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Archive for April 2019

How do heroes confront power structures?

Sirens Newsletter—Volume 11, Issue 4: April 2019

This month:

 

What does heroism mean to Dr. Suzanne Scott?

“Heroism, at least from my perspective, is about the defiance of expectations…all heroes force us to grapple with how the normative is entrenched, and our own relationship to hegemonic power.” – Dr. Suzanne Scott

If you’re in need of a pick-me-up, just pop over to Suzanne’s faculty bio on the University of Texas website, which reads like a Sirens wishlist. And as if that’s not enough to get you super excited for our first-ever scholar Guest of Honor in October, check out our interview with Suzanne where we talk fandom, feminism, cosplay, Cordelia Chase, and more on her role as a Professor of “Geek Culture”.” You can also read a review of Suzanne’s book, Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry from our review squad, and you can find some more of Suzanne’s academic writing around the web, which we’ve compiled here. In honor of Suzanne, check out people’s #SirensIcebreaker on their favorite or most memorable fandom experience. Last but not least, take a crash course in fan and media studies with a list of Suzanne-recommended works.

 

The Programming Proposal Window is Open (Until May 15th)!

Sirens’s amazing, magnificent, you-have-to-see-this programming is proposed by…attendees! That means you! (No, you don’t have to be registered to propose programming, only planning to attend—or planning to attend if your proposal is accepted.)

You have an amazing fantastic must-be-discussed topic for this year’s Sirens! Great!

Are you ready to tell us about it? Submit your proposals here.

Do you have questions about types of presentations and what you need to submit? The guidelines are here.

It’s good, but you need to bounce your ideas around or find some collaborators? Visit us on Twitter or our unofficial Facebook group to connect with other Sirens. Or join the upcoming chat on May 13th, from 9–11 p.m. Eastern (6–8 p.m. Pacific).

You’d like to submit, but on what? Find some ideas to spark your imagination on Twitter at #SirensBrainstorm.

Want to get to know this year’s Vetting Board? We chat with a few of them here.

 

Sirens Studio, Get to Know Your Faculty: Amy Tenbrink

You might know Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink, but do you know about her ass-kicking career powers? We interviewed her earlier this month to find out what drives this legendary lady and what Studio attendees can expect from her career development intensive, “Negotiating Your Professional Life.” “Unless you’re willing to sacrifice your ambition, your assertiveness, and your self-respect, I recommend that you start getting comfortable with the idea that you will sometimes make any number of people…very uncomfortable.” Also, check out her thoughts of Mingmei Yip’s The Witch’s Market for her book club read this month on the blog and Goodreads.

 

By You, For You

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books they’ve read and enjoyed! This month, we’re lucky to have two indie booksellers stop by with recs, as if you needed more books to add to your shelf.

The Beast Player

Casey Blair reads, reviews, and waxes poetic on Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player, translated into English by Cathy Hirano. It’s “a coming-of-age story, but it is also a meditation on, in particular, what it means to be free.” Full review here.

 

Inkheart

Celebrate the joy of reading with Sami Thomason’s list of 7 Fantasy Books for Bibliophiles, “from middle grade to young adult to adult, about enchanted books, magical libraries, and the power of the written word.” Read the full list here.

 

Heads Up

  • Sirens Studio is filling up because of course it is. Have you seen this year’s faculty? This is going to be awesome, so get your ticket today.

  • Missed the Programming Chat? There will be one more May 13th!

  • Programming Scholarships: our fabulous community raised funds for three scholarships for presenters, and now is the time to apply! Simply specify your interest in being considered when you submit your programming proposals, which again, are due May 15th.

  • But October is too faaaar! Fear not, this May you can attend a Sirens Meet-Up in Denver (May the Fourth Dessert Party!) or New York (BYOBlanket and picnic!).  Details for Seattle on May 25, Boston on June 6, and D.C. on June 22 coming soon!

 

Look at all the fresh spring books blooming this month

By clicking on our collage of April’s new fantasy books!

Erynn’s Pick:

A True Blue Idea

I was drawn to this book by what looked like the traditional tarot High Priestess relaxing in her off-time on the cover. However, Marina Colasanti’s A True Blue Idea is actually a collection of ten short, illustrated, and often dark fairy tales by a long-established Brazilian author/artist only now being translated into English. Her poetic style utilizes irony and symbolism, and her work has been described as “feminist utopian fiction” and a “unique blend of the poetic and the socially conscious.”

 

Faye’s Pick:

Pilu of the Woods

Sometimes, all I need is a heartwarming graphic novel with adorable art to make me have faith in the world again. In Mai K. Nguyen’s Pilu of the Woods, Willow gets into a fight with her big sister, and runs away to the woods, where she meets a forest spirit named Pilu. Call me millennial mush, but I’m in full favor of acknowledging, naming, and feeling all the feelings for the good of one’s emotional health. This one is a purported gem about grief, growing up, nature, and family. And there’s a dog, too!

 

This newsletter was put together by:

Erynn Moss + Faye Bi


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

 

Take a Crash Course in Fan Studies with these 8 Must-Read Works

For our 2019 theme of heroes, we’re not just looking at works of fiction, but also examining the landscape of fandom, participatory culture, and intersectional feminism. Dr. Suzanne Scott shares some of her favorite reads spanning fan and media studies, comics, and young adult novels in an essential reading list. Take it away, Suzanne!

 

Squee from the Margins
1. Squee from the Margins by Rukmini Pande

Fan studies as an academic field has, historically, not done an exceptional job of engaging how race shapes both fannish identities and the politics of participation, and even less frequently grappled with the realities of racism within fan culture. Rukmini’s book is a much-needed intervention in this area, and a great read.

Asian American Media Activism: Fighting for Cultural Citizenship
2. Asian American Media Activism: Fighting for Cultural Citizenship by Lori Kido Lopez

Lopez does a fantastic job of historicizing and contextualizing Asian Americans’ community activism surrounding mainstream media representations, bringing these conversations into contemporary digital and social media spaces.

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games
3. The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Yes, that’s right, I’m recommending you a book that hasn’t even been released as I compose this sentence. That’s how much I am looking forward to this book, and how confident I am that it will be incredible. Thomas is a fantastic scholar and writer, and this deep dive into race and YA speculative fiction is long overdue.

No cover image available
4. “In the Time of Plastic Representation” by Kristen J. Warner

We’ll be waiting a few more years for a full book from her on this topic, but in the meantime, I spread this important provocation as far and wide as I can. You may not always agree with it, but Warner makes some vital points about where “representation matters” rhetoric falls perilously short of provoking real change.

Empowered: Popular Feminism and Popular Misogyny
5. Empowered: Popular Feminism and Popular Misogyny by Sarah Banet-Weiser

An incredibly insightful and timely look into our chaotic cultural moment.

Bitch Planet
6. Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

I’m sure this comic book has already been recommended to you a million times, but it’s that good. I will recommend it until the end of time.

Womanthology
7. Womanthology

140 women (comic book writers, artists, inkers, letterers, editors, and publishers) came together to make this Kickstarted comics anthology (and, yes, I was a backer). Spearheaded by Renae De Liz and eventually released by IDW, I love this collection for its inclusivity (both in terms of the creative force behind it, but also its variety of style and content) and for its mission, which was to expose the comics industry to up and coming comics writers and artists who due to various systemic and structural bias have a harder time getting their foot in the door.

