Elric the Fish

I am an aquarium geek. I love things that live underwater: fishes, creatures, plants. On my desk I keep a male Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens). He has his own castle, a mountain and a forest to live in.

A cared-for betta can live several years or more, long enough for me to get quite attached. I don’t always give my betta an official name. But soon, after watching the beautiful creature flit around, showing his long fins and flaring his gills at the glass, I end up calling him something. I called my last one “Fish.” Yeah, I know, not that imaginative. But when he died, the name didn’t matter. He did.

After properly grieving Fish, I got a new betta. This one is white, like an albino. His gills, when he flares them, are the color of shadows. After going through a lukewarm collection of names I had a brilliant idea of calling him Elric, after a hero in a swords-and-sorcery saga by Michael Moorcock.

Elric LurkingElric of Melniboné is one of my favorite heroes. I don’t write that many book reviews, but I wrote one about him. An albino from an ancient race of sorcerers, he is beautiful, his gods are evil and he is tortured as all hell. And he bears a glorious, cavalier attitude not unlike that of a Siamese fighting fish.

Every writer has a muse. The gods are watching.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Marked

The Hunter's Lair

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.

Excerpt

The constellation of Sioros, the Winged Hunter, sparkled on the twilit sky to the north. The towering cluster gazed down from a large star called the Hunter’s Eye, which shone with steady, soothing light that Lorelei felt before she opened her eyes with a violent shudder. A fisherman’s wife from Othurin, she had a simple mind. But in the light of the Hunter’s Eye, her mind became a tapestry, silvery and glinting in divine patterns of arcs, lines and colors from which her thoughts fell most strangely.

She knew the name of the star, for one thing. Alberon. Yes, that was his name.

This elusive memory brought up another, crushingly accessible one. A mother’s grief drew her up from the dead-cold ground. “My baby,” she gasped, rustling in the breeze between day and night as a raging river flooding over a millwheel, splintering it. She staggered across the bloody path before the cottage, its hearth cold and windows dark.

Away in the distance, a woman screamed.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Marked” is included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

This story tales place in the world of Ealiron, and contains a cameo appearance of Lorth of Ostarin, the protagonist of The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

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

Deathseer

The Glass

Keeping a personal secret in the darkness of war is perilous, as secrets know the path to the light. Under the influence of a mysterious observatory, a high commander with the ability to see the hand of Death keeps his secret under the cloak of dreams and visions until he realizes, at great cost, that Death doesn’t take sides.

Excerpt

Liros awoke in the clutches of a recurring nightmare. As a white wolf, he saw through the eyes of a child. Drop the candle and run, run on bare feet, so quietly. The dream hovered in his body, his visceral identity and sense of self, an experience as vivid as waking life. Not quietly enough.

Surrounded. Warm tears fall into the open arms of the eternal Void.

As his consciousness returned, the feeling in his heart stood in anguished contrast to the well-built outpost where he lay, in the pre-dawn, surrounded by the watchful eyes of warriors. They called it Fentalon, named after a war god of the North with the head of a wolf. To Liros it felt like a prison.

A candle flickers out against the cold, damp earth.

He closed his eyes and exhaled as the miasma of his circumstance gathered around him. His fading dream darkened it like a bright light casting the long shadow of a crag.

The roar of the river hides the cries, the truth, even as it weeps.

He made a decision.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“DeathSeer” is included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

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

Immortal Longing

She had asked the stars, whales, rocks, the sun and moon.

She had asked terns, seals, herrings, crabs, and the white horses that roamed the cliffs on the western coast of Waleis.

She had asked the trees and the north wind.

She had asked the dead, their pale eyes staring.

She had even asked the beryl spire focusing the energies of the earth into a mighty web.

But nothing in Ealiron’s creation knew where the mortal shell of her child had gone.

Until one came, bearing news.

As she released the snow-white gull to the north, her immortal lover twinkled with the silence of deep winter on the hard, gray land.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Legends of sailors and wizards collide when an Otherworld being discovers its destiny in a mortal’s imagination. The Gray Isles, Book Two in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The Om Tree

The Om Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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 short story, a wizard-assassin loses what is most dear to him and thereby learns the true nature of his art.

Excerpt

In the beginning stood a tree.

I always start my tales with that; it is fitting, as I have stood here for so long. I have spread my roots on many worlds, being seeded by an undying star named Om. He has a child named Ealiron, the creator of this world on which I now grow. He knows I am here, of course. When I took root as a sapling, he sang to me. A charming fellow, really.

But my tale begins with a mortal. He calls himself a wizard, but he is not like any wizard I know. His name is Lorth, which in Om’s tongue roughly means “water-loving root.” A nice name for a most unsavory man. I call him the hunter.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“The Om Tree” originally appeared in Tales of the Talisman, Volume 7, Issue 3.

“The Om Tree” is included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

The protagonist of “The Om Tree,” Lorth of Ostarin, is also the main character in The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron. An Om tree appears in the novel as well; it stands in the wizards’ citadel itself.

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

Of Wolves and Paint

I’ve had it in mind for months to do the cover art for an upcoming story in my publisher’s queue. Months of patient and yet diffident motivation. I know nothing. But the part of me driving this doesn’t care about my insecurities. A force of nature, it annihilates the quiet village of my everyday consciousness with all the sensitivity of a plague.

