Sirens Schedule

Hi friends! I have a busy schedule this week at Sirens Conference, so for those of you here in Denver, here are some times you can find me.

Tonight I’ll be introducing Sirens Studio guest of honor Roshani Chokshi, talking a little about women and power and myth-making.

Then tomorrow (Wednesday 10/23) gets exciting: surprise I’m running a two-hour workshop with Nivair Gabriel on women’s leadership in fantasy! Stop by for what we’ve titled “Who Run the Fantasy Worlds: Girls.” This has come together last minute as we’re filling in due to an emergency, so here’s what you can expect us to talk about.

On Thursday I’ll be helping get the much anticipated Sirens Bookstore set up! Throughout the remainder of the conference I’ll be stopping in to yell about books at you, so you have a good chance of seeing me there.

Friday starts bright and early with a panel I’m moderating at 9am on building inclusive bookish communities with Faye Bi, Shaista Fenwick, Traci-Anne Canada, and Cass Morris.

At 2pm I’ll be helping Amy Tenbrink tell you about all the new women-in-fantasy books released since last Sirens, and at 5pm you can find me at Book Speed Dating, where I will rapidly try to convince you to give a few of my favorite fantasy books a try.

(It’s very exciting that I am *scheduled* to spend so much of this conference shoving books at people.)

Saturday at noon I’ll be presenting my paper: “The Extraordinary Power of Heroines: Examining Women’s Heroism in Fantasy.”

And that’ it! You can DEFINITELY find me at the Sirens ball, but in general, I’ll be around and happy to visit old friends and make new ones. =)

Sirens and Voice

The other night Sirens Conference co-founder Amy Tenbrink called me out on Twitter (my weakness is dance music playlists, the trashier the better, now you all know), and obviously I picked up that gauntlet because of course I did.

For every $50 donated to the Sirens scholarship fund that night, I gave one suggestion for a panel not solely consisting of writers as the panelists (aka interdisciplinary panels), because this is important to me.

One of my favorite parts about Sirens is that any attendee can propose programming, and they have no better shot at getting in than anyone else. The vetting board is independent of the conference staff, and all they care about is your proposal.

(Really. I promise. I did my first programming back in 2011 without a credential to my name, and the first time I wanted to do a panel the programming staff helped me figure it out. If you want to participate in Sirens programming but need some backup, EMAIL THEM.)

And that matters. It matters that there is no box anyone has to check to be allowed a platform to speak and share their thoughts.

Because one of my other favorite parts of Sirens is that it’s not a writers conference.

Once more, because it’s super important: SIRENS IS NOT A WRITERS CONFERENCE.

Yes, there are writers there, and that’s great. But what’s also great is that there are readers, academics, publicists, librarians, editors, booksellers, and, oh, did I mention readers? Because the one thing we ALL have in common is that we read fantasy, and we’re passionate about the remarkable work of women in the genre.

One of the ways Sirens demonstrates its commitment to lifting up everyone’s voices, to making sure Sirens is a place where anyone can participate in practice and not just in theory, is by offering several scholarships. Right now, they’re down to the wire to finish meeting this year’s goal.

I think somehow people have gotten the sense that only writers can be on panels, and nothing could be further from the truth. But to have non-writers on panels, attendees need to submit proposals for those panels–and they need to be able to attend.

If you can donate to the scholarship fund, I hope you’ll consider it.

And if you’re going to Sirens this year, I hope you’ll consider submitting programming, which opens soon. To help get you going, here are my panel suggestions from the other night, and all of them are free for the taking.

(Sorry friends I am The Worst at snappy titles.)

 

  1. The Role of Reviews

What are reviews for? What are readers looking for in a review–help choosing a book, or critique to consider it more thoughtfully? How can reviews help or hurt marginalized communities? How does the publishing side use reviews? Are there right/wrong approaches?

