The Cartographer’s Requiem

Illustration of The Cartographer's Requiem

“The Cartographer’s Requiem” is that rarest of beasts for me – a secondary-world fantasy story. I love reading them – they just don’t seem to come out of my writerbrain! Til this one.

The seed of it was the image of a bright red train cutting through a featureless vellum-esque plain; that occurred to me and lingered in the very back of my head for quite some time, to resurface when I saw the call for cartography stories.

(I’ve been on a cartography kick lately. Expect more, I hope.)

“The Cartographer’s Requiem” was published in June 2014 at The Journal of Unlikely Cartography.


Mat Joiner and I have just launched Liminality, a magazine of speculative poetry!

In anthropological terms, liminality is the midpoint of a ritual: the threshold where a person is no longer quite who they were, not yet who they might become. In between masks, what face might you have? What might you be in transit? Where will you go? Everything is possible in that moment; change is its own goal. Liminality is the space between.

We’re looking for speculative literary poems that touch the heart as much as the head; poems of the liminal, the fluid, and the fantastic. We’d love to see work that shifts shape, refuses to be to be easily pinned down or categorised. We actively welcome diversity; we want to hear new as well as established voices. Tell us tales we thought we knew, the way only you can tell them. Give us new myths.

We’re currently reading for our first issue, through July 31 – please send us poems!

The Selves We Leave Behind

The Selves We Leave Behind

The Angel of Fremont Street” and “Fortune” were always meant to reflect each other. Versions, shall we say, of the same characters, in a way that’ll make sense when you read them.

But it’s been difficult to show you “Fortune”! Because it was published in a very limited-edition anthology!

BUT NOW YOU CAN HAVE IT. With “The Angel of Fremont Street”. In handy e-book form.

Packaged as “The Selves We Leave Behind”, my Vegas duology is now available from Upper Rubber Boot Press.

So get on that and make my day.

Upcoming reprints!

It’s going to be a big year for reprints for me! Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about all of them yet. Expect more posts soon. But here’s what I can tell you:

My very first two short stories, “The Angel of Fremont Street” and “Fortune”, will be reprinted as an ebook by Upper Rubber Boot Press! The title of the ebook is “The Selves We Leave Behind”, and you’ll be able to order it here. Those of you who have Ravens in the Library and have read “Fortune” will know that it’s been “The Angel of Fremont Street”‘s twin all along. Very happy to be able to give it a wider audience.

“Valentines” will be reprinted in The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane – check out this amazing table of contents!

And “The Library, After” is having an afterlife of its own; it’s been reprinted in Mythic Delirium #30, the final print issue of MD and a retrospective of editor Mike Allen’s favorites. I am honored to be included.

Traditionally, the Rhysling award winners get reprinted in the Nebula Awards Showcase. Which I guess runs a few years behind, because the 2014 showcase, coming out in May, reprints 2012’s winners! So look for that soon!

And I have new work coming out in the near future, too, but will post about that when it’s out, as usual. 🙂

The Final Girl

I had a rough few years that I’ve spoken of elsewhere.

One major side effect of the past few years?

I stopped writing.

The seed of The Final Girl was there before that, though. It started at a conversation at Wiscon where I said to Lisa Bradley “You know, someone should write something about Final Girls.” She said I should do that. I promptly tucked that into my hindbrain to percolate and thought nothing more of it. Consciously, that is.

And then one day I scribbled on the purple dry-erase board over my desk, “the final girl drinks alone.”

And then the hideous trauma of last year kicked in, and my writing, which had already slowed, stopped altogether.

But, over months, “The Final Girl” began to coalesce in spite of itself.

I’ve never had a writing experience like I had with “The Final Girl”. What usually happens with poems or short fiction is that they percolate in my hindbrain for howeverlong, and then, ping!, they’re ready, and I sit down and write the all in one go. This was different. This was a line or two or maybe a paragraph that would happen in my brain while I was in the shower, or walking somewhere, or just doing something else in general. Judah was killing my writing, but this poem, which became this story, kept sneaking in around the edges, piecemeal.

I learned to just leave the door open, so to speak. To welcome the pieces of “The Final Girl” when they arrived. I learn to be patient, not to force it, because when I tried, it vanished like smoke.

Months of a sentence here and a paragraph there. The chunks the final product is in are the chunks it came in, though not consistently in the same order. I accepted that this was not going to follow a traditional story form, that it was just going to be the shape that it was. (I sent it in-progress to Lisa Bradley; her questions and comments were invaluable in helping me figure out what else needed to be there, what I wasn’t looking at. Thank you, thank you, thank you.)

