If you would like to support Sirens, our presenters, and our programming, we invite you to sponsor our programming. The cost is $35 per presentation, and assuming we have your donation by August 15, 2019, we will include your name next to your chosen topic below and in our program book for this year’s event. Please review the presentations below, and once you have made your selection, click here to donate.
Papers and lectures feature one or more presenters talking about the topic at hand. The specific style and formality of each presentation varies according to the speaker: some may be more formal readings of scholarly papers, with or without time for questions at the end; others may be relatively informal lectures with more audience participation.
Ascension: How Elizabeth Frankenstein Rises Out of Darkness
In The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, Kiersten White explores the narrative of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from another angle. From the perspective of the girl purchased to keep Victor Frankenstein's volatile behavior in check, the story becomes less about a man’s genius and more about what the people around him have to sacrifice to keep him comfortable. But as Elizabeth sinks into the darkness of Victor’s obsessions, her own genius subsumed by his, she learns what she needs to break free. Her terrible education is all too familiar, but as she rises, so too can we.
But Whips and Chains Excite Me: The Problem with Kink in Fiction
The inclusion of BDSM elements and power dynamics in fiction, including fantasy, is often reduced to devious dominatrixes who torment our protagonist, or evil masters who use their power dynamic to torture and abuse. Yet rarely do we see the risk-aware consensual kink that is required for a healthy and fulfilling BDSM experience. This presentation will explore how BDSM is used and misused, and explore the very real strength that can come with healthy, safe, and consenting submission and dominance.
Nivair H. Gabriel
Daydream Believer: The Everyday Fantasy in Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Fantasy is often considered to be a realm beyond our reach, whether set on Middle Earth or in secret vampire bars in New Orleans, but there is one type of fantasy almost everyone experiences: daydreams. Often dismissed as empty and frivolous, this essay looks at how daydreaming becomes a thing of power in Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, giving their female leads a conduit to finding their voices.
The Extraordinary Power of Heroines: Examining Women’s Heroism in Fantasy
Heroism means different things to different people; it can also mean different things for women specifically. What are features of what heroism looks like for women, what does it mean to be a heroine, and why? This paper will examine the impact of real-world systemic marginalization on the depictions and perceptions of heroines in fantasy literature, including the double standards we hold female characters to, how sexism impacts whether a woman is perceived as monster or hero, how our society values—and doesn’t—stories that subvert masculine-coded modes of power, and why heroines' stories are so powerful and necessary.
Fight, Loli, Fight!: Lolita Fashion, Cute Culture, and Heroic Girlhood in Contemporary Media
Inspired by Victorian dolls and ideas of girlish fancy, Lolita fashion was created as a direct rebuttal of strict patriarchal structures of 20th Century Japan, and represented the reclamation of young women’s bodies. Radical autonomy, revulsion of the male gaze, and girlhood are integral to Lolita subculture, making them the perfect subject of heroic narratives aimed at a feminine-identifying audience. We will explore how the tenets of Lolita subculture appear in Japanese contemporary media and how they may translate in Western narratives, the incursion of the male gaze, and what heroic girlhood may look like going forward.
“Girls” Disguised as “Boys”: The Evolution of the Cross-Dressing Hero(ine)
The girl-disguised-as-boy trope has a long history, from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (and even earlier than that) to today’s most popular Korean TV dramas. However, cross-dressing adventure stories have failed to reflect our growing understanding and awareness of varying gender identities. This paper will examine the ways in which gender-bending adventure narratives have evolved over time, from treating cross-dressing as an unexamined plot device to a nascent acknowledgment of transgender feelings. It will also look to the future of transgender adventure stories.
Heroic Fantasy Saves Lives
This presentation explores how heroic fantasy reading and writing can be part of pedagogical practice and therapeutic interactions with school age children and adults as a mechanism for de-escalation of diagnosed and invisible trauma (including ACEs). Attendees will leave with a vocabulary of theory and research supporting the need for heroic fantasy generation and consumption by women and nonbinary folks in mainstream education and therapeutic settings.
Heteronormativity in Young Adult Fantasy
Despite a crowded market and a recent boom in contemporary fiction for teen readers, young adult fantasy continues in popularity, and caters to a heavily female audience that welcomes both its magical details and its frequently romantic plotlines. While authors are offering stronger, better, more diverse worlds than ever before, the romantic focus is almost inevitably heterosexual, thus inscribing a single story. This paper will examine the ongoing romance phenomenon and recent books that feature alternatives to the heroine getting her hero, and offer options for creating more inclusive fantasy stories.
Katniss Everdeen: Strong, Fast, Larger Than Life?
