2017 In Review: Words and Games

With 2018 on the horizon, I feel a little like Dante surfacing from the circles of Hell and looking at Virgil and being like, “What the fuck, dude?!”

4arrival-of-souls-purgatory-1
Gustave Doré’s Dramatic Illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy

Yeah, 2017 was A Thing That Happened. It had a lot of bad. A lot. But it also had quite a few good things, and it’s important to highlight the good things when you’re playing on nightmare mode and have no save slots in the game.

So hey, here are some things I accomplished this year! Good things. Things I am proud of and hope to repeat in the future. Just, you know, maybe while not running around a hellscape with some ghost-poet bro.


Words

Screenshot 2017-12-31 17.05.44

So it turns out I actually wrote a lot of words this year. That snapshot above? Yeah, that’s from my GYWO spreadsheet. Holy fuck, you guys. o.O  I wrote about 334,240 words in 2017. That’s a lot of taps on the keyboard.

It breaks down something like this:

18 finished short stories
4.5 finished novelettes
2.5 finished novellas
1 finished novel
And about 56,000 words on my COG game (which is on hiatus at the moment and is going to end up around 200-250k when done).

 

The rest of the words are split between unfinished short story drafts, nonfiction, ideas and notes, and other things I chose to count. That’s a lot of fiction words. If you’d asked me last year (2016) how much I expected to produce, my goal for Get Your Words Out was 150k and I thought that was really gonna push my limits.

You know what’s funny? The moment I look away from my spreadsheet, my brain is like, Well you didn’t do very much this year, slacker. Which is a lie, of course. And this is why I keep detailed stats of my progress and projects, because when the doubtroaches surface, when the depression hits hardest, when the anxiety crawls through my ears into my thought neurons, I can look at this Excel page and be like, “See? That’s not nothing. So shut the fuck up, doubtroaches, and go away. I don’t have time for your lies.”


Publications

robot-cover

I have an awards eligibility post here. In 2017, I had 14 original stories published. And my debut collection, SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROBOT, was published by Lethe Press! I’m super proud of these stories. I will have six original stories/novelettes coming out in 2018, and I’ve been solicited for several different anthologies. That is so cool, guys. It’s gonna be an exciting and busy year! 😀


Games

dishonoredPrey_cover_artshadow of war

Video games are a safety net for my mental health, along with being one of my favorite pastimes. It’s telling how horribly long 2017 has felt, because I could have sworn half of these were last year. But nope, I looked at my achievements listings (thank you, Xbox date stamps!) and everything on this list is squarely in 2017. So here are the games I played & finished this year.

Dishonored: Definitive Edition (x2)

First playthrough was in High Chaos, because I am really bad at stealth. XD Then I started a new game and aimed (and succeeded!) for Low Chaos. What I love about this system is how it affects everything: from the dialogue and NPC chatter to the weather and the aesthetic, to the big show pieces such as the climactic chapter of the game. I love so much about this game, even with its flaws: the world-building, the whales, the small details woven through codex entries and songs; the relationships that play out between characters; the gameplay mechanics and UX; and really, just running around being a garbage rat murder-dad was such fun.

 

The Knife of DunwallThe Brigmore Witches

In these DLCs for Dishonored, you play as Daud and see the story from—before the scene in the game, and after—unfold. It delves into the world more, has a lot of feels, and is so much fun. Daud is my favorite. (I mean, hell, I loved these games so much I wrote fanfic where Daud and Corvo are dogs…)

Dishonored 2 (x2)

Again, I played the whole game twice: first in High Chaos (as Corvo), and second in Low Chaos (as Emily). It’s fascinating to see and hear the differences both for each PC choice, as well as whether you go high or low chaos. This game is beautiful, too: everything is shinier and the Clockwork Mansion is a masterpiece of visual aesthetics.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

The last chapter in the storyline preceded by Dishonored, this brings a close to Billie, Daud, and the Outsider’s stories. It’s a gorgeous game where you get to play a disabled bisexual Black woman, and it is amazing. Billie is such a fantastic protagonist, so snarky and with much commentary about her world. Plus the ending resolution, if you choose the non-lethal option when you find the Outsider, hit me in ALL THE FEELS. It was perfect.

Doki Doki Literature Club!

This game is fucked up and terrifying and brilliant in the use of game mechanics and metadata to mess with the player’s head. It starts like a dating sim and then it just gets unnerving.

Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator (x3)

This is the first dating sim game I’ve ever played, and it was such a delight. It’s charming, relatable, and wonderfully designed and animated. Dadsona may be one of the most relatable dad-characters in gaming, let’s be real. And Amanda is top-notch adorable.

Layers of Fear

I loved the visual aesthetics and creepy atmosphere of this game. It’s a first person exploratory, psychological horror story about an artist who is trapped in an ever-changing haunted house. It’s delicious and unnerving, even if it has a lot of puzzles (I hate puzzles). Plus, I love when games have multiple possible endings.

Oxenfree

A beautiful, creepy game with snark and ghosts and time-travel fuckery. Which is all my jam.

Prey

S C R E A M I N G I loved this so much! It hits so many of my favorite buttons: shadowy monsters, set in spaaaaace, you get to eat things, and also you can have a shotgun or hit things with a wrench. It reminded me strongly of BioShock meets Dishonored, and I was delighted by the two ending options you could choose. You can also make adorable little cubes and shapes and craft stuff, which is soothing af. What’s also wonderful was how many casually queer characters are in this. And POC! And so few white men! It was amazing and so refreshing, even as you realize that everyone is doomed. Plus, “Intrinsic Value” may be my new favorite (accidental) achievement ever. xD

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (x2)

I picked this up in March when a coworker described the Nemesis System to me and sold me on that alone. Then I played and fell in love with everything about this: the Orcs, Talion, the storytelling, the gameplay mechanics and UX (although the menus were annoyingly confusing at first). But let’s be real: the Orcs are the best thing about this series. They’re hilarious, charming, delightful, brutal, snarky, endearing, and I adore the Nemesis System so completely. One of my favorite parts in this game is sneaking around and just eavesdropping on the Orc chatter. And any time an enemy kills Talion, I laughed and laughed in delight. Never has it been so much fun to get your character killed in horrible ways!

