She is, there—amongst the Mango Trees—a Flytrap Garden

Here’s a flash prosetry piece of mine which appeared in Verse Kraken in 2014! The formatting in this inspired me to do “stone”, my twine poem.

“She is, there—amongst the Mango Trees—a Flytrap Garden”
by Penny Stirling

For the summer holidays she goes north to her girlfriend's family's mango farm
of         parental introductions and appraisal—oh, scriptwriting? many jobs?
           red dust, sweat, spiders, mosquitoes and flies, wondering if she'll make it 'til New Year's.

bit overwhelmed but okay!
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We Met in Dragon Shadow

Here’s a poem of mine which appeared in ASIM in 2014!

“We Met in Dragon Shadow”
by Penny Stirling

The first kiss is a fleeting duty
on my cheek burned and sooty.
“Thank you,” she says, “mighty sir—”
But then I remove my armour.

Although the fight was my conquest
the dragon’s sullied the success.
My gryphons are dead, my magics blown.
Princess and I have a long walk home.
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reprint & interview

My interactive poem “stone” has been reprinted in sub-Q! There’s other interactive poems, and interactive fiction and games, over at sub-Q which you can check out too!

And I did an author spotlight over at Pack of Aces where I talk about my published acearo characters and how much better my writing life is since I discovered the terminology that described me:

When I was a teen I tried to write characters who were like me. This was before I’d heard of asexuality or aromanticism. All of the characters were broken, like I obviously was, and they were all eventually fixed like I was told I would be. (Perhaps “they were all broken, and they were all eventually broken in” is better phrasing?) They should have been happy endings: the character admitted they were in love, sex was usually implied, hooray, the character is fixed. But they were all off. Stockholm syndrome was common, overbearing and wearing down of wills was common, power imbalance was common. The characters did not choose to fall in love, they didn’t really fall in love; they were pulled into love and sex and held there with a grip that only at a glance looked like a romantic holding of hands. Messed. Up. (But that’s what I thought I saw in books and films and TV, that’s what I thought was the only path for me. There were many stories which horrified me, which people insisted were romantic. He loved her, so it was all right. She ends up saying she loves him, so it was forgiven.)

There was a month dedicated to these author spotlight interviews with various acespec creators and you can check them all out here!


The Selkie Before Summer


southern fur seal; Milford Sound, New Zealand, February 2008

My long poem “The Selkie Before Summer” is up at Liminality! It’s about a southern fur seal (or maybe an Australian fur seal) who leaves the ocean for the first time to rescue a lover and ends up exploring Victoria and gender and matters of the heart. (And there’s another poem in this issue about a sea creature who heads inland, by Sandi Leibowitz!) Yes, it is yet another S-title poem about skin. I might have gotten it out of my system now but I promise nothing.

Earless seals like greys and harps have always seemed like quasi-fantasy animals to me. I knew they were real, I saw them on documentaries, but they were just so different to the fur seals I was more familiar with that there was something mythical about them. (White swans have the same effect. When I visited Britain and saw them it was a very “how is this even a real island” moment. Seeing a lone black swan amongst a group of white swans in Windsor did not help this surreal disconnect.) But imagine an Australian fur seal selkie walking along a yellow sandy beach, their brown skin draped over their head to keep off the burning December sun, even though every story and art I see specifies otherwise. That’s more real to me than anything involving a grey seal and the Atlantic.

Of course, it is now well and truly summer, but I was in fact in Victoria this past spring, so here’s two indulgent photos. (If the eucalypts look strange, they’re shedding their back, which is one of my favourite things! Such a beautiful time of year, seeing the trees shed and change colour.)


The Otways, Victoria, September 2015


The Twelve Apostles, Victoria, September 2015


painted skins, ungendered words, agender heart

The latest issue of Lackington’s is online for all to read now! You read my story, “Kin, Painted”, right here and see Likhain’s illustration for it, and there are other great stories and art to see. Ebooks are still available of course, and if you enjoy it then consider a subscription!

