Fish Kingdom

Fish Kingdom

I am very fond of my aquarium. It’s not that large, but exists as its own little universe, green, fluid and tranquil. I keep freshwater fish and live plants. At one with the water, fishes fascinate me in a primordial, archetypal way. Each kind has its own personality; some are laid back, some are skittish and shy, and others are belligerent. They coexist peacefully, though now and then someone will feel the need to act rude.

Shy Little Fish, by F.T. McKinstry

I love to grow things in the earth world, so naturally I wanted to try my hand at water. In this realm there is a delicate balance between plant, water and fish that’s more obvious than that of the earth because it goes awry easily and when it does, things get bad in a hurry. It took me a while to get the balance right and now I’m vigilant about keeping it. This has given me a renewed respect for nature, which does this seemingly without effort.

Danios, by F.T. McKinstry

The watery realms provide an interesting metaphor for painting, as the creative process when I’m moving oil paint on a canvas is watery in sensation and feeling.

My fishes would approve.

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

Tansel of Loralin

Tansel of Loralin, by F.T. McKinstry

It is often said that characters in a story have a life of their own. This phenomenon can be startling to writers, myself included. Tansel first came to me in a fairy tale about a maiden whose love for her garden and a bad attitude towards wizards lead her to a remarkable discovery of her hidden power. But Tansel had more to say when her little story grew into an entire novel involving the forces of the Otherworld, two of the most powerful wizards in the land and a nasty family secret.

In the following excerpt, we are introduced to Tansel and the seeds of a shadow.

Excerpt

Some things did not stay well in gardens.

Tansel knew this, being a gardener like her mother, and her mother before her. She lived deep in the verdant, shadowy hills of Loralin Forest, in a one-room cottage made of river stones. Old clay pots of herbs and flowers crowded small windows with diamond-shaped panes. She owned one small table cluttered with plant stalks, dirt, pots and jars, a mortar and pestle, a knife with a stag-horn handle and a chair with an unraveling reed mat to sit on. She slept on a pallet by the hearth. Dominating the room, a rambling pantry held seeds, dried leaves, twigs, roots and bark in baskets, old cloth bags, stone and glass phials, jars, and wooden boxes. With these Tansel made a modest living.

Tansel loved her garden with all her heart. It surrounded the cottage and spread out beneath the edges of the forest like a wild thing, singing. She grew things for eating, seasoning and healing; things that smelled pretty, attracted butterflies, birds, bees, and cats; she grew things for the shapes of their leaves, the way the sun and moon shone upon a petal or a stalk, or the way one thing grew beside another, tangling high and low in arches, tendrils and delicate patterns. Some plants loved the high, bright sun; others preferred the shadows beneath evergreen trees, or water caressing their roots. Tansel grew things she simply liked the names of. Things no one knew the names of.

Few could have said exactly what grew in Tansel’s garden. Not even she knew, from season to season. The garden had a rhythm of its own, a balance that took care of itself.

Her mother had once told her, Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined. The cottage, the garden and that mysterious piece of information were the only things she had left her young daughter of twelve summers before running away into the lands beyond Loralin like a cucumber vine on a compost heap.

Seven years later, Tansel knew what stayed in her garden and not.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Tansel appears in “The Trouble with Tansy,” a short story in Wizards, Woods and Gods; and in The Winged Hunter, an epic fantasy tale of desire, lost innocence, and healing. Tansel is also featured in Monsters and Gardening.

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

Earth Awakening

Trout Lily, by F.T. McKinstry

Trout Lily

Spring flows through the cold
Softening, awakening
Tangled branches twine
Like nests
Reaching for the sun
Rivers break their icy bounds
And bathe the land in fluid song
Beech leaves rattle amid
Heavens of buds
Gazing down like stars upon the earth
Dark, damp and fragrant
Mayflowers rise through sodden leaves
Ferns spiral forth
And woodland lilies grace the dark with light

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

Eating Crow

Sioros

It is never a good idea to anger a wizard. One witch causes enough strife to provoke a powerful mage to summon an immortal hunter after her. But when she plumbs the utter reaches of her skills as a shapeshifter to elude the hunter, she discovers the value of her own humanity.

