Monsters, Art and the Voice of God

“In order to be created, a work of art must first make use of the dark forces of the soul.” – Albert Camus

I like dark things. When it comes to art, whether it’s literary, visual, musical or cinematic, I like it complex, subtle, not easily categorized and reeking of the shadow realms. It needs to affect me, to change me somehow. The most interesting thing about art is that the mystery exists in every form and genre, to whatever extent, like a ghostly silver thread that will lead you across the veil, should you be so inclined.

Dark Shadows (1966-1971). Vintage gothic horror at its finest…

This is not to say everything has to be high-end sophisticated. Far from it. I’ll trawl over that flashy, highly acclaimed drama film for a monster splatter flick every time, like a cat ignoring an expensive toy to play with a crumpled-up candy wrapper. I know monsters. They are the ultimate metaphor for the dank recesses of the psyche, where I like to play.

Consciousness loves contrast, as my beloved old psychologist used to say. If you face down the deepest, darkest abyss of your soul, you’ll break through to the other side. To the light. And vice versa: fly into the sun and you’ll plunge, flaming, into the chthonic depths. And again, and again. After years on this circus ride, I thought I was crazy. Surely, there were psychiatric terms for this, arbitrary labels to categorize the forces of existence, none of them nice. Here, take this pill to filter down that high amplitude, high frequency sine wave so you can be normal.

Yeah, fuck that. I don’t wanna be normal. But this was existential and so intense that I eventually fled to my aforementioned psychologist nonetheless, and it was she who posited the idea that these energies are inherently creative. Once I put that together, I became a maelstrom. I wrote books, painted, gardened, made music—all the things I’d always loved but never connected to the turbulence.

So the other night, I sat down to watch something. On a whim, I clicked on this movie I’d seen float by a zillion times: A Monster Calls. Cute little boy, coming of age, dying mother, invisible friend, etc. Typically, unless it’s a fairy tale or particularly well-done epic fantasy, my favorite stories about kids involve camping trips in remote places where a werewolf or an alien picks them off one by one. Not that I’m a curmudgeonly wicked witch or anything—well ok, I am but whatever—this is more about the power of metaphor. To make art, an innocent part of us must die.

Enter the implacable forces of the unconscious. I watched this movie as if my life depended on it. It went into my cleverly organized perception of who I am and demolished it like a wrecking ball. It hit every little thing. Rotten Tomatoes called this movie “trite and overly melodramatic.” There might have been a day when I thought that (doubtful). But not this day. When it was over, I fell apart like an old cicada shell, sobbing my guts out as I realized I had a choice to make around something I’d been hiding from for years.

A monster, if you will.

Ergo, art is necessary to existence—and ultimately subjective. Where one person sees dreck, another hears the voice of god.

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

A Small Yet Complex Universe

The Kingdom. Enter at your peril.

Next to books and cats, keeping fishes is one of my greatest passions. When it comes to my aquarium, however, I am careful not to let my geeky, insufferable excitement trip into claiming I’m anything remotely resembling an expert. This is one of those The more I know, the less I know things.

An aquarium is an ecosystem, a small yet complex universe where everything is connected and working together to sustain and create life. I’ve learned more respect for the natural world by keeping aquariums than I have any other thing. Nature is mind-blowingly smart. She makes beautiful things look easy. In an aquarium, where every parameter (and there are lots of these) is up to the keeper, the slightest deviation can throw things out of balance, often to unfortunate results. It’s magical in that you’re amazed when things work, terrified when they don’t, and in either case you probably have no idea why.

My freshwater aquarium is full of live plants and as many critters as I can give homes to without causing Mother Nature to frown disapprovingly. And here comes the geeky part: you’re getting a tour, oh yes. Do stay on the path, lest something eat you like a shrimp flake.

Haunted Castle. I’ve had this castle for quite some time. It used to be dark with red roofs. Now it’s weathered, and looks especially creepy covered in black algae. Yeah don’t get me started on black algae. (Nature: 1; Faith: 0) Thankfully, my lovely snails eat the stuff (Nature: 1; Faith: 1), leaving the castle ghostly and abandoned but for the kuhlii loaches, who have special powers and aren’t afraid of ghosts. They like to prowl around in there and wriggle out the windows.

Enchanted Mountain. The natives will warn you about this place (see, there’s one up top, and you’d best heed him). Even the black algae avoids the mountain. (Nature: 1; Faith: 2) Lurking beneath a lush canopy of Cryptocoryne wendtii, the rock face rises toward the stars, whispering just below the threshold of hearing. The aliens hear it. The cave witch too, probably.

