Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead

“This is a great debut collection of loopy, off-the-wall, and still-somehow-packing-emotional-weight stories; DeNiro can weld words into some mighty strange configurations.”
—Caleb Wilson, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Nashville, TN

Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead is Minneapolis-based poet and writer Alan DeNiro’s wide-ranging and assured debut fiction collection.

DeNiro’s stories have been published in the most forward-looking magazines including Fence, Crowd, One Story, Strange Horizons, and 3rd Bed.

These stories skitter sideways across literary and genre fiction categories, using the toolbox of genres like science fiction and fantasy to grapple with issues of identity, family, gender, and politics. DeNiro is frequently funny, surreal, or slapstick, but his stories also connect with readers on an emotional level, in unexpected and surprising ways. Even in the oddest of DeNiro’s stories, his characters are real people grappling with real relationships, real heartbreaks, the small, cruel, pinprick absurdities of a universe which is larger and stranger than most writers ever realize.

A MAN LOSES his leg in a war, and a field doctor sews on a fairy tale in its place. A woman excavates her living room in order to discover what has become of her marriage. The Byzantine army invades a small college town. Giants move in next door. A boy in a town called Suddenly falls in love with a girl who lives in the Lake of the Dead. The secret history of Erie — past, present, and future — is revealed.

Table of Contents

Our Byzantium
Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead
If I Leap
The Fourth
The Centaur
The Caliber
The Excavation
A Keeper
Fuming Woman
The Friendly Giants
Child Assassin
The Exchanges
Salting the Map
Home of the

Read a couple of the stories in a funsize PDF edition.

Alan’s unique reading guide.

Interview on Ideomancer

Interview by John Scalzi.

Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead was a Lit Blog Coop Pick which lead to all kinds of discussion and a podcast interview.


“Maybe the future of sf is Alan DeNiro. The title story here, set in twenty-third-century Pennsylvania, is its nameless-till-the-last-sentence narrator’s university-application essay, numbered footnotes and all, which explains why not to expect him on campus anytime soon; he is in love and considering getting gills. Maybe DeNiro is the future of alternate history: in “Our Byzantium,” a college town is invaded by horse-and-chariot-led soldiers who demolish cars, wheelchairs, and other machines; reestablish Greek as the lingua franca; and otherwise conquer. He could be fantasy’s tomorrow, too, if the offhandedness of the impossible transformations in “The Cuttlefish,” “The Centaur,” “The Excavation,” and “If I Leap” catches on. In “The Fourth” and “A Keeper,” DeNiro is one of the most powerful, least partisan prophets of consumerist totalitarianism. “Salting the Map” confounds the distinction between artifice and reality as deftly and daftly as Andrew Crumey’s Pfitz (1997) and Zoran Zivkovic’s Impossible Stories (2006). The long closer, “Home of the,” about Erie, Pennsylvania, now and then, is as laconic and associative as its title is elliptic. Refreshing, imaginative, funny-scary stuff.”
—Ray Olson, Booklist

Advance Readers say:

Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead is a thrill ride. Men jump from buildings and walk away, Assassins are hired to murder novels, Byzantines spring from the hills and sack college towns. On each page Alan DeNiro performs feats of acrobatic skill, holding the edge with remarkable control. He has created a brand new world, and I believe every word of it.”
— Hannah Tinti (Animal Crackers)

“I’m not ordinarily an editor, so finding stories for the first six issues of Fence magazine was a guilty pleasure, and the subsequent work by formerly unknown Fence writers like Kelly Link and Julia Slavin has made me look like a prognosticator, or maybe an annoying drunk guy on a streak at a casino. Now here’s Alan DeNiro, whose “Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead” was always my favorite. I’m thrilled to see him in bookstores at last.”
— Jonathan Lethem (Fortress of Solitude)

“Alan DeNiro’s stories move in unexpected ways into unexpected places — up in the air, under the water, out of this world. He has a gift for precise language and poetic logic, his own unique sort of circus realism. Sharp, smart, and completely original, this is a lively, lovely collection from a memorable talent.”
— Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club)

“Reading Alan DeNiro’s new collection, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, made me feel like a dog that twists its head a bit to the side on hearing a whistle too high for humans to hear. The dog is perplexed and intrigued by the sound — it knows where it’s coming from but not really. Familiar enough, but maybe not. So too with these strong, out of kilter stories. DeNiro blows his own distinctly different sounding whistle and once you’ve heard it, you can’t help but stop and take real notice.”
— Jonathan Carroll (Glass Soup)

“The wholly original, carefully crafted tales that comprise Alan Deniro’s Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead are like colorful pinatas full of live scorpions — playful, unexpected, and deadly serious.”
— Jeffrey Ford (The Girl in the Glass)

Interesting Things:

  • Alan DeNiroAlan made a unique reading guide for the book which can be gotten as a PDF file here.
  • The title story was shortlisted for the O. Henry award.
  • DeNiro’s got a fantastic spot on the web: Goblin Mercantile Exchange.
  • Alan twitters.
  • Book launch party July 18, 7 PM, at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis. Soft launch at the WisCon convention in Madison, WI.

On the web:


  • Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the DeadCover images © Ellen Klages (Lead Men) and Jupiter Images.
    Download cover for print.
  • Download author photo for print.
    Author photo credit: © Maria Erikson.

The following stories originally appeared in slightly different form in the following publications:

Our Byzantium, Polyphony 3 (Wheatland Press)
Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, Fence, Vol.2, No.2
If I Leap, Altair, 6/7
The Centaur, Spoiled Ink, July 2005
Cuttlefish, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, 8
The Caliber, Santa Monica Review, Fall 2002
The Excavation, Minnesota Monthly, June 2001
A Keeper, Electric Velocipede, 6
Fuming Woman, Trampoline (Small Beer Press)
The Friendly Giants, 3rd Bed, 4
Child Assassin, One Story, 22
The Exchanges, Crowd
Salting the Map, Fortean Bureau, 17

“The Fourth”, “Quiver”, and “Home of the” appear here for the first time.

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