I have a lot to say about Sirens. Con reports aren’t something I usually do in detail, but this was my first experience with the con, my first con of that particular sort, and my first time being a Guest of Honor; unsurprisingly, this produces Thoughts. I’ll put them behind the cut, but for those who don’t want to read the whole shebang, here’s the short form:
It was amazing.
If your idea of a good con is one where you can spend pretty much your whole weekend in really good conversations about books, or hang out without feeling there’s a divide between the Authors and the Attendees, or get actual face time with the Guests of Honor, you should take a look at Sirens. I’m going to try to go back next year if I can, which should tell you something right there.
Also, Vail is pretty stunning in early October.
For more detail, follow me behind the cuts.
I opted to come out a day early so as to join the staff and some of the attendees for a supper the night before the con. This was a good choice for many reasons, starting with the fact that it gave me an additional day in which to fix the Utter Disaster I discovered upon arriving: when I repacked one of the suitcases that morning, I’d left out a crucial piece of my costume. (The underskirt, which shows through the gap in the overskirt.) A couple of frantic telephone calls later, my sister-in-law went to our place, retrieved the missing bit, and promised to overnight it to us the following day. This boded well for my peace of mind, as it meant I wouldn’t have to panic about what would happen if it failed to show up at noon on the day of the masquerade.
Anyway, then there was supper, at which I continued the process (begun on the shuttle out from Denver) of getting to know the attendees, as we bonded over Tam Lin and Dealing with Dragons and other beloved favorites. The staff also began the process of utterly spoiling me for any future GoH gigs. First, they presented me with the GoH Survival Basket: a huge assortment of headache medicine, cough drops, Emergen-C, hand sanitizer, tea, hot cocoa, ginger candies, sunscreen, lip balm, water bottle, pad of paper, pencil, and the most bling-tastic emergy board I’ve ever laid eyes on. (The entire back is covered in rhinestones.) Plus other things I don’t recall; it basically added up to everything I might possibly need to stay healthy and look presentable for my GoH duties. They also gave me a painting, done by the con-chair’s mother, of Lune.
No seriously: I got a framed piece of art as a GoH thank-you gift. I seriously doubt this is standard operating procedure for most cons; I certainly didn’t expect it here. This was a good omen for things to come.
The rest of the attendees rolled in on the second day. Since the programming didn’t begin until evening, with Holly Black’s keynote address, those of us already in Vail spent the day lounging around enjoying the absolutely stunning weather. (It was about sixty degrees and sunny; kniedzw and I wandered about two miles outside just because we felt like it.) They are not kidding, by the way, about the altitude; going up one flight of stairs put me out of breath, and I was very glad for the sunscreen in my survival basket. We hung out with attendees, had adventures in trying to find an early dinner, then came back for the reception and keynote.
Holly was very entertaining, talking about how her warped childhood shaped her as a fantasy writer. (Warped = asking your mother, “are the monsters going to get me?” and her answering, “probably not.”) She also taught the audience how to con people. I tried, and failed, not to be nervous; my own keynote was scheduled for the next day, and I knew it wouldn’t be nearly as funny as Holly’s. Plus I didn’t have any pretty slides to put up, either. But afterward I lingered in the room chatting with people, finally meeting shvetufae in person, being introduced to Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, thanking sarahtales for some recent help, and more. Somehow we ended up talking about Chernobyl; don’t ask me how these things happen.
Programming finally got going in earnest on Friday. I rolled myself out of bed at what for me constitutes an unholy hour — 8 a.m. — and went off to my panel, “Fairies Come to Our Town,” where between the two of them Ellen Kushner and Terri Windling utterly schooled me on the history of urban fantasy. (I made notes for corrections to my keynote address based on what they said.) Then I hung around for an enlightening panel composed of Shveta Thakrar (shvetufae), Andrea Horbinski, Cindy Pon (cindy_pon), and Valerie Frankel about non-European fairy folklore, where I made a fabulous discovery: starlady38 is stuffed chock-full of knowledge that will be useful for a certain Sekrit Projekt of mine. And she lives near me, too! I spent about half the weekend picking her brain, for which I thank her. 🙂
After that, I wanted to go to the paper on Aboriginal Australian folklore, but instead had adventures with the con staff’s printer. As I’d discovered the previous night, the hotel wanted to charge me $1.08 per page for simple black-and-white text printing, which was nothing short of absurd. So the information desk let me use theirs, though convincing it to cooperate took some doing; for a while there, I wondered if I’d have to read my keynote from the computer.
Speaking of keynotes, yes, I was definitely still nervous. I’ve done readings, and conference papers, and I’ve taught classes, but a keynote is its own kind of beast, and not one I’d ever wrestled with before. I wrote it like a conference paper, in the sense that I tried to type up something that would sound good when spoken, but ended up ad-libbing a fair bit of it; between the low placement of the podium and Holly’s casual example the night before, reading the thing verbatim didn’t seem right. I stuck close enough to my points, though, that I can justifiably post my original script for anybody who wants to know what I said.
That was one hurdle down. I went to the roundtable on queerness and fairy tales, which Malinda Lo ably chaired, then parked myself out in the foyer for the afternoon tea and signing, whereupon something happened that I’d never personally experienced before: I had a line. Generally not more than two or three people deep, but for a while there it was constant; every time I finished signing books for someone, another person would be waiting to step into her place. The bookstore that had set up a table in the foyer was doing energetic business, as far as I could tell, as they’d brought books for all the attending authors, not just the Guests of Honor. Several people told me they’d enjoyed the keynote, which was good to hear; I thought it had gone well, but those things can be hard to judge.
