In The Future We’re All Ducks — a blast from the past post from 10/9/2011

In The Future We’re All Ducks — a blast from the past post from 10/9/2011

When I woke up this morning, I realized two things. One, I hadn’t written a blogpost last night to go up today. I was supposed to, but I’ve been away two weeks, so I had a whole lot of house and postponed “stuff” to catch up on. Two, the blogpost was supposed to be at Mad Genius Club as well.

This last immediately sent me into a tail spin, because what I post on my own blog can be whatever, including bits of novel. But Mad Genius Club is a grown up blog for grown up writers and mostly deals with the business. Which means… I was staring into an abyss of lack of ideas and – yes, thank you for reminding me, darlings – I was already late.

And then, because my life is a constant game of “I can top that” I got a title for the post in my mind, and it wouldn’t go away. AND it was In the Future We’re All Ducks.

At which point I started running around in circles, metaphorically speaking. VERY metaphorically, because I was still lying in bed doing that catalog of body parts every science fiction writer does in the morning. “Item, two arms. Item, two legs. No tail. No tentacles. So far so good.” (What do you mean other sf writers don’t do that? Really? Odd of them.)

And then I thought: Duck, Donald. And suddenly I realized what this post was all about. However, the fact it came to me this way is a level of bad news I can’t begin to talk about. You see, until now my stories come to me this way, but my non-fiction came from the rational side. “Today, I’m going to write about…” Well, apparently those halcyon days are gone. From now on, non-fic will do what fic does and ambush me in the nook between the pantry and the basement door, prepared to jump out at me when I’m not thinking of anything in particular. Mark my words, no good will come of this.

But other than the fact articles have joined the viciously aggressive fiction ideas, what the heck do I mean about Donald Duck? Do I mean in the future we all stop wearing pants? I don’t know about you, my friend, but at 48, with fifty staring me in the face, you can have my jeans when you pry them off my cold, dead legs. So, no, that’s not what I’m talking about.

No. What I’m talking about here are Disney comics. (Which are subtly different from the other Disney productions in that they are sort of like sf classics to literary fic. There’s no money in them – they say – the houses are constantly changing, and finding them can be a little difficult, since even most comic bookstores don’t carry them. However, for some of us they’re an acquired taste.) I first started reading Disney comics when I first started reading. Or rather, they taught me to read. See, they had images to help me remember the words, and people read them to me over and over (stories about Atlantis and such. FAR more interesting than See Spot Run or even Dr. Seuss) and eventually the words and letters started making sense, and I figured out which letter went with which sound. I was very bored. Also, I didn’t have tv.)

What I’m talking about is this: In Disney comics, people don’t really have real jobs. Occupations are something that come and go, flit in and out of their lives. Donald will become a master beautician in one story. In the next he’s working as a janitor for Uncle Scrooge. And they never really seem to worry unless the story is about money.

For some time now I’ve been following Susannah Breslin’s blog Pink Slipped over at Forbes blogs. From her work and others, an image is sort of emerging.

First a little retrospective. In my father’s day, even when it wasn’t, we tended to view employment as a life-time thing. Heck, my brother – because Portugal is 20 years behind this stuff, though, for their sins, catching up fast – worked for only one company his entire lifetime.

When my generation came of age, we found a different world. For one, a lot of us only found work as contractors or (for the liberal arts majors) as “temps” with no security and no promise of anything beyond the two months or whatever the contract lasted.

Mind you, there are arguments pro and con that sort of thing, and this change was not only in response to tech, but in response to regulations. Absent the regulations, the employment market would have been more stable. But if you have figured out a way to make governments understand that economics is a SCIENCE and stop trying to play witch doctors with a chaotic system that even the best practitioners don’t fully understand, all I can say is “Use your powers for good.” Oh, yeah, and “Can you make pigs fly? It would be so cute.

However, the more mobile and adaptable work force did improve business efficiency and adapt us to a technology where computers replaced typewriters and office messengers and, oh, yeah, tons of other things and jobs.

