Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw

So, you may remember that Mike Allen had a Kickstarter for Clockwork Phoenix 4, and that his $10K goal, which he made, was that he’d start a new magazine. He hit the goal, and we all got a little ridiculous on Twitter.

Me: Hey @mythicdelirium when do submissions open for your BRAND NEW MAGAZINE because I have a thing about a vampire& a werewolf who fall in love

@rose_lemberg: vampire and werewolf fall in love with a DEMON. And a witch. It is poly.

Me: ALSO THERE ARE ANGELS AND SELKIES. And everyone is noncreatively pseudokinky. PUBLISH ME.

@time_shark: oh do you now? (patience grasshopper)

Me: Ha! No. No, I do not.

@time_shark: I’m curious if someone could write a story like that I’d actually buy. [NO that is NOT a challenge…]

Me: …damn you. *chases plotbunny*

I did not chase the plotbunny at that time. At that time, I was going wild on Twitter to distract myself from the fact that our cat was dying and my grandmother was having the same symptoms as the cat. Besides, I had a totally different idea for my CP4 submission, something that would really bend storytelling in weird ways…

…something that I just couldn’t get started on. I needed to do research for it, et cetera. In the meantime, life was collapsing in on me and I kept getting little story-sparks for this thing. Could I write a story like that that Mike would buy? Doesn’t matter, I have five other things to do first. But what if – NO, brain, stop it, that is last in the queue!

But in the middle of the hell time, I sat down and wrote it anyway.

My characters have ridiculous names. I crisscross five different genres. I hoped the story wouldn’t get rejected on formatting alone, because I Did Things. But I wasn’t writing to make it pretty and publishable. I was in the center of the whirlwind and it was my damn rope. And it didn’t matter if anyone else liked it, because dammit, it made me laugh when I didn’t think I could. And whenever I had time, whenever I wasn’t medicating the cat or flying to Florida or dealing with my now-ex cheating on, lying to, and emotionally terrorizing me, I would sit and say “it’s okay if you only do a hundred words today, but you have to do a hundred words.” No drowning allowed. I was writing with a strict set of guidelines because that’s what I needed, but I had no idea if it would work for anyone but me, and I didn’t need it to. I needed to be ludicrous and break all the boxes and build something new.

So I wrote it.

I sent it to my husband and he said it was my best story yet and y’know, I think I agree. It’s my longest. It is not grimdark. There are parts that make you laugh and parts that make you go oooh and sometimes those are the same parts.

So I sent it to Mike. And he bought it, this story about a vampire and a werewolf in LOVE and there’s a witch and an angel and an alien stripper and there are zero straight people in it and two genderfluid characters and a new drink and karaoke and discredited scientific theories.

And it all starts when a vampire and a werewolf walk into a bar.

(The witch is already in the bar.)

You should buy Clockwork Phoenix 4 is what I am saying, I guess. And Mike, thanks for the challenge. 🙂

“Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw” was published in Clockwork Phoenix 4. It has been reprinted online at Mythic Delirium, and it is on Tangent Online’s 2013 Recommended Reading List.

Louis West at Tangent Online says: “Shira Lipkin’s “Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw” is an incredible love story about Zee, a witch who can flip through realities like reading a book, who violates the laws of physics by thinning boundaries between worlds because she’s bored, and who long ago hid her heart to avoid the pain. Cast in a poetic, screen-play type style, at places the structure of the story morphs because a character doesn’t like the way Zee first portrays them. Hiding her heart made her inviolate and immortal. But Zee is “apocalyptically bored,” and “bad things happen when beings who can smash together universes get bored.” Hesitantly, she comes to the decision that perhaps it’s time to find and reassemble the pieces of her heart, only to learn that the most crucial pieces never left her. The ending changes the story, and everyone in it, allowing me to discover a brand new tale upon rereading it. Exceptional and highly recommended.”

Dusty on Movies says: “One of my favorites, Shira Lipkin’s story follows a playful witch who flips through dimensions like they’re TV stations. Along the way she develops a relationship with a bar-keeping angel and a mysterious courtesan. She also casts a spell of love between a female werewolf and female vampire, who of course have all sorts of compatibility issues but love each other nonetheless. It’s a story with heart, literally. Our witch has hidden her heart to increase her power, but now she’s on a quest to find the pieces she’s hidden throughout the multiverse. This is a truly fun story. There’s a gimmick with the text alignment that adds to the fun. I’ll let you discover it for yourself. I’m a huge fan of this story.”

