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Inclusivity at Sirens: Justina Ireland

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs


When people ask me about literary conferences worth attending the first one that springs to mind is Sirens. Often people will ask me why. Are there great workshops? Do the panels crackle with personality? Is the food good? And of course, all of these things are a yes. But Sirens also has the one thing going for it that so many other conferences don’t: a keen eye for intersectionality.

Intersectionality has become quite the buzzword of late, but few people realize that it refers not to identities, but rather to how systems of oppression impact those identities and that those impacts are situational. So, for example, all People of Color face racism, but the shape and tone of the racism is dependent on race and situation. And People of Color may also face ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and a whole host of other oppressive forces as well. Basically, intersectionality is about recognizing that oppression doesn’t work in any one way, but rather works in many different ways based on the situation.

The term intersectionality was originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how both feminist and Black equality movements tend to leave Black women behind, failing to recognize that the aperture for social justice movements must be widened to include the myriad ways systems of oppression impact marginalized groups. Meaning: we can’t just address sexism. We must also address racism, ableism, homophobia, and any other prejudice that is used to categorize and limit the ability of all people to live a happy and healthy life.

This is what is great about Sirens. It’s rare to see such a weighty (and complex, since our brains are trained to think in binary from an early age) conversation happen alongside discussions of  fantasy literature. And not just in a couple of tokenized panels. A glance at the schedule shows this dedication to inclusivity. The panels always address multiple identities, and not just as a separate diversity panel. Instead, social justice is baked into every panel, all of which feature a multitude of identities and experiences. I always learn something new at Sirens, and even the casual conversations can feel like a revelation.

And this intersectionality is what makes Sirens so great. Attending Sirens is like having a good meal after years of living off of crumbs. Your identity will be respected and embraced, your opinion valued, and you will learn so much it will feel like a weekend of machine gun epiphanies, each one more amazing than the last.

Sirens is the best conference around, and I say that as someone who has been to quite a few conferences. You will leave nourished and satisfied, with a head full of ideas that you maybe hadn’t considered before. And isn’t that what a great conference is about?

 


Justina Ireland is the author of the teen novels Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows. She enjoys dark chocolate and dark humor and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. You can visit her online at www.justinaireland.com.

 

Inclusivity at Sirens: Kate Larking

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs
 


 

I’m Kate Larking, reading and writing enthusiast, and I am one of the few people who has had the pleasure of attending Sirens every single year. I have been on the literary convention circuit for ten years, nine of them spent visiting Sirens each and every October. It’s quite the commitment, given the Canadian-American exchange rate and the international travel fares. But is it a pilgrimage I gladly make.

Sirens is more than a conference that focuses on women and other marginalized identities in speculative fiction. Sirens has become a community—a family—to me, my writing, and my reading. I’ve developed into the person I am because my wonderful experiences there, above all other conventions. If I only have the opportunity to attend one conference a year, I would choose Sirens—no contest, no comparisons needed.

Sirens’s growth this year has far surpassed expectations. After all, since I’ve been attending, the conference has held steady at a certain size. But for the 80% more new people, I am exhilarated—so many new voices, new experiences, new reading recommendations, and new friends to make!—and yet terrified. Sirens has become a safe place for me where I can be challenged to grow. I’m afraid of what may happen to the literary sphere I love. But the actions of the coordinators, assembling a group to write on intersectionality to ensure a lovely and lively community while at Sirens, gives me hope.

So let me illustrate to you what Sirens means to me:

When I was asked to write an article on intersectionality at Sirens, I immediately felt unqualified. Anyone would, after all. Each and every one of us is a single person among the world’s population. But I have come to understand that I am a cross-section of identities.

I am a cis white married lesbian mother, and a born-and-raised atheist Canadian. I am under the influence of depression more often than I—well, anyone—would like. This identity contributes to everything I do and everything I experience. Primarily, everything I create and everything I read.

