A. Merc Rustad is a queer non-binary writer who lives in the Minnesota. Favorite things include: robots, dinosaurs, monsters, and tea. Their stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Apex, Uncanny, Shimmer, and other fine venues, with reprints included in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015, Wilde Stories 2016, Heiress of Russ 2016, and Transcendent 2016. Merc likes to play video games, watch movies, read comics, and wear awesome hats. You can find Merc on Twitter @Merc_Rustad, Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/mercrustad) or their website: http://amercrustad.com. Their debut short story collection, SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROBOT, is out from Lethe Press in May 2017.
QSR – Okay, opening strong here: If you could send a piece of writing advice back to your past-self (probably the past-you that was first starting to write fiction and send it out), what would it be?
AMR — I would tell myself that it's okay to write things that are weird, and things that have feelings; that it is okay to put your heart into the work, because that is how you survive and flourish. "Small!Merc," I would say, "take it from me, who is your future self. (You know we've always loved time-travel.) There are people now who will tell you that you write awful, overly emotional characters who are nonetheless unsympathetic or too weird; that exploring queer content will never sell; that you should never mix genres or take risks because you're an unknown. Stay strong, small!Merc. All these things are untrue. You don't know it yet, but being autistic/aroace/queer/ non-binary influences your work even before you have the words you need to understand your identity. It's okay. I know it's scary and painful, but you'll persevere. (I'm sorry that it will take so long. Remember the dark doesn't last forever.) And always know, there are people now, and there will be people in the future, who believe in you, who help you, who are supportive and awesome and kind. You got this, kid."
QSR – Aww. And while we're on the topic of time-travel, if Future!Merc were to appear before you today, what would you hope to hear from that future self (about fiction/writing/etc.)?
AMR — Hmm, this is a tough one! I think, mostly, I would like to know future!Merc is still writing and that they are happy with what they write. Because that's always a fear, for me: that once again I will break myself and be unable to create words.
As for specifics, well. This is ideally what I'd like to hear:
"Hi, past!Merc," future!Merc would say, rocking an excellent hat and coat, "I'm here to tell you what's up. First, yes, you did actually finish the novel revisions. I can't tell you how long it took (there's all these NDA time-travelers have to sign, you know how it is), but we did it! THE COLLARS WE WEAR is a finished book. We queried it and, well... NDAs. The prognosis is positive, though, so keep at it."
I'd nod, take notes and ask, "What can you tell me of the short fiction scene?"
"It's good," future!Merc would say, "we can still finish things! And write new things! And people still want to read the things we write!" They'd look happy, and I'd be happy, because yay things! "While I can't speak for sales, awards, etc, I can tell you this: that novelette you just started? You'll finish it. Sure, it'll need work, but you got it done. That's the thing, current!Merc—we're getting better at the whole 'finish what you start' thing, and it's working out well. Okay, I gotta go. Can't say too much more or we'll mess with the space-time continuum. You know the drill. Never give up, never surrender!"
I'd wave to future!me and, yes, get back to work. I like positive outcomes.
QSR – You have a short story collection coming out soon, So You Want to be a Robot and Other Stories (from Lethe Press, and available forpreorder here). What was the largest challenge of organizing your work into book form? Was there any strategy that you used to make the task easier and/or more meaningful to you?
AMR — One of the biggest challenges was figuring out which stories to include (part of this was what was available, rights-wise, and also what went together best for a collection). I knew, from the start, a debut collection had to have "How To Become A Robot In 12 Easy Steps" as the final story. From there, I looked at a balance of dark and lighter, long and short, SF and fantasy. Steve Berman, editor at Lethe, also asked for one to two original stories to help sell the collection. I considered length, genre, tone, and how the new stories would fit into the overall book. (The new stories, by the way, are "A Survival Guide For When You're Trapped In A Black Hole" and "Batteries For Your Doombot5000 Are Not Included." WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE A THING ABOUT LONG TITLES. >.>)
I drafted a TOC by hand in a notebook when I was in the proposal stage for this collection. I'd shuffle around titles, list all the relevant details (to me) such as length and genre; whether it was first, second, third person; tone and style. I also knew I wanted twenty-one stories (to mirror "Robot…12 Steps" from which the collection title is taken). I shuffled around things for months before I at last settled on the choices, and I went through, oh, five or six TOC iterations before I had an order for the stories I was happy with. The stylization word I'd use for organization is chiaroscuro—light and shadowed patterns. I hope that reflects well in the collection!
