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 (, 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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth by Victoria Sandbrook (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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?”


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.


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.


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.





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!

MERC vs. BOOK: Revising a Novel, Part 5–Recharging Batteries for Fun and Profit

Additional Posts In This Series

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

Welcome back! I’m delighted by the responses to these posts so far, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.  🙂

BATTERIES, or, Refilling Your Creative Tanks

I love horror movies. Good, bad, hilarious, terrible–it’s all entertainment, and it’s all narrative. I believe visual/audio mediums are a perfect vehicle for horror stories. I just watched [REC] and the terrifying sequel, [REC]2. (As I said on twitter, these are a grand blend of zombie possession found footage.) On the queue I have a selection of movies pulled from this list.

I’m also listening to The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (on Audible), and I have the latest issues of Nightmare Magazine and The Dark on my Kindle app.

Why so much horror, when I’m writing/revising a kinky, lyric fantasy novel?

Narrative recharging.

Screenshot 2016-07-14 18.25.37
Screencap from the abridged version of What Monsters Hide Beneath (a short film)

Similar to when you use any electronic device that runs on battery power, sooner or later you need to plug it in and recharge. Or it stops working. (And if this is a horror movie, you really do not want your flashlight or camera batteries dying on you in the third act.)

Brains have electric currents in them, and I mean, HOW COOL IS THAT? There’s also a creative component. For people who are focused on narrative construction–telling stories–we run off the storytelling batteries wired deep in our minds and hearts. We operate the story-apps, create new narrative, sketch artistic mediums into existence, and we do all this by pulling energy from ourselves. We use those batteries. So eventually we need to replenish what we used.

Everyone has a unique way of powering up again after depleting their store of energy. Everyone’s charge time until full is different.

Maybe you read a lot, or binge-watch a show on Netflix, or go hiking, or hide in a dark cave and hibernate until unwary adventurers disturb your crypt and unleash an ancient, terrifying evil into the world.

For me, I love watching horror movies.

Regardless of quality, they generally satisfy my three main criteria for battery-refueling:

  1. It has a narrative. Even if it’s one I’ve seen a hundred times, even if it’s barely there, even if it’s choppy and WTF, there is some semblance of story construction going on.
  2. It provides stimuli. Visual and auditory, often with a textual component since I tend to watch movies or shows with subtitles or Closed Captioning [CC] turned on. (It takes a lot of pre-planning and emotional prep to see a movie in theaters, because there is a thing as too much stimuli, so most often when I binge watch horror, I do so from the comfort of my couch, with headphones on and lights dimmed.) I’m a filmmaker as well as a writer, so I’m looking at the composition, the pacing, the lighting, the sound design, the makeup. My brain then subconsciously runs a translation program wherein it digests the visual/auditory input and churns out a low-frequency running commentary in my mind, wherein I’m narrating the story as I see it to myself as I watch. This translation process takes much longer with purely written text, and I’m a slow reader; but I can, comparatively, watch a movie in about two hours, and receive many of the same benefits from narrative deconstruction as I can from written fiction. I get prose-level feedback from reading (I’m consciously or unconsciously analyzing the specific words, placement, layout, etc), while I get craft-level feedback just as well from visual storytelling.
  3. It’s not the broadly-catagorized genre I’m writing in. Does The Collars We Wear have horror elements? Of course! It has some creepy as fuck imagery and ideas going on. But it is still not structurally or aesthetically horror. (I can also watch action movies in the same headspace as horror movies.) It has a specific feel for fantasy, to me, which is why, at the moment, I have a difficult time reading or watching straight-up fantasy to recharge. I need the distance of genre or aesthetics or trope-wrangling when I’m recharging. Once I am done with this project, I will happily devour more fantasy in all forms–shorts, novels, movies, art. Until then, when I need recharging, I turn to one of my favorite categories: horror.


Screenshot 2016-07-14 18.30.05
Obligatory cuteness

Thursday was my day off this week, and after I got up and fed Bucky (pictured above), I was about to open the laptop and do some words. But there was a very specific feeling of tiredness knotted around me. I recognized this.

Since Sunday, I have written–between blog posts, synopses, and fiction–9,500+ words. That is more than I have written in months.

REMINDER: There is no “right” speed at which to write. Fast, slow, interdimensional–what is right for you is valid, acceptable, and does not need to be compared to anyone else. There is no “right” way to write, either. You do not have to write every day to be a writer. All you need is to write. How, and why, and when–those are personal details. You do what works for you. That’s all that matters.

Okay? Okay.

I used up a lot of batteries this week. Blog posts are just as much work a brand new fiction, for me. 🙂 I love writing them, but they are not easy. So between all these words, I was getting low on battery.