In the Hunger Games, everyone is holding out for a hero—and hoping they'll bring the Capitol down. Katniss Everdeen finds herself cast as the hero of everyone else’s story, while unable to see herself as the hero of her own. Folk hero, ingénue, reality TV star—Katniss is all and none of the above. This presentation will examine how Katniss is a hero of her own making despite the Capitol's best efforts to control her story.
Shackled, Raped, Mad, Fridged: Intersectional Feminism Failures in Game of Thrones
Cass Morris, Amy Tenbrink (moderator)
For eight seasons, we have watched Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin’s impossibly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series adapted for television by white, cisgender male showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, only rarely with any female writers in the room. And for eight seasons, feminist viewers have criticized the showrunners’ immensely problematic and often gratuitous adaptation choices, such as the needless death of Missandei, the only main female character of color, while shackled; transforming consensual sex into rape for Daenerys and Cersei and introducing rape for Sansa, who credits that rape for her growth; the outcome of the gods’ madness coin toss for Daenerys, conveniently clearing the path to the Iron Throne for a man; and the show’s hero worship of Arya, the only female character to adopt the male trappings of antiheroism. This presentation will break down eight seasons of politics, war, and sexposition to expose how Game of Thrones is really just another feminist fail fantasy story.
The Suppressed Powers of Women Heroes
While the theme of suppressed power is common in fantasy, the narratives vary drastically. In some cases, the narrative is distinctly anti-power. This paper examines the suppressed powers of women heroes in fantasy narratives such as The Shadow Speaker, The Power, and The Bone Witch: what kinds of powers are suppressed, who does the suppressing, how the suppression is achieved, the reasons given for the suppression, how the culture a character belongs to views her powers, and what happens when those powers are released.
Nivair H. Gabriel
There Is Method in It: Why We Tell Stories About “Madness”
For as long as we've been storytellers, we’ve been fascinated by the idea of “madness.” Although our working models about the genesis of mental illness are no longer linked to the supernatural, symptoms of psychiatric disorders are often evoked in genre fiction to create a chilling effect, to disorient the audience, or to indicate a character’s sensitivity to things unseen by normal mortal eyes. Why do these tropes persist even as we become more educated about the biological and environmental roots of psychiatric pathology? What purpose does the idea of an “uncanny madness” serve in our narratives, and in our lives? This talk will attempt to unpack our attraction to “mad” characters in popular fiction and media, and will discuss alternate mental frameworks for these universal human fears.
Trends in Speculative Poetry by Disabled Poets
Lisa M. Bradley
“Speculative poetry by disabled poets” may sound like a very narrow niche, but it’s actually quite expansive. Learn the current trends in fantasy poetry written by disabled poets and how these trends differ from those in the wider spec field. What do merfolk and changelings mean for poets with disabilities? For that matter, who identifies as a disabled poet, and how do gender, race, and ethnicity interact in their poetry? Disabled poet and editor Lisa M. Bradley will share insights from editing the poetry for Uncanny Magazine’s special issue “Disabled People Destroy Fantasy.”
The Unconscious Depiction of Autism: Robots, Aliens, and Fae
Mette Ivie Harrison
Popular speculative characters, including Mr. Spock and Data on Star Trek, as well as the unworldly, unemotional depictions of fae in many stories, might be unconscious depictions of autists. What traits are similar across these depictions, and what do they tell us about the collective unconscious view of autistic people by allists?
Upgrading Your Words to Say More
Editing isn’t just about correcting mistakes; it is also an opportunity to identify lazy or flat words and replace them with words that can do more for your story. Identify which words are most likely to need an upgrade to reflect tone, mood, and voice. Learn to add depth to your writing without adding length.
Witch, Please: An Apologia for and Indictment of Mean-Girls Stories in Young Adult Fantasy Literature
Like young adult literature generally, young adult fantasy literature offers its share of popular mean-girls stories: those works where a girl transforms herself into a skinny, hair-tossing, dragon-lipstick-wearing, miniskirt-sporting witch in order to gain friends, status, and magic—and into someone she can properly redeem herself from in the end. Because that’s how these stories do end, with our heroine rejecting her power in order to properly subordinate her hair-tossing, dragon-lipstick-wearing, magic-wielding self to the heteropatriarchy once more. Perhaps more than any other trope, mean-girls stories are about female magic and female power: what it takes to get it, what it takes to keep it, and just how unseemly it is to want it or wield it. But mean-girls’ power necessarily relies on the heteropatriarchy; without the promise of romantic and sexual exchanges with boys, and exclusive access thereto, mean girls’ power disappears, and we’re left with the conclusion that power derived from proximity and tokenism isn’t worthwhile power at all.