In early January 2014, a now-ex turned verbally abusive, knowingly and deliberately using rape/trauma survivor triggers against me in an attempt to shatter me, and my other now-ex turned weird and awful, and I was struggling. In the two weeks between those breakups, I was desperately trying to make sense of life – for the second time in a year, everything had changed on me, everything had been yanked away, and I had to figure out what to do, what I could do.

And in those two nightmare weeks, the last three pieces of “The Final Girl” arrived.

I sat with it and thought, “I think this is done.”

When I read it at Arisia (knowing/suspecting how bad things were and were about to get elsewhere in my life), I prefaced it with “This is the first thing I’ve written Since. I don’t know if it’s any good; I lack all perspective about my writing these days! But I think it’s done, whatever it is.

“This is ‘The Final Girl’.”

And Julia Rios asked me to submit it to Strange Horizons immediately. Which I managed to do that week, even though everything else collapsed the very next week, and they bought it, and now, here.

Here it is, the thing that came out of me during the worst time of my adult life, the way my brain responded, the wisps that escaped the coffin my writing was put in. Here is the thing in me that refused to be killed, the thing that hid when it needed to and fought for escape whenever it could.

The point of the final girl is that she survives.

And here I am.

“The Final Girl” was published in Strange Horizons in April 2014. It’s on Ellen Datlow’s recommended reading list and Tangent Online’s 2014 Recommended Reading List.

Alicia Cole of Tangent Online says: “Who is the Final Girl? In the hands of Shira Lipkin, she is the perennial feminist survivor. While the speculative arc looms off camera – a dystopic culture hinting at atrocious violence, potentially not much different from our own – the bulk of this third person narrative takes place in group therapy sessions. Similar to Virginia Woolf’s insistence that the female writer seeks out “the pools, the depths, the dark places where the largest fish slumber,” Shira Lipkin tackles the dark subject matter of subjugated survival. The backdrop of the story remains fascinatingly vague. The foreground is sharply attenuated by the stressful memories and triggers of a final girl: after her survival, in the midst of her struggle, in the process of the author’s elocution, still falling. A must-read of speculative, feminist literature. Highly Recommended.”

Charlotte Ashley of Clavis Aurea says: “Radcliffe suggests the experience of terror “expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life,” but that horror is the lingering disgust that’s left behind after the moment of excitement has passed. By that definition, “The Final Girl” by Shira Lipkin (Strange Horizons, April 14th, 2014), is surly horrifying, beginning where the terror has ended. The monster does not appear in the story. The horror lies in the revelation that the cost of the sublime experience we seek when we partake of terror is paid for by a victim. The audience surrogate for these stories is the Final Girl; a particular type of girl custom-terrorized for the voyeur’s benefit.
The stark truth laid down in Lipkin’s narrative is oppressive. The mind is not excited by the possibilities of the unknown, but depressed by the hopeless conclusion. “The falling girl never stops dying,” Lipkin tells us. “The point of the falling girl is that she never stops falling.” Lipkin anticipates and subverts our attempts to find a comfortable conclusion for the Final Girl over and over. No well-intentioned writer can take away her trauma by laying her story out in the bright light. She doesn’t find comfort in support groups or in the flesh of other Final Girls. She never feels as if she has escaped and she takes no comfort in having fought back – or not.
The story is deeply upsetting, and it should be. The reader is left feeling guilty and complicit in the continued suffering of a narrator who isn’t even just one poor girl, but an infinite number of girls who have all been sacrificed to the same search for the sublime. Lipkin gives us horror via empathy, drawing us in to an inescapable space that the reader will not enjoy occupying. Hers is a powerful entry into a growing canon of similar narratives that include Damien Angelica Walters’ recent “Grey in the Gauge of His Storm” (Apex Magazine #53) and “Abomination Rises on Filthy Wings” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine #50). The point is not to enjoy the story, but to listen to a voice which is necessarily hard to listen to in our search for answers to difficult questions.”

Lois Tilton of Locus says: “A sort of unnumbered list story, very short, on the phenomenon of serial killer survivors – the particular sort of serial killer who preys on young women. There are suggestions here that this might be the cinematic sort of killer, but the pain described is real. In any case there seem to be enough of these that their survivors – their last survivors – can form support groups. There are no names here, and “the final girl” seems to refer both to all such survivors and one in particular who never stands out as a person, who doesn’t have an actual story here but only stands for the phenomenon, a pain that never ends.”

