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Archive for Sirens 2021

Casey Blair’s “Women Who Dream Big Dreams” Recommended Reading

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who write reviews and books lists of fantasy and related works by women or nonbinary authors. If you’re interested in sending us a book list or review for publication, please email us! Today, we welcome a book list by Casey Blair.


Women in SFF Who Dream Big Dreams and Don’t Let Anyone Stop Them


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

This is about a girl who has no reason to believe anything is possible but does anyway, and she sets off on a quest to find the answer to happiness. As one does.

A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

An untried but brilliant poet-diplomat thrust into the heart of a galactic empire, with Byzantine politics written by an academic Byzantinist? Yes, you can take my money.

Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword

Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

This heroine is going to be the very best martial arts skater (yeah, you read that right) like no one ever was. Oh wait, she already is.

The Spirit Thief

The Legend of Eli Monpress series by Rachel Aaron

Pretty much every female character in these books, be she a sorceress, a scientist, a goddess-general or the demonically possessed, is completely uncontainable. Also no one has time for romance.

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

No spoilers on this book’s heroines, but, uh, if you haven’t read this book yet I don’t know what to tell you other than you really, really should. It’s as stunning of an achievement as everyone says.

Sorcery of Thorns

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

This is a heroine who just flatly does not understand giving up—and certainly not when there are magic libraries involved.

An Unkindness of Magicians

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

Unraveling institutional oppression with epic tournament battles. That’s it, that’s the pitch.

The Beast Player

The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi

No one is going to stop this quiet heroine from completely changing how the world understands magical creatures.

Unnatural Magic

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner

Pro tip: Don’t try to keep a genius magic scholar heroine down.

The Candle and the Flame

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

In a city that’s a dazzling blend of cultural experiences, this story has so many amazing women across walks of life—princess or businesswoman or unstoppable djinn.

Dragonsbane

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly

This heroine is devoted to her magic work first and foremost—even if she’s not good enough, even if no one else cares, she doesn’t sacrifice what matters to her for family or love or anything. Her children and husband (that’s right, a heroine older than the age of 30! sorcery!) cope.

Spin the Dawn

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Gonna be a seamstress and make clothes out of literal magic, nbd.

The Summer Prince

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

In a futuristic post-apocalyptic Brazil, this heroine weaponizes the power and clarity of art for resistance, rebellion, and change.

The Merciful Crown

The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen

This is a heroine with a chip on her shoulder a mile wide who does not know the meaning of letting anything go and will call out and hold absolutely everyone accountable—herself most of all.

The Shadows Between Us

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

This heroine is just straight-up an unabashed villainess, and it is SO MUCH FUN.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Being a young dragon when everyone is stronger is hard. Instead, consider getting transformed into an even weaker human and determining to learn all the secrets of chocolate. That will definitely go well.

Empire of Sand

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Outcast from everywhere and everyone, this is a heroine who makes her own place and changes the world to do it.

And that’s what I want to read more of.


Casey Blair

Casey Blair writes adventurous fantasy novels for all ages, including the novella Consider the Dust and her cozy fantasy serial Tea Princess Chronicles. After graduating from Vassar College, her own adventures have included teaching English in rural Japan, attending the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop, and working as an indie bookseller. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest and can be found dancing spontaneously, exploring forests around the world, or trapped under a cat. For more information, visit her website or her Twitter.

Sirens Newsletter—Volume 12, Issue 7 (July 2020)

This month:

Wasn’t cabin fever supposed to be a winter malady? With pandemic protections and unpleasant weather combining forces to keep people from venturing outdoors, we know many in our Sirens community may be weary of pinging against familiar walls. We hope that we can give your mind a respite and a bit of escape through this month’s interviews, essays, and book recommendations!

2020 Postponement

We hope you’ve seen our email or website announcement about the postponement of Sirens to October 2021. While we will miss the Sirens community so very much, given the continued presence of COVID-19, we prioritized the health and well-being of our attendees, presenters, guests, staff, and everyone whom their lives touch.

