The Metamorphosis of a Book Cover

Earlier this year, I released a novella called The Crossroads Bargain, a gothic fantasy tale about an old forest with a dark history, a tryst with an elven lord, a lot of unexplained deaths and disappearances, and a faerie curse cast in a centuries-old crossroads bargain.

I created the cover art in the usual way. But for some reason, it unsettled me; it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. There were nervous whispers. I brushed them aside, knowing full well how reckless that is.

Just recently, I did a painting of a scene from the book, in which our protagonist, a sensitive, tormented sort, fades into the faerie realm and there sees the hall of an elven lord tucked into the forest. As I worked on this, a calm whisper suggested that it might make a good cover image.

Okay but I’m keeping that spiderweb.

Then, I suddenly thought of a title, from a saying in the story that describes what to do on a crossroads if you want to summon something from the otherworld:

A northward gaze; a wish as clear as a mountain stream; and a willingness to sacrifice the unimaginable.

Yeah, that little bit of advice causes all manner of horrors, by the way. But never mind that. My new cover came together so beautifully, I decided to change it. It captures the vibe of the story well.

A Northward Gaze is now available on Amazon. Oh, and about those crossroads instructions. Don’t try that shit at home.

© F.T. McKinstry 2023. All Rights Reserved.

New Cover Art and a Freebie

Happy New Year!

For a while now, I’ve had this dark little wolf in my head. Well, ok, my mind is full of all kinds of wild things at any given time–but this guy needed a furever home. So, after painting him, I put him on the cover of one of my books: Raven of the West, a standalone short story that’s part of the Chronicles of Ealiron.

The protagonist of this story is named Urien. He belongs to the highest order of the Keepers of the Eye, a hierarchical order of wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. Among other things, Urien can shapeshift into flora, fauna, earth, or fog, and he can cast an apparition or merge with the minds of gods. For years, he has haunted the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful wizard on the verge of ascension. But such secrets do not hide well, and when he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess with a hidden agenda, Urien finds himself facing the loss of everything he loves.

To celebrate my lupine invisible friend, Raven of the West will be FREE on Amazon, all day Saturday, January 7. This story is around 60 pages long, gives a rich, detailed picture of the wizards’ realm in Ealiron, and delves into all kinds of unsavory things like witchcraft, heartbreak, vengeance and disasters at the hands of the powerful.

Dark and darker. But fear not! Light always follows, and the days are getting longer now.

Raven of the West on Amazon

© F.T. McKinstry 2023. All Rights Reserved.

New Moon Freebie!

I love this time of year. And there’s a new moon at that, which is cool. What better time to say THANK YOU to my readers, followers, writers and peeps by offering a present? Through October 26, you can get Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, on Amazon for free. First time ever. It’s fantasy, it’s epic, it’s dark. It features a backdrop of Norse mythology, some nasty villains, an army of draugr and other malevolent fae creatures, witches, wolves, ravens and heroes with interesting skills.

Yeah, and a cat named Pisskin. (You didn’t think you were getting away with an epic tale that doesn’t involve a cat, did you? Tsk.)

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking. In a war-torn realm occupied by a race of immortal warlords called the Fylking, trouble can reach cosmic proportions. Using the realm as a backwater outpost from which to fight an ancient war, the Fylking guard an interdimensional portal called the Gate. The Fylking’s enemies, who think nothing of annihilating a world to gain even a small advantage, are bent on destroying it.

After two centuries of peace, the realm is at war. A Gate warden with a tormented past discovers a warlock gathering an army that cannot die. A King’s ranger is snared in a trap that pits him against the Fylking’s enemies. And a knitter discovers an inborn power revered by the gods themselves. Caught in a maelstrom of murder, treachery, sorcery and war, they must rally to protect the Gate against a plot that will violate the balance of cosmos, destroy the Fylking and leave the world in ruins.

The god they serve is as fickle as a crow.