The Enchanted Mountain

Old Forest. Here is a tangled thicket you wouldn’t want to get lost in. The water wisteria (Hygrophila difformis) is hungry, crazy stuff, sending out roots everywhere which grow into more trees. The java fern (Leptochilus pteropus) in the corner grows on a weirdly shaped piece of driftwood that forms a cave network underneath. This is a popular place for wayward fishes to skulk or hook up. Maybe both. I’m not judging. What happens in the Old Forest stays in the Old Forest.

The Old Forest

Witch Cave. Deep within the Old Forest, this is the most dangerous place of all. The witch who lives here knows all your demons, and if you’re mad enough to go see her, she’ll summon them. Those plants guarding the opening will close around you. They have teeth and eyes, you know. Fishes have been known to go into the cave and never come out. True story. (Nature: 2; Faith: 2)

Ferocious Dragon. Well, he’s not actually that ferocious, lurking there next to the Witch Cave. His name is Desmond, and he’s friends with the witch. The algae eaters keep him looking spiffy, and the toothy plants tell him stories. The snails like him, too. Desmond is an all around good guy, really. For a dragon.

 

From left to right: Bristlenose, Nerite Snail, Kuhlii

Bristlenose Catfish (Ancistrus cirrhosus). This is a beautiful, industrious little fish with a big ventral suckermouth and these gnarly, fleshly tentacles on its snout. It looks prehistoric, and probably is. It’s cool to catch the beastie on the glass, where you can see the inner workings of its mouth. If you’re into such things.

Nerite Snails (Neritina natalensis). These interesting creatures move very slowly, when they move at all (they actually sleep), creeping along over everything and keeping it clean. They have powers of teleportation. No kidding, you can be watching one snailing over the glass in the corner, look away for two minutes and swoop! that sucker is clear on the other side of the tank and you’ve no idea how it got there. Sneaky.

Kuhlii Loach (Pangio kuhlii). How I love these critters. The kuhlii looks like a little eel with gills, fins and tiny, beady eyes. They are shy, peaceful creatures, and have no scales as such, making them sensitive to changes in the aforementioned water parameters (Nature: 3; Faith: 2), but this gives them their special powers. They are bottom feeders, and slither around beneath the plants and driftwood, and in the caves. They are also known to hang out in the Witch Cave, where they snack on demons.

The rest of the fishes, I love dearly of course, but I won’t wear out my welcome like an introvert at a party who gets started talking about books or scifi horror movies or something. So I’ll swim away for now. May you all stay well, and don’t overfeed the fish (Nature: 5678042; Faith: 2).

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Forests and the Art of Metaphor

Forest at Twilight, Gustave Doré

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. ― John Muir

I recently saw an image of a tangled forest and thought, “Wow, that feels like the inside of my head.” Then I started to think about that.

The forest is a rich and venerable metaphor for the unconscious, a wild realm where the sun and moon cast shadows indiscernible from the shapes to which they belong; where sound travels strangely and without reference; where creatures can be of this world or the other. Storytellers figured this out a very long time ago, and psychology took it from there, recognizing the nature of forests in the human psyche, complete with predators, hungry roots and vines, mist, vanishing paths, will ‘o the wisps, terror and awe.

Silvery Trees by F.T. McKinstry

The fantasy genre, one step away from fairy tales, if that, is the singular province of the dense, hoary wood. Having written fantasy in one form or another for the better part of my life (and I’m not young), I don’t think I’ve ever written a story without a forest in it somewhere, filled with whispers, prowling things, assassins, spies, fugitives, hidden temples, witches, immortal predators, goblins, phooka, draugr and the like. The forest symbolizes the infinite and inscrutable realm of the unknown, assuming one is brave — or daft — enough to venture in. Of course, there’s always a price to pay for such heroics. But who listens? Fairy tale protagonists are notoriously foolish — as are we all, innocent one moment and facing the monstrous forces of the soul the next.

The rule of thumb is, one finds in the wood what one brings there.

Just the wind…

Psychologically speaking, everyone knows the spooky forest. You can’t be human and not know this. When your life falls apart, when trauma or grief plows into you and shatters your general sense of who, where, or what you are, when you lose your bearings in the unsettling twilight of change, it’s like being lost in an old dark forest, the domain of shadows, tricksters and things that don’t have your best interests in mind. Unnerving enough by day but unthinkable at night, the forest will convince you that there’s no way out. It is a living, breathing being in which you are a tiny thing.

