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Meet the Sirens Finance & Legal Team

Presenting Sirens each year is a big job, one that some days is a joy and other days seems like an impossibly long to-do list. While dozens of folks contribute to Sirens in a number of ways—presenting programming, reviewing inventory, sorting supplies—it takes nearly 20 staff working year-round to produce Sirens itself. From budgeting to registration assistance, managing our programming proposal process to developing our systems, these folks contribute thousands of volunteer hours each year, not to mention their energy and expertise, to making sure that Sirens not only happens, but happens in a way that makes us proud.

In most years, you would have the opportunity to meet our team during Sirens itself. Some are visible, like the information desk team that checks you into the conference or the bookstore team that helps you find your next One True Book. Some are less visible, like the audio-visual team moving equipment in the middle of the night or the logistics team working with the hotel catering staff to make sure that everyone can eat safely. But 2020 is certainly not most years and we’ll miss introducing you to our team at Sirens—so we thought we’d introduce you to them online!

Way behind the scenes—and we do mean waaaaaaay behind the scenes—the Sirens Finance & Legal team is delightedly running at least a thousand spreadsheets. That may be an ever-so-slight exaggeration, but truly, this team lives and dies by its spreadsheets. Half are computational, used for budgets, finances, and the annual reports underlying the tax filings. But others are databases, such as our annual auction and our 40-column, 3,000-row bookstore database. And what feeds all these amazing spreadsheets: a thousand hours of research, a lot of creativity, and some truly enormous brains. Let’s meet Team Money!

What Team Money does may seem quite basic, but things around here get very complicated very quickly. Let’s start at the very beginning: Sirens runs a four-times-a-year budgeting process for each conference currently in development. Given the overlap in conferences, that’s roughly six budget reviews a year. Team Money does that. Add to that producing monthly financials, closing financials for finished conferences, and annual financial reporting to support the taxes. Team Money does that, too. And don’t forget that someone has to do the taxes! Team Money also designs and manages the twice-annual Sirens fundraising campaigns, including all of our scholarship messaging and fundraising. All those scholarships for BIPOC, programming presenters, those with financial hardships, and book professionals are made possible by this team—and the amazing generosity of the Sirens community!

But there’s a whole different side to Team Money as well: research, procurement, and sales. Every item that you can purchase at Sirens—villainous makeup, a Sirens water bottle, a Captain America shield, a giant stack of books, your new favorite T-shirt—are meticulously researched, sourced, or just magically made possible by the remarkable members of this team. Each year, this team invests thousands of hours finding unique auction items (Etsy!); researching low, low prices on merchandise; reminding the art team how much a three-color T-shirt print costs; and compiling data on the 500 new speculative works released by women, nonbinary, and trans authors since the last Sirens. Then these researching geniuses sit down with those budgeting geniuses and figure out how to make it all work. So when you walk into the Sirens community room each year, there are so many things to discover—and because this team also handles uploading all that data to our online inventory system, you can buy all of it without anyone needing to carry around a calculator. Thanks, Team Money!

Finally, we should really call this team Team Money, Esquire, because with finance and procurement comes lawyers. Every year, our lawyers handle everything from negotiating our annual contracts, obtaining our insurance coverage, updating our policies (anyone remember GDPR?), and generally being all around awesome people. We would tell you more about what they do, but they probably know a Confidentiality Curse or two.

But before Team Money, Esquire dives back into its spreadsheets, let’s meet them:

Zack Bernheimer: Zack is the sort of amazing guy who hears that his co-worker is working on this conference, and even though he’s never, not once been to this conference (Sirens at Home is a great time to start, Zack!), he wants to help out. So we handed this financial whiz our budgets and our financials and suggested that he go to town. And he did! Zack hails from Miami, Florida, where he produces financial and data analysis way more complicated than ours for a major media company. (We should note that his top-notch analyst skills at work were what got him recruited to apply those same top-notch analyst skills at Sirens!) When he’s not running our spreadsheets or his other spreadsheets, Zack is, literally, running. He also works out in a number of different ways—even his hobbies are often workouts—and he’ll happily compare his Fitbit data to yours. Zack also loves cruises quite a lot more than we’re sure is healthy and will be the first person to sign up for a trip to Universal Studios.

Casey Blair: Hailing from Redmond, Washington, Casey is a woman of many hats: writer, former bookseller, current entrepreneur, and oh, yes, the Sirens Sales and Auction Coordinator. We don’t quite know how she does it, though knowing Casey, we’re reasonably certain that there’s magic involved. Casey attended the very first Sirens and has been coming back regularly ever since—but if you’ve been to a Sirens with Casey and a Sirens without Casey, you’ll know that both our programming schedule and the dancing at the Sirens Ball are much superior at Sirens with Casey! When we asked Casey what surprised her about her Sirens job, here’s what she said: “Considering that Sirens fills a ballroom full of books to sell every year, people might not realize how much curation happens before that. Spoilers: It’s A Lot.” Thinking of vacations in the middle of quarantine, when we asked Casey what fantasy world she’d most like to visit, she said the Hidden Realm in Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits.

Kallyn Hunter: We asked professional researcher Kallyn what the most challenging aspect of being the Sirens Research Coordinator was, and she says, with a certain amount of despair, “The spreadsheets. Oh goodness, so many spreadsheets.” (You will come around on the joy of the spreadsheets, Kallyn, we promise! Maybe next year!) As if the spreadsheets of the actual bookstore inventory weren’t enough, Kallyn is also surprised by the number of books that don’t make it into the Sirens bookstore each year—“We curate such an amazing selection, and you can bet that the books that are on the shelves have been selected with care”—and you can bet that, whether a book makes it into the bookstore or not, we have a spreadsheet for it. But we’ll also tell you, for all the despair over the spreadsheets, the Sirens research has never been more thorough or more exciting. So Kallyn, please don’t run away to Tortall, even though we know you want to!

