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Sirens Review Squad: The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

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 Violet Kupersmith’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from Alyssa Collins on Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel.

The Frangipani Hotel

In “Boat Story,” the first story of Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel, a granddaughter asks her grandma for a story she can use to complete a school history project. Over an overripe papaya, grandmother and granddaughter have the following exchange:

“What kind of story did you want me to tell you, con?”

 

“I’m after the big one.”

 

“Oh dear.”

 

“Leaving Vietnam. The boat journey. That’s what I want to write about.”

For me, this exchange frames the entire collection. Eventually Grandma does tell a story, just not the right one. By the end of the telling (and I won’t spoil it for you) Grandma has introduced her first rule of Vietnam and consequently the first rule of The Frangipani Hotel: “it always gives you what you ask for, but never exactly what you want.” This slight of hand is the magic of the work. In nine vignettes, Kupersmith builds a world that expands outward from her mother’s homeland of Vietnam across the Pacific to the urban United States, and back again. Yet, just like Grandma, Kupersmith resists giving readers stories they expect. For the majority of US readers (of which I am a part), any working knowledge of Vietnam and Vietnamese culture is wrapped up in a history of colonialism and conflict. To tell that story, the story we ask for would be to limit a place and its people. Telling the expected story locks Vietnam into a historical moment and a geographic place, but for Kupersmith’s characters, Vietnam is always simultaneously central and peripheral, past and present, whole and fragmented, a place to escape from and to return to. It is always with you and impossible to know if one is truly free of it. And it’s within the movement between these binaries of place and time that ghosts, magic, and horror blossom.

I really loved this collection! The beauty of it is that the stories are literary popcorn. While reading, I wanted to dip in for just one more mouthwatering story. And there a moments that are literally mouthwatering. (Everyone eats in these stories, making it my kind of book!) Kupersmith uses dishes, like bánh mì, bún bò, and egg rolls, to anchor the unfolding of stories. Thus, the telling and consumption of stories (and by extension of history, culture, and ancestral knowledge) is inexplicably intertwined with the preparation and consumption of food. The moreish quality doesn’t end with the descriptions of delicious food and its consumption; it’s also built into the shape of the tales with stories building to or past climaxes in unexpected ways. Violence and monsters lurk in the wings of the stories just as often as they feature on the page. The storytellers in Kupersmith’s stories stop and start, or divert their stories in surprising directions, and often it’s the anticipation of action that fills out the dénouement. This structure drew me in over and over even as the stories themselves would end.

The particular wonder of this collection, for me, is that unlike a light and salty snack these stories are laden with questions about being, history, and pain. They grapple with what it means to carry intergenerational trauma, to deal with the remnants of foreign invasion and colonialism, to immigrate and assimilate. But the stories are never heavy; they move quickly, aching with equal bouts laughter and horror. We easily move from the urban hunting grounds of a parched river spirit with a hankering for white men (“Reception”), to the rural bamboo backyard of cursed twins (“The Red Veil”), to the clever nursing home machinations of a mother trying to convince her busy daughter to visit (“Descending Dragon”). And that’s to say nothing of the folkloric elements. The monsters in Kupersmith’s folktales are often just as bewildered, as unstuck in time and place, and as angry as their human counterparts. They are difficult to summarize, but leave quite an impression. The one image that has stayed with me is of a woman surrounded by black flies. She has white markings on her fingers and is carving bread for the perfect bánh mì. Covered in flies, she continues to cook, hanging between worlds, neither fully living nor fully dead.


Alyssa Collins is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department of the University of Virginia and a 2016-17 Praxis fellow in the digital humanities. 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 writing her dissertation she writes about race, superheroes, television, and embodiment around the internet.

 

Book Friends: Violet Kupersmith

Introducing … Book Friends! A new feature of this year’s Guest of Honor weeks, where the Sirens team recommends books that would be friends with a guest of honor’s books. Today, we curate a list of titles we feel would complement Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel. If you enjoyed her work, we hope you check out these other reads!

Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Violet Kupersmith

We’re pleased to bring you the third in a series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor. We’re covering a variety of topics relevant to Sirens with each author, from their inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature, and discussing our 2018 theme of reunion, as well as the themes of our previous four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Beaver Creek this October! Today, Amy Tenbrink interviews our third guest of honor, Violet Kupersmith.

S15_author_interview_graphic

AMY: Women have a long history with ghost stories, from using them to examine cloaked feminine themes to finding themselves in the strange position of, after establishing the genre in the 1800s, now needing to reclaim them as our own. Why did you choose ghosts, hauntings, and horror as your medium for your work in The Frangipani Hotel?