The spooky forest metaphor happens at the collective level, too. Let’s take 2020. For whatever reason — and there’s a fucking Halloween bag full of theories about that — this year was a perfect storm of unfortunate events all tangled up together for the seeming purpose of bringing out the worst in humanity — and I mean all of it, whatever side you’re on. It feels like a bleak, old haunted forest where everyone is lost, confused, and thoroughly pissed off, darting and stumbling around screaming and pumping rounds into anything that moves. Like all fairy tale forests, this one has no gate, no path, only shadows and mirrors. And the only way out is to face down both within ourselves. Put another way:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is in you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. – Gospel of Thomas

The Fairy Pool, ca. 1850 by Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña

It’s not all gloom and doom, of course. If you’re clever, curious, brave and respectful (rude fairy tale protagonists always get their comeuppance), you might befriend an owl or a fox who knows all paths, or be helped by an old witch who decides the trolls don’t need a snack today, or you might step into a golden ray of sun that finds its way through the canopy to give you hope.

Whatever you do, don’t go waving around an axe or a torch. Because, you know, Fangorn.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Creepy Bugs and the Mind of a Warlock

As Vaethir gazed down, torture began to appeal to him. Something involving the souls of warlocks. A rusty sword. Leopard moths. The entrails of horses. Something that would lay this man bare and dissolve the layers of his presumptions. – The Wolf Lords, Book Two, The Fylking

It’s amazing, the things that come up while writing. When I was a little kid, I had some horrid cousins. I was at a family picnic and a leopard moth landed on my arm. This was terrifying enough, but when one of my cousins said, “Oh, they BITE!” I screamed bloody murder, prompting my father to put me in the car to think about this egregious indiscretion.

Enter Vaethir of the Dragon Clan, Commander of Niflsekt Covert Operations, Destroyer of the Math Gate, High Vardlokk of Chaos. Years later, while I was writing The Wolf Lords, this character, an immortal warlock who had infiltrated the world and employed an ancient order of sorcerers to work their unsavory arts on his behalf, grew weary of their tendency to hide things from him. As he briefly considered torture, what did I think of? You guessed it! Add the leopard moth to my comprehensive collection of childhood trauma, a great source of writing material.

What the High Vardlokk of Chaos planned to do with the leopard moth, well, I didn’t go into that. It was just too horrible.

In retrospect, Hypercompe scribonia is a beautiful, harmless creature, unless you’re five and you have evil cousins. Then, we get the warlock involved. Yeah. I showed them, didn’t I.

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.

“A truly masterful achievement.”
SPFBO Finalist

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover ArtThe Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

A wounded immortal warlock bent on reprisal.
An ancient order of sorcerers hungry for power.
Warriors beset by armies of demons and immortals.
And a lonely hedge witch whose dark secrets could change everything.
…If only they could find her.

“This is a gem of a novel.”

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

In Praise of Yule and the Winter Warlock

Winter Light

Winter Light


Merry Yule!

I confess, Christmas didn’t mean much to me as a kid. Family issues, religion and commercialism left me disillusioned. Ironically, my sensitive tendencies made me an accomplished shapeshifter when the need arose, allowing me to wear a happy kid face on the surface of a shadowy river of sadness. It wasn’t all bad, of course. I liked the music and the lights. But something was missing.

This was before the internet and the mainstream resurgence of things like Wicca, the old gods, and honoring one’s ancestry. I don’t think anyone ever explained the winter solstice to me, let alone its meaning in a spiritual context. I grew up in Houston, it was hot, and every day looked a lot like the next. A spark flickered in my heart when I touched the pagan roots of this season, even if it was only a Christmas classic about places that had snow, reindeer and spruce trees. I loved those stop motion animation specials like Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, with the snowy mountains, elves, little friendly helpful animals, the Winter Warlock, the monster trees, the Burgermeister Meisterburger and the 1960s swirly stoner graphics. I wanted all the stories about love and light to be true, even as I buckled under the stress that came with the very thing.

So I left home first chance I got and came north. Over the years I continued my emotional salvage operation, even after I had abandoned religion, turned to the natural world and amassed a library of books about things that kept the spark alive and helped me grow into my nature like a rooting tree. But I soon discovered that many “pagan” systems, while engaging, were missing something too.