Ship It
8. Ship It by Britta Lundin

As an unabashed fangirl, most fictional representations of fan culture make me want to tear my hair out, either because they are written by folks who have only ever peripherally engaged with fan communities or (worse yet) fall into the ethnographic trap of exoticizing the fan as “other.” Also, I’m a sucker for a good fictionalized account of the power negotiations that occur between media creators, industries, and fans in our contemporary moment.


Suzanne Scott is an Assistant Professor in the Radio-Television-Film department at the University of Texas at Austin. Her current book project, Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry (forthcoming from NYU Press, 2019) considers the gendered tensions underpinning the media industry’s embrace of fans as demographic tastemakers, professionals, and promotional partners within convergence culture. Surveying the politics of participation within digitally mediated fan cultures, this project addresses the “mainstreaming” of fan and geek culture over the past decade, how media industries have privileged an androcentric conception of the fan, and the marginalizing effect this has had on female fans. She is also the co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom (2018). Her scholarly work has appeared in the journals Transformative Works and Cultures, Cinema Journal, New Media & Society, Participations, Feminist Media Histories, and Critical Studies in Media Communication as well as numerous anthologies, including Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World (2nd Edition), How to Watch Television, The Participatory Culture Handbook, and Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica.

For more information about Suzanne, please visit the University of Texas Radio-Television-Film department website or her Twitter.

 

Suzanne Scott’s Fake Geek Girls and the binaries of fan culture

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 Suzanne Scott’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from Hallie Tibbetts on Suzanne Scotts’s Fake Geek Girls.

Fake Geek Girls

I am of two states of mind about being a fan and about the concept of being “in fandom.”

On the one hand, I have had wonderful experiences engaging with and sharing my love of particular stories—and it’s always love for stories, isn’t it—from acting out scenes from Heidi and Star Wars under the tables in kindergarten to longing for just one more episode of Ranma ½ to planning expansive, immersive Harry Potter conferences with a million moving pieces, among other fan activities. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not, through writing fanfiction, finally learned not just about punctuation and grammar, but concepts like foreshadowing and symbolism that were opaque to me during my formal education. I wouldn’t have met the majority of my closest compatriots—people I connected with online, while being an unabashed nerd—and I wouldn’t have been so easily able to bypass the early, awkward, and for me, slow and nerve-racking stages of making new friends. If you’ve considered yourself to be “in fandom,” you’re probably nodding along with at least a few of those experiences.

On the other hand: Fandom has given me some awful experiences. It’s a time-sucking distraction from other pursuits—an intense crush with all the attendant (and unrequited!) feeeeeeelings. A fandom is a community of very real personalities, which can produce a great deal of pointless and exhausting drama, as well as shut people out for any number of reasons, not limited to just their favorite tropes or characters, but including the very essence of who they are. And, on a personal note that I rarely share, the end of my tour of fandom duty ended with a heavy dose of toxic (mostly) masculinity, harassment, and threats, and those situations and people haven’t disappeared, even though I have disappeared from them—and my worst experiences were nothing, relatively, given that doxxing and swatting are in play now.

I haven’t considered myself to be “in fandom” for a decade now. My recent media loves no longer prompt me to seek story extensions outside those of my own brain—though maybe I haven’t met my next perfectly fannable thing yet. Sometimes I miss the sense of joy and wonder at knowing I’m not the only one who’s been transported into and by a story; other times, I’m so deeply protective of my own mental journeys I can hardly admit I enjoyed a work. So when it came time for Sirens to review the academic Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry by guest of honor Suzanne Scott, I was, unsurprisingly, of two minds: I’ll do it, and I don’t want to do it at all. But, like a Lannister, I keep my promises (and yes, pay my debts). And like Angelica Schuyler, I managed this review right on time.

Fake versus real. Geek, opposed to “normal.” Girls: gendered, always lesser, always weaker. Fake Geek Girls is an apt title, because the book addresses the many binaries that are in play in fan culture—and that have been codified by fan studies as a discipline.

And the binaries are many, and often actively placed at odds by media producers. Fanboy against fangirl. Creator against consumer. “Good” fan against “bad” fan, and against “bad” fannish engagement. But, backing up a little, fan studies does acknowledge that there are people who are not white, heterosexual, cisgender men between the ages of about 18 to 34 who are fans of things, unlike many people who create solely with that demographic in mind. In fact, fan studies acknowledges feminism, or at least how feminism plays into the engagement of female fans. This feminist lens, however, has not been consistently or even mostly intersectional—that is, fan studies has nodded to feminism through a white, cisgender, and primarily heterosexual lens. There is a lot to unpack in that concept of feminism alone.

Fake Geek Girls addresses the previously mentioned dichotomies and more, again, through teasing out the binaries as well as those places where middles and others are found. And it focuses on the binary pieces that have been named as by or for women, and how activities and engagement are coded female or feminized, and who supports that coding. This comes up in concepts of acceptance of or resistance to canons; authenticity or “selling out”; and questions about who is elevated to the role of business partner (through projects as wide-ranging as becoming employed by a media franchise or selling sanctioned merchandise), and who or what activities are relegated to an unpaid gift economy—and why. These theoretical questions come with real examples in fandoms from Star Trek to The Walking Dead, so fandom practitioners may run into a few of their favorite controversies.

Why examine these binaries? Well, there is a certain because: because fan studies itself has studied these binaries, and it’s worthwhile to reflect on how academic work itself may have contributed to the binaries in turn. And why focus on women’s experiences in fan culture? This, I think, a reader can intuit before it’s stated, and here I draw from the book’s conclusion: “…women are systematically alienated or rendered less visible within geek and fan culture.” (231) And if we can, as the author notes, think about “questions of identity and power,” we can hope for ever more inclusivity and intersectional work.

After reading this history of fan studies as much as examination of fandom feminism, I came away with questions. How has the shift from heavily text-based social media to more visual forms in the past view years reinforced affirmation of canons and creators? If I use a hashtag just to see what other people I don’t know are tweeting about a show, what are the inadvertent benefits and consequences? What role do or should fans play in open-ended serial franchises? When can it be useful or helpful to read the Goodreads reviews? And to what extent are my fannish actions feminist, and what do I owe feminism and other fans, if anything, in my media consumption?

Here’s an answer: I don’t know. Not everything. Not today, anyway. Heck, for all you know, I’m Jon Snow, never to know anything at all. But I have a few ideas, and I do know that I’m real, I’m a geek, I’m a girl, and that whether you align with all of those labels or not, your real geekiness should get to have a home in fandom. Fake Geek Girls is a trip through the reflection that has come so far—and still has so far to go.

Even though my fannish tendencies seem distant and inaccessible right now, I appreciate the reminder that my actions as a media consumer affect the production of media. I can request a book from the library or buy one. I can leave a review, or recommend a book to another reader. And these small actions give me immense power to support the publishing of stories I love and ideas I want to uplift. Today, that’s what I’m taking away.


Hallie Tibbetts has been involved with Narrate Conferences and its events since its inception in 2006, serving variously as education officer, communications officer, and vice president, along with chairing a number of conferences (including many years of Sirens). She works in editorial at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on books for children age zero to eighteen, but doesn’t mind if grownups like those stories too.

 

Further Reading: Dr. Suzanne Scott

New to fan studies? Eager to read more of Dr. Suzanne Scott’s research? As part of Suzanne’s Guest of Honor week, we’re pleased to have compiled some of her scholarly articles, blog posts, and conversations, found around the web.