Amy Tenbrink: Most of you know Amy as co-founder and co-chair of Sirens, or perhaps as a programming presenter or Sirens blog book reviewer or the person who gives the welcome speech at Sirens. But what you probably don’t know is that Amy’s heart belongs to Team Money, Esquire, where she happily serves as chief data nerd. During the day (and often at night), she’s an executive vice president for a major media company, where she’s both an attorney and business strategist (which means she gets to spend a lot of time with data there, too). She lives in Denver, but until COVID-19 arrived, she was frequently on the road, spending a lot of time on planes with, as you might expect, a fantasy book and a carpal tunnel brace. Amy reads 150 books a year (she’s dangerous in a bookstore), bakes increasingly complicated pastries (kouign amann, anyone?), and is going to run a marathon again someday. The three books of her heart are Code Name: Verity, Conservation of Shadows, and Who Fears Death, and she says we can’t make her pick just one.

Side Quests on Dying

2020 so often feels so isolating, so directionless, full of dangers and impossibilities. When we have an infrequent spare moment, we all seek the most fragile of things: hope, justice, compassion—and sometimes to remember why we love the things we love.

In advance of Sirens at Home, as we contemplate gathering safely online rather than in person with the warmth of the Sirens community, we invited members of that community to write about what speculative fiction means to them. We think you’ll find their essays reassuring, a common touchstone that we all need when we’re adrift, and perhaps a welcome remembrance of something you love.

Today, we present an essay by A.J. Hackwith.

My mom is traveling on her way to death.

She’s gone to a concert in the park with my dad. She’s taken a road trip to a quaint little orchard outside of town. She’s visited her mother’s family farm. She stops by to see her own grandmother. She’s gone on errands and she’s planned family reunions. She’s a whirlwind of travel, my midwestern mother.

She also hasn’t left her care facility in eight months.

I get these updates during protracted, sometimes painful, phone calls. Dad tells me how she’s sleeping all day now; Mom tells me they saw a school play. Dad worries how it takes three people to help her get out of her wheelchair; she mentions her plans to head down to Nebraska City next weekend.

My mother isn’t dying of cancer, she isn’t hunted by any monster that has a clear name and weakness. There’s nothing for doctors to shoot at, not really. Her brain is doing the slow waltz into the dark along with her damaged nervous system, ravaged by severe untreated diabetes and time. Depression would be the clearest monster, but that’s treated more as an old friend, one we’ve ignored all her life. More recently, the pandemic, and the necessary precautions the facility has taken, has sped things up. Social isolation may protect her from the virus, but it feeds the depression and mental decline. She’s quarantined with her monsters. She’s of the age of stories.

My mother no longer reliably recognizes my face, but she knows the empire of her past. She knows the familiarity of family trips, small town pleasures, little quests and comforting adventures. These are the stories she reaches for when they become truer than a failing reality. Her own mother did the same thing, years ago. The last time I saw my grandmother before her death, she proudly announced she was going to college with her boyfriend. Women in my family greet death armored by stories. So I talk to her nurses, I grieve with my siblings, I reassure my dad, and then I let mom tell me about the trip they just now took on a sunlit afternoon to a place that’s been closed for years. I let my mom tell me stories.

I think about the function of stories, listening to mom. How we fill in the gaps with things we know when our mental waltz wobbles. When things are scary, or just don’t make sense, it’s the things we fill our heads with that become our only defense. I wonder what stories will protect me when I’m dream-fragile and time-muddled. When stories become my only familiar face and ally. Because it won’t be small town trips that I’ve filled my waking life with; it will be fantasy books.

Will I speak of wicked queens and fallen empires to my caregivers? Shall each pill become a potion? Will I design dragons to soothe my night fears? When my body fails, will I fill in the gaps with a freshly discovered magic? I hope so. I hope I careen through the halls singing tavern songs, or whisper prophecies into my knitting. I hope my old allies that pay visits are the ones I’ve sought out now: outcast witches, angry women and fierce, hunger-pang heroines. I hope I see an unlikely protagonist in every face. I hope I tell a young, impressionable relative, visiting because she had to, how she’s the chosen one and explain to her how only the ignored and untamed can save our world. I hope I can pass on the stories that save you.

Of course, she’ll merely smile and pat my hand. That’s the way of things, but that’s okay. She’ll have heard the story, and she’ll remember the truth. Stories don’t lose their power even if you don’t believe they’re true. There’s still power in Cassandra’s futures. Because the stories we hear now are the stories we will live, when the waltz begins to falter. I’m filling myself up with stories that are weapons for now, armor for later. We’ll mark the time in dog-eared pages and found families, and tell each other memories from lives we never lived.

And for now I will ask for my mother’s stories, and try to listen for the magic.


Amanda Hackwith

Amanda Hackwith is a magpie of plots, bad ideas, and spite. She is a queer speculative fiction writer who writes contemporary fantasy as A. J. Hackwith and sci-fi romance as Ada Harper. Her writing has appeared in Uncanny Magazine and various anthologies, and she’s an alumni of Viable Paradise workshop. Amanda lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and her ghosts. She’s a Slytherin girl, a Ravenclaw nerd, and she always takes the renegade interrupts. And really, isn’t that the important things to know? You can follow her @ajhackwith on Twitter and learn more about her work on her website.

The City We Became Is Very Human. And Very New York.

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 reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

I have a confession to make: I hate New York City. I am told that this is because when I visit, I visit for work and that means that I spend most of my time in Midtown Manhattan, land of soulless office buildings and a million Pret a Mangers and seemingly two million douchey dudes that you’d think would work downtown on Wall Street but somehow don’t and are therefore somehow worse. But Midtown is also the home to Broadway and some amazing food and that winter village in Bryant Park—and it’s not so far from the American Museum of Natural History with that dinosaur who is too big for her room, so her head sticks out one door and her tail another. So you’d think that I’d be at least neutral on the subject of New York City, but no. All the subway trains are broken and every day is trash day and if I moved there, I’d have to start a podcast called “Shut up, New York.”