This story originated on a postcard in 2009. I was having difficulty getting back into writing back then, and I found that writing flash fiction on postcards meant I couldn’t agonise over words and sentences, what to do next and then after that. So I wrote a lot of them. Most weren’t that great but they were words, characters, plot, concepts that I managed to get out without a Word document driving me to anxiety. Last year I remembered this particular one and wondered if it could make a decent short story. In the postcard the narrator’s arc ended differently. Unique in its own way, but ultimately I prefer the newer version!


the origins of Kin, Painted

We painted our bodies.
My brother: gold like the ideal sun, rich like all the treasures of the world melted onto his skin. He went to the emperor, to be a measure man. If anyone gave the emperor a gift less amazing than my brother’s skin, it was to be melted down.
My sister: silver like starlight, as bright and glossy like a still lake had dyed her. She went to the …

I wish I could remember to whom I sent the postcard, see if they remember it and see what they think of its descendant.

And now I’m going to talk about being agender and writing ungendered and the stories and poems that I’ve had published this winter.

I have always been confused about gender. Society and presentation and theory, sure, but that’s all outside your skin. What was inside? How does gender inside people work? How does gender inside me work? Spoilers: it doesn’t. Earlier this year I had a series of epiphanic thoughts and was able to push through the “I don’t know I don’t know” that had always stopped me from progressing past “gender wh?” in the past. I mulled over it for a while, and it’s the only thing concerning gender inside my skin that’s made sense to me: I’m agender. Non gendered, rather than neutrois or androgynous. Gender is just not a thing that I have.

Yep, I’m a triple A. Aromantic, asexual, agender. My orientations and identity all default to “nope”. For the record, she/her pronouns are still fine, and I’m femme. UPDATE: I now use ou/ou or them/they pronouns.

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skins and seas

My short poem “Skin Ashore” is up at inkscrawl! It’s got a selkie and consonance and difficult life choices.

And my longer poem “Singing Her Body Oceanic” is up at Liminality with mermaids and tattoos and yearning for something new.

Along with “stone” that makes three poems published this month (!), all with S titles and all featuring changing skin. They were all written in different years so that’s quite some coincidence there. I feel like I should probably understand poetry better now but most of it is just ??? to me still.

Short notes:
The supralittoral zone sits above high tide and is regularly splashed.
The photic zone is well-lit.
The mesopelagic aka the twilight zone is 200 to 1000 metres below the surface.
The bathyal zone aka the midnight zone is 1000 to 4000 metres below the surface; sunlight does not breach it.



My hypertext poem “stone” is up at Interfictions Online! I hope you enjoy it!

In the portion of my life between working out that I wasn’t straight and finding the word “aromantic”, all I knew was that I wasn’t normal. It’s not uncommon amongst aromantics: feeling alone, broken, inhuman, monstrous, alien. I’ve written about it before, in “Even Robots Learn”, but “stone” is more personalised. If I wasn’t human, if I didn’t have a normal human’s normal heart, then I had to be stone. Even though I loved my family and my friends, even though I cared about people and engaged with people, the fact that I could not love in this very particular way meant I didn’t love at all. My heart was concrete, my body was rock, my flesh was stone. I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t love, I couldn’t be hurt. It was an incredibly toxic, unhealthy, self-destructive way of thinking, and it took me years to recover from it.

“stone” is a scar of my lithic years, and I show it to you because it is starkly visible against my heart, my human heart full of love and confidence.

Getting into the more technical side of things, why hypertext? Well, I was looking through some writing drafts when I found a document with the first few lines in it. I had no memory of writing them, no idea what ideas were supposed to follow them. I liked the lines—there was a solid aro sentiment that echoed my late teens, and of course some consonance—but I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I added to them, cautiously, and soon emerged something that was a bit similar to “She is, there—amongst the Mango Trees—a Flytrap Garden”. I decided to bam it up a notch with more elaborate repeating clauses but it soon became obvious that trying to rely on simple formatting like in “Flytrap” would just end in unintelligible mess. I tried different things in Word before I remembered Twine.

Twine creates choose-your-own-adventure stories and games such as Depression Quest. I’d never used it before so I had fun adventures figuring out the basics and getting it to do what I wanted it to do, but it does it superbly. I’ve got some rough ideas for more things I’d like to try in Twine someday! In “stone” I’ve not really delved into what the format’s capable of, but ohh the things it is capable of if you try.

Thank you to the friends who encouraged me while I was experimenting with this poem’s presentation!


Even Robots Learn

My poem “Even Robots Learn” is up at Strange Horizons (as well as their fund drive for the next year)! It’s about aromanticism, representation, amatonormativity, and robots. I’m overwhelmed that the poem found such a lovely home; it’s an important subject to me.