The Year in Shira

Sadly, I didn’t write much this year; 2013 was a year full of things both horrible and wonderful, and the horrible stuff kept me from my work.

But for the first time I co-edited a thing. Working with Michael on Flying Higher was great for me on a lot of levels; it started out as a whimsical bit of silliness at a con, and it turned into a thing that helped give me structure and direction. To everyone who gave us your superhero poetry, thank you. You probably don’t know how much you helped.

And it turned out really well! (Also contains my poem Limbo. Oh hush, Michael has a Hawkguy poem in there too. 🙂 )

Other stuff that came out in 2013:

* “The Busker, Broke and Busted”, in Apex. Which is more of a song than a poem, but I seem to specialize in things that are neither flesh nor fowl.

* “And the War is Never Over”, in Strange Horizons. My debut there, and a poem I’m very proud of.

* Where We Died” and “Not Too Bold” in Niteblade.

* “Becca at the End of the World”, in Apex, is one I have a hard time reading at readings because FEELS.

* And “Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw” in Clockwork Phoenix 4, which is still, I think, my favorite story I’ve ever written. I wrote it in pieces last year as my year-and-a-half of hell was starting. I told myself that just sitting down and writing a little bit would be okay, just keep doing it, and I’d find my way out.

So I need to do that again. And that’s how I’ll start 2014.

Because 2014 is also a year of big changes.

I’m starting a project with my partners that you’ll be hearing about very soon.

And it’s time to finish that book.

Becca at the End of the World

My bio at Apex Magazine for this story includes the sentence “Her daughter just started college and is not a zombie.” This is relevant.

The thing is that I’m generally bored with zombies and vampires. I haven’t seen much *new* done with them in some time. So I’d never planned to write a zombie story.

But then I had this nightmare. It was vivid, unusually linear, and oh man, it HURT. Until this year, it was the worst nightmare I’d ever had. When I woke, I turned to the internet for solace, telling a few friends about this horrible, horrible dream.

And one said, “That would make a good story, actually.”

I didn’t write it then; I didn’t write it for a while. When I finally did, I did my typical “well I have written this little trauma bomb but I don’t know who’d want it” thing on Twitter, and Apex managing editor Michael Damian Thomas instantly insisted that I send it to him.

This story elicits strong reactions, which is right and proper. Some argue passionately about the protagonist’s decision. I think there’s no way to know what we’ll do in a room at the end of the world, really.

“Becca at the End of the World” was published in Apex Magazine #53 in October 2013. It was podcast at The Drabblecast in February 2014. The art above is by Forrest Warner for The Drabblecast. It has been reprinted in Zombies: More Recent Dead (ed. Paula Guran), and received an Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror. It was performed by Jessica Robblee at Stories on Stage’s “Zombies R Us” show in Denver, CO.

A. C. Wise says “…the personal moments within a vast crisis have always been the most interesting to me. Watching the major monuments of the world blow up is all well and good, but I want to know how Jane Doe and John Smith experience the apocalypse, what specifically are they losing and what does ‘the end’ mean to them. In “Becca at the End of the World,” it means a mother dealing with a daughter who has succumbed to the zombie plague and faced with the heartbreaking choice of whether to kill her. The ending can be read as a metaphor for the selfless way parents sacrifice themselves for their children, sometimes literally, subsuming their lives in the next generation. It can equally be read as a selfish choice on the part of a mother unable to deal with survivor’s guilt. Either way it’s a lovely, wrenching story, told in a pared down way that packs an emotional punch into less than 2000 words.”

Flying Higher! and Limbo

Flying Higher: Cover
So while I was away, I co-edited an anthology! From the introduction:

One lunchtime at Wiscon (the major feminist SF/F convention held in Madison, WI), we were discussing poetry. Like you do. In particular, we were discussing topics that Michael didn’t think could make for good poetry under any circumstances. Specifically: Superheroes. Shira and Alex Bledsoe absently agreed… then started generating ideas. “I could do a good Superman poem, I think,” Alex said. Shira offered Wonder Woman – no, Amethyst – no, too many choices! – and said, “Actually, we should do an anthology.” Since Michael never says no to an anthology challenge, he agreed.

Said idea might have been utterly lost in the mad whirl of Wiscon activity had we not ended up at dinner that night at an Indian restaurant with a dozen wonderful writers, editors, and miscellaneous marvelous people who, when Shira insisted they all write superhero poetry on their placemats, actually did so. The seeds of this collection were collected that night.

