And To My Wife…

This is another piece that came out of my reader-prompted series, “Wind Tunnel Dreams”. One of the prompts I got was “and to my wife, I leave the electric kettle and the screwdriver set.”

Now, what do you do with that?

I had no idea. I sat on it for most of the month, looking at it out of the corner of my mind and fussing at it. I’d promised to write something for each prompt, but really. Electric kettle? Screwdriver set?

And then it finally popped into my head. Now, it’s one of my favorite pieces to read at conventions; the last line always gets a laugh!

This is also where you see that I read a lot of golden-age science fiction growing up. I still have a major fondness for that.

“And To My Wife…” appeared in Electric Velocipede #20. Buy your copy today!


Nine Things About Oracles

So this fabulous ridiculous thing happened. The remarkable Elise Mattheson, whose jewelry has sparked many a story and many a poem, made a piece called “Nine Things About Oracles“…

And it inspired everyone.

No, seriously. At last count, “Nine Things About Oracles” had sparked 108 poems.

So this is another piece where I feel like writing it has made me part of a community of sorts, and I love that!

As for the poem itself, this is one that came on swift and sure. I’ve written about the travails of oracles before, and will again. As you can see from the poem, I think there’s something uniquely terrible in being an oracle, subject to the whims of prophecy…

My version of “Nine Things About Oracles” was published in Electric Velocipede #20. You can read it online here, and order a copy here!


Review: Terry at Fantasy Literature says: “Dragging an oracle from the realm of myth and placing her in the modern age, translating her life from the ancient one of hanging around a cave to haunting darkened clubs, the poem is a wonderful story in nine stanzas that ends with the intriguing words, “Let me tell you a story.””


Valentines

I wrote “Valentines” when I was supposed to be writing something else entirely.

I’d gone to visit my friends at Wyrding Studios, and had intended to finish my short story “Undertow” while I was there. Instead, I ended up curled on their couch capturing “Valentines” as it fell out of my head! Surprise! And I had the excellent good fortune to have this story pop out when Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak were reading for Interfictions 2 – and the even better fortune of having them like it.

I view much of my writing as interstitial. I feel like genre is as fluid as gender. With Interfictions, one gets to play with that, and I did.

The note that accompanies the story in Interfictions 2:

Epileptics live in a very interstitial state, slipping from world to world with little or no warning. Some seizures induce a sort of religious euphoria. Some are stark, terrifying disconnection. In some, one hears music no one else can hear, or one experiences the scent of lilacs as a physical object.

Temporal lobe epilepsy means, at its best, walking between worlds.

In 2003, I became interstitial, and I’ve been trying to make sense of it ever since – of the electrical cascades in my brain that can send me elsewhere, of the battery of medications that often make things worse, and of the pervasive sense of data loss and the odd things the brain does to patch those holes.

“Valentines” could be an extended seizure state. It could be many-worlds quantum physics. It could be magical realism. It is me, like my protagonist, trying my best to make sense of this in-between world.

Another part of the awesomeness of being in Interfictions 2 was the auction! So many amazing artists created work based on “Valentines”. The pieces pictured above are, in order, by Amanda Leetch, Emily Wagner, and Kythryne Aisling, on whose couch I wrote the story. Pictured below is a piece by Kendra Tornheim. All four used bits of the story in their creations in such different ways. There were also wonderful pieces by Susan Saltzman, Jonaya Kemper, Sara B. Evans, Kristin Ross, and Ilene Winn-Lederer.

I’ve loved being part of the Interfictions family, and hope you’ll check out the Interstitial Arts Foundation!

“Valentines” has been reprinted in Apex Magazine and The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.


Reviews:

KingRat says: “The girl in the story has problems with her memory, and it takes her partially out of the real world. She takes notes on everything and files them in an attempt to make sense of reality. Three similar waiters, all with variations on the name Valentine are subjects of her notes. Really good job of imparting a sense of confusion and impermanence. Really identified with her struggles with making sense of the notes in her filing system and a nice connection between the Valentines and when her filing system falls apart.”

Nareshe on LibraryThing says: “I have to put in here special kudos to “Valentines”, by Shira Lipkin, as my favorite story in the collection. This is what I would consider slipstream at its best. It has so many interpretations that it could be read as either speculative fiction or literary fiction, and it’s a lovely accomplishment.”