Which is to say that, when I tell you that you must—without delay or hesitation, without finishing whatever you’re reading now or stopping for niceties like dinner—voraciously consume The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin’s love letter to New York City, you should be believe me. Because I tell you this despite that I really hate New York City.

Because this is Jemisin, who just won a MacArthur genius grant and who achieved an unprecedented hat trick with three consecutive Best Novel Hugos, and because The Fifth Season, the first of those Hugos, is literally perfect, I know what you want to ask right now. I know this because every person to whom I have recommended this book has asked the same question: Is The City We Became better than The Fifth Season?

It is. It absolutely is.

So let’s do this.

We are in modern New York City: The hurry and scurry, the traffic and noise, the unbelievable food and magnificent music, the utterly spectacular people. The vibrancy and diversity and community that makes New York—more than LA or Chicago or anywhere else—the most American Dream place on the planet. Millions of American Dreams, bumping against each other, intertwining, making something wholly new. A reverie of striving and hustling and creating and awe. All in the shadow of Lady Liberty, who still means hope to people around the world.

In this contemporary beginning, New York has just awoken. It—and its people—have created the momentum necessary to transform it from a city to a city, an indelible place with its own sentience that will change the course of the stars. But births are never easy and as New York awakens it inhabits the body of a homeless boy, now tasked as the avatar of New York, who must battle for her life. He does, and he wins, for now. But the fight drains him and he needs the avatars of New York’s five boroughs to take their places and do their parts, before a monstrous invasion kills the nascent city.

And with that, a young man coming to New York for grad school steps off an escalator in Penn Station, onto the ground of Manhattan for the first time, and forgets his dang name. Because, much to his confusion, he’s now Manhattan, borough of money and assholes…

The City We Became is both tone poem and set piece, both paean to the wonder of the people of New York and Jemisin masterfully—and propulsively—moving her pieces around in preparation for book two. City is equal parts character and plot. The Bronx’s aging artist, Queens’s young immigrant striver, Brooklyn’s defiant MC-turned-mother-turned-politician, all BIPOC—and Staten Island’s insular white girl. An extrapolation of the Greatest City in the World from the granularity and individuality of its people. If you’ve ever thought people are beautiful, not in that glossy magazine way, but in their wrinkles and dreams and mistakes and kindnesses, this is very much your book.

But this isn’t just a tone poem, not just a tribute to the people of New York or even New York herself: This is a book with something bold and brave to say. Because when New York awakens, when she is at her most vulnerable, aliens invade. Like a virus, they spread, from person to person, taxi cab to bus, appearing most often as white, worm-like tendrils that will make you squirm. Our newborn heroes don’t know what they are or how they work or what they even want, but Jemisin’s Lovecraftian invaders are squishily insidious.

Most creators would stop there, reveling in having written a tour de force of character building, a terrifying villain, and a compelling plot about saving the newly sentient city of New York. But Jemisin is Jemisin: She takes her Lovecraftian invaders and specifically and inexorably tangles them up with Lovecraft’s bullshit. In one memorable scene, white supremacists, infected with tendrils, attempt to kill The Bronx with artwork that depicts an explicitly Lovecraftian (read, racist) take on New York City. The Bronx knows it—and equally importantly, we know it. Jemisin won’t settle for simply celebrating New York: She’s going to destroy those who would destroy it.

In the end, here’s why, for me, The City We Became surpasses the perfection of The Fifth Season: City is unrelentingly ambitious. It’s bold and brave and brilliant. It’s a shining work that makes you want to stand up and be counted alongside New York’s fiercest defenders. But it refuses to play by anyone’s rules: Not speculative fiction traditions, not an editor’s or a publisher’s idea of what sells, not your rules or mine. It’s unconstrained in a way that I don’t think The Fifth Season, for all its perfection, was. The City We Became is messy. It’s damp and dirty and joyous and right in your face. It’s very human. And very New York.


Amy TenbrinkBy day, Amy Tenbrink dons her supergirl suit and handles strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president of a major media company. By night, she dons her supergirl cape, plans literary conferences, bakes increasingly complicated pastries, and reads 150 books a year. She is a co-founder and current co-chair of Sirens, an annual conference dedicated to examining gender and fantasy literature. She likes nothing quite so much as monster girls, flagrant ambition, and a well-planned revolution.

Meet the Sirens Logistics Team

Presenting Sirens each year is a big job, one that some days is a joy and other days seems like an impossibly long to-do list. While dozens of folks contribute to Sirens in a number of ways—presenting programming, reviewing inventory, sorting supplies—it takes nearly 20 staff working year-round to produce Sirens itself. From budgeting to registration assistance, managing our programming proposal process to developing our systems, these folks contribute thousands of volunteer hours each year, not to mention their energy and expertise, to making sure that Sirens not only happens, but happens in a way that makes us proud.

In most years, you would have the opportunity to meet our team during Sirens itself. Some are visible, like the information desk team that checks you into the conference or the bookstore team that helps you find your next One True Book. Some are less visible, like the audio-visual team moving equipment in the middle of the night or the logistics team working with the hotel catering staff to make sure that everyone can eat safely. But 2020 is certainly not most years and we’ll miss introducing you to our team at Sirens—so we thought we’d introduce you to them online!

UPS once had a series of commercials, set to a catchy little song, about the sheer logistics of their operation. Today, nearly a decade later, we still sing that happy song every time we need something to be smartly organized and perfectly executed. That’s logistics! Probably more people on the Sirens team consider themselves logisticians than anything else, but most of them handle logistics-heavy responsibilities on other teams. Only a select few are part of the Sirens Logistics Team itself.