Now the tech is different yet again, partly because of the internet, partly because of easier manufacturing, partly because of new ways of delivering information (so long, paper.) Government responded as government often does, in this case more or less explicitely surrendering to fantasies of being back in time, before WWII. Do what, right? We don’t elect futurists. We elect mostly lawyers, which means people who think the world is not only made of words (writers run into this, too) but that if you change the words the world will change. Yeah. They also think that laws do what you want them to, instead of unleashing a storm of unintended consequences along with the intended or sometimes instead. Never mind.

So we have an employment crisis and people who are finding employment (a minority) are finding it pays less and often lasts only a few months. Or days.

The same is true for writers. Most of us are either getting run out of contracts with publishing houses (not yours truly, yes, but I can read print when it’s twelve feet long and on fire. I might have employment for another decade, or forever, but it won’t be as much or as secure as I had before.) And those of us lucky enough to still work for the major players are getting nickle and dimed. Meanwhile there’s a new world of indie publishing and some people are getting rich at it, while others are making… nickels and dimes. And their relative positioning in the market before this doesn’t seem to mean much.

So… What is the future?

From reading Susan Breslin, and Kris Rusch, and a ton of others both in the industry and out, who are blogging these changes because they’re either going through them or because they too can read print, I have a few tentative conclusions:

1- In the future we’re all ducks.

It used to be, even for writing freelancers, that we had something close to “employment.” If you did well for your house, they kept “hiring” you and eventually you became a “solid sell” for them, and if you were lucky made a living wage. This was, with the exception of a couple of houses, before my time, when you – largely – got treated as a disposable temp. Now, you’re not even that, because the houses are desperate and bookstores are imploding. Even if your title did very, very well and they’d consider pushing your second title, do you know that particular imprint will be there in six months? Or that they won’t decide to cannibalize your potential promo money to back a “sure thing” bestseller? (Who nine times out of ten isn’t, but never mind that either.) So… Take the money and run. And don’t sign anything that ties you to that house forever. And:

2- Learn to be flexible

While I don’t envision a future where you learn a skill like beautician but are just as happy sweeping sidewalks the next week (except as a stop-gap measure) you MIGHT have to learn to be more flexible in your own field. Say you have a beauty salon… Learn to do nails as well as hair. Consider learning braiding if it’s not regulated in your state (really! Yep, dangerous skill and all. GAH.) Look into makeup as well. You might not have the same slate of dedicated permers or whatever, but you can make the same money from different sources.

For me – because I was so hidebound <G> – this is meaning more and more learning non fiction as well. For others it might mean learning to write shorts and releasing those indie, because the nickles and dimes it provides will fill in the cracks between novels. Also, it might help publicity. Look at other opportunities in your area. Be creative.

3- My husband tells me there is a concept in business called, Nibbling. This is when businesses bid on projects as contractors. Instead of bidding on the whole job, you claim a little insignificant corner of it, and then “nibble in” i.e. find more and more ways to be useful in the project, until you’re doing a considerable chunk of it. Consider this. That house which is still treating you well does sf and mystery, say? You got in with mystery? Do a side novel and ask the editor to consider it. Make it sf. (See the be flexible thing.) Your short story is a runaway seller on Amazon (#1 son, I’m looking at you!) consider a novel in the same world. Or just increase your effort at shorts.

4- Freelance as a way of life

No, I don’t think EVERY occupation will be freelancers. Some have obvious limitations. But I think where writers are now, others will be soon, where more and more they’re freelancers loosely attached to various companies and projects. And where looking for work is just a normal part of life, so that the freelancing can continue. This has some serious drawbacks: Security is a big one, and some of us have serious issues with lack thereof, which means we’ll have to find a way to live with that. The other is the constant job search, which can make even sane people a little odd, particularly in a world where everyone lives in the limelight. But hey, it has side benefits too. Breslin says she now makes more money out of freelancing than she did out of her regular job. But she has more fun. And that’s part of this. The few times I’ve had honest work type of jobs (TM) I found that 80% of it was rote and boredom. Whatever the freelance lifestyle might be, it ain’t boring. It gives you a chance to learn and grow. In fact, it’s learn and grow OR die. And if you do exceptionally well one month, you can relax a little the next and to an extent your time is your own – or at least you have more control over it.