Excerpt

Shapeshifting was Oona’s life, a fluid existence she preferred to humanity. As a human, she would have avoided anything to do with the Master of Straif. A wizard of the deep flowing waters, the hollows of the earth and the implacable forces of blood and transformation, he had one black boot in the shadows.

And he loved his crow.

Oona, on the other hand, found the raucous creature too tempting. Tawny, lithe and driven by the lust of spring, she slipped around the eastern wall of the castle and climbed the spiky old hawthorn tree that grew there.

Most humans knew better than to cross a wizard. A cat did not care.

She landed with a soft thump in a bed of periwinkle. The crow called to the dawn. Nice of him to give her something to head for, though she would have smelled him easily enough without the noise. She crept on her belly through the shadows of lupine spires, tulips and daffodils until she spotted the bird on his perch above the crabapple tree. Fluid as sound, she changed.

She landed with a graceful flutter in the tree, a beautiful female crow with glistening black wings and a song for the male on his perch. He knew enough to be wary of her instant appearance in his domain, but curiosity distracted him. In that instant of miscalculation, Oona drew close and returned to her wildcat shape to finish her wicked deed. It ended quickly.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Eating Crow” 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 inspired one of the scenes in The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

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

Nature as Muse: Root and Stone

Natural landscapes are an integral part of any good tale, a multidimensional backdrop that gives life to the imagination. Like music, natural settings fall in patterns, creating moods, thoughts, and impressions by virtue of what they are.

Inspired by mountains, forests and all things that grow, the world of Ealiron is richly illustrated with root and leaf, both literally and through ancient traditions of magic honoring the correspondences between plants, trees, animals, color, and sound. Here we will journey through old forests, wise trees, enchanted gardens, fragile flowers, and mountains.

Forests

It was the forest’s fault. Those two handsome woodcutters. An evil place, the forest, everyone knew it, full of temptations and imps… ~ Tanith Lee

Hobbit Woods, by F.T. McKinstryForests get a bad rap in fairy tales. When they are portrayed at their most beautiful, that is when we’d best beware. While a deep, dark wood is an excellent metaphor for the shadowy realms of the mind, there is no denying that forests have a soul. The presence of trees creates a feeling of awe and stimulates the imagination.

The following excerpt describes an ancient forest called Eusiron’s Haunt, so called because a god of that name is consciously aware as the soul of the wood. Some say he protects the palace above. Others say it amuses him. To a wizard named Lorth, the Haunt is particularly uncanny.

In this forest, he could have seen a ghost, a wolf or a dragon. He could have seen something as fearsome as a sioros, an immortal man-shaped predator with tall black wings, fangs and no tolerance whatsoever for anything intruding on its territory. He had heard stories of things like that. Efar had told him that whatever one saw here depended on who that person was and with what purpose. Had his intentions been different—hostile, for example—the forest might have changed not only in appearance, but also in what lived here. It would not change in a linear sense, as if monsters or armies suddenly flooded from the trees. Time-space itself would change. From one moment to the next, a forest slightly unnerving would become, from the beginning of time, a forest patrolled by sioros, dragons and Maern knew what else. The ancient oak tree that moved from one side of the path to the other would become a monster with its own history, intentions and no one to stop it, as most likely no palace would tower above the tops of the trees, with an army inside to come to the rescue. ~ The Hunter’s Rede

Trees

“Listen to the trees talking in their sleep,” she whispered, as he lifted her to the ground. “What nice dreams they must have!” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

The Om Tree, by F.T. McKinstryThere are forests, and then there are trees. After all, you can miss one for the other. Every kind of tree has its own personality: the texture of its bark, how it roots, the shape of its leaves, or the sound wind makes when it blows through the boughs. The spirits of trees are traditionally associated with qualities such as elemental forces, seasons, colors and life cycles. In Ealiron, different trees correspond with the twelve orders of the Keepers of the Eye, wizards and craftspeople who maintain balance in the world’s energies.

There exists a very rare tree in Ealiron called an Om tree. Its seeds are planted by gods, and it lives for many centuries. An Om tree grows in the palace of Eusiron, and is greatly loved by the Mistress of the realm.

