Sirens Conference 2013

This month I attended Sirens, a conference devoted entirely to women and fantasy literature. Sirens takes place about five hours outside of Seattle, so Darian, Lola, and I drove down together. We stopped for lunch and laughs on our way.

Darian, Burt, and Lola
When we first arrived to the gorgeous (ha!) setting of the Columbia River, I was certain we were in a magical place. 

And indeed we were! We were soon surrounded by smart, feisty, fascinating women, and among them many well-respected and celebrated authors. More than a few times, I found myself thinking "I want to be just like her when I grow up". 

The small size of the conference made it feel intimate and personal compared to the other, larger writing conferences I experienced this year. Many thanks to all the folks who worked so hard to make Sirens happen. Here are a few of my personal highlights:

Keynote ~ by Alaya Dawn Johnson, author of The Summer Prince
-Spoke about her process, her love of travel, and how her racial identity and life experiences have shaped the way she writes characters who are often in-between.

Anchoring your Fantasy with Reality ~ Panel by Delia Sherman, Caroline Stevermer, and Nancy Werlin
-Helpful discussion of the way that place, time period, and season must be well-researched in fantasy, even as worlds are invented. The more real the world, the more successful the fantasy.

Gender Masquerades 2.0 ~ Panel by Ellen Kushner, Kate Elliot, Mette Ivie Harrison, Malinda Lo, and s.e. smith
-Challenging and thought-provoking conversation about how simple gender swapping and conversion has, must, and will become more complex as the full spectrum of gender identities is explored in fantasy lit.

Keynote ~ by Robin LaFevers, author of Grave Mercy
-Bravely spoke about her own history, process, and why we must write stories for girls and women. 
      -“The quest for perfection can be a brutal stand-in for the messages we receive from others.”
      -“As women… we need room to fail gloriously.”
      -“Shame often comes disguised as help.”
      -“Our dragon is the expectations of society, that keep us from being the hero in our own story.”
      -“Even as we create stories, we make a new one for ourselves.”

The Question of Girlhood – Roundtable by Ysabeau Wilce, author of The Flora Fyrdraaca Series
- We discussed theories about how and why girls go on adventures and what to make of girlhood as an obstacle itself. Take-aways from the conversation:
     -When girls take on “boy traits” we must examine what message that sends to readers.
     -The risk of rape is one of the primary reasons girls are kept sheltered and 'protected' from 
      adventure in most fantasy lit.
     -Magical band-aids for rape, pregnancy, and sexual power are not satisfying to some readers.
     -Boys are at risk of rape too, but this is often ignored.
     -We need to write and imagine worlds where girls are safe and empowered so that society can move      in that direction. We must "imagine it before we can become it." (Not sure who said that!)
     -We can’t worry about “getting it perfect” in our books because, ultimately, we are still situated and        cannot see all.

Keynote ~ Guadalupe Garcia McCall, author of Under the Mesquite
-Beautiful and vibrant talk about how this author came to be published and the personal inspirations behind her writing.

Keynote ~ by Ellen Kushner, author of Thomas the Rhymer 
-This was more performance than speech, and featured Ellen singing ancient ballads, playing guitar, and reading from the book that won her the World Fantasy Award. And by the way, Ellen and her partner, Delia, are two of the loveliest people I've ever met. They seemed to make everyone feel important and loved. Fairy folk, methinks.

I won’t record here all the other snippets of conversation and shared moments that were inspiring and important to me, but I assure you, my notebook is full. 

A woman we met named Erynn made a typewriter dress for the ball. Incredible.

On the way back to Seattle, we stopped to visit a life-size replica of Stonehenge that just happens to be in Southern Washington. Because we’re cool like that. And because clearly that is the only way you should round off a weekend of feminism and fantasy.

Like what you see? Come with us next year!


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