QSR – I love the idea of light and shadowed patterns as a guiding organization to the collection! Especially with the climate right now I feel it's important to both recognize the dark and try to hold to hope. It's also exciting that the collection will contain brand new works! Are there any other new projects/stories/etc. that you're working on that you can talk about?
AMR — Yes! My biggest ongoing project is a snarky, epic interactive space opera novel-game titled GALACTIC BOUNTY HUNTER, which I am writing for Choice of Games. I've pitched it as "Mass Effect meets The Witcher with a liberal dose of Deadpool." You play a down-on-your-luck bounty hunter who is offered a job to go fight monsters. Naturally, nothing is that simple. (Choice of Games produces a wide variety of excellent games, novels similar to CYOA but with more player-driven choices and results. They are sooooo much fun, and I'm absolutely thrilled to be writing for the line!) While I cannot give any hard and fast dates or promises, I aim to have the game draft finished around late summer. It's going to be a blast. :D
As for other works, I'll have a short IF (interactive fiction) story out with sub-Q at some point; I've sold two stories to anthologies for summer release (can't share details yet! but I try to keep my website page updated when I am allowed to squee about news publicly); and I'm working on a couple more short stories and novelettes set in my Principality Suns universe. Oh yeah, and novelrevisions which I am trying to juggle along with everything else! It's going to be an exciting year for me, writing-wise, I can say that much.
QSR – If you were going to point a new reader to a good "entry point" to your fiction, what story would you pick? Or is there a particular work that you would select as especially emblematic of what you want to do with your fiction?
AMR — As far as emblematic I'd say "How to Become A Robot in 12Easy Steps" (Scigentasy) because it is definitely the most "me," and also has lists and robots and hope. That was one of the hardest stories I ever wrote; it's also one of my best.
I think other good entry points are my Nebula-nominated (!!!!) short story, "This Is Not A Wardrobe Door," (Fireside) and "TheAndroid’s Prehistoric Menagerie" (Mothership Zeta). They both contain dinosaurs. ^_^
Also, if second-person present-tense doesn't scare you off, "WhereMonsters Dance" (Inscription) and "Monster Girls Don't Cry" (Uncanny) take on the darker, grittier side of fairy tales. You can potentially exercise your brain with "Later, Let's Tear Up theInner Sanctum" or "Tomorrow When We See the Sun" (both Lightspeed) for more intricate SF adventures; and I'm particularly proud of the fantasy stories "The Gentleman of Chaos" (Apex) and "Iron Aria" (Fireside).
QSR – You mention "The Gentleman of Chaos" and "Later, Let's Tear Up the Inner Sanctum" above, and let me just say that I love both of those stories, in part because they both share (to me, at least) a heady darkness and a focus on how narratives shape perception (now that I think of it, "Monster Girls Don't Cry" features some links to this idea as well). As a writer, do you feel that you have some place you want readers to be after experiencing your stories, some perception you'd like to show them, or challenge them about?
AMR — Well, unlike a fictional narrative, I don't have any control over how readers experience or react to my stories. :D But I do hope that when someone reads my fiction, they can find grains of truth—whether it's about the world, themselves, or just a sense of 'you know, I hadn't thought about that before.' Definitely there are stories where I want to challenge something in our humanity-narrative: maybe it's examining tropes, or digging deeper into who gets to tell what stories and why, or asking the reader to consider assumptions they have. It really varies a lot with the particular story.
Storytelling is ingrained in us all. I think that when we engage with narratives, we can learn about each other, ourselves, and the world. That's what stories do: they let you see through another's eyes and heart and soul. I think we make the world better for having this understanding and empathy for other people and ourselves, spun through the lens of 'beginning, middle, end'.
QSR - Thank you so much and all the luck with everything!!!
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