News

Archive for Sirens Studio

How reading translated fiction challenges your cultural assumptions

Sirens Newsletter—Volume 11, Issue 8: August 2019

This month:

 

Juliet Grames both loves and hates genre distinctions

Readers of fantasy chasing the thrill of world immersion, please follow along as we learn how editor-publisher-author Juliet Grames leaps over barriers of language to roll and delight in the words of other cultures. In our interview, she tells us more about her feelings on genre and what fantasy must deliver, and the writing of her debut novel, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna. This fall, Juliet will be leading the Sirens Studio reading intensive: “Not All Who Wander Are Lost in Translation: A Behind-the-Scenes Discussion About Translated Literature.”

 

Hurry up with those registrations and tickets!

Remember, we stop selling online registrations for Sirens on September 21. After that, we’ll have limited availability at the door, but no guarantees. We’ll also stop selling tickets for the Sirens Studio, the Sirens Supper, and the Sirens Shuttle on September 21—and those will not be available at the door. Get them before they’re gone!

Find out more!

 

Our 2019 Conference Schedule is live!

Are you ready to see when we scheduled your favorite things, ostensibly at the same time as your other favorite things? Get your quills out, and check out this year’s Sirens conference schedule here.

 

In our Sirens Essay series this month…

 

Get to know some members of our amazing Sirens community

As our conference creeps closer, we’ll be chatting with some of our returning attendees to find out more about them and what they love about Sirens. We recently spoke with Seattle-based YA author, Julia Ember, who shared with us her personal path to glittery gender-deconstructing fantasy writing, as well as Susie O’Brien, a voracious reader and spectacular seamstress.

 

Books and Breakfast: Body Selections

Still looking for some books to discuss first thing in the morning with your fellow Sirens attendees? This month we looked at the titles that were selected for breaking the typical body mold of heroism. Get the rundown here on the first volume of Faith and the novel Gullstruck Island to see how they fit your fancy.

 

What we’re reading

Too much heart shredding already happening in the world? Join Amy in her latest monthly book club read for a much-needed heart-soothing tale of female friendship, Destiny Soria’s Iron Cast on the blog and Goodreads.

From our review squad:

 

Awesome August Book Releases

See the beautiful new books we rounded up for you here!

Erynn’s Pick:

Hollow Kingdom

A feast for crows it is not. When humanity succumbs to self-inflicted fleshy decay, Kira Jane Buxton’s foulmouthed narrating protagonist S.T., a domesticated crow, would much rather have some Cheetos. Unfortunately, his kind-but-pathetic human companion has also fallen victim to the zombie malady afflicting Seattle. So along with a new dimwitted dog, S.T. sets out to use his television education to save all the silly people. Described as both heartwarming and tragic, transformative and funny, Hollow Kingdom is a post-apocalyptic tale that I can sink my beak into.

 

Faye’s Pick:

The Magnolia Sword

I have never met a Mulan retelling I didn’t like. The 1998 animated Mulan was formative for me as a wee Chinese North American girl, and my feelings for the live-action remake aside, each version comes with different interpretations of Chinese identity that I know are found in multitudes both on the mainland and in the diaspora. I already love Sherry Thomas’s romance novels, so when I found out she was taking on this fierce genderbending iconic warrior in this wuxia-inspired romantic YA… just take all of my money already!

 

This newsletter is brought to you by:

Erynn Moss + Faye Bi


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

 

Juliet Grames: When you read literature from a culture other than the one you grew up in, you learn to make a habit of challenging your own assumptions

Sirens Studio takes place October 22–23, 2019, just prior to the official start of the conference, and gives attendees the opportunity to enrich their learning in the form of small-group workshop intensives. We’re thrilled to interview a few members of our tremendous faculty on their work, reading, inspirations, and workshop topic! Today, we’re chatting with Juliet Grames, who will lead the reading workshop “Not All Who Wander Are Lost in Translation: A Behind-the-Scenes Discussion About Translated Literature” this fall. To learn more and register, please visit our Sirens Studio page.

 

AMY TENBRINK: You have a B.A. in History. What drew you to that major—and what can one do with a history degree? How does having a history background help you as a reader, editor, and writer?

Juliet Grames

JULIET: I’m obsessed with historical storytelling—it’s the reason I majored in history and the reason I didn’t pursue it professionally. (Real historians aren’t supposed to look for narrative in data—in fact they’re supposed to try to reject narrative assumptions! I was going to fail at that.) There is a lot you can do with a history degree—it was one of the two most common at my college, and a lot of my cohort went into law or government jobs. I ended up devoting my life to storytelling as a writer and an editor instead, but my history background has been really helpful for developing research and analytical skills.

 

AMY: As readers, we see a lot of books shelved or classified as literary works, crime fiction, or romance novels when they could be fantasy, and vice versa. And so often, these mis-shelved works examine myths, folklore traditions, or experiences that a mainstream U.S. audience might not be familiar with. What, in your opinion, makes a work one of fantasy as opposed to something else? Do you find these categories useful or not?

JULIET: In my opinion, the single genre-defining characteristic of fantasy is worldbuilding. It’s the reason a devout SFF reader can find satisfaction in a well-crafted historical novel with no speculative elements in it. What we (fantasy readers) want is richly and responsibly developed worlds that allow us a completely immersive reading experience. Worldbuilding is the reason we as readers are willing to accept elements of the fantastical—we are there to be convinced and transported if the writer upholds their end of things.

I love and hate categories. I love and hate genre distinctions. As a crime fiction editor who has professional reasons to both be frustrated by and adore genre conventions, I appreciate the readers who devote themselves to a genre but strongly dislike when genre labels are used as disparagement.