My main creative project at the moment is the queer space opera webcomic, Crash and Burn. I work with a non-binary illustrator, Finn, and together we challenge existing prevalent queer narratives. We work hard to retain control over the comic, which means self-publishing, hand-selling at conventions, and speaking up about queer identities both in real life and fiction. The more I work on the comic and interact with readers in public spaces, the more aware I am of microaggressions and the weight they carry. Each time someone makes an insensitive statement (or asks a question) about the comic or us, the heavier it is to carry on through the day.

Actual statement at a convention: “Queer space opera? Who thinks of this stuff?”

It doesn’t stop at dialogue. The derogative and challenging rhetoric continues online, in review channels and in award nomination roundups:

Actual review excerpt: “I notice that the artist found it necessary to note that ‘they’ is/are ‘agender,’ and uses the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’ in the preface; I do wonder why not use ‘xe’ and ‘xem’ as in the work? It would feel fitting—unless Finn is more than one person.”

As a queer person, working creatively in the face of these hurtful assumptions and comments can be difficult (understatement). On one hand, you want to create more, and assert the presence of these queer identities more. On the other hand, you are exhausted, frustrated, irritable, furious, and still trying to maintain a professional and affable exterior as required at a conference or convention. But it isn’t a queer person’s job to act as a sole ambassador and educator on their identity.

To combat these microaggressions and identity-challenges, we’ve deployed a few marketing tactics:

  1. We put “Queer space opera” on our biggest banner.
  2. Finn made a misgendering jar—like a swear jar but queer. Misgender one of us, pay a dollar (all proceeds go to an LGBT-supportive charity).
  3. We deployed flags from various queer identities represented in our work on the table, as a queer shorthand, to make that representation visible to those identities.

The banner does its job, I have to say. People see us across the hall, come over, and hear what we are about. And we love these passionate, enthusiastic, welcoming readers. They are kind and generous; they listen to our voices and learn from the context of our discussions of what they might need to Google and read up on later.

It works in other ways, too. Other people glance at the word queer and self-select away from our table. More often than not, it’s caregivers guiding their young charges away from us, as though we are more offensive than the scantily-clothed, misogynistic portrayal of women in comics at the table next to us. (In all honesty, we expect to meet the kids in person in a few years when this happens.) So while we’re fine with people self-selecting out, some of those would-be microaggressions become full-fledged aggressions.

Actual statement at a convention: “I want to let you know that I am not buying this because it is queer.”

I’m sharing these anecdotes because I want to make something very clear about these conventions versus this one:

Sirens is different.

One thing that unites us at Sirens is that we love developed, complex voices in speculative fiction. We embrace worlds that are different from our own and seek out the experiences of those who live within them. At Sirens, we don’t attack character identities in our discussions, criticize cultures, or apply an arbitrary-binary the character may or may not belong in.

The reason we read, the reason we gather, and the reason we discuss is to open our eyes, challenge our identity-based perspectives on the world, support representation and those represented, and grow together. And when we go home, we are stronger, wiser, better-informed, supported and supportive in our community.

 


 
Kate Larking is a book buyer for an independent bookstore. In her off hours, between binge-watching anime and leveling-up game characters, she writes speculative fiction for both young adult and adult markets. Her queer space opera comic, Crash and Burn, was a finalist for the 2016 and 2017 Aurora Award for best English Graphic Novel. She cofounded Anxiety Ink, a community of writers dealing with the stress and challenges of writing. She resides in Calgary, Alberta, with her wife, daughter, and six pets.
 

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 8 (July 2017)

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA

We’re interviewing each of our 2017 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, as well as the role of women in fantasy literature, as befits this year’s theme of women who work magic.

Zoraida Cordova

Our interview with Zoraida Córdova addresses Latinx identity, being drawn to fantasy and magic from a young age, bruja magic and religion in Labyrinth Lost, and becoming a young adult author in the wake of We Need Diverse Books: “I feel more comfortable writing POC protagonists now because it’s in the zeitgeist. I don’t want diversity to become another publishing trend. Because unlike vampires and dystopian novels, POC are real.”