David Beamer says: “”Valentines” is a marvelous miniature having to do with the author’s possible confusion of three waiters with the same name…or maybe they are different versions of the same waiter. The author mentions in her afterword that she is an epileptic, and that the story is something of a description of how life happens to her. She says she herself “became interstitial” with the onset of her illness, so the story has an added bite of realism amid the confusion. ”

Sarah Culver at VenusZine says:”Shira Lipkin’s “Valentines” is not fiction or biography, but a series of loops building a powerful picture of an epileptic’s inner life…The interstitial writer’s honest pursuit of a story and disregard of form catches us off guard. These stories are disconcerting and real.”

Charles Tan at SF Signal says: “Through repetition and atmosphere, the author builds each scene, layering it with multiple facets. Even the numbering has purpose. It’s an enjoyable slice of life, and the length feels just right for a flash fiction piece.”

Steven Wingate at The Short Review says: “Cecil Castellucci’s The Long and Short of Long-Term Memory, William Alexander’s After Verona, and Shira Lipkin’s Valentines also stick out for their subtle playfulness and for the way they occupy the space between speculative and mainstream fiction—not worrying about the bridge that links them, but clearing characters who dwell on that bridge and working from there outward.”

Nina Allan says, in part: “I love the style of ‘Valentines’, the nouveau-romanesque obsession with quotidian detail, the narrator caught in the act of describing what they are doing even as they are doing it. If the story is a metaphor for the act of writing itself, it is a good one. I envy the deceptively simple outlines, the finely sanded surfaces of this piece. I wanted to stay with the narrator. I could have carried on listening to them for many pages more.”


Fortune

Oh, this one’s a doozy.

In December 2008, my dear friend SJ Tucker fell drastically ill. S00j is a traveling bard; as such, she din’t have health insurance. Fortunately, she has a bunch of creative and determined friends! We started a community and auctioned stuff we made. But it wasn’t enough.

So Phil Brucato and Sandra Buskirk, anthologists extraordinaire, announced a charity anthology. And invited me, as Phil had loved .

Great! I already had a story for them! Called “Fortune”, it drew from S00j’s songs “Carousel” and, tangentially, “Alligator in the House”. I happily sent it in…

And it was rejected. Aii. But. Phil *loved* one particular segment of it – the story of a mermaid trapped far from home. He said “I can hear her *screaming* in this. This part is *great*. The rest of the story is just good. And we’re getting some A-list names here, so we need *great*. So keep the mermaid, throw the rest out, and give me something like that.”

“Okay.”

“And set it in Vegas. Keep the fortune-teller and the mermaid part, but put it in Vegas. That’s where the heart of your writing comes from.”

“…okay. I… cannot figure out how to put the mermaid in Vegas.”

“Can you give me that emotional core, though?”

“…well… I have this thing in my brain. The Descent of Inanna. But through Vegas.”

“Perfect. Give me that.”

So I did. I changed the fortune-teller from a woman on in a circus tent to a man sprawled beneath the Hanged-Man-Reversed of Vegas Vic. Kept the cards.

And I pulled out a story that is maybe another side of “The Angel of Fremont Street”. Maybe not. It’s raw. It’s deeply personal. I couldn’t re-read it, couldn’t edit it, couldn’t look at it, just sent it to Phil and Sandi, who went WOW and took it.

It was only then that I got a look at the rest of the table of contents – my first anthology publication, side by side with Charles de Lint, Midori Snyder, Terri Windling, Francesca Lia Block, writers who’d shaped me. The honor, it is huge.

You can read “Fortune” in Ravens in the Library: Magic in the Bard’s Name. All sales benefit SJ Tucker and go to offset her medical expenses. This book has helped tremendously, but they still need to raise a few thousand dollars to pay off her hospital bill – so please do go buy a copy!


Art by the amazing Jenny Anckorn.


Reviews:

TheWrongHands says: “But the really outstanding story of the collection, for me, was Shira Lipkin’s “Fortune”. From the mythic roots in the descent of Inanna to the modern wry word-twisting (I loved “Lie back and think of Vegas” as an encapsulation of half the things that are wrong with that city), she lays down a hard and shining path before you and compels you to walk it. I was caught on every word and drawn in to the character’s journey. Really brilliantly well done; brava.”

