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Archive for July 2018

Book Club: The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace

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 Memory Trees

Once upon a time, the Sirens theme was “hauntings.” And there were ghosts and spirits and things that go bump in the night. We all read The Haunting of Hill House. We all talked for days about how, for more than a century, women disguised women’s issues as phantoms and shadows and slowly creaking doors. We all learned an awful lot about that liminal space where fantasy meets horror.

But that year, the aspect of “hauntings” that spoke to me was never the ghosts or the spirits or the bump-in-the-night things. Like everyone else, I did read The Haunting of Hill House. I did delve into its use of a supernatural manifestation as a proxy for Eleanor’s boundless mommy issues. I did marvel at Shirley Jackson’s cleverness and defiance. But I also failed to, as Edith Wharton might demand, meet Ms. Jackson “halfway among the primeval shadows”—and I couldn’t figure out why the book was supposed to be scary. After all, aren’t we all used to being undermined, shamed, ordered about? Even if by people who are perhaps more tangible? Is this because I read Hill House in a hotel room in Manhattan? Don’t @ me.

Rather, the part of the “hauntings” theme that resonated with me was the idea of being haunted by something somewhat less spectral: A family rift. A mistake made. A memory half-remembered. And then binding that up in a fantasy world, where magic is yet another, perhaps more limitless, opportunity to explore our more human connections. Such as in Redwood and Wildfire, where there are ghosts, yes, but where Redwood’s haunting is far more profoundly about overcoming her family’s history with slavery and lynching. Or in The Monsters of Templeton, which also did include ghosts, just a bit, but was really about trying to go home again and the roiling, barely-hidden monstrousness that you might find there.

Thus, why I chose to read The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace—and why I think it’s one of the best examples of both a non-ghost hauntings book, but also a fantasy book where the magic and the impossible provide another avenue of exploration. Let me tell you about it.

Sorrow Lovegood lives in Miami with her father and her step-family. But Sorrow has lived there only half her life: She spent her first eight years living with her mother in the matriarchal Lovegood family apple orchard in Vermont … until something terrible happened, something that Sorrow can’t remember, and she ended up in Miami. She has not been to Vermont, or seen her mother or maternal grandmother, since.

Sorrow is a fascinatingly unreliable narrator. Her memories of her first eight years are hazy at best, blank spaces or even false at worst, presumably rendered by the terrible event that precipitated Sorrow’s move to Florida. Even better, Sorrow knows she’s an unreliable narrator. (And even better than that, Wallace avoids the trap of having her heroine, in the fog of her memory, focus single-mindedly on her frustration for several hundred pages.) Sorrow’s unreliability allows, neatly, for both a first-person point-of-view and a mystery to be solved.

Sorrow, driven by her muddled memory, suddenly demands to return to Vermont, to the apple orchard, to the mother and grandmother she hasn’t seen in half her lifetime. And thus, the book truly begins.

Wallace quite cleverly sets, and then frequently twists, the tone of Sorrow’s time in Vermont. Sorrow’s hometown is much like many small American towns, and Sorrow’s return in summer plays, deliberately, on readers’ (presumably) nostalgic memories of their own (presumably) happy vacations in similar towns. But, despite the tourists and the ice cream and the annual town play (focused both hilariously and horrifically on the generations-long feud between the Lovegoods and their neighbors), Sorrow’s time in Vermont is most certainly not a vacation. The more time she spends there, the more she remembers: the orchard’s sometimes uncanny intricacies, the often shocking family history, how suffocating a small town can be—especially when your family is just a bit different. Memory, you can almost hear Wallace assert—perhaps smugly as the reader attempts to deconstruct what is on the page from what their own brains have oh-so-unhelpfully supplied—is a powerful tool.

Much like in The Monsters of Templeton, Wallace sets most of her book in the present, but some of it in the past. Chapters are dedicated to the history of Sorrow’s family, from the point of view of her female ancestors who founded and then held the orchard against the neighboring family’s onslaught). These chapters give the reader insight into the history of Sorrow’s family—and equally importantly, the orchard itself—even as Sorrow begins to (re)learn her own.

In the end, both Sorrow and the reader learn what happened eight years ago, and without spoiling too much, the true lens of the mystery, of Sorrow’s missing memory, of the struggles of her family, both past and present, is grief. Over the course of the book, as she learns pieces of her memory that she has lost and then found, Sorrow’s heart shatters again and again.