 

AMY: You’re the Associate Publisher of Soho Press, and you also curate the award-winning Soho Crime imprint. What does being Associate Publisher entail? What has been your biggest surprise in working with crime fiction?

JULIET: As Associate Publisher my main job is helping the publisher with day-to-day big- and small-picture running of the press (things ranging from budget planning to making sure inventory of individual titles is at the right level). That’s about half my job; the other half is the editorial side, acquiring and editing the Soho Crime imprint. I was surprised ten years ago when I started at Soho to find out how much I loved crime fiction—my only preferred genre up until that point had been SFF. Now I will happily get up on my apologist soapbox about either or both!

 

AMY: Your debut novel The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna came out in May and is based on your own tight-knit Italian immigrant family. How do your experiences reading and editing international fiction and fiction in translation affect your writing process—or is it the other way around?

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna

JULIET: Reading translations is a brain-breaking and -remaking practice that every writer of any genre should engage in. When you read literature from a culture other than the one you grew up in, you learn to make a habit of challenging your own assumptions, which makes you more creative. Thinking about different frames of reference and available lexicons is a hugely important part of character building—and of course character building is the most important part of storytelling. (Editing, which requires a really granular level of applied thought about word choice and phrasing to avoid cultural imperialism, has also been extremely important to me.)

 

AMY: This fall, you’re presenting a reading workshop intensive titled “Not All Who Wander are Lost in Translation” as part of the Sirens Studio. Would you please give us a preview of what Studio attendees can expect to discuss and learn?

JULIET: We’ll outline the translation process from country of origin through English-language publication, talking about the access points, financials, and shortcomings of our systems for encountering literature in translation. We’ll cover different ways to be involved in literature in translation for those who are interested, including as translators, as publishers, or as advocate readers. And we’ll share favorite literature in translation!

 

AMY: Sirens is about discussing and deconstructing both gender and fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman or nonbinary person—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, a character, anyone—who has changed your life?

JULIET: I have been gifted with a life jam-packed with wonderful, generous, inspiring women. I have lingered a long time here over trying to pick one of them. In the end I will go back to the beginning and tell you about my Great Aunt Connie Sanelli, who passed away in April at age 97—she desperately wanted children but was never able to have her own, and instead raised my mother and her brothers, then later me and my cousins, like we were her own children. She emigrated from an impoverished village in Italy in the 1930s and made a different life for herself here through hard work and sheer force of will. She gave me my pride in my cultural heritage, my first access to language other than English, and my devotion to telling women’s forgotten stories, which I hope I have succeeded in doing by fictionalizing hers. Thank you for offering me the chance to talk about her.

 


Juliet Grames is the associate publisher at Soho Press, where she acquires and edits a range of fiction and literature in translation, and where she curates the award-winning Soho Crime imprint. Her debut novel, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, was published in May 2019 by Ecco/HarperCollins in North America and by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK.

For more information about Juliet, please visit the Soho Press website or her Twitter.

 

Nia Davenport: In the collective conscience, literature defines who matters and who is human enough to have stories told about them…

Sirens Studio takes place October 22–23, 2019, just prior to the official start of the conference, and gives attendees the opportunity to enrich their learning in the form of small-group workshop intensives. We’re thrilled to interview a few members of our tremendous faculty on their work, reading, inspirations, and workshop topic! Today, we’re chatting with Nia Davenport, who will lead the reading workshop “The Danger of the Single Narrative” this fall. To learn more and register, please visit our Sirens Studio page.

Accompanying our interview is a selection of book covers Nia references in her interview below: Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves, Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels books (first in series is Angel’s Blood), Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter books (first in series is Magic Bites), and L.A. Banks’s Vampire Huntress Legend books (first in series is Minion).

 

AMY TENBRINK: Let’s start at the very beginning! You have a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, a master’s degree in public health and another in teaching, you’ve worked in public health, you currently teach both science and English to kids (and lead the Science Department), and you write fiction. How do you manage to do it all?

Nia Davenport

NIA: Haha. That is an excellent question. If I was asked this question four years ago, I would’ve said a lot of sleepless nights, cramming tasks into every spare second of my day, and forgetting to feed myself a lot of the time. I’ve learned that my former way of doing things isn’t healthy or sustainable. Now, I’ve found a better rhythm. Teaching provides me the privilege of having summers off. So, I draft new writing projects during the summer when I can give them full-time attention without running myself into the ground. I use the fall and winter, when I’m back at work, to work with my agent to revise those summer projects. For me, book edits are much less time consuming than writing initial drafts. With edits, the foundation is already laid.

Teaching is also a job that comes relatively easy for me because I have amazing students. I love what I do, and when I’m at work it doesn’t feel like actual work. Since I write a lot of Young Adult stories, it also helps me write better. I’m constantly around young adult voices, having meaningful conversations with them about real-world issues. So, it allows me to see the world from a teenager’s perspective, and I employ that cool advantage in my writing.

 

AMY: What ultimately drew you to teaching? What do you love about being in a classroom and working with students?

NIA: I was a tutor before I decided to teach. The fact that working with students as a tutor never felt like a drag and it was a job that I never dreaded going to, is what drew me to teach. I realized I have a passion for learning and working with kids. Kids are amazing. Teaching them is also a constant learning process for me. I think I learn as much from them as they do from me.

The thing I love most about being in the classroom and working with students is being able to engage them in conversations about real-world issues. So often, adults dismiss teens as not having anything intelligent or competent to say. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A lot of them see things with more clarity and intelligence than us adults.

As a teacher, it’s never my mission to just deliver instructional content to my students. I care more about if they leave my classroom having more confidence in who they are as a person and having a greater love of critical analyses, reading, and investigating new things than I do them knowing the difference between a complex sentence and a compound-complex sentence or how DNA is replicated.