Our focus on Zoraida and her work also featured a review of Labyrinth Lost by B R Sanders and a fantasy book list compiled by Zoraida herself!

 

ACCEPTED PROGRAMMING

Got your planner ready? Visit our Accepted Programing page for the full lineup of this year’s topics, summaries, and presenter biographies. Our brilliant presenters will be examining everything from witches to beauty, inclusion to activism, and so much more—in the form of papers, panels, roundtables, workshops, and afternoon classes. Thank you, presenters!

All presentations are available for sponsorship for $35 per presentation. You might choose to sponsor a friend or family member, or select a presentation on a topic that speaks to you, or show your support for underrepresented voices. Should you like to sponsor a programming session, we will include your name next to your chosen topic and in the program book, provided we receive your donation by August 15. Thank you for your support of our programming.

 

SIRENS SUPPORT

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

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

This month, we’re thrilled to share a post by s.e. smith, who often has to contend with questions like, “What is someone who’s not a woman doing at a lady conference?” Their response is perfect: “Sirens isn’t a lady conference. It’s a conference celebrating women in fantasy, and one where people of all genders participate in the conversation and work to push it further.” Read the rest of their post here.

 

REGISTRATION UPDATE

We have one registration remaining for 2017! If you’re planning to attend and haven’t registered yet, please do so immediately at this link—or pass it along to a friend.

 

HOTEL TALISA

All of the Sirens programming and events will take place at the Hotel Talisa, and we’ve negotiated a fantastic deal on standard room rates: $139/night for 1–2 people (plus tax and resort fee). But rooms are filling up quickly! We’ve already expanded our room block three times, but when these rooms are gone, you’ll have to book at the Hotel Talisa’s regular rates or find a roommate. Right now, we have only six rooms left in our room block for the conference dates. For more instructions on how to make your reservation, please visit our Hotel page.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Forbidden Wish

In July, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Jessica Khoury’s The Forbidden Wish, which she found “full of marvelous reader delights,” but also “troubling.” Read her review over on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Vassa in the Night

For the Reading Challenge this month, Faye read Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night, a “dark and poetic” modern-day retelling of the Russian folktale “Vasilisa the Beautiful” set in Brooklyn. Read her review on the blog and on Goodreads.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links

 


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

 

Inclusivity at Sirens: s.e. smith

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs

 


 

I first came to Sirens in 2012 because a fellow literature-loving friend needed a roommate, and I had a flexible schedule. I was hesitant at first, because of the way it was pitched to me: As a conference “for women in fantasy literature,” which sounded like a place not for me since while I am many things, a woman is not one of them.

“It’s small and intimate,” she said. “You’ll like it,” she said. And she was right. (She usually is.) (I’ve been back every year since.)

“What is someone who’s not a woman doing at a lady conference?” is, it turns out, a bit of a trick question, although people ask some variation of that question with a depressing degree of regularity. Sirens isn’t a lady conference: It is a conference celebrating women in fantasy, and one where people of all genders participate in the conversation and work to push it further. It is a place where for a few days, cis men don’t get to be the center of the universe.

One of the things I love most about Sirens is that it is a place that is challenging. It is a place where I feel comfortable asking difficult questions, and it is one where the lens is turned back on me, as well—Sirens is the place that it is because we expect more of each other, on both a personal and institutional level.

For some attendees this is a novel and discomfiting experience, especially those in positions of relative privilege who may feel unsettled when confronted with world-shifting realities. While Faye referred to “taking off armor” in her discussion of experiences with diversity and inclusion at Sirens, this goes deeper than that—it is not simply that Sirens is a week where (some) attendees feel comfortable and confident, but also that taking off your armor leaves you vulnerable. Tender. Soft.