When it’s time, small things become precious. A bag of chocolate chips, a pot of coffee. The yowl of a cat by the half-filled bowl. The birds outside, their feeder getting a little low. That funny chipmunk photo on Facebook. Vacuuming the floor. A nap. Emptying the dishwasher. How engaging and poignant it all is next to the darkness, as if setting that canvas on the easel marks the end of my life.

The darkness is seductive. I put on a playlist entitled “Swords and Sorcery,” a collection of bleak, angry, sublime music that encourages me to pull out my post-apocalyptic paint box and sit here with my head in my hands. All my music sucks under this. All the caps on my paints are cross threaded and gummed up. I have some 30-year old pliers I use to open them. The pliers have a green handle, making them easy to find. I still can’t find them but I enjoy searching because well, I’m not painting yet. Finally, I start squirting paint onto the palette to the clamor of heavy metal and think, “You guys need to shut the hell up so I can concentrate.” But I leave it on.

The sun is trying to come out. It’ll be dark soon. This house is like the inside of a tomb, in winter. Plants crowd the windows with silent desperation, dreaming of spring. Maybe I should turn off this self-obsessed music and think nice thoughts. Go clean the fishtank and water the plants with the green-brown tasty water. That would cheer them up. The bag of chocolate chips is still on the table between me and the fishes. Forget it. Sun’s out now. Plants are fine, fishes are fine, and nice thoughts are meaningless.

My painting is still waiting. Cats come in, cats go out. There are too many shadows and the lights aren’t dispelling them. Cats see into the Otherworld; one might think they’d step up and help me out a little. But it doesn’t bother them. Me, I can no longer tell the difference between the real shadows and the ones in my mind. There isn’t one.

This is worse than writing, it really is. Ok, no it’s not. Yes, it is, this is a lot worse.

No it’s not. But I’m doing this now. Sort of. It’s so easily romanticized, that crossbow tension between yearning and ennui. Since when did suffering become romantic? I suppose it’s better than some manufactured New Age metaphor of smearing oil paint onto an empty surface. I don’t need to be pressured to see this in a lofty way. I’d rather be annihilated.

Probable Cover Art, by F.T. McKinstryOk. Enough abstractions. Pick up the brush. No, not that brush, the other one, the one I haven’t trashed yet. Paint the wolf first, he’s the hardest. Let darkness fall, the wind blow and the rain splatter against the house. It hurts, it’s bleeding. I’m going to die. I can’t do this. Put the paint on the canvas. It looks horrible. Keep painting. It’ll come together, it always does. This wants to happen. It’s ok.

It’s all ok.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Water, Earth, and Shamanism

The process of writing a story has a way of revealing one’s knowledge or fascination in terms that extend beyond conscious understanding. A powerful lens into the nature of experience, metaphor conveys information that literal explanations can only attempt. Somewhere inside, our hearts make the connections.

Generally speaking, the ancient practice of shamanism involves learning to perceive those connections via a journey into the Otherworld, the realm of essence and the source of exteriorized reality. This typically happens during some years-long cataclysmic life event such as illness or loss whereby the shaman endures the dissolution of personal boundaries, limitations, and false perceptions, and thereby emerges from the Otherworld not only expanded but also connected to the source. It is essentially a mystical experience.

Mistress of the Sea, by F.T. McKinstry

Mistress of the Sea

When I began writing The Gray Isles, I didn’t sit down and think, “How about a story about shamanic initiation?” It started as a story about a young fisherman’s son named Hemlock who has big dreams that contrast miserably with his lot in life. Through him, I embarked upon a sailing trip over the shining waters of an attractive cliché and was promptly accosted by a sea monster with its own ideas. My story grew into a novel complete with tempests, swords, and teeth.

The shamanic initiation often heralds a crushing landslide of doubts and questions about the nature of reality. It’s hard to ignore the forces of the Otherworld when one’s life falls apart at the hands of one’s deepest dreams and desires. At the same time, everything one once imagined possible becomes an illusion in the face of actual experience. It’s a paradox. Transformation inherently implies death: one can’t change unless something is released. For the shaman, this is everything that blocks connection to the Otherworld and understanding of his or her place in the overall scheme of things.

Hemlock of Mimir, by F.T. McKinstry

Hemlock of Mimir

Hemlock’s journey begins with a classic refusal of the call. His perception of reality is shaky as it is, even by the estimation of the wizards he serves, ironically. But he has a deep, visceral connection to the sea. When it shows itself, he naturally assumes it’s just another fantasy. When he gets the idea of trying to prove otherwise—to defend his sanity, of course—he crashes headlong into the implacable clutches of initiation.

This takes Hemlock down, rends him asunder and spits him out on the other side. Now a lost soul, his roots to the earth begin to disintegrate beyond his control. But, cruel as they are, the forces of the cosmos are on his side in the guise of wizards and assassins—and the sea itself, a literal metaphor in this case. A bridge between earth and water, Hemlock is transformed quite nearly to the destruction of everything around him. So it goes. Who would possibly sign up for such a thing if they knew what it would mean?

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Cover Art, The Gray IslesThe Gray Isles, Book Two in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

The legends of sailors and wizards collide in an epic tale of witchery, secrets, curses, and the birth of an immortal.

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