 

AMY: What kinds of fantasy books do you use in your classrooms? How do you incorporate them into your curricula? How do your students respond to these books—and which ones have they loved?

Six of Crows

NIA: I teach Sophomores who are pretty mature, so I use fantasy books skewed toward older YA or adult books which fit nicely in a crossover space. I pick books with thrilling plots, a good amount of gore, intrigue, betrayal, deception, fights—you know, all the things that in my experience easily hook a good number of reluctant teen readers into loving a book. In fact, I use exclusively fantasy books in my curriculum because by the time my students get to me as sophomores, they’ve had years and years of English classes with virtually no fantasy books and they are bored to death with realistic fiction. Not that there aren’t some really amazing realistic fiction stories that have been recently published. But a lot of educators elect canon stories that lack diversity and that fail to reflect the identities and experiences of the students reading them—which fosters an aversion to books in my opinion. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir are both books that I incorporate into my curriculum every year.

An Ember in the Ashes

I use Six of Crows to teach literary elements such as symbolism, theme, tone, mood, etc. More powerfully, I use it to facilitate discussions about dealing with grief, trauma and PTSD. I also use Six of Crows to discuss themes of identity, belonging, tolerance and acceptance. It’s a book that is intentionally diverse, and it does diversity pretty well. Before we start reading the book, we talk about how literature functions as a compact between readers and society. In the collective conscience, literature defines who matters and who is human enough to have stories told about them and who can be discarded or isn’t a part of humanity enough to have stories told about them. This then segues into a discussion of why diverse storytelling matters and why kids, teens, and adults need stories that reflect their individual identities and experiences.

The Gilded Wolves

My students really enjoy our fantasy reads and many of them tell me that the books have prompted them to enjoy reading when they did not before, specifically because they’ve seen themselves within the pages of the book and that is a powerful experience.

I keep talking about Six of Crows, but it is always an automatic hit with my students. It offers a plethora of diverse protagonists that make it easy for most of my students to see themselves reflected in some way in one of them. The same is true for The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi which I used in my classroom for the first time this past year.

 

AMY: What do you look for in your personal reading? What kinds of stories, worldbuilding, characters, or craft really speak to you?

NIA: In my personal reading, I love books with female protagonists who refuse to be pushed around and who are fighters. Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books, Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter books, and L.A. Banks’ Vampire Huntress Legend books are my all-time top three treasured reads in no particular order. If you’re familiar with any of these, that should give you a pretty good idea of my reading tastes. I like immersive stories with epic world-building that are rooted in mythology. I like myth and magic and paranormal creatures and worlds with powerful, ruthless beings who are lethal and brutal. I also like a pretty steamy romantic subplot.

Magic Bites Angel's Blood

 

AMY: This fall, you’re presenting a workshop intensive for readers titled “The Danger of the Single Narrative” as part of the Sirens Studio. Would you please give us a preview of what Studio attendees can expect to discuss and learn?

NIA: Sure! I intend to lead a discussion on the harm that’s caused when only one type of representation of an identity is depicted over and over again in books. When stories feature Black characters, are there certain tropes, conflicts, or settings we automatically expect? Furthermore, do we judge the merit of those stories by the amount of pain or trauma inflicted on Black protagonists? “The Danger of the Single Narrative” will discuss several popular SFF books written by Black authors which feature Black protagonists. We will explore the struggles, settings, and identities put forth by these works and examine why stories that do not explicitly deal with Black pain are just as valid and necessary as stories which do.

 

AMY: Sirens is about discussing and deconstructing both gender and fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman or nonbinary person—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, a character, anyone—who has changed your life?

Minion

NIA: L.A. Banks is that person for sure. Her Vampire Huntress Legend books were the first time I ever picked up a paranormal series and saw myself, a Black woman, featured in the genre I adore. I was in college, and I bought all of her books and devoured them in one summer. I’ve always had a knack for writing, and I’ve always been an avid reader, but L.A. Banks’ stories are what prompted me to start dreaming about writing my own stories professionally. Her stories didn’t just give me a Black heroine. They gave me my culture, my unique experiences as a young Black woman, and a reflection of my family and relationships and friendships in a book.

 


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. Nia is also a freelance reviewer for Booklist.

For more information about Nia, please visit her Twitter.

 

Sirens runs on donations, volunteer hours, and magic

Sirens Newsletter—Volume 11, Issue 6: June 2019

This month:

 

Programming Decisions Are Out

Congratulations to all our accepted presenters and thank you to everyone who proposed programming for this year’s conference! Our official big reveal is coming in July, so if you’re waiting with bated breath to see this year’s presentations and programming schedule, you don’t have to wait much longer. Just a reminder, all presenters must be registered to attend the conference (and paid in full) by July 10th.

If you are dying to know something coming up on the schedule this fall, the Books and Breakfast titles have been announced and here’s more information to help you select which titles you want to discuss over morning coffee. Or tea. We know how you all feel about tea.

 

Stay on Target with Sara Megibow

Continuing our monthly get to know you series of this year’s Sirens Studio faculty, we spoke to Sara Megibow, an agent from kt literary. Sara’s background in Six Sigma process improvement serves as magic-viewing goggles in her current role, where she proves that creative, passionate, literary people are not incompatible with the analytic and strategic world of publishing. During the Sirens Studio, Sara will be leading a professional development workshop, “Heroines Can Fly,” aimed at helping attendees define and achieve their personal goals.

Tickets are still available for this year’s Sirens Studio! And if you haven’t already checked out our past interviews with other Sirens Studio faculty, here are those links (with Nia Davenport, Juliet Grames, and Rebecca Roanhorse yet to come):

 

Introducing Sirens Essays!