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

What Shadow of Mordor set up by the end (the forging of a new Ring), Shadow of War paid off beyond my expectations. Everything in this sequel is just as good or better than the first game. And the main storyline? COMPLETELY DESTROYED MY FEELS. In the best way. It was perfect, exactly what I wanted, and so satisfying. Talion’s journey is epic and deeply personal. (I give no fucks about how this slots into the timeline; it can be an AU in Middle-earth if need be, but it is perfect for me.)  The siege and conquest system of fortresses is super fun; strategy and tactics come into play, you get shiny armor and weapon upgrades, and my favorite is all the cut scenes when you face off against Captains and Warchiefs and Warlords. The dialogue is brilliant, the animation is gorgeous, and it’s so visceral and satisfying on so many levels. I love Shelob and Sauron and Bruz and all the other hero Orcs, Carnan and the Balrog, plus the Gondorians and the Nazgul and everyone else. Also, someone please pay me to write “The Continuing Adventures of Ranger and Ratbag,” because I will write that novel SO FAST.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt + Hearts of Stone & Blood and Wine (replay)

This is, perhaps, one of my favorite games. In 2016 I binged the entire Witcher franchise (yes, starting with the clunky and awkward first Witcher game on a PC). The Witcher 3 will probably be a game I replay yearly: it’s unbearably gorgeous, fun, and soothing with familiarity while still being entertaining and satisfying. (I mean, I haven’t gotten all the achievements yet, so…)


And Looking Into 2018…

So. New year, new start, all that, right?

Yeah. I don’t necessarily have grand resolutions. They are small things, achievable things: be kind, raise up others’ voices, support artists, continue creating, focus on mental-health and self-care, and bring as much joy to others as I can. I love seeing people happy. It is my greatest pleasure to encourage and support and praise and enjoy others’ work. I love squeeing about awesome things, and since 2017 proved I am out of fucks, let’s go all out. Let’s celebrate art and people; let’s create and revel in the things we love; let’s support each other in ups and downs; let’s make this world just a little better, one action and word at a time.

Happy 2018, everyone! Be the badass mofos you were born to be. ❤ Peace.

Some Awesome Stories From 2017

Every year I swear I will keep up on short fiction, and, as usual, I never quite manage to read as much or as widely as I’d like. This is far from an exhaustive list, because I simply didn’t get to read everything I wanted to this year. That said! Here is a list of some of my favorite stories I read from 2017 (short stories and novelettes; I’ve not gotten to longer form fiction yet).

It is alphabetized by story title!

A Human Stain by Kelly Robson (Tor.com, January 2017) [novelette]

Lesbian gothic horror that builds to a slow, horrifying climax. Wickedly delightful and creepy. You’ll never look at teeth quite the same way again.

Helen had first seen the nursemaid’s pretty face that morning, looking down from one of the house’s highest windows as she and Bärchen Lambrecht rowed across the lake with their luggage crammed in a tippy little skiff. Even at a distance, Helen could tell she was a beauty.

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Bear Language by Martin Cahill (Fireside, May 2017)

The voice is perfect in this bittersweet and fierce story about family and strength and survival. Plus, Susan is such a good bear—and one should never get between a bear and her cubs.

I crawl out from under the covers, shivering at the memory of his anger, and go to the door. The house is dark; ghosts made of sunlit wallpaper peek through curtains and down hallways. It smells like pine needles and mud.

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Caesura by Hayley Stone (Fireside, November 2017)

Grieving her brother’s murder, a girl develops a neural network AI that becomes self-aware—but it’s how she learns to reconnect to the world and her family, and her AI, is what gives this such heart. Language is used with incredible precision and perfection.

She should probably be documenting this. Taking notes. Instead, she fidgets on her desk chair, adjusts the mic absently. “And what, what’s the organ’s name?” she asks. At the same time she opens another window, hits the letters L and then I, highlights the word life from a list and deletes it.

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Don’t Turn On The Lights by Cassandra Khaw (Nightmare, October 2017)

Brilliant and unsettling, this horror story shows you just how much stories change, depending on who tells it. And sometimes, it’s far worse than you imagine.

Sleep wasn’t in the cards, though. Hell, I don’t know if she ever slept again. I know I wouldn’t be able to. Because when Sally finally walked all the way to her room, pushing past co-eds in their flower-printed pyjamas, she found police tape and policemen.

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Every Black Tree by Natalia Theodoridou (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, October 2017)

Haunting, beautiful and intimate, this story looks at loss and ghosts and family. How do you rebuild a life taken apart? One day at a time, with ribbon and whispers and learning how to live again.

“So did someone hang you from my blacktree, or did you hang yourself?” she asks, placing a cup of hot tea in front of him. She’s still mad, but he hears something soft in her voice now.

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Fandom For Robots by Vina Kie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017)

This story is pure joy. Computron, stuck in a museum, discovers a TV show and begins writing fanfic—and in turn, makes friends and discovers he is not alone.

The Simak Robotics Museum is not within close proximity of a black hole, and there is close to no possibility that time is being dilated. His constant checking of the chronometer to compare it with the countdown page serves no scientific purpose whatsoever.

______

The First Stop Is Always The Last by John Wiswell (Flash Fiction Online, December 2017)

A charming time-loop story about cute lesbians! Two women on the same bus, repeating the same few hours, bond and learn how to move forward into an unknown future.

