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!

New Story, New Year, New Resistance

Welcome to 2017. I’d like to help kick it off with a story about dismantling the patriarchy, resisting oppression, and fighting for what matters. It contains monsters.

Monster Girls Don’t Cry 

Cover art is “El Arpa” by John Picacio

It’s free to read online at Uncanny Magazine, alongside a knock-out table of contents by other stupendous authors. There’s also an interview with me, conducted by Julia Rios!


So, a new year. Resolutions. Resistance. Renewal.

I started out building bookcases and organizing my books. It’s soothing, and it inspires me to tackle this year with fierce and unyielding passion and determination. I will read more. Write more. Support my friends and my communities. Stay strong. Live.

In 2017, we shine brighter than ever before. Our existence is, in itself, an act of defiance towards our oppressors. We will not be silent or stop. We go on, we fight on, we create and we live and we love and we stand together.

Write your stories, my friends. They will always matter; now more than ever, the world needs to hear our voices. Let us shake the foundations of stone and sky with our words and our breath.  Live. Resist. Write.

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.

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.


MERC vs. BOOK: Revising a Novel, Part 3–The Next Big Step

Part 0 (what this series is about) | Part 1 (in the beginning) |Part 2 (synopsis and flail) | Part 3 (you are here) | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7.1 & 7.2 | Part 8 | Part 9

You know those dreams where you are running through a swamp and jump into the air and will yourself to start flying higher and higher? While being chased by zombies and semi-trucks and tornadoes? And you’re really a robotic werewolf wielding a broadsword?

Yeah, that is kind of what revising a novel feels like to me! That surreal, adrenaline-rush WTF-is-happening feeling.

Less than a week ago, I decided to revise The Collars We Wear–a fantasy novel about a human sorcerer and a fae prince who become friends instead of enemies, which leads their peoples to the edge of war.

I set a goal for myself: I want this done by the end of August, 2016.

What I did not expect was this constant excitement-rush when thinking about the process! From marking up the manuscript to creating a list of things I needed to fix, from photoshopping myself into a noir setting to drafting a synopsis and pitch–it has been wild. Exhilarating.

So now it comes to the big step: writing new material to build muscle on the draft. 

word cloud_collars

What’s It Got In In Its Pocketeses, Precious?

The first draft of this novel has three point-of-view (POV) characters: Bane (the sorcerer), Damaveil (his mentor), and Inspector not!Javert Rajosja (from the Ministry of Arcane Crimes).

Bane and Rajosja keep their POV status, because they are major characters. Damaveil, while adorable, does not add anything meaningful with scenes from his perspective. I chose to cut his POV, and rework any necessary information into different scenes. I need to add more Rajosja scenes–since she mysteriously vanished in the middle and then showed up later to kick ass…and also because she’s awesome–and that will be the second part of a two-pronged drafting attack.

What is missing is the point of view of the other main character: Winterblade (fae prince). He’s rather crucial to the entire plot. If Bane and Winterblade never meet, then the book doesn’t exist.

So the first step will be writing all of Winterblade’s POV scenes and stitching them into the narrative where they belong.

Style, Tone, Shiny

A small tactic I’ve utilized when crafting new words is to pick a series of “flavor notes” that describe the tone, texture, or theme of the story. Example:

Winter Bride is a short story set in the novel world and was published in Kaleidotrope.

When you fall asleep, the dream — the terrible dream — comes again.

You stand in a desert, wind that never warms you blurring the dunes with dust, your ankles buried in sand.

“We will leave here,” says the sorceress, hidden in the darkness. Her voice is soft as a razor’s caress. She is the lord’s favorite bride, the untamable one. “Soon.”

You push aside the sand like curtains, but she is always just shy of your reach, a silhouette. You have no voice in the dream.

“I will take you away from him.” The sorceress is the mistress of illusions. It was how she won the Winter Lord’s favor. (She claims he cannot find her true nature, and so he tries, continually fascinated.) “Soon the moons will be dark and Winter will sleep. It is then we will be free.”

The sorceress is the only one you believe can manipulate dreams in Winter.

Still you cannot find her in the sands.

You panic. If she cannot see you, will she forget? You cannot stay here alone. You cannot.

The sand darkens, chills, and turns into snow.

Upon waking, you find the moons have waned and the pale, cold day has replaced them. There is no sun in this world.

The Winter Lord still holds you curled against his chest, his eyes closed. “You are so restless in sleep, pet.”

Your pulse trembles. The Winter Lord does not dream — so you spin a lie before he compels you to give him truth and betray what you saw. “I dreamed of the Spring Hunt, my lord. You were a doe and I a bear.”

He caresses your throat with one hand. “And how did it end?”

“How does it always end, my lord?”

–from Winter Bride by A. Merc Rustad (Kaleidotrope, 2014)

(It’s set chronologically before The Collars We Wear.)

For this story, flavor notes might be: brittle, cold, sharp. These evoke a sense of tone and style for me. It influences the voice and word choice, the flow and atmosphere.

I think a lot about flavor notes for different stories. Each story has its own voice, its own heartbeat;  word-flavors shift and change, but they are always present.

When I estimated that I need approximately 30k of new words for the novel, the bulk of that is a single POV–Winterblade’s. The upside of this is that I know what happens, I know the character well, I have my set of flavor notes for these chapters.

Winterblade’s POV has shades of shivery, haunting, pitilesshollow.


(Appropriate Tributes is my absolute favorite Twitter bot. You may have noticed.)

I’m experimenting with scheduling myself blocks of writing time before work, or on days off, and then treating those blocks as actual work-shifts. I need to be at the library or coffee shop (somewhere that is not near the Xbox or the couch) at a specified time, then I sit down and need to work. It’s a structure, a pattern, and a change in atmosphere that gets my brain into different grooves.

It’s early in the test-run (less than a week), but now that I generally have mornings free, and I am used to being up at ridiculous hours, I’ve been productive already. It’s glorious, you guys. ❤ Energy! Words! Coffee!

I read and very much enjoyed Rachael Aaron’s book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. I recommend checking it out–it’s short and to the point, charming, helpful, and refreshingly upbeat.

One of the many gems in this book was the idea of a triangle that’s composed of knowledge, energy, and enthusiasm.

Knowing what you’re going to write (I did that with notes, a list, and synopsis), having the energy to write (I’m aiming for mornings when my brain is functioning best), and being enthusiastic about what you write. This formula that makes perfect sense to me. That last part, the enthusiasm? HELL YEAH I’M EXCITED!

I love this novel, these characters. The story hits all my narrative buttons. I want to share it. So yep, the enthusiasm is definitely present.

Since writing draft-things is easier to track for me on twitter, rather than extensive blog posts for each session, I will probably be live-tweeting writing sessions when I begin. (I’m @Merc_Rustad there.)

Then at the end of next week (or whenever I hit a good summary point) I will make a log about how MISSION: NEW MATERIAL went. 🙂

NEXT: Part 4–Untitled Release From Mercbrain Studios (2016)