Writing Community: Sirens Conference

For my blog post this week, I’m switching things up a bit! Throughout the year, I’d like to write about finding and building community as a writer – whether that be online or in person, local or abroad. Whatever form your writing community takes, what’s important is that you create a support system that best suits you and your needs as a writer! Since I began actively seeking out fellow writers, readers, and book lovers with similar passions and writing ambitions, my life and writing have infinitely changed for the better. I can’t wait to share some of these thoughts and insights with you!

This month, I’ve got conferences on the brain! This time last year, I was beginning my first foray into conference research. I’d made the decision to refocus my time and energy on what I was most passionate about – writing. But here’s the thing – I was scared! I had low confidence in my work, was daunted by the idea of completing a novel, and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who populate the publishing world. I felt like a conference would help me to begin to better understand how the larger writing community works and allow me to meet fellow writers with shared interests.

With this in mind, I began researching North American writing conferences. I knew that I wanted a smaller conference (AWP and Writer’s Digest just seemed so BIG and overwhelming for a first conference) where I would feel safe as a queer woman and be encouraged to talk about speculative fiction. Luckily for me, this is a pretty specific conference checklist, and after a few Google searches and Twitter chats I stumbled upon the Sirens website.

Sirens is an annual Colorado conference geared toward writers, readers, librarians, and educators of sci-fi/fantasy literature, specifically those who feel the effects of the patriarchy (nonbinary folks, tran folks, women, or wherever you land on the gender spectrum!). Founded in 2009 (10 years ago!!), Sirens sought to create a conference space where all were welcomed and encouraged to celebrate and see themselves in speculative fiction. Their commitment to doing better and being more inclusive each year is evident and refreshing, and is what drew to me them in the first place.


Like the women of fantasy literature, we dream big and bold and bright.

Sirens 2019

After months of planning, budgeting, and applying for grants, I attended my very first Sirens conference in October 2018! I decided to attend both the pre-conference Sirens Studio (Tuesday-Wednesday) and the full Sirens conference (Thursday-Sunday) to give myself a fully immersive experience. Sirens Studio was an amazing experience – two days of small-group workshops taught by stellar faculty interspersed with time to read, write, and relax (yes, there were bonfire pits and outdoor hot tubs!).

The full conference began Thursday evening with a welcome reception and the very first keynote speaker. Friday was chock full of workshops, lecture, and panels, and ended with a fabulous evening of Bedtime Stories, during which all visiting guests of honor read from their new/upcoming work (while we, of course, sipped on hot chocolate and ate gourmet s’mores!). Saturday featured similar conference scheduling, two more amazing keynote speakers, and an unforgettable masquerade ball!

My first Sirens conference was truly life changing. I’m a bit shy and reserved before I get to know people, so I was glad that I decided to start with the smaller Sirens Studio. The few extra days gave me a bit more time to ease into the conference and to meet a few people before the (delightful) chaos began on Friday. A lot of people already knew each other (some people have been attending Sirens every year since 2009, which is AMAZING!) and I was a little bit intimidated at first! However, Sirens does a wonderful job at planning group outings for lunch and dinner, and I quickly learned that connecting with people over food is SO my thing!

One of my biggest struggles as a writer (besides, ya know, writing) is being confident enough to discuss my work and ideas with friends and strangers, and Sirens really forced me out of my comfort zone in this regard, which I am so thankful for. Seeing how passionate everyone was about their own work and other’s really pushed me to reevaluate the fears/anxieties I have about sharing my own writing. This was my biggest take away from the conference – a new confidence in myself and my work. I’m so grateful for all of the amazing people I met last year at Sirens!

I could sing praises about Sirens forever (I can’t wait to go back this year!!) but before I finish this post I just want to touch base on the most daunting thing about conferences: $$$$. I don’t know about you, but as a person with two part-time jobs who makes less than $20,000 a year, the thought of dropping $1500 on conference fees, plane tickets, and housing was horrifying! Financially, conferences are not always accessible. I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from my local arts counsel that funded my entire trip, but it’s not always that easy!

If your city or state doesn’t offer grants for artists, there are also scholarship options through Sirens (some of which are still open!). Sirens is currently accepting program proposals through May 15 – three exemplary programming proposals will be awarded free registration and shuttle tickets! Additionally, Con or Bust is a fabulous financial resource for people of color seeking to attend SFF conventions.

What are you experiences with writing conferences (the good, the bad, the ugly?!). Let me know in the comments!

-Emory

March Bookshelf

Happy March! (There is actually sun outside my window as I type this…that means winter is officially over, right? Right…?). At the beginning of every month, we’ll reveal the books that are on our radar for the next 30 days. Here’s the Top 5 books on our shelves for the month of March!