Selma got an itch in her brain. She asked, “How many times have we talked about this today?”

______

The Ghosts of Europa Will Keep You Trapped in a Prison You Make for Yourself by Matt Dovey (Escape Pod, May 2017)

Heartbreaking and raw and honest, this story shows us the grief of loss, and one woman’s revelation at what has been and how she can bring peace to the one she loves.

Amira knew that for a lie. Degradation took years of bit decay, even in Jovian radiation. The synaptic data was remarkably resilient to corruption. Even in virtual form, the brain found new pathways to work around any damage.

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The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant by Rachael K. Jones (Lightspeed, December 2017)

Deliciously disturbing and messed up, Jones’ story about cyborg cooks trying to earn stars for her newly opened restaurant is hilarious and gruesome in turn, and has sharp (knife-like) observations about humans. And food.

Humans were helpless, mewling children, so utterly dependent that they couldn’t even feed their meat without a steel fork to guide the process. And what were cyborgs, except meat-wrapped steel pressed into the service of lesser creatures? But now the forks were rebelling.

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If We Survive the Night by Carlie St. George (The Dark, March 2017)

What happens when the horror movie is over and everyone who’s not a Final Girl is dead? St. George’s horrific and unsettling story is about dead girls, the subjection and judgement women endure, and the power of stories. And revenge.

Harper makes Abby a cup of tea. It’s a soothing liquid, the universal sign for calm the hell down, and Abby thinks it’d be a lot more successful if the girl who made it hadn’t taken a fire axe to the back exactly one year ago.

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Listen and You’ll Hear Us Speak by A. T. Greenblatt (Flash Fiction Online, September 2017)

A small, perfect gem of a story: no one is ever truly voiceless, even if they do not speak.

My aunties always said there’s a market for everything in the universe. They said, watch out, everyone has a price.

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Maybe Look Up by Jess Barber (Lightspeed, April 2017)

A charming, understated time travel story that explores the relationship between two people who have the power to change the past. But what they do with this power is where the heart of the story lies.

The list lives in a little palm-sized flip notebook, plastic purple spiral holding it together at the top, glitter-outlined unicorn on the front. An Li claims the notebook is a metaphor for the risks of nostalgia. She brandishes a pink gel pen that smells like plasticky strawberry foam.

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The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth by Victoria Sandrbook (Shimmer, July 2017)

A gritty, fierce, sharp postapocalyptic western about rebellion and sacrifice. Tyranny can’t last when there are people who will speak the truth.

“Fleet of foot and light of heart,” he said.

The truth-rider salutation only made her stomach turn. She touched her hat and turned the horse toward the next town.

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Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree by Nibedita Sen (Anathema, August 2017)

This fantastic, charming, delicious story is about food, ghosts, and lesbians. Reading it makes me hungry!

My search had finally turned up two promising results: a temple in Rajasthan and another in Gujarat. Both still performed exorcisms for the princely sum of five thousand rupees and three boxes of chickpea-flour-and-sugar sweetmeats. The money was supposedly for the priests, and the sweets for the gods, but I had the sneaking suspicion the sweets, too, would end up going down the priests’ gullets the way the pret had gone down mine.

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Presque Vu by Nino Cipri (Liminal, November 2017)

Gorgeous, queer, and filled with longing and ghosts. Hauntings connect people and give them hope for closure and a future.

The postcards were vintage, with terrible puns and bland innuendo: the one he’d seen had had a naughty librarian with stacks of books propping up her cleavage, Interested in a thriller? On the other side was a spidery scrawl of words in faded brown ink.

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The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017) [novelette]

Bot 9 is SO FRICKING CUTE I CANNOT HANDLE THIS PERFECT LEVEL OF ADORABLE. This is a delightful, hilarious, charming story about bots!

The Ship had not actually told it what was in cargo bay four, but surely it must have something to do with the war effort and was then none of its own business, the bot decided. It had never minded not knowing a thing before, but it felt a slight unease now that it could neither explain, nor explain away.

Skins Smooth as Plantain, Hearts Soft as Mango by Ian Muneshwar (The Dark, August 2017)

Food horror is my jam, and this story is ripe with gorgeous descriptions and mouth-watering detail that will make you hungry…maybe not in the best way.

He ate a heaping forkful of the pie. It was wonderful: the goat was soft, savory, fatty; the salt and animal juices and hot water crust all came together on his tongue. The beast pushed up, stretching open the base of his esophagus, unfurling its own eager tongue.

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Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017) [novelette]

An #ownvoices (sans the vampire part) story about a gay trans man who’s bitten by a vampire and deals with the after effects of being turned. Raw, sharp, and so often unbearably human, Szpara examines many axises of marginalization and the trials and joys inherent in living in an imperfect world.

But vampires who break the law, who feed from un-certified donors, who steal blood bags, or drink without asking first, are put on the Blood Offenders Registry, which is basically a hit list for corrupt cops and stake-wielding bigots.

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Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus by Bogi Takács (Clarkesworld, April 2017)

Brilliant and subversive, the story examines how colonialism destroys environments and people alike. Also OCTOPI. ❤

I am going to meet Pebblesmooth. Pebblesmooth, who doesn’t have all the answers, but who has the best questions. Once I am there, I will ask, “Pebblesmooth, can a dead human affect the field?”

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The Sound Of by Charles Payseur (Nightmare, May 2017)

This story has haunted me since I first read it. The story shows a dystopia that is all too real, too believable, and will chill you. It has no happy ending; this is a horror story and the tragedy comes from the wrenching understand that sometimes, we cannot endure everything.

He checks his friends, makes sure no one is saying anything that could possibly be viewed as a violation. Just to be safe, he unfriends a few people who knew him back in college. His fingers stop when Ren’s profile comes up. He hovers, weighing his options, then swallows and closes the app.

