A Zombie by Any Other Name

I hate zombies. There, I said it.

Being a lifelong fan of monsters, mythical creatures and supernatural beings, I do have an appreciation for the concept. But zombies bore me. They stagger around, looking ugly, moaning, “Rar rar rar,” and who cares aside from the fact that one could eat your brains or something if you’re daft enough to get caught. The only advantage they have is numbers.

It is interesting to consider zombies as a psychological metaphor. We all have things we try to bury: shameful memories, a guilty conscience, something devastating we never got over. We want that thing to stay dead, and we’re horrified when it claws its way out of the ground and comes after us. No getting away from it. The psyche needs to be whole, won’t tolerate bits being buried, and if you try to ignore them, they will terrorize you and eat your brains. So there’s that.

Storms

I don’t think of these things when I’m writing. the story unfolds from the depths somewhere, and I’m often startled by what comes up. In the early stages of Outpost, one of my protagonists is set upon by nonhuman warriors stinking of death and resembling once-human men. As I got into this, I suddenly stopped in horror and thought, Zombies? Am I writing about zombies?

DraugrOh, no no no. No zombies here. So I did some digging into my tricky mind and remembered an undead creature in Norse mythology called the draugr. This creature is a bit more sophisticated. In Old Norse, draugr means “ghost,” but it’s closer to a vampire. Accounts vary, but generally, the draugr are described as walking dead warriors with superhuman strength, the ability to shapeshift, and the unmistakable stench of decay. They are implacable, seek vengeance and will kill anything that crosses their nightly rampages.

In Outpost, these beasties bear some traditional attributes: the smell of graves, unnatural strength, the ability to move with uncanny speed or to vanish into mist. But they are also created by a warlock and given life by an immortal with its own agenda. The essence of a mortally wounded warrior is captured as it flies and imprisoned in the last body it knew. They are not bound to the night and, because of their otherworldly origin, they appear half somewhere else, are demonic and malevolent, cannot be killed and can only be released by the magician who captured them.

Warlock

This ancient magic is forbidden, of course, but who ever listens? When dealing with the draugr, one experienced warrior’s advice goes something like this: Forget honor. While inhumanly strong, the draugr are only as skilled in arms and familiar with the land as the men they once were. Distract and disable. If overrun, flee.

Well. At least they don’t eat brains.

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.

In Praise of Long Winters

Morning in the North Country

All right, it’s a controversial title. Here in northern New England, praising this endless, toothy winter is risking a scenario involving torches and pitchforks. However, I’m going to play the eccentric author card, so hear me out.

I’m an avid gardener and spring in this climate is a special thing. By spring I mean May or even June, as anything before that is either winter or this soppy, icy, muddy, drab phenomenon we call April. Enter the greenhouse. This adds a month or two onto the growing season, allows me to grow things that simply won’t thrive in the ground up here (like peppers, what is it with peppers?) and provides me with hope during the aforementioned month of April.

March Greenhouse

March 7, 2015

Most years, my greenhouse doesn’t look much different than this, come April, and I have to dig a trench in the snow to get to it. But once I tidy things up, plant all my little seeds and rig up the heat lamps it becomes the center of my universe.

I’m writing a new fantasy novel called Outpost (no amusing metaphor intended). I just passed 100,000 words and am rapidly closing in on the last few chapters. It’s all gathering and racing around in my mind to its beautiful, poignant conclusion. No problem staying dedicated to this when — ok, I’ll weigh in now — it only recently got above freezing for the last forty-eight days or something absurd like that, the temperatures in February were fifteen degrees below average and all it does it snow; yes and as a point of interest March tends to be the snowiest month. But I’m shooing off the winter whiners because right now it’s providing me with a great big pillow fortress to hide in while I finish and polish up Outpost so I can send it off to my editor.

Because when my seedlings emerge, the perennials wake up from the cold ground and it gets warm enough for me to sit outside like a pagan sun worshiper? You can do the math.

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.

Outpost

Introducing Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, a fantasy series woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery.

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.

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.

“One of the best independently published fantasy novels of the past year.” – Self-Publishing Review

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Novel, 350 pages
Edited by Leslie Karen Lutz
Reviews
Map – Link included in the Table of Contents.
Glossary – Text version is included in the book.
Excerpt
Video Trailer
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Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

The Fylking

Fylking Banner New

The Fylking, a high fantasy series woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery.

In the worlds of their dominion they are called the Fylking, lovers of strife, song and steel, an immortal race of warriors akin to the Otherworld. Their empires span the heavens; their deities, ruled by the elusive Raven God, embody the forces of war, wisdom, passion and nature.

This series tells the exploits of the Fylking and their mortal observers — warriors, royals, seers, lovers, warlocks and mercenaries — generations upon generations coexisting in uneasy peace with the Gods of War.

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.

Finalist, SPFBO 2016

“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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Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover Art The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

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Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Fylking OmnibusThe Fylking: Omnibus Edition combines Outpost and The Wolf Lords in one volume. Read the whole series and feel the love: howling wolves, the north wind and the chill on your neck when that Otherworld fiend finds you at last.

Includes a full Table of Contents, a Glossary and a link to a high resolution map.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction

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

On the Windswept Tree

Odin's Sacrifice

Hung was I     on the windswept tree;
Nine full nights I hung,
Pierced by a spear,     a pledge to the god,
To Odin, myself to myself,
On that tree which none     can know the source
From whence its root has run.

None gave me bread,     none brought a horn.
Then low to earth I looked.
I caught up the runes,     roaring, I took them,
And fainting, back I fell.