Logistics, we find, is one of those things that most people think they can do, but very few people do well. Logistics is not about just having a plan, but anticipating failure points in that plan and having a backup plan—and sometimes, against all odds, running through all your backup plans, having a quick cry in the elevator, and then figuring it out. The Sirens Logistics Team are our planners, our troubleshooters, our people who get stuff done, whether they had two years to plan for it or two minutes. They live and die by spreadsheets, by lists, and by the customer service principles that guide everything that the Sirens team does. They may not be greeting you at the door, but when your alternate plate is waiting for you at a meal, you know the Sirens Logistics team is taking care of you, so often in the wee hours of the morning.

At Sirens, the Logistics Team handles everything related to the venue, from selecting menus and managing dietary issues, to making sure room setups happen timely and properly, to working with the hotel staff to resolve all those little things that don’t quite happen as they ought—hopefully before you even notice! The Logistics Team handles the Sirens Shuttle in connection with the Customer Service Team, so that when you arrive at the Denver International Airport, there’s a bus and it doesn’t leave without you. You can thank this team, too, for all those magnificent Sirens Ball decorations. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the Logistics Team handles safety and accessibility for Sirens—and in 2020, that means tracking the COVID-19 pandemic trajectory as well.

This is one of those teams that, assuming everything is going swimmingly, you don’t see much of during Sirens. So let’s meet them now:

Karen Bailey: Karen hails from Beaverton, Oregon, but if you ask her what fantasy world she’d most like to visit, it’s the hippo farms of Sarah Gailey’s American Hippo. (Us too, but maybe just for the tiniest ones!) Karen is an administration director for a nonprofit, and has been coming to Sirens since our inaugural year (one of fewer than ten people who has), but she just joined the Sirens team this year. She is shocked—shocked!—to discover how many details are involved in finalizing the menus for Sirens. (Are the rolls on the list? Is the butter for the rolls on the list? Menus are definitely one of those things that you think is fun, but in practice are an absolute headache.) Karen has also already discovered that, despite that Sirens does indeed pay its vendors, getting answers out of them can be something of a challenge. But despite all these wild surprises, doing the foundational work to put on successful events is nothing new to Karen—she does it every day at work. When she’s not marveling at the complexity of the Sirens menus, Karen quilts, crochets, and sometimes learns amazing new things (like heraldry) to present at Sirens.

Manda Lewis: When we met Manda, we were still working on giant conventions about the Books That Shall Not Be Named and she was still an engineer in the Air Force. Today, we work on Sirens and Manda is an events coordinator for a children’s museum in North Carolina—and a mom to two small bundles of chaos. (We should note that Manda is also a small bundle of the best sort of chaos.) You might know Manda as the gale force that marshals the Sirens logistics, but she’s also been the master of the Sirens visual aesthetic from the very beginning. The logos, the T-shirts, the program books, the website graphics, you name it, if it says “Sirens” on it, she’s designed it. While Manda will happily talk about the work of Robin Hobb and any sort of dragon, when we asked her what fantastic world she’d most like to visit, she said Aru Shah’s Otherworld: “My thirteen-year-old self just wants to hang with the Pandavas and walk down Navagraha Avenue in my pajamas.”

K.B. Wagers: During the week, Katy goes to work as an office manager in Colorado Springs. But at all other times, you know them as K.B. Wagers, author of the Indranan War series (featuring a green-haired gunrunner-turned-space empress) and the hopepunk NeoG series. At Sirens, though, we know them as our Safety & Accessibility Coordinator. While all of our staff are charged with safety and accessibility, it’s Katy’s job to consider these things first and foremost. While Katy joined the team this year because they “wanted to give something back to a conference that had made such a big change in [their] life,” they have also “learned more about virus shedding than [they] ever thought [they] would.” As you might guess, Katy has spent a significant amount of time this year researching COVID-19, monitoring both the United States’ and Colorado’s responses, and calculating trajectories of the pandemic. (“Let’s just say I’m really hoping that next year doesn’t try to one-up 2020.”) Katy would love to visit Fonda Lee’s amazing, dangerous Jade City world, so it’s a good thing they know how to fight.

In Our Boldness to Be Ourselves

2020 so often feels so isolating, so directionless, full of dangers and impossibilities. When we have an infrequent spare moment, we all seek the most fragile of things: hope, justice, compassion—and sometimes to remember why we love the things we love.

In advance of Sirens at Home, as we contemplate gathering safely online rather than in person with the warmth of the Sirens community, we invited members of that community to write about what speculative fiction means to them. We think you’ll find their essays reassuring, a common touchstone that we all need when we’re adrift, and perhaps a welcome remembrance of something you love.

Today, we present an essay by Adriana De Persia Colón.

Speculative literature is broad and complex because people experience the world differently. In his upcoming book Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping, Matthew Salesses discusses, among many others things, the importance of audience 1. People respond to speculative literature in many ways because we come from different cultural traditions, from different realities.

It is there, in our chosen audience, in our boldness to be ourselves, where speculative literature thrives. Speculative literature is a crossroads, a push and pull of imagination, creation and possibility. It is the constant stream of “what if,” the space where we dream, where we manifest.

Speculative literature is always changing, ever transforming, just as we are ever changing, just as the world is ever transforming. And what wonder when we get to imagine, create, and deem possible the most whacky of ideas. Because why not? This world offers some great speculative material. Let’s keep making the most of it.

Some recommendations:

  • Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz

  • Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez

  • La Borinqueña by Edgardo Miranda-Rodríguez

  • Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

  • Category Five by Ann Dávila Cardinal

  • Miss Meteor by Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia


Adriana De Persia Colón

Adriana De Persia Colón is a 2019-2020 Highlights Foundation Fellow. She has an MA from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. She starts her PhD at the University of Cambridge in the fall of 2020.

 


1Thank you to Edelweiss for providing me with an eARC of this book for a review.
 