The Memory Trees is, in turn, going to shatter your heart. It’s a harrowing portrait of grief, loss, and the very best of what a hauntings book can be—even sans ghosts.

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.

 

Where Are They Now: 2011 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 2011 in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2011, our theme was monsters, and our Guests of Honor were Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor.

Justine Larbalestier

Justine LarbalestierMy Sister Rosa

Justine’s latest novel is My Sister Rosa, which came out in November 2016 and was recently released in paperback in December 2017. In this contemporary young adult thriller, Che begins to suspect that his “smart, talented, pretty” ten-year-old sister Rosa is a psychopath, while their parents brush off the warning signs as her “acting out.” My Sister Rosa was a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2016 and a Publishers Weekly Best Young Adult Book of 2016. It also recently won the 2018 Adelaide Festival Young Adult Fiction Award.

Where She Is Now: Living in New York City with occasional returns to Sydney.

 

Nnedi Okorafor

OkoraforBinti: The Night Masquerade

Nnedi’s popular Binti trilogy concluded in January 2018 with Binti: The Night Masquerade. The series’s first two novels have received several accolates; Binti won the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novella, and Binti: Home is a Hugo and Nommo award finalist for 2018. All three novellas will be reissued in hardcover with brand new covers—and a foreword from 2017 Sirens Guest of Honor N. K. Jemisin—on July 24, 2018.

For young readers, Akata Warrior, the sequel to Akata Witch, was released in October 2017. It recently won the Locus Award for best young adult novel.

Nnedi is also making a huge splash in the comics world, having written four issues of Black Panther: Long Live the King and contributed to Marvel’s Venomverse War Stories No. 1 anthology with “Blessing in Disguise.” She also has several projects in the works or announced and coming later this year: Antar: The Black Knight, LaGuardia, and Wakanda Forever (of which the first issue was just released).

Filmmakers and studios are also adapting Nnedi’s work: her short story “Hello Moto” was turned into a short film by award-winning filmmaker C.J. “Fiery” Obas called “Hello, Rain.” Nnedi’s award-winning novel Who Fears Death has been optioned by HBO and is now in early development as a TV series with George R. R. Martin as executive producer. You can also check out Nnedi’s unmissable TED talk, on “Sci-fi stories that imagine a future Africa,” which was recorded last November.

Where She Is Now: She lives in Chicago with her daughter Anyaugo and family. Nnedi is also a full professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Buffalo.

Upcoming Appearances: Special Guest at AMA-Con, held August 4-5, 2018 in Amarillo, TX. Speaker at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in March 2019.

 

Laini Taylor

Laini TaylorMuse of Nightmares

Laini’s most recent work is Strange the Dreamer, an “epic fantasy about a mythic lost city and its dark past,” featuring a junior librarian and a blue-skinned goddess who appears in his dreams. Originally published in March 2016 as an instant New York Times bestseller, it went on to win a 2018 Michael L. Printz Honor for excellence in young adult literature in the United States. Laini recently appeared at the American Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans to accept her award. The paperback of Strange the Dreamer was released this past May.

The second and final book, sequel to Strange the Dreamer, is Muse of Nightmares, which comes out on November 27, 2018.

Fans of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy will be delighted to know that Night of Cake and Puppets, the novella featuring Karou’s friends Zuzana and Mik and originally published electronically, came out in hardcover in September 2017.

Where She Is Now: “I live in Portland, Oregon, USA with my husband Jim Di Bartolo, who is an amazing illustrator and who I’m always begging to draw me things, and with our wee droll genius, Clementine Pie.

Upcoming Appearances: With author Jeff Giles, at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills, Oregon on July 12.

 

New Fantasy Books: July 2018

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of July 2018 fantasy book releases by and about women and genderqueer folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, 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, feel free to leave a comment below!
 

Sirens Support

When we created Sirens, we created something boldly aspirational: something smart, something friendly, something inclusive. Something that is as much a community as it is a conference. An inviting space full of respect, brilliance, and inspiration, where people both speak and listen, and where many people now feel at home.

In order to foster that community, we include elements in Sirens such as our keynote addresses that bring all attendees together, often over a shared meal. These elements raise Sirens’s costs significantly.

Yet, despite these costs, we remain committed to keeping the price of Sirens as low as possible, so that more individuals have an opportunity to attend our conference and participate in our community. As a result, we run an unusual budget structure: the costs of presenting Sirens exceed our registration revenue by over $15,000. In fact, every time someone registers for Sirens, we lose money.