And that might’ve been it – a small collection centered around one fun dinner – but we decided that everybody should have a chance to join the fun and did an open call for submissions. The anthology quickly expanded to what it is today – a collection of over 50 superhero poems from the ridiculous to the sublime, from award-winning poets and writers to total poetry novices and everyone in between. The unifying thread through this collection is a pure love for superheroes, in general and in particular, whether they’re the heroes we grew up loving, those we create ourselves, or just the structure and tropes of their worlds.

We just wanted everyone to have fun writing superhero poems. We hope you enjoy them.


I also have a poem in this! Michael and I both waited til the end to write our poems, to give everyone else first crack at characters. Mine happened very much at the last minute! I cycled through a bunch of possibilities, but when it came down to it, of course my poem was always going to be about Illyana Rasputin. “Limbo” is a look at a character who would never have been a superhero in any other universe, a trauma survivor who had no other labels available to her…

Flying Higher: An Anthology of Superhero Poetry is available FREE on Smashwords, and look at this table of contents!

Introduction ~ Shira Lipkin & Michael Damian Thomas
Becoming Wonder Woman ~ Julia Rios
Robin’s Legs ~ Mary Robinette Kowal
If ~ Kip Manley
Mrs. Freeze ~ Anita Allen
Riveted ~ Lisa Bradley
Untitled Haiku ~ Amy McNally
Untitled ~ A.C. Wise
Supervillanelle ~ Lisa Nohealani Morton
The Tiger is Herself ~ Gillian Daniels
Untitled ~ Eric Burns-White
swimming lesson ~ S. Brackett Robertson
Pantone 032 ~ Torrey Stenmark
Untitled ~ Lynne M. Thomas
Said Gorilla Grodd, to God… ~ Erik Amundsen
Unofficial Love ~ Shawna Jaquez
Riddler’s Clues, a Villanelle ~ John O’Connor
Invisible ~ Emily Wagner
Hawkguy ~ Michael Damian Thomas
Darksein the Diabolic Plots His Comeback from Beyond the Grave ~ Mike Allen
Alias ~ Erika Ensign
Judah Maccabee ~ Benjamin Rosenbaum
The Scarlet Witch at Rest ~ Laura McCullough
APACHE CHIEF ~ Sofia Samatar
Wonder Woman Lassos the C.E.O. ~ Wendy Babiak
Inhumanly King. (a poem by Black Bolt) ~ Adam P. Knave
Poison Ivy ~ Emily Nordling
An Elegy for Evelyn Cream ~ Amal El-Mohtar
The Wolverine ~ Matthew Kuchta
Bat-Mite’s Refrain ~ R.B. Wood
Untitled ~ Adam Lipkin
take off your horn-rims and fly ~ Gwynne Garfinkle
Untitled ~ Stefan Krzywicki
Guarded ~ Stephanie M. Clarkson
J’onesing for J’onn J’onnz—A Fanboi’s Paen to the Martian Manhunter ~ Kelly McCullough
Rocket’s Red Glare ~ John O’Connor
The Bone Woman ~ Alex Dally MacFarlane
Unmasked ~ Claire A. Miller
knitwear is both harder and softer than suits ~ Wednesday Burns-White
The Fish Aquatic ~ John Klima
You! I Thought You Were Dead!* ~ Steven Marsh
Untitled ~ Fritz Bogott
Untitled ~ Mari Ness
Bless Us, Nellie Bly, Saint of the Secular Upstarts ~ C.S.E. Cooney
The Ballad of Captain America’s Disapproving Face ~ Catt Kingsgrave
Untitled ~ Michael McAfee
The Tick ~ Liz Argall
Superheroes ~ Meredith Schwartz
Friendship and Butts ~ Shawna Jaquez
Green in Gold and Silver ~ David D. Levine
Super Sense ~ Talib Hussain
Superhero Haiku Triptych ~ Paul Weimer
Princess of Gemworld ~ Mary Anne Mohanraj
Limbo ~ Shira Lipkin


* Michael and I were interviewed by the wonderful Julia Rios on the Outer Alliance Podcast.

* Scott Slemmons of “Hero Sandwich” says, in part: “Thumbs up. I love the complete unexpected surprise of this. I really never considered the idea of writing poetry — serious poetry — about superheroes. It still seems like an odd idea, and I’m not sure I could ever manage to do it myself. But I’m glad all these poets managed to wrap their brains around the concept so well. The variety of poems is very good, with serious works side by side with less serious ones, along with enthusiastic geekery, poets who are entirely ambivalent about superheroes, tributes to comics, films, and more than one real-life hero. There’s something here for everyone.”