Journal Articles:

  • The Trouble with Transmediation: Fandom’s Negotiation of Transmedia Storytelling Systems” (2010) in Spectator: “I’d like to…close by pointing towards one of transmedia’s greatest potential threats: its ability to fracture fandom and studies of fandom into two gendered camps, instead of focusing on its intersections and questioning binary assumptions about how fans consume and produce.”

  • Fangirls in Refrigerators: The Politics of (In)visibility in Comic Book Culture” (2013) in Transformative Works and Cultures: “I don’t mean to suggest that the comic book industry treats female fans as brutally as it occasionally treats its female heroes, but rather that female fans of comic books have long felt ‘fridged,’ an audience segment kept on ice and out of view.”

  • Towards a Theory of Producer/Fan Trolling” (2018) in Participations: “[Instances] of producorial or fannish trolling reveal a great deal about each groups’ esteem for one, but also function as part of broader efforts to reassert power and/or align one camp with the other’s distinct understandings of ‘appropriate’ affect.”

Publications on In Media Res (“Each weekday, a different scholar curates a 30-second to 3-minute video clip/visual image slideshow accompanied by a 300–350-word impressionistic response.”):

  • ‘Something to Prove?’ Contemplating the Fake Geek Academic” (2014): “If the ‘fake geek girl’ and GamerGate movements seek to silence marginalized voices, open source academia needs to collectively ensure that these instances of authenticity policing don’t have a similar effect on scholarly production.”

  • WoMEN’s Work: Representing Fan Labor on Heroes of Cosplay” (2015): “[Professionalized] female fans are represented and received differently from their fanboy counterparts, whose capacity to professionalize their labor is rarely scrutinized.”

  • On the Feminist Impact of DC Bombshells” (2015): “Between franchises like DC Bombshells, and transformative fan art movements like The Hawkeye Initiative, we appear to be in a moment in which the intersections between pin-up iconography and superheroine representations are being challenged and repurposed.”

  • Rethinking Fan ‘Investment’: Legion M and the Future of Fanancing” (2018): “What [Legion M delivers] is a pedagogical vision of corporatized fan culture, in which the perks of professionalization (e.g. access to “pitch elevator” contents, Hollywood premiere and parties, and celebrities) are valued above creative autonomy or fan community.”

Guest Blog Posts on Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins::

  • “Acafandom and Beyond” (2010), conversation with Will Brooker, Melissa A. Click, and Sangita Shresthova (Part I, Part II): “A fannish sensibility isn’t a quirk that must be concealed, but something that can be wielded strategically to think about how to model transformative scholarship, or design more participatory pedagogical models.”

  • “Kickstarting Veronica Mars: A Conversation About the Future of Television” (2013), conversation with Aymar Jean Christian and Mauricio Mota (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV): “Many, myself included, are inclined to view the Veronica Mars Kickstarter as a prime example of fan empowerment… But, I still worry about what it means to discursively celebrate fans’ power in purely economic terms.”

  • “The Last Jedi: An Online Roundtable” (2018), conversation with Will Baker, Mar Guerrero-Pico, and William Proctor (Part I, Part II, Part III): “My primary complaint is that the film so consistently pulls its punches both representationally and mythologically.”

 

Dr. Suzanne Scott: My OTP as a fan scholar is fandom and intersectional feminism

We’re pleased to bring you the third in a series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor, covering everything from inspirations, influences, and research, to the role of women in fantasy literature, and discussing our 2019 theme of heroes! We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink speaks with Dr. Suzanne Scott, our first ever scholar Guest of Honor.

S15_author_interview_graphic

AMY: For attendees who may not know your work, would you please tell us a bit about it? What is your field? What are your main areas of research? What topics do you teach? What issues do you love to discuss and deconstruct?

Suzanne Scott

SUZANNE: My research sits at the intersection of fan and audience studies, media industry studies, digital culture studies, and feminist media studies. This is all just a long way of saying I’m interested in how media industry/fan relationships have shifted in recent years alongside the mainstreaming of both geek culture and digital technologies that allow culture to be more participatory and how gender shapes these relationships…for better and for worse. Much of my work focuses on boundary policing practices within fan communities, and who can more or less easily occupy the cultural category of “fan.” I joke that I teach the “geek culture” courses (video game studies, gender and fan culture, remix culture, a transmedia storytelling course that focuses on Star Wars, and so on), but really what I’m hoping students get out of my classes is an understanding of the politics of participatory culture, and the critical thinking and making skills to assert themselves within that culture.

 

AMY: What does heroism, especially in comic books or speculative work, mean to you? Does gender influence that definition?

SUZANNE: Heroism, at least from my perspective, is about the defiance of expectations. This is often manifested quite literally in things like superpowers, but I think more holistically all heroes force us to grapple with how the normative is entrenched, and our own relationship to hegemonic power. Hegemonic power, or the maintenance of sociocultural hierarchies, is all about people en masse buying into a sort of “common sense” logic that is undergirded by expectations about people that are raced, classed, aged, gendered, and so on. And it’s precisely because that work is speculative that I think it’s powerful. The speculative media I’m most drawn to takes place in the very near future, where the more dystopian elements represent a clear warning (we can understand, as audiences, how our sociopolitical failings in the present will bring us to this future) but also afford enough temporal leeway to shift gears and potentially right wrongs. Alternately, they can help us see our contemporary moment more clearly. Bitch Planet is one of those comics for me, which on the one hand makes a very compelling argument about the logical ends of growing antifeminist sentiment, but also clearly conveys who is most at risk in this culture, how identity shapes that, and also offers some nuanced critiques of how white feminism might counterintuitively be helping to fuel it.

 

AMY: Much of your recent work has been on heroism and bodies. And so much of your work for so long has been about the transformation of works when they reach the hands of fans, including the transformative work of cosplay. Talk to me about your work in this space: What is so important about the intersection of heroism and bodies, and how does that intersection change or evolve when you consider cosplay?

SUZANNE: One of my favorite things I’ve written is a piece on the Tumblr “The Hawkeye Initiative,” which is a fanart project that takes submissions of panels of female superheroes from comics that have been redrawn to feature the male superhero Hawkeye (often satirizing the initial representation both in back-breaking poses and skimpy costuming). It’s undoubtedly a fan activist effort, and I would argue a very effective one, in large part because it forces us to confront how desensitized we can become to this recurring imagery precisely because of its consistency over time. It becomes so commonplace that, while we might immediately recognize it as sexist or racist or sizeist or ableist, we don’t see any meaningful way to intervene. The fanart submitted to “The Hawkeye Initiative” ruptures that, and clearly conveys the absurdity of many of these poses and representations. Fans have a long history of using transformative works to comment on both a media object and culture at large, and this is one effort that I feel speaks both directly to comics book creators and the industry, but also comments more generally on beauty culture and norms.

My new book project I’m embarking on now is all about the fan body, both as a site of cultural anxiety and as a reflection of fandom as an emergent lifestyle brand. The key for me, here, is who gets to more or less easily occupy that body or capitalize off of that lifestyle brand. I’m excited, in part because I get to tackle issues of ableism, racism, transphobia, sizeism, and homophobia in ways I didn’t in my prior book, but also because I get to delve into things like food and nerdlesque (yes, that’s nerd burlesque) and cosplay and fitness. Heroic bodies feature heavily into this, particularly the fitness chapter, which surveys an array of “superhero” themed workouts and athleisure wear. I’ve just started researching and doing some field work (such as running a Wonder Woman themed 5K), but I’m already seeing some key distinctions in how the gendered superhero body as an aspiration fan body is presented.