After that, I should have gone to Ellen’s Thomas the Rhymer presentation, but I felt a bit wrung out, and deeply nervous about what I was doing later that night. So I went back to the room and crashed there for a bit, before heading out to Japanese Food Adventure Take Two (we’d tried and failed the previous night). The Japanese restaurant proved to be the size of a postage stamp, and we hadn’t made reservations, so my group of seven squished in with janni, lnhammer, and Artemis Whose LJ I Don’t Know, and a good time was had by (hopefully) all. It turned out to be a good thing that I’d offered to swap reading times with Terri Windling, who is as much of a morning person as I am a night owl; clearing our bill took long that I missed most of her reading, which made me sad — inasmuch as the sadness could get through the panic wibbling in the back of my head, since once she was done I had to step up there and try the Great Accent Experiment. Which went over swimmingly, as documented in that post, and I just about melted in relief.
I stuck around for Holly’s reading, then bailed before the spoilers began, and went up to my room to finish prepping for the next day’s masquerade. My missing skirt had arrived, and I managed to sew together the two halves of my crown without breaking anything; along with the keynote and the accents, that damned crown was the third major stress in my con prep, since one piece of it had broken during construction, and I was afraid it would do so again. (It survived not only the stitching but me smacking the thing with my hand the next night, so apparently it isn’t as fragile as I feared.)
I wanted to sleep in, but also wanted to make full use of my time at the con, and the latter impulse won. Woke up at 8 again and went to the panel on female friendships in fantasy, wherein Holly, Mette Ivie Harrison (metteharrison), Janni Lee Simner (janni), Rachel Manija Brown (rachelmanija), and Sherwood Smith (sartorias) said many thought-provoking things. Took a break, then went to hear Mallory Loehr (editor of Tamora Pierce, among others) talk about YA publishing; then it was off to lunch again for Terri’s keynote, which apparently had her just about as nervous as I’d been about mine. But she did brilliantly, telling old and unbowdlerized versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Snow White.”
Alas, I couldn’t go to the panel on the Golden Age of YA, because I had to run my own workshop on writing fight scenes; I think it was generally agreed that we all wanted to go to each other’s events, and were vexed that we couldn’t. For those who missed mine, though, I do intend to start writing a series of posts on the topic; you’ll miss the hilarity of our sample scene (which involved Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser fighting right there in the room, with all of us as innocent bystanders/potential casualties), but I’ll be able to dig into my points in more depth. Then it was time for more tea, and more falling down in my room, because the Stress Monster was back to bite; the launch party for A Star Shall Fall was coming up, my last professional obligation for the weekend, and I was praying everything would work.
It did. Getting dressed took longer than I wanted, and the unexpected death of my iPod battery required routing the music through my laptop, but my costume looked like I’d hoped it would, my crown didn’t fall apart, and there were some freaking stunning outfits in the costume contest. There were at least half a dozen I thought deserved an award, and only the revelation that one of the women I was considering was staff (and therefore ineligible for a prize) saved me from an impossible choice in the end. I was extra pleased when the giveaway for A Star Shall Fall went to one of the other costume front-runners. For my own part, I costumed non-specifically as Lune; by that I mean I was wearing her colors (blue and black and silver) in the form of an Elizabethan dress, but not attempting to recreate anything from the books or make myself look like her. As soon as people get pictures up online, I’ll provide visuals for the whole thing.
Party done, we processed to the masquerade, where I learned how odd it feels to dance in a farthingale and spent most of my time sitting in the outer room, taking up about half an acre with my skirts. More good conversations — they never stopped, really, except when I was having Hermit Time in my room — until wearing a corset started to get to me and I went upstairs to pack and crash.
I’ve discovered I’m fond of the Never Quite Ending format for a con: there was a breakfast (with auction of prizes and announcement of next year’s theme and Guests of Honor), followed by a shuttle ride back to Denver, followed by hanging out in a restaurant until people’s flights rolled around, so that kniedzw and I weren’t alone until we headed off through security. It’s a gradual transition out of con-space and back into the rest of the world, which feels more pleasant to me. (And god knows it makes waiting on the airport less boring.) Travel went smoothly for once, and then we were back in California, and I flopped down on the couch to read and not talk to anybody. Writers: rampaging introverts who can pretend to be extroverts for a few days, so long as we’re allowed to collapse afterward.
If any of this intrigues you, I’m pleased to say that next year’s theme is “monsters,” and the Guests of Honor will be Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor. Certain friends of mine — you know who you are — should really really think about going, as it will be a perfect opportunity to talk about weird bodies, the monstrous feminine, women and the New Weird, etc. Sirens is admittedly expensive, even with the entirety of Vail being discounted for the off-season, but you can present an academic paper there, chair a panel, host a roundtable, etc, all of which would look perfectly respectable on a professional front. And it’s really lovely to do that all in the context of a retreat, as the con-chair put it to me: sitting in beautiful and luxurious surroundings, with a crowd of people who care passionately about the same things you do.
A crowd of women, really — and if I have one complaint about Sirens, that would be it. So far as I could tell, there were literally three men among the attendees. On the one hand, it’s nice to have Sirens feel like a safe space for women, but I don’t want to feel that “women in fantasy” is a subject of interest only to women. So if the con sounds nifty to you, whether or not you’re able to go yourself, then please spread the word, to anyone you think might be interested — whether they be female, male, or none of the above. It really is a wondeful con, that I would love to see grow and thrive.