Autumn, Houseplants and Science Experiments Gone Bad

September in Hyde Park

September in Hyde Park, by F.T. McKinstry

 
If you wish to live and thrive, Let a spider run alive. ~ Old English nursery rhyme

Fall is upon us here in the North. Although everything is still green and blooming outside, the afternoon shadows are long, the wind has a darker feel, the leaves on the maple trees are changing color, and the nights are cold. I recently brought in my houseplants from their warm, bright—albeit short—summer sojourn. And with them came critters: weird, long-legged creeping things, caterpillars, ants, and the occasional cricket that’ll set up camp in a corner and sing until the cats find it.

Schefflera

 
Spider WebAnd then there are the spiders. Spiders lurk, and they’re undaunted by the change in habitat. The sneaky ones build webs when I’m asleep or not looking. I’ll find a plant or a windowsill blanketed with silk and well-guarded, where the day before, there was nothing.

The shameless spiders carve out their empires with impunity, scrabbling up the shower curtain or dropping down in front of my face somewhere.

But I don’t bother them. It’s bad luck to kill a spider in the house, you know. They bring good fortune. Just remember that, next time you find one in the sink big enough to exsanguinate a small rodent. You can use a napkin to lift it into a cup or a plant, if you think you’re fast enough. Good luck.

I keep finding these slimy, glistening slug trails all over the place, and I never see the perpetrators. Unless they can fly, there is more than one of them. It’s like a B-grade sci-fi flick where an experiment goes terribly wrong. One of these mornings I’m going to come down to a five-foot-tall slug in the kitchen holding a ray gun.

As long as a spider doesn’t sneak into the Petri dish, I’m good.

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

Mythology, the Moon, and the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Winter Moon Raven, by F.T. McKinstry

Winter Moon Raven

 
If you live in the US, particularly in the swath along the width of the country from the northwest to the southeast, you will get a rare and special treat on August 21st: a total eclipse of the sun. In northern Vermont, where I live, we’ll get to see about 60% of it and, miracles of miracles, it’s actually going to be sunny (don’t get me started). I’m ready. I made my own camera obscura, and tried it out. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s cool af; it projects this ghostly mirror image of the sky, trees and sun, like an Otherworld portal or something.

A solar eclipse happens on a new moon, when the moon moves between the earth and the sun and the side turned toward the earth is dark. Needless to say, there’s a wealth of bizarre tales in world mythology explaining a solar eclipse. Given how creepy and unnatural it is when for no apparent reason the life-giving sun goes away, the temperature drops, and animals act weird, it stands to reason that most of these myths are gloomy and apocalyptic, such as dragons or serpents eating the sun, divine punishment, evil omens, and disputes between the gods.

The Source

The Source

Norse mythology tells of a pair of wolves named Hati and Skoll that chase the sun, and will catch it at Ragnarok, the annihilation of the cosmos. A solar eclipse was explained as the sky wolves getting a lucky break and stealing the sun. The solution was to make a lot of noise to scare the beasts away. (Hey, it must have worked; we’re still here.)

On a full moon, the earth is between the moon and the sun. I was born on a full moon. When I was a kid, I doodled and drew every mysterious, strange and beautiful thing that caught my attention, and had a particular fascination for drawing images of the sun and moon aligned and facing each other. I didn’t realize at the time that this is what happens during a full moon…but some part of me did. Since then, the full moon appears often in my paintings.

Here’s to hoping you get a chance to check out the eclipse! Protect your eyes, and watch out for the sky wolves.

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

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.

“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 The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

 
 

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, 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.

Guest Post on Mighty Thor JRS!

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

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.

Summoning Fenrisúlfr

Summoning Fenrisúlfr

“Summoning Fenrisúlfr”
Background cover art for The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking

 

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps.

Leofwine Klemet of House Earticael is a sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of magicians who serve Loki, Prince of Wiles and the Father of Hel. Leofwine has his doubts as to whom his masters serve, however. Given the order’s bloody, patchy history, of which Leofwine is an expert, if the brotherhood served anyone it was Othin, the Allfather, a master of sorcery and runes who reveled in the grim tides of war. A trickster and consummate shapeshifter, the Hooded One would be more than pleased to move in the shadows of Loki’s dastardly reputation.

