Rae Carson, Yoon Ha Lee, and I are joint Guests of Honor at Sirens Conference this year, October 8 – 11, in south Denver, Colorado.
I first attended Sirens in 2012 when Nalo Hopkinson and Malinda Lo were Guests of Honor. A number of writers I know had been singing the conference’s praises and I wanted a chance to try out (to quote from Sirens’ own description) “a conference about women in fantasy literature” that is meant to be “part scholarly conference, part enthusiastic convention, part networking weekend, and part personal retreat.”
That is what I got. Malinda and Nalo gave thoughtful, powerful speeches, and read from their works in progress. Panels covered a range of subjects; there were also papers, workshops, and roundtables for discussion of various topics, and besides that free time for hanging out and eating and drinking.
Here are five things I love about Sirens.
1. The conference brings together readers, authors, publishing professionals, scholars, educators, and librarians, each with their unique perspectives and their specific questions and views of fantasy literature. People talk to each other, a lot, and discussion is built into the way the programming is set up. Given that everyone at Sirens loves reading, I felt we were all on the same page (no pun intended). Furthermore, for someone like me it is a great place to talk to librarians about what they’re seeing in their profession these days, as well as to pick the brains of agents and publishing professionals for their insights in the field, scholars about their work, and other readers to gush about or criticize favorite stories.
How provocative is the discussion? At a roundtable at Sirens 2013 led by librarian Joy Kim on Women and Politics in Fantasy, the other participants had such strong feelings about certain things they wanted to see women doing in fantasy fiction that the discussion made me re-think one of the plots in my forthcoming novel, Black Wolves.
2. Sirens is small (I believe in the 100 – 150 range?) and thus not at all overwhelming for people who might find a large convention daunting. This also means that every attendee is encouraged to participate. [Note: This is a conference for ages 18 and over.]
3. It’s low-key and welcoming, or at least I found it to be that way. Being able to hang out with people in a leisurely, easy-going atmosphere is one of the great benefits. I have felt very at ease at both Sirens Conferences (I also attended in 2013) in a way I have never felt at sff conventions (even the ones I really enjoy). I love talking about books, publishing, media, the now and the future, and all without the slightly on-edge jockeying that I sometimes feel goes on at larger conventions. Will it be for everyone? Of course not; I can only speak to my own experience.
On a personal level I must mention that when I attended in 2013, I chose to do so (having already made reservations months earlier) even though my father had just died (from a brutal cancer) a mere ten days before. I needed a space away from the aftermath. To say I was shellshocked would be an understatement, but everyone at Sirens was kind and understanding; they included me when I could engage and let me sit quietly when I needed that. The organizing committee had all signed a condolence card for me; I was so deeply touched.
I can’t claim that any public gathering is a fully safe space (I’m not convinced those places yet exist in the world) but it was as safe a conference as I’ve attended, and I’m so appreciative of that.
4. Okay, let me be honest. I love books by and about men, but it does seem that in terms of visibility and discussion at conventions these books and authors get the lion’s share of the attention, and so it is a pleasure to be at a convention with a specific focus on women.
Here’s what Sirens itself has to say:
Why is the focus women in fantasy literature?
Our conference team believes strongly that women’s place in fantasy literature—as readers, as authors, as professionals, even as characters—is a vital, vibrant topic for discussion and debate. Some of our favorite books are fantasy works by women authors and some of our favorite people are women who write fantasy—and we hope you feel the same!
5. This year (2015) Sirens Studio debuts:
a two-day event featuring workshop intensives, discussion and networking opportunities, and flexible time for attendees to use however they wish.
Okay, so how cool is this pre-conference workshop? It is so cool that I wish I could attend all six sessions, especially the one by Faye Bi about reading inclusive and intersectional feminism in fantasy literature that is being held at the same time as the workshop I’m giving on “Writing Past Defaults.”
Yes! I’m giving a two hour workshop (I hope I can keep this to two hours):
We all carry societal baggage about gender roles into our writing. That’s inevitable. In this workshop intensive, Kate will analyze how authors (including herself!) who are consciously attempting to expand and center roles for women may unconsciously undermine their female characters by sliding sideways into stereotyped personalities or behaviors and work. Often, male characters act within the plot while women characters—even as the central figures—may be given reactive roles. We’ll discuss typical fantasy gender defaults, ways in which authors who may seem to be subverting them aren’t always, and how to turn around these insidious messages to more fully write women characters as they really are, and have been, in the world.
Other Sirens Studio workshops include A Short Fiction Writing Intensive on Characterization and World-Building with Yoon Ha Lee and Shveta Thakrar, A Reading Intensive (companion to my workshop) with Amy Tenbrink on reconstructing unconscious authorial bias, and two fantastic professional workshops: Miram Weinberg on A Woman’s Guide to Navigating the Highs and Lows of the Modern Workplace, and Sruta Vootukuru on Innovation, Diversity, and Feminism in the Television Industry.
That is all besides the programing scheduled for the conference itself. The theme this year is Rebels and Revolutionaries.
If you are interested and can, I encourage you to attend. I’ll be there!
P.S. Not everyone can easily afford this conference. I’m sorry I didn’t post this sooner as a few scholarships are available every year (but those have been given out already). Con or Bust may have a membership available (check with them) for PoC attendees.