Welcome to Midnight Oil Diary

I’m glad you dropped by!  This blog contains commentary on gaming, fantasy, and science fiction, along with some of my own stories.  If you’re here for the blog, please read on.  If you’d like to go right to the stories, follow the links below.  You can also find links to the stories on the sidebar at right.

The Stories

ChildhoodsReverberationsA Hand to Hold
The Harp’s Call What We Leave Behind Let Us Then Be Joined Together

Happy New Year!

Hey Folks. just wanted to wish you all a Happy New Year, and to thank you for reading Midnight Oil Diary in 2021! I’ll leave you with this photo of the interior of Washington Union Station, Washington, D.C. (I had to go up that way this morning, and it’s an interesting building). See you soon!

Even More Notable Links

What, another Notable Links post this month (What, more than one post in thirty days)? Okay, I haven’t been able to put any work into Part II of the Cobblestones story — we’re on a family holiday trip, and family holiday trip stuff tends to take precedence. But I did get a chance to do a little reading today, and have a couple links to pass along:

First, Kent Wayne, the Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha, talks about the series that started his writing career. A four-book epic, Echo covers a lot of concrete and abstract topics, along with plenty of swashbuckling violence. And if that’s not your cup of Earl Grey, you can always jump into Kor’Thank: Barbarian Valley Girl! Link is here.

Now, I’ve talked about Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha before, but here’s a writer I hadn’t come across before this afternoon. Nila Patel has been writing the Storyfeather site since 2013, and has added dozens of stories since starting. The latest, entitled The Lunarian, concerns a pair of lunar explorers, an unexpected encounter, and a complete reassessment of humanity’s relationship with the cosmos. I expect I’ll be spending a lot of time on this site!

Oh, where did we go on our family trip? Wife, kids and I did a little traveling in Colorado. It’s a beautiful state in any season, but the Rocky Mountains are absolutely striking in the winter. I hope everyone’s having a great Holiday Season — see you all soon!

Cobblestones and Mud

Hi Folks! As I’ve been hinting the last couple posts, I’ve finally published the first installment of our next story. Once again, we’ll be visiting with Cari and Max, two teens in contemporary Solitude. We’ll see their relationship develop further, as Max undergoes an experience that allows him to understand Cari (and himself) a little better. Along the way, we’ll speculate a little more about Tamriel culture in a contemporary setting, and look at a couple of traditions that don’t appear in ordinary Elder Scrolls canon (in other words, I made them up, but I don’t think they override anything that’s already been established).

To read Part I of “Cobblestones and Mud,” please click here!

Notable Links, December 2021

Hey folks, I know it’s been a while. The first part of the next story is almost ready to post — I’m thinking tomorrow evening. More on that in a minute.

I did want to point out an interesting essay by Evan Davis over at The Light of Day — it seems he went to Disneyland and encountered some real, honest-to-goodness magic. Reading through his essay, I found it impossible to argue the contrary!

Also, you might remember, a few months back I gave Chris Durston’s Each Little Universe a quick review (spoiler: I loved it). Well, you might be pleased to know that it’s in its second edition, and he’s got more work out besides. Go have a look.

Regarding the next story: It’s another tale set in contemporary Solitude, and once again, we’re going to visit teenagers Cari and Max. If you’ve followed the characters, you might understand that their relationship hasn’t always been the smoothest. Will this next adventure bring them closer together? Will they understand each other more? If you’re unfamiliar with the characters, this story will provide a pretty good introduction.

Voices of the Dragonborn Era, Part II

Hey Folks! It’s been a while, I know, but we’re back with another chance to read along with Cari Ayalu as she makes her way through her new book, Voices of the Dragonborn Era. In this installment, Cari encounters an essay by an annoying, pretentious scholar, but enjoys much more the words of Irileth herself, as recorded by the Learned Berndt over one thousand years ago!

Speaking of Irileth, did you ever wonder what she might really have been like, once you got past her professional coolness? Who were her friends? Did she ever have a day off? Is being Jarl Balgruuf’s housecarl the highest point she ever wanted to attain, or did she have other aspirations? Within the confines of a video game, I suppose it’s hard to flesh out all the characters completely, and that allows us to fill in the blanks with our own imaginations.

But I just defined fan fiction, didn’t I?

To read over Cari’s shoulder, click here!

We’ll likely be returning to Cari and her book from time to time, but as we approach the holiday season and the end of the year, we’ll be starting a new story starring Cari’s sometime-friend, Max Sundberg, so stay tuned! See you soon!

Notable Links, September 2021

Max: “Umm, what are we doing here?”
Cari: “I think MOD just needed a picture. Didn’t matter which one…”

Hey Folks, still working on the next couple stories. Another installment of “Voices of the Dragonborn Era” is in the works and should be ready in the next week or so. In addition, I’ve got the beginnings of a multi-part, Holiday-themed tale starring Max and Cari partly worked out (though I’ll admit, most of it’s floating around in my skull right now, bumping into things). In the meantime, I thought I’d share a couple interesting items I found whilst browsing around the WordPress Reader:

First, author Kent Wayne, the Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha, has a nice web-based serial called The Unbound Realm, about a youngster who finds himself whisked far, far away from his mundane existence as a student destined to enter corporate dronehood. The prologue is here.

And then we have Brandi Untz’s tale, Tara of High Rock. Brandi Untz is an author and artist, and links to her stunning artwork can be found on her site. I found her illustrated story intriguing because her pictures are kind of like mine (or how I’d like mine to be, anyway!), and because I think there might be some thematic similarities to what we’re both writing. The first chapter of Tara’s story can be found here.