Kelley O’Hanlon says: “Inanna’s descent, a fortune told in cards, and the true experience of one soul in Vegas. I found myself in tears over and over again while reading this story. It goes into very dark places, and comes out the other side in hope. I know I’ll be re-reading this story, whenever I need to be reminded that my life is what I choose to keep with me, and who I decide that I intend to be. It’s a gift, paid for in blood, and written in the same.”

Deborah J. Brannon says: “This story hits on several of my favorite storytelling devices: Tarot cards and a mythological retelling (here, the Descent of Inanna). However, for some reason, the magical realism aspects didn’t entirely mesh well with the terrifying, yes, but sadly all too typical narrative of the degradation and dissolution of a woman alone. However, in spite of that one complaint, this is a powerful recasting of the Inanna myth and Lipkin couldn’t have picked a better back-drop than Vegas. Knowing that pieces of this story were autobiographical makes it linger all the more.”


Twelve

This is the rare thing that rose up without a connection to Wind Tunnel Dreams, to jewelry, to masks, to anything but the fact that I am thoroughly steeped in fairy tales. That, and the fact that I am often subject to marauding troops of morbid Girl Scouts.

No, really. My daughter is fourteen, and she and all of her friends are still very active in Girl Scouts. Which is awesome. They’re also a pack of bloodthirsty miniwenches. Which is also awesome.

So, with fairy tales on the brain and the crashthumps of the girls upstairs, it was no stretch to imagine the twelve dancing princesses as maenad-ish vampiresses.

You can read “Twelve” at Cabinet des Fees, where it was published in March 2009.


Reviews:

Joshua Gage says: “Twelve’ is a really exciting piece.”


When Her Eyes Open

In September 2008, I did one of my frequent collaborations with Kythryne Aisling of Wyrding Studios. We solicited prompts from our readers… and every weekday, I wrote something and she created a piece of jewelry based on the same prompt. We had lots of fun – Kyth’s a great collaborator, a very gifted artist, and a good friend!

“When her eyes open, the desert turns to glass” was a prompt I’d been saving for late in the month. Kythryne and I both loved it and felt we could do something great with it, but I had no idea *what*. I deliberately wanted to avoid anything about atomic bombs, because I know Ellen Klages covered that brilliantly in “The Green Glass Sea”.

One day, in the shower, I had the mental image that started it all – running, the sensation of running for your life… or someone else’s…

I wrote the poem and sent it to Kythryne; she went into what she called a fugue state as she twisted tektite and glass into a gorgeous swirl of glow-in-the-dark wire to mirror the poem.

When Her Eyes Open
When Her Eyes Open

You can read “When Her Eyes Open” at Lone Star Stories, where it was published in February 2009.

(It was only recently pointed out to me how autobiographical this poem is. Overwhelmed Shira is overwhelmed.)

—–
“When Her Eyes Open” was reprinted in the 2009 Eaton Science Fiction Conference’s speculative poetry sampler, and was nominated for the Rhysling Award.

Reviews:

Charles Tan of Bibliophile Stalker says: “”When Her Eyes Open” by Shira Lipkin is a poem with a clear narrative and it’s that aspect that I was drawn to. In so few lines, Lipkin conveys character and dramatic tension. That’s not to say it’s not devoid of other qualities such as apt metaphors and stylized repetition but it’s the previous qualities that makes this my favorite poem.”

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz of The Fix says: “Shira Lipkin’s “When Her Eyes Open” is a poem that tells a story. Lipkin uses language with efficiency to convey the dire straits of her heroine. There are some startlingly beautiful lines here, not the least of which are these last two:

When her eyes open
the desert turns to glass.”

Deborah Brannon at Stone Telling says: “”When Her Eyes Open” by Shira Lipkin is a hardcore sci-fi poem that hits all the sweet spots between the emotional interior and the material science.”


The Angel of Fremont Street

One day, I was folding the clean laundry and listening to music. “I Wish I Was a Girl” by Counting Crows came on, and I was swept away by part of the chorus:

“I wish for all the world that I could say
‘Hey, Elizabeth, you know, I’m doing all right these days…'”

And I thought, you know? I am. And I wish I could tell myself that.