© F.T. McKinstry 2022. All Rights Reserved.

A Northward Gaze, A Novella

Previously published as The Crossroads Bargain by F.T. McKinstry.

Elspet’s mother died between the worlds, her staring eyes as milky white as a lily. A common occurrence in their bloodline, it is said. Even marrying into Aelfwine, an old family with as many secrets as trees in the dark wood that borders the estate, did not qualify her to be buried in hallowed ground. This fact is not lost on Elspet, a sensitive, tormented soul who has inherited her mother’s wayward interest in the Fae.

Grieving amid a turbulent household of superstitious servants, the mysterious disappearance of her father, and an ambitious aunt with a draconian agenda, Elspet begins to see things in her bedroom wallpaper. What begins as a mesmerizing portal to the Otherworld, however, becomes all-consuming when a beautiful elven lord slips through and captures her heart. Only Elspet knows the reason for the series of grisly, unexplained deaths that flood into the wake of her lost innocence.

What she doesn’t know is the high cost of consorting with the Fae. When her otherworldly trysts begin to result in impossible events, she is driven into the forest for answers. But not even the village witch or the Fae themselves can stop her inexorable descent into her mother’s fate. After a devastating loss, Elspet is drawn into a war between her lover and his enemy—an elven warlock who cursed her bloodline on a crossroads centuries ago.

To end the curse, she must destroy him with a secret whispered in a dream.

Novella, 120 pages
Available on Amazon.
Read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

© F.T. McKinstry 2023. All Rights Reserved.

Tolkien Meets Poe

I am a passionate and dedicated fan of high fantasy; that is, any world other than this one and preferably one that smacks of a fairy tale, though not in a wholesome way. You know, like those old, dark Irish or German fairy tales that are not written for children. Beautiful things cast long shadows, and the summit is never far from the abyss kind of thing. Think J.R.R. Tolkien meets Edgar Allan Poe.

I started reading these authors roughly around the same time, when I was a kid in the 70s. Tolkien changed my life, I’ll just say that. Among other things, Poe’s short stories and a steady diet of Dark Shadows messed me up properly and got me hooked on Gothic Horror.

So this kind of crept up on me recently, the way the universe sometimes gives you a bitch slap so you’ll recognize what you’ve been looking at all along. While I love Gothic Horror, especially the supernatural–ghosts, werewolves, vampires, witches and the like–I never sat down and tried to write something like that, not specifically. But it was there nonetheless, slinking around in my work like a shadow in the corner of my eye.

Then this happened: A story flashed into my head. It was right out of one of those 60s pulp Gothic Horror novels, with a voluptuous sex kitten in a white nightgown fleeing over the moors from a black castle on the hill. It also featured the kind of fairytale lore I like to write into high fantasy novels. Yeah. My subsequent internal dialogue went something like this:

Writer me: I don’t know how to write this stuff.
Smarter me: You’ve been writing this stuff for years.
Writer me: Rubbish. This isn’t fantasy.
Smarter me: Um. It has elves in it.
Writer me: So. He’s not–
Smarter me: He’s a fucking elf. Beautiful, moves between the worlds, enchanting, seductive, and sneaky. So he’s not from the House of Fëanor, big deal.
Writer me: It’ll suck. You suck.
Smarter me: Whatever. Get to work.

So I did. It’s a novella called A Northward Gaze. A manor hall bordering an old forest with a dark history, a family curse, a string of grisly, unexplained deaths and a fey young woman who sees otherworld beings in the floral patterns of her bedroom wallpaper. Spoiler alert: Our aforementioned elf is one of them and he’s up to no good. Well, maybe. Maybe not. The Fae are tricky like that.

 
 
 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2023. All Rights Reserved.

