Writing Excuses – the video feed

Out of Excuses from Bennett North on Vimeo.

I put together a lot of the footage I took on last year’s Writing Excuses Cruise and Retreat into a short (perhaps too short) film just so I would feel like I’d done something with the two hours of video I’d taken. During the process I discovered that a) I REALLY like time-lapse videos and b) I hadn’t recorded myself in any of it. So enjoy a lightning fast visit to the western Caribbean, only nine months late.

Oh, and as for that clip after the credits—I stuck it in there because I found it amusing, but in retrospect, I don’t think it’s clear what it really is. When we landed in the Bahamas, it was an idyllic setting with clear blue skies and turquoise waters and seagulls crying and palm trees swaying. Then I realized that all those seagull noises were actually being piped in over the speaker, either to add atmosphere or to scare away real birds or both.

I also was unable to include a couple clips of the Creepy Baby Room across the hall from my cabin. It was a door marked Employees Only, behind which came the constant, distant sound of babies screaming. On the last night, when I brought my camera to record the sound, there were no babies, but only the faintest noise of a music box lullaby. I like to imagine that those noises were also artificially piped in, perhaps to scare away real babies.

My Kitty, RIP

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We got Skittles in October of 1998 from a family who was overrun with cats. We actually intended to get a different cat, but when we went to visit, the cat we had picked out was skittish and unfriendly, and we already had one of those. Then Skittles came bouncing into the room with a handful of other kittens, and she was the one we went with.

She was named Pumpkin at the time, but our other cat was named Snickers for reasons I can’t remember, so we renamed her. She was as different from Snickers as she could possibly have been: she loved people and loved having her head scratched and sitting on people’s laps. She would start purring when I walked into the room. Later, she was the chunky, ungraceful one while Snickers was lithe and could leap six vertical feet in the air. The only thing the two cats had in common was that they hated each other.

She taught Snickers how to make eye contact with us when she wanted something, which was a skill Snickers never would have figured out on her own. She also taught Snickers how to purr, although Snickers never got the hang of that very well. She learned how to open cupboards and was adept at prying the lid off the can of treats. She was fiercely territorial and would fight any animal that strayed into our yard, including the poor golden retriever next door who just wanted to be friends.

Once, when she was still quite young, she had an unfortunate accident with our garage door. She liked sitting on top of the minivan while it was in the garage, and apparently one day, while the garage door was open, she climbed from the roof of the minivan to the shelf made by the garage door. When I hit the button to close the door, she panicked and tried to escape, but got her foot caught in between the slats and ended up dangling by her hind leg from the middle of the closed garage door. It was only luck that I heard her crying and went out to investigate. It was also luck that she didn’t break her leg. Frankly I’m not sure how she managed that one. Decades later, she still was terrified of the garage door, although I don’t think she remembered why.

Another time, she cheerily went to greet a neighbor of ours who was watering his plants. She was so friendly that he decided this meant she was rabid, so he sprayed her with the hose. She fled into his garage (again with the garages) and, not knowing she was in there, he shut the door. We searched for her for three days. Finally the neighbor opened his garage door and found her. She hissed at him and he phoned us, saying she was rabid and we should get her before he called animal control. Of course she was more than happy to see us and gratefully went home.

In later years, she tormented Snickers. Rather than wake us up to get her breakfast, she would settled into Snickers’s bed when Snickers got up in the night to pee. Poor Snickers, who by this point was suffering dementia and arthritis, would wander the halls meowing, begging for help at evicting the other cat from her bed. Skittles didn’t particularly care about the bed; she just wanted someone else to get her breakfast.

When Snickers died at age 19, a dramatic change came over Skittles. Maybe she had considered Snickers company, even if she had hated her. She was suddenly lonely. It became apparent that at some point she had gone mostly deaf and mostly blind, and was also suffering from arthritis. The other cat had been so old and bedraggled that Skittles seemed young by comparison, but now it was clear that Skittles was almost 18 years old. I started letting her sleep in my bed, even though I was allergic, because I felt bad for her. Claritin became my friend.

She became desperately clingy, which is apparently something that happens to cats when they get very old. If I was home, she needed to be within three feet of me. Ideally she would be on my lap, but she would settle for my keyboard. I set up a cardboard box on my desk so she could sleep on it and not bother me. When I got my standing desk, I had to drag the desk chair next to me so she could sleep on that while I worked. If I went away for a weekend or, worse, when I went to Ireland for a month, she got deeply depressed and stopped eating.

She also got very talkative. She would meow when she walked into a room, or when she saw me for the first time in a while, or if I touched her. Sometimes, when she was lazy and didn’t feel like making a full meow, she would kind of huff and nod her head at me. She would still start purring at the sight of me.

In March, we took her to the vet because she had stopped eating. By this point she was down to 6 pounds. At her prime, she had been 12 pounds. It turned out that she had a tumor underneath her tongue that was making it hard for her to eat. Since she hadn’t had it in December at her last check up, it was clear that it was growing fast. The vet gave her 1-3 months to live.

It seemed impossible. She was still so vital! She was happy! She took her painkillers without a fuss. Surely she would last longer than that. And for the first two months, she seemed fine.

Three weeks ago, she stopped grooming herself and stopped being able to pick up food. She could only eat if you hand-fed her tiny bits that she could swallow without chewing. She straight up refused to take her painkiller no matter how well we hid it.

Two weeks ago, we decided it was time. We gave her all the treats we could over the next two days, and on that Thursday we took her to the vet. Her tumor had grown so much she couldn’t use her tongue, and she was down to 5 lbs. It would have been cruel to make her continue on.

