Almost every story I write comes from multiple seeds that seem unrelated, but collide in my head. Like temporal lobe epilepsy, quantum physics, a certain waiter, and a particular habit of Charles Fort’s did to create “Valentines”. In this case, there were two particular things.

The not-deeply-personal thing: At PiCon, in August 2011, I was on a panel about quests, and I mused that really, we don’t often see what happens after the quest. We see a happy return to the everyday world, and we see that someone has gained Courage and Wisdom and Insight, but we don’t see any negative effects, and we leave our adventurers immediately after, when they are oh so happy to be home. But what happens later? And what happens if things don’t work?

More personally: I used to live in Vegas, and I still have a deep attachment to it and its broken beauty. Every so often, when I’m in a particularly masochistic frame of mind, I google people I knew. Nine times out of ten I get an obituary. We were not living good lives back then; this is no surprise. I got out only because I got pregnant and had a flash of common sense. I left, in fact, the very day I found out I was pregnant. I lack closure… so I write about Vegas a lot.

In August of last year, for the first time in many years, I got a hit on the most important personal in my Vegas-life. And it was his obituary.

I’d thought he was already dead a dozen times before. Rumors. I heard he’d ODed, I heard he’d been shot, and I had years between looking for anything under his name, because I just couldn’t. So I honestly, at this point, did not think he had been alive for a bit. But he was.

And he had a family, a wife and stepkids.

And I… I had this unexpected surge of horrible grief, because once upon a time I loved him, and he is a huge part of a hugely important part of my life. But also, seeing the picture of him with his wife and kids, I thought, “I am not entitled to this grief. They lived with him for years, they were his family, I am a fragment – they lost a husband and a father. I lost a memory, a story I tell myself.”

It took me a while to allow myself the grief.

He was theirs more. But he was important to me. And he was one of the last remnants of this incredibly intense, surreal, often terrible thing that has shaped my life.

So when I allowed myself to accept the emotions and not judge them, I got ambushed by story one day and sat down and wrote “Splinter” all in one surge, one violent outburst. I vomited forth – sorry for the imagery, but I had about that much control over the proceedings – this thing, this cry of pain and loneliness. I did it because no one else was left who knew.

And then I sat on it for months, because what is this thing? Who would want it?

I met Lynne and Michael Thomas of Apex Magazine at Wiscon this May, and we befriended each other on social media. So when, this June, I came across “Splinter” in my files and wondered aloud on Twitter who would want something so short, dark, twisty, whatever, they both told me to send it to them.

So I did.

And here it is.

“Splinter” was published in Apex Magazine in November 2012. It’s on Tangent Online’s 2012 recommended Reading List.

Cyd Athens at Tangent Online says: “Shira Lipkin’s “Splinter” evokes fear without ever showing the actual source. Rather, it relates what happens after a group of travelers step off the edge of the world. Whether what they encounter is alien, magical, or paranormal is left to the imagination. Beginning with an intrepid group of five best friends, each section of the story focuses on a single member. One by one, we learn of the aftereffects of an experience so horrible as to make consideration of a return trip unthinkable. The tale is narrated by the last one standing. This fast read is strong, evocative, and disturbing in a way that makes one want to read it again.”

Carrie Cuinn says: ““Splinter” by Shira Lipkin is short and blunt, to the point, and a perfect piece of flash fiction (though I think it may have a few too many words to strictly be called “flash”). It’s a moment, a conversation, a story, a thing that happened, and it says just enough to be all of those things without having to be anything else.”


“nameless” is actually the first thing I wrote in the world of what’s now my novel-in-progress, Cicatrix. I had an image of a dancing woman with twisted scars on her shoulderblades, what might have been wings…

The poem didn’t quite work. It sat on my hard drive for a while as I did other things, including expanding that glimpse into a novel – now the person who used to have wings is male, and he has an interesting way of covering those scars. But, as always in a novel, there’s room for other stories than the ones I’m currently telling. Somewhere out there there’s room for the narrator of this poem.

And somewhere there was the right poem for her! I revisited the poem recently, trying to cut it down to ten lines; it didn’t work. Then I opened it up just a little more, let it breathe – and here we go.

An interesting autobiographical note: my birth mother never named me. I was simply “the baby” until she gave me up for adoption. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I went through name after name, and nothing stuck; when I later learned that I hadn’t been given a name, I attributed my name-fluidity to that.