And to me that’s the ultimate reward. No, I’m still not sure how to make a living in the new world, but I guarantee I’ll figure it out. Yeah, times might get scary between, but look… I don’t know how to give up, so I’ll figure it out. And when I do, I’ll be my own woman. Win or lose, it will be under my control, and not at the mercy of someone else’s whims or perceptions.

I rather like that.

Quack.

107 responses to “In The Future We’re All Ducks — a blast from the past post from 10/9/2011

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Are we what we’re Quacked up to be? 😈

  2. The IRS doesn’t like freelancers and contractors. They want everyone to be an employee. There are only government approved square holes. Not round, hexagonal or, heaven forfend, irregular many-sided organic whatzits shaped jobs of noticed hour or duration.

    Besides, I’m more a Goofy than a Donald.

    • “So, Mickey, why do you want a divorce from Minnie after all these years?”

      “Because she’s f*cking Goofy.”

    • It is harder to track 1099-Misc forms than W2s, and much harder to correlate the Tax ID numbers.

      Especially with IRS computers still running Windows Vista.

      Makes it harder t ensure everybody gets employer provided health insurance, pensions and 13-weeks paid leave.

      Even harder to take their withholding from paychecks.

  3. I’d rather be a rabbit.

  4. I do wonder how many here are ambushed by their fiction. Had one scene two novel length pieces grew around stick in my head while driving to work and then another has me plotting and actually researching for more general SciFi. And I have to write them or throw them at others to get them free of my skull

    • *raises paw* Just finished the very rough draft of a book I had no intention of writing. Which will now be the first of two books I had no intention to write, because it budded while I was on Spring Break. Along with a story I didn’t plan to write, to tuck into the end of the first book as a bonus. I’m a little terrified to look at my story idea list. I have a gnawing fear that there’s another major project lurking around a corner, giggling quietly as it waits to ambush me.

      But otherwise no, I’d never have a creative thought without that monthly story list the little old lady sends out.

    • A Few Good Men dropped on me while I was taking a quick pee before leaving for a con. Yeah. The Vampire Musketeer trilogy attacked while I was walking between art school and my parked car.

      • Blackbird happened as I pulled into the library parking lot. My paw to Bog, Mathias Corvinus was in the back seat of my pick-up, informing me that I was going to write a book about him.

      • You need to tell Toni to stop with story ninjas

    • I had two characters actually put down their tea cups, tell me what they were, AND launch a major subplot.

    • MadRocketSci

      I had one experience like this, where a silly short story length thing came to me in a flash in a parking garage.

      I’ve had other experiences similar to this where I’d be worrying at a problem during the day, have to drop it, then wake up at 3:00 AM with the answer burning in my brain at 10000 watts.

      • Ya. The back brain keeps working issues. I’ve had a few items where solutions came in shower or at other job

  5. I hate freelancing.
    Quack.

  6. ” I got a title for the post in my mind, and it wouldn’t go away. AND it was In the Future We’re All Ducks.”

    In the Future, some of us will be Duck Hunters. And some of us will be Elmer Fudd.

    I wanna be Wile E. Coyote when I grow up.

  7. At which point I started running around in circles, metaphorically speaking. VERY metaphorically, because I was still lying in bed doing that catalog of body parts every science fiction writer does in the morning. “Item, two arms. Item, two legs. No tail. No tentacles. So far so good.” (What do you mean other sf writers don’t do that? Really? Odd of them.)

    I’m still impressed you’re that coherent in the AM.

    Only time I’m in a mind to be able to do that, it’s because just before waking up I had a live-or-die dream and I wake up and check the house for whatever I was battling.

    So far the spookiest thing I’ve ever found was an open window, on a hot night.

    • My morning check is “Still breathing?”