We’re here to ask for your help. Each year, Sirens covers that monetary gap by raising funds, in three ways, from those who can perhaps provide a bit more support. These funds go directly to covering Sirens’s costs, and are critical to our ability to continue providing registrations at lower prices so that our community can continue to flourish.

We hope that you’ll consider supporting Sirens this year in one or more of the following ways.

 

MONETARY DONATIONS

Each year, thousands of dollars of the costs of presenting Sirens are offset by monetary donations, in amounts ranging from $5 to $1,500. The donors are members of the Sirens community, friends and family, and even strangers who simply believe in our mission of providing a space to discuss and debate the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. All monetary donations go directly toward the elements of Sirens that provide immediate value for attendees: catering, t-shirts, registration bags, audiovisual equipment, event insurance, and so forth. (In fact, it’s worth noting that Sirens does not incur many of the indirect expenses that most events incur, such as salaries or office space rental, as our staff are volunteers who not only donate their time, but also use their personal computers, cellphones, and living space to plan Sirens.)

If you’d like to make a donation, in any amount, please visit our donations page. We will acknowledge you on our website, in our program book, and at Sirens.

For those of you particularly interested in programming, very soon you will be able to sponsor individual presentations for $35, and in doing so, support and encourage particular presenters or the inclusion of particular topics on our schedule. If you’d like to sponsor a programming presentation, please visit our accepted programming page. (We expect to begin posting summaries of accepted presentations very soon!) We will acknowledge you in connection with your chosen programming presentation on our website, in our program book, and at Sirens.

For those of you particularly interested in other elements of Sirens, we’re always happy to discuss sponsorship of programming and events. If you’re interested, please email us at donate at sirensconference.org. Please note that, to include your support in our program book, we must have your donation by August 15.

 

AUCTION

The Sirens auction has become an unexpected source of significant revenue in recent years, and one that we especially love: while raising money for Sirens, we’re also providing attendees the opportunity to obtain amazing items and services. Our auction includes both a silent component, culminating at our Reunion Ball, and a live component, which provides an always-raucous element to our final breakfast.

2017_Auction_Oct-28-1 2017_Auction_Menagerie

All items in our auction are donated by individuals: Sirens staff, Sirens attendees, and other Sirens supporters. These items are frequently fun, sometimes one-of-a-kind, occasionally startling, and often a terrific deal on professional services. We’ve featured everything from unique articles such as t-shirts, pillows, journals, and jewelry; to professional services such as manuscript critiques to query letter reviews; to art pieces such as custom digital artwork, character naming rights for upcoming books, and original watercolors.

The sky’s the limit, and if you are interested in donating an item or two for our auction, please email us at donate at sirensconference.org no later than October 1. (We need the advance notice for recordkeeping reasons. Thanks for understanding!)

 

NARRATE BOOKSTORE

A few years ago, Narrate Conferences, Inc., the presenting 501(c)(3) charitable organization behind Sirens, began operating the Sirens bookstore as a fundraiser. This gives us the opportunity to use the bookstore profits to support Sirens, and it also gives us the opportunity, in defiance of the commercial market, to stock our bookstore almost exclusively with fantasy books written by, or featuring, amazing women—books that we and the Sirens community love.

2016_Bookstore_Oct-20-1 2017_Bookstore_BookSurprise

In many ways, our bookstore operates like any other bookstore: we acquire new books for sale just like any other store. But in two ways, our bookstore is different. First, our community frequently donates new books, just to make sure that the bookstore includes them in its inventory; sometimes these attendees work for publishers, but more often, these attendees are simply Sirens supporters who want to help make our bookstore as wonderful 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 those books to the following address, to arrive no later than August 1, so that we can include them in our inventory. (Again, thanks for understanding about our need for the advance notice!) 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, CO 80135

2017_Bookstore_Oct-27-2 2017_Bookstore_Oct-27-3

 

TAX DEDUCTIONS

Narrate Conferences, Inc., the presenting organization behind Sirens, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Therefore, all donations to Sirens are eligible for tax deduction in accordance with U.S. law.

 

THANK YOU

Regardless of whether you are able to provide us with additional support this year or not, and if so, regardless of the type or amount of that additional support, we thank you. This community means the world to us, and we’re both honored and humbled to say that we’re presenting our tenth year of Sirens this October.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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