VIOLET: In my family, only women see ghosts. I think this is part of the reason why I was drawn to them when I started writing about Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora. In the American imagination the dominant narratives about the war and its legacy are Western, male, and soldier-centric, so I set my stories in the realm of the supernatural—one of the few spaces where the rules aren’t set by men. Ghosts can act as a stand-in for female characters, giving them agency in a society where they are denied it, and working in the horror genre allows me to shine a light on the kinds of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American characters who are scarred by the war but generally overlooked in stories about it: women in nursing homes, first-generation teenagers who work at grocery stores, long-haul truckers. In so many ways, the Ghost is the perfect metaphor for the immigrant: both are liminal beings, hovering between worlds, and here, both are feared and other-ed. And I think that there’s something fitting about using a literary genre which is often unfairly dismissed as silly or lowbrow to tell stories about a marginalized people. Each is able to empower the other.

 

AMY: Your work frequently, and often subversively, explores culture: its transformation following devastation, its vital connections, its loss and sometimes desperate preservation as people’s lives change. In “Skin and Bones,” Thuy eats her culture, literally, and finds a connection she didn’t think was there through Vietnamese foodways, while the American grandchild in “Boat Story” seeking an “A-plus” refugee story, hears an account of her immigrant grandparents and a boat, yes, but not one she ever expected. Conversely, your work, too, is often about invasion of culture: the American expansion in “The Frangipani Hotel,” where a single American businessman, looking for a Vietnamese woman to take out on the town, stands in for hundreds of thousands of American soldiers; or the American ex-pat in “Guests,” who can’t see her own condescension in her artificial competition with Vietnamese girls for her boyfriend. On your website, you share a bit about your family’s experiences and legacy. For you, how do written versions of stories intersect with the history and culture that you’re writing about?

VIOLET: My stories definitely feed off of my own neuroses about the place my ambiguously-brown Amerasian self occupies between these two cultures, and my hyper-awareness of the fact that I exist because of cruel historical circumstances that put my mother on a boat to America, where she met my father. I’ve always felt a bit like an amphibian, able to move between both worlds but never belonging wholly to either. When I started writing what would eventually become The Frangipani Hotel there was this common assumption, from both my relatives and from outsiders, that the pinnacle of the collection would be something like “My Refugee Family’s True and Terrifying Boat Journey,” that it was the ‘big story’ I had inside me and had been waiting to tell. And I bristled at this. I did want to honor my family’s legacy, but on my own terms. I’ve threaded their experiences into my books in fragments, because our story is one of brokenness, not boats. It started long before they left the shore and it’s still unraveling.

 

AMY: The Vietnam War is woven into every inch of The Frangipani Hotel, sometimes as a literal intrusion as in “Descending Dragon,” but more often as a looming shadow of memory or of devastation. Even—or perhaps especially—the American businessman in “The Frangipani Hotel” reads strongly as the personification of a modern-day capitalist invasion, a deliberate echo of American soldiers, while the Vietnamese men of “One Finger” relive their war-time horror in exacting, horrifying detail. How do you prepare to write work that, like this, is so inherently tied to such a complex, horrific tragedy?

VIOLET: To me, the Vietnam War is like a big, metaphorical black hole. You can’t see the thing itself; instead you see the material bending around it, the light that’s being sucked in. And that’s how I approach writing about it as well—I know that if I, personally, set out to write a realistic story about a bombing, or a battle, I would never be able to capture it in a way that would feel true to the reader, or give it the emotional gravity it deserves. I can’t face it head-on. This is another reason why I turned to the supernatural in my fiction—it lets me avoid writing explicitly about war while doing exactly that, on some level. The ghosts act as both a kind of shield and a conduit. I have to make monsters of my own in order to address the real ones in the country’s history.

 

AMY: You lived in Vietnam for a number of years, and spent much of that time exploring Vietnamese folktales and, I imagine, researching The Frangipani Hotel. What did you love about Vietnam? What surprised you about Vietnam? How did Vietnam change your writing and your stories?

VIOLET: Sometimes I hear myself talking about Hanoi and I realize it sounds like I’m talking wistfully about an ex-lover. It’s embarrassing. I can’t think of a way to say this that doesn’t sound silly, but I think Vietnam is just enchanted. Old-school, Brothers Grimm-style enchanted—equal parts dangerous and divine. The entire country seems to run on a dreamy and feverish, ‘It’s-4 AM-and-anything-could-happen’ kind of energy, for 24 hours a day. Everybody you meet has at least one truly weird story that they’re willing to tell you. And there is no other place on earth that has better food (there is a reason why the character in my stories I identify with most is sandwich-gobbling Thuy). The biggest surprise was a sad one. I arrived expecting that when I encountered discrimination it would be because of my Americanness. I was prepared to bear this. But instead, every time it was because I was a woman. The anger that I’ve felt about this, in particular, has seeped into my writing; my upcoming novel is simmering.

