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)


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)


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

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.



© by Merc Rustad 2017

2,100 words | Science Fiction


(originally published on my Patreon, July 2017)


Award Eligibility 2016

The Nebula Awards nomination period is open and SFWA members can nominate until February 15th, 2017. I’m very proud of the work I had published this year, and would be honored if you were to consider any of my stories. So, I present to you my award-eligible works from 2016:

This Is Not a Wardrobe Door * (1,800 words)

Published in Issue 29 of Fireside , January 2016. Eligible for the Nebulas (short story), the Hugos (short story), and World Fantasy (short story).

…Or Be Forever Fallen (5,000 words)

Published in InterGalactic Medicine Show, February 2016. Eligible for the Nebulas (short story), the Hugos (short story), and World Fantasy (short story).

The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie  (3,300 words)

Published in Issue 2 of Mothership Zeta, February 2016. Eligible for the Nebulas (short story), and the Hugos (short story).

Iron Aria (4,900 words)

Published in Issue 34 of Fireside, July 2016. Eligible for the Nebulas (short story), the Hugos (short story), and World Fantasy (short story).

Lonely Robot In A Rocket Ship In Space  (4,400 words)

Published in Cicada Magazine, July/August 2016. Eligible for the Nebulas (short story), and the Hugos (short story).

The Gentleman of Chaos  (4,100 words)

Published in Apex Magazine, August 2016. Eligible for the Nebulas (short story), the Hugos (short story), and World Fantasy (short story).

What Becomes Of The Third-Hearted (2,000 words)

Published in Shimmer 33, September 2016. Eligible for the Nebulas (short story), the Hugos (short story), and World Fantasy (short story).

* If I were to pick one story to put forward as The One to consider this year, I have to go with “This Is Not A Wardrobe Door” because not only does it have dinosaurs, it is all about hope and friendship and building your own path through difficult times.

New on Patreon: “Our Nights Of Waking Dreams”

I have launched a Patreon and now published my first story on that platform! 😀 It is a 1,400 word SF ghost story with feels.

Merc’s Patreon

I’m so excited to share this! I’ve also posted a “behind the scenes” analysis post about how this story came into being, which is on the $5 dollar reward tier ($2 is access to all stories and other posts).

Support from Patreons is helping me stay grounded and writing in the business of life!stuff, which will hopefully include moving within a month. So thank you, everyone who has signal-boosted and supported me in this! ❤ You are all awesome.

Patreon and New Stories!

September launches with a few exciting updates from your friendly neighborhood Merc!

Shimmer Issue 33 is here! It has gorgeous fiction from Fran Wilde, Lora Gray, Ryan Row, and me! “What Becomes of the Third-Hearted” will be available online 9/18/16–and of course you can read it right away in the ebook (along with a bonus interview).


Diabolical Plots has released a lineup of Year 3 fiction, and I am delighted to have a story slated for next summer: “For Now, Sideways” is about the costs of war, grief and coping, and also has mechs and ghostbirds.

And finally, I embark on a new and shiny adventure with Patreon! If you become a Patreon backer, you can access a free ebook copy of my novelette, Hero’s Choice. There are all sorts of details on the official page, with a welcome video coming soon. 🙂


Merc Is Creating Stories, Comics & Essays!

I hope you all have a good weekend!

THE GENTLEMAN OF CHAOS + author interview published at Apex Magazine!

Thrilled to share my dark fantasy story about a trans guy assassin who plays the long game to get what he wants.

The Gentleman of Chaos

Apex Magazine issue 87, ed. by Jason Sizemore – coverart by Marcela Bolivar

It’s up at Apex Magazine, along with an interview with me conducted by Andrea Johnson! This issue has a fabulous TOC and I am honored to be a part of it! ❤

Wilde Stories 2016 is now available!

The latest volume in Wilde Stories, a Year’s Best collection of gay speculative fiction edited by Steve Berman, is loose in the wilds!

wilde2016It includes a reprint of my story, “To the Knife-Cold Stars” (originally published in Escape Pod). There book has a fantastic line-up of excellent authors, and I’m honored to be included in such a collection. ❤

Wilde Stories 2016: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction

(ed. by Steve  Bernam, Lethe Press)

It’s available in ebook via Smashwords, and paperback available at Amazon, or directly through Lethe Press’s website.


Upcoming Things! and a poem!

I have some exciting things to share! I got so swamped last month that I forgot to post that I HAVE A POEM IN APEX MAGAZINE.

in the day after the world stopped being is a post-apocalyptic little thing about women and magic and hope. I hope you enjoy!

In the short fiction category…

I’ll have a short portal fantasy story out next month in Fireside Fiction called, “This Is Not A Wardrobe Door.” (Featuring tiny robot dinosaurs, female friendships, adventure, and romance!)

Also in October is the release of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015, edited by Joe Hill and series editor John Joseph Adams. It includes a reprint of “How To Become A Robot In 12 Easy Steps” and I could not be more thrilled about this. My favorite story is in a book!


And in December, I will have a space opera in Lightspeed: “Tomorrow When We See the Sun.” It’s got cyborgs and spaceships and gods and it’s all about identity and duty and choice. I’m sooo proud of this one, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Also, I’m almost sone with principle photography on my capstone film, What Monsters Hide Beneath — so excited! More news on that soon. It’s been busy here in Merc’s cardboard box, but the good kind of busy. I hope you are all well!