If you had already registered for Sirens and/or been accepted for programming, please check your email for information about how to proceed.

We hope that everyone will stay safe and well, wear your masks, and be ready to reconvene next year!

 

Sirens Chats

Fortunately, modern technology does afford us ways to keep in touch, even when we can’t congregate in Denver as planned. Our next Sirens Zoom chat will be on Tuesday, August 4, 8 p.m. EDT. We’d love to see your face! These chats have been a wonderful way to keep in touch, take a few minutes to relax, and discuss what we’re loving in fantasy fiction right now. If you haven’t joined us before and you’d like to, please email help at sirensconference.org, and we’ll add you to the list to receive reminders and the Zoom link.

We also have a text-only chat option! On Thursday, August 6, 9 p.m. EDT, we’ll have August’s Twitter chat on the topic of weather and climate in speculative fiction. Simply follow #SirensChat and answer questions with the hashtag to join in!

 

Sirens Essays

We released three more genius essays interrogating some weighty issues this month. The summer round of Sirens Essays will wrap up in August, so be on the lookout for the final installment.

  • Bestselling author V. S. Holmes unpacks the harmful implications that attend the assignation of disability and disfigurement to villainous characters in “Moral Disability: How Villainy Looks When You’re the Monster”. Holmes asks readers and creators alike to consider the message sent when a character becomes evil because of illness or injury and the further implications of redemption arcs and magical or technological “cures” for their conditions.

  • In “A Room of Her Own: The Post-Modern Haunted Houses of Nova Ren Suma,” editor and freelance writer Meg Belviso explores “the haunted house as a transitional space” in modern speculative fiction. She focuses on Nova Ren Suma’s YA novels The Walls Around Us and A Room Away from the Wolves, which center the two-pronged liminality of teenaged heroines experiencing hauntings while living in temporary housing.

  • S. M. Mack, scholar and author of short fiction, examines the necessity of sitting with painful realities in “On Bearing Witness in Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, connecting a book that re-centers the Iliad on Briseis, enslaved and abused by Achilles and Agamemnon, to present-day injustices and crises.

Interviews

In July, we continued featuring the amazing people who will be running workshops during Sirens Studio. We’re delighted that they’ll all be joining us in 2021! We hope these interviews will serve as good introductions and help you look forward to meeting them in safer times.

  • Author, former anthropologist and folklorist, and former Sirens Guest of Honor Marie Brennan discusses crafting character voices, fuzzy boundaries between academic and non-academic writing, and her Sirens workshop, “Faith in Fantasy: Building Believable Religions.”
  • In her interview, Ren Iwamoto, a scholar focusing on twentieth-century East Asian literature, Japanese colonialism, and post-colonial discourse, expresses her view that “speculative fiction should destabilize” and prepares us for her Studio workshop, “Seasoned with Soy Sauce: Asianization in Western Speculative Media and What It Means to Be ‘Asian-Inspired’.”

This month, we also began featuring members of our Sirens community! In the coming months, you’ll hear from a variety of attendees representing the wide spectrum of professions and backgrounds which makes Sirens so vibrant.

  • Nicole Brinkley, manager of Oblong Books & Music, tells us what she loves about hand-selling books, how she fits a book to a reader, and her hopes for the future of speculative fiction.
  • Teacher Traci-Anne Canada tells us about building a classroom library and helping students find books they enjoy and that will speak to them.
  • Voracious reader Danielle Cicchetti shares the books she’s been loving recently, her secrets to finishing 150+ books a year, and how Sirens has contributed to her reading habit.

 

 

Books

Whether you’re reading in the bright sunshine or huddling beneath the sweet shelter of the air conditioner, we hope we can introduce you to your new best book friend! This month’s book recommendations feature a dazzling array of new releases and old favorites, guaranteed to invite you into other worlds and to prompt you to think critically about the one we live in.