 

AMY: You and I have talked, repeatedly, about gender and fandom, often about how women and non-binary people are the oft-unsung heroes of fandoms, doing the lion’s share of the invisible labor necessary to create and maintain fandoms. And indeed, your brand-new book, Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry, is all about gender and fandom—and the frequent marginalization of female fans. In your view, what does the current evolution of gender in fandom look like, and where are we headed?

Fake Geek Girls

SUZANNE: I think my book tells one very specific narrative about how cishet white men have been conceptually centered within both industrial and fan-cultural understandings of the ascendance of geek and fan culture over the past decade and how that, in turn, has marginalized already marginalized fan identities and empowered small segments of that privileged fan demographic to often violently police the boundaries of acceptable or “authentic” fan identity. So, on the one hand, we have women being consistently told they are unwelcome or inauthentic fans in ways that range from overt harassment to subtle messaging by industry about who can more/less easily occupy that identity. On the other, I end the book stating that my OTP as a fan scholar is fandom and intersectional feminism, and talking a bit about fan fragility (a play on Robin DiAngelo’s discussion of white fragility). This is to say, I think there is a real and immediate need for white women within fan culture (and I absolutely include myself here) to grapple with their role in upholding systems of power that they benefit from, and considering the ways in which women might be performing similar exclusionary work.

 

AMY: Let’s talk about money and power, specifically commercialization and fan appropriation of speculative works. We all know that female characters disappear somewhere along the way to toy production and that I can buy a sexy Ghostbusters costume in two seconds from Amazon. Relatedly, we also know that if I want a Black-Widow-on-a-motorcycle action figure or a full-blown Jillian Holtzmann costume, I need a fan to create it for me. But there’s power in those fan creations, power that isn’t there in simply buying something off the shelf at Target, power in actively taking back the commercialization that major media companies won’t readily provide. Talk to me about money and power and fans.

SUZANNE: I’ve written about this mostly through the #wheresrey pushback on social media to the lack of merchandise surrounding The Force Awakens, but yes this has been an ongoing problem wherein fangirl consumers (and particularly young girls) get routed into heterosexist fan merchandising traps early and that persist over the lift course. The easiest shorthand for this would be a boy’s t-shirt that says something like “I want to be a superhero!” and the girl’s variant proclaiming “I only date superheroes,” and then eventually women’s merchandising proclaiming things like “Training to be Batman’s wife.” One thing fan scholars have and do continue to focus on in our work is how fan community spawns production cultures dominated by women, which remains a rarity. So, as you suggest in your question it’s not all gloom and doom. I look at all the female fantrepreneurs who are very pointedly making alternatives to that sort of merchandise and are building legitimate brands around these alternatives to mainstream fan merchandise. Now, much of this form of “fan empowerment” is still couched in neoliberal or postfeminist consumption, so issues of capitalism and class are still very much in play, but there is something generative in feeling like you are supporting an individual (one who may even be a part of a broader fan community) rather than a corporation.

 

AMY: Sirens is about discussing and deconstructing both gender and fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman or nonbinary person—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, a scholar, a character, anyone—who has changed your life?

SUZANNE: This is tough, as about twenty names of very real, very incredible women immediately came to mind. I’m going to go with a fictional (not to mention potentially controversial) choice, which is Cordelia Chase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, for any who haven’t watched this series, Cordelia started out as a sort of stereotypically vapid rich bitch/mean girl foil, and eventually became a more nuanced character over time. That said, picking her has nothing to do with the character as it was represented on television, and everything to do with the fact that BtVS was the first digital fan community I participated in during the late 90s. I was a part of an IRC chat roleplaying collective where I portrayed Cordelia (as a newer member of the community, I wasn’t about to be trusted with Buffy), and it was my first time writing what was essentially collaborative, real-time fanfiction with a community of other women. That space was so special, because it exposed me to the transformative power of fannish textual production, and feminist fan spaces more generally (something that obviously has gone on to shape both my life and my research). Cordelia empowered me to rewrite narratives I found to be too facile, encouraged me to garner a deeper understanding of myself through identity play and performance, and introduced me to the ways in which fan works can function not only as media criticism, but media objects and art in their own right.


Suzanne Scott is an Assistant Professor in the Radio-Television-Film department at the University of Texas at Austin. Her current book project, Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry (forthcoming from NYU Press, 2019) considers the gendered tensions underpinning the media industry’s embrace of fans as demographic tastemakers, professionals, and promotional partners within convergence culture. Surveying the politics of participation within digitally mediated fan cultures, this project addresses the “mainstreaming” of fan and geek culture over the past decade, how media industries have privileged an androcentric conception of the fan, and the marginalizing effect this has had on female fans. She is also the co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom (2018). Her scholarly work has appeared in the journals Transformative Works and Cultures, Cinema Journal, New Media & Society, Participations, Feminist Media Histories, and Critical Studies in Media Communication as well as numerous anthologies, including Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World (2nd Edition), How to Watch Television, The Participatory Culture Handbook, and Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica.

For more information about Suzanne, please visit the University of Texas Radio-Television-Film department website or her Twitter.

 

Escape into these 7 Fantasy Books for Bibliophiles

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women or nonbinary authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a book list or review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a book list from Sami Thomason.

I don’t know about y’all, but my favorite subgenre of fantasy is when books are made of magic themselves. A portal to the world of your favorite books? Count me in. A librarian zealously protects a mysterious library? Perfection. Anything that celebrates the joy of reading in a fantasy setting is my favorite kind of world to escape to. Here are a few of my favorite books, from middle grade to young adult to adult, about enchanted books, magical libraries, and the power of the written word.

 

Inkheart
1. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Inkheart is the definitive book that made me love to read, which can be backed up by how much I cried when I met the author two years ago. Meggie, a bookbinder’s daughter, lives and breathes books, and when her beloved father disappears under mysterious circumstances, she discovers a dangerous book called Inkheart that the fate of her family depends on. Meggie is a fierce reader and a loyal daughter, and finds courage from the heroes of her favorite books, like the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings and the family in The Borrowers. This book is a journey into the written word that must be savored and shared with anyone who’s ever wanted to disappear into a book.

The Reader
2. The Reader trilogy by Traci Chee

I got chills when I read the first page of this series; it’s stunning, spellbinding, and absolute magic on the page. In a world where the written word is unheard of, Sefia must decipher and protect The Book, the only one in existence. The Book is more than it seems, however, and Sefia discovers stories from the past, present, and future as she struggles to understand her place in the Book’s mysterious prophecy. Not only is Chee’s worldbuilding truly phenomenal, but her gorgeous prose and riveting command of language are breathtaking.

Sorcery of Thorns
3. Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Coming out in June of this year, Sorcery of Thorns is for anyone with ink-stained fingers and dreams of living parchment and leather. Elisabeth lives in the Great Library of Austermeer, where sorcery can turn books into monsters. When the library becomes compromised and a dangerous volume is released, Elisabeth is banished and must team up with a ne’er do well sorcerer and his demon to clear her name and save the library. Rogerson’s visceral storytelling and charming characters will completely capture your heart.

The Invisible Library
4. The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

In Cogman’s bold and inventive series, librarian Irene works as a spy for The Library, a collection of every book ever printed throughout space and time. The concept may be a little confusing at times, but as sensible Irene and her dashing apprentice Kai duck through different times, dimensions, and universes collecting rare books, you’ll just be happy to be along for the ride.

