Sirens 2015: Rebels & Revolutionaries

I recently attended my third Sirens Conference and am happy to report it was another powerful and life-affirming experience. For those of you who may not have read about this conference here before, Sirens is a small boutique conference for and about women in fantasy literature. This year, Darian and Lola (my dear writer-sisters) traveled with me to Denver, Colorado. I’d been volunteering a bit for Sirens over the course of the year and though I knew the conference had been planned carefully, I still worried that it would somehow not live up to my hopes and past experiences. I need not have worried.

Warning: This post is long because it is primarily for my own records and for other curious Sirens attendees. Certainly, if you’re interested, feel free to scan and browse. This post doesn’t need to be read start to finish, but I highly encourage you to click on some of the links to the wonderful presenters and Guests of Honor who attended this year.


We arrived, checked in, and got to have dinner with some of my new favorite people on the planet: Rosemary Clement, Rook Riley, and Jen Adams (long time online friend who I finally got to meet in person!).

Jen and I:

Keynote: Kate Elliott gave a beautiful, funny, and touching speech on how readers access fantasy worlds, familiar and strange. She suggested, and I think rightly so, that writers have the power to craft truly revolutionary narratives even as they employ some of the tropes, settings, or situations that might seem initially “comfortable” for readers. Also, she's wonderful.


Writing the Fantastic: [Panel]
Kate Elliott, RaeCarson, Yoon Ha Lee, moderated by Amy Tenbrink (Co-founder of Sirens)
This panel was probably the most powerful part of programming for me. Each of the Guests of Honor brought incredible wisdom and humor to the conversation on how they became writers, stayed writers, and continue to fight the good fight. The moments that most affected me were these:

Kate Elliot: “Surround yourself with your comrades… Walk together…”
“Forgive yourself.”

Rae Carson: Sometimes it’s okay to “beat a hasty retreat” in order to “win the war”.  Sometimes, it’s wise to ask yourself, “Do I have room in my heart for rage today?” “Get selfish…. Do the hard thing”.

Yoon Ha Lee: Pick your battles. Like Sun Tzu: “The best way to defeat the enemy is to understand the enemy.”

Women of War, Trauma, and Healing: [Panel]
ArtemisGrey, Catherine Lundoff, T.L. Morganfield, Bethany Powell, s.e. smith
Great discussion of the ways that trauma, whether of an individual or a community, is frequently misrepresented and ignored in fantasy narratives.

Artemis, me, and her twin, Stella:

Keynote: Yoon Ha Lee, who is hilarious and intensely brilliant, spoke about gathering much of his inspiration from gaming. While I’m not currently a gamer myself, after this speech, I’m considering exploring games again. Yoon is precisely the kind of writer I want to be someday: poetic, brave, and imaginative. A few of my take-aways:
-       In fiction, make shit as weird and new as possible. Roleplaying has tons of fodder for this.
-       It’s sometimes more fun when characters level down, rather than leveling up.
-       Whenever people ask how to improve their prose, I tell them to read poetry.

Rosemary Clement enjoying Yoon Ha Lee's Keynote.

Rebelling Against the Binary: Gender in Speculative Fiction: [Roundtable]
Moderated by Jessica Corra
Challenging discussion on the ways in which speculative fiction must evolve to continue to revolutionize the way we conceive gender. Overall, I left this discussion agreeing (I think with many) that our society needs more stories where there are 3 genders, 5 genders, 7 gender systems, where characters have choice of gender, or even where gender is absent and people are… wait for it… people.

No Key, No Problem: [Afternoon Class]
Erynn Moss
Um, we learned how to pick locks. My con is cooler than yours.

Also, I can now use a bobby pin to open handcuffs behind my back. !^&%! Here's a picture of our awesome instructor, Erynn:

I had dinner on Friday at Park Meadows food court with a whole bunch of awesome Sirens, many of whom I met that evening. (Thanks, Erynn, for driving us!)