Nine mighty lays     I learned from the son
Of Bolthorn, Bestla’s father,
And a draught I had     of the holy mead
Poured out of Odrerir.

Then fruitful I grew,     and greatly to thrive,
In wisdom began to wax.
A single word     to a second word led,
A single poem     a second found.

Runes will you find,     and fateful staves,
Very potent staves,     very powerful staves,
Staves the great gods made,     stained by the mighty sage,
And graven by the speaker of gods.

The Poetic Edda. Hávamál, stanzas 138-142

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

In Norse mythology, the story of Odin’s sacrifice stands out as a classic metaphor for shamanic initiation. Odin goes to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, tethers his horse Sleipnir and then hangs himself facing down into the bottomless void beneath the roots. He suffers there in agony for nine days and nights until he sees the runes in the depths. Then he picks them up and is transformed.

Among his diverse and seemingly conflicting aspects, Odin is a poet. He hungers for knowledge. One thing that strikes me about this beautiful verse is its similarity to the writing process. As it often happens, I hang there, staring into the darkness of my mind, a blank screen, longing for a story and seeing only the void—and then, after fighting, clawing and whining my fill at the dispassionate silence, I relax, let go, and suddenly the words come.

Writing is hard work. Most days it sucks. But when this happens, when I touch the Mystery, it’s all worth it.

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

Norse Mythology and the Voices in My Head

Odin Rides to Hel

I was a Tolkien geek as a kid, in the 70s. There were no epic movies back then — well okay there was that 1978 version that thoroughly offended me — but anyway, Lord of the Rings changed my life. I knew Tolkien was influenced by Northern European mythology but I didn’t jump into that at the time. I was busy being distracted by every fantasy, science fiction and occult book I could get my hands on. The Norse gods came later.

My favorite character in LOTR was Gandalf. This isn’t a cute statement reflecting the innocence of youth. My fascination with Gandalf was archetypal. The first time I read LOTR and the wizard fell into the chasm in Moria with the Balrog, I was shattered. Seriously. A part of me went in there too and while now I smile fondly because I was just a sensitive kid, I’ll admit that scene still gets to me.

The Raven God

It is extensively remarked upon that Gandalf was inspired by the Norse god Odin. Considering the realm of Tolkien’s studies and expertise, this is not to be wondered at, though there are differences between the two beings. Tolkien himself referred to Gandalf as an “Odinic wanderer.” I didn’t make this connection until I started delving into Scandinavian literature. Then I realized why I had loved Tolkien so much without realizing it.

Odin, by F.T. McKinstry

Needless to say, I am fascinated by Odin, the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. An ambivalent figure, he hungers for knowledge, is a notorious shapeshifter, and rules madness and berserkers. He is also known as a Trickster who might grant favor to a devoted follower only to vanish when most needed. The archetypal Trickster is a shamanic figure, a terrible force that turns things upside down and brings one before the Unknown, the source of wisdom and new experience. Odin himself undergoes this initiation when he hangs on the World Tree for nine days and nights in agony before picking up the Sacred Runes deep beneath the roots.

Interestingly, in like tradition, Gandalf plunges into the nameless depths of the earth in battle with the Balrog, an initiation from which he is reborn as Gandalf the White.

Whether you call him a god, an entity, a patron of shamans or a part of my psyche, I became devoted to Odin. He provides a vital source of inspiration for my work. Here are some relevant projects:

The Eye of Odin

Eye of Odin, Cover ArtThe Eye of Odin” is a science fiction story about a warrior with a turbulent ancestry who gets on the wrong side of an interplanetary military contractor called Odin Systems. They modeled their headquarters and inventions after Norse themes from ancient Earth history. But they are dealing with forces bigger than technology. I made up my own verses of Odin’s tale and wove them into this story in relevant places, shadowing events.

“The Eye of Odin” is available for free on Smashwords.

Pattern Sense

Pattern Sense, Cover ArtIn this short story, a knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a swordsman named Othin (an alternate spelling of Odin), named after the god himself. In keeping with his otherworldly namesake, Othin lands into a cruel pickle when the gods pull a fast one on him. But as fate would have it, his witchy lover has other plans.

This story is available for free on Smashwords.

Outpost

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking. Woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery, this story takes place in a war-torn realm that contains a portal to the stars. The Otherworld beings who built it brought their gods with them. We know these gods as the Norse pantheon, the gods of the Vikings. But these beings haunt many worlds, not just Earth. Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears in this story at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on.

Recommended Reading

The Poetic Edda, translated by Lee M. Hollander
The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R Ellis Davidson
The Norse Myths, by Kevin Crossley-Holland

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.

The Raven God

The Raven God

The Norse deity Odin has many names that reflect his nature as warrior, magician, poet and shapeshifter, among other things. Complex and notoriously fickle, he acts on his own terms and it’s best not make assumptions about his favors. He appears in this painting with his two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (desire) which fly over the land and tell him of all they see and hear. The title of Raven God is interesting, as ravens are both tricksters and harbingers of war.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. Woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery, this story takes place in a war-torn realm that contains a portal to the stars. The Otherworld beings who built it brought their gods with them. We know these gods as the Norse pantheon, the gods of the Vikings. But these beings haunt many worlds, not just Earth. Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears in this story at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on.

If you’re into science fiction, check out “The Eye of Odin.” This is a short story about a warrior with a turbulent ancestry who gets on the wrong side of an interplanetary military contractor called Odin Systems. They modeled their headquarters and inventions after Norse themes from ancient Earth history. But they are dealing with forces bigger than technology. Verses of Odin’s saga are woven into this story in relevant places, shadowing events. You can get “The Eye of Odin” for free on Smashwords.

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