The Rise and Fall of Lovely Sentences

Redcap. One of the most malevolent beings of the Otherworld, the goblin liked to tease Twigs with trickery, such as leaving a fetid bouquet of her mother’s favorite flowers on the steps, or offering deadly mushrooms for a soup, laughing as she refused. But as surely as the sun set each day, the wicked creature would have something far darker in mind, something that would result in a big enough puddle of blood in which to soak its cap. – From Masters of the Veil, Book Three in The Fylking

One of the grimmest realities of writing is the fickle nature of words. Sometimes, a sentence, phrase or passage comes out of the void on an angel’s wings and reminds us why we do this. And we need that reminder. Because most of the time, we have no idea why we do this.

A written work such as a novel is an ever moving, flowing being with its own agenda. Not every sentence has its place in the overall scheme of things, no matter how pretty it is. If you’re good at editing–and by that I mean you are a cold, merciless bastard–you’ll get wise to this. Sometimes, that beautiful sentence you thought of three months ago isn’t quite so beautiful anymore. It doesn’t fit, it’s irrelevant, purplish or flawed, and you would be a vain little fop to leave it in there. Your editor will surely cut it–because there’s that other thing…oh yeah, readers. Just because you think it’s a beautiful sentence doesn’t mean they will. Someone might read it, yawn and think, “What rubbish.” So there’s that.

This is the kind of thing that drives authors to drown themselves in scotch and spend the night sobbing and pissing in a gutter somewhere.

But there is hope. Your ability to bring up that beautiful sentence will allow you to bring up another, and another, and on, because creativity is infinite and ever-expanding. It is always fresh because things are constantly dying and falling away to make room for other things in a much greater picture. Just look at nature. It keeps growing, cycling and expanding, and it is always what it is. Writing is like that.

So be warned: now and then, I might play the Insufferable Writer card and drop a sentence or three out here for you to read.

If nothing else, you’ll know I’m actually working on my next book.

© F.T. McKinstry 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Way Too Many Horror Movies

Hi campers. Still hanging in there? I hope so.

I am finally working on the third book in The Fylking, after a hiatus. Sometimes life plays hardball; other times, it takes a while for a novel to brood. In this case, it’s both. I’m cool with that.

The title is still eluding me. Something about warlocks, masters, veils, crows, I don’t know. Whenever I choose something, five minutes later I’m tossing it in the bin with a scowl. But fear not. When I get more deeply into the story, the real title will no doubt make itself known with a flourish.

So I am back in the zone, apparently. Late last night, while getting ready for bed, I casually glanced into the other room and noticed something weird. High up on a window curtain, tucked into a fold, was a dark blotch, frayed at the edges, several inches in diameter. How long has that been there? I wondered.

Chilled, I peered at it. An enormous spider? No, this isn’t Australia. A scorpion? Not a Bolivian jungle, either. Oh! Maybe a little brown bat, clinging there. That could happen.

Things got darker. A stain, perhaps—but of what, way up there? Blood wouldn’t look like that. Still peering. Flesh-eating bacteria? The blotch seemed to move as I stared at it. I imagined it shooting out with unbelievable speed and latching onto me like an Alien facehugger. Maybe it’s mold. Yeah, extraterrestrial mold. It’ll slowly spread until it consumes me, the entire neighborhood, the planet.

I swear, it’s moving.

The cat is asleep on the chair underneath the curtain. Suspiciously.

Finally, I ventured over there to have a look. And then, with a shock, I realized just how far out into the water I had drifted. The culprit? An ornament of a flying gargoyle that’s been hanging from the moulding above the curtain for, I don’t know, fifteen years probably. Hey, if you look at something long enough, you forget about it. Right?

Seriously, though. What just happened?

Here’s a thought. The faculties that drive me to write dark fantasy also have me staring at the blur of a cobwebbed Gothic Christmas ornament for ten minutes like a protagonist in Stranger Things.

Put another way, the gulf between one’s perception of reality when they’re wearing their glasses or not is vast, murky and full of monsters.

Or, I just watch too many horror movies.

© F.T. McKinstry 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Three Days Free!