 

AMY: The nine stories included in The Frangipani Hotel explore a veritable mountain of themes: modernization and reclamation of folktales, an unmistakable indictment of the Vietnam War, the legacy of suffering and loss, the preservation of culture, everyday spirituality as immutable tradition, and about a thousand more. Of all the themes in your work, which do you most hope readers will discover and consider?

VIOLET: I think that in each of the stories the reader can latch onto the idea of inheritance, of what we are handed down—regardless of whether or not we want it or even feel we deserve it—from our parents, our parents’ parents, our nations. The skins, stories, memories, and trauma that we are given, the dangerous weight of these inheritances, and the lengths we have to go to in order to free ourselves from them. And I think that buried within this theme is an even trickier question: what we are owed by our histories, and what do we owe them? This was what I was attempting to answer when I wrote The Frangipani Hotel, and what I hope readers will ask themselves too.

 

AMY: Sirens is about the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, even a character—who has changed your life?

VIOLET: My mother is four-foot-ten and—I do mean this as a compliment—she is the scariest person I know. She is a survivor, a scholar, and an activist, and she possesses the kind of fearlessness that I can only write about. Growing up, she always gave in when I demanded bedtime story after bedtime story after bedtime story. Ghosts do occasionally talk to her. She is a remarkable woman in every way.

 


 

Violet Kupersmith is the author of The Frangipani Hotel, a collection of supernatural short stories about the legacy of the Vietnam War, and a forthcoming novel on ghosts and American expats in modern-day Saigon. She spent a year teaching English in the Mekong Delta with the Fulbright program and subsequently lived in the Central Highlands of Vietnam to research local folklore. She is a former resident of the MacDowell Colony and was the 2015–2016 David T.K. Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Her writing has appeared in No Tokens, The Massachusetts Review, Word Vietnam, and The New York Times Book Review.

For more information about Violet, please visit her website or Twitter.

 

Book Club: The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

The Book of Joan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the exchange between reader and writer.

I think we’re taught that if, as a reader, we didn’t connect with a book, it’s the writer’s fault. The writing wasn’t good enough. The story wasn’t true enough. The writer failed. And we, as readers, get to go on our merry way to other books that, maybe, wouldn’t fail us.

And before all the writers start fist-pumping and the readers start thinking that I’ve spit in their tea, there’s a lot of truth in that. Some writing isn’t good enough. Some books aren’t true enough. And while I wouldn’t say that writers necessarily have failed us, sometimes books do.

But sometimes, readers fail, too.

A few years ago, when Sirens tackled “hauntings,” and I read an awful lot of books about ghosts, I ran across a quote from Edith Wharton, herself a great lover of—and writer of—the ghost story: that she was conscious of a “common medium” between author and reader, where the reader actually “meet[s] [the author] halfway among the primeval shadows …” And I, who had been reading all of these ghost stories in sterile hotel rooms with their sterile lighting—which, in no one’s estimation, had any primeval shadows—took a moment to realize that, if I wanted to be scared by ghost stories (I didn’t), then I really should change my reading location (I didn’t). A stormy lamp-lit night might be a better breeding ground for the imagination required to truly appreciate Shirley Jackson than the New York hotel room where I actually read The Haunting of Hill House.

Which is a somewhat ridiculous example because, as many Sirens well know, my interest in ghost stories approaches zero. But this is true in a number of other instances as well. If writing doesn’t engage the reader, maybe it’s not the quality of the writing, but a failure of the reader’s focus. If the book doesn’t seem true to the reader, maybe it’s not the quality of the book, but a failure of the reader to recognize someone else’s truth. Or, you know, maybe it’s just a bad book.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Which brings me to The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch.

Let me start by saying, categorically, that this is not a bad book. It’s a good book. I just had a hard time deciding if it’s a great book.

As a reader, I bounce hard off most sci-fi. It’s not you, sci-fi, it’s me—except dude, it is so often you. Someone asked me recently if I liked The Stars Are Legion, and I made a face and said that, while I respect it greatly (I do) and I think it’s a great book (I do), I also found it very damp. (Not that fantasy can’t be very damp, too.) My best friend tells me that I read the wrong sci-fi; I tell her that the right sci-fi seems somewhat unicorn-ish, not to mix metaphors.