Wolves and Werewolves: How Our Beliefs About One Influence the Other
The portrayal of werewolves in modern fantasy literature tends to draw on either the hostile fabrications about real wolves that plague the public consciousness or on fact-based evidence about wolves discovered over the last seventy-five years. This presentation will cover an overview of what modern researchers know about wolves in the wild and a sampling of the lurid stories passed off as facts during the early twentieth century, then proceed to analyze the usage of these facts and fictions in fantasy literature. We’ll also consider how fantasy readers conflate their emotional connections with werewolves to real wolves and the conservation thereof.
“The Woods Are Lovely, Dark and Deep”: When Heroines Overtake Liminal Spaces
Fairy tales would have you believe that any girl who wanders into the forest is destined for a wolf at the door. In opposition, the male hero's journey uses the woods as a transitional space in which the hero gains the strength and wisdom to defeat their final obstacle by the story’s end. Recent young adult literature has turned this trope on its head with novels like The Hazel Wood, Sawkill Girls, We Hunt the Flame, and The Darkest Part of the Forest. This paper explores how new young adult literature twists and reimagines these tropes by letting female characters into traditionally male spaces and having them emerge not as victims, but as legends, monsters, and saviors.
Panels feature several speakers discussing a topic before an audience. Panels may take questions or discussion from the audience, but are not required to do so.
Building Inclusive Bookish Communities
Faye Bi, Casey Blair (moderator), Traci-Anne Canada, Shaista Fenwick, Cass Morris
How do we build inclusive book-centric communities? Learn more about the individual and systemic challenges and forms of labor that people often overlook, and ideas from curated recommendation lists to moderated physical gatherings. This panel of book purveyors, online bookish community managers, and educators will discuss the work that goes into intentionally managing community through a focus on books, actively creating space for it, and why it is so fundamentally important.
Here, Queer, and Changing the World: Addressing the Influential Power of Sexuality and Gender in Worldbuilding
K.A. Doore (moderator), A. J. Hackwith, Jo Ladzinski
Writers make many choices when they build worlds, both conscious and unconscious. One choice is whether or not to reflect the queerphobia endemic to our modern society, or instead actively work against those biases and build a world that's inclusive by default. But what does this choice mean for the worlds we build? This panel will ask: What choices are unique to writing queer heroes (or heroic queers)? What should we keep in mind so we're not just performing another variety of erasure? Is it necessary to use modern words to reflect queer identities, or is there space for other identities, other interpretations?
Why We Write About War
Cass Morris, Tina LeCount Myers, Rook Riley, Cristal G. Thompson (moderator), K.B. Wagers
Why do we write about war? With such a vast quantity of fantasy novels with war as either the primary focus or the landscape is there something particular that makes writers—even those without military backgrounds—come back to war stories again and again? Do we write about war because we are writing fantasy? Or do we write fantasy so that we can write about war? This panel will discuss not the reality of war, but the writing of it.
Workshops are hands-on explorations of a topic. This category can include writing workshops, practice in strategies for teaching and learning, craft-based presentations, and other hands-on and highly interactive topics. Please note that the seating in workshop rooms is very limited to allow the presenters the maximum hands-on teaching time for each attendee, as well as to control costs that the presenters incur in providing materials. Thank you for your understanding.
Managing Burnout as a Creative
Burnout is a term often mocked or misrepresented in the United States, particularly in the media. This workshop will provide an overview of the history of the term from a creative perspective and examine what it encompasses, including mental and physical responses. Then, attendees will have the opportunity to participate in exercises related to burnout, and to discuss what we can do to manage burnout and stress as creatives.
Navigating New Waters: Understanding the Nuances of Creating Disabled and Mentally Ill Characters
V. S. Holmes
Disability representation is crucial to writing realistic and inclusive fantasy worlds—but where do you start? And how do you avoid blundering into disrespectful territory? We will discuss the importance of disabled representation, explain common clichés, and detail how to write a character with a mental or physical disability respectfully and realistically.
Roundtables are interactive discussions of a topic led by a moderator, and attendees are encouraged to take an active part in the discussion. Please note that seating in roundtable rooms is very limited to allow everyone in the room the opportunity to participate.
Breaking the Honor Code: Notions of Honor, Who They Empower, and What It Means to Be Dishonorable
Whether attached to awards, oaths, or societal conventions, the notion of honor often goes hand in hand with nobility and heroics. Why? This roundtable will discuss what we mean when we talk about honor, how honor is utilized in fiction and our world, and whether sometimes being dishonorable is the more heroic action.
Hope Is Like the Sun: Women's Power in Star Wars
The women of Star Wars have always occupied positions of political power, and as the galaxy far, far away has grown more inclusive, visions of feminine power have expanded to include capable warriors, wise sages, and headstrong padawans. In this roundtable, we'll discuss the women that hold the galaxy together, the choices they have to make, how they use their power, and what we can learn from them.