Meet the Sirens Customer Service Team

Presenting Sirens each year is a big job, one that some days is a joy and other days seems like an impossibly long to-do list. While dozens of folks contribute to Sirens in a number of ways—presenting programming, reviewing inventory, sorting supplies—it takes nearly 20 staff working year-round to produce Sirens itself. From budgeting to registration assistance, managing our programming proposal process to developing our systems, these folks contribute thousands of volunteer hours each year, not to mention their energy and expertise, to making sure that Sirens not only happens, but happens in a way that makes us proud.

In most years, you would have the opportunity to meet our team during Sirens itself. Some are visible, like the information desk team that checks you into the conference or the bookstore team that helps you find your next One True Book. Some are less visible, like the audio-visual team moving equipment in the middle of the night or the logistics team working with the hotel catering staff to make sure that everyone can eat safely. But 2020 is certainly not most years and we’ll miss introducing you to our team at Sirens—so we thought we’d introduce you to them online!

If you’ve ever attended Sirens, you know that one of the things that sets us apart is the warmth and welcome that we provide to our attendees—whether you’re brand new or a ten-year veteran. The heart of that warmth and welcome is our Customer Service Team! This is the team that brings you those friendly emails in the months leading up to Sirens, who thoughtfully assembles attendees’ registration bags (including those apples!), who are the first smiling face that you see when you arrive at the hotel on the Sirens Shuttle or check in at the conference, and who answer all of your questions about whether this is this, or that is that, or how to add a Sirens Studio ticket to your registration. If you’ve ever walked into Sirens and felt right at home, that’s the thoughtful, kind work of the Customer Service team.

But the Sirens Customer Service Team handles work well beyond such obvious care of attendees. Our Customer Service Team manages two major projects each year: First, this team updates the Sirens website, a beast of a task that occurs right after Sirens, when everyone wants to just curl up on the couch with a book and a cup of tea—but our Customer Service Team graciously ushers us all through one more big project before we take the dark winter months off. And in the summer each year, the Customer Service Team also guides the Sirens staff through creation of the program book, another massive undertaking that requires everyone to chip in. While these tasks aren’t always featured, everyone who attends Sirens, and everyone who’s ever visited our website, uses their work.

The Sirens Customer Service team provides internal customer service to our team as well. Internal services such as editing and coding and management of the Sirens News page are part of the Customer Service Team’s responsibilities. Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, Sirens developed its own internal systems for everything from registration to programming proposal submissions. You might see the barest piece of those systems when you register or propose programming, but those systems involve an immense back end of data management and reporting options that, as our Customer Service Team will tell you, involve an absurd amount of feature creep.

With that, let’s meet this amazing team who somehow manages everything from making sure all Sirens attendees have what they need to enjoy Sirens to keeping our own team chugging along:

Simon Branford: The mysterious Simon Branford—who has worked on Sirens since before it was even called Sirens, but whom so few of you have ever met—is a Research Software Engineer at a university in England. That, however, is an understatement of rather epic proportions, given that Simon holds multiple master’s degrees and a PhD in some sort of theoretical mathematics that we have never once understood. For Sirens, Simon has developed our systems, both the front-end systems that you use to register or submit a programming proposal and the back-end systems that our team uses every day to manage our data and provide the reports that we need to create Sirens every year. (Fun fact: Simon facilitated our compliance with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation long before California passed a similar law. We are serious about data security.) Simon would very much like us to stop gushing now, so we’ll just mention that it’s a surprise to precisely no one that one of his favorite speculative works is Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit.

Candice Lindstrom: Candice was born in Nigeria, but we’re happy that she now calls Dallas home—otherwise, we’re pretty sure that she wouldn’t have been one of those 84 intrepid folks who attended the very first Sirens! Luckily, discussing gender and speculative fiction was a great reason to leave the house. Candice is an assistant editor for a business magazine publisher covering women, LGBT, minority, and disabled-veteran enterprises, and for the past three years, she’s put those amazing skills to work at Sirens as well—though sometimes she finds it challenging to switch from business-speak to Sirens-speak. Candice edits every single thing that Sirens publishes, from big projects like the website and our annual program book, to the numerous pieces that we publish on the Sirens News page. Candice is also spectacularly organized and she uses those skills at Sirens, too: As our Conference Administrator she keeps track of all of us and what we’re supposed to be doing. (We imagine that this is a bit like herding dragons.) Candice says that she “could have done with a parking fairy a time or two hundred in my life,” so visiting Justine Larbalestier’s world from How to Ditch Your Fairy would be fabulous.

Becky Loucks-Schultz: Denverite Becky spends her days as an Applications Engineer Lead for a hospital and her nights at home with Fred (see below) and an army of cats (some theirs, others a series of fosters). She’s “always loved Sirens and was honored to be asked to help”—and just this year we’ve been lucky enough to put her tech skills to good use coding the ever-growing list of Sirens publications. (“I didn’t realize how much content was being posted by Sirens.” We didn’t either, Becky; we didn’t either.) Despite the volume, though, Becky loves being able to read all the Sirens publications. Becky’s also been a terrific sport about all those other Sirens publications—our 2,000 title bookstore—and she’s kind enough to help us sort, count, label, and box every year. Becky is also a talented Steampunk Maker and having just moved to a place with enough room for all those projects is a treat. Becky had a hard time picking a favorite speculative work—don’t we all!—but in the end settled on Going Postal by Terry Pratchett: “He manages to satirize modern capitalism and the conmen that run it all in the context of a fantasy world.”