To add insult to injury, I read most of The Book of Joan on a plane (usually fine) seated next to a toddler who very much wanted to talk about his big red truck (somewhat less fine). He was quite well-behaved, given that he was being asked to sit quietly in a seat for four hours. But he was chatty. So, so chatty.

And finally, maybe it wasn’t the right year for me to tackle The Book of Joan, which is fundamentally about, not to put too fine a point on it, the end of the world as we know it, a bossy totalitarian dude, and a Joan of Arc character who is supposed to either end the world or save it (sometimes it’s hard to tell). Maybe this year I could use some more escapism in my escapism?

But, all that said, even taking into account the many, many ways in which I failed The Book of Joan, I think it’s an important book, a good book … but not a great book. Let’s discuss.

Several decades in the future, war has devastated the earth and remaining approximation of humanity—virtually genderless, colorless computer ports—lives in a space station named CIEL. Our first narrator, Christine, has just turned 49, which means she’s a mere twelve months away from being recycled, if you will. As she begins her last year of existence, she also begins what she thinks will be her last act of resistance: telling the story of Joan, literally burning the words onto her own body.

Joan, you see, was the leader, the figurehead, the most visible of the “eco-terrorists,” or alternately the revolutionaries, the losing side in the war. (To the victor go the spoils and also the definitions.) When Joan’s side lost, Jean de Men (seriously), the leader of the winning side, had her burned at the stake—a method suitably flashy and final. Joan’s story remains in the hearts of those who resent Jean’s rule, and Christine intends to take this to the extreme, echoes of Joan’s fiery demise burned into Christine’s post-apocalyptic flesh.

SPOILER

But Joan didn’t die at the stake. Her friend and most constant companion, Leone, saved her, only for the two of them to wander the ravaged planet, alternately avoiding and fighting the other few thousand remaining people. As Joan’s story converges with Christine’s, an uprising, a second apocalypse, a re-birth, if you will, happens—and much is made about how the earth has survived much, though humanity as we know it has not. END SPOILER

The Book of Joan is largely experimental, vaguely feminist, with thinly explained worldbuilding, a non-traditional narrative structure, shifting points of view (made all the more confounding by the fact that both Joan and Christine use “she”), and tenuous timelines. So much of it is, more than anything, resistance-as-performance art, in a Russian nesting doll sort of way, as the climax of the book literally hinges on Christine’s performance art.

And for once—and I may never say this again—I wanted more book with more explanation. I didn’t need more plot, but I did find myself wanting more understanding, more details. How did we turn into neutered, hairless, space-dwelling creatures only a few decades in the future? How did our technology evolve so quickly? How did Leone save Joan from the stake? In many ways, this reads less like sci-fi and more like a religious text that demands that we accept things on faith—which may well be the point.

Which is the (very) long way of saying that, in the end, The Book of Joan worked for me (sometimes) as commentary, as an interrogation of faith and humanity and truth, but rarely worked for me as a story. The sole exception to that, incidentally, was Joan’s relationship with Leone, which gutted me several times, for many of the same reasons that Maddy and Queenie’s relationship in Code Name Verity gutted me. The denouement of The Book of Joan feels right and good and heartbreakingly terrible.


Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president for a major media company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty-five years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and eight years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

Where Are They Now: 2012 Guests of Honor

This fall will mark our tenth year of Sirens. With our conference theme of reunion, it’s the perfect chance to reflect on past conferences and revisit some old friends. In this series, we check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. If you attended Sirens that year, please share with us your memories of 2012 in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2012, our theme was tales retold, and our Guests of Honor were Nalo Hopkinson and Malinda Lo. Our third invited guest, Kate Bernheimer, was unable to attend.

Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo HopkinsonFalling in Love with Hominids

Nalo’s recent publications include her second short story collection Falling in Love with Hominids in 2015, and the story “Waving at Trains” in the Boston Review’s 2017 literary issue (check out an interview with Nalo on that work). She is also part of a quartet of fantasy authors re-launching Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Universe, as the writer of the third installment, House of Whispers, coming in September 2018.

Nalo’s book Brown Girl in the Ring was the inspiration for the feature film Brown Girl Begins, which screened in select North American cities in February 2018 and had a limited release in Toronto in March 2018. You can view the trailer here.

You can find more updates on Nalo’s work over on her Patreon page. Her future goals include finishing her novel-in-progress, currently titled Blackheart Man, and making a solid start on her next novel, Duppy Jacket, and continuing her graphic novel Nancy Jack.