This month we debuted Sirens essays, sometimes scholarly, sometimes personal, always thoughtful pieces crafted by members of the Sirens community. We hope these essays give you something to think about—and we think they’re a great example of the kinds of topics, debates, and programming that Sirens has to offer.

Both of the essays we shared in June examined the tricky task of specifying the individuals and instances that make up a great, long established, subtle system of injustice but in quite different contexts.

Nivair H. Gabriel’s academic paper, “Remake the World”: Algae, Art, and Indigenous Futurist Thought in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince, takes a deep dive into the techniques used by Johnson to build a world’s worth of problems into the finite pages of her “cli-fi” novel.

Meanwhile, Robyn Bennis shares a personal shopping trip story as a tool to discuss the benefit-of-the-doubt optimism of cisgendered people and the mathematical theory they need to let go of polite indifference.

 

Support Sirens

When we created Sirens, we created something big and bold and bright: a place to discuss gender in fantasy literature through an intersectional feminist lens—and celebrate the remarkable, diverse work of women and nonbinary people in this field. In doing so, we also created an upside-down budget where our expenses exceed our revenue. We do this deliberately—even though it gives us heart palpitations—so we can keep our registration prices low and make Sirens more affordable for more people.

But how do we close that budget gap? Through the magic of the dozens of people each year who donate a few bucks or a hundred, a fun or amazing auction item, or a few new or used books. If you are able to support Sirens, here are several ways you can help.

 

Your Sirens Community

Whether you have read, are considering reading, or just plain curious about Emiko Jean’s Empress of All Seasons, check out this month’s book club review on the blog and Goodreads. Amy has a lot of feels about the monster women, warrior women, and more.

From our volunteer review squad, Christina Spencer shared what books from this year’s reading list broke the mold of her avid reading mind in her list of 5 books that broadened her horizons.

Also up for review is E.K. Johnston’s The Afterward. This epic, young adult fantasy about what happened in the years after major world-saving heroics won over Andrea Horbinski with its real-world relatable political and economic drags but lost her in other ways. Click here for her full report.

 

Get Them While They’re Hot

Click here to see the summer’s new releases in fantasy fiction.

Erynn’s Pick:

Unraveling

Myth, magic, and forensic investigation. Karen Lord’s newest heroine, Dr. Miranda Ecouvo might have correctly put together the pieces of a string of strange murders and incarcerated the guilty party but since she has landed herself into a dimension of mazes and memories with the Trickster God, that seems doubtful. In Redemption in Indigo, I love how Karen Lord smudged the lines between myth and realism to tell a wonderful tale. Unraveling seems ready to do the same and to meander between layers of plot, philosophy, and humor.

 

Faye’s Pick:

Magic for Liars

A murder investigation at a magical school? Count me in! But Sarah Gailey’s debut novel is so much more than wizards, wands, and boarding school. Unreliable narrator Ivy Gamble hasn’t a drop of magic in her and, perhaps because of that, is estranged from her magical sister, Tabitha. When Ivy investigates a murder at the school where Tabitha teaches, Ivy gets to step into that world of magic. If this is anything like Gailey’s American Hippo novellas, I expect terrific characters, a fascinating setting, and, as Gailey has discussed, a queer story.

 

This newsletter is brought to you by:

Erynn Moss + Faye Bi


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

 

Sara Megibow: Publishing can feel opaque and frustrating, but we’re often frustrated with process, not people

Sirens Studio takes place October 22–23, 2019, just prior to the official start of the conference, and gives attendees the opportunity to enrich their learning in the form of small-group workshop intensives. We’re thrilled to interview a few members of our tremendous faculty on their work, reading, inspirations, and workshop topic! Today, we’re chatting with literary agent Sara Megibow, who will lead the career development workshop “Heroines Can Fly” this fall. To learn more and register, please visit our Sirens Studio page.

Accompanying our interview is a selection of book covers from Sara’s clients: K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter, Sirens 2019 Guest of Honor Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning, Margaret Rogerson’s Sorcery of Thorns, Julie E. Czerneda’s The Gossamer Mage, and Jaleigh Johnson’s The Door to the Lost.

 

AMY TENBRINK: Once upon a time, you were a process specialist and Six Sigma corporate trainer with GE. Can you tell us a bit about what that entails? How did you find your way into that career and what did you love about it?

Sara Megibow

SARA: Of course! Thank you!

I graduated college in 1996 which was the height of the dot-com boom (especially in Boulder, CO, where I was living). You asked how I found myself there and it was as simple as looking for my first post-college job. That’s how robust the job market was at the time.

A process specialist is someone who analyzes internal company processes and measures, then defines and improves them for profit. This might be something as simple as “please improve our hiring process” or as complex as “we need to prove 10% added profit on internal ordering procedures.” I loved it! There are very clear rules on process improvement and it starts with defining parameters. Anything that’s “outside of scope” gets pushed aside so an analyst can focus on the goal. The mantra was, “stay on target…stay on target” and I found that refreshing and inspiring.

I use analytics a lot as a literary agent. Publishing is opaque, confusing and ever-changing. But, if I define a process within publishing and analyze it carefully for profit, it really all does fit together like a big puzzle. Authors might find publishing frustrating but I find that we are frustrated with process and not with people. Behind it all, publishing is filled with passionate, experienced, enthusiastic, hard-working, focused people—and that fills me with joy!

The Tiger's Daughter Trail of Lightning

 

AMY: What challenges exist for literary agents, either generally or for you personally as you switched to this field? How do you tackle professional challenges?

SARA: I can’t speak for all agents but for me, the biggest challenge is explaining publishing processes to my clients. The second biggest challenge I face is setting client expectations.

I think the way we tackle challenges is…together. I communicate regularly with my clients and keep detailed notes and spreadsheets on their work, their goals, and their progress. And because publishing can feel opaque and ever-changing, we talk and email and strategize.

