Weighing In: LGBTQ Characters in Fantasy

I grew up in the 70s in Houston, Texas, in a relatively old neighborhood near Rice University. Across the street lived a couple named Bob and John. My mother once told me they were married. Looking back, I’ve realized that couldn’t have been true in a legal sense, but at the time I didn’t question it. Bob was a radiologist and John was an animal trainer. Their house was decorated in rich colors and full of antiques and interesting artifacts. They had an old cat, a pair of ferrets and a cockatiel, and their tiny backyard was a jungle of exotic plants. When they went on vacation, I had the honor of taking care of their plants and critters; and when we went away, Bob and John returned the favor. They were awesome and I loved them.

I ate, drank and slept fantasy novels as a kid. It was sanity; it was identity. My first experience of LGBTQ in the genre was Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor. Many of the characters were LGBTQ, and I liked how it was presented, as a matter of fact. Like Bob and John. A big deal wasn’t made of it one way or the other.

Eaglin of Ostarin

Eaglin of Ostarin

When I started writing fantasy, I unthinkingly followed suit. I wasn’t purposefully drafting LGBTQ characters or anything. When it comes to writing, I’m one of those whack jobs who needs to take every step in darkness and see where it leads. And as any author will tell you, characters have a life of their own. They are who they are, straight, queer or whatever. I suspect trying to assign or remove identity would no more work than it would on a flesh and blood person.

When characters with LGBTQ inclinations do appear to me, however subtle, casual or intense–mortals, immortals, elves, warriors, prostitutes, spies, whoever–they do so without taboos or religions trying to shut them down. They might be good or evil or somewhere in between, but their sexual preferences aren’t singled out, marginalized or labeled, let alone persecuted. This isn’t to say horrible things don’t happen to them, or that some jerk won’t take a shot there for lack of something better, but that sort of intolerance is not part of the culture. Frankly? There’s enough of that bullshit in this world, and I’m not about to map it into mine beyond the throes of love, lust and heartache that everyone deals with. So you’re a man and you prefer to fuck men? Huzzah for you. Grab a sword, we have incoming.

Anyway, a protagonist will step up now and then. Here are a few mentions.

Water Dark Cover Art“Love knows all paths, where even gods and cats are blind.” – from Water Dark

My first LGTBQ character, so dear to my heart, is named Urien. He belongs to the highest order of the Keepers of the Eye, a hierarchical order of wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. Among other things, Urien can shapeshift into flora, fauna, earth, or fog, and he can cast an apparition or merge with the minds of gods. For years, he has haunted the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such secrets do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess with a hidden agenda, Urien finds himself facing the loss of everything he loves.

Fortunately, his erstwhile lover has a secret, too.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“On soft white pads, he slipped unseen into the trees to the singing of blades and the shudder of the earth drinking blood.” – From “Deathseer”

Liros is the protagonist in “Deathseer,” a short story included in the collection Wizards, Woods and Gods. The commander of an occupying force in a foreign land ruled by the presence of a mysterious alien observatory, Liros has the ability to see the hand of Death, a secret he hides for the sake of sanity, as his commanders would stop at nothing to use it to their own ends.

When a terrible dream drives Liros to check on an outpost, his lords send his lover Thorn, an assassin, to accompany him. Liros knows him well enough keep him close. As Liros’s gift betrays him and exposes a devastating breach of honor by his men, he and Thorn must choose between duty and love, both choices involving bloody consequences.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Arcmael handed the charm to the sorcerer. Leofwine studied it intently, his face drawn. After a moment he said, ‘This is old magic. Very old.'” – From Outpost

Leofwine Klemet is seneschal to the High Constable of the King’s Rangers. Knowing that the quiet, watchful man’s duties to their lord involve something more intimate than those of a seneschal, the rangers suspect Leofwine is a spy belonging to a dark and ancient sorcerers’ brotherhood. So does the suspicious, vengeful high constable. After fleeing for his life on the eve of war, Leofwine becomes a friend and ally to a ranger who also gets on the wrong side of the high constable after discovering a plot behind a curtain of sorcery. Here, Leofwine’s arcane knowledge comes in handy–for he is a sorcerer, of course. And a spy. But no one needs to know about that.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Leofwine breathed a foul string of words, the blood on his body and the void of his lover’s death giving them form, the culmination of spit, roots, hate and tears, eyes that never closed, hunger that was never sated. A sudden gale rose up from the north and whipped the trees into a frenzy.” – From The Wolf Lords

