with or the ones you found along the way.

Sometimes family is something you push against: Cluck and Lace from The Weight of Feathers will always carry their families with them, even as they realize that their own survival may depend on taking paths that lead away from them.

Sometimes family is something you find in the moment of becoming yourself: When Miel spills out of the water tower in When the Moon Was Ours, Aracely becomes someone who exists in the space between mother and big sister to her; at the same time, Aracely also becomes an older sister figure to Sam, the boy who finds Miel in the first place and who hangs the moon outside her window.

Sometimes family is made by common languages: Wild Beauty centers on five cousins who are not only Latina, not only blood-related, but also all queer. They know the strength of community and family. As curious as they may be about the strange boy who appears in the gardens, they wouldn’t make him part of their family if they couldn’t tell how much he respects that sense of community.

The family I grew up with and the family I’ve chosen both hold space in my life, and I think that ends up showing in my books. You’ll find that again in Blanca & Roja, a Latinx reimagining of “Snow-White & Rose-Red,” so it’s all about sisters, but it’s also all about the families we make.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Blanca & Roja is due out in October.)

 

AMY: To me, the most profound, most present theme in your work is a trinity of acceptance, redemption, and forgiveness: Cluck’s saving Lace’s life, Miel’s love of Sam, the Nomeolvides’ welcome of Fel into their home. In your work, acceptance frequently creates a necessary foundation for redemption and forgiveness, and those are lessons that are important to a number of readers. What about those themes speak to you as a writer?

ANNA-MARIE: I think I often end up writing stories about how those around you can sometimes love you before you know how to love yourself, and how you do the same for them. Lace and Cluck in The Weight of Feathers recognize in each other the things that make them outcasts from their own families, and find those things beautiful in each other before they can in themselves. Miel and Sam in When the Moon Was Ours desperately want to show each other unconditional acceptance and love, but can’t until they feel safe acknowledging the ways in which their own hearts are broken. In Wild Beauty, Fel comes into the Nomeolvides family’s lives with a lot of humility, both for good reasons—he recognizes them as the queens of La Pradera—and for tragic ones—he carries a lot of free-floating shame without having any memory of what it’s attached to. They treat him as family in a way that reminds him of his own value, and he’s their reminder of the tremendous power they have as a community of Latina women.

In Blanca & Roja, acceptance becomes even more intertwined with the idea of redemption and forgiveness. In addition to being a reimagining of “Snow-White & Rose-Red,” Blanca & Roja is also a reimagining of Swan Lake, so in many ways it’s a story about the roles we get cast in—as women, as queer women, as women of color—and how we can write our own stories instead.

 

AMY: The first work of yours that I read was The Weight of Feathers, which you set in California’s Central Valley. I grew up in rural Michigan, and your Central Valley read to me as an almost sentient character full of that so-called American quiet desperation. Similarly, La Pradera, the magical garden in Wild Beauty, drives not only characters, but the plot, as the Nomeolvides women react to its apparent power and rage. How do you choose and create your settings?

ANNA-MARIE: The settings usually choose me, or, I should say, they choose my story. In The Weight of Feathers, the smaller towns of the Central Valley matched with the idea of the Palomas’ and Corbeaus’ traveling shows. Wild Beauty is so much about heritage and legacy and the terrifying truth that sometimes lives beneath that which is beautiful. So La Pradera, with its stunning gardens, enchanting magic, and bloody history (I won’t share more, because spoilers) became the perfect landscape for the story of the Nomeolvides women.

 

AMY: When the Moon Was Ours is a transcendent fairy tale, especially for readers who don’t often see themselves in such stories. Wild Beauty is both a story of magical women and incisive commentary about class and social struggle. Would you please share a bit about including and balancing both individual identity and societal themes within your work?

ANNA-MARIE: I love that you use the term fairy tale, because that’s really my heart as a writer. Even before I started writing fairy tale reimaginings like Blanca & Roja, it was my heart as a writer. My fairy tales are usually queer, brown, or both, because those are the communities I know. The fairy tales that are truest for me to write are ones grounded in identities I know.

