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.

Where We Died

This one, I remember writing.

It’s a shadow of sorts of my first published short story, “The Angel of Fremont Street”. It draws from the same inciting incident – but instead of an examination of the years beyond, “Where We Died” is a snapshot, one few-second slice of a life right before everything changes forever.

It’s short, as my poems go. By necessity. Just one moment long.

Where We Died” was published in Niteblade #24, June 2013.


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.”

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.”

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.