Plastic Tulips and Writing What You Know

•July 31, 2017 • Comments Off on Plastic Tulips and Writing What You Know

Cosmic Garden

“Cosmic Garden” by F.T. McKinstry

My maternal grandmother, now in the arms of the gods, had a degree in microbiology. I don’t know that she ever did much with it; marriage, a family and the expectations of her generation made that difficult. A classic German stoic, she didn’t talk much about her past, or how she felt about things. She was smart and she didn’t take any crap from anybody. But she loved her gardens.

GrandmaWhen it came to plants, my grandmother knew the scientific names of everything, it seemed. To a lesser extent, so does my mother; and to a lesser extent than that, so do I. My grandmother grew up in the North, and at some point moved with her family to Texas. She was always experimenting, trying to grow things that didn’t like heat. She was persistent. She tried tricks like freezing tulip bulbs to force dormancy, but the southern Texas climate would have none of that and eventually she gave up and stuck some plastic tulips in the garden to see if anyone noticed. She did this with such stealth and subtlety that even my mother fell for it. Hook, line and sinker.

I never saw my grandmother get excited about much, but oh, how she laughed when her tulip scam was exposed. She was less amused the time I stabbed my brother with a stitch ripper (he so deserved it, btw); she curled up her fist and punched me. But what I most remember is how she lit up when I moved to the North, where it was easier to grow things like astilbe, monarda, broccoli, and of course, tulips.

I loved my grandmother’s dark, ornery sense of humor and her penchant for tinkering, which I inherited. Every year I wage a military campaign against cabbage worms. My cats chase the pretty white butterflies, but that is not an effective means of pest control. So this year, I decided to try planting some nasturtiums, because supposedly bugs hate them. Believe it or not, there are less caterpillars than usual amid this jungle. How’s that for optimism.

Nasturtiums

Far be it for me to ignore writing gardens into a story or two. Though my stories tend to be dark, full of war, sorcery and creepy things, there will be a gardener in there somewhere; a witch growing herbs for her spells, for example. In my short story “The Trouble with Tansy,” a young woman born of three generations of wisewomen knows little of her ancestral garden’s mysteries until she discovers her own power in the darkness of winter, the words of a witch, and the loss of her innocence.

Excerpt: “The Trouble with Tansy”

Tansel loved her garden with all her heart. It surrounded the cottage and spread out beneath the edges of the forest like a wild thing, singing. She grew things for eating, seasoning and healing; things that smelled pretty, attracted butterflies, birds, bees and cats; she grew things for the shapes of their leaves, the way the sun and moon shone upon a petal or a stalk, or the way one thing grew beside another, tangling high and low in arches, tendrils and delicate patterns. Some plants loved the high bright sun; others preferred the shadows beneath hemlock trees, or water caressing their roots. Tansel grew things that she liked the names of. Things no one knew the names of.

Few could have said what grew in Tansel’s garden. Not even Tansel knew, from season to season. The garden had a rhythm of its own, a balance that took care of itself.

WWG Print Cover Art“The Trouble with Tansy” is included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

This story was also the original inspiration for Crowharrow, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron. Stay tuned, the Second Edition will be coming out in September.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

One of the protagonists in Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, has an ancient power she spins into her knitting that gets the attention of not only the gods but also a malevolent immortal with nothing good in mind. She also has a garden, of course.

Excerpt: Outpost

Autumn was a knitter’s busy time. Melisande knit brindled patterns of drops and sky over the summer; wove strands of sky-blue wool into the edge of a belt as the hard gray line of a late frost passed her garden by; pulled threads of weeds from the stitched patterns of the vegetable patch, leaving purple violets to grace the air with Othin’s favorite scent; and braided black yarn with rosemary and periwinkle to protect her cottage when the shadows grew long. Such amusements aside, she always had something to do. Folk from far around prized her work for its weird charm.

Well, most of them.

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Outpost Now on Kindle Unlimited

•July 24, 2017 • Comments Off on Outpost Now on Kindle Unlimited

Outpost Cover Art

 
Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, is now available for free with Kindle Unlimited! Click here to get your copy:

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 taught human seers to build and ward over 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. Seers are disappearing and their immortal guardians are blind, deceived by their own kind. A Gate warden with a tormented past discovers a warlock using Fylking magic to gather an army of warriors that cannot die. A King’s ranger who defends the wilds of the realm is snared in a political trap that puts him on the wrong side of the Fylking’s enemies. And a knitter discovers an inborn power revered by the gods themselves.

Forced to find allies in unlikely places, these three mortals are caught in a maelstrom of murder, treachery, sorcery and war, fertile ground for both their personal demons and those of their immortal masters, who cast long shadows indeed. When they uncover the source of the rising darkness, 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 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Demons at the Bar

•July 18, 2017 • 4 Comments

Swamped

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” – C.G. Jung

My life is falling apart.