Sorcery of Thorns The Gossamer Mage

 

AMY: This fall, you’re presenting a career development workshop intensive titled “Heroines Can Fly” as part of the Sirens Studio. Would you please give us a preview of what Studio attendees can expect to discuss and learn?

SARA: I describe the publishing industry as a duck. On the surface, the duck floats serenely in the water. Underwater, though, it is paddling madly.

Beneath the surface, there are many, many moving parts when it comes to working in publishing—author, agent, editor, publisher, sales representative, book buyer, bookseller, librarian, publicist, art director, subsidiary rights agent, blogger, reader, etc. For each of us there are dreams and goals, tasks and deadlines, successes and failures.

This workshop will focus on defining our individual goals as they intersect with our job(s) in publishing. Then, we’ll take those goals and quantify how to measure them for success.

The Door to the Lost

 

AMY: Sirens is about discussing and deconstructing both gender and fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman or nonbinary person—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, a character, anyone—who has changed your life?

SARA: My aunt is a Holocaust survivor. She’s 82 years old now and didn’t speak about the experience until recently. Recently, at age 80, she lit Hanukkah candles again for the first time since escaping the camps. She said that she finally felt safe enough again to light the candles and that watching our generation of Jews “go on” inspired her. The way that my aunt has embraced hope is a lesson for me.

 


Sara Megibow is a literary agent with kt literary out of Highlands Ranch, Colorado. She started working in publishing in 2006 and represents New York Times-bestselling authors Margaret Rogerson, Jason Hough, Jaleigh Johnson, and Roni Loren. Sara is actively acquiring and represents authors who write middle grade novels (all sub-genres), young adult novels (all sub-genres), romance novels (all sub-genres) and science fiction/fantasy for the adult market. Always LGBTQIA+ friendly!

For more information about Sara, please visit kt literary’s website or her Twitter.

 

Why inclusive heroism is not just suggested, but essential

Sirens Newsletter—Volume 11, Issue 5: May 2019

This month:

 

What does heroism mean to Roshani Chokshi?

“To me, heroism is the act of celebrating the individual. There’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to the Chosen One.” – Roshani Chokshi

Continuing our series of getting to know this year’s guests of honor, this month we’re getting to know our first ever Sirens Studio guest, Roshani Chokshi, known for the Star-Touched series, the Pandava series, and The Gilded Wolves.

In our interview, Roshani extolls most eloquently the way a hero’s weakness is possibly more important than her strength. And while storytelling may have created important bridges in her own identity, it took some overcoming to insert herself into her own narratives. Jae Young Kim, from the Sirens review squad, praises Roshani’s tales in her review of Aru Shah and the End of Time, and our community rallies to share their favorite sarcastic animal sidekick in fantasy in our #SirensIcebreaker.

If you finish Roshani’s books and need to get cozy in some more of her work, visit this list we put together here, or check out some of her book recommendations here. We also advise poking around on her enticing website, roshanichokshi.com, or be floored by the most glamorous of fantasy author Instagrams!

 

Sirens Studio Faculty Spotlight

If you haven’t yet signed up for the Sirens Studio, well, why not? Faculty this year include:

  • For reading workshops: teacher and author Nia Davenport, Soho Press Associate Publisher and brand-new debut author Juliet Grames, Dr. Jen Michaels, and Sirens Guest of Honor Rebecca Roanhorse

  • For writing workshops: Sirens Guest of Honor Mishell Baker and author and illustrator Nilah Magruder

  • For career development workshops: agent Sara Megibow and media industry executive vice president (and Sirens co-founder) Amy Tenbrink

Buy your tickets here!

This month, we interviewed fabulous faculty member, Nilah Magruder, who will lead the writing development workshop “The Visual Narrative: Developing Illustrated Projects and How to Write Like an Artist” this fall. Nilah discusses finding inspiration sources for her artistic styles, teaching writers to bridge narrative and visual story, and who she still needs to send copies of her books to. [Note from Erynn: Nilah’s How to Find a Fox is the only book on the Sirens reading list my toddler has finished. He recommends.]

 

2019 Books and Breakfast Selections

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 breakfast and join a table to discuss one of those books—another chance to deconstruct, interrogate, and celebrate the work that women and nonbinary authors are doing in fantasy literature!

For 2019, we’ve selected eight 2019 Books and Breakfast titles that we hope will expand your definition of who might be a hero or what acts you consider heroic. Toward that end, we’re highlighting four areas in this year’s selections: religion, race, gender/sexuality, and body—and please note that some titles sit on multiple axes, not just the one they’re listed under!

2019 BOOKS AND BREAKFAST SELECTIONS

Religion

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

Race

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Gender/Sexuality

Dreadnought by April Daniels
The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

Body

Faith Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage
Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge

Click here for more on our Books and Breakfast program and this year’s selections, including a detailed spotlight on The Bird King and The Sisters of the Winter Wood!

 

Programming proposal submissions are officially closed…

…and the vetting board is hard at work reading all the amazing submissions. Fist bumps of gratitude to everyone who sent in proposals! Decisions will be made and relayed to you by email by June 12th. If you have any questions in the meantime, send them to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

Sirens Community Round-up

For her book club this month, Amy Tenbrink reviewed Claire Legrand’s Furyborn, with exceptional praise on the satisfaction from a “competent” book, on the blog and Goodreads.

From our Sirens Review Squad, Lily Weitzman put together this list of seven short stories to refresh readers in need of variety, and Jo O’Brien’s review of Kiersten White’s The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, a companion to Mary Shelley’s classic, envisions the struggle to break free from toxicity and reclaim personal power.

