Winter, Writing and The Wolf Lords

Celtic Stag

Yuletide Greetings!

It’s the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. In the north where I live, seeing “First Day of Winter” on a calendar elicits a blank stare, because it has usually been winter for a month or two already. The same thing happens on the vernal equinox around March 20th. It’s the first day of spring somewhere, but not here, although there is a different feel in the air.

Snowy Woods

I love this time of year. It gets dark late in the afternoon, and between the distant sun and the dreary weather it feels dark all the time. There’s a spirit haunting the woods, pale, hungry, staring inward with black eyes into the void, the point of conception. For me, writing is like this, a continual series of winter solstices, a dark place where there’s nothing, then suddenly a shift happens and the words flow out like the return of the sun.

BearAside from this, well, somewhat tormented view of things, I love the dark season because I get to curl up like a growly bear and get some work done while the snow blows and the temperatures plummet. Right now, I’m working on Book Two in The Fylking, called The Wolf Lords. That’s a working title, but it’s growing on me and I’ll probably go with it. At some point, on a sunny day when the light is brilliant on the snow, I’ll pull out my oil paints and get to work on the cover art.

The Wolf Lords. Oh yes, the realm of Dyrregin isn’t wartorn for no reason. There’s always someone or something plotting trouble there. Just when you thought, after the bittersweet ending of Outpost, to relax and enjoy yourselves, the shadow of mayhem is rising again, this time from the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers with some nasty issues and a new ally of which the Fylking would not approve.

So if you haven’t read Outpost, get your copy today and prepare yourselves! The Old Gods are watching and waiting.

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 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Of Mice and Swordsmen

Dormouse
I live in the woods. Mice are a way of life, and while I’ve always had ferocious hunting cats, mice are very resourceful, especially in the fall when they’re looking for winter shelter. Who can blame them? Winter is nasty, here.

You could make an interesting psychological study some 3AM, wide awake staring at the ceiling, listening to a mouse chewing on something, who knows what, insulation, wiring, rafters; it’s stockpiling caches, building nests, making baby mice–the sucker is at least a foot long, has to be–yes, you could be the Great Shaman of all Wildlife Lovers but after imagining the horrible results of nocturnal mouse business you’ll be capable of anything.

Pattern Sense Cover ArtA while back, I wrote a little story called Pattern Sense, about a knitter who discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a swordsman. I wasn’t being tormented by mice at the time (past trauma maybe), but in a vivid description of the aforementioned scenario, I came up with the perfect impetus for my protagonist to discover the extent of her skill.

If a mouse in the middle of the night can’t bring out a woman’s hidden powers, nothing can.

You can download Pattern Sense for free on Smashwords.

Pattern Sense made it to the second round finals with Daily Science Fiction, and then I published it in Tales of the Talisman. And then, something magical happened. This story, it seemed, was a glimpse of a full blown novel. This began to unfold and eventually became Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. In that story, there is more to our knitter’s power than mere hedge witchery; and the love between her and the swordsman goes to dark places indeed, a subplot driven by sorcery, treachery, war, and even the gods themselves.

Who knew? Mice have a good place in my life after all. Besides, they are cute.

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 2016. All Rights Reserved.

One Foot in The Otherworld

a day in my life

Writers spend a lot of time avoiding writing. I was doing that today, tinkering around on the internet (don’t get me started), tending to all these things I told myself were so important but were not important at all, no, just mindless distractions draped in gold, sugar and obduracy. And then I came across this brilliant little GIF.

I stared at it for a while, my mind blank as I tried to put it together. What’s happening here? I asked myself. Then I burst into laughter. What an utterly accurate depiction of my life! Sitting up here in the snowy woods — eight months of the year, that — doing yoga or whatever deep, damned thing I need to do, and all the wild, unseen beasties are there, going about their business with nary a lifted brow.

Let’s hear it for the internet. (And the crowd roars.)