Just Book Reading says: “A witch who can switch between realities and is happy to play around with the boundaries of love but shies away from her own heart. Zee, the witch, is such an intriguing character and I love how she plays around with everyone else’s heart and ignores her own. It’s a keeper and by that I mean it’s another favorite.”

Michelle Anjirbag at Cabinet des Fees says: “a new kind of love story, in part inspired by a challenge by the editor himself. What makes a heart whole?”

The Busker, Broke and Busted

I’m in an odd position with this poem, in that I don’t really remember writing it.

I remember it coming out, and me being bewildered – because it isn’t actually a poem. It’s a song, a Gilbert-and-Sullivanesque patter song about an obsolete robot. I remember bits of it coming to me in the shower, and I remember singing the lilting “I am, I am” notes to myself. (Poorly. There’s a reason there’s no audio on this post!) I just don’t remember the impetus! Which is highly unusual, but there are exceptions to all rules.

Its sole appearance in public to this point was the poetry reading at Arisia 2012, where I had my daughter sing it – the audience laughed, they sympathetically “awwed”, and they attempted to take up a collection to purchase and upgrade the poor robot! I was also heavily encouraged to write an entire musical. Which… might happen, with the help of Erik Amundsen, if our lives ever settle down sufficiently.

Besides the obvious issue that it’s properly a song, not a poem, it’s also very long, and was rejected from print magazines for that reason, but I did not despair. I was feeling uncharacteristically bright and pushy one day and asked Apex Magazine editor Lynne Thomas when they’d be opening to unsolicited poetry again; she responded that I should consider myself solicited. Little did I know that she’s a musical theatre geek! So this song/poem/impending event ended up with exactly the right editor. I love it when that happens.

“The Busker, Broke and Busted” was published in Apex Magazine #48, May 2013.

I Am Thinking of You in the Spaces Between

I travel more than most, less than some, and I have a special love for liminal places. Especially when I’m alone and not having to manage anyone else. Buses, trains, airplanes. I like being between.

In March 2009, I had the exceptional fortune to be on the now-legendary Trains of Heaven trip with SJ Tucker and her wild wicked tribe, who became my circus family. There are so many stories about that trip, but almost none of them relate to this story, so I’ll hold myself in check for now! The relevant part is that I’d ridden out from Boston to Cleveland with SJ and K(evin) Wiley, but their truck was overfull for the Cleveland-to-Chicago leg of the trip, so I took a bus and met them there. I had a few minutes in Chicago all by myself, though, and I called my friend John – I don’t like telephones in general, but John’s an odd exception, and I tend to think of him when I’m in liminal space. I got his voicemail, and left him a comfortably rambly message that ended with “That’s all, really. Just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you in the spaces between.”

My brain stuck a pin in that line like whoa.

K picked me up, and we spent the next week having epic adventures; I read my story “Fortune” aloud for the first time on the train, in the dining car in the middle of the night. I didn’t think about that line for a while afterward, but it was there, percolating.

And it coalesced in January 2010, out of nowhere, and became a story about spaces between, but also about progressive chronic illness (which is very much a part of my life; I live with a condition that has been known to be randomly fatal, among others). I wrote it when I was supposed to be writing something else entirely. I finished it the morning of my reading at Arisia, and read it there.

People got misty-eyed.

John was there. He remembered that line, too. The story isn’t about him, but the genesis is tangled up in thinking of him in transit, so he’s part of it anyway.

There’s a special symmetry to the eventual publication of this story. I’d sent it around to a few markets, it got rejected, I set it aside for a while; I had about a year and a half of not really submitting anything anywhere. After Readercon this year, my husband nudged me to send the story out again, as he’s always loved it. I sent it to editor Cat Valente at Apex.

If you looked at that link about the Trains of Heaven, you’re probably grinning now. If not, I’ll tell you: that trip was a joint venture between SJ and Cat. So. I like the symmetry of it, of the seed of the story being planted as I was about to embark upon an adventure with, among others, the editor who would eventually buy it.

“I Am Thinking of You in the Spaces Between” was published in Apex Magazine #29, October 2011. It is on Tangent Online’s 2011 recommended reading list, and it is a Million Writers Award Notable Story. It has been reprinted in The Book of Apex 3.


