The Evolution of an Antagonist

Annihilation, by F.T. McKinstry

Eadred took the orb into his hands. Something glimmered inside, a tiny star tingling in his palms. His heart began to pound as a force gripped his chest, swirling, writhing, searching. Stars, whales, sun and moon. Her wrath boomed across time, shredding the veil. Terns, seals, white horses roaming the cliffs. She wept in the oldest tongue, her grief and desperation raising tempests. The dead, their pale eyes staring. Her child was gone. She crashed the Gates, sending them soaring end over end into the stars. Then she turned, her emerald slitted eyes fixing on Eadred as she raced, spiraling in a black, spiky maelstrom toward the wound in his heart left by a witch.

WIZARD, she roared, splitting sea from shore. – From The Gray Isles

As any writer will tell you, characters in stories take on lives of their own. Imbued with the forces of creation, the psyche is immensely arcane, and the act of creating something, whether it’s music, a painting, a garden, a book — anything, really — is always a bit mysterious. As for characters in a novel, they have a way of appearing in the writer’s imagination of their own accord, with their own agendas. To me, it feels as if they exist already, in a story that’s happening somewhere, and I’m just tapping into it.

The main protagonist driving the books in the Chronicles of Ealiron is one Lorth of Ostarin, a wizard and elite assassin in service to the Keepers of the Eye, an ancient order of wizards who keep balance in the world. He is sent on assignment to a remote northern archipelago called the Gray Isles to discover why another in his order, a fey, volatile wizard named Eadred, broke his vows to the Eye in an egregious breach of conduct he never explained or attempted to defend. Lorth’s task of getting Eadred to tell him what happened, however, goes straight to hell at the outset, spiraling into a manhunt, a costly encounter with a sea monster, and some nasty backwater politics.

With long hair the color of snow, eyes the color of reindeer lichen and a silvery breath of Elven blood in his veins, Eadred is a powerful rogue element, a trickster whose tormented machinations have gained him great knowledge which he uses to help prevent a rising cataclysm. But aside from Eadred’s having been cursed by a witch and later banished to the isles, we never learn the specific events that drove him to forsake his wizard’s mantle and leave a trail of bloodshed and woe over two realms.

The Gray Isles, by F.T. McKinstry

Ealiron: The Gray Isles

For years, I thought about pulling Eadred’s backstory from the shadows and writing it into the book, but all I got were vague impressions, almost as if his past was hidden from me and Lorth alike. The book felt incomplete, somehow, until earlier this year, when the mists cleared and I saw not only the old wounds and workings of Eadred’s mind, but also the rugged string of events that made him the madman who appears in the original edition of the book. In a fury I wrote it down, wove it in, had the whole work beautifully edited, and the third edition was born. Huzzah.

Sneaky Serpent, by F.T. McKinstryFor the record, I’ve added this to my Hah! Fuck You 2020 list. It’s a short list, but hey, we’ll take what we can get.

In keeping with the season, all four books in the Chronicles of Ealiron will be $0.99 on Amazon over the week of the winter solstice, from December 15-22. You can also read them for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Stay tuned, and stay well.

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

Chocolate, Metal and The Wolf Lords

I’ve just put the last line down of The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking. I should be dancing around, and some ghostly part of me is, I suppose, but the rest of me feels empty. Every time.

Staring into the void. It’s like something from the book itself, a nasty warlock’s spell that brings everything into some bleak dimension, throwing mortals, demons and gods alike into an existential crisis.

Let’s see. Chocolate, coffee, ice cream, scotch, they might help. Metal, naa, that doesn’t count, I’m always doing that. Well, chocolate too, for that matter. Oh, and coffee.

 
Editing! That’s next. Fortunately, I’m one of those sick bastards who loves editing. Under my reign, this will be bloody–and when my editor gets hold of it, then the real carnage will begin. Just in time for Halloween, my favorite time of year.

 
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

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.

 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2017. 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.

