Sirens and Spirits

This past weekend, Darian, Lola, and I traveled to a land of ghosts, spirits, slayers, and mediums. It was an incredible journey (no pun intended) and I can’t thank the Wise Women who organize the Sirens Conference enough.

Happy to be back at Sirens.
For those of you who might not know, Sirens is a conference dedicated to women in fantasy literature and this year’s theme was Hauntings. The conference this year took place at Skamania Lodge in the heart of one of Washington States most beautiful natural areas, The Columbia River Gorge.


Writers, readers, fans, and industry professionals interested in this topic traveled from far and wide to discuss a wide range of related spooky topics and texts over the course of three days.

Darian the Free
Part of what I love about attending conferences is that I meet amazing people, and sometimes, just sometimes, I find the kind of human connection that endures and enriches my life. I can honestly say that this year’s Sirens made many of those connections possible and I’m still giddy and glowing from the rush of finding so many sisters, role models, and advocates.

Lola the Brave

I’ll use this space to transcribe a few of the most poignant take-aways, questions, and moments that will (dare I say it?) haunt me for quite some time. Oh, and post pretty pictures of course.

Thursday:
Kendare Blake’s Keynote:
She described it as a “rambling journey down my [her] Google hole”. The results made me laugh harder and longer than I have in months. My take-aways: Horror is a celebration of fear and life’s messiness. It also may be an ideal vehicle for strong “unlikable” feminine characters to get their due.

Friday:
Haunted Women Panel: Andrea Hairston, Rosemary Clement, Kendare Blake. Moderated by Amy Tenbrink.
All three authors described writing as a process that can mirror possession. A book, or a voice, or a story “calls out” and the writer responds. Hairston spoke about theater as “embodied experience”. We must use our lives and bodies to know what we write. Clement spoke about capability vs. power and permission to write about a love that is “back to back, shoulder to shoulder” when push comes to shove. Blake spoke about landscapes like The Suicide Forest, and how the Anna books “wrote themselves”.

From the left: Clement, Blake, Hairston, Tenbrink
Back to Bly: Ghosts and Lovers in “Turn of then Screw”: Paper by Meg Belviso
Ever since this paper I’ve been pondering how what isn’t said in a text might be scarier than what is. I’ve also been thinking a lot about what a boy’s “natural” place might be, as opposed to what was once assumed about to be a girl’s “natural” place.

The woods nearby.
Rosemary Clement’s Keynote:
Rich exploration of the history of gothic fiction, differences between terror and horror, and the relationships between insanity, grief, and hauntings in women’s history. Memorable questions: Are women hard-wired to seek permanence of spirit and perpetuation of blood-line? How are the heart and whole related? How do we haunt each other by becoming part of the people we know? Hauntings are personal, private, experiences… how does that relate to the feminine domain? How do feminine spirits inhabit the space between worlds of expectation and worlds of individual identity?


Haunted Landscapes Panel: Kathryn Cottam, Roberta Cottam, and Kate Tremills
Beautifully architected panel on questions of how settings and land influence what stories we tell. I left this one thinking about the landscapes that “call” to me and wondering about whether they haunt me, or part of me haunts them. How do we bring expectations to certain places? How do we find and feel the spirit of place?

Photographs by Killian Schoenberger provided the inspiring backdrop of the panel:
Brothers Grimm's Homeland



Film Viewings: Selected by Andrea Hairston

PUMZI

OLDER THAN AMERICA: a haunting film I highly recommend.

*sidenote: Dinner on Sat night (at a local diner) was some of the grossest food I’ve ever seen. This was Darian’s vegetarian baked potato that better resembles regurgitated ectoplasm.

An unfortunate experience
Bedtime Story: Andrea Hairston and Pan Morigan 
Morigan played the banjo and sang. Hairston read about pirates, the Georgia Sea Islands, and a child named Rainbow. Magick happened.

…and then the hot tub happened.

Saturday:

The Importance—and Business—of Diversity in Fantasy Literature by Women Panel: Faye Bi, Amy Boggs, Joy Kim. Moderated by Amy Tenbrink.
Vital discussion around the continued role of books and publishing in fostering equity, justice, and understanding. What barriers exist that prevent diverse folks from achieving publishing careers? What responsibilities do white and privileged advocates/writers have to work towards social and creative justice? How do we as a community boost the signals of diverse authors and books? How are book covers a landmine?

Hoping to bust through boundaries and open gates.
Butch Bitches and Daft Damsels: Sexism in Fantasy Literature: Facilitated by Artemis Grey What does it mean to have “incidental gender”? How is the masculine gender “unmarked” and the feminine gender “marked”? How can we respond to “micro-agressions” in meaningful, powerful ways to stem the tide of mass erasure and sexism?
I wonder what spirit sits here.

Andrea Hairston’s Keynote
This keynote blew me away. I took six pages of notes. Hairston spun poetry around past spirits that spook us into the future, the false divide between emotion and logic, the truth of our world’s ongoing apocalypse as we drown in consumables, the artist’s work of reanimating the world. A few (of many) memorable quotes: “I’m a futurist, speculating on the disappeared past…Ghosts spook the living into changing the world…Ghosts are sacred and profane, restless guardians of our humanity…. Liminal beings, the presence of an absence…. America is a haunted house… Everything is personal… Life is a global phenomenon. All is one…It’s we who have to keep it alive.”

How I felt after Hairston's keynote.
Demystifying Social Media: Faye Bi
Frank and generous presentation about how writers can use social media to establish a meaningful identity and presence online. This woman knows her stuff. I can only hope I get to work with a publicist of this caliber someday.

(I have a lot of work to do!)

The Shadows Ball
Sirens celebrates the final day with costumes, dancing, murder mystery, and more inspiring conversation! My “Grey Lady” dress was made by the incredible Erynn Moss… in under an hour... with no prior design. We also placed newspaper feathers in my hair in honor of Andrea Hairston.




From left: Me, Andrea Hairston, and Erynn Moss the maker of my "Grey Lady" dress.
The Headless Horseman and the Grey Lady
Darian dressed as DJ-Pon3, a My Little Pony, and Lola dressed in haunting 1920’s garb. Highlight of the night had to be when the Headless Horseman rode Dj-POn3. I'm not kidding. You can check  #sirens14 on twitter for proof and more info on the conference.

Flapper and DJ Pon3

Sunday
After breakfast, the Sirens Auction, and purchasing more books than is sane, we bid a fond farewell to Sirens and took a short hike up Beacon Rock, a local landmark. From the heights of the rock we could see for miles and through time. A fitting end to a weekend rich in spirit and soul.

Thank you Sirens, guests, and attendees!

As we climbed Beacon Rock, we saw and heard Raven call from the skies.... perhaps an omen of good things to come. 
Next year's Sirens Conference will focus on Rebels and Revolutionaries and will take place in Denver, Colorado. Can't wait!

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