In The Wolf Lords, Leofwine’s full potential is revealed, complete with a host of demons, torments and nasty enemies. An adept sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, Leofwine has given up espionage and now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job but for his lover, a prince, and shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving someone he holds dearer than life, Leofwine goes berserk and summons a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a maelstrom of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

And this is only the beginning of his troubles.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Wizards, Woods and Gods

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

Georgie, Herald of Wickedness

I recently had the honor of sharing this on Mighty Thor JRS, an awesome blog to follow if you’re into Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Vikings and Norse Mythology. Here it is again in case you missed it.

Beasties

When I was a little kid, my mother would read me stories from a vintage 1960s Childcraft book. Well (clears throat), it wasn’t vintage then but whatever. My favorite story was called “Georgie,” about a ghost that haunted an old New England house and its kindly owners. Georgie wasn’t a bad ghost, just a little confused. I related to him. The addition of Herman the cat and Miss Oliver the owl permanently embedded this tale in my subconscious—or perhaps it was the other way around. Hard to tell.

Anyway, as it turns out, Georgie was a herald. All my favorite tales involve the Otherworld in one way or another, whether it’s a ghost, a vampire, an elf, a god or mortals such as shamans or witches who negotiate with such beings. I went from devouring high fantasy, swords and sorcery, and fairy tales to creating worlds of my own in which, despite Georgie’s charm, I quickly discovered a natural penchant for the darker side of things.

Of course, “dark” is a complex term that means different things to everyone. In my head it might take shape as a creepy, sightless demon that chews your face off, a malevolent phooka that will promise you one thing but deliver another, an elven warlock that might be your friend but probably isn’t, that cold finger on your spine at the thought of traveling through that particular forest, or the grim, sickening despair in your gut after a sorcerer curses you and you know you’re going to die.

Poor Georgie! He fell in with a bad crowd. Well, that’s what happens when you listen to the cat.

Being a votary of Tolkien since around Georgie’s time, I am strongly influenced by Northern European folklore and Norse mythology, which formed a custom groundwork in my high fantasy series The Fylking. Add to this palette works like The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski, which is a motherlode of creepy, nasty fairytale monsters and the bastards who hunt them, or Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, one of my favorite anti-heroes, and inspiration knows no bounds.

Here are some of my favorite beasties.

Draugr, Goblins and Phooka

Draugr. The draugr is an undead creature in Norse mythology. While often compared to a zombie, 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 these traditional attributes, but they are also given life by an immortal warlock with his own agenda. 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 created them.

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.Outpost, Book One in The Fylking

Goblins. Nasty, foul-mouthed, wicked creatures. You would not want to cross their path, let alone offend them. Arcmael, the protagonist of Outpost, does both. He is a seer and a servant of the Fylking, immortal, unseen warlords who hold dominion over the realm. Arcmael lands on the bad side of the Otherworld, where most beings revere the Fylking as gods. But goblins revere nothing. They capture Arcmael and throw him in the bowels of their palace. Aside from his being fed some really disgusting fare, I won’t spoil what happens.

Truss him up! Drag him hither! Bind his limbs! Make him slither!Outpost, Book One in The Fylking

 
Phooka. The name has many variations which show up in Celtic cultures throughout Northwestern Europe. In Irish, púca means “spirit” or “ghost.” The Old Norse term pook or puki refers to a “nature spirit.” This creature is a shape changer, part human at times, or part or all animal such as a goat or a horse, always with dark fur. Bleak, uncanny and generally wicked, the phooka is best to be avoided; yet can also be beneficial depending on mood or circumstance. In Outpost and The Wolf Lords, a phooka summoned by a desperate sorcerer wreaks havoc as only a phooka can.