Book Recommendations and Reviews:

  • Faye Bi recommends Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water as a crucial component of a reader’s journey to anti-racism. “[Morrow] seamlessly and ambitiously unpacks intersectionality, racism, sexism, police brutality, protesting, affirmative action, gentrification, education, beauty standards, and more.”
  • Casey Blair provides a list of books featuring “Women in SFF Who Dream Big Dreams and Don’t Let Anyone Stop Them”.
  • Chelsea Cleveland reviews The Power by Naomi Alderman: “While this isn’t the first title I’ve come across where supernatural abilities were attributed to one gender, I have never seen it done with such gut-punching impact or specificity.”
  • Whether high summer has you yearning for the adventure of a road trip, the solitude of camping in the woods, or the sweet scent of the ocean breeze, Amanda Hudson’s Summer Nights rec list has something sure to delight.
  • If those recommendations aren’t enough to get you through the dog days of summer, be sure to look at our compilation of July 2020 new releases!

And here are a few staff picks for this month:

Erynn’s Pick: Wonderland by Zoje Stage

Wonderland

At the age of 41, Orla Bennet is reluctantly retiring from the dance stages of New York City and relocating with her family to a farmhouse in the Adirondack mountains. Quiet and privacy are the charms of their new expansive home with the closest neighbor a mile away. The space is intended to afford her partner, Shaw, inspiration for his new-found calling as an artist, their anxious preteen daughter her own bedroom, and their exuberant son freedom for his curiosity.

But, of course, strange things start to happen once they settle in. An enigmatic presence calls to the family through the trees and earth, seeping into their minds, and securing their isolation. Part suspense, part horror, Stage’s story is one of maternal strength told with exquisite prose.

Cass’s Pick: Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott

Unconquerable Sun

If “genderflipped Alexander the Great in space” doesn’t grab you, then perhaps “genetically engineered human-aliens, cutthroat galaxy-spanning politics, queernorm worldbuilding, and imaginative future tech” will. Unconquerable Sun is an ambitious and exciting opening to a new series, inspired by but not directly imitative of its historical sources. There are plenty of Easter eggs for the classical studies geeks, but nothing in the book relies on that knowledge. Elliott builds a whole new galaxy with deep roots and evocative details.

Sun is an astonishing hero: charismatic, decisive, brilliant, sharp. The cast that surrounds her is equally grand, from the wily Persephone to the handsome Alika and all the rest of Sun’s Companions. The writing is as bold as Sun herself. Elliott has taken some risks in the way she handles the various point-of-view characters, changing person and tense in a way that helps the reader feel, deeply, the soul-deep shifts between each character, rather than merely placing the camera behind another person’s head. It pays off: the book is an enthralling adventure from start to finish.

 


Keep cool, keep safe, and keep reading!

This newsletter is brought to you by:

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

 

Books and Breakfast: A Feast of Sorrows, Queen of the Conquered, and The Mere Wife

Each year, Sirens showcases the breadth and complexity of our annual theme through our Books and Breakfast program. We select a number of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books that address aspects of our theme, and then attendees bring their breakfasts and join a table to discuss one of those books—another chance to deconstruct, interrogate, and celebrate the work that women and nonbinary are doing in fantasy literature!

For our 2021 conference, as we examine gender and villainy, and relatedly, redemption—fraught topics full of artificial constraints and defied stereotypes—our Books and Breakfast program features titles meant to broaden that examination. We’ve chosen eight works, full of questions, but few answers; dastardly villainy, and occasional redemption; and a number of female and nonbinary villains who may, despite or because of their villainy, be someone worth celebrating.

Earlier this summer, we highlighted our graphic selections: Monstress: Awakening and Nimona. Today, we’re showcasing our three adult selections: A Feast of Sorrows, Queen of the Conquered, and The Mere Wife. Next month, we’ll finish up with our young adult selections. We hope these features will help you make your choice and tackle your reading before Sirens next year.