When I was growing up, amatonormativity and representation of non-alloromanticism and non-allosexuality led to me thinking I wasn’t right, I couldn’t be normal: I was a rock, an awful inhuman malfunction. I’ve talked about this before (and so have others) but it’s something that profoundly fucked up my headspace as a teenager, something that still haunts me. And it’s the thing that drives me to write asexual and aromantic characters.

When I was growing up, the only characters like me were aliens, psychopaths, broken, dangerous (or silly young women who said they weren’t interested but really they just hadn’t been claimed by the right guy yet). They were fixable. And I was surrounded by friends–people who genuinely cared for me–who trusted that some day I too would be fixed, who told me that one day a boy would come and change me and fix me (and make me want to be fixed and glad to be fixed) and make me understand and feel love. Real love, of course. After all, I wasn’t properly human. Rocks are incapable of loving their friends.

And to me, that idea was terrifying. Some person is just going to come along, know how I feel better than I do, and change how my brain works because they like me really a lot and it would super suck if I didn’t like them a lot too?? That is literally the plot of a bad hypnotism story. That is literally a power that evil characters have, to make you like them against your will. And my friends thought it’d be a good thing, a romantic thing, because the only people like me they’d seen on the TV or in books were inhuman or in need of fixing. I was lucky in some ways–oblivious and unpopular, and at the time the people who had a crush on me were too shy/clumsy to act–and I never had to stumble through dating and all the horrors I’ve seen aros talk about related to that. Imagine if I had, everyone so happy for me, my confusion and distress continuing, and everyone thinking it’s okay, she’s fixed now.

In other news: everything literally sounds like robots to me at the moment due to ear infections.


We Met in Dragon Shadow

Ah, it’s finally here! Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #60 is out and it contains my poem “We Met in Dragon Shadow”, concerning what happens to a mercenary and the princess she’s rescued after slaying the dragon. Editor Sue Bursztynski said the narrator reminded her of Brienne of Tarth, which my Westeros-familiar friends had to explain to me but I’m quite honoured as she seems like a badass!

In other news, I’ve had a couple of extremely busy months. August was a whirlwind of social engagements and Beethoven concerts (!! oh my, if you ever get the chance to see the 9th live, it’s an experience like no other), September I went on a 1,500-km roadtrip to see some rocks with my rock buddy! To top it all off, earlier this week my lack of coordination gave me an eye injury. *sigh*


Dog Rock, Albany, Western Australia, September 2014


Wave Rock, Hyden, Western Australia, September 2014

Later this month I’ll have a poem and a story published, both of which I’m very excited about. And hopefully I will get some time to cross stitch now that it’s less busy and warmer! My projects are so neglected… I wonder if I could try one-eyed cross stitching? Definitely no need for depth perception where needles and precise patterns are concerned! :p


health, Zucchini, sales

The last 11 months have been difficult with illnesses, physical and mental, lingering and domino-falling and tag-teaming. In some ways the last few months have been the worst, even though I have not once experienced that strange terror of being unable to inhale. Instead there is ceaseless exhaustion, ever whittling at my concentration and other faculties, steadily eroding what creativity, motivation and ability the depression left exposed. I suspect it’s something like sleep apnoea (thanks, bronchitis. thitis.) and hopefully I will be getting that seen to soon. I’ve managed to keep up with my job, but it’s been very frustrating on the hobbies front. At least cross stitch doesn’t require much brain. 🙁

Still, it hasn’t been all bad.

I’m thrilled to be part of Goblin Fruit’s spring 2013 issue, surrounded by expressive and beautiful poems! “Zucchini” is an s&s ace/aro/zucchini poem, simple and rhyming and a bit silly, and I’m so happy that it has such a wonderful home, even if I feel out of place! Thank you, Alex, Tori, R and dottie. :3

I’ve also sold another poem, due out next year, and my beloved creepy glass-smith’s story will be out in a few months. Poetry has always been a strange thing to me and it is bewildering that I have written four and two-halves poems in the last two years when I still don’t understand 99% of poems… I’ve found writing them fun, if often frustrating, so hopefully when (if?) my sleep and brain get sorted out and I can get back to writing prose I won’t abandon poetry, even if just to play with sounds in such a different, compact manner.