At some point during the weekend, it’s likely someone will say something that upsets you because it disrupts your worldview. Someone will critique a book you adore from the position of an experience you don’t share—as for example a co-panelist did on a religion panel I did several years ago. Someone will comment that a character archetype that feels very intimate, that speaks to you, comes laden with oppressive baggage you were blissfully unaware of. Someone will make a comment about the barriers holding underrepresented people back in publishing, will ask why we have to work four times as hard for half the recognition, and it will sting.

Perhaps it will sting because you’ve never thought about this issue before, or in this way, and it hurts to be confronted with the fact that diversity sometimes comes with hard truths. Or maybe you thought this would be a fun weekend of fantasy, and you weren’t expecting to be confronted with harsh realities. Your first instinct may be to lash out, to find a way to minimize the pain you’re feeling, to make this a problem for another time.

But that’s not what Sirens is about, and you will be shortchanging yourself if you take that route. When my co-panelist criticized a book I’d just professed to loving in front of a room full of people, my first reaction wasn’t to shut her down, but to take up the challenge. I wanted to learn more. And I did, because she spoke about how her experience of religious themes in the book differed radically from my own. Because a Hindu, a Jew, a Christian, and an atheist sat down to have a conversation in front of a room full of people, unafraid to contradict each other, our understanding of faith and literature was cumulatively enriched.

Learning is hard. Sometimes learning is scary. And Sirens is indubitably a place to geek out about books and celebrate our mutual love for the people who aren’t cis men who write and read and love and star in fantasy literature but it is also a place of learning. We develop programming because we want to share our thoughts and enthusiasms with the world, and we attend programming because we want to learn something fascinating about a text or issue; one of my panels this year is about gender and witchcraft, and I’m deliriously excited about all the things I hope to discuss, from reading The Mists of Avalon after hearing the truth about Marion Zimmer Bradley to how N. K. Jemisin explores gender in The Fifth Season. I’m hoping to learn things from my panelists, and I hope the audience does too. Along the way, panelists may challenge each other, or get challenging questions from the audience, and that will make the discussion stronger, more inclusive.

If diversity is the presence of historically underrepresented groups, inclusion is the belief that we have equal footing, a right to speak and a right to be heard—in any contexts, but particularly when we are wounded. Sirens creates a space for having conversations about those wounds, even if they are sometimes sticky and uncomfortable, as they spill from panel to dining room to after hours next to the fire to next year’s conference. For those who haven’t been in diverse and inclusive spaces before, it can be a bit of a shock—and for those who have been in environments where lip service and buzzwords define these issues, it can be awakening to realize that “diversity and inclusion” isn’t just a phrase but a way of being.

Even as a member of several underrepresented groups at Sirens, I must constantly acknowledge that I am not exempt from challenge. My experience isn’t universal, nor is it applicable across sociocultural backgrounds, and I hold privilege, not least as a white person, even as I am also on the receiving end of oppression. Even as I warn others to prepare to shift their worldview, I warn myself, as well—someone may say something that hits a tender point of my own, that forces me to expand my understanding, that questions an internalized belief. This is a dance, a give and take, not a one-sided dynamic.

This applies to microaggressions as well—the seemingly small instances of oppression that get tossed off without thinking, making members of underrepresented groups feel uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the casual racist joke, the reference to someone disliked as “crazy,” a flip comment about someone with ambiguous gender. When you belong to one or more underrepresented groups, you spend a great deal of time in a complex calculus of deciding whether individual instances of oppression are “worth it” to deal with. Do you correct the dinner guest who refers to you by the wrong pronouns when you’ll likely never see that person again? Do you patiently tell the TSA officer that he’s pronouncing your name wrong? Do you swallow it, for the thousandth time, when people pointedly exclude the disability community from public discourse? Or do you speak up, be “that person”?

Sirens is filled with “those people” and that is why I keep returning—but it is up to the attendees of Sirens to support “those people” and cultivate an environment that fosters conversation and exchange.