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The Whalebone Parrot by Darcie Little Badger (The Dark, October 2017)

Ghosts. Dead whales. Colonialism being interrogated and resisted against. The voice is perfect, the structure and mix of narrative and journal entries firmly grounds this in time and setting, and it builds to a slow, excruciating and unsettling conclusion. Wonderful horror-fantasy!

“Not especially.” It was only a partial lie; Loretta’s married name still sounded like it belonged to a stranger. When Emily was summoned to the island, Loretta asked her to be discreet. Tell nobody that we are sisters.

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There has been so much excellent fiction published this year; the wonderful field of SFFH is growing and diversifying and shining with amazing gems. I’m so excited to read more breathtaking stories in the future!

—–

ETA: I had one more story in this list which I mistook as a 2017 publication, when it was 2016. Still keeping it here as a postscript because it’s SO good.

All the Colors You Thought Were Kings by Arkady Martine (Shimmer, December 2017 2016)

Gorgeous, riveting space opera on an epic scale that still remains deeply personal. Radiant with imagery and intense with emotion.

Even barefoot in gauze, your Tamar looks dangerous. You could die of pride if you weren’t half planning to die of something else first.

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Awards Eligibility 2017

So, this year was pretty damn good in terms of stories published. For people reading and nominating for various SFF awards, such as the Nebulas, the Hugos, and World Fantasy, I would be honored if you considered any of my work! ❤

 

Short Stories

Monster Girls Don’t Cry (Uncanny, January/February 2017)

Longing For Stars Once Lost (Lightspeed, September 2017)

For Now, Sideways (Diabolical Plots, August 2017)

What the Fires Burn (PodCastle, August 2017)

The House At the End of the Lane Is Dreaming (Lightspeed, December 2017)

Novelette

Later, Let’s Tear Up the Inner Sanctum (Lightspeed, February 2017)

 

Interactive Fiction

This Is A Picture Book (sub-Q Magazine, November 2017)

 

Other Short Stories

These are not available online yet, but I am happy to email a copy of individual stories in your preferred format. Just ping me and let me know (via the contact page). 🙂

Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn (Humans Wanted, ed. Vivian Caethe, August 2017)

Fathoms Deep and Fathoms Cold (Submerged, S.C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier, September 2017)

Thrice Remembered (The Death of All Things, Laura Anne Gilman and Kat Richardson, September 2017)

Two Reflections At Midnight (Gamut Magazine, September 2017)

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Happy New Year and here’s to a better 2018 for us all!

Six Years and a Book: Finishing A Novel After A long Hiatus

This is the blog-ified version of a series of tweets I made after finishing my novel, FIVE DEATHS AND A GOD. The storify is here.  ^_^

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November 30th, 2017

*whispers* I finished my first novel yesterday after a six year hiatus.

I’d like to tell you about my novel-writing journey thus far, because it’s been…interesting, shall we say.

Screenshot 2017-11-29 10.12.43
This is a thing that happened.

Okay, so.

I wrote my first *finished* novel in 2003, and it was about an adorable little weasel who goes on a quest to help save his (future boy)friend’s kingdom.

(Wilfy is totally bi. I just didn’t consciously understand or realize that when I was a tiny smol!Merc.)

2004 was the first year I did #NaNoWriMo (I won), finishing my second novel. That was a massive (and hysterically terrible) epic fantasy. It was something like 150k and was the first book in a duology.

That high of finishing a REAL LIFE BOOK-SHAPED THING was addictive. And because I do not have the greatest track record of taking on reasonable amounts of work* or anything less than moon-high ambitious challenges, the next year I set out to write _two_ novels during NaNo.

(*There was a time when smol!Merc asked their piano teacher if they could learn Chopin’s etude No. 14 in F minor because “it sounds so cool.” Teacher wisely, but kindly, said “Let’s wait until you’ve got more experience, okay?”)

giphy-downsized (4)

ANYWAY. In 2005 I wrote 1 complete 50k novel–and got 84k into a second that I never finished.

In 2006, I wrote 2 complete novels (one at 50k, one at 110k), and wrote 80k on a third novel I never finished.

In 2007, I wrote 3 adult novels (57k, 94k, 55k) a 20k MG novel, a 30k novella, and a 38k novella. In the unfinished category, I had: one project at 50k and one at 36k.

(Yes, I tried to do five of these in one month for NaNo. Please don’t try this at home, kids. I hurt my brain and my wrists BAD, and the burnout effect began kicking in.)

In 2008, I wrote 1 novel of 74k, a novella of 18k; unfinished, I had a 50k novel and 30k novel. I was constantly at the edge of burnout. (I had also been living with undiagnosed depression and anxiety, in a toxic emotional living situation, and had for years. I just didn’t know it.)

In 2009, I wrote WOLFBOOK1 at 95k, a short MG novelette of 14k, and a horror novellete of 16k. Unfinished projects included: 22k on a novella and 19k on a novel. I also moved to CA for six months, got laid off from my job on New Year’s Day (2010), and moved back to MN.

And then I burned out really badly. I just didn’t quite let myself accept that. So I tried to keep going.

In 2010 I wrote two books: one (a ground-up rewrite, basically a new thing) at 77k, and its sequel at 95k. Unfinished: a project at 37k. Collapsed into a black hole of super toxic work environment as well as living space.

books stack
Photo of finished and uninished manuscripts (hard copy for archival) with an Xbox One controller for scale.

I was convinced I would never write anything again.

(All this time, by the way, I was still also writing short stories and flash.)

In 2011 I wrote COLLARS. It was super short at 65k. And then I got exactly the wrong kind of feedback on the novel, which shattered my resolve and belief I could write this.

