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.

Yuletide Wolves

Winter Light

Yule Greetings!

Each of the eight seasonal festivals in the Wheel of the Year have a certain magic around them, a spirit that connects all living things to the cycles of the sun and moon. The Winter Solstice is especially powerful, as it marks the rebirth of the sun from the darkness of the longest night. I live far enough north where this a clear transition; it gets dark at four in the afternoon, and when the bitter cold descends, one feels mortal. Knowing that the sun will return is a wonderful thing.

Solstice

I love the pristine silence of the longest night, like something finished and yet hopeful. It can feel daunting, a Dark Night of the Soul when the darkness is so all-encompassing it seems there was never light and never will be. This is a tricky thing about transformation. It’s also where the magic happens.

So I couldn’t think of a better day to release The Wolf Lords, which is haunted by these themes. The demons you think are safely dispatched return to claim their due. Warriors, witches and those who know the loneliness of power face a dragon of darkness, and to prevail, they must do the unimaginable.

Bring it on. Where would we be without demons, goblins, elves and immortal warlocks?

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.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtHaven’t read Book One yet? Oh dear.

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.

The Winged Hunter

The Winged Hunter Cover

Tansel is a gardener with a healer’s hand. Fey, they call her.
Her aunt, a dabbler in hedge witchery, calls her cursed.
To the most powerful wizards in the land, she is an enigma.

The Winged Hunter is the third book in the Chronicles of Ealiron, a heroic fantasy series that revolves around an assassin called Lorth of Ostarin, an assassin and wizard who serves the old powers.

Deep in the heart of Loralin Forest, folks whisper of the crowharrow, an immortal predator with the body of a male god, towering black wings and the claws and fangs of a mountain cat. A legend, they say. But the wise know differently.

Tansel of Loralin is a gardener with a healer’s hand. Sheltered by solitude, innocence, and the secrets of three generations of troubled wizards, she does not understand why, during a personal crisis, a mysterious mage named Caelfar takes her away from her forest home under a premise of protection. But her aunt Aradia, a witch, has been waiting. She knows a terrible secret involving Caelfar and the crowharrow, a diabolical seducer and destroyer of women. When the beast casts its spell on Tansel, only Aradia knows what it means.

Caelfar, while enormously powerful, is very old and worn for reasons long buried in his past. His desperation to protect Tansel from the crowharrow and a strong distrust of Aradia’s motives drives him to summon a wizard named Eaglin of Ostarin, the son of a god and master of the old powers. When Eaglin answers this summons, he is confronted by a secret of his own, an old wound in his heart that takes shape as the crowharrow itself. Thus tormented, he journeys to Loralin accompanied by Lorth, a wizard-assassin with an inborn vision into the Otherworld, and with whom Eaglin shares a turbulent yet appreciative history.

Sheltered by the wilds her entire life, Tansel is ill prepared to deal with the intensity of an immortal seduction spell, let alone the long shadows of wizards and the complexities of family politics. At the hands of the Otherworld, she and the wizards are swept up in a whirlwind of peril, deception, and upheaval that exposes a devastating connection between the crowharrow and Tansel’s bloodline.

Unfortunately, healing this curse will require a terrible sacrifice.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Can be read as a standalone story.

Novel, 270 pages
Second Edition.
Ebook includes a Glossary and a link to Maps.
Glossary
Map of Ealiron: Sourcesee
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“The novel resonates with the beauty of the natural world, of gardens and the numinous earth.” – Michael D. Smith, author of the Jack Commer Series

“The Winged Hunter is set in a world that is one of the most detailed I’ve seen in quite some time. The book contains rich description of sights and sounds that while evocative of the real world, have that touch of the fantastical that you can only find in epic fantasy.” – Patricia D. Eddy, Author Alliance

“The Winged Hunter provides another fresh look at a fantasy landscape. It is a quiet but powerful tale of innocence and maturity, broken promises, and the value of a well-kept garden.” – Alex Willging, Mr. Rhapsodist

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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© F.T. McKinstry 2018. 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.

Plastic Tulips and Writing What You Know

Cosmic Garden

“Cosmic Garden” by F.T. McKinstry

My maternal grandmother, now in the arms of the gods, had a degree in microbiology. I don’t know that she ever did much with it; marriage, a family and the expectations of her generation made that difficult. A classic German stoic, she didn’t talk much about her past, or how she felt about things. She was smart and she didn’t take any crap from anybody. But she loved her gardens.