The village girl who went missing and was found on the last dark moon, floating in her uncle’s millpond, was said to have been fey and prone to accidents. A comforting tale. Leofwine saw the poor creature’s death in the runes: drowning by twilight, the pale green eyes of the phooka glinting on the surface of the pond.The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking

The Phooka

So if you’re into monsters, creepy creatures, fiends and the idgits who cross them, I have goodies for you. The books in the following series are available for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Don’t worry. I won’t tell Georgie.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry 
The Chronicles of Ealiron features wizards, warriors, gods, a wolfish apparition with an agenda, clever ravens, a dastardly winged predator and an immortal sea serpent.

 
The Hunter’s Rede, Book One. Lorth of Ostarin is a hunter of men. Lawless, solitary and obscure, he is trained in magic and its inherent order. This uneasy combination of pitilessness and structure has made him the highest paid assassin in the land. It is also about to throw his life into chaos.

The trouble begins when Lorth returns home from a long absence to find his old haunts compromised by a cruel, upstart warlord who has invaded the realm and pushed it to the brink of war. Lorth’s cavalier attempt to elude a political sandpit quickly deteriorates into a series of skirmishes that he negotiates with a sword and a reckless penchant for using magic against the rules. He flees with a price on his head; but no angry warlords, wizards, foreign aristocrats or spooky apparitions can rattle him from the dark stability of his profession—until he is captured and condemned to execution by a formidable wizard who serves the old powers.

In his quest to prove his innocence and loyalty to the realm, Lorth discovers the value of his conflict between war and wizardry. But his quest turns bloody when love for a priestess and a will to avenge his homeland drives him to infiltrate an enemy occupation bent on domination and a blatant disregard for the forces of magic. This brings him to his greatest test, where he must surrender to the darkness of his nature to become a hunter unlike anything he has ever known.

 
The Fylking involves immortal warlords, elves, goblins, phooka, draugr, demons, warlocks, witches, sorcerers and all the trouble one can find dealing with them.

Outpost, Book One. 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.

The Wolf Lords, Book Two. 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.

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

The Wolf Lords Released

Wolf Lords Cover

Samhain Greetings.

Good things take time. Often enough, it’s the things we love the most that require the most time and energy. We’ll throw my next novel, The Wolf Lords, into that category. I wrote this beastie amid two years of personal hell I’ll call shamanic initiation, for lack of a better term. Though it’s Halloween, I’ll spare you the gory details. Watch a horror movie.

PhookaBeing a dark, tormented, sensitive sort, I have a strong connection to this time of year, the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Horror movies, tricks and treats aside, Samhain is a transformational time that marks a change in the natural world, a descent into darkness. The veil between the physical and spirit worlds thins, a portal that allows energy to flow between. One can release things to the void, pass through the darkness, and emerge renewed.

When dealing with the spirit world, there is an exchange of energy. In the old days this was accomplished with a blood sacrifice, a literal interpretation of a spiritual truth. Releasing the old is a treat to the spirits, one that will spare you a trick in the form of your personal ghouls rising up to claim you like a zombie horde. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Okay, I know quite a bit about that but whatever.

Anyway, in the realm of Dyrregin in my fantasy series The Fylking, the veil is frequented by not only witches and warlocks but also seers who serve an unseen immortal race of warriors called the Fylking. All of this happens beyond most mortals’ ability to perceive. In Outpost, Book One, a handful of mortals with second sight deal singlehandedly with the sort of nastiness the spirit world is capable of in the hands of a powerful enemy. But in The Wolf Lords, ambitious sorcerers and the Fylking’s ancient enemy change the veil itself, unleashing upon the realm things best left unseen.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover Art 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.

Amazon

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Haven’t read Book One yet? Tsk. I’m telling the ghouls.

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 2017. 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.

Summoning Fenrisúlfr

Summoning Fenrisúlfr

“Summoning Fenrisúlfr”
Background cover art for The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking

 

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps.

Leofwine Klemet of House Earticael is a sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of magicians who serve Loki, Prince of Wiles and the Father of Hel. Leofwine has his doubts as to whom his masters serve, however. Given the order’s bloody, patchy history, of which Leofwine is an expert, if the brotherhood served anyone it was Othin, the Allfather, a master of sorcery and runes who reveled in the grim tides of war. A trickster and consummate shapeshifter, the Hooded One would be more than pleased to move in the shadows of Loki’s dastardly reputation.