I poked at novels from end of 2011 (tried to write one in 2012 but only got 18k in) and for the six years that followed. I never finished anything. From 2012 to 2016 I was in college and allowed myself to not work on novels because, y’know, college. I focused on short stories a lot during collage, and still consider 2014 the year where I made a commitment to writing professionally.

Always in the back of my mind was that terrifying thought: what if i can never write a book again? What if this is it, and all my novel-writing energy is gone forever?

When I graduated and got a job (my current work, which I love), I thought I could start writing novels again. Hahaha, nope.

I mean, 2016 was a thing that happened. In November I toyed with the idea of NaNo, because I had just moved into my apartment and I had my own space and stable work and surely it could improve? Well. We all know what happened on Election Day.

In June of 2017, overwhelmed with personal chaos and trying to enjoy #4thStreetFantasy convention, I poked away at a novel fragment. I was sure it wouldn’t go anywhere. Nothing had in six years, why start now?

After all, it was a ridiculous book. It was like DISHONORED meets We Rate Dogs: a secondary world urban fantasy where everyone is queer and all the dogs are good ofc. Plot: A guy wants to save his boyfriend, and his city, so he kidnaps a god to solve the problem.

It was funny, goofy, heartfelt, full of bad jokes and puns and magic. I made a Pinterest board and everything.

Screenshot 2017-11-14 14.17.17
An alignment chart I made for my book (if all the characters were doggos)

And hell, it was 2017 and everything was on fire.

I had stalled out on revising my dark fantasy novel COLLARS, which is deeply important to me. But it’s just too hard when fighting smoke and trying to dodge, rather than nonchalantly walk away from, explosions.

I needed to take a hiatus from my COG game writing, because my mental health has been fucked in all directions. (JSYK, the people at COG? Top notch humans, and my editor is utterly fantastic, understanding and supportive. Couldn’t ask for better, even when I am a moldering series of loosely held together wire and gears.)

“Who would want this book?” I wondered, as I wrote late and early and on breaks, laughing and having feels and getting super excited and making photoshop alignment charts. Who would want it?

Me. And a bunch of other people who are awesome, whose opinions I respect, and to whom I am deeply grateful for the support and encouragement. ❤

FIVE DEATHS AND A GOD is a book I didn’t imagine existing before June. It’s a finished novel before the end of November. It has been a huge life raft for my brain the second half of this year. (Also video games.)

It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it’s honest, it’s exciting, it’s ridiculous, and it has dogs. So many good doggos. There’s a masquerade ball. Trickster gods. Killer shadows. Everyone’s queer. (Except maybe the one antagonist.) There are trans ppl and NB ppl and POC and queer people and disabled people and autistic people, and many intersections of all the above.

I indulged the fuck out of my id on this, and it shows.

pugs

After six years, I wrote and finished a new novel. In many ways, it feels like my first time doing this book-thing. I’m elated and excited and happy about how it turned out.

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So, here’s the point, really. Everyone’s process is unique. Slumps happen. Life happens. Whether it’s your first novel or your fifth or your fiftith, there’s no proscribed process. Each book’s gonna be it’s own weird thing and that’s okay.

It’s okay if you can’t write all the time, or don’t want to write every day, of if you can only write once in awhile. You’re still a writer. If you’re working on a novel? Huzzah, you’re a novelist! Write at your own pace. There are no bonus points awarded if you finish in X time vs Y time. Do what works for you.

It’s okay. We’re literally _pulling whole fucking books out of our heads and hearts. Do you know how wild and mind-boggling that is?! Think about it. A thing that never existed until you wrote it down…BOOM. Now it exists. It’s a real thing. You created it. Pretty cool, huh?

So that has been my journey this far. Is 5DAG better than my other efforts?

Definitely! I’ve grown as a writer. I’m filling my prose with doggos and queers and adorb trans ppl.

Does 5DAG still need a lot of work and revision?

OH HELL YES.

And that’s okay!

200w_d

I’m just super happy and proud and excited to have written this thing. 🙂

Never give up, never surrender.

You can do it.

I used to think that was true for everyone but me, but that’s bad!brain lying. I can do this thing, too. Thanks for reading. ❤

Hannibal-Season-3-Wills-Dogs-compressor

What Stories We Choose To Tell

I want to touch briefly on the topic of narrative choice.

Everything you include or omit in a story is a choice. 

books illusions
InspiroBot is your friend.

Who do you include, who do you exclude in the narrative? Who gets a happy ending? Who dies? What happens to your female characters, your POC characters, your queer and trans and non-binary characters? Why does that happen? Who is centered in this universe you unfold on the page? Who doesn’t exist?

True, not all choices are conscious. Sometimes we don’t know any better. Sometimes we have to fight through years of internalized oppressions and bullshit in order to realize we are allowed to have stories and they are allowed to be happy.

Awareness brings responsibility.

As an author, your words have power. How do you use that power? Whose stories do you show, and why? Whose do you refuse to allow? Why?

There are so many amazing people out there doing hard work to make information accessible. There are so many brave, fearless, passionate, compassionate, fierce, honorable, dedicated people out there willing to share their stories, their lives, their experiences, for others who want to listen, for others who need to hear you are not alone.

You must be willing to learn, to understand, to empathize and accept others’ narratives at face value. This is true. It is not always easy, no.

But as an author, your words show a world that reflects your self. Your stories are full of narrative choices that tell us who you are.

Stories are deeply personal things, and they show us our own hearts. When someone reads your work, they see a little of you. Or maybe a lot. But they will see.

What do you choose to show them?

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InspiroBot has all the quotes

Not all of it is (for me) conscious at the start. But I make an effort to become conscious of things I missed or didn’t think about. About people and problems and hurt and joy. And this is an evolving process, yes.

