The Spooky Forest

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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 “Water Dark”

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 “Water Dark,” 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.

Wizards, Woods and Gods

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The Otherworld takes shape in this collection of twelve stories told on a rich, fairytale tapestry of swords, sorcery, romance, dreams, visions and verse. Some of these stories inspired my novels; others were inspired by them; and some take place in the same worlds. Many of these stories have been published in fantasy/scifi magazines.

This second edition, available in ebook and print, includes Water Dark, a novella that takes place in the world featured in the Chronicles of Ealiron. The first edition ebook of Wizards, Woods and Gods was published by Wild Child Publishing, 2012; and Water Dark was published by Wild Child Publishing, 2013.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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.

Water Dark – 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.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

WWG Print Cover ArtSecond Edition
175 pages
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© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Software Engineering and the Chasm between Science and Magic

Today I have the honor of being a guest over at Fantasy Book Critic, one of the ten bloggers participating in Mark Lawrence’s 2016 Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. I’ll be talking about software engineering, genre definitions, the merits of having nerve, the subtle yet indisputable element of science fiction in Outpost, and the chasm between science and magic. It’s a geekfest. You can check it out there, or read it below.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling

Way back when I had a respectable job, I took some college courses in software engineering. One of them was on compilers, a software program that transforms programming language into machine language used by a computer processor. I sat in there amid a serious bunch of guys wielding thick glasses, pocket protectors and computer science degrees, and I felt like an impostor. For my final exam, I wrote the front end of a compiler in AWK (anyone who knows what that is gets an Award of Excellence in Geekery). I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had imagination and a lot of nerve. I also feared the worst. When the instructor handed me my graded final, I expected him to say, “Who are you and what are you doing in this class?” Instead, he said, “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.” He gave me an A.

Turns out, this is an obscure metaphor for my take on fantasy and science fiction.

I spent the better part of my childhood reading not only speculative fiction but also the esoteric things that inspire it. I was the kind of kid who would do a book report on Hermetic occultism or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I was more somewhere else than here, but oddly, this taught me about reality. I never bothered to define the difference between fantasy and science fiction; now, I couldn’t say how many novels there are mixing strong elements of both. It’s a challenge to mix them without throwing out the definitions. Genres tend to blur over time, and then split into sub-genres, because gods forbid we can’t conveniently define something.

exileFor the sake of argument, let’s call these genres distinct and go with classical definitions. To my mind, Science Fiction starts on a foundation of what’s known and provable, usually involving technological advances, the state of civilization, etc., and goes from there. Think Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke or Becoming Human by Valerie J. Freireich. Fantasy deals more in the realms of myth, fairy tales and the unreal, usually involving magic or otherworldly forces—and that’s not to say it has to be soft or without rugged themes or realities. In this context, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings is definitive; the Legend of Drizzt series by R.A. Salvatore, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle are exemplary.

In fantasy, within reason, you can do anything if you can imagine it. This is probably why I’ve always leaned towards this genre, particularly the epic or high sub-genres where nearly everything is made up aside from basic references that serve to ground us in the story; for example, a medieval setting. I’ve written some science fiction, but it’s not my first love and despite a long and varied high tech career, I avoid writing it for the same reason I hid beneath an invisibility cloak in compiler class: Impostor! It’s a world full of geeks and somebody will call me out.

And yet, by way of my aforementioned nerve, I went there.

After writing Outpost, which is decidedly fantasy—if not epic or high fantasy if we want to get persnickety—I wrote this little tag line: “Epic fantasy entwined with Norse mythology and a touch of science fiction.” I must have taken out and put back in “a touch of science fiction” a dozen times. Finally, I removed it, but it left a stain. No science fiction here! I grumped, and then I thought about it—an interdimensional portal with specific dimensions and geometry built by extraterrestrial warlords to travel to and from other planets without having to wait for rare planetary alignments, humans trained in the principles of light, crystals, and energy so they can maintain the power source—Yeah yeah, ok. A touch of science fiction.

Odin Rides to Hel

“Odin Rides to Hel” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood

But it’s subtle. Said warlords are immortal, like elves, they are essentially Vikings—albeit highly evolved ones—and walk alongside warlocks, goblins, draugr and gods. Reprieved! The idea here touches on Arthur C. Clarke’s venerable quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In other words, what’s real? There is a seeming chasm in our society between science and magic; what’s acceptable as real and what’s not; and this is evident in these genre definitions. There’s a feel to it. However, as the advance of quantum theory is showing us, this chasm is itself an illusion.

Ergo, I can write the front end of a compiler in any language I want. Hold my beer.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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.