I think the Sirens community could have a field day unpacking the challenges/opportunities of reviews. A panel like this could easily include readers, reviewers, librarians/booksellers, publicists, editors, writers, etc.

 

  1. Female Friendships in Fantasy

Let’s talk not just about our favorite female friendships, but what makes them work, and why women having non-toxic and complex relationships on the page, being excellent separate from men, is important.

Why does it matter to see female friendships in fantasy–for readers in today’s world, and in the context of the fantasy genre? What kinds of friendships do you want to see, and have there been shifts? What are common pitfalls? WHERE ARE THE GIRL GANGS. Come on, Sirens! =D

 

  1. Women’s Clothing in Fantasy

First off, there had BETTER be cosplayers on this panel, and also historians, AND I KNOW SIRENS HAS A PLETHORA OF BOTH AMONG ITS ATTENDEES I SEE YOU.

How is clothing in fantasy used to restrain or free female characters? Are dresses and corsets really swordplay prevention (SPOILERS THEY ARE NOT–so what else does fantasy commonly miss?). How does it reinforce values of femininity or its rejection (can we talk about transformation sequences?!)?

 

  1. Plot-bearing women over the age of 30 in fantasy novels: where are they?

And by that I mean, not just side characters, but women well into adulthood who actually shape the course of the story.

Where are the mothers? Where the successful career women? The badass old ladies who aren’t just generic stock crones (though I do love a cantankerous witch)? (None of these are mutually exclusive!) Why is it so important to have them on the page (and not just as villains!)?

And I’d LOVE to see some of our older readers at Sirens on this one. I want to hear their perspectives on these characters–what’s done well, what’s missing–as well as on how the fantasy genre has evolved on this point, if at all.

 

  1. Women’s Work in Fantasy

I want to see historians on this panel, but also knitters and bakers and seamstresses, programmers and chemists and engineers.

How does fantasy privilege traditionally masculine-coded disciplines (like physical combat) over feminine-coded ones (homemaking, textile work, gardening, etc.), and why does this matter? What stories are we missing? How can this work tie into magic, tech, economics, intrigue?

 

Let’s do this, Sirens. ❤

Lacking Mothers in Fantasy

The protagonist of the draft I just finished is a mother in her late 30s. She has a successful career and is also the sole parent of a teenager. When I first mentioned that I wanted to write a fantasy story driven by her, I got some skeptical looks from people unsure whether it could even work.

In fantasy, we have a preponderance of young protagonists with dead/absent/irresponsible parents. Archetypally, I understand why this works: you take a character who, being young, has a lot of growth potential, so it’s easy to challenge them and level them up over the course of the book until we reach the final climax and the hero finds themselves alone facing the Big Bad.

The first assumption is that it’s easier to do character development on a younger character because they know less about the world. The second is that if this child’s parents are not terrible, then they must have been forcibly removed to be allowing their child to face the Big Bad on their own and undefended.

Within YA, I am starting to see examples of parents that remain extant and aren’t terrible, though these narratives still center on the teens. Within fantasy, there have always been adult characters. In urban fantasy, we’ve seen a huge surge of young women actively pursuing careers. In high fantasy, we’ve seen teenage girls having adventures, and we’re getting more female characters who are fleshed out as side characters.

But within fantasy in general, I have an awful time finding mothers with agency. And I don’t just mean characters who have been mothers, if that makes sense — I love Ista dy Chalion in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls, but by this point in her fictional life, her children are grown, out of the house, and no longer in need of regular parenting. Only after her children are gone does she get to have an adventure. In Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the mother of Dresden’s child dies almost as soon as Dresden knows he has a child. I love Tamora Pierce’s Alanna, but once she becomes a mother the narratives have shifted to follow her children or others. I haven’t read the third Natural History of Dragons novel by Marie Brennan yet, but in the previous installment, Lady Trent has adventures at the cost of not also being able to raise her child simultaneously. In Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, her protagonist adopts a teenage daughter early on, but I have an awful time thinking of many other examples.