Scroll through the official Sirens Twitter feed to admire all the geeky treats from the May the Fourth Sirens Meet-up in Denver! Other Sirens satellite parties joined up in New York and Seattle this month. For those who will be in Boston on June 6th or D.C. on June 22nd, click here to get the scoop on those meet-ups.

 

Start your summer with these 66 new books this month

By clicking on our collage of May’s new fantasy books!

Erynn’s Pick:

The Devil's Guide to Managing Difficult People

“I met the devil at a Motel 6, poolside.”

Cheeky author and Sirens attendee Robyn Bennis has delightfully captured the misanthropic esprit de 2019 with The Devil’s Guide to Managing Difficult People. Jordan is stuck in a bleakly entertaining deal with the devil that is highly relatable. If it’s at all like her previous novel The Guns Above, I expect great characters and battles on top of the humor.

 

Faye’s Pick:

The Dark Fantastic

Dr. Suzanne Scott mentioned it in her book round-up last month, and I’ll definitely be checking out Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’s The Dark Fantastic, a detailed analysis of the diversity—and lack thereof—in children’s books, television, and film. Thomas’s scholarly work traces the narratives of four black female characters in four popular fandoms: Bonnie Bennett from the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Rue from The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC’s Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from the Harry Potter series.

 

This newsletter is brought to you by:

Erynn Moss + Faye Bi


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

 

Five Books that Roshani Chokshi Loves

For our 2019 theme of heroes, Sirens Studio Guest of Honor Roshani Choskhi shares the book list she curated for the heroes theme. If you enjoy her work, we encourage you to check out these other reads, spanning middle grade, young adult, and adult. Take it away, Roshani!

 

The Serpent's Secret
1. The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta
The City in the Middle of the Night
2. The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
The City of Brass
3. The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Snow White Learns Witchcraft
4. Snow White Learns Witchcraft by Theodora Goss
The Serpent's Secret
5. Water Trilogy by Kara Dalkey

Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of the Star-Touched series and Aru Shah and The End of Time, Book #1 in the Pandava series. She grew up in Georgia, where she acquired a Southern accent but does not use it unless under duress. She has a luck dragon that looks suspiciously like a Great Pyrenees dog. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. She is a 2016 finalist for the Andre Norton Award, and a 2016 Locus finalist for Best First Novel. Her short story, The Star Maiden, was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

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

 

Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time subverts patriarchy from the very beginning

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 Roshani’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from Jae Young Kim on Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time.

Aru Shah and the End of Time

Roshani Chokshi’s middle grade debut, Aru Shah and the End of Time, is delightful from start to finish. I am not even mad that Chokshi ended the book on a wicked cliffhanger, because it means she has to give us a sequel! (Book two, Aru Shah and the Song of Death, came out on April 30, and it’s on the top of my to-be-read pile.)

Twelve-year-old Aru Shah thinks she’s just an ordinary middle schooler trying to fit in. One day, on a dare, she rubs a cursed lamp and discovers she is, in fact, the reincarnation of one of five Pandava brothers, semi-divine heroes of a famous Hindu epic—and she must save the world. Mild spoilers ahead, but they are on the book’s jacket copy and are revealed very early on.

Chokshi dives deeply into the rich world of Hindu mythology, introducing gods, demons, beasts, and magic that is exciting, weird and fun. I love all mythology and fairy tales, so for me, this was an easy sell. It’s also not a surprise that a book curated by Rick Riordan on his Rick Riordan Presents imprint tells a story with mythology bursting from every page. But Chokshi adds her own stamp on a very old story. I am very glad that she chose to have the brothers be sisters. How can someone be reincarnated hundreds of times and always be male? Patriarchy, of course, but to have Chokshi subvert that from the very beginning was deeply gratifying.

And it’s not only important that Aru is a girl, she’s an Indian-American girl. As a Korean-American girl, I would have loved to see girls of color accepted without question as heroes— nay, heroines—of the story. I had read books with white girls as protagonists, but that meant ignoring an important part of myself, being Korean. Aru is not only a girl but an Indian girl, and her identity deeply informs how she interacts with the world around her.

The diasporic aspects of this re-telling were compelling for me but may be a mixed sell for others. Reimagining demons as hair stylists and night bazaars as Costco is just fun, and as one character in the book notes, “families moving to new countries and imaginations evolving” means adapting and changing. But Aru still maintains traditions like not eating beef, as a Hindu, or pranama, touching the feet of elders, or immediately calling all Indian women auntie upon meeting them. Since I am also of the Korean diaspora, I appreciate the references to American pop culture, and the unique take on mythology and culture from that lens, while still maintaining traditions of our families. Chokshi tells us the stories she’s loved and heard many times, but provides context for the readers. The one minor gripe I have is that some of the references feel a bit dated, like Johnny Cash and Die Hard, and may resonate more with adults than children. I say this only because I understood all of the American pop culture references, and I am definitely not twelve years old.

My favorite part of Aru Shah and the End of Time, though, is Aru and her found family. She meets a fellow Pandava sister, Mini, very early on and the development of their relationship is amazing. I love romance storylines, and out of most of my reading, I don’t often see a family and friend relationship celebrated as much as Chokshi’s Aru and Mini. It’s clear that Aru and Mini becoming sisters is just as important as their quest to save the world.

If you love friendship stories, sibling stories, reimagined Hindu mythology, and just plain fun, Aru and Mini’s adventures will crack you up and warm your heart. So run, don’t walk to the bookstore and be glad you get to jump right into the sequel when you’re done!


Jae Young Kim is a born-and-bred New Yorker and a lifelong fan of fairy tales, fantasy and science fiction. She is a non-profit attorney by day and writes when she can, not always by night. The only thing that keeps her up until dawn these days is a good book.