Small Spaces
5. Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

A middle grade horror-style novel about power of words from the author of The Winternight trilogy. When bookish Ollie steals an old book, she gets wrapped up in a centuries old curse with moving scarecrows, creepy mist, and “the man with the smiling face.” To save her town, she has to team up with two classmates, the real horror for this introverted and somewhat cranky girl. I know it sounds impossible, but this novel is as heartwarming as it is terrifying, and Ollie becomes a fantastic heroine in the face of crisis.

Inkmistress
6. Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst

Inkmistress is a kickass fantasy with a bisexual heroine, dragons, and a revolution against a corrupt government; a.k.a. pretty much everything you would want in an epic fantasy novel. Hiding out above a small village, demigoddess Asra knows how to change the future by writing in her own blood—and is pretty unwilling to do so. When tragedy strikes and her quiet life is upended, Asra will have to accept her power to stop the one she loves the most from destroying the world she holds dear. Emotional, compelling, and totally heart-wrenching in the best way.

The Wrath and the Dawn
7. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

One of my favorite hate-to-love romances ever, driven by the power of storytelling. A retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, Ahdieh focuses on the power of oral storytelling but doesn’t take away the luster of the tales Shahrzad weaves to her unlikely husband. If you want to be spellbound by beautiful words, this is the book for you.

Please join me in diving headfirst into your new favorite book world! These books offer so much to explore just beyond the joy of reading. We read for pleasure, to escape, out of necessity, or to understand something new, but the important thing is that we read—and we celebrate reading.


Sami Thomason has been a bookseller at Square Books, Jr. in Oxford, Mississippi for three years. Before that, she got a bachelor’s degree in English Literature at Millsaps College and worked briefly at Walt Disney World (she’s seen some stuff). Her lifelong love of books was encouraged by the staff at Jr. as a child, and she now runs the book club she used to attend. You can find her on twitter at @SamiSaysRead and instagram as @sami.says.read.

 

Spotlight on our 2019 Vetting Board

The 2019 programming season is in full swing, and we hope you’re busy preparing your proposals! Sirens relies on the expertise of an independent vetting board to review all proposals for thoughtfulness, relevance, and inclusiveness, and to select the programming to be included in our conference schedule. Members of the vetting board represent experience and achievement in fields where we expect to receive the majority of our proposals. This year’s vetting board members are: Dr. Kinitra Brooks, Alyssa Collins, Ruqayyah Daud, Sharon K. Goetz, Joy Kim, and Yoon Ha Lee, and you can read the full biographies of our vetting board members here. We were lucky enough to chat with a few of them and get a peek into their work—and how it relates to women and nonbinary folk in fantasy literature—below.

 

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

KINITRA: I am proudest of being considered a Beyoncé scholar!

JOY: When I look back at my career, I find that the moments that stand out for me are less about specific accomplishments and events and more about people and relationships. I’m especially proud of the impact that I’ve had as a leader and manager in helping my team members do great work and advance in their own careers. I’ve met amazing mentors during my own professional journeys, and I have a strong commitment to continuing to pay that support forward.

 

What topics in fantasy fiction are you exploring right now?

KINITRA: The Conjure Woman in Popular Culture.

RUQAYYAH: I am looking to read more in the middle-grade category because I am not that well read in it but it has so much to offer! Some of my favorites are The School for Good and Evil series and the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend.

 

What’s a topic you’d love to see someone submit for programming at Sirens?

JOY: In 2018, I moved across the country from Washington to Massachusetts for an amazing new job. While I’m enjoying my new job and city, I do still miss the Pacific Northwest sometimes, and that’s left me thinking a lot about the idea of home. I’ve always enjoyed stories with a strong sense of place—It’s one of the things that often draws me to fantasy—so I’d love to see a proposal exploring the concept of place attachment and how that specifically intersects with Sirens’ overall theme of women in fantasy literature.

YOON: I’d love to hear more about women in fantasy outside the West, in whatever format (TV, comics/manga/manhua/manhwa/etc., books, etc.), as well as more about representation of nonbinary/genderqueer characters and authors.

 

Could you tell us about a really exemplary presentation you’ve attended at Sirens?

KINITRA: The Bullet Journal presentation has started a new obsession in my life. I really enjoyed the lock-picking class even though I never successfully picked any of the locks.

 

What have you been reading lately?

KINITRA: I have been reading Harrow County, the comic book series. There is a Conjure Woman character I find quite interesting.

RUQAYYAH: I’m currently reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black which I’ve wanted to read ever since I was introduced to Holly’s writing through The Cruel Prince. I’m so excited to dive into a vampire book again! But my favorite science fiction/fantasy book right now is Mirage by Somaiya Daud, and I’m pumped for the sequel.

YOON: I’m currently reading Sonya Taaffe’s gorgeous, sea-flavored and queer-tinted fantasy collection Forget the Sleepless Shores, whose stories variously feature sea creatures, angels, scholars, and a dybbuk. Highly recommended.

 

We welcome proposals from all Sirens attendees and potential Sirens attendees, and we hope that our programming schedule will include presenters with a wide variety of perspectives, experiences, identities, and vocations. We are accepting proposals from April 4 to May 15. For more information, please read an overview of how Sirens programming works and our tips, tricks, and frequently asked questions. For details on each programming type, please click the following links to be taken to their respective posts: papers/lectures, panels, roundtable discussions and workshops/afternoon classes.

 

Amy Tenbrink: When I thought the patriarchy was a meritocracy, I wanted to conquer and rule it

Sirens Studio takes place October 23–24, 2019, just prior to the official start of the conference, and gives attendees the opportunity to enrich their learning in the form of small-group workshop intensives. We’re thrilled to interview a few members of our tremendous faculty on their work, reading, inspirations, and workshop topic! Today, we’re chatting with Amy Tenbrink, who will lead the career development workshop “Negotiating Your Professional Life” this fall. To learn more and register, please visit our Sirens Studio page.

 

FAYE BI: You’re immensely accomplished in your professional world, currently serving as Executive Vice President and Associate General Counsel–Revenue and Business Development for a major media company, and before that negotiating billion-dollar deals for one of the country’s largest television providers. (I’ve heard horror stories about your leaving for work Tuesday morning and not coming home until Friday!) How did you get here? What do you love most about your job—and what challenges have you faced?

Amy Tenbrink

AMY: I’m going to give you this answer and then I’m going to explain that, yes, I know all the reasons that this answer sucks.

How did I get here? I do the work. If you want to be undeniably successful at something—including sitting on the bleeding edge of media industry strategy and negotiating mind-bogglingly large deals—you have to do the work. You can’t miss opportunities, macro opportunities like jobs or big projects or micro opportunities like chances to impress a CEO or change the course of a negotiation, because you’re not willing to do the work. And that means late nights and weekends, certainly, but it also means working when you’re exhausted or when you’ve been yelled at or when it takes three times as long to teach someone else to do it as it would have taken to just do it yourself. It means doing the work when the work is boring or you hate the person sitting across from you at a negotiating table or you’re supposed to be having dinner with a friend whom you’ve already blown off four times. You do the damned work. To the best of your ability. Every time. No excuses.