Richard E.D. Jones at Tangent Online says: “The apex is the top, the very best of something, this higher and no farther. With that in mind, it takes a lot of hubris to name your fiction journal Apex Magazine. Well, let me tell you this, with the current issue’s lead story, “I Am Thinking of You in the Spaces Between” by Shira Lipkin, the magazine certainly lives up to its name….Written in a spare, haunting first-person, the majority of the story concerns the recent history of Sarah Walker, interdimensional traveler, government courier and lover. This is a beautifully written story. Lipkin does a fantastic job of drawing us into the story, using an almost plain style to make the fantastic seem as if it’s only a job. It’s only because the story grounds us with its style that we can come to care for Sarah and feel for her predicament. Her inability to talk to her true love really rings true, as does her desire to unburden herself to one of the alternates. Very good story with strong characters, good prose and an engaging plot. Definitely worth checking out.” (Review contains lots of spoilers; read the story first!)

Sam Tomaino at SFRevu says: “This was a beautiful, bittersweet story and Shira Lipkin is a talented writer. “

The Library, After

I originally wrote “The Library, After” at the very end of 2008; it was one of five unprompted Wind Tunnel Dreams flash stories. (Note: I dug this information out of my personal blog; in so doing, I found that I use the word “library” in WTD stories rather a lot.) Several of the stories in that series were tied to previous stories – “The Library, After” stood alone, and it turned out to be the one with staying power!

I started reading it at conventions – I tend to prefer to read flash and poetry, because it keeps a reading moving, switching gears. It built a small following. I think it’s the first story of mine that got fan art (though not the first to get fanfic), and that was before publication!

I had such affection for this story that, when I attended the Meet the Pros(e) party at Readercon 2009 (writers get one line from their work printed up on stickers and share it with people, creating a sort of absurdist poetry as you collect other people’s lines), I used a line from it: “Awakened, the library went feral.” I bounced up to Mythic Delirium editor Mike Allen and traded lines with him, and he said “Where is this from?” and then, “Has it been published?”

I sent him the story. And proceeded to forget that I’d ever done so. It was too short for his Clockwork Phoenix anthology series, and Mythic Delirium is a poetry magazine, so I was expecting nothing except that hopefully he’d enjoy it. But he ended up e-mailing me and asking if he could buy it for Mythic Delirium.

But – it’s not a poem, I said.

It’s poetic, he said.


So trading stickers at a party at Readercon has led to the publication of a piece of my flash fiction in a poetry magazine. I do not have a problem with this! If you like posthuman postapocalyptic singularities with quantum unicorn PIs, you should look it up.

“The Library, After” was published in Mythic Delirium #24 in June 2011. (Art by Paula Friedlander.) It won the Rhysling Award and was nominated for the Micro Award.


Alexandra Seidel at Fantastique Unfettered says: “The sometimes mythical, sometimes delirious, but always adventurous journey ends with ‘The Library, After’ by Shira Lipkin. Herein, stories tell themselves to one another, they grow and change, revealing their protean nature, and they become something entirely new, leaving their shelves and finding adventure, which is probably what most of them were about anyway.”

Tori Truslow at Sabotage Reviews says: “And then Shira Lipkin’s ‘The Library, After’ comes along, magical and wry, a prose poem about an abandoned library where the books ‘told each other to each other’. You could read this as whimsy, you could read it as a bit of thumb-biting in the direction of rigid genre classifications – “New genres formed and split and reformed, tangents spilling out like capillaries. Freed of the responsibility to be useful and to fit human desires and expectations, Story explored itself in Mandelbrot swirls” – whichever way you look at it, it’s clever, funny and affirming. Literary fashions come and go – as we learn, ‘The science-noir-unicorn genre was shortlived’ – but story keeps on going. The image of stories continuing to twist and transmute after we’ve stopped looking at them is a perfect note to end on.”

Diane Severson Mori at Amazing Stories says: “A wonderful personification of the Library, in which the post-apocalyptic library ‘goes feral’, because the library has always felt like a friend to me.”

The Portal to Heaven

“The Portal to Heaven” was another Wind Tunnel Dreams story-prompt. I seem to have gone through a mild addiction to soft-singularity stories. “The Library, After” is entirely posthuman. “The Portal to Heaven” isn’t quite, but it’s getting there.

What happens to heaven and hell after we upload ourselves?

“The Portal to Heaven” appears in Electric Velocipede #21/22. Necklace by the ever-amazing Kythryne Aisling of Wyrding Studios.


T.N. Tobias of Rise Reviews says: ““The Portal to Heaven” by Shira Lipkin poses the scenario of what happens when humanity can overcome mortality and its consequences on the mythic order of things. Heaven is slowly emptying as synthesized humanity takes control of the reigns of death, even going so far as to resurrect those from the past. It’s difficult to convey a complete sense of a story in such a short format but Lipkin does it well here.”

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!

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.


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.”

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.