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.