In the world of Cicatrix, why might a child not be named, or be un-named? What effects might namelessness have?

“nameless” was published in Through the Gate #1 in September 2012.

Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation

When I was little, my grandmother made the most amazing mushroom barley soup.

She made it from scratch, and that alone was so different from dinner with my parents, who don’t cook. (My father grills. But usually dinner at their place is takeout.) Just the flash of her knife on the cutting board was something out of another world for me, something to be observed and marveled at. My grandmother’s world was so different from mine, so foreign – and the story that we were told as children of the ’70s and early ’80s was that progress was all, progress was what one strived for. Never look back. Spaghetti and meatballs in a takeout tin was superior to homemade soup; it saved time and mess.

But I loved that soup! I loved the heavy spoon in the green Depression glass bowl. I loved the dense flavors. I loved that my grandmother loved making it. It was my grandfather’s favorite dish, you see; she made it for him.

And he died, and she never made it again.

I asked a few times, but she demurred, and I realized that it was her soup for him; that she couldn’t. I don’t know if she knew how much I loved it; I was ten, and I don’t know if I ever really communicated it to her. She died when I was 14, after a protracted and terrible illness.

It’s not just the recipe I lost. It’s not even just my quietly funny and sweet grandmother. It’s my connection to a past that I value more every year, the sense of history, of where we came from. In my early life, the culture around me was telling me to sever that connection and boldly go into a homogenous future. That is not what I want. I want my grandmother’s soup, and the glass bowls she kept all her life, and the slow chopping of mushrooms, and the murmurs of a dying language. I want my roots.

I cook from scratch. I’ve discovered that I have celiac disease; one of the first things I realized upon my diagnosis is “I can never have that soup again.” But I’ll be experimenting with quinoa or millet in place of the barley. And it may never be my grandmother’s soup, but it’s okay if it’s mine. And I will teach the recipe to my daughter and, when she has them, to her children, and I will tell them about their silly-sweet great-great-grandma Essie.

Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation” was published in Stone Telling #8, August 2012.

The Changeling’s Lament

Like many of my poems, “The Changeling’s Lament” started as a few lines scribbled on the notebook next to my bed – “I have studied so hard to pass as one of you. I have tells – blisters, tremors, bruises.”

That sat there for a few months, I think; it lingered in the very back of my brain until a few days before Readercon. I knew I’d be reading at the Rhysling Awards Poetry Slan – I wasn’t nominated this year, but past nominees also get to read. Last year I’d read my nominated poem, “When Her Eyes Open”, but this year I actually had to decide what to read, which is notoriously difficult for me. So I decided that I’d like to write something to exploit my favorite thing about the Slan – the performance aspect of it. Usually, when I write poetry, it’s meant to be read on the page or screen. The benefit of reading aloud is that you get to use language in a different way.

So I sat down to write a poem that I thought was just going to be about the difficulties of changelings. And it twisted itself on me and showed me what it was really about. (You can read all about how the gender identity aspects of it came in at Stone Telling’s roundtable.)

I’m happy to report that the reading went really, really well. 🙂 To the point that people were not just asking me about the poem – they were asking people at the SFPA’s table, one of whom said she thought it was going to be in Stone Telling…

I had not yet submitted it to Stone Telling! But of course I planned to, and I did, and thankfully the editors agreed that it was a good fit for Stone Telling. 🙂

The poem got a bit of editing, because what works for spoken word doesn’t always work written down – but the editors asked me for a recording of the original poem. During the recording process, I discovered that there was a thing one can do in GarageBand to change one’s voice from “female” to “male” and, well, given the nature of the poem, I had to! You can listen to both versions, and I hope you do.

I’ve decided that the collective noun for a group of changelings is a transposition of changelings. Are you a changeling, too?

“The Changeling’s Lament” was published in Stone Telling #5, September 2011. It has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Rhysling Award and recommended for the Tiptree Award. It has been reprinted in Here, We Cross, an anthology of queer and genderfluid poetry.


