I dunno if we can consider this post “late,” since there is in no way a commitment to write a wrap-up about a conference you attended. However, I did want to write about my first experience at Sirens 2021 Conference. Not only was it the first time I attended Sirens, but it was also the first conference I’ve attended in years (even when they were safe to travel to, during the Before Times).
So, let’s explore how Sirens 2021 went!
If you, like me not to long ago, have no idea what Sirens is, let me introduce you! Though, I am going to borrow the blurb from their website, as it does a great job writing it out succinctly:
Sirens, a conference dedicated to examining gender and fantasy literature, is a speculative space unlike any you’ve ever known. We are dedicated to discussing and celebrating the remarkable work of women, nonbinary, and transgender people in fantasy literature and other speculative spaces. We are as smart as a scholarly conference, as passionate as a fan convention, and as ambitious as a networking weekend, with just a bit of the respite of a personal retreat.Sirens Welcome Page, Sirens 2021 ConFerence
As a queer, recently sorta out bisexual writer who is passionate about celebrating queer stories, dismantling white supremacy and helping make publishing as an industry a more supportive, inclusive space; this conference seemed perfect for me. Not only perfect, but also a first. The first time I had seen something tailored to me. Where I didn’t have to feel like I needed to hide my opinions, keep my voice quiet or censor myself.
I can’t begin to describe how refreshing that was.
Okay, so is it truly surprising that a bookstore is one of the main highlights from Sirens 2021? I mean, you are looking at a book nerd, writer and blogger here. But seriously, this bookstore was perfection and absolute danger all in one. Entirely comprised of books written by women, BIPOC and queer writers, featuring themes important to women, BIPOC and queer writers, it’s perfection; speculative fiction across all age ranges. It also included graphic novels and nonfiction that supported antiracism, queer perspectives and more.
I also am trying to ensure I make meals that have a lot of leftovers for the foreseeable future, because…oops, my bank account. 😅
But, BEHOLD THE BOUNTY:
Okay, I am still dead from this. I got to meet K.B. Wagers, who I’ve been a fan of ever since they destroyed me with Hail’s story in There Before the Chaos. I got to meet Sarah Gailey, whom I haven’t read yet, but after meeting them, I am pretty sure I am going to be a Sarah Gailey fan for life. I talked briefly with Cass Morris, who has been on my TBR list which feels like forever! (Also, her “So You Want to Bang a Baddie” discussion was way too fucking fun.) I was in the same room as Marie Brennan (another author I haven’t read–wow, I suck).
Also? I met Fonda fucking Lee.
No lie: fangirling happened. I embarrassed myself both times talking with Fonda (Fonda, if you ever read this, I am so, so sorry). Just meeting such a powerhouse of an author while I was currently reading and being enamored and owned by her words!? I just!!
Plus, Fonda, K.B. and Sarah were all kind enough to sign copies of books I had and it was really, really lovely. Please, support all of these authors, if you can!
This was also so, so amazing! Everyone at the con was so nice. I got to meet a few friends from Twitter in-person for the first time: Jo @ Jo Ladziński, Alexandra Overy (author of These Feathered Flames, which you should totally buy and read), Katja @ Of Foxes and Boots! Not to mention all the new connections and friends I made. Even attending Sirens 2021 as a first time Sirens attender, I could tell that this is a con where you make connections that last a lifetime. I’m already so excited to reconnect with peeps at the next Sirens!
I’m the worst at taking photos, but I did get a few:
Of course, every experience isn’t without its cons, and this one did have a few! None of them were so horrible that it ruined the entire experience for me. Nor were they so bad that I wouldn’t attend again! (Obviously, the welcoming atmosphere, focus and dedication on inclusion, and what the con itself stands for is enough to make me return!).
But, for me, this is a few areas that were a struggle. Ironically, all of these kinda tie together, too. Also, perhaps not as ironically, most of this could be have been avoided if I had properly done more research and understood more before going, so most of this is my fault! Yet, I felt it important to still list out, to help others plan accordingly in the future!
Don’t get me wrong: the location itself was beautiful. I mean, it’s Colorado, hello. The con itself was hosted at the Hilton Inverness Hotel, which was in the business section of Denver, I think? (I’m sorry, I know hardly anything about Denver.) My partner and I flew, so this might have been poor research on our part, but we thought there would be more availability to walk around and explore Denver. Yet, because we were in this business district type thing, it would take 30+ minutes to walk anywhere else outside, so we stayed at the hotel the entire time. Which brings me to:
So, this comes with a caveat that I am a pretty picky eater. I love food, but sometimes I struggle to find things I like to eat. I’d assumed that, if I didn’t like the hotel food options, that we would be easily able to get or walk somewhere to find other food, since about half of our meals were on our own (including dinner each evening).
Yet, due to the location, that wasn’t possible. The first night we arrived, we missed the window of getting food from the restaurant at the hotel, so we tried to order in from Door Dash. After an hour of waiting, we ended up getting not only the wrong order, but also food that we didn’t like and/or literally couldn’t eat. And our attempts to get the correct order didn’t work out (we did get a refund, though!), so our first night we just went to bed hungry after traveling most of the day.
A lot of this critique is on me, for being a) a picky eater, b) not really knowing how things like Door Dash work and c) not doing enough research and planning ahead. But still, this was a bit of a bummer. Which brings me to my final point:
I thought the conference price itself was really reasonable (especially with everything it included). I also was so lucky to receive a scholarship to help attend, which is the ONLY reason my partner and I were able to go at all. However, the hotel itself ended up being $800 dollars, which, for me, is a lot. Plus, since there wasn’t easily-accessible-without-a-vehicle food options, we had to eat any meals not included at the hotel, which had a) very limited options and b) was usually $20+ a person per time we wanted to eat.
Again, this is my fault for not doing more research, but I was not prepared at all for how much we’d need to spend on food, nor how limiting the food options would be.
In sum, Sirens 2021 was overall a really amazing experience. It was, hands down, the most welcoming and inclusive con I’ve ever attended. It made me feel safe and heard. It’s a con I definitely plan to attend again (and hopefully with some more friends who I think would truly love this experience). I am very grateful to Jo for telling me about the con in the first place and to the scholarship committee for awarding me a scholarship that allowed me to even consider it in the first place. Thanks to every single person who was kind to me. And a really heartfelt thanks to my partner for going with me, so I wouldn’t have to go alone. Not many cis, white-passing men would attend a conference dedicated to smashing the patriarchy, but my partner did, because he knew it was important to me, and he wanted to learn. And that will forever mean the world.
Sirens is on a brief break (i.e., no conference in 2022) and it’s a most well deserved one. While I will miss not getting to attend next year, I am stoked for whatever they come up with next and cannot wait to continue to support them. Thanks to everyone who made Sirens 2021 such an amazing experience!