BookBub

Greetings, geeks and bookworms!

So I finally got my cats in a row (it’s a more accurate metaphor than ducks, trust me) on BookBub, a good place to find new books and authors, get deals, recommendations, author updates and the like. If you’re into it, feel free to follow me there. I won’t lose you in a creepy forest, I promise. Well. Not right off, anyway.

 

Happy Halloween!

© F.T. McKinstry 2021. 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.

My Wild Wood Elf

Hemlock, by F.T. McKinstry

“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” – Oscar Wilde

Eleven years ago I adopted a rescue kitty I named Hemlock, after a beautiful pattern in her fur that looked like the bark of a hemlock tree. As a kitten, she had been abandoned and left in the woods to die. Metaphorically speaking, the same thing happened to me and I’ve spent my life dealing with it in much the same way she did: half wild, a bit fey, hard to get close to. In time, with love and patience, Hemlock came to trust me. She was a familiar of sorts. She taught me things, and we understood each other.

Yesterday, I sank to my knees and gave Hemlock to the gods, along with a part of my soul.

Sickness and death have a singular power to drive us into the shimmering web that holds the Universe together. It doesn’t matter what you believe, what platitudes you invoke to comfort yourself, what gods you pray to or not. Death plays no favorites, and in its wake we are alone, staring into the void. In whatever shape it takes, death transforms everything it touches. A window to the Source, inherently creative, death alters the very fabric of time and space and reminds us of what we are.

Grief

Of the vast, infinitely complex array of human emotion, grief wears the crown. It is subject to more denial, tricks and traps than any other emotion and nothing is immune from its clutches. Being imaginative and naturally resistant to change, we have elaborate ways of dealing with grief. We have developed a system for recognizing its stages, all the ways we maneuver, hide and contort ourselves to elude the inexorable. Because it fucking sucks.

Case in point, I shouldn’t be writing this now. I’m as raw as an open wound, between the worlds, a ghost haunting Hemmy’s grave out there collecting snow beneath the trees. I can’t get my head around the fact that she is gone. My house has become a dreary landscape of empty spaces where she used to sleep, play and warm herself. I still feel her frail, dying body in my arms. My eyes are swollen and my head’s stuffed up and grief is surging through me in thorny, spiky waves, tearing me to pieces.

There’s a panel of dispassionate psychiatrists and neuroscientists in my head patiently explaining that my sensations of Hemmy’s presence, seeing her ghost in the shadows of the house, or the image of light surrounding me as the pain ravages my heart are all just mental constructs, delusions, fancies I’ve created as part of the stages of grief. That I’m just manufacturing meaning so I can cope with the loss. Bullshit. If losing Hemmy were meaningless I wouldn’t feel this way. I’m rallying to Quantum Theory, which has begun to sidle up to the fey and frown at the tenets of materialism.

This is a good thing.

Hemlock

Rest in peace, Hemmy, my wild, wood elf girl. You will shine in my heart always.

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

Demons at the Bar

Swamped

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

My life is falling apart.

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

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

Goblins

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

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

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

My man left me, just recently. Ah, the peaceful sound of another false bottom washing away into the sea. He moved in with another woman and they’re dancing and laughing in some sunny meadow of romantic fulfillment, or so it seems to me, sitting in my cave, staring into the void, issuing concert tickets to a never-ending flood of demons arriving from the shadows of my past. It’s like this dream I once had. I’m standing in the dark on the forest’s edge, gazing at a warm campfire in the distance, when something invisible comes up behind me, put its hand over my mouth and drags me into the night. Just like that.

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

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

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

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

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

Wizards, Woods and Gods

The Otherworld takes shape in this collection of twelve stories told on a rich, fairytale tapestry of swords, sorcery, romance, dreams, visions and verse.

You never know what a wizard will do, so it’s best to be prudent. Concocting a nasty poppet might get you hunted by a wolf. Turning spring to winter will certainly get you turned into a grasshopper and fed to a frog. But whatever you do, don’t ever shapeshift into a cat and eat a wizard’s crow.

Strange and full of shadows, woods are a staple of every good tale. Trees hide things, wondrous, tricky things best to avoid. Witches like forests, where they wait for wily lovers and knit spells with ash needles. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find an ancient tree that knows many wicked things indeed.

It’s a good bet that if you encounter a god, you’ll be changed in some way. But once, in the dawn of a forest grove, it was the other way around. It’s also generally wise not to awaken a sleeping god, especially a warrior the world has forgotten. And of course, falling in love with a god is, well, daft for a start.

Some of these stories inspired my novels, others were inspired by them, and some take place in the same worlds. This collection also includes Raven of the West, a novelette that takes place in the world featured in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

Many of these stories were originally published in fantasy/scifi magazines; the first edition ebook of Wizards, Woods and Gods was published by Wild Child Publishing, 2012; and Raven of the West was published as Water Dark 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.

The Om Tree – Trees know things.