In the process of taking myself seriously as a writer, there was an aspect of awakening, of realizing that my existence—as a Latina woman, as a queer woman, as a woman who loves a trans guy—that all of that was politicized, whether I wanted it to be or not. That it always had been. Leaving identity politics out of art isn’t a luxury I have, and knowing what I know about my own communities, it’s not one I want.

I want to write fairy tales for my communities. I want to write stories that are honest—in all their blood and history—and also hopeful—in placing LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color at their centers, in giving them space to claim the magic that belongs to them. A story about a Latina girl with roses growing from her wrist and a Pakistani-American trans boy who paints the moon cannot exist without acknowledging what it’s like for these characters to navigate their hometown. A story of five queer girls of color can be filled with enchanted gardens and ball gowns and still carry an understanding of the characters’ identities. I may not go around constantly thinking about being a queer Latina, but I never forget it completely, because the world never forgets, and because I have to choose, over and over, to be proud of it.

 

AMY: Your craft is, in a word, exquisite. Lyrical, poetic, honest, unforgettable. Would you please tell us about your writing process?

ANNA-MARIE: That’s so kind of you to say. In terms of writing process on a craft level, I sort of say everything at once and then pare back. I’ll describe something three ways, and then only one of those three ways will end up being the right one. So much of the magic in writing is letting your brain and your heart go wherever they want, and so much of the power of revising is in deletion, in pulling back, in distilling.

 

AMY: Sirens is about the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, even a character—who has changed your life?

ANNA-MARIE: My mother. If she were a fantasy character, she’d be the queen who’s equal parts brilliant and stylish, or she’d be the most glamorous of witches. I won’t say we always agree, but she’s so often been my model for finding power in being a woman and in being Latina.

 


 

Anna-Marie McLemore is the Mexican-American author of The Weight of Feathers, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book When the Moon Was Ours, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and won the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award; and Wild Beauty, a fairy tale of queer Latina girls and enchanted, murderous gardens. Blanca & Roja, a magical realism reimagining of Snow-White & Rose-Red meets Swan Lake, is forthcoming in 2018.

Anna-Marie’s historical short stories are forthcoming in the anthologies All Out, The Radical Element: Twelve Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other Dauntless Girls, and Toil and Trouble. Her shorter work has previously been featured in The Portland Review, CRATE Literary Magazine’s “cratelit,” and Camera Obscura’s Bridge the Gap Gallery, and by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.

For more information about Anna-Marie, please visit her website or Twitter.

 

Book Club: The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

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 Prey of Gods

If you ask me, on any given day, which characteristics I admire in someone (but especially in a woman), ambition will always make my top three. I like people who dream big and bold and bright. I like people who think six impossible things before breakfast. I like people who try to change the world.

And what The Prey of Gods is, more than anything, is ambitious.

Nicky Drayden’s first novel is a science-fiction/fantasy mash-up, a living mythology, an AI fever dream, a breakneck romp to the brink of apocalypse that is also—improbably, shockingly—funny. Nicky Drayden dreamed big and bold and bright, y’all.

We’re in a near-future South Africa: Personal robots abound, the government has scaled renewable energy, genetic engineering is a coveted industry. Yet, vast class and identity striations still exist: Rural villages struggle with basic needs, those personal robots certainly aren’t a societal entitlement, and several of the characters struggle with acceptance of their sexuality or gender presentation. And beneath the surface roil surprising challenges: a new hallucinogen, a sentient AI uprising, and a living goddess who wants (what else?) to take over the world.

In many ways, The Prey of Gods is a smart, cleverly structured Scooby Gang book: a group of seemingly random people, meeting purportedly by happenstance, saves the world. The cleverness here is taking those seemingly random people, most of whom don’t know each other at the beginning of the book—and one, for heaven’s sake, that speaks only binary at the beginning of the book—and constructing a plot that brings these people, with their unique talents, together at the right time to save the world. Drayden will see your Buffy-style these-are-my-friends Scooby Gang and raise you a cast-of-strangers Scooby Gang.