Fred Loucks-Schultz: Fred lives in Denver with Becky (see above) and the cutest cat army in the world! If you ever need happy pictures of kitties, you know whom to ask! Fred is a systems administrator on information technology teams and tends to be just a bit of a hardware/systems geek, but has found himself enjoying all the coding he’s doing for Sirens. And he’s been doing a lot of coding! (And every time we use italics, that’s even more coding.) You’ve probably seen Fred around the Sirens team for a few years now, but he just officially joined the staff this year. We confess, if someone repeatedly asked us to tie bows on T-shirts and move boxes and boxes of books, we’d want to just up and join the team, too. But Fred doesn’t seem to mind the boxes too much, and he’s really enjoyed seeing the process of turning ideas and conversations into seemingly endless Sirens News page posts. One of Fred’s favorite speculative works is Semiosis, but shockingly, when we asked him about which speculative world he’d like to visit, he did not choose Sue Burke’s planet of sentient plants. He also notes that so many speculative worlds “don’t have proper antibiotics” so he’ll have to go with the future bits of Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

Erynn Moss: Fewer than ten people have attended every Sirens, but Erynn is one of them! Today, she’s a stay-at-home-mom in Kentucky, and if you’ve never been quarantined with a toddler and a dog, she has a toddler and a dog that she would like to lend you. Erynn is the Sirens Registration Coordinator, both because she is the warmth and welcome of Sirens personified, but also because she’s attended Sirens as much as anyone, so she certainly knows the ropes. If you’ve corresponded with our Customer Service Team, you’ve likely experienced Erynn’s extraordinary caretaking. Even after a year on our team, Erynn still gets excited every time someone registers—and to be honest, so do we! She says her superpower is summoning Pinkie Pie levels of enthusiasm, but wow do a lot of you finish the annual Sirens Reading Challenge quickly. Erynn is a spectacular seamstress, always bringing one of the most spectacular costumes to the Sirens Ball. And as of a few years ago, before the United States added new ones, she’d visited all the National Parks. Speaking of visiting, she’d love to visit Discworld.

I Want More Time

2020 so often feels so isolating, so directionless, full of dangers and impossibilities. When we have an infrequent spare moment, we all seek the most fragile of things: hope, justice, compassion—and sometimes to remember why we love the things we love.

In advance of Sirens at Home, as we contemplate gathering safely online rather than in person with the warmth of the Sirens community, we invited members of that community to write about what speculative fiction means to them. We think you’ll find their essays reassuring, a common touchstone that we all need when we’re adrift, and perhaps a welcome remembrance of something you love.

Today, we present an essay by Hallie Tibbetts.

What does speculative fiction mean to me?

I’m made of stories. I’m made of my biological family, our lines of history, of chemical and bone, and travels and languages and recipes. But the part of me I built is stories. Scraps of linen and copper wire, gears and old coins, sea glass and mirrors. There are all kinds of stories—the ones I’ve been told. Songs and theatre. Film. Striations in rock, rings in trees. The first speculative story I remember reading on my own lived in the children’s room, in the basement of the library, on the back wall. Near the fireplace. A spell: the alphabet backward. I practiced it over and over. Can still spit the letters back, backward. And I kept looking for more spells, whispered words in full dark and full moon, hoping for just a little magic.

But that’s not it.

I read for the what-ifs. Speculative fiction of its own sort. The expected what-if and the weird. Mystery. (who did it/were we ghosts the whole time) Memoir. (what is it like in your shoes/what if you were me) Poetry. (haiku/limerick) Romance. (what if we kissed/what if you had my secret baby) History. (what was it like to be alive/what stories have been lost) Fantasy. (what if there was magic/could I be so brave) Science fiction. (how do we find our stars so far, far away/will the aliens like us, be like us)

That’s not it either.

Every time I see a wave on the ocean, I’m amazed that I live in a world where I can perceive water, and devastated that I haven’t seen each wave that came before and won’t see each to come. I want to eat pastéis de nata in Portugal and snorkel in Vanuatu. I want to watch a zebra watch me. I want to weave a scarf of my own pattern. Hum all the songs. Breathe cold mountain air. Read all the books. There isn’t enough of me.

There isn’t enough time.

I want to see a mammoth cross the steppe. Come face to horn with a triceratops. Send my molecules between galaxies, faster than the speed of light. Learn to speak an alien language that I cannot yet perceive.

I want to crack lightning across the sky from my fingers. Call forth an army of beasts to right the world. Swing a sword, heal at a touch, scry the future. Whisper the alphabet backwards.

Time. I want more time. To live, and love, and be. Speculative fiction—the songs, the stories—let me walk up and down the threads of time and space, imagine myself bold, take my breath away.

To me, speculative fiction is the chance for me, a tiny speck in our universe, to be a million expansive worlds, full of light.

Full of magic.


Hallie Tibbetts works in children’s publishing, editing books for all ages. She has a love of adventure, travel, interesting food, and dinosaurs (preferably all at once). She is one of the founders of Narrate Conferences, the presenting organization behind Sirens, and has served in various roles, including conference chair and programming coordinator. On occasion, she tweets: @hallietibbetts

I Really Do Believe in Magic

2020 so often feels so isolating, so directionless, full of dangers and impossibilities. When we have an infrequent spare moment, we all seek the most fragile of things: hope, justice, compassion—and sometimes to remember why we love the things we love.

In advance of Sirens at Home, as we contemplate gathering safely online rather than in person with the warmth of the Sirens community, we invited members of that community to write about what speculative fiction means to them. We think you’ll find their essays reassuring, a common touchstone that we all need when we’re adrift, and perhaps a welcome remembrance of something you love.

Today, we present an essay by Shveta Thakrar.

As a fantasy author, I get to say things like I believe in magic, and people smile and think it’s part of my carefully cultivated enchanted persona. But the thing is, I really do believe in magic. Just as much as I believe in the power of story to shape our world and what we hold to be true about it.

To me, speculative fiction—fantasy in particular—is a kind of spell. It’s a way to reimagine the world and even the universe we live in, to correct for the injustices all around us and encourage us to do the same in our own reality. When people speak of escapism, they’re usually deriding it, but I think we all deserve a vacation of the imagination and spirit. What’s wrong with having fun for once, especially when times are dark and life as a whole feels like a never-ending slog?