And yes, that sucks. I know every reason that that sucks because today’s corporate culture is built for (male) executives who have (female) spouses at home managing the ranch, so they have the luxury of not ever having to worry about groceries or report cards or getting the house painted. I know every reason that that sucks as a woman, not only because for so many reasons we rarely have that particular luxury, but because we’re “not tough enough for business” (a CEO of mine once said that, honest to God) and sometimes approach problems with a lure rather than a hammer and don’t look like corporate America’s very homogeneous idea of “success.” I can only imagine the many, many reasons that that sucks as a person of color or an LGBTQIA+ person or a person with a disability. I have lived that day where you learn that the meritocracy is a myth (the day you realize you’ll never make a promotion, even though you’re clearly better at this than every man who has ever sat in that same chair with a better title than yours). I have lived that day where you realize that you have to work twice as hard and show up three times as prepared and be four times as impressive as a man in order to even enter the same playing field (the day I realized that my male business counterpart with the same title who worked a paltry seven hours a day made 50% more than I). I know.

And I know what I’ve sacrificed to do this. I’ve never really cared about marriage and kids, but if you do, as a woman, I don’t know how you even begin to balance that with being a corporate executive in America, at least not without outsourcing your personal life, which also sucks. I worked, minimum, 70 hours a week for more than a decade. I currently travel about 40% of the time. I live in hotels and airports and on a laptop and with my cellphone. And this works for me because I love what I do, and I don’t care about marriage or kids, and my fish can feed themselves (good job, fish!)—but I can easily see that I’m the exception, never the rule.

But even through all of that. Even through a thousand things that weren’t fair and weren’t just and were downright ignorant or absurd or offensive, I did the work, every day, no excuses. Because in any job, in any area, you make a daily estimation of how much work you’re willing and able to do for that job. And my answer, every time, was “a damn lot.” And that’s how you become a media company executive in America in 2019.

So given all of that, you’d hope that I love what I do, right? I do. I’m relentless, I’m ambitious, I’m brilliant, and I have a hard-wired need for a daily dose of conflict. What I do puts me in the same room with other relentless, ambitious, brilliant people. What I do takes my whole brain and sometimes parts of my brain that I didn’t even know I had. What I do gives me a quotidian battlefield of negotiations and contracts and consumer strategies. If you’re going to do something 70, 80, sometimes 100 hours a week, by God, you’d better love it. Not all of it, but an awful lot of it. And I do.

 

FAYE: What advice would you give young negotiators or anyone else entering a challenging corporate field? How about for all those young female professionals who are called bossy, pushy, or aggressive?

AMY: Two things. Two impossible, non-negotiable things.

First, become comfortable being uncomfortable, and even more than that, become comfortable making other people uncomfortable. Many people, but especially women, are taught an obligation of hospitality, one that applies not only in your home, but in every interaction that you have. We are expected to make people feel comfortable. We are instructed to please, to chitchat away awkward pauses, to always find the right thing to say to make the other person happy.

There is a time and a place for that. Some of those times and places are even at work. But by definition, women’s ambition makes people uncomfortable. Women’s demands make people uncomfortable. Every time I ask for equal pay at work, everyone is tharn in their discomfort. They will assuredly try to make this about you and how if you were just more polite or more patient or more whatever, the meritocracy would work for you in the end. That is bullshit. Unless you’re willing to sacrifice your ambition, your assertiveness, and your self-respect, I recommend that you start getting comfortable with the idea that you will sometimes make any number of people (starting with your boss) very uncomfortable. Which is not to say that you have to go into every room with a figurative sword (or a literal one), but that you can, and perhaps should, let those awkward pauses linger, that you shouldn’t mask your ambition, that you should bring up pay disparities, and that you should mention that you’ve done more than enough to earn more time in the CEO’s office. Because the meritocracy is nothing more than a tool of the patriarchy meant to make you feel uncomfortable for being bossy, pushy, or aggressive.

Second, now that we’ve talked about doing the work, let’s talk about what work that actually means. Because for all that women and people with other marginalized identities have to work exponentially hard to end up in the same place as cisgendered, heterosexual, white men, we also spend a lot of time doing work that no one cares about. Or that perhaps people care about, but that we’re certainly not getting paid to do.

Planning team birthday parties. Taking meeting notes. Listening to your (usually male) colleagues complain about their bosses (or their wives). These are easy things to understand: You’re (probably) not paid to be social planner, executive assistant, or psychoanalyst. If your company wants these things done, they could, in fact, hire a social planner, executive assistant, or psychoanalyst to do them. They are not paying you to do them—so do not do them.

Somewhat harder is the notion that—especially for people who work higher, further, faster, baby—you’re probably exceeding your boss’s expectations. And there’s some value there, at least in earning a reputation as someone who exceeds expectations. But just like you aren’t getting paid to plan birthday parties, you’re also not getting paid for the difference between your boss’s expectations and your higher expectations of yourself. In a utopia, the amount of time that we spend on a task would line up perfectly with the value of that task to the company. For a frustratingly easy example, I have a professional colleague who recently negotiated a promotion, and as part of that negotiation, she asked her company to assign pieces of her salary to each of her buckets of responsibility. The company assigned—I kid you not—$0 to one particular bucket. She assures me that, even though that bucket remains in her job description, she will spend 0 minutes doing any of those tasks. Things are so rarely that clear, but to maximize your value to your company, without spending every waking moment working, spend some time figuring out how to align your boss’s valuation of each project with the time that you spend on those projects. It’s hard, but ultimately, you’ll be much happier and much more successful for it.

 

FAYE: You have several bodies of professional work: corporate attorney, media executive, non-profit chief executive officer, and Sirens chair. All of these are hard science: law, budgets, strategy, and the like. How does fantasy literature fit into what you do 100 hours a week?

AMY: It’s revolutionary. It’s aspirational. It’s necessary.

I grew up in the upper Midwest, learning all the skills necessary to be a housewife. I cook, I clean, I sew, I hostess. I do most of these things badly, and most of them with a bad attitude, much to my matriarchal family’s dismay because, for all their belief that the women of our family are invincible, our needles are our swords and our cakes are our shields and I never feel like a bigger failure than when my house is a disaster.

And I went from that to corporate America, which is still run, every day, in every way, by the patriarchy. I spent the first 15 years of my career thinking that I could rule that world as is, if only I worked hard enough. I have spent the last five years with the increasingly ugly realization that no part of that world works for me or anyone else with a marginalized identity.

I want a revolution. I want to see what the world looks like when it’s run by women and people of color and LGBTQIA+ folks and people with disabilities. I want to see worlds that either topple the patriarchy or are so far beyond patriarchal rule that they can grapple with other issues. My quotidian reality is so firmly entrenched in a power system that doesn’t work for me that I need my reading to be something revolutionary, something aspirational, something so untethered from our daily notion of reality that authors and readers alike can dream big and imagine something different, something just, something worthy.

The best opportunity of speculative fiction, in my proverbial book, is to write those worlds, those power structures, those societies. And again in my book, the best speculative fiction does.

 

FAYE: You’ve mentioned that there’s a subgenre of adult fantasy about lawyers, accountants, and negotiators. What makes this sort of fantasy successful for you? What about these books get law, negotiation, or strategy particularly right?

AMY: One of my great loves in fantasy literature—and relatedly, one of my never-ending disappointments—is revolution books. I love a good revolution! But I know enough about legal structures and economics and strategy to be able to spot, immediately and with little patience, what these books gloss over or even get wrong. I’ve been known to yell about supply lines and crop burnings and hyperinflation at Sirens.