* Practically Marzipan has a very extensive review here.

* The SFPA has two reviews here. Alex Plummer says “Flying Higher collects more than 50 poems by as many authors, all of which explore, ruminate on, or reimagine the complex, cape-shrouded, and ever-evolving world of the superhero. The collection forms a 91-page collage of crime fighters, cackling supervillains, and superhuman heroes; both those icons of the genre and those obscured by time. By utilizing a diverse set of poetic forms—partnering villanelles with limericks (dirty and otherwise), giving every freeverse poem a rhyming sidekick, and seasoning it all with a haiku or two and at least one sonnet—Flying Higher manages to be as varied and eclectic as the heroes that inspired it.

The collection is marked, above all, by a deep love and enthusiasm for the superhero genre, expressed in a variety of ways. Be it the retrospective sexual thrill inspired by genre mainstays, such as in Julia Rios’s “Becoming Wonder Woman,” or Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Robin’s Legs,” tongue-in-cheek humor at the expense of overdramatic storytelling, as if found in S. Brackett Robinson’s “Swimming Lessons,” (where inflatable shoulder pads are all that saves one costumed hero from a ignoble death by drowning in a pond), or an exploration of the poignant moral conflict implicit in superhuman power, as laid out by Catt Kingsgrave in “The Ballad of Captain America’s Disapproving Face,” each poem, whether affirming or critiquing, wells from an abiding engagement with a landscape populated by superheroes, supervillains, and all the characters in-between.

Several of the poems consider the less heroic and more quotidian aspects of superhero life. Consider this passage from Wednesday Burns-Whites’s “Knitwear is Both Harder and Softer than Suits,” where She-Hulk laments her wardrobe difficulties:

They can’t kill me, but they killed my sweater.
My squishy, gunky, loaf-around sweater.
I loved that sweater. You have no idea.

This shit never happens to Stark, and he buys new suits all the time.

Other poems also engage with the off-duty aspects of superheroing, but take a darker bent, considering the strain such a lifestyle would leave on an individual: the reality not often depicted in the comics and movies. This excerpt from Shira Lipkin’s “Limbo” shows a darker take on tragic origin stories:

I was not a child when I came home.

Not a child, not a hero,
but I wore your costume,
I hid my sword.

In Lipkin’s poem, the hero seems aware of the context in which he lives, and theme that traces its thread throughout other parts of the collection—heroes and villains taking on an insquisitve or even antagonistic relationship with their creators or fans; a sort of metatextual commentary on the superhero comic genre that both delights and chills. Of particular note in that regard is Michael Damian Thomas’s poem “Hawkguy,” where the titular hero is overwhelmed by the number of alternate continuities and reboots he finds himself in, as well as Mike Allen’s “Darksein the Diabolic Plots His Comeback from Beyond the Grave,” wherein a villain complains to his authors about his ignoble death.

Some of the poems of the collection assume a fairly detailed knowledge of the superhero genre on the part of the reader. Those who don’t have that extensive knowledge may find a few of the more esoteric pieces lost on them. However, with such a variety of poems, many of them worthy of a read whether or not a reader has an interest in superheroes, a lack of extensive superhero knowledge shouldn’t serve as a barrier.

For anyone looking for a collection of poetry that will at turns delight, shock, or pose serious questions, Flying Higher comes recommended. It’s available for free, so the only barrier to reading it is time—and this one is worth it. It transcends both Silver-Age comics nostalgia and Watchmen-esque gritty despair to arrive, through poetry, in a fractured but rich area where superheroes are increasingly human.”

Not Too Bold

The acceptance letter for this read “This is finally a serial killer poem that I am very happy to accept!”

Let me back up.

I grew up on fairy tales. Not just Little Red and Snow White; I dug deep into Grimm’s. My favorite was The Robber Bridegroom and its variant, Mr. Fox. I was a bloodthirsty kid! The murder and cannibalism fascinated me. I make no excuses or apologies.

It could use an update, I thought.

And I still want to install a series of signs in my house, through the progressive doorways:

Be bold, be bold.

Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.

Be bold, be bold, but not too bold,
Lest that your heart’s blood should run cold.

Not Too Bold” was published in Niteblade #25 in September 2013. It has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.