Toward that end, The Prey of Gods features six—count ‘em, six—point-of-view characters of different races, different sexualities, different genders, and different classes.

  • Muzi: a queer teenaged boy who can control minds and who is in (not-yet-confessed) love with his best friend
  • Nomvula: a ten-year-old girl with impossible powers that she doesn’t know how to control, who destroys her entire village early in the book
  • Wallace Stoker: a city councilman on the rise whose feminine alter ego is still secret
  • Riya Natrajan: a world-famous pop star with issues of her own, not the least of which is her physical relationship with her drug dealer
  • This Instance/Clever 4-1: a personal robot whose first thought is to worry about Muzi, and whose second thought is to worry about the fact that it’s worried
  • Sydney: the current incarnation of an ancient demigoddess

The Prey of Gods also features 59—count ‘em, 59—chapters in only 377 pages.

Hang on, I’ll do the math for you: That averages out to 6.39 pages per chapter, and 62.83 pages per point-of-view character. And I’m deeply conflicted about those numbers.

On one hand, The Prey of Gods reads like an accelerant. Those short chapters, their cliffhanger endings, and the constantly shifting points of view combine to make this read very much like the world is on fire. The pacing lends a highly skilled immediacy to the book, especially as you see the pieces start to come together.

On the other hand, I usually struggle with multiple points-of-view books, and I found the sheer number of point-of-view characters in The Prey of Gods and the constantly shifting viewpoints to be a huge challenge as a reader. In the end, I didn’t end up identifying with or liking or wanting to know more about most of the point-of-view characters. (Though I liked the robot a lot. Like, a lot a lot.) And I’m trying to reconcile that with the fact that there are characters with whom I’ve spent fewer pages (say, in short stories) that I love and why, in a larger work, 62.83 pages was so wholly insufficient. (I also really liked the drug dealer and he’s hardly on the page!)

So where I come out is this: I greatly, deeply admire Drayden’s ambition. To envision a realistic world, set in the near future, that includes both sentient AI and a living mythology, and then to envision that world saved by an almost random group of often-marginalized people is an act born of tremendous ambition. The Prey of Gods is smart and funny and inclusive—and if you’re looking for someone doing something different and aspirational and clever in the speculative space, this is it. But I also found that the execution kept me, as a reader, too far removed from the characters themselves. In a world of sentient AI, the fact that I liked the robot far and away the most of anyone perhaps means that Drayden’s characters were not, in the end, quite human enough.


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.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

RSS Feed

The news archive for Sirens is linked below as an RSS feed. If you need instructions or would like more information, please click here. If you have questions about our RSS feed, please email us at (web at sirensconference.org).

RSS Feed Button

 

Archives

2018
October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2017
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2016
December, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March

2015
November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2014
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, March, February, January

2013
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2012
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2011
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2010
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2009
December, November, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

 

Tags

annual programming series, attendee perspective, auction, book club, book list, book reviews, books, bookstore, boot camp, chat, community, compendium, deadlines, giveaway, guests, hotel, inclusivity, interview, meet-up, menus, narrate conferences, newsletter, perspective, professionals, programming, read along, recap, registration, review squad, schedule, schedules, scholarships, sirens, Sirens 2009, Sirens 2010, Sirens 2011, Sirens 2012, Sirens 2013, Sirens 2014, Sirens 2015, Sirens 2016, Sirens 2017, Sirens 2018, Sirens Shuttle, Sirens Studio, Sirens Supper, site visit, skamania, special edition, sponsorship, support, testimonials, themes, things we're excited about, travel, volunteering, website, where are they now
Meet Our Guests of Honor
About the Conference
Accepted Programming
Sirens Twitter
Attend
Sirens Facebook

Connect with the Sirens community

Sign up for the Sirens newsletter

Subscribe to our mailing list