 


 
s.e. smith is a Northern California-based writer with a focus on social justice issues. smith’s publication credits include The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Teen Vogue, Bitch Magazine, Vice, and In These Times, along with entries in several anthologies, including the upcoming (Don’t) Call Me Crazy.
 

Inclusivity at Sirens: Faye Bi

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs

 


 

Back in 2009, I followed a link from Sherwood Smith’s LiveJournal post to learn about this conference featuring women in fantasy literature. It was called Sirens, she’d announced, and she was a guest of honor, along with Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore. Sherwood alone would have convinced my broke little college-student heart to book my flights, but Tamora Pierce as well, the creator of my childhood idol Keladry of Mindelan of the Protector of the Small books? Did it matter that I’d never attended a convention or conference before? Or that I knew nobody at all except Sherwood?

It’s been nine years since I first attended Sirens. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about myself—as a reader, a woman, and an immigrant of Chinese heritage who grew up in eastern Canada and now lives in New York City. Back then, I was fresh out of my teen years and switching college majors from engineering to anthropology, and I certainly hadn’t read a book for fun since high school. (Thanks, Sirens peeps, for introducing me to the works of Suzanne Collins and Gail Carriger that year!) Nowadays, I’m a book publishing professional with almost seven years of publicity and marketing experience. I have my habits, preferences, and biases. I am introverted, discerning when it comes to my reading material, unafraid of sharing my opinions, and comfortable in my own skin.

Over the last nine years, I’ve also learned lot about the world. I’m shaken up by rage-inducing injustices happening around me every day, but I still must find the strength to leave my house, go to work, and generally be out in public. I’ve perfected my resting bitch face (sharp mouth, distant gaze), my purposeful walk (no stopping, look up directions ahead of time), and my snappy comebacks (only used in a safe environment with other people around, natch). Though I am confident in my identity, it is oftentimes hard to be in this body: this petite, Chinese immigrant female body on which people often project their expectations and stereotypes. I’m no stranger to being overlooked or underestimated. I can no longer keep count the number of microaggressions and instances of flat-out bigotry I’ve experienced by strangers, colleagues, or even “friends.” If you asked me if a good chunk of my personality is a reaction to this, I would say yes, it’s my armor.

In 2009, discussions of diversity, representation, and inclusiveness in the book community were still rumblings—present for a long time, but under the radar. Now, they’ve rightfully become headlining topics in pop culture and entertainment as a whole. Sirens, too, has clearly evolved to become more intersectional in its focus. I delight in discovering new fantasy writers of diverse backgrounds who are invited as guests of honor, and whose books appear on our on reading lists and featured in programming sessions. (No one back in 2011 can forget Nnedi Okorafor’s monstrously amazing keynote, either!) But it’s the community, made up of all stripes of people who love reading and discussing women in fantasy literature, that makes Sirens so incredibly special. I’ve made lifelong friends and comrades-in-arms, especially when it comes to the rage-inducing bullshit we face on a daily basis. It’s a treat to reunite with old friends every year, but it is equally as exciting meeting new attendees. It can be daunting, but let this introvert who remembers her first year very well tell you:

The year when the Sirens theme was Rebels and Revolutionaries, a Sirens Studio faculty member shared that “Sirens is the one weekend each year that doesn’t feel like battle.” I choked up upon hearing this utter truth about the community I’m so proud to be part of, and the comfort I feel interacting with its members. Because it doesn’t feel like battle, when so much of my daily life does. That’s a feeling to ponder, but also one to protect. Sirens works very hard to maintain that atmosphere of conducive conversation, healthy debate, and learning. Each October, and throughout the year as a staff member, I interact with many members of our community, some of whom are very different than me. I always keep in mind a few things: Not everyone has my thoughts. Not everyone has my body. Not everyone has my experiences. Not everyone likes the same books. (Though sometimes we all love the same book and that’s awesome!) Most people have heard of intersectionality and have varying levels of awareness. If you haven’t, I advise you to do some research—I promise it’s worth it.