When I was a younger!Merc, I wrote stuff that makes me deeply uncomfortable for how sexist and heteroflail and insensitive it was. A lot of this was pure ignorance. I’m a consumer of culture and media, and so much of this shit is internalized, normalized, romanticized in our popular culture and media that you can’t get away from it.

Until I was able to start looking at it critically, interrogating my internalized problems—so many of which are still deeply engrained and slippery and false, and which I have to constantly fight against—I had no idea what I was doing, or the harm I could, and likely did, do. To myself as well as others. And for that, I apologize.

I am trying to do better. Striving to learn, to listen, to understand.

Because I know every story is a series of deliberate narrative choices. What I choose to share, the stories I choose to tell, are not without consequence, or weight, or remembrance.

Stories affect other human beings.

That is power: to touch another’s life, in however small a way. We must be aware of the responsibility that holds.

How Grandma Saved the World And Invented Intergalactic Diplomacy

How Grandma Saved the World And Invented Intergalactic Diplomacy

by A. Merc Rustad

 

Grandma was the first person to encounter the aliens, and because of that, we’re alive decades later and I get to tell you the story of how she saved the world.

It goes like this.

Grandma always believed in being kind. She talked to her potted gardenias when she watered them. She fed all the neighborhood’s strays. She made tea for anyone who came to visit. She donated a check to the local foodbank once a month and volunteered on weekends.

You could say Grandma never met a living being she didn’t like. She petted the grass and chatted to the local oak trees in her front yard. She apologized to the front step if she tripped on it bringing in groceries. She left crumbs in one corner of the pantry for the ants and always kept fresh water in the bird bath and nectar in the hummingbird feeders.

Maybe you think no one could be this perfect. Maybe you think I’m exaggerating Grandma’s legacy, because of how she saved the world.

Let me tell you, Grandma wasn’t perfect by a long shot. She got mad at politics and she cursed so blue the dictionary ran out of words to keep up with her. She had a record for vandalism (taking out bigoted signs on neighbor’s lawns), she’d been arrested for obstruction (public protests), and for assault (she punched out a douchebag while escorting a scared young woman to a clinic).

So no, Grandma wasn’t a saint. But she always believed in being kind, even if sometimes you had to put politeness aside and punch a douchebag out cold.

Grandma had an open-door policy: she never locked her doors and anyone was welcome in her kitchen. Make sure you scraped off your boots if it was muddy or snowing, always say thanks when you left, and don’t bother the gardenias (they have delicate dispositions).

It was December when the saucer crashed into her backyard.

Grandma had been filling up the bird feeders with seed, setting out dried ears of corn for the squirrels, and replenishing the salt lick for the deer. A tremendous BOOM! knocked her flat on her back so hard her breath huffed out in a great whoosh of steam. It wasn’t thunder, even if the weather had been awfully strange–heavy clouds, electric disturbances causing power outages, and reports of weird lights in the sky.

Well, Grandma’s first thought, of course, was that somebody had gotten into an accident, and she went into high gear. Grandma had taken first aid and CPR courses, and in her youth, she’d wanted to be an EMT. (She switched professions when she injured her back too badly to work in the field, and had become a public health counselor instead. She’d also worked at a crisis hotline, a Planned Parenthood clinic, and did free health seminars for endangered youth.)

Even out of breath, Grandma staggered to her feet and shuffled as fast as knee-deep snow would allow towards the sound. There wasn’t any smoke, but she smelled crackling ozone and noticed her electricity was out. It was before the Winter Solstice, so days were short on light. It was near dark already, and she hurried, puffing with exertion.

The saucer had clipped one of her oak trees, which made her wince. She patted it gently in passing. She’d bandage up that gash first thing in the morning. What she focused on first was the dented metal saucer–a spaceship. Oh, yeah, Grandma loved old sci-fi movies (the original The Day The Earth Stood Still being her favorite) so she knew at once what had happened.

Aliens had shown up on earth!

And they were in her backyard, and their ship was damaged, and they probably needed medical attention.

The saucer’s cloaking device was still flickering in and out, so it took her fifteen minutes of working up a sweat before she managed to pry down the cracked door on the ship. She’d heard weak banging on the inside, and suspected the pilot–or pilots–were trying to get out.

“Are you acclimated to our atmosphere?” Grandma called. “Or do you have appropriate hazard suits? Oh lordy, I do hope your universal translators are working. Hold on, I’m coming!”

The hatch was ajar, but she couldn’t get enough leverage with just her mitten-wrapped hands. She’d left a shovel by the garden fence to clear a path to the salt lick, so she grabbed that and used it as a pry bar. The handle snapped. But she’d done enough, and the hatch creaked open at last.

Grandma stepped back, watching with concern. There were four aliens: they didn’t resemble gray bobble-headed UFO pilots or green lizard-like bipeds or tentacled atrocities, of course. They were willowy humanoids with metallic skin and six eyes and folded wings along their backs.

(Of course, we know them now as the Angels, given that most of the population still can’t pronounce their proper name, but they don’t mind. Some are rather flattered by the comparison to mythology.)

Two of the aliens supported a third. Even with no experience with their physiology Grandma could see right away that one was hurt. The fourth stepped forward and flared hir wings.

Grandma smiled, her stomach pitter-pattering in nervousness, and held out her arms. “Welcome to Earth! Do you require medical attention? Please come in. My house is right there. I’m not sure I have food that will meet your dietary requirements but you are more than welcome to anything in the fridge. And if you can drink tea, I’m happy to make a pot.”

The first Angel slowly lowered hir wings and blinked. Then ze said, haltingly in English, “You are not hostile?”

“Me?” Grandma said, and laughed. “Oh hell no. I believe everyone deserves dignity, respect, and happiness. I try my best to live to these ideals, hard though it is some days.”

It was more effusive a greeting than she normally was wont to give, but she wanted to be sure, right out of the gate, that the visitors understood her intentions and her heart.