Emory:

  1. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado – Just finished this for Feminist Sci-Fi Bookclub in February – now it’s time to reread it in preparation for my very first book review!
  2. King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo – After hearing Leigh Bardugo speak at Sirens in October, I’ve slowly been working my way through the Grishaverse. So excited to read the next installment! 
  3. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – I really need to read V.E. Schwab before she comes to Columbus for her author event in March. Also, I just really need to read V.E. Schwab!
  4. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James – I have a confession: I get super intimidated by epic fantasy. But when EVERYONE is talking about how amazing Marlon James is…how could I not pick this up at my local bookstore?!
  5.  The True Queen by Zen Cho – Finally!!! The sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown!! I fell completely in love with Zen Cho’s 2015 novel the moment I picked it up (regency era magic?!?! yes please!) and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Sara:

  1. Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty – I’m only 100 pages into the second installment of the Daevabad trilogy, and I’m already terrified of what kind of cliffhanger is waiting for me at the end. It can’t possibly be worse than the first book’s cliffhanger, right? (Right???)
  2. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – This one was a Christmas present from Emory (and, in a not-so-surprising twist, cause our minds think alike, I got her the exact same book for Christmas, too). Seems like the perfect starting point for my dive into the Sci-Fi genre.
  3. What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah – I’ve only read the first couple of stories from this collection, but w o w!! I haven’t even finished the collection and I’m already looking forward to re-reading each story to pick out things I missed.
  4. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi – Releasing on March 5th, Oyeyemi’s new book explores the role of gingerbread in children’s fairy tales and makes a new place for it in a modern setting (and I’m sure there will be a cool, Gothic twist in there somewhere).
  5. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – Okorafor’s Binti trilogy (all three books are out!) blends Sci-Fi and Afrofuturism. Each book is a novella, just around 100 pages, but based on the amount of praise and awards directed at this trilogy, every page holds something great. This might be the book I’m most excited to start!

Image Credit: Goodreads

Two Sisters. Infinite Books.

I’m Emory – I currently live in Columbus, Ohio, where I put my Shakespeare Studies MA to good use as an ice cream scooper/jewelry maker and Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer. When I’m not working, I volunteer at visiting author events, attend monthly Feminist Sci-Fi Bookclub meetings, and co-run a local writing group. My ideal book contains robots, magic, and a whole lotta bisexuals!

I reached out to my sister Sara about starting a book blog because, I’ll be honest, my master’s degree drained all the joy of reading right out of me. After graduating in 2016, I floated aimlessly from job to job until one day I realized what was missing from my life – my love of writing and reading. This past spring, I was lucky enough to get a grant from my city’s arts council to attend Sirens, an AMAZING conference dedicated to women/nonbinary folks who read and write SFF. This conference reignited my passion for reading and inspired me to get more involved in the writing/publishing/book-blogging community.

As a writer and reader, I am on a never-ending journey to diversify what I create and consume. My book choices for this blog will feature Sci-Fi/Fantasy books written by women, writers of color, LGBTQ+ writers, writers with disabilities, and all of the varying intersections of these identities. I’m so excited to broaden the scope of my reading and challenge myself with new perspectives and ideas.

Aside from reviewing books, I’m also interested in writing about building community as a reader and writer (online or in person). I recently co-founded a local writer’s group and began regularly attending a monthly book club – these two additions to my life have changed so much about how I approach writing and reading. I’m excited to talk more about the idea of creating ‘literary communities’ and how they can change and evolve over time!

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I’m Sara, currently living in the DMV area where I am working towards my MA in Publishing at George Washington University. Why publishing, you ask? Well, as I told my professor when he asked me the same question – I love books, I love talking about books, and I have pretty good taste in books, so the publishing industry seemed like the natural route to take. On top of school, I’m also interning at Oghma Creative Media as an editorial intern, where I do everything from working with authors on plot and character development in the early stages of their manuscript, to the final galley edits of a novel where I see if there’s any missing commas. To fill the rest of my free time, I also work in retail!

When Emory reached out to me asking if I wanted to do a book blog, my immediate reactions were excitement and a weird sense of relief, because I knew this was an opportunity that would get me back into the habit of reading. After completing my BA in English last summer, I felt unmotivated when it came to reading and writing. And now that I’m doing my MA in Publishing, when I find myself with free time I’m usually playing video games or binging a new Netflix show. I work best on a schedule, so a book blog seemed like the perfect way to get back into my love of reading and writing.

One of the other reasons I’m excited to begin this book-blogging journey is to further expand on the types of books I read. I’ve always been into YA Fantasy and Gothic fiction, but have only dipped my toes into the Sci-Fi genre. When it comes to Fantasy, nothing hooks me faster than a group of unlikely heroes with magical abilities roaming their world on a destiny-filled quest. As for Sci-Fi – I’m not sure what I like, but if there’s space and robots (think Pacific Rim), then I’m all in.

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There’s so many glorious books out there to be read – and we can’t wait to start this blogging adventure with you!