There are, and will be, times of disagreement and possibly discomfort—when someone makes an ignorant comment at a roundtable or a moderator doesn’t call out a panelist’s microaggression. When you’re just lounging in the lobby talking about the latest bestseller or between breaks at Bedtime Stories, you might overhear someone say, “Well you’re Asian, what did you think about the book?” or “I don’t understand asexuality. Can you explain it to me?” As open and aware as we’ve become, we’re not perfect. I know most Sirens attendees don’t look like me. But I also know, as a cisgendered mostly heterosexual woman, that I have much to learn from others as well. Most progress happens in that hazy space of uncomfortable conversations and being challenged. I remember one Sirens attendee passionately critiquing a short story by an author I really loved, saying that the author, no matter how unintentionally, appropriated her culture’s religion and myth for a “fantasy” setting and flavor. Or how another attendee wasn’t comfortable with a book’s inconsistent use of pronouns for a trans character, something I hadn’t thought of until it was pointed out to me.

The conversations at Sirens are spirited and lively, as they often are when a group of whip-smart, opinionated, voracious readers come together. I try to enter every interaction with good intentions, a pursuit of understanding, and respect. Sometimes I also need to do the emotional work of engaging with others different than me, especially if they are from a marginalized group (person of color, varying ability, genderqueer, neuro-atypical, and so on). I encourage every Sirens attendee, new and returning, to do that as well. Sometimes I make mistakes; when someone disagrees with me, I hope they feel comfortable telling me so, hopefully acknowledging that I did so out of ignorance and not malice. I know how much work it can be to explain my existence to other people. The difference at Sirens is that I’m encouraged to share my perspective—if I want to.

This kind of community requires active participation of its members to be great, so Sirens needs all of you. This is a hard line to walk. I did, and still do, a lot of listening. And for those of you peeling off your armor, even for a weekend, I hope it’s as much of a relief for you as it is for me.

 


 
Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and leads the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.
 

What is a great book that you’ve found in the Sirens bookstore?

s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
Amy is a dangerous fiend, so I can honestly say that I’ve found many great books in the bookstore thanks to her ongoing efforts to ruin my credit score. However, my current fave is the infamous Enchanted Chocolate Pot book that everyone raves about — you absolutely have to get it when you come, and you’d better get it fast, because they always sell out.
 

Sherwood Smith (@sherwood_smith)
I sat here for the longest time trying to figure out which books I’d first encountered in the Sirens bookstore, until it occurred to me that it was less about individual books than about new female names in publishing.

Every Sirens I attend, I come away with a long scribbled list of people to check out, which might take me most of the rest of the year. This is my favorite way of finding new reads: word of mouth from other readers, whose enthusiasm I can see. And I love, love, LOVE the fact that most of these writers and books turn out to be diverse. It’s much tougher these days for these voices to be heard, so I doubly appreciate Sirens for my exposure to these new voices.
 

Edith Hope Bishop (@ehbishop)
The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, edited by Rose Lemberg, made me exceptionally happy when I found it. So many beautiful and breathtaking pieces behind that lovely cover art by Terri Windling.
 

@jazzagold
I was super excited to read Yoon Ha Lee’s collection of short stories, A Conservation of Shadows. I actually first came across Yoon’s games first, as I am a bit of an interactive fiction nerd. So when I found out that Yoon had written short stories, was coming out with a novel AND was a guest of honor?

You can also add A Darker Shade of Magic.

Oh and Fire Logic. I actually bought Earth Logic and Water Logic, as I know Laurie is coming to this year’s Sirens. So mad I can’t come. Cannot wait for Air Logic.

The bookstore is a dangerous place.
 

What is something about Sirens that surprised you?

Sherwood Smith (@sherwood_smith)
I think my biggest surprise at Sirens was my discovery that there can be many points-of-view, but the atmosphere is not divisive or condemnatory. I have never had a sense that anyone’s opinion is ignored because the speaker is not cool enough, thin enough, young enough, radical enough, or whatever enough. Sirens has become more conscious of making certain that this is a safe space for a spectrum of opinions, something that many women my age have encountered seldom enough for it to be as remarkable as it is appreciated.