Pattern Sense – It all started with a mouse.

The War God Sleeps – An age of ignorance ends on the edge of a sword.

The Fifth Verse – The wise men of the world called her a Shade.

Deathseer – Death doesn’t take sides.

The Trouble with Tansy – Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined.

Marked – Beware the pitfalls of mingling with immortals.

Eating Crow – It is never a good idea to anger a wizard.

The Bridge – Gods appear to wizards as one thing; to warriors, another.

The Origin – Things aren’t always what they seem.

Raven of the West – In the calm deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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© F.T. McKinstry 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Gardening and the Horrid Beast

Gardens

Spring came early this year, a somewhat rare occurrence that I met with a happy sigh. Now high summer, the gardens and woodlands have exploded with abundance. The whole operation is a month ahead of schedule and it’s almost impossible to imagine it in winter, barren and frozen under eight feet of snow.

I often find writing a challenge this time of year unless it’s gloomy. Happens. But summer, short as it is here, has an almost otherworldly feel. All I want to do is smell flowers, pluck weeds, watch hummingbirds and practice sun worship. My computer could’ve been put on my desk by extraterrestrials for all I care about it.

Hummie

Like an old hippie earth mother, I have detailed conversations with plants, cats and earthworms. The bugbane got a serious talking to for hogging out the coneflowers and nasturtiums (this involved clippers). I move carefully around the apple tree to elude the Shelob spiders. And I listen to things grow.

Pee HoleAnd this assortment of branches from said apple tree? That’s my decorative solution to the machinations of my cat Hemlock, who decided the spot between the carrots and the spinach makes a good pee hole. Gardens and woods everywhere, and she has to use my new raised bed for her business. This gained her the informal title of WTF You Horrid Beast.

I suppose it wouldn’t be nature without some chaos.

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

Author Interview at Circle of Books

FT Banner

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.

Of Mice and Swordsmen

Dormouse
I live in the woods. Mice are a way of life, and while I’ve always had ferocious hunting cats, mice are very resourceful, especially in the fall when they’re looking for winter shelter. Who can blame them? Winter is nasty, here.

You could make an interesting psychological study some 3AM, wide awake staring at the ceiling, listening to a mouse chewing on something, who knows what, insulation, wiring, rafters; it’s stockpiling caches, building nests, making baby mice–the sucker is at least a foot long, has to be–yes, you could be the Great Shaman of all Wildlife Lovers but after imagining the horrible results of nocturnal mouse business you’ll be capable of anything.

Pattern Sense Cover ArtA while back, I wrote a little story called Pattern Sense, about a knitter who discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a swordsman. I wasn’t being tormented by mice at the time (past trauma maybe), but in a vivid description of the aforementioned scenario, I came up with the perfect impetus for my protagonist to discover the extent of her skill.

If a mouse in the middle of the night can’t bring out a woman’s hidden powers, nothing can.

Pattern Sense made it to the second round finals with Daily Science Fiction, and then I published it in Tales of the Talisman. And then, something magical happened. This story, it seemed, was a glimpse of a full blown novel. This began to unfold and eventually became Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. In that story, there is more to our knitter’s power than mere hedge witchery; and the love between her and the swordsman goes to dark places indeed, a subplot driven by sorcery, treachery, war, and even the gods themselves.

Who knew? Mice have a good place in my life after all. Besides, they are cute.

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.

Cats Will Stalk Anything

Bear

It’s spring here in northern New England. The grass is green, the buds on the trees are finally coming out, daffodils are blooming and all the critters are out of hibernation.

This morning I was sitting on the porch writing in a notebook (with a pen–yeah, people still do that) and I had a visitor. I knew it was something wild when my cats freaked out, stood to attention and/or ran growling inside. And here comes a young bear, clambering through the trees to check out the bird feeders.

Oona and BearSo my cat Oona (a.k.a. Yoga Crasher), what does she do? She takes it upon herself to creep up to the poor little guy and scare it up a tree.

I had a brief discussion with Oona about mother bears and the prudence of leaving baby bears alone and she, well, ignored me, not that this surprised anybody.

WTF

 
 
 
 

Cats. You have to give them points for nerve.

Hemlock

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

In Praise of Editors

Stalking Hemlock

Hemlock

Never underestimate the value of a good editor.

Like many writers I often entertain the delusion that I could edit my own work to completion. I’m an OCD head case. I can’t read a cereal box without editing it and Facebook gives me hives. You don’t ever want to hand me a piece of writing and say, “Hey, look this over and tell me what you think?” I’ll get the same look in my eye as a cat does when it sees some hapless creature within its grasp.

Enter my editor. She has magical powers. I got the first part of my manuscript for Outpost back from her today. It looks like a medieval village after a Viking raid—but wow, is it good. I was astonished by all the things she saw. Once again, I found myself shaking off the spell and marveling at how familiarity gives the illusion of safety.

I can’t wait to delve into this. My book is about to get wings and shine.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.