 
2021 BOOKS AND BREAKFAST SELECTIONS

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
Monstress: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley
Wilder Girls by Rory Power

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter

A Feast of Sorrows

While calling Angela Slatter the heir apparent to Angela Carter and Emma Donoghue may seem a bold assertion, it’s appropriately so. Carter and Donoghue twisted fairy tales, reclaimed them, told violently feminist or joyously queer versions of them. But despite their obvious feminism, Carter’s and Donoghue’s tales often remain in conversation with their more traditional, more heteropatriarchal versions. Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” reclaims Bluebeard, conjuring a mother as savior rather than the violent, patriarchal heroism of the original. Donoghue’s Cinderella in “The Tale of the Shoe” still seeks her coupled-up happily ever after, but with the fairy godmother rather than the prince. Both of their work is an undeniable fuck-you to the heteropatriarchy, but their defiance must remain conversant with that same heteropatriarchy.

By contrast, Slatter—like her heroines—often eschews that conversation entirely. She has little interest in correcting, instructing, or even raging at the heteropatriarchy. She has little interest in explaining to the heteropatriarchy why Bluebeard cannot kill this wife or why Cinderella would obviously be so much happier with her godmother. She—like her heroines—is busy. Busy being, if you will: being frightened and fearless, being brave and bold, being frail and fantastical. Being relentlessly awesome. Being, quite often, villainous.

A Feast of Sorrows, one of World Fantasy Award- and British Fantasy Award-winning Slatter’s collections of short fiction, features twelve of her finest, darkest fairy tales. Her women and girls take paths less travelled, offer and accept poisoned apples, and embrace all sorts of transformation. You won’t find just princesses and ghosts and killers here, but a full gamut of artisans as well: bakers, quilters, crafters, spinners, and coffin-makers. Never have the feminine arts been so magical or so deadly. This collection is one to be savored one story, one revelation, and one smart, determined, independent woman at a time.


Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

Queen of the Conquered

On the island of Hans Lollik, in a fantasy Caribbean, Sigourney has risen from the ashes. Her family was murdered by colonizers years earlier for daring to ascend from slavery to nobility—but Sigourney survived and, through sheer determination and gutsy smarts, has again achieved the rank of nobility. And in this work of impressive intrigue, Sigourney’s identity is secret, her magic dangerous, and her heart focused on revenge. The childless king has declared that he will select his successor from among the nobility and ambitious, vengeful Sigourney wants that title, is willing to kill for that title, in order to help her people. But someone is murdering nobles, the king isn’t quite what he seems, and Sigourney is a ready suspect. Not only is her years-long plan on the line, her life might be as well.

Queen of the Conquered is smart. Really smart. Callender simultaneously constructs both a complicated murder mystery and a searing indictment of slavery and colonialism. Their cast of characters is complex, full of individual and treacherous magics, all certainly capable of planning and executing a series of murders. But the more impressive, important achievement is weaving this mystery into a fully realized world of colonization, slavery, and potential change. Callender’s bedrock is power disparities and they use those skillfully as a foundation for their complex world of choices and compulsion, dominance and pain, compromises and uprisings. Only rarely—in the work of N.K. Jemisin, perhaps, or Justina Ireland—have you read a fantasy work like this.

And yet, with all of that, Callender’s tour de force is Sigourney Rose, born into the nobility despite her dark skin, improbable survivor of the massacre of her family, an impossibly complex, ambitious woman playing an impossibly long game. Sigourney is a victim, but also—perhaps—a villain. Her status grants her slave ownership—slaves she could free, but does not. She punishes her slaves, and has sex with some, knowing that they cannot refuse her. She seeks power purportedly for the good of her people, but while she lives in luxury, her people continue to suffer, often at her hand. She’s playing the long game, where great risk could bring great reward, but what about the sacrifices she demands of her powerless people in the meantime? Victimhood and villainy, it seems, are not mutually exclusive.

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife

Herot Hall, the suburban setting of Maria Dahvana Headley’s Beowulf retelling, is a Stepford-pretty utopia: Everything is picket fences and carefully arranged flowers, big houses and perfect families. And for Willa, married to Herot heir Roger, life is perfect, her carefully curated self raising her carefully curated son, Dylan, in her carefully curated house. Her schedule is a beautiful round of dinner parties and playdates, glamorous clothes and perfect meals. But Willa lives on the edge of Herot Hall, where all this careful curation is guarded from the outside by walls and surveillance cameras. These defenses make Willa feel safe, but they aren’t enough to keep out Gren.