“McKinstry’s book proves to be one of the best independently published fantasy novels of the past year. Tense, gritty, exciting, and romantic, Outpost is a tale avid fantasy readers won’t want to miss.” – Self-Publishing Review

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© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Lorth of Ostarin

Lorth of Ostarin

“Lorth of Ostarin serves himself first, the Otherworld second, and the rest of us last.” – From The Riven God

A driving force throughout the Chronicles of Ealiron, Lorth of Ostarin is a complex character with a bent towards bringing things to their darkest ends. Lorth was born to a mysterious warrior he never knew and a peasant woman who died when Lorth was a small boy. He is raised by a wizard who trains him in the arts of magic, against the tenets of his order. When he reaches manhood, Lorth leaves his mentor and seeks his fortune as an assassin, a trade to which he is well suited and well paid, as he uses his arcane skills to hunt. Tall and lean with the pale skin of a Northman, Lorth’s most distinguishing characteristics are his eyes, which are green-gold and penetrating, like those of a wolf; and a five-rayed scar on his neck left by a near-fatal spider bite.

While ambivalent in his loyalties to humans, Lorth likes animals, finding them to be true guides and companions in the wilds of his dark business. It is not unusual to find Lorth in the company of ravens, clever, opportunistic creatures that form bonds with predators. Like a wolf, Lorth tends to leave death in his wake. And the spider, after nearly killing him, gifted him with a deep-rooted sensitivity to trouble.

Lawless and disinclined to abide rules or protocols, Lorth serves only the laws of nature and the Old One, a goddess of life, death, and transformation. By that, he loves his homeland, respects women and has an intuitive connection to the balance in all things, a skill to which wizards refer as a “web,” a rare ability to see the Old One’s hand in mortal affairs. This seeming paradox between the ordered light of a mage and the primeval darkness of a hunter drives Lorth to extraordinary—albeit dreadful—acts of violence, power and beauty.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Hunter's Rede CoverLorth’s adventures begin in The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron, a swords-and-sorcery tale of transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry and love.

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.

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

The Orb Weavers’ Empire

The Norns

The Norns

Spiders are fascinating creatures. I have great respect for spiders; aside from the good work they do around here, they have an ancient history of lore and mystique surrounding them. In many cultures, the spider is a powerful totem embodying the forces of creation. In Norse mythology, the spider is associated with the Norns, the spinners of fate. The Old Norse word “norn” also refers generally to weavers and workers of magic.

Garden Orb-Weaver

Garden Orb Weaver

In summer, the eaves around my house are cloaked in spider webs. Some of them are small and humble; others are huge. They hang in layers, and when the sun shines on them they look like galaxies. The big webs are made by a common spider called an orb weaver. A lovely, poetic title.

These creepy critters have grown so big I’ve given them names. In the image below, on the left by the hummingbird feeder, that web is home to Mephistopheles. Next one down is Sauron and the one over the bugbane is Poe (you can kind of see him in the center). It tends to get my attention when one of them drops down to attend to some dastardly business or other.

Orbweavers

Spider Paradise: House eaves, morning sun and gardens beneath.

Balrog lives on the porch. He spins a spectacular web every day in the same spot, right where I need to go to get out to the yard. He lurks up there as if to say “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” (he finds this amusing) and I either have to brush the web aside or climb the woodpile to get by. I’ve explained to Balrog that building his web elsewhere, like, I don’t know, two feet to the left, would be good. But I’m not going to argue with him. One day I came out and there was a fly struggling in Balrog’s web. I actually waited for him to come down, wrap it up and haul it off before I cleared the way. Didn’t want him to miss out on a meal or anything.

By the mudroom there’s a web over 2 1/2 feet in diameter. I call it Shelob’s Lair. Yeah whatever just…back away slowly. Fumble for the Phial of Galadriel and hope for the best.

Deer FlyThe northwoods in summer is home to the ubiquitous deer fly. In case you’ve never encountered one of these assholes, here’s a description. (Tell me this wasn’t written by a New Englander. Hah!) Deer flies have been clocked keeping up with speeding trains (I’m not kidding), so you won’t get far. But I digress. As I was sitting on the porch one day, a deer fly hit the big web above the rosemary plant, struggled there, and damned if I didn’t cheer that spider on. “Hey, Death Eater! Breakfast! Come and get it, Buddy!”

I was a disturbed child.

Alas, the orb weavers have a short stint, here. Winter is coming and soon all that will be left of their empire are frozen cobwebs in the porch rafters. In honor of this venerable creature, there is a character in my novel Outpost called, simply, Spider. She’s a wisewoman revered by the warriors of her immortal race. Early on, Spider appears to a seer named Arcmael and gives him some cryptic advice. Later, she casts a powerful spell on his behalf–but it’s not what it seems. This causes Arcmael to abandon everything he knows to the point of nearly bringing on the imminent annihilation of the world.

Moral of the story: Never disregard the advice of a spider.

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 2016. 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.

Author Interview at Circle of Books

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Welcome Midsummer, the longest day of the year. This year, the solstice coincides with a full moon, a rare alignment that happens once in a lifetime. What better time to shine light on the murky inner workings of a fantasy author?

Rose Moon, by F.T. McKinstry

Rose Moon, by F.T. McKinstry.

My interview with Circle of Books is now up on their website. Among other things, I talk about what inspires me to write fantasy, how I go about it, what I’m into, and my latest book, Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. Art, cats, music, notebooks and a passion for the worlds between, it’s all there. Serious questions for a tortured soul.

Come by for a visit!

 
 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.