In fact, let me quote Neil Gaiman here: “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”

The way I see it, yes, one of my responsibilities as a storyteller is to entertain. That without a doubt—I write the fun adventures about people like me I didn’t have growing up, and I always will. But I also write to suggest alternative ways of thinking and acting beyond those we have accepted as inevitable—as that’s just the way it is. It’s my job to offer readers enough inspiration that they might open their own imaginations and consider new possibilities both for themselves and for the bigger problems we face as a global society. Kind of like how in Star Daughter, Sheetal and her stellar family inspire the humans they interact with. I want readers to understand how powerful they really can be.

You have to know that your voice matters before you can think to use it to make a difference. Fiction can teach that, especially speculative fiction that steps outside the ordinary. I know having had a book like Star Daughter when I was growing up in a tiny Midwestern town would have made a huge difference in my life as a teen. It wouldn’t have rescued me from that terrible situation, and it couldn’t have spared me the pain I went through, but it would absolutely have offered me hope that there was more waiting for me once I got out. And knowing that would have been precious beyond measure.

Fantasy sparked my imagination and helped me begin to question the world and the things we take for granted. It guided me to dream and demand more, to grow my wings and soar above those who couldn’t truly see me. It insisted I never settle, and I didn’t, not even when others told me I was being foolish to think anyone would care what I had to say. I dreamed, and I worked hard, and eventually my dreams came true. That right there is magic, and that is why I’ll keep writing and reading fantasy, now and always.


Shveta Thakrar

Shveta Thakrar is a part-time nagini and full-time believer in magic. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies including Enchanted Living, Uncanny Magazine, A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, and Toil & Trouble. Her debut young adult fantasy novel, Star Daughter, is out now from HarperTeen. When not spinning stories about spider silk and shadows, magic and marauders, and courageous girls illuminated by dancing rainbow flames, Shveta crafts, devours books, daydreams, travels, bakes, and occasionally even plays her harp. You can follow her @ShvetaThakrar on Twitter and learn more about her work on her website.

Meet the Sirens Programming Team

Presenting Sirens each year is a big job, one that some days is a joy and other days seems like an impossibly long to-do list. While dozens of folks contribute to Sirens in a number of ways—presenting programming, reviewing inventory, sorting supplies—it takes nearly 20 staff working year-round to produce Sirens itself. From budgeting to registration assistance, managing our programming proposal process to developing our systems, these folks contribute thousands of volunteer hours each year, not to mention their energy and expertise, to making sure that Sirens not only happens, but happens in a way that makes us proud.

In most years, you would have the opportunity to meet our team during Sirens itself. Some are visible, like the information desk team that checks you into the conference or the bookstore team that helps you find your next One True Book. Some are less visible, like the audio-visual team moving equipment in the middle of the night or the logistics team working with the hotel catering staff to make sure that everyone can eat safely. But 2020 is certainly not most years and we’ll miss introducing you to our team at Sirens—so we thought we’d introduce you to them online!

The raison d’être of Sirens is its programming: those dozens of hours of bold, brilliant presentations by readers, writers, scholars, librarians, educators, and publishing professionals that make up the heart of the Sirens conference schedule. This programming is not only presented by individuals from a wide variety of vocations, it is presented by individuals from a wide variety of perspectives and identities as well.

This foundational commitment requires that we approach programming selection a bit differently than other conferences and conventions in the speculative space. Our staff does not select programming topics and panelists; instead, we invite everyone interested in presenting as part of Sirens to submit a programming proposal. Then we ask an independent vetting board to review those proposals and select those that will be included in the Sirens schedule that year. Those individuals who proposed the accepted presentations then present them at Sirens.

Each year, our programming team directs this process, from vetting board selection to encouraging proposal submissions, assisting the vetting board in their process of sending out acceptances, administering the programming scholarship awards, setting the programming schedule, communicating all the information that presenters need to be successful at Sirens, and more. This process is crucial both to presenting an interdisciplinary conference and to cultivating a programming schedule reflective of the diversity of the Sirens community—and as you might guess, this process requires individuals who are invested in Sirens’s mission and have the magic to both apply educational theory and manage logistics. And that’s even before you get to the more interactive elements of our programming, such as the writing, art, and craft programs, the fantasy-themed games, and the devilishly clever murder mystery.

So let’s meet the brains behind the Sirens Programming machine—because when you wonder at the bold, brilliant presentations that are the heart of Sirens, this team makes that happen.

Sarah Benoot, Programming Coordinator – Exploratory

A favorite fantasy work: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Sarah spends her workdays as an operations specialist for a large broker-dealer, where her degree in media production comes in handy more often than you might expect. She’s been working on conferences since The Witching Hour in 2005, when she found that she liked helping people find new ways to interact with literature enough to volunteer for Phoenix Rising, Terminus, and Sirens as well. Among other interests, she spends a lot of time trying to fit just one more book on her overloaded shelves.

Hallie Tibbetts, Conference Chair and Programming Coordinator – Academic

A favorite fantasy work: Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

Hallie has been involved with Narrate Conferences 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.

2020 Vetting Board

As we spotlight our programming team, we also want to feature the work of our independent vetting board. Each year, this group of individuals pools their collective expertise, experience, and wisdom and accepts the difficult task of selecting which programming proposals to include in the Sirens schedule. While the board changes every year, here are the members of the 2020 vetting board:

Kaia Alderson is a fiction author, comics writer, and an e-learning curriculum developer. Her debut historical fiction novel Soldier Girls will be released in 2021. Her comics work has been featured in the Ladies’ Night Anthology series and the International Girl Gang Encyclopedia, which made its debut at the 2017 Angoulême International Comics Festival. She is an alumna of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, Second City, and Voices of Our Nation (VONA) writing workshops.

Alyssa Collins is an assistant professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina. Her work explores the intersections of race and technology as depicted in 20th century and contemporary African American literature, digital culture, and new media. When she’s not working, she writes about race, superheroes, television, and embodiment around the internet.