But Leofwine keeps his doubts to himself.

Once a transcriber in the King’s Archive, and a Fjorginan spy, Leofwine now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job, but for a lover and some shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

But Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving someone he holds dearer than life, Leofwine goes berserk and does the unthinkable: he summons Fenrisúlfr, a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a maelstrom of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

Ironic. But that’s the trouble with doubts. They can betray you and ruin your day.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Traditionally hired by warlords to protect their own bloody, ambitious interests, the brotherhood now keeps to itself.

Or so it is generally believed.

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps. And with the help of the Fylking’s enemies, the secrets of the Wolf Lords are about to unleash armies of demons across the land.

Those with second sight will be the first to die.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction

Finalist, SPFBO 2016

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

Sorcerer in the Abyss

Leo Sketch

The abyss is never far from the summit. I am fond of this concept, not because it sounds romantic, but because it reminds me of a basic truth. I am presently working on The Wolf Lords, the sequel to Outpost and the second installment in my high fantasy series The Fylking. It’s going well, and at some point I decided it was high time to start working on the cover art. Past time, in fact.

I love painting things like this. So I sketched it up, put it on my easel, got out all my oil paints and accoutrements and well, that was a week ago and there it still sits–in my way, of course–with this monstrous black abyss swirling around it that will, if I go near the thing, suck me in and annihilate my soul and that’ll be the end of it.

There are names for this phenomenon, I’m sure. I could write a textbook about it and yet, romantic platitudes aside, the sketched board is still on the easel collecting cobwebs and I can’t start the thing to save my skin. It’s not as if I don’t do this sort of thing like, every day. But sometimes the summit, that high I get when the numinous floods up and turns into something cool, is so far away all I can see is the abyss. It is an empty, lonely place.

How This IsJust…pick up a tube of paint and squirt it on the palette. No, not black! How about green. Aaaahahahahah this sucks. I hate painting.

The character in the sketch above, his name is Leofwine. A sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, he’s more adept at dealing with his personal demons than I am.

Death metal might help.

Write a blog post about it, that’ll inspire me. I can write anything, here. I’m a fantasy author. Here we go. I am about to start this painting, yes I am, right after I post this. You all heard me say it.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Traditionally hired by warlords to protect their own bloody, ambitious interests, the brotherhood now keeps to itself.

Or so it is generally believed.

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps. And with the help of the Fylking’s enemies, the secrets of the Wolf Lords are about to unleash armies of demons across the land.

Those with second sight will be the first to die.

Coming in 2017.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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.

Love, Swords and Fairy Tales

Alstroemeria, by F.T. McKinstry

I’m one of those old cynics who thinks Valentines Day is a capitalistic scam. There, I said it. Love, however, that’s another thing. Love makes the universe live and breathe. So today, because we’re thinking about it, I’ll express my love for all of you: thank you for the support, friendship, follows, tweets, RTs, likes, shares, replies, reads, reviews and anything else that shines light and makes the world a kinder place.

Wizards, Woods and Gods is a collection of twelve fantasy stories, all of which involve love in one way or another (because I’m a sucker at heart).

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

WWG Print Cover Art

The Otherworld takes shape in this collection of twelve stories told on a rich, fairytale tapestry of swords, sorcery, romance, dreams, visions and verse. Ancient gardens, lost temples, cosmic alignments, immortal predators, assassins, shapeshifters, warriors and maidens will transport you to realms where the rules are different, nothing is as it seems and the heart keeps the balance of ages.

Click on the following stories for illustrations and excerpts.

Earth Blood – The earth keeps secrets. A warrior discovers ancient power in his veins when he’s plunged into the political corruption of a war devised to hide the truth of his mother’s death.

The Om Tree – Trees know things. A tree planted by a god at the dawn of a forest and raised in close proximity to an energy well beneath a wizards’ citadel knows a great many things. In this story, a wizard-assassin loses what is most dear to him and thereby learns the true nature of his art.

