Winter, Writing and The Wolf Lords

Celtic Stag

Yuletide Greetings!

It’s the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. In the north where I live, seeing “First Day of Winter” on a calendar elicits a blank stare, because it has usually been winter for a month or two already. The same thing happens on the vernal equinox around March 20th. It’s the first day of spring somewhere, but not here, although there is a different feel in the air.

Snowy Woods

I love this time of year. It gets dark late in the afternoon, and between the distant sun and the dreary weather it feels dark all the time. There’s a spirit haunting the woods, pale, hungry, staring inward with black eyes into the void, the point of conception. For me, writing is like this, a continual series of winter solstices, a dark place where there’s nothing, then suddenly a shift happens and the words flow out like the return of the sun.

BearAside from this, well, somewhat tormented view of things, I love the dark season because I get to curl up like a growly bear and get some work done while the snow blows and the temperatures plummet. Right now, I’m working on Book Two in The Fylking, called The Wolf Lords. That’s a working title, but it’s growing on me and I’ll probably go with it. At some point, on a sunny day when the light is brilliant on the snow, I’ll pull out my oil paints and get to work on the cover art.

The Wolf Lords. Oh yes, the realm of Dyrregin isn’t wartorn for no reason. There’s always someone or something plotting trouble there. Just when you thought, after the bittersweet ending of Outpost, to relax and enjoy yourselves, the shadow of mayhem is rising again, this time from the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers with some nasty issues and a new ally of which the Fylking would not approve.

So if you haven’t read Outpost, get your copy today and prepare yourselves! The Old Gods are watching and waiting.

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.

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

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.
Amazon

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

#SPFBO Update: Outpost Made Finalist!

Well, it’s official. Lynn over at Lynn’s Book Blog has put Outpost forward as her finalist in this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off put together by Mark Lawrence, author of the series The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War.

You can read Lynn’s lovely review here.

Outpost will now be considered with the other finalists by ten stalwart bloggers who will eventually pick one book as the ultimate winner. SPFBO is quite an undertaking, and I have great respect for the time and effort these guys have put into reading and considering 300 works, at 30 apiece, by self-published fantasy authors. Wow. Needless to say, I’m deeply grateful for this opportunity.

10 books out of 300. Check out the finalists here. Congratulations to all!

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.

Shades of Instinct

In the wilds of Ostarin, folks have a saying: “Only wizards and hunters know the true meaning of darkness.” But one can sense a truth and not be able to explain it. Some things exist beyond the scope of linear thought, a deep, dark river of visceral knowledge flowing through all life, giving it vitality or, more often than not, unease.

In Ostarin, hunter is the common term for an assassin. There are other terms; many people blur the line between assassin and warlock, two shady occupations that often conspire. But hunter, being universally understood, is used to describe the stream of impressions that connect an assassin to the deep dark river. This is called the Hunter’s Rede, and its impressions are called Shades.

No one knows where the Hunter’s Rede originated. It’s not written down anywhere. A wizard might say the Shades arose from the muddy waters of primitive instinct, truths an assassin does well to heed in the practice of his art. But hunters don’t question this. The Rede defies such objective scrutiny.

Lorth of Ostarin

For Lorth of Ostarin, an accomplished assassin with the rough skills of a wizard, the Hunter’s Rede is as natural as his own heartbeat. It whispers in his mind; sometimes quietly, other times sharply, wearing a stern countenance, or with patient insistence. During Lorth’s search for the meaning of darkness, the Shades become suspect, as knowledge often does in the throes of change. It is only when his heart breaks and he abandons the Rede that he discovers its true nature.

This is how it goes….

Shade of Unknown: I have no name.
Shade of Belonging: I have no place.
Shade of Attention: I am unseen.
Shade of Wings: The owl flies near.
Shade of Silence: Life departs unknown.
Shade of Solitude: I am alone.
Shade of Balance: The Old One knows.
Shade of Age: I am not innocent.
Shade of Night: I sleep awake.
Shade of Kind: The laws of the lawless are certain.
Shade of Need: I love in the shadows.
Shade of Fault: Confidence escapes notice.
Shade of Fate: I owe nothing.
Shade of One: I am the Destroyer.
Shade of Forsaken: The Void loves nothing.
Shade of Harrow: I am swift.
Shade of Alarm: No chance to fear.
Shade of Low: The earth keeps secrets.
Shade of Attachment: No death is mine.
Shade of Illusion: The sun casts shadows.
Shade of Blood: Death is life.
Shade of Instinct: I act from knowing.
Shade of Surrender: All is cyclic.
Shade of Moon: The tide brings light.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Hunter's Rede CoverThe Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

A swords-and-sorcery tale of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry and love.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2018. 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 Hunter’s Rede

The Hunter's Rede Cover Art

Introducing the The Hunter’s Rede, a swords-and-sorcery tale of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry and love. This story begins the Chronicles of Ealiron, a heroic fantasy series that revolves around an assassin called Lorth of Ostarin.

Lorth 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.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Novel, 303 pages
Includes a map and a glossary.
Reviews
Glossary
Excerpt
Map: Ealiron: Sourcesee and West
Add to Goodreads

Related Blog Posts

Lorth of Ostarin
Shades of Instinct
Eaglin of Ostarin
Ealiron: The Keepers of the Eye
Where Veils are Thin

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.
Amazon

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. 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.