Writing and the Fairy Dust of Familiarity

Oona Creeping, by F.T. McKinstry

Oona Creeping

Consciousness dislikes chaos. Like cats pacing the borders of the yard, we tend to treat familiar things as safe and reliable. It gives us a sense of security. Given that familiarity makes a lot of arbitrary assumptions about reality, however, I personally think it’s an illusion, a convenient facade that makes it easier to deal with things. That’s natural enough, but when it comes to writing, one wants to be careful.

I recently finished a novel. It’s entitled Outpost, interestingly, a term that implies an unfamiliar place in some context or another. I finished it, revised it, edited, polished, washed and repeated until every word was as familiar as the lines on my hand. I’m weary of looking at the thing, truth be told. I put it in the capable hands of my editor.

Now things get interesting (note the mild sarcasm). Being familiar with one’s words is insidiously comforting. The process of writing, both mystical and miserable at the same time, has a way of making one’s work beautiful. Oh yes, the Universe is singing its brilliance because after all, suffering is noble. This is perilous, like being dusted with fairy glitter. You might think you’re looking at a nice green field with flowers and butterflies but those flowers have thorns, there’s a cat lurking in the shadows, the butterfly is headed for a spider’s web and the lambs are fleeing from an impending earthquake. Chaos is everywhere. This is what a good editor will see, because she isn’t strung out on fairy glamor or glossing over the goblins with a palette knife heaped with love and imagination.

Hemlock, by F.T. McKinstry

Hemlock

A useful exercise is to put the book aside for a time, let the fairy dust wear off and go back to it with a more objective perspective. This only works if you’re able to face reality without the high. If something nags you or doesn’t look right, don’t brush it off for fear of chaos by deciding it’s fine. It probably isn’t. It takes strength and courage to see through familiarity and let the work evolve.

These days, everyone is a writer. So I see a lot of things on the internet about How to Know If You’re A Real Writer. That’s a big topic fraught with nail biting. But I figure one of the criteria is knowing what it’s like to wake up from the fairy glamor with a nasty headache, a broken heart and some healthy skepticism.

In other words, chaos is a writer’s friend.

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

On the Outpost of Void

Outpost Void

Day before yesterday I wrote down the last line of Outpost, the first in my new fantasy series The Fylking. It’s big, epic and beautiful–and yikes do I feel weird. I should celebrate by dancing around or having a scotch or something. Instead I feel empty, as if everything has changed and now I don’t know what to do. I’m wandering around here like an idiot.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it always feels like it. I call it the Void and usually feel it after finishing a novel or a painting. I feel it in the fall after cleaning out the gardens. The creative force is awesome; it comes along and sets me on fire, and when it passes there’s a letting go, a scary, sad, dark place where the fire used to be. I want to crawl into it and cry.

It’s not as if the novel is finished. Oh dear no, I have much editing to do, and then I’ll send it to my editor so she can do her juju on it. But that’s the easy part. For now, I need to give the Void its due. It’s the source and culmination of all things.

Hmm. Suppose I could start by cleaning the cataclysm that is my desk.

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Hemlock and Editing

Hemlock, by F.T. McKinstry

Hemlock

I recently came upon a series of amazing photos of animals camouflaged in their natural environments. They are very good at this. True to form, my cat Hemlock can vanish like a ghost when she’s of a mind.

So I just finished editing my latest novel. By “finished” I mean for the time being, because well, my publisher was waiting and I can only tinker with it for so long. Stephen King says it nicely: “To write is human, to edit is divine.” Yes, and I’m burnt. But while basking in the warm glow of having handed the beastie over to my editor, I had an interesting thought.

Mistakes hide in manuscripts in much the same way creatures camouflage themselves in the wilds. A missing or a wrong word is not as beautiful as Hemlock, of course. But I have to acknowledge how clever words are at hiding in seemingly harmless passages. It’s a testament to the power of the imagination that one can look at that egregious grammatical blunder sixty five times and not see it. Then suddenly, like magic, there it is sitting in the garden under the bushes.

They shapeshift too, you know. But that’s another story.

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