I love the fact that Sirens does active outreach with their scholarships in order to make the conference available to those who might not have the wherewithal to attend. I also like the fact that my registration fees make possible those scrumptious shared meals—each sparking so many interesting conversations—that in fact, cost more than the registration actually provides. Whoever does the ordering clearly loves food, and also takes a wide variety of dietary needs into consideration when ordering.

So to help keep costs down, on the last day, there is the fun of the auction, where those with discretionary funds can duke it out in bid wars over some truly remarkable items and offers. The auction is exciting, often hilarious, even if your wallet is flat!
 

Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)
I was surprised by how welcoming and thoughtful the community is. At Sirens people go out of their way to include newcomers and quiet or shy attendees in their meals and conversations. So many of us are introverts, but it’s rare to find a community that knows how to create spaces that aren’t overwhelming. I wasn’t expecting a professional conference to be the place where I felt most comfortable being myself and making lasting friendships.
 

@jazzagold
It was really great to meet other writers both published and unpublished. I expected to meet lots of readers and nerds but I don’t know why I was so surprised to meet so many writers. I knew this but it’s nice to meet people who are writers as a writer. There’s definitely a chance to talk about writing but not in a weird way where you put published people on pedestals.
 

s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
This may sound silly, but I was both surprised and pleased by the level of organization my first year, and now I’m spoiled. The Sirens crew run an extremely tight ship, more so than any conference I’ve ever attended, and every year, I think “oh, so this is how you run a conference.” I always feel so well taken care of from the second I walk into the registration area to the moment we say farewell until next year, and there’s an incredible level of attention to detail, interest in hearing feedback, and focus on making sure everyone has an outstanding time. It means a lot.
 

I am a __________ and I love Sirens because…

Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)
I am a nerd, and I love Sirens because no one is restrained in their excitement about women in fantasy books. Everyone cares deeply, everyone has thoughts, and not only is every attendee thrilled to share, they’re just as delighted to listen. There’s no distinction between pro or fan, writer or reader or academic: we all want to squee, rant, and learn about books.
 

s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
I am a sh*tstarter, and I love Sirens because it’s a conference for, about, and by people who want to completely upend things, and that makes it my kind of party. Whether I’m paneling, hanging out in the lobby, eating with friends, or attending a workshop, I’m surrounded by people who are as passionate as I am about making the world a better place.
 

@jazzagold
I am a reader, and I love Sirens because I get to spend time with people who are equally as nerdy as I am about books. I also think that I’ve met people who’ve read more than I have, which makes me feel both behind the curve and also super excited, because I always know I can get a book recommendation.
 

Edith Hope Bishop (@ehbishop)
I am a writer and I love Sirens because I get to spend time with other lovers of literature, many of whom share my particular interests. At Sirens, I learn about craft, as well as the publishing industry, and I always meet fascinating and inspiring women who have stories to share.

 

Artemis Grey on Sirens

Catskin

We’re so pleased to welcome a post from Artemis Grey, who published her first novel, Catskin, in March 2016! Artemis has attended Sirens since our first conference in 2009. Below she shares her Sirens journey. 

Once upon a time there was a feral girl who loved writing more than anything. She loved many things, horses, and other animals, running barefoot through the wilds, and drinking from springs on hillsides. But she loved writing just a little bit more. The feral girl wrote stories that weren’t very good, and she wrote stories that were a good bit better, and then she wrote stories that were very nearly good enough. But not quite.

She sought out other writers. Her writing, they explained did not say anything Important. In order to succeed, they told her, she needed to learn how to convey Important things. The girl did not know, then, that all of the Important things those writers were talking about were being written and perceived through the narrow gaze of the white, cisgendered male. What she did know, is that those things were not the things she wanted to write and perceive.