This requires some backtracking.

Fifteen years ago, I was raped. Yes, the rape in “The Angel of Fremont Street” really happened, very much like that. By sheer instinct, I started talking to the rapist, pulling him off his internal script; I made up a whole other life, a whole other person.

Named Elizabeth.

Fast-forward back to know, and hey, Elizabeth, I *am* doing all right these days. I’m happy. I have a great kid, a great husband, wonderful friends. And the girl I was that night… well, I wish I could tell her.

Over the next two years, the story seed there germinated. What if we *do* leave our prior selves behind? Personas, false faces, masks of convenience or of necessity. What if they’re still around? What would they do?

And could they ever know that everything worked out okay?

“The Angel of Fremont Street” came out in a beautiful, painful, cathartic two-day burst when I was meant to be working on something else entirely. It was its time. It was originally called “Hey Elizabeth”, but my editor at ChiZine wanted a different title – and when you sell your very first short story and all they want to change is the title? Fine by me!

You can read “The Angel of Fremont Street” at ChiZine, where it was published in January 2009. It was shortlisted for the Million Writers Award.


Unruly Harvest

At WisCon 2008, I went to one of Elise Mattheson’s haiku earring parties; she makes dozens of pairs of earrings that can be all yours for the price of a haiku. You go in and pick out your earrings, and she gives them a title. You write a haiku, based on the title or the earrings or both, and read it aloud or have her read it for you. The earrings are then yours. It’s good fun. 🙂

I don’t remember the haiku I wrote that night. I’m sure it’s in one of my scattered notebooks! But even as I was writing the haiku, a longer poem was pushing its way out… I had to go upstairs right then and write it out.

Unruly Harvest
Unruly Harvest

The earrings and poem are named “Unruly Harvest”. You can read the poem at Polu Texni, a Magazine of Many Arts; it was published in December 2008.


Wool and Silk and Wood

The fall of 2007 was rough. My longstanding comic project, Shayara, had fallen apart – the artist backed out for the last time. I’d been focusing my creative energies so long on Shayara, and I didn’t know what to do.

So I posted asking for writing prompts, and decided to write flash fiction every day in November. 30 shards of story in 30 days; 30 different worlds. Stretching my brain.

Yes, this was madness. I do mad things.

I was flooded with prompts, and with sponsorships (early in this process, my cat got sick and required tests and surgery (he’s fine now). I’d promised to use every sponsored prompt. One of those, from my friend Emily (an avid knitter and fiber freak), was “wool and silk and wood”.

I had no idea what to do with this. But I had to use it! So I let it sit in the back of my head until it was ready, and one day, in the shower, the Grandmother started talking to me.

She was angry and sad and bitter, and she loved fiercely – loved her grandsons, loved her ways. And she was left out of the tales that prizes questing and adventure. She was a quieter wonder.

And she was spilling out of me in… poetry.

Understand, I had not written poetry since I was a teenager. Yes, I have the obligatory folders stuffed with trite teenage angsty poetry. But I have never in my life considered myself a poet. (Says the girl who’s now sold three more poems.)

But this was a poem. Undeniably.

And I looked at it, and I said, “You know? This doesn’t suck.” So I researched poetry markets and thought it’d be a good match for John Klima at Electric Velocipede. I wrote a rambly cover letter that was probably about as long as the poem itself and sent it off. My very first submission.

I was at the airport, stealing a last peek at my e-mail before my flight home for Christmas, when his acceptance came through. “Wow,” he said. Twice. And my daughter saw my face light up and hugged me before she even knew why I was glowing.

Waiting is brutal. But almost a year after I wrote it and he bought it, it appeared in Electric Velocipede #15/16. You can read it here.

——–

Reviews:

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz of The Fix says “Lipkin’s poem stands out with its lyricism and the wonderful way in which we are reminded of the magic of everyday things. I love how Lipkin captures a grandmother’s yearning to keep her grandchild, even as she already accepts her own heartbreak at the grandchild’s obvious choice. Can anything be more speaking than this line? “There is alchemy right here, if only you would see it.””