Dark Mountains

Everyone wants to be a witch until it’s time to do witch shit. I’m not talking about setting up altars, growing herbs, gathering magical tools and praying to the old gods. That’s all cool, it creates a space, an atmosphere, a place to focus one’s intentions, much like going to church is to others. It has a purpose. But I still felt empty. I wanted connection. I wanted to be the thing and lo! oh dear if that desire didn’t put me right into the shadowy river of sadness. It was still there, sapping my light, even as I gazed into a candle on Yule to honor the return of the sun.

Then I learned something. It began with the idea that everything is connected, a popular idea now. But it’s easy to blur an idea like that into something nebulous, even impracticable, because it has such far-reaching implications. I came into December this year on a leaky raft of depression and doom that no holiday cheer could lighten; wave after wave of it, as if something had tuned my radio dial into all the sorrows of the world and the seeming hopelessness of another long winter. I cried a lot. I wanted to die. The darkness was crushing me. Until, at some point, remembering myself, I stopped and said, Where is this coming from?

Then I realized I was riding a wave that had its roots in my blood, in the bark of spruce trees, snowflakes, bears, wolves and love too, binding it all together even as it drew me into the void along with every sad and toxic pattern in my heart, my body, the projects I’m too afraid to start, some heartbreak or another, a belief in worthlessness, the white hair in the shower drain. All flowing down into the darkness of the longest night, one of the countless, elegant ways nature releases the old to the new. The rebirth of the sun. It’s one thing to celebrate that as the beautiful thing it is; it’s another when the shift is happening in the self, inexorably, in sync, as if beckoned. Everything is connected.

Witch shit happens.

Wishing you and yours all the love and light of the season in whatever way you keep it. Blessed Be!

 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Introverts, Geeks and Podcasts

Lone Wolf, by F.T. McKinstry

When I was a kid, the term “introvert” had a negative stigma, like some kind of amorphous, withering social ineptitude or something. Having quite enough insecurities, I limped along thinking that what I now know are classic introvert tendencies as bad, broken, neurotic traits easily written off to being dramatically tormented.

Nowadays, light shines upon introversion as perfectly natural. People are coming forward from the shadows and owning up to it. Dedicated Facebook pages and shit. I like to think of introverts as people who process things differently. There. Vague and yet intriguing. Even so, I still avoided the title, until I mentioned this to my therapist who, bless her soul, leaned forward in her chair and laughed like a harpy. Point taken.

Harpies in the infernal wood, Gustave Doré


So after some research, the most clinically valid “Are you an introvert?” tests I could find, and some soul searching in the dusty crypts of my youth, I joined in the harpy laughter. I’m off the charts, and while I’m still not into wearing the introvert thing around, I have learned to be aware and not bite the hand that feeds me.

Enter my quest to become a 21st century author and bring myself and my work out into the light to be seen. Toward this end, I set out to do things like interviews, ask-the-author sessions, podcasts and the like. (Anyone who gets the introvert thing should be suitably chilled by this.) My first podcast was with Jamie Davis on Fantasy Focus. Jamie is a great guy, he put me at ease and assured me that editing cures all ills. So I jumped in, geek cape flying.

Until Jamie asked me an excellent question. “So tell me about the Otherworld,” he says, with a fascinated smile in his voice. I froze and spiraled to the ground like a hero with a tragic flaw.

The Fool, Rider-Waite Tarot

There is nothing as breathtaking and terrifying as the fall of innocence. This doesn’t just happen once, you know; we’re all innocent of something. In the Tarot, this pattern is depicted as “The Fool.” Here he is, setting off on a new dream, a fresh start, he’s baked by the excitement and hope of it all but oh dear! he’s headed for that cliff edge. And there’s his little dog, the voice of his better sense, nipping at his heels saying, “Hey. Um, for what it’s worth, I think this is a lousy idea…” but who listens to that noise?

The Otherworld. I’ve built fantasy empires around it. I’m half immersed in the real thing. For my own books, particularly The Fylking, I did what many high fantasy authors do and made it vast, complex and dear to my heart — but when Jamie asked me to elaborate, all I could manage was a desolate “Uhh…” It was like standing by a deep, raging river and trying to reach out to catch a cupful. Finally, Jamie rescued me and mentioned the Fae. Oh yes, I said — the river is roaring — but, I’m thinking, but this, and that, and then there’s this other thing — I dropped the cup and watched it vanish — oh gods there’s not enough editing in the world that can save this.

