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Perspective: On Programming – Artemis Grey

Sirens Programming I Have Loved

I’m an old crone in the Sirens world, having attended every conference since its inception in 2009. That’s given me years of experiences to draw from, so when Amy suggested writing a little something about Sirens programming that I’ve loved, I was like “I’m on it!” Then I actually tried to narrow the lists of programming that I loved down to something manageable, and things got more difficult. The truth is that I’ve loved every program at Sirens I’ve ever attended. So I sat and brooded a little, and tried (without cheating and looking back through program books) to single out programs that were still sitting fresh in my head.

First up, and one that’ll probably always stick in the forefront of my mind, is an afternoon class, “Dark Ages Armor,” presented by Dave Horvath, which took place at the very first Sirens in 2009. The class introduced us to armor of the dark ages, the parts of the armor, what it was made of, and a sample of Dark Ages weaponry. Not only was it an interesting class, but we were able to try on the pieces of armor, and Dave brought in some straw and we were allowed to actually try our hand at using a spear to pierce a shield. I mean, really at what conference can you use an actual weapon to stab an actual shield? Sirens, that’s what conference!

From the 2010 Sirens, I still think very often of two programs. One is “The Golden Age of YA” panel, with Rachel Manija Brown, Malinda Lo, Janni Lee Simner, and Sarah Rees Brennan. As someone who writes YA, it was wonderful to hear them discuss how it had evolved in recent years, blowing away the prior accepted length of 60,000 words and bulling its way through censorship and into a new world of writing where adults read the books as much as young adults do. As someone who was reading Stephen King when she was in her early teens, and who didn’t pick up a lot of YA books until she was in her twenties, I loved hearing the authors discuss these phenomena.

Also in 2010 Sirens was the workshop “Revision: Openings,” hosted by Sherwood Smith. Writers were able to bring WIPs and Sherwood read them aloud so that we could experience our openings the way a reader does. This was invaluable (and slightly terrifying) and I had such an amazing time that four years later, it’s still right there with me. Participants had the chance to weigh in (kindly but honestly) on each opening and briefly discuss what worked about it, and what didn’t, and even offer suggestions if they had them. You just can’t beat that sort of experience.

Sirens in 2012 brought “Siren with a Sword: Fencing 101” in the afternoon classes. Need I say more? FENCING. It was amazing. We had a room full of participants and not one person got run through. That in and of itself warrants note. What’s more, we learned basic positions and how to move from one to the next, how to balance them, and exactly how much core strength it takes to carry them out. All experiences you wouldn’t likely get anywhere else! And, as always, the company of other Sirens attendees cannot be beat.

For me, every piece of Sirens programing is one I’ve loved, because each one was an experience to be shared with my fellow Sirens. It’s this sense of inclusion and unity that makes Sirens such a wonderful place. Whether you’re an established and well-known author or a first time conference attendee, once you’re here, you’re a Siren forevermore. My personal favorite programs are ones that stir the imagination, but there’s always something for everyone. I implore anyone who has ideas for programming to submit a proposal! I was a first-time presenter back in 2009, and it was the best introduction to presentations I could have asked for. I’ve been a presenter off and on in the years since, and I plan on submitting to the vetting board for program in 2015 too!

–Artemis Grey
 

Perspective: On Programming – Kate Larking

What programming topic do you wish someone would present at Sirens?

I love anime and manga. I really hope that someone proposes topics that are either focused on anime and manga, or has topics where anime and manga are included. I do enjoy how Sirens doesn’t treat any genre or storytelling form as less-than. Stories with pictures are awesome!

 
If you’ve attended Sirens more than once, why did you decide to come back to Sirens?

I’m addicted. Sirens gives me a place to relax and rejuvenate myself as a reader and writer, spurring me forward for the next year to push harder as a diverse reader and budding writer. Pretty much it crams a university-level education in women in fantasy over a weekend without the harshness of grades, incompatible professors who look down on genre, and contradictory students.

 
Tell us about a Sirens Guest of Honor that you’ve found particularly inspiring.

I have found many of the Sirens Guests of Honor to be inspiring. But if I am going to go off keynote speeches, Alaya Dawn Johnson blew me away in year 5. Articulate and thought-provoking, her talk really opened my eyes to things I had been missing in terms of reading and writing, life and diversity.

 
What is your favorite part of Sirens?

Every year is a bit different. Some years, I fall in love with the Bedtime Stories. Other years, the ball delights me. But every year, the quality of the programming and keynotes gives me creative energy for the year to come.

–Kate Larking
 

Perspective: On Programming – Meg Belviso

What is your favorite part of Sirens?

The programming! Seriously, every year I find myself feeling like Hermione Granger before she got her Time Turner. I want to attend everything! The only trouble with the presentations is that they’re too short. It doesn’t take much to start an interesting conversation going with the people at Sirens.

 
Tell us about a Sirens presentation that you loved.

I’ve yet to go to a Sirens presentation that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, so I just let my mind go blank and answered with the first one that came to me. I was completely surprised by the answer. It was a paper from 2014 by Hallie Tibbetts called “It’s Coming from Inside the Dollhouse.” It was about middle grade novels of the 70s and 80s that dealt with haunted toys.