So the feral girl looked elsewhere, to the writers she so admired, who wrote stories about women who slew dragons, women who became dragons, and women who ruled nations and ended wars. Stories which were not written from one narrow perspective but through many and varied visions. And she discovered that some of those authors were going to a place called Sirens. It was a conference. The first of its kind. No one quite knew what to expect.

She had never gone on a trip alone, not halfway across the country, through airports congested with people, and on airplanes choked with them. But she wanted to know if there was a place for her, if there were other feral girls out there who wrote stories that were almost good enough, and other women who glided between the borders of expectation and propriety. So she went to Sirens, and everything changed.

The girl was welcomed not as a stranger, but as a sister returning home. She was brought into a fold where authors sat in circles on the floor and discussed how to find ways of writing things that were important, and yet did not fall into the mainstream definition of Important. How to change society’s definition of what was Important. She discovered, within Sirens, a world of women supporting women, supporting ideas, and processes, and points of view. A world of women embracing everything that makes them different while finding unity in everything that they share. Her Sirens Sisters did not teach her how to change herself in order to speak out, they taught her that once she discovered her own voice, it would be loud enough to be heard.

It’s been eight years now, and the feral girl has attended every Sirens. She will always attend Sirens. It is home to her heart, and her sisters of the written word. Sirens was where she grew to become the writer she is, where she wants to grow old as she continues to evolve as a writer, and where she wants to help show other feral girls that they are not alone. That their differences are what make them strong, and that their views, what they have to say, and the stories they want to tell, are all Important.

 

Artemis Grey was raised on fairytales and the folklore of Appalachia. She’s been devouring books and regurgitating her daydreams into written words since childhood. She can most often be found writing by a crackling fire or rambling barefooted through the woods and mountains, napping (yes, napping) on horseback, searching the depths of random wardrobes and wriggling into hollow tree trunks. In her downtime, she herds cats, which is just as entertaining as it sounds. She hopes to make her readers look at the world they’ve always seen, and see the world they’ve always envisioned. Her debut contemporary YA, Catskin was released March 17, 2016.

 

Why did you decide to attend Sirens for the first time?

s.e. smith (@realsesmith)
I attended Sirens at the urging of someone who had been going since the very first year. She encouraged me to hop on the Sirens train on the basis of our mutual love of women in fantasy, and the need for spaces where people can talk about literature in an environment dedicated specifically to exploring women and intersectional issues. Many larger cons are too sprawling for the conversations that happen at Sirens, and she promised me an intimate, rewarding experience. She was right. 
 

Karen Bailey
I decided to attend Sirens because of the Guests of Honor, Tamora Pierce and Sherwood Smith. I was so excited that both of them would be at the same place, I signed up right away.
 

Gillian C. (@gnomes_g)
A friend invited me. I’d never been to any kind of con before, so Sirens was my first ever con experience, and now I tell people that it’s ruined me for all other cons!

I am a writer and I love Sirens because the community is so supportive and inspiring. Telling stories is difficult, often lonely work, especially when you have to balance it with a demanding day job, but every year I leave Sirens with a renewed belief in my voice and the stories that I have to tell.
 

@jazzagold
I’ve been an avid reader of fantasy and sci-fi since I was a little girl, but I had always felt a bit isolated as most of the people I knew who were into fantasy growing up were male and mostly white. I didn’t feel as if I could discuss the things I liked about books with them. This continued even on the Internet; I’m old enough to remember a time when fandom didn’t really have the Internet as a space for discourse about fantasy. I would engage in fandoms for many types of media, books, etc. but not necessarily fantasy, as those spaces also felt very male and white. I also hadn’t considered conventions as a place to find that community.

Fast forward to 2015. I’ve since started writing my own stories while still being a reader. I often talk with Kate Elliott on Twitter, and she’d been telling me for at least two years that I should consider going to Sirens as she knew I was both a reader and a writer. As Kate is someone I respect, whose books I had read for years, I decided to take a risk and go to Sirens!
 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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