Of course afterward, I spent days spinning up the most spectacular dissertations of the Otherworld you can imagine. But it was too late. The Fool was still falling, deaf to his little dog far above, barking wildly. Or so I thought. It was just fine, of course. As promised.

Now wiser, I did another podcast with the folks at The High Fantasy Podcast. I fretted over things, of course, but none of it stuck. We had an epic geekfest that warmed my soul.

Finally, I was interviewed by the wonderful E.G. Stone, in which we talked about Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. It was great fun.

In closing, here’s my thumbnail definition of the Otherworld from Outpost: Terms and Places.

Otherworld: The vast realm of the unseen existing beyond time and space; the source and reflection of physical events. Inhabited by an infinite variety of beings referred to as Others, including nature spirits, elves, goblins, phooka, planetary entities and other natural forces. This includes the Fylking, who occupy the unseen dimensions and are often, though not always, respected as gods. The Otherworld can be perceived by mortals with second sight, though interaction can be dangerous and is ill advised without training and protection. See also Fylking. See posts The Phooka, Goblins and Creepy Horses.

Others

Blessed Samhain, by the way. Heed not the laughter of harpies.

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Creativity and the Fallen Warrior

For three days I’ve been sitting her under a pile of chores and things that need doing. I’m not doing them. I don’t care.

I’ve lost someone I loved to cancer just recently. My cat is sick. I’m sick. In the news, another fifty people were senselessly killed in New Zealand by some fanatic. Another creature sliding onto the endangered species list. Wildfires. Glaciers collapsing. The usual array of messed up, cruel and childish bullshit in Congress. Trump and his stupid fucking border wall. Politicians ranting about every injustice to get us all stirred up for the 2020 elections. Authors and artists begging for clicks. I drift through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, taking the blows.

The only things I respond to now with any glimmer of life are humor, animals, and beautiful things. An otter crunching on a crab. A homeless man giving his last bit of food to a stray dog. A friend’s garden. Esther the Wonder Pig. A funny meme. Anything involving cats. A cool upcoming film about a monster hunter. But every time I laugh or squee, I feel like an asshole. Where are my tears and indignation?

A friend on Facebook recently posted a funding campaign for cancer. It’s not that I don’t care; how could I not? But my mind shut down and I didn’t touch it. And when he posted a picture of his cat I hit the love button. Why? Because the need for support felt like a black hole, while the cat let a ray of light into my heart. Maybe I really am an asshole.

Truth is, I’m numb.

I see plea after plea. We’re all suffering, we all have issues. We must band together to protect and stand for each other, for the environment, for truth and justice. Yes, we must. But when I try to rise and lift my sword, I crumple under the weight. I’m so tired of grief, pain and outrage. It’s incessant. There are only so many times my heart can get hit before it closes down to protect itself. My inner warrior is sitting under a tree, shit drunk, glassy eyed, darkening the earth with the blood of a thousand wounds. Where is all this resolve supposed to come from?

Numb.

Trouble is, I’m not an asshole. The reason I go out and surf the internet fifty times a day is to find things that remind me that my heart is still open. That it can be. That it’s worth keeping that way.

It’s been months since I’ve written or painted anything of note. I need to heal and I feel like a stagnant pool in an old forest, oily and choked with slime, abandoned by frogs, snakes and salamanders. I spend most nights reading fantasy novels and binging on Dark Shadows. But today I remembered something.

The Source

The Source, by F.T. McKinstry

Creativity. It’s one of those words we hear so often that the meaning is lost. To me it’s everything, the source of hope. Anything is possible. But the creative force is tricky. Firstly, the very senses that make me creative are those which expose me to the pain. Close one down and lose the other. Open my heart to the healing waters and I’ll get annihilated. But then there’s this other thing. I can’t shut off the creative force for long; it finds me. It’s very clever. Pain and trauma aren’t the end-all be-all, oh no. They’re like an engine, driving me. All the books and stories I’ve written, the paintings, drawings and poetry. Warriors, seers, sorcerers, old forests, animals, the in-between realms. My realms. Metaphors, visions, psychological archetypes.

Healing. The world would have us believe it isn’t possible. That there is only dissolution, deterioration. How can that be true when we are all creators? Just look around. There are no limits to this. It’s infinite. Divine, even.