Pattern Sense – It all started with a mouse. A knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a warrior.

The War God Sleeps – When a lush, fertile land is seized by drought, a lonely hermit’s son ventures deep into the hills in search of water and there awakes a beautiful, yet terrible god whom the world has learned to live without.

The Fifth Verse – An ancient immortal entity defies the rules of her kind by falling in love with a mortal warrior, an indiscretion that leaves her grieving, pregnant and dependent on the help of a wizard whose army was responsible for the death of her beloved.

Deathseer – Under the influence of a mysterious observatory, the commander of a fearsome army is trapped in a conflict that eventually costs him his honor and the life of his brother, and drives him to accept an inborn magical ability that changes his destiny.

The Trouble with Tansy – An orphaned girl on the threshold of womanhood inherits a splendid, mysterious garden from three generations of wisewomen. When a roguish wizard attempts to impress her by disrupting the seasons, she must turn to the old powers for help.

Marked – The mother of a fey child learns the pitfalls of mingling with immortals when her boy is taken by a ferocious winged monster at the request of the god who fathered him.

Eating Crow – A masterful, wayward shapeshiftress angers a wizard who curses her by summoning a diabolical immortal hunter that puts her near death and forces her to seek the wizard’s cat, a gentle, mystical creature that alone can heal her wounds.

The Bridge – A visionary who spent her life preparing for a planetary alignment that will materialize a beautiful nature spirit only she can perceive, descends into her blackest fears when she is abandoned to a war for which she is indirectly responsible.

The Origin – A woodsman discovers that he is a god who created everything around him to know the love of a woman whose mortality drives him to the brink of annihilation.

Raven of the West – In the calm deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits. This novella is a tale of desire and deception told on a fairy-tale landscape of arcane texts, herbal lore, visions and disasters at the hands of the powerful.

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

The Spooky Forest

WWG Print Cover Art

When I was a child, my grandparents lived on a golf course. It was a beautiful place, mysterious and sprawling with woods, lakes and paths. A good place to go fishing, only mind the snakes and snapping turtles. Not far from my grandparents’ house, a path went through a dense patch of woods with a stream running through it. We called it the Spooky Forest. It was generally agreed upon that straying from the path was a bad idea.

Far be it for me to write something that doesn’t have woods in it–the creepier the better. So I’m honoring my childhood haunt with today’s release of the Second Edition Ebook of 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.

These stories reflect some general themes, as follows. Click on the story links for descriptions, excerpts and illustrations.

The Power of Creation

Shade Falls

“These things three, your garden needs
“To make the dark and light the same.
“Slis, a frog,
“Gea, the spring and
“Retch, the oldest wizard’s name.”
– From “The Trouble with Tansy”

The forces of creation exist in all things, flora and fauna, seasons, worlds, every act of the heart, every loss and turn of a mind. Light comes from the Void and surprises its creators with something new and heretofore unknown. In “The Trouble with Tansy” and “The Fifth Verse,” two women, a mortal and an immortal, discover the power of creation through the inexorable forces of death.

The Immortal Hunter

Sioros

Had she not been so entranced, Oona might have noticed the shadow falling over her, soft and quiet as a forgotten dream. A wizard can be very sneaky when he wants to. And there he stood, in the fading light of the setting moon, staring down at the remains of his crow with an expression that could have cracked a standing stone. – From “Eating Crow”

Wizards call him sioros, an immortal predator with the body of a male god, towering black wings and the claws and fangs of a mountain cat. To lay eyes on him means either heartbreak or death depending on how the winds blow that day. In “Eating Crow” and “Marked,” one woman attempts to elude the hunter and pays with her heart; the other tries to bargain with him and pays with her life.

War and Transformation

The Glass

A sun’s cycle had passed since Solfaron set its predatory gaze on the Glass. With a warrior’s edgy calm, Liros had told Pael that he lived on the wrong side of the border, in the wrong land, with his forest, his visions, and his sacred observatory. But Pael cared little for his older brother’s admonitions. He loved the land of Moth with all his heart; he had touched the towering crystal observatory of the Glass and he knew what it could do. Solfaron could try to take it but they would fail. Only his love for Liros kept Pael concerned with it at all. War did not affect him, a mystic living in the wilds like an animal.