Sounds charming, put like that. Imagine if you will some poor bastard, drunk at a bar, ordering that fifth whiskey while he drags his fingers through his hair as if to pull it out. The bartender is shaking his head with a faint smile. He’s heard it all before.

A better image would be of a sand castle being slowly sapped and dissolved by the waves of an uncaring sea. Cruel, silent, inexorable, years of it, career issues, health issues and the ever-strengthening shadows of my fucked up youth. I sit up here in the woods and write stories, talk to myself and the gods and the houseplants, and crank metal until my ears bleed. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want to do yoga. I’m sick of eating healthy. If I see one more sanctimonious, inspirational meme on Facebook I’m going put my fist through the screen. I sit outside, and my cats come around and sit with me, looking this way and that, alert, or sleeping with one eye open, as if they’re guarding me. They have a big responsibility. The veil between my mind and the boundless waters of the unconscious has grown thin and my demons won’t leave me alone.

Goblins

There are some interesting names for this process: life transition, Neptune/Chiron transits, clinical depression, dark night of the soul, desensitization and reprocessing, alchemical dissolution, and shamanic initiation, to name a few.

Let’s go with that last one. I’ve read quite a few books on these sorts of things. I want answers. I was attracted to the idea of shamanism, particularly the Northern European variety, and I looked into it. But it wasn’t until things got nasty that I went back and looked at it again, particularly the dark parts concerning initiation. This rugged ordeal involves long-term isolation, debilitating illness, dismemberment, being devoured and spit out into a steaming pile of cat puke by your demons (ok, I added that last part, except for the demons).

So after I shook off the chill, I thought, Yeah right. Shamanic initiation. I’m just inventing something romantic to deal with my crumbling life. But there’s nothing romantic about this. It’s a suckfest wielding one nasty punch after another, a testament to humans’ amazing ability to invent false bottoms. It goes something like this: “I have to be at the bottom, now! This can’t possibly get any worse!” Uh-huh, nice try. Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Feel free to imagine me laughing hysterically.

My man left me, just recently. Ah, the peaceful sound of another false bottom washing away into the sea. I can’t really blame him, that’s the thing. He moved in with another woman and they’re dancing and laughing in some sunny meadow of romantic fulfillment, or so it seems to me, sitting in my cave, staring into the void, issuing concert tickets to a never-ending flood of demons arriving from the shadows of my past. It’s like this dream I once had. I’m standing in the dark on the forest’s edge, gazing at a warm campfire in the distance, when something invisible comes up behind me, put its hand over my mouth and drags me into the night. Just like that.

Scary WolfI’m between the worlds. I shapeshift between fearing the wolf and becoming the wolf.

At the end of the day, I am a creative sort, and if there’s anything that will not be ignored, it’s that. This is a good thing. So I’m working on my next book, The Wolf Lords. I never sat down and decided to write a story about all this. It doesn’t work that way. I just wrote a story. But, ironically, it’s full of demons and the sorcerers who love them, all kinds of surly, implacable characters wreaking havoc on things because they can.

The experts say, “Write what you know.” Writer blogs are full of platitudes like that, stale little cookies we devour to fill the void because facing the void means dealing with our demons. Fortunately, when it comes to that, I’m not inclined to take prisoners. So I’m taking the aforementioned platitude to heart.

We’ll see how many of my characters survive it.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Guest Post on Mighty Thor JRS!

•July 12, 2017 • 3 Comments

Today I have the pleasure—nay, the honor—of being a guest over at Mighty Thor JRS, one of my favorite fantasy book blogs. I’ll be talking about the venerable wolf and raven, their place in myth, folklore, and my own work; and their ancient association with Odin, the Allfather in the Norse pantheon and a patron of warriors, magicians, and poets alike. If you’re into Norse mythology, shady creatures, shapeshifters, shamans, berserkers and the like, and you’d like to see some art inspired by such things, stop by for a visit:

Wolves, Ravens and the Hooded One

My heartfelt thanks to James Schmidt for this wicked fun opportunity to geek out. 🙂

The Wanderer

The Wanderer

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Land of the Ice and Snow

•June 30, 2017 • 2 Comments

Dark Mountains

In my eternal quest for mood-inducing music, I created a playlist on Spotify that attempts to capture the soul of the North, and I’d like to share. Norse tribal, dark ambient, folk, metal–I’m aiming for an atmosphere reminiscent of towering forests, mountains, wolves, ravens, gods, Vikings, howling wind, blazing fires, rough seas, seiðr, shamans, blood and runes.

Good times.