Where She Is Now: “I now live in Southern California in the U.S., and am a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside, where I’m a member of a faculty research cluster in Science Fiction.” (Source) Earlier in 2018, Nalo was named the 2018 recipient of the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Award, as part of Eagle-Con. (Source)

 

Malinda Lo

Malinda LoA Line in the Dark

In October 2017, Malinda’s novel A Line in the Dark was released to tremendous accolade, with Teen Vogue calling it a “twisty, dark psychological thriller that will leave you guessing til the very end.” It was a Kirkus Best YA Book of 2018, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2018, and one of Chicago Public Library’s Best Teen Fiction of 2017. Malinda’s next novel is Last Night at the Telegraph Club, a “story of love and duty that explores the complicated overlap between the city’s Chinese-American and LGBTQ communities” set in 1950s San Francisco. Publication is planned for 2019.

Malinda is also a frequent contributor to anthologies and other group works. Her short story “New Year” can be found in All Out edited by Saundra Mitchell, published this past February; she wrote the essay “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” for the Maureen Johnson-edited How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation, out this past May; and you can find Malinda’s short story “Meet Cute” in Fresh Ink, a We Need Diverse Books YA anthology edited by Lamar Giles, coming out later in August.

Malinda also collaborates with a team of writers on the Ellen Kushner-led serial novel, Tremontaine, which is about to begin its fourth “season” in September 2018.

Where She Is Now: She lives in Massachusetts with her partner and their dog. (Source) Malinda also provides an in-depth update on her blog for the year 2017 going into 2018.

Upcoming Appearances: Brooklyn Book Festival on September 16, 2018 in Brooklyn, NY; Boston Teen Author Festival on September 22, 2018 in Cambridge, MA.

 

Spotlight on the 2018 Sirens Professional Scholarship Recipients

Librarians, educators, and publishing professionals so often provide exceptional services to book-loving communities—and are, especially at the beginning of their careers or when working for underserved populations, so often paid poorly for their efforts. Their work—and their voices—are critically important to our conversations. In 2018, Sirens awarded its first ever professional scholarships to a bookseller, two educators, and a librarian. They were nice enough to answer a few questions from us; get to know them below!

This year’s recipients:

  • Traci-Anne Canada, Educator, Martin Luther King Jr. High School
  • Nia Davenport, Educator, Mountain View High School
  • Alexandra Pratt, Reference Librarian, Vineyard Haven Public Library
  • Sami Thomason, Bookseller, Square Books Jr.

 

Tell us a little about what you do.

TRACI-ANNE: I am a high school literature teacher. While most of my time is spent teaching American and world literature, I also run the yearbook and teach a journalism course.

NIA: I teach Biology and English at the high school level. In my English classes, I build a curriculum around diverse science fiction and fantasy that allows all young people to see themselves positively reflected in the novels they read in school, which is vital.

ALEXANDRA: For me, being a librarian is all about helping people. I love working in libraries, in a space that is open to all. Libraries are all about building community; through books, events, education and programs and I love what I get to do for and with my community members every day.

SAMI: I wear a lot of hats, but my official titles are social media coordinator, event buyer, and Teen’s First curator. I plan all the social media posts, buy books for any events we hold, and pick and distribute the book for our teen book box we started this year! I also run two advisory boards, one for kids 10–13 and one for 13+, where we read ARCs (advance reader’s copies), discuss upcoming releases and books they’ve read in school, and practice our review writing skills.

 

How do you work with fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors?

TRACI-ANNE: In general, I do whatever I can to get my kids to read at all, but I often try to steer them to books with lesser represented demographics. The majority of my students that read are girls, so I prefer giving them recommendations where they can see themselves as the heroes of stories. This helps promote confidence within themselves.

NIA: Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in The Ashes, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation are all books that I have taught in my classroom. I use these books to engage my students in explorations and discussions on misogyny, racism, and systematic oppression.

ALEXANDRA: I am part of the team that does the collection development at my library, so I am excited to be able to buy and promote works by people of color, women and LGTBQI+ writers. I love sharing my favorite writers and books with others. I am the resident sci-fi/fantasy and graphic novel fan in my library, so I get to give recommendations to patrons, which is always a blast—getting others excited about the books I love.

SAMI: I often use Square Books, Jr.’s social media to promote fantasy titles by women/genderqueer authors, as well as submitting a lot of Edelweiss reviews and IndieNext submissions. I’ve encouraged my advisory boards to pick these titles as well; we just read Claire Legrand’s Furyborn, which was also our inaugural Teen’s First pick. Living in the South can make it difficult to openly support the LGBTQ+ community without backlash, but it’s my personal goal to make a safe space within our store for anyone who wants to read and to encourage our regulars to diversify their reading. My personal social media is basically just more book blurbs and I mostly talk about diverse female driven fantasy since it’s my favorite genre.