I mean c’mon. The cat memes alone…

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Demon Tamer

This story is based on an excerpt from The Wolf Lords. It’s a tale about a hedge witch, two dodgy ravens and a sea monster with a score to settle.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Old women tell tales of Otherworld beings one must never tangle with. Powerful, elusive and malevolent, these beings will lay traps around one’s ignorance and need, if given the chance. But once in an age, a mortal comes along who dares to either cross or bargain with such creatures…and a darker tale is born.

Ingifrith, an ordinary hedge witch, thinks little of such tales until she falls afoul of the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. They know her secrets. They know her weaknesses. And she has something they want.

So does the sea witch who lures and traps her into a nasty bargain—in return for protection from the Brotherhood’s reach. Fleeing for her life with nothing but a scrap of advice given to her by a demon warlord, Ingifrith must use her wits to trick a seasoned pirate out of a stolen charm, a feat that will either get her killed or placed in the hands of the sorcerers hunting her.

It’s often a good idea to heed old women.

Hell Hath No Fury

Novelette
Pages: 43
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© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Swords, Sorcery and the Summer Solstice


Midsummer Greetings!

Where I live, the winters are long and dark. Summer is fleeting, like a dream in which you can’t recall the bitter cold, muck and gloom of the last seven or eight months. Summer has an almost fairytale quality here, it is so clear, fresh, green and fragrant. No doubt the fact that it flies by so swiftly makes it poignant, like a swan song, and on no day is this so evident as on the solstice, the longest day. After its spectacular sigh, we descend into shorter days again and the curve is so steep, it’s noticeable. By August the shadows start to feel weird.

Cosmic Garden

Cosmic Garden, by F.T. McKinstry

What better day for swords, sorcery, demons and wicked warlords? Na, I can’t think of one either. So for the next month, both books in The Fylking series, Outpost and The Wolf Lords, will be on sale for $1.99. Yep, for the price of a potted geranium you can venture into a Norse-inspired world where the veil is thin, the gods walk and the sword is the order of the day.

What could possibly go wrong? Hah!

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Fylking, a high fantasy series woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery.

In the worlds of their dominion they are called the Fylking, lovers of strife, song and steel, an immortal race of warriors akin to the Otherworld. Their empires span the heavens; their deities, ruled by the elusive Raven God, embody the forces of war, wisdom, passion and nature.

This series tells the exploits of the Fylking and their mortal observers — warriors, royals, seers, lovers, warlocks and mercenaries — generations upon generations coexisting in uneasy peace with the Gods of War.

Both books contain a glossary and a link to a high resolution map.

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

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover ArtThe Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

A wounded immortal warlock bent on reprisal.
An ancient order of sorcerers hungry for power.
Warriors beset by armies of demons and immortals.
And a lonely hedge witch whose dark secrets could change everything–
If only they could find her.

“Awesome book. Loved the first book also. I hope there will be more in the series.” – Customer Review on Amazon

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Georgie, Herald of Wickedness

I recently had the honor of sharing this on Mighty Thor JRS, an awesome blog to follow if you’re into Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Vikings and Norse Mythology. Here it is again in case you missed it.

Beasties

When I was a little kid, my mother would read me stories from a vintage 1960s Childcraft book. Well (clears throat), it wasn’t vintage then but whatever. My favorite story was called “Georgie,” about a ghost that haunted an old New England house and its kindly owners. Georgie wasn’t a bad ghost, just a little confused. I related to him. The addition of Herman the cat and Miss Oliver the owl permanently embedded this tale in my subconscious—or perhaps it was the other way around. Hard to tell.

Anyway, as it turns out, Georgie was a herald. All my favorite tales involve the Otherworld in one way or another, whether it’s a ghost, a vampire, an elf, a god or mortals such as shamans or witches who negotiate with such beings. I went from devouring high fantasy, swords and sorcery, and fairy tales to creating worlds of my own in which, despite Georgie’s charm, I quickly discovered a natural penchant for the darker side of things.

Of course, “dark” is a complex term that means different things to everyone. In my head it might take shape as a creepy, sightless demon that chews your face off, a malevolent phooka that will promise you one thing but deliver another, an elven warlock that might be your friend but probably isn’t, that cold finger on your spine at the thought of traveling through that particular forest, or the grim, sickening despair in your gut after a sorcerer curses you and you know you’re going to die.

Poor Georgie! He fell in with a bad crowd. Well, that’s what happens when you listen to the cat.