“Detecting no lies,” said the Angel. (Grandma would later learn this was the diplomatic liaison, who was an empath.)

“May I invite you inside? It’s frigging cold out here, at least to a human body.” Grandma pointed at her house. “I’ve a spare bedroom made up, and a recliner in the living room, and I might even have that old air mattress still…Come in, please.” She backed towards her house, beckoned, and then held the door open as the for Angels glided across the snow and ducked into her kitchen.

She put on a pot of tea, broke out her first aid kit, and set a plate of sugar cookies on the table for her guests. She wasn’t the greatest baker, truth be told, but she could make a mean pre-packaged tray of cookies right out of the fridge. She’d had two platters wrapped in foil and ready to take down for the town hall meeting.

The two Angels laid the third on the recliner in the living room and held their hands together over hir body. It wasn’t so much blood as it was a discoloration along the abdomen. Grandma suspected internal bleeding, or the equivalent in their biology.

“Can I do anything to help?” she asked.

“Light, if you may spare it,” said the liaison.

“I’m afraid the power’s out, but the stove’s gas and I have plenty of candles and an old battery powered lantern in the laundry room.”

She set to work bringing light to her cheerful home. She told the gardenias about her visitors (“They seem like very nice people, and I do hope their friend is okay.”) and made sure Maxie the cat was aware of the guests so he wouldn’t freak out (poor thing was always nervous with new people) and told her internet modem not to stress that it couldn’t get signal. The power would be back up in a while.

Grandma didn’t show it, but she was still nervous. Guests! Not from Earth! It was altogether quite a shock. A pleasant one, but still…she was getting on in her years and she still had two care packages to make before the post came tomorrow. She worried she wouldn’t be able to be a proper host, especially if the visitors were night owls. She tended to go to bed right around nine p.m. these days.

Once the house was as bright as she could safely make it, she stood in the kitchen and fiddled with her hands. The trio in the living room were exactly as she had left them: two holding hands over the third, whose eyes were closed.

The fourth Angel settled at the kitchen table and accepted a cup of tea. Angels have mouths very much human-like, and ze nodded in approval. It was just boxed Earl Grey, but Angels had never had earth tea before. Grandma had always believed tea could solve many problems, or at least make dealing with them easier.

The liaison finally said, “Are you the representative of this world?”

Grandma considered her reply carefully. She could be honest and say that no one person could represent an entire world populated by billions of individuals. She could give an expected answer: no, but here is a list of people who are, theoretically, in charge of running the place. (That wouldn’t do at all. Grandma was mighty displeased with the current government.)

And here’s the other thing about Grandma: she didn’t need false modesty or self-depreciation. She knew she was a decent human. Not the best, and she had her flaws, but fundamentally, she was a good woman. She’d tried to live her life well, to give back to others, to show hospitality and compassion, to leave this Earth just a fraction better than she found it.

So she thought: why shouldn’t she be a representative for Earth? Surely she couldn’t speak for everyone. But right now, she was speaking just for her little corner of the world: her plot of land, the plants, the cats, the neighbor girl who brought her muffins on Sunday mornings, the deer in the back woods, herself.

“I am,” she said. “One of many.”

The Angel tilted hir head down in what Grandma took to be a polite gesture. “We thank you for your hospitality. Our Queen was injured in the crash. Ze will take several days to heal. May we reside here until our fleet arrives?”

“Of course,” Grandma said. “You can stay as long as you like.” She was honored they wanted to rest in her little house. That would give her time to settle, and to chat, and maybe Maxie would warm up to the Angels and come out to say hi.

If there was one thing Grandma loved, it was making new friends.

Grandma wouldn’t know it until the power came back on and her TV and internet worked again, but all over the world, bigger saucer ships were hovering over cities and oceans. Waiting for signal from the downed craft in Grandma’s back yard.

When the Angel Queen recovered, and enjoyed Grandma’s famous chocolate chip pancakes, Grandma and the liaison sat down to discuss global treaties, trade relationships, and travel routes to and from Earth.

Grandma was invited up into the mothership, where she put world leaders in their place the moment anyone suggested weapons, tactics, or being an asshole to the aliens. Grandma had never been shy about talking over men. (Remember that time she punched a guy? Yep. She did it again, and this time she got applause.)

And of course, she was now best friends with the Queen, who was inclined to take Grandma’s word for what would and wouldn’t be good for earth. (Yes to better tech and advanced farming and the eradication of poverty and disease and hunger; no to weapons and space-travel just yet. Wait a few decades, Grandma suggested. Let humanity work through its issues on land before taking to the stars, even supervised.)

It could have been a very different story, you know. But you’ve seen those–the ones about war and conquest and invasion. Fictions we won’t have to live. We didn’t get that future because Grandma showed our friends kindness and invited strangers into her home during a time of need.

That’s how Grandma saved the world: with compassion and a plate of cookies and mugs of tea.

 

END

© by Merc Rustad 2017

2,100 words | Science Fiction

 

(originally published on my Patreon, July 2017)

 

“This Is Not A Wardrobe Door” nominated for the Nebula Awards!

So.

This happened…

This Is Not A Wardrobe Door

…has been nominated for the Nebula Awards (short story category).

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I am beyond honored. Look at the company this little story is in! *swoon*

Thank you, everyone who read and liked and shared and nominated this story. Thank you to the team at Fireside for publishing this story in the first place, and Galen Dara for the stunning art!

Thank you, everyone!!! I will be at the Nebulas conference in May. I hope to see people there. 🙂

Later, Let’s Tear Up the Inner Sanctum

Superheros. Power. Responsibility. The blurred lines between good and evil.

My novelette, Later, Let’s Tear Up the Inner Sanctum, is live and free to read (or listen to) at Lightspeed Magazine!