I expected the paper to be a fun discussion about haunted toy stories—and it was—but like all the best papers of this kind, it also discovered a pattern that said something deeper. It was really a discussion of the use of toys as a metaphor for growing up, specifically transitioning from childhood to adolescence. I can’t wait for the compendium to come out so I can read it again!

Not surprisingly, it sparked a great discussion about toys and the way we relate to them, and lots of obscure books and movies. We looked at all of them in light of these new ideas. It made me excited to reread and watch them again, and to just think more about the discussion. This is the kind of thing I come to Sirens for, and I loved finding such a great example in a paper focusing on something very specific. The best way to describe it would be say it was a true gem!

 
Tell us about a Sirens Guest of Honor that you’ve found particularly inspiring.

The first year I went the theme was Monsters and I was really surprised at how the three speakers with the same job (writer) could be so different and so equally interesting. Each writer had her own story that led to her own unique voice. That’s continued to be true for every speaker in all the years I’ve gone. It really is inspiring because it reminds me that everyone has their own voice—that it’s the voice that creates the story. That sounds like a cop-out that I’m not picking one, but really that’s the inspiring thing!

–Meg Belviso
 

Perspective: On Programming – Kate Tremills

Tell us about an interesting or inspiring presentation you attended at Sirens.

I was deeply inspired by the talk Andrea Hairston gave at the 2014 Sirens conference. Her keynote was part poetry, part lecture. Part lullaby, part rallying cry. Every woman in the room felt seen and inspired. I especially loved her fire and her tenderness. We often think those qualities are mutually exclusive. But I believe the most powerful women express them openly, as Andrea showed us.

 
Tell me a story about something that happened at Sirens.

I was touched and inspired by the response to our “Haunted Landscapes” panel. Creating and preparing a panel is a vulnerable place. My fellow panelists and I all wondered whether the attendees would understand or just stare at us like we were crazy. As we plunged into the event, offering time for the attendees to share their stories, and having an incredible discussion, I soon discovered that our time had elapsed. And we had so much more to share! For the rest of the conference, attendees came up to us and told us how much they loved the discussion and that it revealed something personal to them. This experience reminded me that no matter how crazy you feel, the courage to share our stories allows others to find the courage to share theirs.

 
Tell us about something wonderful that’s happened to you at, or because of, Sirens.

After presenting a panel at Sirens, I feel I have a stronger connection to the fantasy community. Even more, Sirens gave me an opportunity to share a panel I might not have had the courage to share at a predominantly male conference or one that had tens of thousands of attendees. The intimacy and the kindness, combined with the fierce intelligence and voracious appetite for books, in the organizers and the attendees was unparalleled. As a result, I know I deepened my courage to present such a topic at a bigger conference and share ideas on my blog and in my author talks that I might have previously avoided.

–Kate Tremills
 

Perspective: On Programming – Casey Blair

Tell us about an interesting or inspiring presentation you attended at Sirens.

My first year at Sirens, Valerie Frankel gave a presentation on the archetypal heroine’s journey (much of which is now published in From Girl to Goddess). I’d been familiar with Campbell’s monomyth before that presentation, including a lot of its shortcomings, but that was the first time I had heard anyone address and dissect in an academic way not just what it means to be a woman and a hero, but how the journeys themselves tend to differ—and, importantly, why.

My brain was spilling over with ideas before the presentation was even over. I remember one of the points in that presentation was that, excepting death goddesses, heroines’ powers have historically tended to be associated with life—love, cooperation, fertility, etc.—and that lit a fire in my mind that has only grown since. I love reading and writing stories that subvert tropes—and the status quo—and part of doing that effectively is being able to clearly see what the norm is and how it developed. That presentation was at once the talk I’d unknowingly always been looking for and also the catalyst that helped me learn to think about stories, and the possibilities for women inside and outside of them, in a new way.

 
If you’ve attended Sirens more than once, why did you decide to come back?

When I was living in rural Japan, I felt out of touch, not just with friends, but with the causes that mattered to me. I didn’t really feel like part of a community, and while I didn’t know what community I was missing, I knew I was missing something.

Then I learned the next Sirens theme would be monsters. The tie between women and monsters is something I have—and had—spent a lot of time thinking about on my own; it was at the core of both of my theses in college. I had Strong Opinions on the subject, and I also had a lot of questions, because I always have questions.

Sirens became a lifeline for me. When I wasn’t grading homework, I threw myself into research and writing until I knew I had a solid presentation. I shoved my imposter syndrome into a dark corner of my brain and submitted proposals for a presentation and a roundtable, and to my shock Sirens accepted both.

I flew from Japan back to the US for the first time in over a year solely to attend Sirens. It was my first time attending a conference by myself. I’m introverted to start with, and throwing myself headlong into a culture shock situation seemed like a recipe for crippling social awkwardness at least, if not disaster.

Of course, it wasn’t a disaster at all. As soon as I found the group waiting for the shuttle to Vail, it enveloped me. Sirens that year was almost painfully poignant for me, because it was the first time I understood that this was the community I’d needed all along, and it was even a community that wanted to hear me when I chose to speak. I came back to Sirens for the community of passion and brilliance of people who care and found some of the most supportive and welcoming people I have ever known.

–Casey Blair
 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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