Gren belongs to Dana, a soldier who didn’t want Gren and doesn’t really understand how she gave birth to Gren, but when she returned from war, she had Gren. Now they struggle to survive in a cave outside the reaches of Herot Hall. The lasting effects of war seem like an impossible mountain to climb in returning to society, so Dana remains—with her son—on the periphery, each day a new challenge in their solitary existence. But Gren is growing, and exploring, and doesn’t always share his mother’s damage—or her fear.

In this contemporary exploration of monstrousness and society, Dylan and Gren are the catalysts, but not the monsters. Both Willa and Dana live in careful worlds, where, like anyone, their pasts, their fears, and their hopes underlie their expectations and their choices. Both Willa and Dana try, with little success, to impress the importance of these careful worlds onto their sons. As Gren grows, his curiosity drives him into Herot Hall and he secretly befriends Dylan. With that series of encounters, both Willa’s and Dana’s carefully constructed worlds collapse: Their fears lead them to make sometimes desperate, sometimes illogical, sometimes monstrous decisions—and ultimately The Mere Wife asks readers: How monstrous are you?

Sirens Essay: On Bearing Witness in Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls

At Sirens, attendees examine fantasy and other speculative literature through an intersectional feminist lens—and celebrate the remarkable work of women and nonbinary people in this space. And each year, Sirens attendees present dozens of hours of programming related to gender and fantasy literature. Those presenters include readers, authors, scholars, librarians, educators, and publishing professionals—and the range of perspectives they offer and topics they address are equally broad, from reader-driven literary analyses to academic research, classroom lesson plans to craft workshops.

Sirens also offers an online essay series to both showcase the brilliance of our community and give those considering attending a look at the sorts of topics, perspectives, and work that they are likely to encounter at Sirens. These essays may be adaptations from previous Sirens presentations, the foundation for future Sirens presentations, or something else altogether. We invite you to take a few moments to read these works—and perhaps engage with gender and fantasy literature in a way you haven’t before.

Today, we welcome an essay from S.M. Mack!

On Bearing Witness in Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls
by S.M. Mack

Content warning: references to and discussion of rape in general terms, mention of dissociation

I don’t like reading rape scenes. They are almost always gratuitous, and almost always unnecessary to the plot. (“Almost always” here means 99.98 percent of the time.) Explicit rape scenes, no matter how well intended the author might be, are voyeuristic. Give everyone—the character and the reader both—a break, will you? We don’t need to see it happen. If an assault is unavoidable within the confines of a story, it’s the aftermath of the assault that is important for a character’s arc—how they respond to it and how it shapes their decisions going forward. Also, the aftermath is traumatic enough for both the character that has been assaulted and for the reader.

The Silence of the Girls

By the time I was mature enough to realize I could curate my reading preferences, that I could set boundaries and decline to read stories with rape or other exploitative events and themes, I was in my mid-twenties. It was such a relief to quit consuming these stories, to teach myself that rape scenes were misused in the vast majority of the fiction they appeared in, and to seek out stories with better avenues for narrative tension and character growth. In the years since then, I’ve tripped over exactly two books that fall under the begrudging “I’ll allow it” category: The Devourers by Indra Das and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. (In both novels, it should be noted, the persons being raped are ciswomen and the rapists are cismen.) In The Devourers, the explicit rape is, thankfully, only a one-time event. However, I’m going to focus (in very general, non-explicit terms) on the abuse suffered by the narrator and the women around her in The Silence of the Girls. The rapes themselves were not explicit, but we stay with our narrator throughout the scenes. We’re shown the before (“He didn’t speak—perhaps he thought I wouldn’t be able to understand him—just jerked his thumb at the other room.” [page 23]) and the after (“What can I say? He wasn’t cruel.” [page 24]), and that is more than enough to tell the story.

