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I recently returned from Sirens, the amazing literary conference I am turning into a yearly tradition. Seriously, if you have any interest in women in fantasy, you should definitely plan on signing up for next year’s conference, which will be held in Stevenson, Washington in mid-October. Sirens is a small conference with a very intimate feel where you really have a chance to meet and talk with readers, writers, literary agents, editors, and more, and the size makes it very cozy and comfortable.
Being a literary conference, of course, it also leaves me with piles of book recommendations, and, uh, books:
Yes, almost all of those books fit in my luggage. (The ones at the very bottom of the stack are from the UC Press sidewalk sale and P.S. Emily yes that is a book about smallpox you spy.) Combined, the four of us who were traveling together ended up coming home with at least 60 books.
I could recommend one of the amazing books we talked about during the panel sessions and roundtables, or books from the fantastic guests of honor, but instead I think I’ll tell you what I’ll be reading to prepare for next year’s Sirens: books from next year’s guests of honor.
The theme of Sirens 2014 is “Hauntings,” and so, appropriately, the guests of honor have written books about spirits, shades, hauntings, and things that go bump in the night. You can take the theme literally as being about ghosts and the like, but it’s also about the metaphorical haunting that characters experience as they rethink their pasts, are forced to confront reality, and struggle with things like coming of age or making major life transitions.
This Korean-American author is probably most known for her recent “Anna Dressed in Blood” and the sequel “Girl of Nightmares.” They’re just your average boy meets girl, girl kills people stories, as the flap copy says, and let me tell you, “Anna Dressed in Blood” was amazing and also wicked spooky, to the point that I needed to rethink my plans about reading it at night.
The story revolves around a boy who works as a ghost killer, traveling North America to find restless ghosts and send them along their way. He works with the violent, the angry, and the confused, but he meets his biggest challenge yet in Anna, a ghost who just can’t shake her old family home. It very quickly becomes apparent, though, that she is no ordinary ghost, and the events of the past that have been haunting him (so to speak) are finally about to catch up with him.
As a Texan, this lady takes her hauntings seriously. In “Texas Gothic,” a ranch turns sinister with a rapidly-mounting body count and a mysterious ghost, while her Maggie Quinn novels (“Prom Dates From Hell,” “Hell Week,” and “Highway to Hell”) take on a distinctly supernatural bent as Quinn confronts ancient evil, demonically-possessed cheerleaders, and more.
“The Splendor Falls,” meanwhile, takes us deep into Alabama and true Southern Gothic style. All of Clement-Moore’s young adult novels are paranormal, but they range from the lighthearted (Maggie Quinn) to the more sultry, dark, and severe; so you can really sort of pick and choose what you’re in the mood to read. I really looking forward to meeting her next year because I have a soft spot for Texan writers, and I strongly suspect she’s hilarious in person.
(Don’t let me down, Rosemary!)
Talk about hauntings. Andrea Hairston is a fantastic, and Tiptree Award-winning (among many other commendations) author of numerous novels and plays, including “Redwood and Wildfire,” a haunting, evocative, gut-punching novel about race, love, regret, and the ties between us.
Dr. Hairston is also an essayist, editor, academic, and a whole lot more, and it is a huge honor to have another chance to see her (she was a recent guest of honor at WisCon), and to talk with her in the welcoming, friendly environment of Sirens (seriously, if you weren’t already sold on Sirens, the chance to see Andrea Hairston should convince you).
Her works explore magical realism, identity, race, culture, and human interactions in a very tight, real, immense, intense way. They’re tremendous, and it’s so exciting to have an excuse to re-read them in preparation.
As with other Sirens conferences, all three of these amazing women will be giving guest of honor speeches (these tend to be fascinating and so much fun), but they’ll also be appearing on panels, roundtables, and other programming. In addition, there's a good chance they'll be hanging out around the conference, in the common room, and at dinner, giving you a chance to meet them in an intimate setting. This provides a fantastic opportunity to hear them talk not just about their work and careers, but women in fantasy in general, specific issues of interest, and just plain fun things.
Thus, reading their books doesn’t just give me a chance to get to know their work a bit before I meet them: it also allows me to prepare for what is effectively a three day slumber party with some of my favorite people. (No really, on Friday night we do Bedtime Stories where the guests of honor read from their books and everyone sits around in PJs drinking hot chocolate.)