After dinner: Rested for a while and then visited the bookstore and found THIS BEAUTIFUL BOOK with cover art by Terri Windling-Gayton

Darian, Lola, and I stayed up for awhile drinking cocktails and reading poems from The Moment of Change , edited by Rose Lemberg, aloud to one another in the Fireside Lounge. These, dear friends, are the moments I live for.


Infiltrate the Query Pile: [Workshop]
AmyBoggs, Jennifer Udden
These two generous (and funny!) literary agents gave us helpful reminders about how to structure a query for maximum effect. A few of my take-aways:
-Sometimes a query includes marketing language and clichĂ©s and that’s okay.
-Do not reveal your ending! If the agent is asking for 50 pages, pitch those.
-All a query really needs to do is get eyes down to the pages.
* Amy Boggs is currently open for queries. Jennifer Udden is currently closed.

Mother of the Revolution: [Panel]
This was my first time presenting at Sirens and I was *nervous*. I’m happy to say I think it went very well. The audience was engaged, supportive, and each panelist was excellent. We discussed representations of mothers in fantasy literature and explored motherhood in relation to writing. My take-aways:
-Most women, whether mothers or care-givers or neither, come up against societal expectations about motherhood at some point in their lives and yet this is a highly personal, complex, and difficult topic.
-There is a deep need for more and better stories about and around pregnancy, motherhood, and agency within fantasy literature.

(photo by Lola Lindle- thanks!)

Generation K: [Panel]
KathrynCottam, Darian Lindle, Lola Lindle, Kate Tremills
Great discussion of how dystopian novels have evolved in the wake of Hunger Games, 9/11, and social media. A few of my take-aways:
-Revolution can’t exist without rebellion.
-Rebels oppose the existing order and this appeals to teens.
-Revolutionaries propose a new order and this may be harder for many young people to identify with, as they struggle with a flood of choices in their own lives.

Keynote: Rae Carson gave a compassionate and inspiring talk on the major obstacles she's faced as a writer. Honestly, there were too many take-aways to post here:      
-Know your mission as an author before you look for an agent.
-“You might never overcome your obstacles, you might carry them with you the rest of your life, and that’s okay. They can cease to be walls and just be something we work with.”
-Luck matters. Shitty luck happens. We move on and through.

The Iconoclastic Revolutionary: [Panel]
Rae CarsonKate Elliott, Andrea J. Horbinkski, Jennifer Michaels, s.e.smith, Jennifer Udden
Another meaningful discussion of how women fighters and revolutionaries are characterized in fantasy lit. Great analysis of the “lone wolf” figure and how/ why women are often held up to masculine models of rebellion.

Female Game-Changers [Roundtable]
Sherwood Smith
Too many wonderful titles were discussed to list here, but I need to say that Sherwood Smith blew me away with her vast knowledge of female centered fantasy literature and culture. She is *amazing*.

Fan Girls: The Art of Fan Language [Afternoon Class]
Sherwood Smith
We played with fans! I made a fool of myself! Fun was had. =)

Darian, Fan Girl:

Lola had the brilliant idea to order pizza to our room were we got to hang out with several kindred spirits. A truly soul satisfying meal.  I need to mention Rosemary Clement again here, because her workshop was full when I tried to attend (argh!), but if you haven’t met her or read her work, well… DO IT. She’s freaking awesome. And Rook Riley, I sure hope I get to see you again next year!

The Insurgent’s Ball:
Alright, I’m out of words. Here, have some pictures:

The Serenity crew!

Slytherin & Ravenclaw:

Mal and Inara:



Aaaaaand so, Sirens 2015 was phenomenal. I definitely missed some friends who were unable to attend this year, but Sirens 2016 is only 12 months away. The next theme is Lovers!
Details will be here.

I've done my best to include accurate links to so many lovely folks, but please let me know if you see any errors or know of some links I couldn't find. Also, let it be noted that I failed to get pictures of SO MANY wonderful people I was able to see and connect with at Sirens this year. Better to live in the moment, but I do care about so many more folks than I could post here. Hope to see you all next year!


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