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There’s also an author interview with me, conducted by Robyn Lupo!

I love this story, and it was the perfect tale to explore a ‘found footage’ format, which I’ve always loved and wanted to write. Now I have! I hope you enjoy. 🙂

MERC vs. BOOK: Revising a Novel, Part 9–Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells This Story?

Additional Parts In This Series

Part 0 | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7.1 & 7.2 | Part 8 | Part 9 (you are here)

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(With thanks to the Hamilton musical for being so quotable!)

Gather ’round, my peeps, for today we are talking about narrative choice and authorial intent!  [I’m specifically going to focus on written/sole-created narratives. Just for ease of this post.]

Everything You Choose Is Deliberate

In fiction, the author is all-powerful. Each choice the author makes–in particular, conscious decisions–reflects on the author. Power carries responsibility. So. When you have complete and total power over the story you choose to tell, what are the responsibilities that come with that?

Equally important: what are an author’s responsibilities when it comes to choosing not to make specific decisions, include specific elements, and otherwise wield their power in a exclusionary way?

When I talk about exclusion, an authorial choice not to include specific elements in a story, this can be literally anything. It can be choosing not to include rape culture or scenes of sexual or domestic violence. It can be choosing not to have any swearing in the story. It can be choosing not to include potatoes.

Exclusionary choices are not inherently bad. They are, like inclusionary choices [what you DO put in a story], simply a spectrum of authorial deliberation. However, as an author, what you do not include is just as important as what you do include. An author must own the responsibility of their choices.

(We’re not going into external meddling–such as editors, executives, elder gods, etc. This focuses specifically on what the author created, and assumes that there is no external pressure to add/subtract/change specific elements.)

Sometimes these choices can arise from unexamined or unknown bias. Sometimes they arise from ignorance–whether to include or exclude specific elements or people from a narrative–and sometimes not.

Does the story include dragons? Fantastical elements? FTL drives? Superpowers? Does the story feature any queer, trans, disabled, POC, elderly people, minorities, women, or other demographics found everywhere in the world?

If you have dragons but no People of Color, what does that say about your choices? “Historical accuracy” is a false claim when it’s not actually historically accurate. Does a spacefaring worldship harbor only cishet white people? What does that say about your perspective?

Look at it this way. You choose a POV (point of view) character(s) for your story, just like you choose whether it’s written in first-, second-, or third-person (or maybe all of them!), and just like you choose which tense to use for the narrative. Those are deliberate decisions made in order to shape the story.

The content of that story is no less deliberate.

You have the power to choose what you write about, who you write about, and for whom you write. Your responsibility is in how you use that power.

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Making Choices: Who Lives and Who Dies

The novel has very strong thematic questions about power, responsibility, and what we owe each other and ourselves with our actions.

It’s also got a lot of action and drama. The plot focuses on authoritative powers who want to destroy things, and the protagonists are caught in this fight and must decide how it ends.

It would be so easy to make this book tragic. It would be so easy to kill everyone off for ‘dramatic effect’ in the ending; to have the characters die in order to succeed. Maybe that would be “edgy.” There is set-up that could allow for the resolution to go either way (victory and life, or victory and death). All I can say is: FUCK THAT NOISE.

There will be no queer tragedy in this book. Damaveil and his husband live and are happy; Rajosja and her wife live and are happy; Bane lives and is… getting there; it just takes a little longer before he is happy again. The non-binary characters live and are happy.

Do people die? Sure. Lots of them. Past and present. This is a dark book; a lot of terrible things happen. That does not mean it must end badly for all the queer and trans characters who exist within.

Death is not the default ending. 

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unapologetic happy ending

 

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Making Choices: Who Tells the Story

 

So, when I wrote the first draft of this book (*cough*timeago*cough*) I did not actually know I was ace/aro. (Ace = asexual, which means I do not feel sexual attraction to other people. Aro = aromantic, which means I am not interested in romantic relationships with other people.) I had inklings about being a somewhat outlier circle on a Venn diagram mapping out human axises of sexuality, but it would be nearly two years after this draft was written before I encountered vocabulary for defining myself.

RoAnna Sylver has a tweet thread about ace/aro representation in media that is spot-on and utterly fantastic, and I urge you to read the whole thing.

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Bane is asexual. When I picked up this draft in order to revise, that jumped out at me like a neon sign. (He’s also neuroatypical, which is also something I did not have words for, or consciously realize about myself, when I was writing.)

When I realized this, it made me so happy. And I knew him being ace was an element I would not change. Not for any reason.

I, as a reader and consumer of media, want to see more representation (positive!) on various axises; ace, aro, neuroatypical, queer, trans, non-binary… to name but a few. So I feel it my duty, as a writer, to do what I can to include characters that reflect the vast, amazing, kickass aspects of humanity. I will not always succeed, and not every story will contain every multitude of people. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. ^_^

A protagonist is one of the many lenses through which we experience story. A protagonist, often, has a large amount of page/screen time. Who you give this time, energy, and presence to in your work says something. You, as the author, choose what it is you’re saying.

Bane has flaws, and also a lot of goodness. He’s empathetic, compassionate, and strives to help people. He has strong friendships without needing romance or sexual relationships. He can save the world when others would ask him only to destroy it.

And he can have a happy ending.

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 So, creators, keep in mind your power and your responsibility. When you mess up, you will be called on it, and how you respond is equally a choice. You can do better if you want. You can try harder. Work better.

(I actually have an unfinished post that examines authorial power/responsibility in more detail, and will aim to finish that up and post–it might be more useful to people as a stand-alone article.)

I’d love to hear from you folks, too: what decisions do you make in your creative work? What do you choose to include or exclude?

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Coming up next… Merc has no idea, because they need to get back to the ‘fill in all the gaps from the revision outline’ drafting phase! xD So stay tuned…