GrandmaWhen it came to plants, my grandmother knew the scientific names of everything, it seemed. To a lesser extent, so does my mother; and to a lesser extent than that, so do I. My grandmother grew up in the North, and at some point moved with her family to Texas. She was always experimenting, trying to grow things that didn’t like heat. She was persistent. She tried tricks like freezing tulip bulbs to force dormancy, but the southern Texas climate would have none of that and eventually she gave up and stuck some plastic tulips in the garden to see if anyone noticed. She did this with such stealth and subtlety that even my mother fell for it. Hook, line and sinker.

I never saw my grandmother get excited about much, but oh, how she laughed when her tulip scam was exposed. She was less amused the time I stabbed my brother with a stitch ripper (he so deserved it, btw); she curled up her fist and punched me. But what I most remember is how she lit up when I moved to the North, where it was easier to grow things like astilbe, monarda, broccoli, and of course, tulips.

I loved my grandmother’s dark, ornery sense of humor and her penchant for tinkering, which I inherited. Every year I wage a military campaign against cabbage worms. My cats chase the pretty white butterflies, but that is not an effective means of pest control. So this year, I decided to try planting some nasturtiums, because supposedly bugs hate them. Believe it or not, there are less caterpillars than usual amid this jungle. How’s that for optimism.

Nasturtiums

Far be it for me to ignore writing gardens into a story or two. Though my stories tend to be dark, full of war, sorcery and creepy things, there will be a gardener in there somewhere; a witch growing herbs for her spells, for example. In my short story “The Trouble with Tansy,” a young woman born of three generations of wisewomen knows little of her ancestral garden’s mysteries until she discovers her own power in the darkness of winter, the words of a witch, and the loss of her innocence.

Excerpt: “The Trouble with Tansy”

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 hemlock trees, or water caressing their roots. Tansel grew things that she liked the names of. Things no one knew the names of.

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

WWG Print Cover Art“The Trouble with Tansy” 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 was also the original inspiration for The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

 
 

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

One of the protagonists in Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, has an ancient power she spins into her knitting that gets the attention of not only the gods but also a malevolent immortal with nothing good in mind. She also has a garden, of course.

Excerpt: Outpost

Autumn was a knitter’s busy time. Melisande knit brindled patterns of drops and sky over the summer; wove strands of sky-blue wool into the edge of a belt as the hard gray line of a late frost passed her garden by; pulled threads of weeds from the stitched patterns of the vegetable patch, leaving purple violets to grace the air with Othin’s favorite scent; and braided black yarn with rosemary and periwinkle to protect her cottage when the shadows grew long. Such amusements aside, she always had something to do. Folk from far around prized her work for its weird charm.

Well, most of them.

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.

Water Dark

Water Dark Cover Art

In the calm, deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits. – From Water Dark

A tale of desire and deception told on a fairy-tale landscape of arcane texts, herbal lore, visions and disasters at the hands of the powerful. Water Dark is a standalone novella that takes place in the world of Ealiron, and features Eaglin of Ostarin, a main character in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

This novella is also 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.

Water Dark was originally published by Wild Child Publishing, 2013.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

In the western-most crumbling halls of a mountain citadel lives a lonely wizard named Urien, a master of his art and a fledgling priest of a primordial goddess of transformation. Though his training is extensive, no training could prepare him for a broken heart. For years he has lived on the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such wounds do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess, Urien’s heart reveals itself as a grim warning from the goddess herself, in the shape of a wolf.

In the wake of this unsettling experience, Urien discovers that his most gifted apprentice, a beautiful, wild-tempered woman—and the partner of his erstwhile lover—is in grave danger. A series of swift-moving mishaps including a second warning and a badly backfired protection spell lands Urien into a love triangle that exposes not only his deepest desires but also the black machinations of the priestess who deceived him. When she wields her full power against him, he must reconcile his heart in order to save his lovers and himself from isolation and death.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Novella, 50 pages
Map: Ealiron: Sourcesee and West
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Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“This is my introduction to the literature of FT McKinstry, and I’m positively in love with her writing style!” – R.A. Sears, The Ragnarok Legacy (See Entire Review)

“Water Dark was an engaging dark fantasy. It was very well written, plot driven, and pulled me in immediately.” – Wicked Readings by Tawania (See Entire Review)

“Water Dark is a tale that should delight both fantasy fans and devoted followers of F.T. McKinstry. It provides an unexpected conclusion keeping the novel rather cryptic and mysterious…” – Writer Wonderland (See Entire Review)

“Like her full legenth novels, this story is well thought out and told in such poetic, beautiful language. A very enjoyable story!” – Amazon Customer Review

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

The Spooky Forest

WWG Print Cover Art

When I was a child, my grandparents lived on a golf course. It was a beautiful place, mysterious and sprawling with woods, lakes and paths. A good place to go fishing, only mind the snakes and snapping turtles. Not far from my grandparents’ house, a path went through a dense patch of woods with a stream running through it. We called it the Spooky Forest. It was generally agreed upon that straying from the path was a bad idea.