But sometimes, a book gets what I do really, really right—and when it does, I’m a fangirl. So rather than wax poetic for days, let’s focus on three authors whose characters do what I do in speculative spaces and do it really, really well.

Yoon Ha Lee (Conservation of Shadows, Ninefox Gambit) spends a lot of time observing people. He’s never told me this, but he doesn’t have to, because I’ve read his work. The best negotiators are, first, observers. After all, the point of a negotiation is to get someone else to do what you want them to do—and the most effective way to do that is to morph into the version of yourself that will be more convincing to them. Some days you’re a beauty; some days you’re a beast. But to figure out if you should be beauty, beast, buffoon, or bitch, you have to figure out the person sitting across from you. This is basic human interaction, but it’s almost impossible to get right, at least in a way that feels right to a negotiator. We live, after all, in the spaces between words, the eye twitches, the flushes, the reluctant smiles. But Yoon gets it right, every time, not only in his negotiation sequences, but in his strategies, his tactics, his conversations. He establishes his characters with an eye toward how his other characters will manipulate them later on. His books ring true to a negotiator because he gives a negotiator-reader the details you need to see the tactics, the strategy, and the manipulation play out. It’s one thing for an author to tell a reader a character has been manipulated; it’s another thing entirely for an author to give you a critical detail about a character’s personality in a casual conversation on page 24, only to have someone exploit that trait 200 pages later. To a negotiator and a strategist, his books are simply true in a way that few authors can manage.

K.B. Wagers (Behind the Throne) writes indomitable women. But truly, a lot of people write indomitable women. What’s rare about Katy’s women is that their women know that they’re indomitable, powerful women and they negotiate, strategize, and lead like they are. Hail’s aggression, in particular, is a thing of beauty, her violence even more so. She’s willing to use all the tactics a man in her position would use—and Katy does us all the favor of writing this like it’s no big deal. Hail bluffs, she threatens, she advances, sometimes she breaks a bone or two. And that’s glorious, the fact that Hail gets to do this and it only enhances her reputation—because I know what those tactics inevitably do to the tactics of our real-world female negotiators. But Hail’s also willing to play against type, to use patriarchal stereotypes and expectations as a weapon, an infiltration, and Katy is willing to break down what that means and how that works in a way that inevitably demonstrates the idiocy of the patriarchy. Long live Hail, a female negotiator we should all aspire to. I’m going to steal her tactics.

Fonda Lee (Jade City) writes indomitable women, too, but in a world that—at least in the first book in her Green Bone Saga series—feels a lot like my corporate America. It’s very patriarchal, it’s very toxic, it’s very violent. Lee’s world is, in so many ways, my world—and she writes these women who navigate this world with grace, with violence, and with immense power. Ayt Madashi, more than any other character in speculative fiction, is who twentysomething me wanted to grow up to be. Back when I thought the patriarchy was a meritocracy and I wanted to conquer it and then rule it. SPOILER: Reading about Mada going from fucking owning Hilo in a negotiating room to flipping tactics entirely and recruiting Shae? That’s the sort of facility and skill and power I aspired to—and frankly, that I still aspire to. Mada’s power is based on brilliance, strategy, and yes, aggression, and as a negotiator, I love her for every minute of it.

 

FAYE: This fall, you’re presenting a career development workshop intensive titled “Negotiating Your Professional Life” as part of the Sirens Studio. Would you please give us a preview of what Studio attendees can expect to discuss and learn?

AMY: We all, every day, end up negotiating lots of things, whether we realize it or not, whether we want it or not. Sometimes it’s as simple as whether we volunteer to take notes during meetings. Sometimes it’s more complicated, like negotiating for a raise. Sometimes it’s literally sitting down across the table from someone to negotiate a contract. But whether you realize it or not, and whether you want it or not, people are negotiating with you. So I’m going to share some of what I do, and the tactics and strategies that I use, to help people more actively manage those daily negotiations. Schools don’t teach this, but by God, they should.

So we’re going to do some workshopping. Negotiation is, fundamentally, about a third preparation, a third creativity, and a third tactics. We’re going to discuss what that preparation might look like. Is it research? Is it practicing what you want to say? Is it gearing up to be uncomfortable? Then we’ll work though some exercises on creativity in negotiations. The best negotiators are able to come up with innovative solutions to impasses. If your company can’t offer you the salary you want, is more vacation time a good compromise? Is hiring a junior person an option?

Then we’re going to talk tactics. We’re going to see what awkward pauses actually feel like. We’re going to talk about personal space. We’re going to use smiles and knowledge as weapons.

Come prepared to work! But also come prepared to gain a much greater understanding of how the world around you, especially in your professional life, actually works—and how you can more successfully navigate that.

 

FAYE: Sirens is about discussing and deconstructing both gender and fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman or nonbinary person—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, a character, anyone—who has changed your life?

AMY: As women, we think we’re invincible. I think we think we have to be invincible. That’s the great con of the meritocracy, right? If you’re just smart enough and you work hard enough, you’ll succeed. Which, of course, means that if you don’t succeed, you’re just not doing enough.

Which works on us because our foremothers spent sunrise to sunset demonstrating their love through work. They cleaned house and baked bread and darned socks and you knew your mom really loved you because she took care of you. Not because she was amazing and powerful and skilled and still wanted to hang out with you. Because she took care of you.

Hallie Tibbets, my best friend, is a magnificent woman. She’s been a music teacher and a non-profit professional, she co-founded Narrate Conferences with me 13 years ago and Sirens 11 years ago, and she is now an editor of books for children and teens. She is immensely brilliant and immensely accomplished and I say this both because she is, but also because God knows, I wouldn’t have listened to her if she weren’t.

But she taught me to forgive myself. She taught me that, if I were as forgiving of myself as I am of others, I would be a much happier person. She taught me that, if I hate a book, I get to bail after 50 pages, rather than finishing it out of some ridiculous idea that I’d fail the book if I didn’t. She taught me that sometimes “tomorrow,” or “next week,” or “fucking never” are all acceptable answers, not failures. She taught me that I am fucking extraordinary and that I am not letting myself down when I don’t do what I set out to do if it no longer makes sense or it’s a waste of time or it doesn’t fucking need to be done.

And because of that, because of all that work that she did, I was able to believe a Fortune 50 company’s negotiators when they called me a superhero in the middle of a negotiation and offered me a job. Or when my boss finally convinced me that I didn’t have to be certain before I spoke up. Or when I read a book about a “budget of fucks” and it was an epiphany. Or when I’m able to read 150 books a year because I don’t have to finish them if I don’t like them.

Because of her, I am much smarter, much happier, and much, much more disciplined in where I expend my time and energy.

Everyone needs someone in their life who speaks truth to your power. For me, Hallie is that person. Also, she is good at cuddles even though cuddling me is something like cuddling a grumpy cactus.


Amy Tenbrink serves as Executive Vice President and Associate General Counsel-Revenue and Business Development for Univision Communications, the leading multimedia company entertaining, informing, and empowering Hispanic America. In this role, Amy both leads the legal team with respect to all revenue-generating businesses and other initiatives for Univision (including content distribution and advertising sales) and serves as a strategic business advisor with respect to those same businesses and initiatives. Prior to this role, Amy served as the Senior Vice President Business Affairs for Univision, and led the content distribution legal team in deals ranging from traditional MVPD distribution to innovative digital arrangements. Before joining Univision, Amy was Director and Senior Corporate Counsel for DISH Network, where she first supported a wide range of business units (including consumer, commercial and advertising sales) and later, led the legal team for DISH’s content acquisition group, which negotiates billions of dollars in content deals annually. Prior to her work at DISH, Amy worked in private practice, focusing primarily on technology, intellectual property, and finance. Amy holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California and the Georgetown University Law Center.