The Infatuation with Child Warriors in SFF
Speculative fiction narratives frequently follow youth and child soldiers, who can be both the celebrated hero—be they magical girls, teenage superheroes, rebel insurgents, or mech pilots—and a war’s most tragic victim. In fiction, youth fighters can appear as smart, capable, and morally grounded—often accompanied by a naïve simplification of war and resistance. But children are far from infallible; they are easily manipulated and deceived into using their lives and power for others without agency or informed consent. Let’s explore how these characters are presented.
Picture Me Saving the Day: Animated Heroines
The heroines in animated films come in many forms—and frequently, the same shapes. This roundtable discussion will examine heroines in animation. Heroines to be discussed might include classic animated Snow White and modern Moana, women in the Shrek films, magical anime girls, Sophie and other Studio Ghibli heroines, and more. Come ready to talk about your favorites, how they display heroics (or not), and how their visuals are used to frame heroines.
Reinventing the Literary Canon—Why Don’t We Teach That?
In high school English classes, students are required to read books considered classics within the literary canon. With few exceptions, these books are written by white, cis-het men. The adherence to this list is stifling today’s students. The world is changing and the current educational system no longer meets the needs of its students. This discussion will examine how the needs of students are evolving, what the purpose of English classes should be going forward, and ways to expand the curriculum to include more diverse books that better represent not only the student population, but the world students live in.
There’s No I in Hero: A Discussion of Communities as Agents of Change
One of the most pervasive American myths is the idea of “rugged individualism”—that individual heroes can save the world or push their society toward progress. However, real, lasting change never comes from a single hero fighting on their own, or even from a small band of heroes working together. Real progress and change comes from movements and communities, with many people working together and separately over a long period of time. In this roundtable, we’ll discuss the problems with depending on individual heroes to save the day, and the ways in which fantasy stories can center movements and communities instead.
When Consumers Become Fans: Identity and Power in Fan Culture
This roundtable will offer a quick historical overview of the field of fan studies from the 1990s to the present, with an emphasis on its roots in feminist media studies and queer theory. Discussion questions will engage the field’s enduring focus on issues of identity and power, consider fan production as a space for space for marginalized voices to speak back to media industries, and interrogate how the field might better contemplate how axes of identity beyond gender and sexuality shape the experience of fan culture.
Why the Damage? Breaking and Unbreaking Our Heroines
So many of our heroines stand tall and mighty at the end of battles, triumphant but bruised, bleeding, and in many cases mentally worn or even broken down by their fight to become heroines. Or maybe they start their journey by being broken—by culture, villains, family, or circumstance—and grow stronger through the story. Let’s explore how tortured our tortured heroines must really be to be compelling characters, and see if there’s a way to do more than break.
With Great Power...
Power. Some are born with it. Some would do anything to get it. Some can never have enough. Let’s look at how stories deal with power in this roundtable discussion: What forms can it take? What types of characters are allowed to wield it? What does it cost? And how can writers keep powerful characters from running amok in a narrative?
Some presenters have been accepted to teach classes in topics related to fantasy literature and the activities of its characters. These tend to be heavily demonstration-based and interactive. You may be required to sign a liability waiver to be in the room during physical sessions.
Chainmail 101 and the Steampunk Maker Ethos
Fred Loucks-Schultz (moderator), Rebecca Loucks-Schultz
From Bilbo’s mithril shirt to Red Sonja’s infamous bikini, and from steampunk retro-futurism to post-apocalyptic Hollywood movies, chain mail has long been a staple of fantasy literature. Learn about the Maker side of Steampunk, the cross-cultural history of mail both as armor and decoration, the tools and techniques for making modern mail accessories, and then build your own key fob or bracelet in this hands-on workshop.
Every Hero Needs a Shield: Heraldry Basics
Is your armor looking a bit drab? Do your fans have trouble recognizing you at tournaments? Are there feats of daring you want to showcase? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you need a banner or shield upgrade. In this afternoon class, we will take a look at the history of heraldry and then dive into making your own shield or banner.
Power Up Your Gauntlets of Power
Manda Lewis (moderator), Erynn Moss
Join a hands-on tutorial for creating your own power gauntlets for yourself and your heroic alter ego! We will learn the basics of soft circuitry using fabric and electronic elements. You'll take home your very own powered-up work! A small materials donation is welcome.
Combination presentations include two or more elements of the other presentation types. For example, a paper may precede a related roundtable discussion.
Sari Draping as Costume and Cultural Celebration
This workshop/afternoon class exposes participants to the six families of sari drapes, gives them the experience of draping and wearing a sari, and discusses the question of complexity and appropriation when borrowing from other cultures in writing.