In an attempt to be a smart!Merc and not wreck myself as I have too often in the past by trying to press through to unachievable goals or comparisons with others, I took the day off from fiction.

I watched horror movies, I listened to more of The Haunting of Hill House, and I took a nap.

You need energy if you want to run the various functions in your brain and produce creative output. It’s okay to take a break when you need it, to refuel and recharge.

I mean, even Energizer batteries run low eventually. (Don’t let the commercials lie to you.)

Whether you are writing new words, revising old ones, or running from zombies in a quarantined apartment building*, it is okay to take a break.

Rest. Recharge. Play games or read books or watch shows or take a walk or sleep or [your choice activity here]. Whatever works for you.

Burning out is, unfortunately, a thing that happens to everyone at some point. It sucks. If you feel fragile, if you feel depleted, if you feel down–it will pass, if you let yourself take the time you need and be kind to yourself if it’s not instantaneous. Self-care is a revolutionary act for many of us.

No, it is not always easy. Often, it is hard for so many reasons. Hard and impossible are not the same word, even if at times they seem indistinguishable.

I believe in you. ❤ I want you to take care of yourself, and it may take many different forms. I can’t tell you what to do on this front. It is as personal as the stories you tell. It may not look like anyone else’s version of self-care and recharging. (I mean, so long as you’re not a serial killer or something like that.)

You take care of your mental health needs, you recharge your batteries the best way that suits you, so you can continue to share your stories with the world.

*Maybe don’t stop and take a break if this is the situation. It might not end well.

So what’s next? Well, personally I plan to watch another horror film or two and then go to bed. (Hai there, anticipated WTF dreams… o.O)

After that? Well. Tomorrow I think I will feel more refreshed, more recharged, and can dive back into organizing sections into a Scrivener file and adding new words into the novel.

❤ ❤ ❤ to you all! Keep those batteries well-charged.

NEXT: [Merc gives up trying to predict the next topic in an ongoing series of blog posts at this point] WE’LL HAVE TO SEE, WON’T WE.


My short story Thread” is now live in the December issue of Ideomancer!

This story was inspired by a nightmare, and it ended up being one of my favorites of things I’ve written. I’m so delighted it found an awesome home.

From the Editor’s Note on the issue:

A. Merc Rustad’s “Thread” upends light, dark, alien intelligence, and the symbology of far-future science fiction in a story of quiet revolution.

Read all of Vol. 12, Issue 4 here.

I hope you enjoy! 🙂

All the Little Animals

As a very young!Merc, I had series nightmares. Not specifically the same nightmare over and over (serial), although sometimes I had repetitious dreams, but a series of nightmares that all had a basic structure and the same boogeyman-type antagonist.

(Well, I had a handful of series nightmares. There was The Tractor, there were a couple of generic serial killers, and there was the Tornado.)

One of these series involved creepy little animals that naturally lived under the bed and had an entire underground civilization. Often there was a horrific mutated Clifford the Big Red Dog involved. The worst part was that 90% of the time, the dream started in that vague sense of knowing it’s a dream, thinking you’ve woken up, and then the nightmare actually unfolds.

For years, the Little Animal dreams messed up my head. They weren’t frequent, but they were always lingering in the back of my brain. I kept trying to defeat them and in not quite managing it.

(While I’d watched The Twilight Zone and a lot of cheesy horror movies as a young!Merc, I’d never seen Night Gallery. But in 2009, we got the series on DVD and I watched the whole thing. The segment that included the mini-episode, “A Feast of Blood,” freaked the hell out of me because that brooch? It was like the designer grabbed images out of my head and put them on TV.)

At some point in my dreams (still as a young!Merc), I hit the equivalent of a boss fight, told the Little Animals to beat it and leave me alone, because I wasn’t scared of them anymore. (There was a strange amount of stabbing them with a mailbox.)

The nightmares stopped.

Fast forward to present!Merc. I’d always wanted to use some of my weird dream imagery in a story. It’s like the ultimate smackdown on the old nightmares. (I will dismantle your bones and create a new creature. MAD SCIENCE, FTW.)

I took the core imagery and wrote a story titled, shockingly enough, “All the Little Animals“. It’s about a girl determined to save her little brother from nightmarish animals out to get them. It was a very personal story and also a favorite of my horror pieces. And it paid off.

All the Little Animals” was accepted for the Spring 2013 issue of The Red Penny Papers, and I could not be happier! I love RPP, and I love this story, and I hope you will give it a look next year. Although probably not before bed.

(As semi-autobiographic as it is, no real Mercs were harmed in the drafting of this story.)

Sweet dreams.