For more information about Amy, please visit her Twitter.

 

Book Club: The Witch’s Market by Mingmei Yip

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

The Witch's Market

We all have those tropes, you know? Those tropes that, for whatever reason, we adore, we seek, we…yes, we excoriate.

One of those tropes, for me, is witches. I have sky-high expectations for books written by women about witches.

Terribly high? Assuredly.

Magnificently high? Perhaps.

Impossibly high? All signs point to yes.

Despite that I can’t seem to remember the last time that I liked a book about witches—any book about witches, regardless of author—I continue to read them.

And not just read them. Read them voraciously. I read them voraciously. If a book includes “witch” in the title, and it’s not written by some cisgendered, heterosexual dude, I’ve probably bought it. Maybe read it.

Likely been disappointed by it.

Unfair? Certainly.

In my dreadfully thin defense, I have bees in my proverbial bonnet. I expect my fantasy revolutions to address economic instability and I want my monster girls to be largely unrepentant and I need my witch books to come with a decidedly feminist bent. The word “witch” has been weaponized against women for a thousand years; I want that ostracization and persecution to be handled—and handled well, feminist-ly well. I want questions of power and answers of power and epiphanies of power. I probably want revenge, but that one might be just me.

For all the imaginable reasons, I have a hard time with a fantasy world with “witches” where this thousand years of shitty history isn’t addressed. And if that world isn’t so much a fantasy world, but our world, our contemporary world with its history of witch hunts and drownings and burnings and so on, but with real witches, well.

Well.

I picked up The Witch’s Market by Mingmei Yip because I am constantly in search of that book, that holy grail of a book, that will give my brain and my heart a proper witchly reclamation, redemption, and retribution. Spoiler alert: The Witch’s Market didn’t do it for me.

The Witch’s Market gets the broad strokes right. Eileen Chen, Chinese-American professor of folk religion, is chasing tenure. To date, her scholarship has focused on Asian traditions, primarily the Chinese incantations practiced by Eileen’s matriarchal line. Eileen isn’t sure that her grandmother really was a witch—but she isn’t sure that she wasn’t, either. And among her university crowd, Eileen deliberately cultivates the idea that maybe she is a witch, too.

Somewhat inexplicably, Eileen’s male department chair and mentor suggests that she needs to round out her scholarship with some white-people witchery in order to complete her research and achieve tenure. Why? No idea. But he offers her time off to do it, which conveniently coincides with a dream Eileen has indicating that she should go to the Canary Islands to seek some witches. Why the Canary Islands? I guess they’re full of witches? So Eileen leaves her pragmatic lawyer sister and her on-again, off-again, rich, that-guy boyfriend, and heads to the Canary Islands.

Within days of arriving on the islands, Eileen has seen a ghost, heard a disturbing rumor about the earth swallowing a man and a dog, danced naked in the moonlight with some witches, agreed to stay with a rich guy and his housekeeper in his castle, and met a seriously extroverted former cabaret singer. If that sounds like a lot, well, I haven’t even gotten to the dead daughter, the missing son, the seemingly endless list of men who fall for Eileen, or the rich guy’s jealous dead wife. It’s a lot. A lot.

Which could have all been fine! In terms of plot and scope, this book reminds me a lot of Dreaming in Cuban or The Island of Eternal Love. Grand, sweeping family mysteries, rife with ghosts and coincidences and mistaken assumptions, spanning decades or generations. Assuredly, the great lot of plot is not where The Witch’s Market lost me.

Where it lost me was its internalized misogyny, its relentless tokenism, its aggressive heteronormativism. While men fall all over themselves to chase Eileen—she receives not one, but three marriage proposals in the last third of this book—Eileen herself finds every other woman in this book lacking. And Eileen’s judgmentalness isn’t merely unnecessary, but hypocritical. She judges other witches for using their power, even as she hones her own. She judges an aging woman for sleeping with a young man, even as she sleeps with a man more than a decade her junior. She judges a housekeeper for drinking several glasses of wine and then sits down to pour herself some sherry. Unsurprisingly, the woman who got Eileen drunk and danced naked with her in the moonlight turns out to be evil. The frustrating list of this one woman denigrating all other women goes on and on. And on.

In a similar vein, The Witch’s Market is unyielding in its presentation of traditional heteronormative stereotypes as valid. Eileen turns down all three marriage proposals, but nonetheless seriously considers each one—despite that all three of these men assuredly suck—because each is considered a catch. Every major player in this book insists that Eileen seriously consider one or more of her suitors: He’s a good man. He’s a nice man. He’s a rich man. He’s a handsome man. He’ll take care of you. You wouldn’t have to work anymore. You would have all the time in the world to write your book. In fact, Eileen’s sister—her lawyer sister—berates her for turning down not one, but two rich men. I checked the copyright date on this book four times, but each time it somehow still said ©2015.

I could continue, but I presume that I lost most of you at “internalized misogyny,” so I don’t have to go into how Eileen others basically everyone (locals, witches, women who have sex, the neuroatypical character), how all the similes are also misogynist tripe (something mundane “fell open easily, like a prostitute’s legs”), how Eileen’s inner monologues are logically inconsistent (she can’t seem to keep track of a conversation), or how every man in this book sucks (I can neither confirm nor deny if all the women suck because Eileen hates them all).

That said, I had very similar issues with a couple other books, so if you liked A Discovery of Witches or The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, you might want to ignore me and give this one a shot!


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 nine 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.

 

May Sirens Meet-Ups: Denver and New York City!

As the northern and mountainous parts of the country thaw finally into spring, we’re excited to announce a few in-person meet-ups per our annual tradition. While these casual get-togethers are no replacement for our conference in October, they are a great way to connect with members of the Sirens community in the meantime. The meet-ups below are hosted by Sirens staff or ambassadors, so if you live near these cities or happen to be in town, we hope you’ll join us.

We welcome everyone, whether you’ve attended Sirens previously and want to catch up, or have never attended and are curious. As always, please feel free to bring questions, friends, and a note-taking device as you’ll undoubtedly leave with a long list of book recommendations!

 

DENVER: May the Fourth Dessert Party
Date: Saturday, May 4, 2019
Time: 1:00–4:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Location: Private home in Castle Rock, CO*
Presented by: Amy Tenbrink and K.B. Wagers
Come for the Death Star ice cream sandwiches, stay for the BB-8 hand pies.

RSVP via email or on Facebook

*Address will be sent after attendees have RSVP’ed.

 

NEW YORK CITY: B-Y-O-Blanket and Picnic
Date: Friday, May 10, 2019
Time: 6:00–8:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Location: The Lawn at Bryant Park*
Presented by: Faye Bi, Jennifer Shimada, and Hallie Tibbetts
There will be cookies, lemonade, a plethora of nearby food options—and (weather permitting) celebrating the opening of the lawn in Bryant Park!

RSVP via email or on Facebook

*Rain location will be the nearby Kinokuniya Bookstore, in the upstairs café. Please note that with the exception of food brought to be shared, participants are responsible for their own food and beverages.

 

And if you aren’t near Denver or New York City, don’t despair . . . more meet-ups are in the works for June! Stay tuned for more information.

Hope to see you soon!

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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