 

Further Reading: Roshani Chokshi

Did you already love Aru Shah and the End of Time? And the sequel? And The Gilded Wolves and all the books and novellas in the Star-Touched series? As part of Roshani’s Guest of Honor week, we’re pleased to compile some of her short fiction, poems, articles, and guest posts, found around the web.

Roshani’s short fiction:

  • The Wives of Azhar” (2015): Originally published in Strange Horizons, a retelling of the Bluebeard story where the murdered wives get their revenge.

  • The Vishakanya’s Choice” (2015): Originally published on The Book Smugglers, a short story about a vishakanya (poison maiden) who meets a conqueror and makes a bargain.

  • The Star Maiden” (2015): Originally published in Shimmer, a short story about a girl whose grandmother claims to be a star maiden.

  • A Trade at the Fox Wedding” (2016): Originally published in Mythic Delirium, a short story in which a girl escapes to the forest and stumbles into the fox wedding.

Roshani’s poems:

In Roshani’s own words:

 

Roshani Chokshi: There’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to the Chosen One


We’re pleased to bring you the fourth in a series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor, covering everything from inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature, and discussing our 2019 theme of heroes! We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink speaks with Roshani Chokshi, our first ever Sirens Studio Guest of Honor.

S15_author_interview_graphic

AMY: What does heroism, especially in the context of speculative fiction, mean to you? How did you set about reimagining the Pandava brothers as Aru and Mini, reluctant, contemporary seventh-grade heroines? And please tell me that you knew how girls would react to their heroism! Because my seven-year-old niece—who demanded to know why everyone in Harry Potter was a boy—can’t get enough Aru and Mini.

Roshani Chokshi

ROSHANI: To me, heroism is the act of celebrating the individual. There’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to the Chosen One. You can have the bravest, most compassionate mermaid in the world try to rise up against the forces of a Cheeto Overlord, but if the second she hits land, she’s barking in the eloquent lexicon of elephant seals, we’re still kinda fucked. A ridiculous example, of course, but to me it reflects how each of these character’s strengths and weaknesses makes them—and only them—uniquely fit to tackle the story’s situation. Kids need to see a thousand versions of heroism. They need to see themselves and feel that greatness and valor doesn’t belong to one type of person.

The Pandava brothers all had defining characteristics—the strong one, the beautiful one, the wise one, the responsible one, the one who’s good at everything wtf. I loved reimagining how their strengths and, more importantly, their weaknesses would translate in the modern world. For example, Arjuna—the main hero of the Mahabharata and whose soul Aru possesses—has a lot of doubt. And it really struck a chord with me that in the struggle to be brave, we often question the paths we’re on.

As for the girls’ reactions, that grew out of the Sailor Moon fanfiction I used to write. In those stories, me and my best friends became sailor scouts. Our reaction to this newfound strength and responsibility??? UTTER PANIC. “WHAT NO, TAKE IT AWAY, DO NOT WANT.” So, very similar to Aru and Mini. 🙂 I’m glad your niece enjoyed!!

Aru Sha and the End of Time Aru Shah and the Song of Death

 

AMY: Relatedly, perhaps, how do you set about writing gender in your work? Your characters frequently defy and subvert stereotypes, such as in A Crown of Wishes when Gauri’s go-to problem-solving technique is violence, while Vikram’s is charm. Your characters also often address gender issues on the page, from the gods’ relentless assumptions that Aru and Mini could not possibly be the reincarnated Pandava brothers to Laila’s admonishment of Tristan in The Gilded Wolves that “If you get in the way of a woman’s battle, you’ll get in the way of her sword.” How do you build these characters that are wholly themselves, despite our societal expectations of their gender?

ROSHANI: I love this question mostly because it makes me feel very smart. Woohoo! Characters take me a long time. They don’t come naturally to me, and it’s one of the parts of my craft I’m always working on. I think the reason why I struggle with building characters is because they demand a part of your soul, and I’m loath to make more Horcruxes and end up as a noseless Voldemort. I give each of my characters a part of myself. Either a part I’m ashamed of or a part I’m proud of, and then I put those characteristics in situations that move in the opposite direction…that which made me feel shameful becoming a benefit, that which I was proud of becoming its own poison. That is how they stay themselves despite the expectations the world may shove upon them. When it comes to societal expectations of gender, it makes me happy when a character celebrates who they are relentlessly, even if they’ve got other flaws. For example, Vikram is a prince and he knows he’s smart and adorable and celebrates that in himself. He would walk around in a shirt that says “BETA HERO” and really not think less of himself. Laila is different. She is a character aware that she exists on the margins; aware that she’s exoticized; aware that she sometimes must participate in exoticizing herself to live in this world. But she thinks no less of herself. I think knowing how your characters think of themselves is key to making them feel more alive.

The Star-Touched Queen A Crown of Wishes

 

AMY: Your dad is Indian and your mom is Filipino, and in an interview with Rick Riordan, you said, “The way that we bridged those cultural gaps at home was fairy tales and stories…. The more things that you read, the more stories, fables, etc., the more you see that they’re all the same across every cultural spectrum.” And you can see that, so readily, in your work, from your contemporary, America-set version of the Pandava legends, to your latest novel, Paris-set The Gilded Wolves, which features both Indian Laila and half-Filipino Enrique. You’ve also spoken eloquently about trying to bridge those gaps in your own life, including in your wedding this year! What is it like to put these cultural bridges, and related colonial deconstructions, into your work?

ROSHANI: It’s honestly sometimes awkward. I never know if I’m crossing into the realm of TMI or if I sound like a broken record. At the end of the day, all I can reassure myself with is that I needed to hear these perspectives when I was younger and those resources weren’t available to me. The very least I can do is try to help someone else avoid that situation of feeling erased and invisible. I think about this a lot when I look at some of my earliest stories. I was 22 before I wrote my first story with a character who looked like me. Until then, they were all named Erin or Hailey or Alice. I didn’t write myself in because I felt like I needed permission from the books I read.

