Interview: Meet Shira Lipkin!

Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is proud to introduce Shira Lipkin, award-winning poet, author, and interstitial artist.  She’ll be reading from her diverse and powerful work on Thursday, August 16, from 7PM-9PM. 

Thank you, Shira, for taking the time to let us get to know you and your work even better!

Your Rhysling-winning piece, “The Library, After,” has a great story around it. Would you mind sharing it with us here?

I originally wrote “The Library, After” at the very end of 2008, just on a lark; I never submitted it anywhere. 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 had such affection for it 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 it to him. 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 a year later declaring it a prose poem and asking if he could buy it for Mythic Delirium. And it ended up winning the Rhysling Award for short poem! I love that I was at Readercon when the win was announced; Mike had me read it for his speculative poetry workshop attendees, and I got to thank him in person for seeing something in that one playful line on a sticker three years ago!

(I go into the backstories of all of my stories and poetry on my blog, shiralipkin.com!)

All of your writing, even your prose, has a poetic, lyrical quality to it – even if the material is dark and gritty.  How conscious is this decision? What goes into your drafting and polishing process to lend that extra layer?

Hm. I haven’t thought about this before! I think there are a few different layers to this…

I come to writing from a theater background, so I’m accustomed to *thinking* the lines as I would speak them; I’ve been told that this shows in my readings. The words come out in a way that works aloud, and there’s a certain sort of lyricism to theater!

I’m fortunate to be very involved in the community of speculative poets. I see a huge variety of work and styles! So many of my friends and fellow poets do such different work that “poetic” can mean so many things. What I like to do personally with all of my work, but especially my poetry and flash fiction (if only for reasons of length!), is pack as much impact into as few words as possible. Strip away any sort of filler and filigree, bring it down to the blood and bone, and deliver it in language that surprises you and makes you think about the topic from a different angle. That’s not what most people mean by poetic, I think! But it’s how I do my best work, I think. When I don’t do that, I’m generally dissatisfied! I think that coming up as a poet and a writer of short fiction simultaneously has worked to really fuse the separate techniques in my head, so that there’s storytelling in the poetry and poetic language in the stories. There’ve been times that something I thought was going to be a poem has come out as a story, and vice versa.

It isn’t a deliberate choice or part of a drafting or polishing process; it’s how things come out of my brain, quite directly. I’m glad you like it! 🙂

You are a big proponent of the interstitial arts.  For those not familiar, what is interstitial art?  And why should more people learn about work that fits this description?

Interstitial art is art that defies and transcends genre! My story “Valentines” in Interfictions 2, for example, could be read as science fiction, fantasy, or even as literary fiction, depending on how you choose to read it. If it makes you say “I love this, but what is it?”, it just might be interstitial! It’s not just writing, either – there are people doing amazing interstitial art in visual arts, sculpture, fiber arts, dance, theater, music, any creative pursuit that you can think of! I just think it’s tremendously exciting to see and create work that’s so far out of the box that you can’t even see the box from there, and I love working with other interstitial arts on cross-media work as well. People should definitely be seeking out interstitial art – this is the cutting edge, and people are doing remarkable things there. You can learn more here: http://www.interstitialarts.org/wordpress/

What has been the most difficult part of your path as a writer, and what lesson has it taught you about writing, art, and yourself? 

I think the most difficult thing for me is the trouble I have making myself focus on the thing I’m supposed to be doing next! I actually briefly had a six-book contract for my urban fantasy series, Shayara. I finished the first novella and was trying to work on the first novel, but another novel (the one I’m working on now) kept getting in the way – it was like it was literally blocking the Shayara novel’s way out. I grew resentful of working on the Shayara novel when I felt I needed to be working on the other novel – which is no way to get anything done, much less done well! The small press I had the contract with went under, and I was actually relieved that I could set the Shayara novel aside for now. So I guess what I’ve learned is that I work best when I work on the thing that’s really pounding at my mind screaming to be let out, and I just choke and thrash about uselessly when I try to make myself do other things instead. I have to just stop and hand the reins over to my writerbrain.

On the reverse side, what part of writing is your favorite, and why?

I like having written. 🙂 In all seriousness, writing itself puts me in what’s pretty much a trance state, which can sometimes be unnerving! Especially with the novel I’m working on now, which goes to some very dark places. But I like looking over what I’ve done and feeling that I’ve done well, and I like sharing my writing with others, in print and in person. I especially love engaging with people about the stories and poems after they’ve read them; everyone engages with the work in a different way, and I find it fascinating to see what people found in it.

When you plan to do a reading, what do you do to prepare?  What do you want to give your audiences?

It depends on the reading! You’ve given me two hours to read at Annie’s, which is the longest stretch of time I’ve ever had; I usually read at conventions for about 25 minutes. So I’ll be reading quite a lot, and varying what types of stories and poems I’m reading – just tonally, no one wants to listen to the exact same thing for that long! For this reading, I’ll mostly be reading work that people can buy at Annie’s. 🙂 There will be some brand-new stuff, though. For my reading at Pi-Con a few days later, I have a full hour; there, I’ll be reading from the novel in progress. It’s what I usually read from at cons – having a full hour means I get to show more of the novel, though. It has a dark beginning, but with an hour, I’ll get to lighter parts!

In general, to prepare, I’ll pick out an assortment of work – either I’ll pick bits of the novel in progress that’ll work when strung together, or I’ll pick a selection of short stories, flash, and poetry. If I’m reading all one thing, I’ll pre-read it aloud and time myself – I always want to make sure I end at a good stopping place! If I’m reading several pieces, I’ll arrange them in a basic order, but adjust it on the fly if need be and depending on audience reaction and interest.

I want to give my audience a good time! I’d say fun, but some of my work isn’t fun, and I still hear from my audiences that they loved it. I want my audience to be entertained, and hopefully touched (depending on the piece).

What are some of your current projects? What are some of your favorites that you would like more people to know more about?

The project that is eating my brain is a novel in progress called Cicatrix. All of the other work I’ve been doing lately has sort of been coming out around the edges of it, and you can see its influence, I think; I have a poem in the inaugural issue of Through the Gate that takes place in the Cicatrix universe.

As far as work I’d like more people to know about – oh, everything! My blog has links to everything you can read online, and links to purchase anything you can’t. I’d especially like more people to know about the poetry, and about SF/F/H poetry in general; I think people are scared of poetry! I’m really excited by the work lots of people are doing in that field, not just me.

I tend to think whatever I’m working on at the moment is the best thing I’ve ever done. Which is good, I think! But it means that most of what I want to point you to isn’t available yet! I’d like to encourage people to Like my author page on Facebook and/or subscribe to my blog for news on where to find all of the new things I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

What question do you wish interviewers asked – and what would be the answer?

“Would you like a pony?” and “Yes, please.” But only if they are actually offering a pony. False promises of ponies are just too cruel.

In all seriousness, I love the questions you’ve asked here – you’ve spurred a lot of introspection! Thank you for interviewing me, and I’m so looking forward to reading at Annie’s Book Stop!

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