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

Noble of the Wood

Apple Tree

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. ~ Welsh Proverb

The apple is a sacred tree with a long, rich history of lore surrounding it. Aside from its fruit and many medicinal uses, it was revered in ancient times as a talisman of love, healing and immortality. In Norse mythology, the goddess Iðunn gave apples to the gods to keep them immortal. Loki stole them, but had to return them when the gods began to age. In English tradition, one apple was left on each tree after harvest as a gift to the fairies. Apple wood is the traditional choice for magic wands, and a branch laden with buds, flowers and fruit enables the possessor to enter the Otherworld. Considered the food of the dead, apples are associated with Samhain.

Old Apple Tree

Apple trees grow wild in the woods where I live, and are particularly lovely in the spring, when they bloom. They tend to have dark, twisty trunks and low-sweeping, crooked branches, giving them a spooky air. A while back we bought a sturdy little tree and planted it in the back yard. It took years for the first blooms to appear. This year, it’s loaded with flowers. They smell incredible.

My apple tree has stories to tell. The winters are long and rugged up here, and the tree takes a beating, half buried in snow, torn by wind and ice. It split in an ice storm once, right down the middle and partway into the trunk. Heartbroken, I had the desperate idea of pushing it back together and holding it with electrical tape. This actually worked, if you can believe. It healed and now it’s strong as ever.

All kinds of creatures love the apple tree. The birds perch in it, and bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. In fall, I throw apples into the woods for the deer. Then there are my illustrious cats. The tree is easy to climb and perch in, and when the leaves are thick a cat can hide in it. Oh, and let’s not forget the spiders. Big, hobbit-eating spiders. They guard the tree and I’ve learned to keep my wits about me.

Oona in the Apple Tree

If all goes well this summer, we should have apples coming out our ears.

© 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.

Wintry Critters

Ermine, by F.T. McKinstry

Ermine (Mustela erminea)


Season’s Greetings, Everyone!

One of the things I love most about this time of year is the wildlife in the woods. Like any proper New Englander, I respect winter and don’t fool around when it comes to preparing for it. But animals know what they’re doing. On dastardly cold nights or during a snowstorm I look out into the dark and wonder how all the clever creatures stay warm — assuming they aren’t hibernating (wouldn’t that be nice). But the next morning they’re all out there flying and padding around the forest, cheery as you please. It puts things in perspective.

Chickadee, by F.T. McKinstry

Chickadee

A while back one winter I was out for a walk and saw a short-tailed weasel (or stoat) moving around in the snow near the base of a tree. It wore its winter fur, pure white with a black tip on its tail. In this phase it’s called an ermine; in summer the stoat is brown with a white belly. I was amazed how small it was, about the size of a red squirrel or smaller. And it moved fast. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Naturally I was inspired to capture the wee beastie in a painting, to immortalize its serendipitous appearance. If you’d like to see more paintings of critters, check out my gallery Wild Things on Fine Art America.

Art Prints

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

Free Reads for the Dark Season

December on Cooper Hill

There is no time of year when I don’t want to read and write books. Winter, however, has a special place in my heart. I live in the north where the winters are long, dark and nasty, the sort of winters that make one appreciate the finer aspects of being mortal. I haven’t seen the sun in two weeks (I’m not kidding). My greenhouse, the most colossal distraction ever, is closed up and snowed in, the gardens are asleep, the woodstove is glowing and the biggest excitement of the day is watching the wildlife bickering around the feeders outside. My cats enjoy this too when they aren’t beating up on each other.

What better time to hunker down into books, heh. In celebration, here are some short fantasy stories to go with your hot cocoa during the wintry hours. May your season be bright!

The Om Tree, Cover ArtTrees know things. In this dark little tale, a wizard-assassin loses what is most dear to him and thereby learns the true nature of his art.

Fantasy, 2100 words. Read here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Earth Blood Cover ArtThe earth keeps secrets. A dark tale of war, loss, and the powers of the earth.

Fantasy, 1940 words. Read here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pattern Sense, Cover ArtIt all started with a mouse. A knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a warrior.

Fantasy, 3500 words. Read here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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