 

AMY: Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly love any of your work more than Aru Shah, along you came with The Gilded Wolves: a dazzling, dizzying heist novel set in Paris during La Belle Époque. But your Paris is not all champagne and magic and courtesans, it’s racism and colorism and colonialism. Then you layered in a series of riddles based on things like the Fibonacci sequence, a cast of gloriously unique and hilarious characters, and a lush, slow-burn sensuality. How did you even begin to create this work? And perhaps more importantly, how did you get it from your head to the page?

The Gilded Wolves

ROSHANI: I’m so glad you enjoyed!!! The Gilded Wolves really challenged me both craft-wise and imagination-wise, and is far different from anything I’ve ever written. I rewrote the story top to bottom about eight times, and there were so many points at which I thought I should just throw in the towel and beg my publisher to let me write something else. The Gilded Wolves had innocent, jovial beginnings. I just wanted to write a National Treasure-esque tale without Nicolas Cage (lol). But the setting and deciding to put imperialism on the page changed the emotional scope of the book, and when I dug deeper into the characters and their motivations, I realized this couldn’t just be “Ooh! A thing! Let’s go to where the thing says!” I had to think about what this trilogy was saying overall and that took a lot of failed attempts! Getting it from my head to the page was like an organized, military attack. My whole apartment was taken up with plot/emotional schematics. The door to my office had red notecards in a vertical line that outlined every plot beat and plot twist. Beside those cards were the individual emotional arcs and beats that needed to be hit. It was…rough. But it taught me a lot!

 

AMY: You’ve shared how Aru Shah came to be: You’d heard about the new Rick Riordan Presents imprint and emailed your agent that same day to ask about the opportunity. Then you wrote the first three chapters in a “fugue state.” And they bought the books! So often we’re taught that ambition is unseemly and unlikeable. Would you please share what it was like to chase that dream—and what it felt like when you heard that Rick Riordan Presents would be publishing the Aru Shah series?

ROSHANI: Ambition is riotously attractive and let no one tell you otherwise! I think with any dream chasing, there’s a certain amount of feeling like you’ve lost touch with the ground. You’re drunk and floating on external validation, your head feels like it’s in the clouds, and it’s great until you start wondering if you’re too far away to hear commonsense. Like, how DARE you be so happy? How DARE what you wanted and worked hard for suddenly happen? Being a woman of color makes me especially awkward when it comes to talking about my accomplishments. I always deflect it, thinking that the happier I am, the higher the chances that the universe will snatch it away because of arrogance. The wonderful thing about an experience like RRP was that it was harrowing. For the first time, I felt very…public…in a way that I hadn’t experienced with my other books. I got bullied. I got weird Insta comments and DMs. And not taking ownership of my words was no longer an act of modesty but cowardice. It taught me to articulate that I was proud of the story I’d written, that someone couldn’t take this from me and don’t you dare chase me because I chase back.

 

AMY: Sirens is about discussing and deconstructing both gender and fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman or nonbinary person—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, a character, anyone—who has changed your life?

ROSHANI: I have dutifully spoiled my moms, sisters, grandmother and aunts so I know they’ll forgive me for not writing a novella of their wondrous and noble qualities for this answer and picking someone else for a change. I would say my eighth grade English teacher, Ms. Koscik. I did not like my seventh grade English teacher (except for that one and ONLY time she liked my writing) and I had a deficiency in her class. More than that, I always felt foolish. But in eighth grade, Ms. Koscik nurtured my imagination. She made me feel that what I said was worth saying. Eighth grade was when we tackled Arthurian myths and World Mythology, and read Shakespeare and engaged with the language. It was awe-inspiring. Sometimes it only takes one person to say they’re listening to make us have the courage to speak up.


Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of the Star-Touched series and Aru Shah and The End of Time, Book #1 in the Pandava series. She grew up in Georgia, where she acquired a Southern accent but does not use it unless under duress. She has a luck dragon that looks suspiciously like a Great Pyrenees dog. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. She is a 2016 finalist for the Andre Norton Award, and a 2016 Locus finalist for Best First Novel. Her short story, The Star Maiden, was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

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

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

RSS Feed

The news archive for Sirens is linked below as an RSS feed. If you need instructions or would like more information, please click here. If you have questions about our RSS feed, please email us at (web at sirensconference.org).

RSS Feed Button

 

Archives

2019
September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2018
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2017
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2016
December, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March

2015
November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2014
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, March, February, January

2013
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2012
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2011
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2010
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2009
December, November, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

 

Tags

annual programming series, attendee perspective, attendees, auction, book club, book list, book reviews, books, bookstore, boot camp, chat, community, compendium, deadlines, essay series, further reading, giveaway, guests, hotel, inclusivity, interview, meet-up, menus, narrate conferences, newsletter, perspective, professionals, programming, read along, recap, registration, review squad, schedule, schedules, scholarships, sirens, Sirens 2009, Sirens 2010, Sirens 2011, Sirens 2012, Sirens 2013, Sirens 2014, Sirens 2015, Sirens 2016, Sirens 2017, Sirens 2018, Sirens 2019, Sirens Shuttle, Sirens Studio, Sirens Supper, site visit, skamania, special edition, sponsorship, support, testimonials, themes, things we're excited about, travel, volunteering, website, where are they now
Meet Our Guests of Honor
About the Conference
Attend
Sirens Twitter
Present Programming
Sirens Facebook

Connect with the Sirens community

Sign up for the Sirens newsletter

Subscribe to our mailing list