At this point, I’d like to reiterate my earlier statements: It is a chilly day in hell that rape scenes are necessary.

But what happens when an author builds a world in which rape is a daily event for their characters? When the narrator is kept as a slave to warm her owner’s bed? What if the cast of a novel becomes the spoils of war?

We could, collectively or individually, refuse to tell or read those stories. I wouldn’t judge anyone if they took that course—no one should traumatize or re-traumatize themselves if they can avoid doing so. But in The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker gives voice to a woman who has been silently borne along within the confines of Homer’s The Iliad for literally thousands of years.

The novel’s premise was enough to get me to pick it up, but the promise the book makes—that we will hear the words of a silent woman given a voice—became a burden and a responsibility I couldn’t put down.

The novel follows Briseis, a Trojan noblewoman given to Achilles after he sacked her town. It opens as she and the rest of the women from her town hide in the citadel as the Greeks overrun their home, then the citadel itself. Briseis watches as Achilles kills her three brothers and husband, then as the rest of the Greeks kill all of the male children hiding with their mothers and sisters in the citadel. Achilles picks Briseis out of a lineup as his prize for killing sixty men that day:

“‘Cheers, lads,’ he said. ‘She’ll do.’
“And everyone, every single man in that vast arena, laughed.” (page 19)

Clearly, The Silence of the Girls is heavy on multiple fronts, but Briseis is the primary narrator. Hers is the only first-person point of view, and The Silence of the Girls is her story. Looking away, despite the assaults that were clearly on the horizon from the first page, felt like an unworthy and overly privileged decision.

The Iliad’s inciting incident centers around two Greek men squabbling over two captive Trojan women. Agamemnon, who was in charge of all the Greek forces, was forced to return his “bed-girl” to her father, so he took Achilles’ own prize woman, Briseis, as his own. Achilles then threw a hissy fit and refused to fight anymore.

Neither Briseis nor Agamemnon’s bed-girl, however, speaks in The Iliad. They are objects, not characters.

The girl freed from Agamemnon was named Chryseis, which means only “daughter of Chryses.” But in The Silence of the Girls, Chryseis is more than just the daughter of a priest. She is fifteen, with a “formidable reserve,” and she nearly shatters under the weight of her hope that Agamemnon will send her home to her father. (page 42) Chryseis is a person, as is every other woman she and Briseis spend their days with. And it is worth noting that, while the majority of Briseis’ narration is exposition, the few times that dialogue runs the length of a page or beyond are when the women gather and speak. It’s ordinary conversation—what the men are like in bed, how to make their new lives bearable, who serves which meals—but it’s theirs.

Outside of speaking to the women around her, Briseis speaks almost exclusively to the reader. She exchanges only a handful of sentences with Achilles over the entire course of the novel, but constantly argues with herself:

Would you really have married the man who’d killed your brothers?
“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t have been given a choice. But yes, probably. Yes. I was a slave, and a slave will do anything, anything at all, to stop being a thing and become a person again.” (page 82-83)

This is how she survives the nightly rapes, by disassociating herself from her personhood. She’s not explicit in her descriptions, but we frequently return to the narrative immediately afterward. The only time that we return specifically to Achilles’ or Agamemnon’s bedrooms (Agamemnon’s because Achilles did indeed let Agamemnon take her) is when something changes. For example, Briseis walks into the ocean one evening, then is summoned before she has time to clean the salt from her skin, and she and we are both treated to an uncomfortable display of passion by Achilles. That is the beginning of her and our shared understanding of his many, many mommy issues. (His mother is a sea goddess.)

Briseis is more interested in the rest of the world around her than in the men who own her. Even when Agamemnon takes her in anger, all she tells us is, “So what did he do that was so terrible? Nothing much, I suppose, nothing I hadn’t been expecting.” She watches those men—not like a hawk, but like a mouse in fear of its life—but she doesn’t speak to them. She speaks to us.