Nivair H. Gabriel is a writer, editor, and aerospace engineer. She has presented work on intersectional feminism and indigenous futurist thought at WisCon, the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, the Children’s Literature Association Conference, and Sirens. She reviews children’s and teen fiction for Kirkus Reviews and has also contributed work to Marvels & Tales, io9.com, and two Sirens benefit anthologies. As an editor at Barefoot Books, she edited a handful of critically acclaimed picture books. She received her MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons College, and her BS in Aerospace Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When she has any free time, she watches immigrant family sitcoms.

Sharon K. Goetz is a technical product manager at a real estate brokerage. Too fond of textuality for her own good, she has also worked in scholarly textual criticism and web publishing, tested software, documented software, and completed a PhD investigating medieval English chronicles amidst their manuscript contexts. As time permits, she reads widely and plays computer games.

Yoon Ha Lee is the New York Times bestselling author of the middle grade novel Dragon Pearl. His debut novel, Ninefox Gambit, won the Locus Award for best first novel and was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke awards; its sequels, Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun, were finalists for the Hugo Award. He is also co-author of the Serial Box space opera The Vela with Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon, and S. L. Huang. He lives in Louisiana with his family and an extremely lazy cat, and has not yet been eaten by gators.

Suzanne Scott is an Assistant Professor in the Radio-Television-Film department at the University of Texas at Austin. Her most recent book project, Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry, 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 book 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. 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.

I Would Take You There, if I Could

2020 so often feels so isolating, so directionless, full of dangers and impossibilities. When we have an infrequent spare moment, we all seek the most fragile of things: hope, justice, compassion—and sometimes to remember why we love the things we love.

In advance of Sirens at Home, as we contemplate gathering safely online rather than in person with the warmth of the Sirens community, we invited members of that community to write about what speculative fiction means to them. We think you’ll find their essays reassuring, a common touchstone that we all need when we’re adrift, and perhaps a welcome remembrance of something you love.

Today, we present an essay by Edith Hope Bishop.

At the edge of a gray city, on a narrow rocky beach, a giant driftwood log rests peacefully on the shore. Someone, for unknown reasons, has carefully hollowed it out with fire. The result is a smooth and blackened portal, large enough for an adult to crawl through, if she’s willing to ruin her clothes.

The log has been there, sitting on this beach, for many months now. Sometimes the tides shift it slightly so that the great O of its core encircles the water, or the distant mountains, or the buildings and trees nearby. Sometimes the sea drapes it gently in emerald and ruby kelp. Barnacles and crabs and insects all snuggle in its outer grooves and ridges. If you sit at one end and listen, the sounds of children playing and seabirds laughing and the splash of waves all pass through and around the portal. It sits, waiting, in sun and moonlight and torrential rain, and slowly, ever so slowly, the edges of the portal diminish as the elements take what they will.

Someday, a group of young people, full of passion and laughter and in search of firewood, will probably douse it in fuel and burn what’s left. Don’t worry, this won’t be a sad occasion, but a joyous one. The demise of this curious thing will be an evening of revelry and play, as wild as any feast of the fae, or some ancient ritual of the deepest magick.

Part of the portal’s power, you see, is that it’s temporary. It’s a liminal, momentary place where it feels you might fall out of your life forever, if you dare. You may have experienced something like this before: the edge of a storm, where the dark clouds meet the blue sky and the electricity in the air is full of secrets and unspoken love and the longings of the dead. Or deep October, when the oak drops her leaves to the sodden ground, and the veil between worlds thins, and there are whisperings in the mist and cold hands to hold in the dark. Or a clear night in the mountains when the stars pulse and call and beg you to remember who you really are. These are hollow places. There’s room for every breath and possibility. But you must go now, or you’ll miss it.

We can’t always be there, in that sparkling awareness. We have work to do and mouths to feed and dishes to wash. We have problems to solve and sorrows to carry. We are, after all, mere mortals. But we can, when we need to, return to the magic places, if we’re lucky enough to know their stories.

Fairy tales, folklore, fables and all great stories enable us to conjure such places, experiences, and feelings, even if they were long ago and far away. Even if they never were at all or haven’t been yet. Language can lovingly give us what our daily, busy, hassled lives sometimes forget: Wonder. The space inside our hearts where our truest selves reside. The betwixt and between.

Stories function the same as the driftwood portal, or the October night. They do more than open a mere doorway to another world; they embody the spaces and experiences that expand our very beings and open us to the mystery and energy of existence.

What’s more, the special ability of stories is that they last. Not forever maybe, but they stay long enough to rest patiently on our shelves until we can visit them again. Then, miraculously, with the same urgency and danger of a forbidden kiss, or the storm’s edge, they call us down to the moment we’re in. They prick our fingers, and ruin our clothes, and lift the veil to everything we are or could be. Stories take us to the electric edge of what we know. And then they stay with us. Somehow, brilliantly, they stay.

I would take you there, if I could. To this driftwood portal on the little beach, with the grey city nearby and the mountains asleep on the horizon. We’d sit close and wait until a storm crept up to contend with the blue sky. Then we’d laugh, and place bets on who might win and why, and carve our names in the sand and make a ring around us of wish stones. And then, just as we started to get cold, or heard our mothers calling, or felt we’d be missed from home, we’d abandon everything we ever knew, and crawl through to a new story of our very own.


Edith Hope Bishop

Edith Hope Bishop grew up in South Florida, is 1/4 Puerto Rican, holds degrees from Harvard and Columbia, and taught for several years in a public high school. She’s an active member of the Pacific NW Writers Association (PNWA), the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts. She was a finalist in the PNWA Literary Contest in 2013 and 2016, was nominated for a 2016 Rhysling Award (for poetry), and has been previously published in Mythic Delirium Magazine, Lucia Journal, Yellow Chair Review, and four benefit anthologies for Sirens Conference. She writes sad bastard songs for jilted mermaids as Foulweather Bluff, though she spends the majority of her time on adult and middle grade speculative fiction. She can usually be found near a body of salt water. You can follow her @ehbishop on Twitter and learn more about her work on her website.

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