The Mistress approached the tree and placed her hands upon it. “Hai love,” she said softly. A bough rustled, lowered down and brushed against the small of her back like a caress. Lorth had once heard about this, though he had disregarded it as a tale warriors tell over fire and drink in the wee hours. They called it the Om tree. Seeded by the stars, the tree rooted deeply into the iomor beneath the palace. It was said the tree knew things, could tell truth from lies, and saw through its bark and limbs to the very heart of the Old One herself. ~ The Hunter’s Rede

Gardens

Gardens are not made by singing “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade. ~ Rudyard Kipling, Complete Verse

The Cosmic Garden, by F.T. McKinstryA garden is a lively place. Plants reach into the soil and up to the sun with chaotic abandon, and yet there is balance; things emerge only in their time, and when the shadows of summer grow long, the garden bows out gracefully. I find joy in participating in this. For my part, I arrange things in nice patterns and keep order while at the same time nurturing the chaos.

Tansel of Loralin is born of three generations of wisewomen. Gardening is in her blood…but she has yet to learn the most profound secret her garden is keeping.

Tansel loved her garden with all her heart. It surrounded the cottage and spread out beneath the edges of the forest like a wild thing, singing. She grew things for eating, seasoning and healing; things that smelled pretty, attracted butterflies, birds, bees, and cats; she grew things for the shapes of their leaves, the way the sun and moon shone upon a petal or a stalk, or the way one thing grew beside another, tangling high and low in arches, tendrils and delicate patterns. Some plants loved the high, bright sun; others preferred the shadows beneath evergreen trees, or water caressing their roots. Tansel grew things she simply liked the names of. Things no one knew the names of.

Few could have said exactly what grew in Tansel’s garden. Not even she knew, from season to season. The garden had a rhythm of its own, a balance that took care of itself. ~ The Winged Hunter

Flowers

With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy? ~ Oscar Wilde

Echinacea, by F.T. McKinstryFlowers are spectacular creations. Brilliant, intense, fragile, and fleeting, flowers capture the essence of sensitive and yet enduring things. When a flower blooms, we know something important is happening.

In this excerpt, an immortal being is having a crisis for which simple things in nature, including flowers, offer some perspective.

The swamp kept singing, falling in harmony to her tears. Life abounded here; it could not grow fast enough. Snakes curled in the trees, muskrats ambled through the cattails to loam hollows, colorful birds fluttered about and bugs crept over rotting logs. A red hind drank from a pool. Rain tapped softly on emerald leaves and touched the flowers, causing them to bob around as if laughing. ~ “The Fifth Verse,” Wizards, Woods and Gods

Mountains

The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change. ~ Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

Mountains, by F.T. McKinstryAn interesting thing about mountains is how they vary in character from one range to the next. There are old mountains, worn down by time and dark in their knowing; young, spectacular mountains crowned by unmelting snow; lush green jungle mountains; and rugged, arid ones. The creatures that live in the mountains know them.

For those living in the valleys, the surrounding mountains exude mystery, as in this excerpt:

The hermit spoke of a temple in the north, at the base of Math’s Eye, the mountain range that protected the realm. He said the War God slept there, beneath five points, five lines and a raven’s eye. So said the old tales. So said the mad. No one else spoke of such things. ~ “The War God Sleeps,” Wizards, Woods and Gods

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Nature as Muse: Warm and Furry
Nature as Muse: Creepy and Crawly
Nature as Muse: Water and Sky

© F.T. McKinstry 2013. 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.

The Solar Breath

Frost Moon, by F.T. McKinstry

I have always loved the idea of naming the full moons. Traditionally, these names reflect nature through the seasons, and vary with history and culture; for example, between English Medieval, Norse, Celtic or Native American. This beautiful lore gives rise to visual and emotional impressions, the province of the moon itself.

While working on The Chronicles of Ealiron, I wrote and illustrated a series of verses to capture the essence of each cycle using tree, plant and animal lore. This is called solaeson, which in the wizards’ tongue means “the solar breath.” Some day these verses will find a home in the series.

In celebration of the Celtic New Year, I’ve begun with November.

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