It felt like the height of cruelty to put down The Silence of the Girls even for an afternoon’s rest because I, as the reader, controlled when and how loudly she spoke more than Achilles ever could.

It seems like such a small thing in the middle of the real world’s myriad crises, to bend my own proscription on books with rape in them. But I can’t go to the racial justice protests. I can’t help the individual people who are suffering and dying from the coronavirus pandemic, and I can’t do anything more than stay home and wear a mask when I absolutely must go out. And I can’t save Briseis from Achilles, or Chryseis from Agamemnon, or Hecamede from Nestor, or Ritsa from Machaon, or Andromache from Pyrrhus.

But I can watch and not look away.


S.M. MackS.M. Mack is a 2012 Clarion graduate with an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Her short story, “The Carrying Beam,” was the 2017 first place winner of the Katherine Patterson Prize for Young Adult Writing and was published in the VCFA’s Journal for the Arts, Hunger Mountain. Other stories have been published in Fireside Fiction and Vine Leaves Literary Journal’s “Best of 2015” anthology, among others. For more information visit her website or her Twitter.

Sirens 2020 Postponed to 2021

Sirens 2020 Postponed to 2021

Like you, we have spent the last few months anxious and stressed as we try again and again to determine the impact of COVID-19 on our families and our communities. As we navigate our fifth month of isolation, the picture of the months ahead has, unfortunately, become clear: We simply cannot hold Sirens safely in 2020. For the health and wellbeing of the Sirens community—guests and faculty, presenters, hotel staff, planning team, and all attendees—we are postponing our 2020 Sirens to October 21-24, 2021.

This is a postponement, not a cancellation. While we will convene a year later than intended, we will still gather at the Hilton Inverness Hotel just outside Denver, Colorado. The theme will still be villains, and we will still host guests of honor Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks, Rin Chupeco, Sarah Gailey, and Fonda Lee. The Sirens Studio will be held October 19-20, 2021, with guest of honor Joamette Gil and faculty Casey Blair, Rin Chupeco, Ren Iwamoto, Fonda Lee, Marie Brennan, Anna-Marie McLemore, Kinitra D. Brooks, and Jae Young Kim.

If you have registered for Sirens in 2020, made hotel registrations, or have had a programming proposal accepted, please check your email for more information on how to proceed. Our website has been updated with the 2021 dates, and all are still welcome to register at the current rate.

2020 Activities

As you know, Sirens is carefully designed to foster community through an in-person conference, retreat, and experience. While some events have shifted to an online platform for 2020, recreating Sirens virtually is, of course, not as simple as setting up a few Zoom calls. Rather than ask our volunteer planning team, our guests and faculty, and our presenters to climb that particular mountain in a short time, we’ve elected not to offer Sirens online.

We are, however, planning online community gatherings, essays, interviews, book features, and more in 2020—including a number of offerings for the weekend that Sirens was to occur this October. We know that everyone is disappointed about not having Sirens this fall and about not having that weekend of rejuvenation with the Sirens community. Stay tuned for what we will be doing from a safe distance!

Our Thanks

Thank you for understanding about our postponement of Sirens. It’s clear to us that, in a year where every aspect of life is affected by COVID-19, the need for community and connection is as important as ever, as is a thoughtfully curated space to host challenging conversations. And it’s ironic that in a year when we expected to be discussing villains and villainy in a broad sense, a very tiny, invisible villain has disrupted our plans in ways we never dreamed would happen—and we’ve imagined our way through many disaster scenarios over the years!

We will miss you terribly this year. But we are hopeful that by the next, we’ll be in a better, safer place, and that we will be able to provide the conference you expect from us. In the meantime, we’ll be working with our team, our guests and faculty, our presenters, the hotel, and all of you, toward 2021. We very much hope to see you then.

Finally, here’s a special video message from the 2021 guests of honor, faculty, and Sirens staff with our well-wishes:

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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2020
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2019
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2018
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2017
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2016
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2015
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2014
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2013
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2012
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2011
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2010
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2009
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