He questioned this now, as he ran for his life beneath the thunder of warhorses and the shouts of his brother’s men. – From “DeathSeer”

War destroys the fortresses of innocence with the awesome indifference of a natural force such as an earthquake or a hurricane. Whatever its causes or intentions, it changes things. Permanently. But while it can drive us to the depths of human depravity, sometimes, as with any traumatic event, it can also awaken us to our potential. In “The Bridge,” “DeathSeer” and “Earth Blood,” a priestess and two warriors find themselves caught in wars that strip the veils from their eyes to reveal their true natures.

Awakening Gods

The Temple of Math

Between the gnarled, twisted trunks of two oak trees loomed a black opening. Roots draped over and around the darkness inside as if to feed on it. Sethren walked slowly, his body aching and his heart pounding, until he stood at the threshold. Cool air breathed from the shadows. He could barely discern the images in the cracked stones for the moss and ivies clinging in the lines—except for one at the top: an interlocking five-pointed star with a black stone eye in the center.

Five points, five lines and a raven’s eye.

He had found the Temple of Math. – From “The War God Sleeps”

Some say that everything we know is the dream of a god. I am fascinated by the idea of a sleeping god, a being who comes from and must occasionally return to the quiescence of the womb, as all things do, for healing, renewal and rebirth. In “The War God Sleeps” and “The Origin,” one god is awakened by a mortal; the other, by his own creation.

Love

dormouse-in-ivy

Movement caught his attention. In the distance, Rosamond sat on the edge of the rushing water, on a wide rock, her long legs bared and her face tilted back to the sun like a contented cat.

Urien called out with enough force to shake the ground. “ROSAMOND!”

She stirred, beamed a glorious smile and waved.

Urien’s foreboding rose with the force of the river. He cupped his hands to his mouth. “Get away from the water!”

Her smile faded as she turned. From the north, an enormous bore from an unseen tide rose up into a wall of crashing, maleficent, white-green waves. Rosamond shrieked and jumped up. Urien raised his hands and cried a string of words that rent the course like a scythe, but he could not drop the river before it swept her into its foamy clutches without a sound. – From “Raven of the West”

Love, being every bit as powerful as, if not easily compared to, a creepy forest, naturally rears its head in most of these stories. But in “The Om Tree,” “Pattern Sense” and “Raven of the West,” an assassin, a knitter and a wizard are caught up in love’s brambles and encounter their powers there.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

Ranger of the North Branch

Othin of Cae Forres

Othin of Cae Forres

From Outpost, Book One in The Fylking.

The King’s Rangers are an elite brotherhood of warriors who keep order in the wilds of Dyrregin. They are seasoned, skilled in fighting, traversing and surviving in rough terrain and dangerous circumstances, and employ a complex system of messaging through riders and ravens trained to scout patrol routes and recognize their rangers’ appearance. The rangers report directly to the King through five captains who command the areas within the arms of the Gate pentacle: North Branch, East Branch, Southeast Branch, Southwest Branch, and West Branch. The rangers’ motto is “We keep the balance when the gods turn away.”

Rangers' Coat of Arms

Rangers’ Coat of Arms

Othin of Cae Forres, shown above, is a Ranger of the North Branch. Named after the Raven God (Othin is an alternate spelling of Odin), a god of wisdom, trickery and war, he serves his brotherhood with honor until the woman he loves, a peasant girl named Melisande who is touched by the gods, gets him into trouble. For love of her, he lands on the wrong side of a political trap and flees into the wilds to save his skin and discover truth amid a rat’s nest of deception and betrayal.

Storms of War

When war seizes the realm, Othin must navigate bounty hunters, the living dead abominations of a renegade warlock, and a mysterious Otherworld shade that might be friend or foe. But his greatest challenge will be dealing with a malevolent immortal warlord who has set his sights on Melisande.

All in a day’s work…

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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.