 

What are you most excited about for this year’s Sirens?

TRACI-ANNE: As with every year, I am excited to meet various women authors and see what books are for sale in the bookshop. Last year, that bookshop was the foundation of the classroom library I build for my students.

NIA: I am excited about the diverse and prolific line up of authors. I am also excited about attending panels that will further add to my toolbox of topics and themes to engage my students in discussions about when studying our selected novels for the year.

ALEXANDRA: I am so excited to get to hang out with fantasy writers and fans! I can’t wait to learn so much from the writers, presenters and other attendees. I’m always looking for new works and writers so this will be a great way to learn more about the genre and beyond.

SAMI: LEIGH BARDUGO. I was at Parnassus Books when she announced King of Scars and I can’t wait to hear her keynote. I’m also super excited about hearing from Anna-Marie McLemore after reading Blanca & Roja. It’s sincerely a dream come true to be at this conference with people who are passionate about my favorite things.

 

What have you been reading lately?

TRACI-ANNE: I am currently reading Oddity by Sarah Cannon and Court of Fives by Kate Elliott.

NIA: Three really amazing books that I have read this summer are L. Penelope’s Song of Blood and Stone, L.L. McKinney’s A Blade So Black, and Claire Legrand’s Furyborn. They were all phenomenal fantasy reads with lush worlds, nuanced protagonists, and feminine themes.

ALEXANDRA: I just finished An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, so I can’t wait to talk to others about it. I’m currently getting my Master’s in Library Science and one of my classes right now is “Social Justice in Youth Literature,” so I’ve been reading a lot of picture books, early reader and YA books on a wide range of subjects: everything from Growing Up in Mississippi to I Am Jazz to The Hate U Give. I’m also about to start my second reading of N.K. Jemisin’s amazing Broken Earth series.

SAMI: I’m currently reading a bound manuscript of Emily Duncan’s Wicked Saints and it is everything. She’s created the most brutal and beautiful world of blood mages and gods blessed saints and I’m obsessed with Nadya and Malachiasz.

 


Traci-Anne Canada

Traci-Anne Canada teaches literature and journalism at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Lithonia, GA, and is also a young adult fantasy writer. She loves reading and writing books where young black girls get to go on magical adventures and fall in love; and seeing her students reflected in the literature around them to help foster a love of reading.

 
 

Nia Davenport

Nia Davenport has always harbored a love of both science and crafting stories. After college, Nia studied and worked in the public health sector before discovering a passion for teaching. As an English and Biology teacher, Nia strives to make a difference in the lives of young people, minimize disparities in education for youths of color, and help students realize their dreams and unlimited potential. As a Black writer, her goals are much the same.

 

Alexandra Pratt

Alexandra Pratt graduated from Smith College in 2009 and is a reference librarian at Vineyard Haven Public Library in Massachusetts. Having grown up in a small, rural town on a steady diet of J. R. R. Tolkien, Patricia C. Wrede and Ursula K. LeGuin, she has travelled to five continents and has worked as a bartender, landscaper, ski instructor, and farm worker before becoming a librarian. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in library science.

 

Sami Thomason

Sami Thomason has been a bookseller at Square Books, Jr. in Oxford, Mississippi for two 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 @samirella8.

 

Sirens Review Squad: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

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, we welcome a review from Casey Blair on Somaiya Daud’s Mirage.

Mirage

I love stories about bold girls who forge their own paths and throw off conventions. I love stories full of action, with space battles and magic duels and sword fights. I love stories about talented, skilled women, shining at what they do best.

Somaiya Daud’s debut novel Mirage isn’t one of them.

There is so much to love in Mirage. (The lone exception, ironically, being the romance, which for me was the least interesting part.) I love its rich setting, a fantasy Morocco-inspired culture in a world with intergalactic travel. I love how deeply that culture suffuses every part of the story: the prose woven through with poetry, the complicated female friendships and family relationships, the structural use of mimicry to examine appropriation, the allusions to female historical figures as symbols of inspiration—not just the warrior queen, but also the prophetess whose power endures in words—and the incisive critique of the long-reaching effects of colonialism across multiple axes.

But here’s what’s truly remarkable about what Daud has accomplished with Mirage and why I will be yelling at everyone (I do mean literally everyone) to read this book forever:

This is a story that poses the question, who are you when your oppressors can erase your face, your family, your history, your language, your culture? What can you do that matters?

And Mirage’s emphatic answer is that you do not have to be a uniquely talented bold girl who bucks tradition in order to deserve to be at the center of stories.