It seems to me there’s a huge gap here: in our reality, women raise children and pursue careers every day. Although not a mother myself, as far as I can tell this is incredibly difficult. That seems like it should go naturally with stories, right? Stories thrive on conflict and protagonists having to make hard decisions. So why don’t we see women above a certain age driving stories? It’s rare enough in high fantasy for adult women to be the protagonist at all, but mothers are even harder to find.

I think that’s a problem. I think it implicitly sends a message to girls and women that once you’re an adult, and certainly if you choose to be a mother, you can’t have adventures anymore. That your time is over. That your stories are less valuable than stories focusing on men, or focusing on the next bright young thing. That your stories are not worth telling.

There are three contributing factors that meet to create this phenomenon: our culture valorizes youth and undervalues the work that goes into parenting and, of course, it undervalues women. Our fantasy doesn’t have to.

I’m certainly capable of empathizing and identifying with characters who are not like me. I can imagine and extrapolate. But as a relatively young woman, I wish I had more models of adult women in fantasy. I want at least my stories to show me that reaching adulthood is not the beginning of a downward trend. I want to see that women can still have adventures. I want to see that choosing a career or parenting or both is not a trap. We have enough space in fantasy to explore what it means to be an adult woman.

I couldn’t find the kind of story I wanted to read, so I wrote one. If you have recommendations for me, please send them my way! But I hope that in the future, I hope stories driven by adult women and mothers in particular are not as hard to find. I think we need them.

A Sirens Reunion

The theme of Sirens this year was reunion, which is important, because there’s a reason I, and so many others, keep coming back.

Sirens was actually the first con of any kind I attended, and I had no way to know how much it spoiled me. The more involved I get in the SFF community, the more I hear about the kinds of exclusion and harassment going on at other cons, and people talking about how that’s “just the way it is.” And that’s all kinds of problematic, but it was particularly confusing and jarring when I compared those accounts to my experience at Sirens. Because the very idea of that sort of thing going on at Sirens is actually laughable, and I think that’s wonderful.

Sirens is a safe space. More than that, it’s an open, inspiring, and caring one.

Understand, I’m an introvert. I’m not scared of meeting new people, but I’m sometimes awkward about it. Sirens starts out with a dessert reception. I walked in my first year about ten minutes early and was lingering awkwardly on the side of the ballroom for a few minutes until I eventually decided to just plant my purse somewhere and start loading up on dessert and tea. By the time I returned to my table, it was inhabited by other people, and I was minutes into a discussion of a lesser known manga called Saiyuki and what makes it awesome before I realized I was talking to Sherwood Smith, one of the guests of honor that year. And that’s normal at Sirens: anyone will just walk up to someone they’ve never met and casually start arguing about art. Like you do.

Here’s an interesting statistic for you: almost half of Sirens’ attendees are involved in programming in some capacity.

Think about that for a second, because I think it really gets to the core of what makes Sirens work. Programming is screened, but it comes from the attendees, because it’s for the attendees.

We come back to Sirens over and over because it’s a community. It’s a community of academics, agents and editors, authors, readers, people who are passionate about books, games, expanding fantasy’s horizons, women, issues of representation, and just about everything under the sun, but people who are interested in things, people who care. It’s a community where no one person’s ideas are given more weight than another’s, where everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and those ideas are considered seriously.

Ideas I’ve bounced around with people at Sirens have gone on to be seeds for panels and novels. We share books, career advice, apartments, experiences. Support. I see Sirens friends once every couple of years, and every time, even the first time, it’s like coming home.

Sirens is held in a mountainous location, like a retreat. No one is just riding into town periodically; we’re all together somewhere magical. And it is magical to be with people who share your passion, smart and fun people who approach everything differently and are actively interested in what you think.

Sirens is beautiful, mind-bending, empowering. Next year is ghost year, and I hope you can make it.