Far be it for me to write something that doesn’t have woods in it–the creepier the better. So I’m honoring my childhood haunt with today’s release of the Second Edition Ebook of 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.

These stories reflect some general themes, as follows. Click on the story links for descriptions, excerpts and illustrations.

The Power of Creation

Shade Falls

“These things three, your garden needs
“To make the dark and light the same.
“Slis, a frog,
“Gea, the spring and
“Retch, the oldest wizard’s name.”
– From “The Trouble with Tansy”

The forces of creation exist in all things, flora and fauna, seasons, worlds, every act of the heart, every loss and turn of a mind. Light comes from the Void and surprises its creators with something new and heretofore unknown. In “The Trouble with Tansy” and “The Fifth Verse,” two women, a mortal and an immortal, discover the power of creation through the inexorable forces of death.

The Immortal Hunter

Sioros

Had she not been so entranced, Oona might have noticed the shadow falling over her, soft and quiet as a forgotten dream. A wizard can be very sneaky when he wants to. And there he stood, in the fading light of the setting moon, staring down at the remains of his crow with an expression that could have cracked a standing stone. – From “Eating Crow”

Wizards call him sioros, an immortal predator with the body of a male god, towering black wings and the claws and fangs of a mountain cat. To lay eyes on him means either heartbreak or death depending on how the winds blow that day. In “Eating Crow” and “Marked,” one woman attempts to elude the hunter and pays with her heart; the other tries to bargain with him and pays with her life.

War and Transformation

The Glass

A sun’s cycle had passed since Solfaron set its predatory gaze on the Glass. With a warrior’s edgy calm, Liros had told Pael that he lived on the wrong side of the border, in the wrong land, with his forest, his visions, and his sacred observatory. But Pael cared little for his older brother’s admonitions. He loved the land of Moth with all his heart; he had touched the towering crystal observatory of the Glass and he knew what it could do. Solfaron could try to take it but they would fail. Only his love for Liros kept Pael concerned with it at all. War did not affect him, a mystic living in the wilds like an animal.

He questioned this now, as he ran for his life beneath the thunder of warhorses and the shouts of his brother’s men. – From “DeathSeer”

War destroys the fortresses of innocence with the awesome indifference of a natural force such as an earthquake or a hurricane. Whatever its causes or intentions, it changes things. Permanently. But while it can drive us to the depths of human depravity, sometimes, as with any traumatic event, it can also awaken us to our potential. In “The Bridge,” “DeathSeer” and “Earth Blood,” a priestess and two warriors find themselves caught in wars that strip the veils from their eyes to reveal their true natures.

Awakening Gods

The Temple of Math

Between the gnarled, twisted trunks of two oak trees loomed a black opening. Roots draped over and around the darkness inside as if to feed on it. Sethren walked slowly, his body aching and his heart pounding, until he stood at the threshold. Cool air breathed from the shadows. He could barely discern the images in the cracked stones for the moss and ivies clinging in the lines—except for one at the top: an interlocking five-pointed star with a black stone eye in the center.

Five points, five lines and a raven’s eye.

He had found the Temple of Math. – From “The War God Sleeps”

Some say that everything we know is the dream of a god. I am fascinated by the idea of a sleeping god, a being who comes from and must occasionally return to the quiescence of the womb, as all things do, for healing, renewal and rebirth. In “The War God Sleeps” and “The Origin,” one god is awakened by a mortal; the other, by his own creation.

Love

dormouse-in-ivy

Movement caught his attention. In the distance, Rosamond sat on the edge of the rushing water, on a wide rock, her long legs bared and her face tilted back to the sun like a contented cat.

Urien called out with enough force to shake the ground. “ROSAMOND!”

She stirred, beamed a glorious smile and waved.

Urien’s foreboding rose with the force of the river. He cupped his hands to his mouth. “Get away from the water!”

Her smile faded as she turned. From the north, an enormous bore from an unseen tide rose up into a wall of crashing, maleficent, white-green waves. Rosamond shrieked and jumped up. Urien raised his hands and cried a string of words that rent the course like a scythe, but he could not drop the river before it swept her into its foamy clutches without a sound. – From “Water Dark”

Love, being every bit as powerful as, if not easily compared to, a creepy forest, naturally rears its head in most of these stories. But in “The Om Tree,” “Pattern Sense” and “Water Dark,” an assassin, a knitter and a wizard are caught up in love’s brambles and encounter their powers there.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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