Being a votary of Tolkien since around Georgie’s time, I am strongly influenced by Northern European folklore and Norse mythology, which formed a custom groundwork in my high fantasy series The Fylking. Add to this palette works like The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski, which is a motherlode of creepy, nasty fairytale monsters and the bastards who hunt them, or Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, one of my favorite anti-heroes, and inspiration knows no bounds.

Here are some of my favorite beasties.

Draugr, Goblins and Phooka

Draugr. The draugr is an undead creature in Norse mythology. While often compared to a zombie, this creature is a bit more sophisticated. In Old Norse, draugr means “ghost,” but it’s closer to a vampire. Accounts vary, but generally, the draugr are described as walking dead warriors with superhuman strength, the ability to shapeshift, and the unmistakable stench of decay. They are implacable, seek vengeance and will kill anything that crosses their nightly rampages. In Outpost, these beasties bear these traditional attributes, but they are also given life by an immortal warlock with his own agenda. They are not bound to the night and, because of their otherworldly origin, they appear half somewhere else, are demonic and malevolent, cannot be killed and can only be released by the magician who created them.

Forget honor. While inhumanly strong, the draugr are only as skilled in arms and familiar with the land as the men they once were. Distract and disable. If overrun, flee.Outpost, Book One in The Fylking

Goblins. Nasty, foul-mouthed, wicked creatures. You would not want to cross their path, let alone offend them. Arcmael, the protagonist of Outpost, does both. He is a seer and a servant of the Fylking, immortal, unseen warlords who hold dominion over the realm. Arcmael lands on the bad side of the Otherworld, where most beings revere the Fylking as gods. But goblins revere nothing. They capture Arcmael and throw him in the bowels of their palace. Aside from his being fed some really disgusting fare, I won’t spoil what happens.

Truss him up! Drag him hither! Bind his limbs! Make him slither!Outpost, Book One in The Fylking

 
Phooka. The name has many variations which show up in Celtic cultures throughout Northwestern Europe. In Irish, púca means “spirit” or “ghost.” The Old Norse term pook or puki refers to a “nature spirit.” This creature is a shape changer, part human at times, or part or all animal such as a goat or a horse, always with dark fur. Bleak, uncanny and generally wicked, the phooka is best to be avoided; yet can also be beneficial depending on mood or circumstance. In Outpost and The Wolf Lords, a phooka summoned by a desperate sorcerer wreaks havoc as only a phooka can.

The village girl who went missing and was found on the last dark moon, floating in her uncle’s millpond, was said to have been fey and prone to accidents. A comforting tale. Leofwine saw the poor creature’s death in the runes: drowning by twilight, the pale green eyes of the phooka glinting on the surface of the pond.The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking

The Phooka

So if you’re into monsters, creepy creatures, fiends and the idgits who cross them, I have goodies for you. Don’t worry. I won’t tell Georgie.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry 
The Chronicles of Ealiron features wizards, warriors, gods, a wolfish apparition with an agenda, clever ravens, a dastardly winged predator and an immortal sea serpent.

 
The Hunter’s Rede, Book One. Lorth of Ostarin is a hunter of men. Lawless, solitary and obscure, he is trained in magic and its inherent order. This uneasy combination of pitilessness and structure has made him the highest paid assassin in the land. It is also about to throw his life into chaos.

The trouble begins when Lorth returns home from a long absence to find his old haunts compromised by a cruel, upstart warlord who has invaded the realm and pushed it to the brink of war. Lorth’s cavalier attempt to elude a political sandpit quickly deteriorates into a series of skirmishes that he negotiates with a sword and a reckless penchant for using magic against the rules. He flees with a price on his head; but no angry warlords, wizards, foreign aristocrats or spooky apparitions can rattle him from the dark stability of his profession—until he is captured and condemned to execution by a formidable wizard who serves the old powers.

In his quest to prove his innocence and loyalty to the realm, Lorth discovers the value of his conflict between war and wizardry. But his quest turns bloody when love for a priestess and a will to avenge his homeland drives him to infiltrate an enemy occupation bent on domination and a blatant disregard for the forces of magic. This brings him to his greatest test, where he must surrender to the darkness of his nature to become a hunter unlike anything he has ever known.

The Fylking involves immortal warlords, elves, goblins, phooka, draugr, demons, warlocks, witches, sorcerers and all the trouble one can find dealing with them.

Outpost, Book One. 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.

The Wolf Lords, Book Two. The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.