It was so hard. I can’t tell you how hard it was. I’m 32, and she had been around since I was 13. She had been my constant companion for the last couple years. We knew each other so well that we could practically read each others’ minds. Even on Thursday she curled up happily in the crook of my arm to nap. I know she would have soldiered on to the bitter end because she had no other choice, and I felt partly as if I had betrayed her by making that decision for her, but I also know that she probably only had another week or two, or at most a month, before the end was inevitable, and it would have only gotten worse. I hate that it had to happen, but it had to happen. I will miss her.

I love you, my darling. Good night.

April showers bring face-melting pollen allergies

I tweeted about this a while ago but didn’t blog about it, so here: My short story, “Smooth Stones and Empty Bones,” is available in the Event Horizon 2017 anthology of authors eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. You can download it for free up until mid-July. Check that whole thing out, because it’s 800 pages worth of awesome stuff. For FREE.

And more exciting news: I just sold a story about cannibal bandits in the weird west to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. You’ll be the first to know when I hear the actual publication date. Beneath Ceaseless Skies is SUCH a cool magazine, you guys.

So what else has been going on in my life? Mostly marshmallows. Marshmallows and head colds.

Marshmallow project

My Easter project: who knew that marshmallows were so messy?

I’m home sick for the second day in a row, and I guess at this point I have to admit that I’m actually sick and it’s not just pollen allergies, although to be honest it’s probably some combination of the two. I hate being out of work two days in a row but I’m at the nose-faucet stage of the cold and it’s just miserable to be in public with that, especially on a cold, rainy day like this.

I disassembled my standing desk setup and once again have a sitting desk. This feels a bit like a failure, since I really liked my standing desk and felt it was much better for my back. On the other hand, when you have as short an attention span as I do, the ability to walk away from your computer without a second thought really isn’t a bonus. Getting up from a desk throws a physical obstacle into the path between the twin thoughts of “Ugh writing is hard” and “Hey, what’s in the fridge?”

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It’s stuff like this that’s making me a snot otter right now

Speaking of, it’s time to dose myself with hot chocolate and pseudoephedrine. And marshmallows, obviously. So, so many marshmallows.

Spring has sprung

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A friend of mine is organizing a steampunk festival in southeastern Massachusetts for Halloween weekend of this year. If you like steampunk, are free October 28th, and can make it to Attleboro, Massachusetts, I highly recommend you show up! It’s a free event and it’s shaping up to be a pretty awesome day. I’m on the board, but even if I weren’t, I would be all over this festival.

 

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I name my songs/albums based on whatever random word springs into my head when I’m saving the file.

Second bit of news: I’ve been playing around with making music and posting it to my Soundcloud page. I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog before, but it’s a thing I do. I post new stuff up there every so often, and my most recent work, The Hunger, is my first piano composition. I’m quite proud of it. That one’s inspired by my current obsession, The Adventure Zone podcast, but all the others are just the result of noodling around in GarageBand.

 

 

 

Finally: I’ll be attending the Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat again this year, since I couldn’t resist the lure of the Baltic Sea. I’m getting very excited about it. If you’ll be attending, let me know!

 

 

At least the benefits are good

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If you follow my Twitter/Instagram, you might know that I started a new job last month at a place that, if I had to guess based solely on the items I’ve found in my office, is basically Miskatonic U. Every day I discover new, exciting, and potentially carcinogenic things.

First things first: I hope the building doesn’t catch fire, because here is the evacuation plan on the office door:

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The Burghers of Calais evacuating the building in an orderly fashion.

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Resolutions and eligibility

Wait, am I eligible for anything this year? I am! Here is the incredibly short list of my award-eligible work:

“Smooth Stones and Empty Bones,” F&SF Jan/Feb 2016. This story was just listed in the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List for 2016.

Also, as this is my first year of being published, I am now eligible to be nominated for the John W. Campbell Award. If you were wondering.

Meanwhile: resolutions!

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The State of the North

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Pumpkin meringue pie for turkey day

Hey so how about that November, huh? Yeah. I’d apologize for my absence on here but I think just about everyone has been taking time to recover. A month and a half ago I thought that our biggest national issue by now would be what they would name the president’s spouse’s Twitter account (FHOTUS? FGOTUS?) Now, there are actual, serious news articles questioning whether Japanese internment camps were really a bad thing. So pardon me if I spent about a month working out the logistics of how to marry my Irish bae and skedaddle. Yes, I know that’s not helpful.

Okay, so I haven’t just been busy with that. I also finished Nanowrimo in a kind of cheaty way by writing 50,000 words over 30 different short stories. None of those stories are currently finished, which is disappointing, but I do like a lot of them so once I get out of this funk, I hope to polish them up.

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The view outside my office.

I also have gotten very busy at the day job, which jumped from part time to full time very suddenly last Thursday when my boss was unexpectedly hospitalized. She’s not coming back and there are several massive projects due by the end of the month and it’s just a little bit crazy.

Oh but here’s something I have been doing: I’m an editor and photographer with A Lonely Riot Magazine, which publishes short, genre-agnostic fiction and poetry once a week. We’ve been publishing since May and there are a lot of good stories up there. We only pay a token amount of $20 per short story and $7 per poem, which is a very small payment, I know. I believe authors should be paid reasonable prices, so I highly recommend you try higher paying markets first. We do accept simultaneous subs. But if you like what we do and you want to be a part of it, please submit!

That’s all from me for now. Time to crawl back into my pillow fort.

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