Hi beautiful campers. Well, the world hasn’t ended yet, so how about a great deal on a fantasy novel about a dark, lawless bastard who gets pushed too far and decides to save the day—against his better judgment, of course. And so it begins.

From July 10-12, get The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron, for free on Amazon.
The books in this series are also on Kindle Unlimited.

Stay awesome. Stay strong. Read books.

© F.T. McKinstry 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Winter Webs


Greetings!

Here’s an interesting thing for lovers of nature, spiders, and all things Gothic. Last night, it dropped to a lovely -21°F (-29.4°C) here in northern New England, and early this morning, draped over the porch eaves, was a startling tangle of frozen orb-weaver spider webs.

While harmless, orb-weavers can get alarmingly big over the course of a summer, but their webs are more subtle (all the better to catch and eat you with). You don’t really notice them unless you’re sitting on the porch warily eyeing one of the hobbit-eaters perched in the center of a web glistening in the morning sun; or you unwittingly get a web in the face like an Alien Facehugger (accompanied by a near heart attack resulting from the image of a spider coming after you for revenge).

But when frozen–yikes! Looks like, I don’t know, Australia or something. Seriously, deep winter is the only time I ever notice this phenomenon.

If nothing else, it’s a fascinating reminder of who’s boss around here.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2022. All Rights Reserved.

The Old One

In the Chronicles of Ealiron, the Old One is a primordial goddess of nature, life, death, and transformation. Often referred to as Maern, which means “mother” in the wizard’s tongue, she is unknowable in her true form, but perceived as the concept of the Triple Goddess, a being that comprises three aspects of the Divine Feminine integrated as one: Maiden, Mother and Crone. These aspects exist and are manifested in all things, whether nature, events or the shadows of the psyche.

In the world of Ealiron, wizards govern balance in the realms and gods walk among them; but both mortals and immortals revere the Old One as sovereign. While referred to as a deity, she is more like a force underlying all things. She is inexorable; she is wyrd; she is the void from which all creation emerges. Life always comes, it preserves itself to its own expression, and all things die. She is the power by which consciousness knows itself.

Maiden

She was the first woman, the only woman, the one all women knew. She was as pure as the first breath, soft as flowers and fresh cream as she yielded to him, her cry blowing through the tree in the swirling language of the lair as he broke through her maidenhead and into the eternal warmth and safety of a mother’s womb. – From The Winged Hunter

The Maiden emerges from the void as new: birth, spring, desire, unfolding. She is the individuality of a bud, an egg or a fresh idea, innocent of darkness. Her light shines like a beacon attracting its own demise, as the cycle begins.

© F.T. McKinstry

Mother

She was all cycles, all changes, all movements in the shapes of waves, circles, wells, and caves protecting the wounded. – From The Winged Hunter

The Mother is the abundance of life. She nourishes, grows, heals and protects. She is the exuberance of a blooming garden in full summer, the blush and glow of pregnancy, the instinct of a mother protecting her offspring and the healing of a warrior’s wounds.

Crone

The Destroyer curled her body with supple grace, caressing the depths. She moved up towards the shimmering surface in a silent spiral, hungry and inexorable. To be worthy of providing a vessel in which to hide her child, these mortals would surrender to the forces that gave him life. – From The Gray Isles

The Crone is the Unknown, the Void, Formlessness, that from which all things come and to which all things must return, from a blade of grass to a galaxy. Hers is the power of death, transformation, rebirth and regeneration. All things must pass through the darkness to know the light, and it is usually through her that one can perceive the aspects of the Old One as inseparable. There can be no birth without death; no protection without swords; no healing without destruction; and no innocence that cannot fall. Likewise, there can be no destruction without rebirth. Every phase of life depends on the other.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Old One appears in one shape or another throughout the Chronicles of Ealiron and many of the short stories in Wizards, Woods and Gods.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2021. All Rights Reserved.