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.”

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. “

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!


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.