But Leofwine keeps his doubts to himself.

Once a transcriber in the King’s Archive, and a Fjorginan spy, Leofwine now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job, but for a lover and some shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

But Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving someone he holds dearer than life, Leofwine goes berserk and does the unthinkable: he summons Fenrisúlfr, a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a maelstrom of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

Ironic. But that’s the trouble with doubts. They can betray you and ruin your day.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Traditionally hired by warlords to protect their own bloody, ambitious interests, the brotherhood now keeps to itself.

Or so it is generally believed.

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps. And with the help of the Fylking’s enemies, the secrets of the Wolf Lords are about to unleash armies of demons across the land.

Those with second sight will be the first to die.

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

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

Sorcerer in the Abyss

Leo Sketch

The abyss is never far from the summit. I am fond of this concept, not because it sounds romantic, but because it reminds me of a basic truth. I am presently working on The Wolf Lords, the sequel to Outpost and the second installment in my high fantasy series The Fylking. It’s going well, and at some point I decided it was high time to start working on the cover art. Past time, in fact.

I love painting things like this. So I sketched it up, put it on my easel, got out all my oil paints and accoutrements and well, that was a week ago and there it still sits–in my way, of course–with this monstrous black abyss swirling around it that will, if I go near the thing, suck me in and annihilate my soul and that’ll be the end of it.

There are names for this phenomenon, I’m sure. I could write a textbook about it and yet, romantic platitudes aside, the sketched board is still on the easel collecting cobwebs and I can’t start the thing to save my skin. It’s not as if I don’t do this sort of thing like, every day. But sometimes the summit, that high I get when the numinous floods up and turns into something cool, is so far away all I can see is the abyss. It is an empty, lonely place.

How This IsJust…pick up a tube of paint and squirt it on the palette. No, not black! How about green. Aaaahahahahah this sucks. I hate painting.

The character in the sketch above, his name is Leofwine. A sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, he’s more adept at dealing with his personal demons than I am.

Death metal might help.

Write a blog post about it, that’ll inspire me. I can write anything, here. I’m a fantasy author. Here we go. I am about to start this painting, yes I am, right after I post this. You all heard me say it.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Traditionally hired by warlords to protect their own bloody, ambitious interests, the brotherhood now keeps to itself.

Or so it is generally believed.

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps. And with the help of the Fylking’s enemies, the secrets of the Wolf Lords are about to unleash armies of demons across the land.

Those with second sight will be the first to die.

Coming in 2017.

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 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Ranger of the North Branch

Othin of Cae Forres

Othin of Cae Forres

From Outpost, Book One in The Fylking.

The King’s Rangers are an elite brotherhood of warriors who keep order in the wilds of Dyrregin. They are seasoned, skilled in fighting, traversing and surviving in rough terrain and dangerous circumstances, and employ a complex system of messaging through riders and ravens trained to scout patrol routes and recognize their rangers’ appearance. The rangers report directly to the King through five captains who command the areas within the arms of the Gate pentacle: North Branch, East Branch, Southeast Branch, Southwest Branch, and West Branch. The rangers’ motto is “We keep the balance when the gods turn away.”

Rangers' Coat of Arms

Rangers’ Coat of Arms

Othin of Cae Forres, shown above, is a Ranger of the North Branch. Named after the Raven God (Othin is an alternate spelling of Odin), a god of wisdom, trickery and war, he serves his brotherhood with honor until the woman he loves, a peasant girl named Melisande who is touched by the gods, gets him into trouble. For love of her, he lands on the wrong side of a political trap and flees into the wilds to save his skin and discover truth amid a rat’s nest of deception and betrayal.

Storms of War

When war seizes the realm, Othin must navigate bounty hunters, the living dead abominations of a renegade warlock, and a mysterious Otherworld shade that might be friend or foe. But his greatest challenge will be dealing with a malevolent immortal warlord who has set his sights on Melisande.

All in a day’s work…

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 2017. All Rights Reserved.