Early on, our protagonist Amani tells her captor that aside from speaking both the language of the oppressors and the language of the oppressed, she has no other skills. As far as her captors are concerned, this is absolutely true, though they don’t understand why that should give them pause. They don’t understand why they should fear a girl who can bridge understanding between people from different worlds. A girl who can make her culture and her people real and seen and valued to those who participate in its erasure, and who can understand her oppressors well enough to change their course. Her greatest asset is not her hidden knowledge of poetry, or the incredible attention to detail she’s forced to develop to imitate the princess, or the sharp-tongued court cleverness she learns to deploy on her own behalf.

It’s her capacity for empathy.

For Amani, finding joy in objectively terrible circumstances is worthwhile in its own right, not something to be ashamed of; happiness is rebellion, too. Although Daud is careful not to excuse those responsible for victimizing others, Amani doesn’t limit that desire for happiness to just herself or her people. And while she is a dreamer, she’s not exempt from the realities of living under conquest, which makes her bravery in trying to make her dreams reality all the more powerful.

Amani chooses to embrace tradition when the world shaped by her oppressors belittles her into discarding it. She clings fast to caring about other people rather than closing herself off. She doesn’t take the expected path, be it revolution or assimilation. She considers what she can, in fact, do, given her many but unique constraints, and she resolves to do what she can.

I will tell anyone and everyone to read Somaiya Daud’s quiet, powerful story for its beautifully wrought characters, its resonant worldbuilding and prose, its centering of the representation of women (including mothers and old women, be still my beating heart—they can exist in fantasy worlds and matter) and people of color, and its profound rendering of colonization and its complexities. Any of those would be enough to make Mirage one of the best books I’ve read.

But more than that, what makes Amani special is her compassion coupled with action. Mirage is a story in which that alone is not only special enough—it’s more important than anything.


Casey Blair is an indie bookseller who writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens, and her weekly serial fantasy novel Tea Princess Chronicles is available online for free. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through forests, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.

 

New Fantasy Books: August 2018

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of August 2018 fantasy book releases by and about women and genderqueer folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, in the comments!

 

As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve sold a fantasy work, read a great recently-released story, discovered a fantastic link that we missed, or if you’ve got a book or story review to share, feel free to leave a comment below!
 

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 10, Issue 8 (July 2018)

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: KAMERON HURLEY

We’re interviewing each of our 2018 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, as well as the role of women in fantasy literature, as befits their corresponding reunion theme.

Our incredible interview with Kameron Hurley covered everything from ambitious worldbuilding to personal history, creative versus promotional energy, the writerly life, what revolution looks like for her, and World of Warcraft: “I enjoy playing a defensive character, known as a tank, who can endure an incredible amount of damage and whose role in a multiplayer instance is to protect the rest of the party … This is the same mindset I’ve taken to approaching my writing life. The rejections, the failures, are all hits. I’m a tank. My purpose is to endure until the end.”

Our feature on Kameron also includes Manda Lewis’s review of The Stars Are Legion (in which she called the book “pungent”), our Book Friends feature which suggests books we feel would complement Kameron’s rich body of work, and a revolutionary book list curated by Kameron herself!

 

ACCEPTED PROGRAMMING

Quills at the ready! Check out our Accepted Programming page for the full lineup of this year’s topics, summaries, and presenter biographies. In one of our richest years of programming yet, our presenters will examine everything from found families to distressing damsels, counterpart cultures to writing as self-care, and so much more—all in the form of papers, roundtables, panels, workshops, and afternoon classes. Thank you, presenters!

All presentations are available for sponsorship at $35 per presentation. You might choose to sponsor a friend, select a topic that speaks to you, or support an underrepresented voice.

Sponsor Programming

We will include your name next to your chosen topic in the program book, provided we receive your donation by August 15. Thank you for your support of programming at Sirens!

 

SIRENS SUPPORT

For other ways to support Sirens, we accept monetary donations of any amount, as well as items or services for our auction. Please visit this post to learn more about how we use your support to help keep the price of Sirens as low as possible.

 

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: GUESTS OF HONOR

To celebrate our conference theme of reunion, we continue to reflect on past conferences and check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. In 2011, our theme was monsters, and our Guests of Honor were Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor. Read the full post.

 

REGISTRATION AND TICKETS UPDATE

We currently only have 6 tickets remaining for the Sirens Studio. If you’d like to register or purchase a ticket, we recommend you do it soon!

Register or Purchase Tickets

 

HOTEL

Before you know it, Sirens will be just around the corner, and we strongly recommend you book your hotel room at the Park Hyatt at Beaver Creek as soon as possible. Please click here for reservations information. If you’re looking for a roommate, please tweet at us @sirens_con and watch our Twitter account for other attendees also looking!

