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

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!

Yes, I Still Exist

Hi Folks! Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Things have been pretty busy around the Midnight household. Basically, we’ve moved it. After 22 years, my wife and I finally decided to pull up stakes and move out of the place we bought in 1999. It was time, really — with the kids all grown we didn’t see much point in rattling around in the old place. And at this point in our lives, neither of us is all that fond of stair climbing. So, after lining things up with a realtor, a renovator, and a mover, we made the move a week ago, and have been steadily arranging and rearranging ever since.

Of course, none of that happened quickly. Lots of preparation: sorting, cleaning, saving, recycling, discarding, and donating dominated our weekends. Even after moving hundreds (thousands?) of pounds of stuff, two decades’ worth of accumulation, the task ahead still seemed terribly daunting.

But we made it. Though last week was exhausting, our new household (in a nice apartment) is shaping up well. But one thing I would suggest: If you’re thinking of moving, try not to schedule your second COVID vaccine for the day the movers arrive. Really, just don’t do that!

We’ll talk again soon!

Godspeed, Beverly Cleary

I would have been in second or third grade, sometime in the early 1970s, when our teacher read aloud a book about a dog and his boy, both of whom lived in a strangely-named street in a neighborhood not too different from the one my classmates and I grew up in. The book was Ribsy. The boy was Henry Huggins, and the street was called Klickitat, although it was many years before I found out the city was Portland, Oregon. The author was a woman named Beverly Cleary, who passed away last Thursday at the age of 104.

It didn’t take long to meet the other kids in the neighborhood around Klickitat Street: Scooter, Murph, Ellen, Otis, Beezus. And, oh yes, Ramona. Who can ever forget Ramona? I read lots of Cleary books through grade school, but with more than forty books to her credit, there were a lot more I didn’t ever get to. I suppose I kind of grew out of Beverly Cleary’s books as I got older, but the worlds she created never really left me. It’s hard to say why exactly. Maybe it was her writing style — no more complicated than it needed to be, but not simplified to the point of patronizing young readers. Or maybe it was the characterizations. Henry, Ramona, Beezus and the rest were believable in a way other author’s characters weren’t. Maybe I didn’t know them personally, but I could see bits of them in everyone I did know. In any case, reading Beverly Cleary books was a pleasure I never forgot, and one I had the chance to revive as my own daughters got older and starting reading about Ramona and her family themselves.

I suspect most people reading this post experienced Beverly Cleary books about the same way I did. If you haven’t had the pleasure, her works are still in print and easy to find. An interesting Wikipedia article revealed something I never knew until just a few minutes ago: Beverly Cleary penned three Leave It to Beaver novelizations!

So Godspeed, Beverly Cleary. Sure, we’ll miss you, but your books, and the worlds you created a shared, are things we’ll never have to give up.

Notable Links, March 2021

Hey, Folks! Still working on the next story,* but while we’re at it, I thought I might share a couple of links to other goings-on around the web.

First of all, Elspeth Aurilie writes on! This time, we get the latest in her Dragonborn story, “Under the Purple Sky.” I’ll say it again: If you haven’t been reading Elspeth’s work, you really should be. Her characterization and plotting make her stories very compelling, putting the reader right into the middle of the narrative.

Next, consider author Cedar Sanderson’s recipe for Low-Carb Chocolate Fudge Pie! And while you’re there, consider the rest of her site. She’s a prolific multi-genre author (I’ve read three of her books, and definitely will be reading more), artist, and scientist. Science fiction, contemporary fantasy, science commentary, yummy recipes: What more could anyone ask for?

Hopefully, I’ll have the first installment of our next tale up soon. Until then, stay healthy!

*In the new tale, young Frokken Cari Ayalu, a teenager in modern Skyrim, receives in the mail a thick scholarly tome containing personal accounts of the Dragonborn era, and we get to follow along as she learns what it was like to live in those momentous times!

Notable Links

Hey, folks, still trying to figure out what the next story’s going to be about, but while we’re at it, let’s take a look at a couple of interesting posts on other peoples’ blogs:

First, here’s an update on author Chris Durston’s latest projects. Chris Durston is a busy writer, with a CV featuring a novel, short stories, and a publishing firm. And more appears to be on the way. In any case, a visit to Chris’s extensive web site is well worth your time.

Folks might remember a post I made a few months ago on the Ravenscourt Tragedies, Anastasia Kirke’s spooky web series. Over at The Venture, we can read Visitor’s Guide to Ravenscourt Manor, the scene of the action, so to speak, as it might be viewed by a brave tourist in the present day. Feel free to supply your own suitably sinister music as you read, or just listen to the following:

Have a great February — be talking to you soon!