Enjoy! I’ll be seeing you again soon!

Max Sundberg Takes a Train Ride

So, last week we returned from a trip Out West, taking care of grad school-related matters for one of our kids. We flew out and back; I had no intention of driving all the way from the East Coast! Anyway, it’s the first time my wife and I had been on a plane in over a year, and as many of you know, some things about flying have changed, at least in the United States. But you know what I really missed? The airline’s in-flight magazine and the catalog of stuff that I would never buy! They weren’t on the plane, and the flight attendant indicated that they were gone for the duration. I was kind of disappointed.

Which brings us to the topic of this post. Max Sundberg is riding on a train with his football team, on their way to a tournament of some kind. Bored, Max looks for something to read, and finds a copy of TamRail’s on-board magazine, and reads an article on the cultural impact of Jot and Miki stories through the centuries. If you want to read over Max’s shoulder, click here!

Voices of the Dragonborn Era

So a few months back, I read an interesting collection of short pieces on Archive or Our Own called “Interviews With the Empire,” where the author, Triflingshadows, gave us some insights on Elder Scrolls characters all over Cyrodiil. I commented that I might try out that idea in a Skyrim setting, and while it took several months to get around to it, I’ve finally published the first entry.

Young Cari Ayalu, a youth in modern-day Solitude, returns to frame the story. We join Cari as she receives a long-awaited book via special delivery. Voices of the Dragonborn Era is an oral history of ancient Skyrim, the result of painstaking work by a score of scholars. Cari, a history nerd if there ever was one, is absolutely delighted! In the first entry, Cari reads a letter written by Dorthe, daughter of the Riverwood blacksmith, to her granddaughter. We’ll be joining Cari from time to time as she reads further, but for now, click here for “Voices of the Dragonborn Era, Part I!

What I’m Reading (and You Should Be):

Not all love stories are romances, or even contain a significant romantic arc. With some books, when you finally arrive at the end, you realize that what you’ve read revolved around love – the many forms it can take, and the worlds we build with it.

Take, for instance, Christ Durston’s debut novel, Each Little Universe. I tried to categorize this novel somehow. Is it science fiction? Is it fantasy? Magical realism? I eventually gave up trying to pigeonhole the story; it can certainly stand on its own without a label.

And what a story it is! When a stranger named Ziggy suddenly joins the household of young flatmates (and best friends) TM and Veggie, neither is prepared for the somersaults their lives are about to take. Whether she’s helping invent the Next Big Thing, learning to RPG, or endearing herself to their circle of friends, Ziggy becomes a principal part of TM and Veggie’s little universe. But who is Ziggy, really? Is she all she seems to be? True, she has Star Power, but is it enough to counter inquisitive local weathermen or charismatic survivalist TV stars? Will TM and Veggie find enough power of their own to protect Ziggy not only in their own universe, but in others as well?

Did the paragraph above even make sense? Don’t worry – the story holds together on its own terms, and I don’t want to reveal too much of it here. Stylistically, Chris Durston keeps the tone light and funny, as if somewhere in the hereafter, Roald Dahl and Sir Terry Pratchett met up for drinks and decided to collaborate on a novel. But even a comic novel can carry some heavy thoughts, and I found myself touched by TM and Veggie’s devotion to Ziggy, and how far they would go to protect their friend. As I suggested before, there’s no significant romantic arc in this story, but there doesn’t need to be. Love can power its way through tiny little universes, or even rocket through great big ones. Our heroic flatmates figured that out, and you’ll want be along for TM and Veggie’s wild, wild ride! Go on, click on the link and get this book. You’ll be glad you did!

Note: Believe it or not, I hadn’t read the blurb at the Amazon link before composing the paragraphs above. The blurb’s better!

Some Fun with Paint.net!

Hey, everybody! As those of you who’ve read any of my stories (both of you — you know who you are!) have noticed, I use illustrations, most of which are based on screenshots from Skyrim or other games. While some of the screenshots look just fine the way they are, I’ve had to edit nearly all of them, even that meant cropping the image to the part I wanted to highlight. My “go-to” editing tool the past couple of years has been Paint.net, a free image-editing application for Windows. While it might not have all the functionality of a professional application like Photoshop, it still does plenty — its capabilities certainly outstrip my abilities as they stand now.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was entertaining myself with a screenshot from my current Skyrim playthrough. Experienced players will recognize the image below as the Kynesgrove dragon towards the beginning of the game, Outside of cropping, the image is presented as-is. The battle against the dragon took place early in the morning during a snowstorm. The image looks black-and-white because that’s how the scene really was!

A dragon arises!

So how can a rank amateur edit the image using Paint.net? Well, to start with, did you notice the sunbeams around the dragon’s head? What if we adjusted the brightness to wash the image out a little?

Adding a little glare…

To me, the image comes out a little harsher, and maybe a little colder. But adjusting brightness and contrast is only one of the many things you can do with Paint.net. There are plenty of artistic effects you can apply as well. The following two shots use the oil painting and ink drawing effects.

Doesn’t the ink drawing on the right look like it belongs on some metal band’s tee shirt?

Now, this post doesn’t come close to describing all the things Paint.net can do. I’ve also used it to combine images, edit “green screen” shots, and perform general touch-ups. An experienced user could get far more out of the application than I ever could. Hey, if you have some edited images to share, maybe you could add a link in the comments. I’d love to see what you’ve done!