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST

Sirens veterans know that we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invite attendees to bring their breakfast on conference mornings and discuss them. View our 2018 selections, and check out our new spotlight on rebels and revolutionaries, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone and Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Memory Trees

For this month’s book club, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink reads and reviews Kali Wallace’s The Memory Trees, which she considers “one of the best examples of both a non-ghost hauntings book, but also a fantasy book where the magic and the impossible provide another avenue of exploration.” More thoughts on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Communications Director Faye Bi reads the most delightful first Wollstonecraft Detective Agency book, The Case of the Missing Moonstone, as part of her 2018 Sirens Reading Challenge this month: “Freaking adorable. Positively charming. If these books were animals, they’d be big-eyed puppies, ones that I would want to snuggle forever.” Read her full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT …


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

 

Books and Breakfast: Spotlight on Rebels and Revolutionaries

Each year, we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books—and then, during Sirens, invite our attendees to bring their breakfast and discuss them. Over the years, this program has highlighted the depth and breadth of each of our annual themes and given attendees yet another opportunity to deconstruct, interrogate, and celebrate what women and nonbinary authors are doing in fantasy literature.

This year, our Books and Breakfast program will feature eight books, with two dedicated to each of the themes of our past four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. The complete list of our selections and a spotlight on our hauntings selections are here; we’ll be featuring the lovers and women who work magic selections over the next few months as well so that you can pick which ones you might like to read before Sirens!

 
2018 BOOKS AND BREAKFAST SELECTIONS

Hauntings

The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Rebels and Revolutionaries

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Lovers

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Women Who Work Magic

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

 
SPOTLIGHT ON REBELS AND REVOLUTIONARIES

Our two Books and Breakfast picks focused on hauntings are Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone and Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Do you plan on picking these up soon? Let us know! Tweet @sirens_con or use the hashtag #Sirens18!

 
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone

From page one, Adeyemi’s debut novel will drag you relentlessly along, unable to stop for even a breath. Find yourself a few hours and a pot of tea; you might not be able to put it down.

We open with Zélie, a girl born of violence and secrecy. Several years ago, Zélie watched the monarchy kill her maji mother, but one victim of the throne’s massacre of the magic-workers of Orïsha. Now, she practices rebellion in secret, refusing to be broken by the lasting oppression of her people by the throne. But Children of Blood and Bone is more than covert combat schools and thwarting bullying authorities; this revolution is about bringing magic back to Orïsha—and with it, restoring the freedom and dignity of Zélie’s people.

Enter Inan and Amari, the royal children of Orïsha. Both resent their father deeply, but that resentment manifests in different ways: Inan perfects his father’s wishes in his search for approval; Amari clings to her sheltered life, closing her eyes to her father’s tyranny. When the king finally goes one step too far for Amari, she throws off her carefully crafted ignorance and escapes the palace, only to have a chance encounter with Zélie. The two become resentful, suspicious traveling companions in their joined mission to recover Orïsha’s magic and overthrow the king, while Inan gives chase, hoping to both maintain his world as he knows it and finally earn his father’s praise.

Adeyemi’s pacing is spectacular, her worldbuilding even more so. Adeyemi draws strongly on West African heritage and culture to build her world: Orïsha, its people, and its magic are vivid, unforgettable; its systemic oppression of Zélie’s people, raw and all too familiar. And Zélie and Amari are similarly vivid and unforgettable. You might think the book is Zélie’s, but Amari is equally compelling as she grapples with her privilege and her pampered upbringing, and the partnership that the girls forge of distrust and hurt is a thing of beauty.

 
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body and Other Parties

For everyone looking for a flagrant, brazen, unabashed work of fantastic feminism, this one is for you. It’s fantasy as commentary, a collection of short stories that use myths, legends, and magic to carve furious insight into our everyday world. It’s for the angry girls, the queer girls, the “crazy” girls, the girls who just want one dang thing that’s their own private corner of the world. Why is that too much to ask?

As Faye Bi said, when she reviewed Her Body and Other Parties for Sirens earlier this year, “The stories are punch-you-in-the-face, unabashedly feminist. Darkly hilarious. Sex-positive. Queer. Smart as hell. More often than not, brutal. Her protagonists are easy for me empathize with and to cheer for. The stories, as I suspect Machado does too as in ‘The Resident,’ know exactly what they are and do not have the time—or patience—to beat around the bush.”

We could spend days analysing and deconstructing each of Machado’s stories. We won’t. Instead, we’ll simply add that this is collection is one of those works of unquailing, fuck-you feminism, wrapped in a package of monsters and ghostly bells and impossible death, and leave you to do with that what you will.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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