Here you’ll find Wardruna, Ulf Söderberg, Anilah, Forndom, Skogen, among others. I’m always tinkering with and adding new music to this, a loving work in progress, like a painting. It’s one of my favorite backgrounds for writing and reading broody tales, or when I’m not all here and need to weigh anchor.

It’s called Gods of the North.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Why Me Lord

•June 12, 2017 • 5 Comments

My childhood was a war zone. I’m a poster child for a highly sensitive person (HSP – yeah, there’s a freaking acronym for that now) packing emotional trauma. Now I’m a seasoned veteran with a collection of scars I have names for. But hey, I’ve found my calling in the wasteland, and I write the sort of books that saved my life and mind when I was a kid.

As with any calling, we all reach a point sometimes when it all goes to hell and our calling becomes the stupidest fucking idea we ever had. Well, I’d been in that for a few days and at some point, I hit the bottom. Until yesterday.

It was a quintessential New England summer day, hot, smelling of grass and flowers, with catkins blowing in the air like snow. I went out for a ride with my husband. He’s a dark, miserable bastard too, but we understand each other. We got hot fudge sundaes and took them to a graveyard, parked in the shade and listened to Kris Kristofferson while my man gave me a tour of the graves where some of his kin and friends of the family were buried, complete with sordid details. It was a good day. And old Kris brought me back to a place I had almost forgotten.

Graveyard

At the tender age of seven, when things were bad but before they got a lot worse, my parents sent me to a summer camp called the J Bar J Ranch. It was right out on the highway outside of Houston, Texas. I learned how to ride horses, find my way to the haunted shack in the woods, and never to put my hand into a cluster of pears on a pear tree because hornets live there. In the mess hall, there was a juke box. And two songs on that juke box got into my heart and stayed with me to this day.

“Why Me Lord” by Kris Kristofferson. Feel free to replace the whole Lord Jesus thing with whatever you turn to when your world gets bleak, and you’ll get this baby in context. It’s the sort of song you put on repeat, sit with your head in your hands and sob like a drunk in a gutter on your last sorry dime.

 
“Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues. This song blew my mind like a portal to the Otherworld. I don’t know what it is about it, but when I hear it, my heart opens and everything changes. Or, I sob like a drunk in a gutter on my last sorry dime–but at least the moon and the stars are out.

 
Aside from writing, music is my therapy. I have a collection of playlists containing all manner of rough, dreary, pissed off, head banging music I listen to when I need to vent and go through the darkness to find the light again. And, because consciousness loves contrast, as my old therapist used to say, I also have playlists where the light shines, and I’ll close here with one of these, some background music for my calling–that is, when it’s not looking like the biggest cosmic scam ever.

 
It’s good to hit the bottom sometimes.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

The Hunter’s Rede: Paperback and Giveaway

•May 25, 2017 • 3 Comments

The Hunter's Rede Cover

book·worm
ˈbo͝okˌwərm/
noun
noun: bookworm; plural noun: bookworms

1. informal a person devoted to reading.
2. the larva of a wood-boring beetle that feeds on the paper and glue in books.

I guess the first definition is what we’re looking for, here. For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me that this term was based on some horrid little creature that eats books. It’s a good metaphor, anyway.

Ahh…books. Bound books, e-books, tablet, scrolls, whatever. My house looks like a messy wizard’s library: books everywhere, big and small, fat and skinny, old and new; books I’ve read, books I haven’t read, books I just have because, well, they’re books, and they comfort me.

Needless to say, holding a book I’ve written in my hands is wicked awesome. The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron, is now out in paperback. It’s a lovely thing, with a classy matte cover, crisp white pages and a glossary in the back.

Feeling lucky? I’m giving away a signed copy of The Hunter’s Rede on Goodreads. Giveaway ends on June 8, 2017.
Giveaway Details
Enter to win!

Not feeling lucky? No problem. The paperback is available on Amazon.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Hunter's Rede, Cover ArtBook One: The Hunter’s Rede. Lorth of Ostarin is an assassin trained by a wizard unknown to his kind. He is paid very well to employ both the primeval darkness of a hunter and the ordered light of a mage, an uneasy combination he does not question until he returns home after a long assignment and trips into a turbid river of war, politics and the violation of all he holds dear. Lawless and adept, he picks no sides and takes no prisoners. When his wolfish ways get him imprisoned for crimes he did not commit, he discovers the deeper source of his ability and falls in love with a priestess who frees him to his fate. But the rift in his heart widens under the forces of love, loyalty and the occupation of his realm by a warlord who honors neither hunters nor wizards. To reclaim his homeland, Lorth must bow his head to death itself, a sacrifice that will transform him into the most powerful hunter the land has ever known.

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© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 
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