Brit Mandelo at Tor.com says: “Another poem about not fitting tightly-bound boxes of identity is “The Changeling’s Lament” by Shira Lipkin. This piece, too, works on an extended metaphor—in this case, of a changeling made to fit into the human mold—to explore issues of gender and the rigidly enforced strictures of “girl.” It’s also one of the more tragic pieces of the book, whereas the majority of the poems end with an uplifting note. The changeling does not escape the strictures that have bound and hobbled them into “her” and into “girl,” but instead informs us of the struggle and the agony—takes us along on the titular lament. The final stanza is like a blow.”

J.C. Runolfson at Versification says: ““The Changeling’s Lament,” by Shira Lipkin, is not understated, but it is definitely powerful. There are two audio tracks at the top of poem page, one titled “the girl’s voice” and one “the changeling’s voice.” Play them both at the same time and listen while you read, because this is a poem that speaks by alchemy, that speaks of change, and choice, and the limits of both.”


I am delighted to announce that I have sold my urban fantasy series, Shayara, to Drollerie Press!

Shayara started out years ago as simply a story I told myself. Over the years, it’s also been a comic book and a web-based illuminated manuscript of sorts. The medium has changed, but the story has always remained… and now I get to share it with more of you!

Shayara will be a six-book series – a core trilogy, plus three supplemental novellas and novels that will give you a deeper look at the events of the trilogy and of the generation before. Stay tuned – I will have more about this soon!

(Art by Stacy Lucas)

Between Truth and Life

Earlier this year, wonderful poet JoSelle Vanderhooft told me that she was editing an anthology of steampunk lesbian stories, and that she’d like me to submit something.

“JoSelle, you know I hate steampunk, right? That it makes me go argh that the aesthetic is pretty much NeoVictorian with some gears glued on, and there’s no actual punk?”

“I know. That’s why I’m inviting you.”

Okay then.

I made sure she was okay with my character having burn scars and the like – because the thing about this technology is that it was actually severely dangerous. Look, if you’re writing a story about unpredictable, explosive tech and no one dies or is scarred, it’s not really realistic. There’s only so much disbelief I can suspend. JoSelle okayed burn scars, and noted that she wanted the stories to be multicultural and not Anglocentric.

Okay then. Prague. Jewish lesbian engineer in Prague.

I hope you like her.

Click here to order Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, and get not just “Between Truth And Life”, but stories from so many amazing people, including Amal El-Mohtar, Shweta Narayan, Nora Jemison, Mikki Kendall, Matt Kressel, Mike Allen, and many more!

“Between Truth and Life” has now been podcast at Toasted Cake.


Eithin at Cold Iron and Rowan-Wood says: “Steel Rider (by Rachel Manija Brown), Truth and Life by Shira Lipkin, and The Hands that Feed by Matthew Kressel make a trio of Jewish stories; emet is the character that gives them life. The second of those, an economical tale of a young woman who becomes a skilled engineer, is my favourite of the three.”

The Contented Reader says: “a tale as lovely and delicate as the tiny mechanical creatures it features.”

Salt Brides

“Salt Brides” is yet another Wind Tunnel Dreams experiment; this time, my challenge to myself was a month of myth and fairy tale.

All of my friends love selkies, you see. Several have written about them. But I never had, despite growing up half-in the ocean and writing about mermaids, mangrove dryads, and the like. I didn’t have my selkie story yet.

Until suddenly I did.

I’ve been told that this could be spun out into a longer story, or a novel, but I think it does all it needs to do as a flash piece. I love writing flash fiction – perhaps all the more because of its limitations. Can you tell a complete love story in under a thousand words? Full characterization, even a love scene? I’ll take that challenge!

“Salt Brides” was published in Abyss and Apex in October 2010. It’s been nominated for a Micro Award.


Lois Tilton at Locus says: “The Animal Wife story, a colony of men who have all stolen selkie wives from the sea. Well-evoked love story.”

Sam Tomaino at SFRevu says: “”Salt Brides” by Shira Lipkin is a bittersweet, but beautiful, tale of men who take brides from the sea. Jonathan loves Sara but he knows she will stay with him only until she finds her skin. ”

Pam Wallace says: “It’s a haunting, beautiful tale, and the ending left me with a very satisfied feeling. It’s also flash length, but read as a true story in entirety. I won’t give it away, because it took me a few paragraphs to weasel out the plot, but that was part of the satisfaction of the story. “

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.””


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.


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.”


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.”


“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.


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.”