      If the answer is, “Yup!”, everything else can be handled.

      • My grandfather used to start a story (which I can’t remember) with “One day he woke up dead.” Go on. Parse that.

        • Easy enough. Old country saying I’ve heard since I was a kid: “Keep doing that, boy, and one day you’re gonna wake up dead.”

          There’s multiple variations on it.

        • Shortest Blues Song Ever: “Well, I didn’t wake up this morning.”

          • I just hate it when that happens. Usually wrecks my entire day from that point on.

          • i didnt wake up this monin
            (da dunn da dun)
            so now ah am dead
            (da dunn da dun)
            So you bettah ruin fast befoah ah eat yo brains out you head
            cauze ahm a zommm-beh

        • $HOUSEMATE likes the line/phrase “Wake up dead.” and seemed a bit puzzled at my objection that the dead do not wake up, save in horror tales.

          • I first heard that when a relative (elderly) was describing someone at church. “She just went to bed on Thursday and woke up dead the next mornin’.” Said relative is the first time I heard the phrase, ‘Time to chase the chickens out of the hearse.” (Meaning that so-and-so was in the last stage of a terminal illness.) Also “I ain’t sayin’ she’s old, but she waited table at the Last Supper.” And one of my favorites, “Back when the Dead Sea was only sick . . .”

            Another variant is “He jus woke up and found hizself dead.”

            • Sara the Red

              She’s Southern, isn’t she? The South has the best quirky turns of phrase…

              • South Central Texas, yup. Grew up on a farm.

                • $HOUSEMATE objects to my use of things like “I’m going to the store, wanna come with?” (the me/us is clearly implied). But has no issue with weirdnesses like “might could” and “useta could” which throw error flags for me. I have no idea what he might have made of one of grandfathers, who referred to a joker (person, not playing card) as a “Joner” and contracted “dare not” and/or “should not” to “dasn’t” amongst other bits of rare, unique, or antique vocabulary.

                  And while I am no “Yooper”, nor a “Norskie” as such, little of the stuff of Da Yoopers needed any translation at all, and ‘Uff da!’ needed none. No, I have not tried lutefisk. I’ve not even tried to try it.

        • Sounds like the beginning of a standard Zombie Apocalypse story to me.

  8. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Bill Clinton is in trouble with Black Lives Matter for making comments about a ‘thirteen year old murderer on crack’. Such a statement could easily be defended just by looking only at cases championed by Black Lives Matter. Bill lacks credibility as a spokesman because of his own history of drug use, his habitual dishonesty, and his callous disregard for human life.

  9. We’re all becoming ducks? I feel such a goose.

  10. A metaphor for the way conservatives are treated in the MSM:


    Check referee’s instructions at 4:18

  11. OT question: (cue chorus of “Uh oh”s)

    Female character, 5’10” to 5’11”, about 26-27 years old, athletic, and in good physical condition (runs, works out, does physical sports like rock climbing etc):

    How much should she weigh, realistically?

    And note to Sarah and others: I am still planning to email for input on my other question, but haven’t quite gotten that far yet. My plotting hasn’t even gotten my main character out of the U.S. as of yet, much less to South America, and I’m still doing research on other aspects of the story and background. (Hey, my plotting tends to be research intensive. I sometimes think I enjoy the research more than I do the writing.)

    • “Female character”

      Is her species egg laying, live birth, or other? Social species? Carnivore? Lots more info needed.

    • Army standards for a 27 year old female at 5’10” tall is a maximum weight of 176 pounds. So maybe around 165?

    • Doesn’t matter, she’ll lie about it anyways.

    • I’m half a foot shorter, and when I was a bit under that age, doing the Navy’s physical tests in time that would be acceptable for a male, I was 135; I could get down to 125, but it made me sick.

      Thing is, the bones will really matter, and no matter what you do someone will find it ludicrous, rightly or wrongly.

      So just look up the Army standards, subtract 5-15 pounds, and if she mentions her weight have her growl about it. 😀 Even skinny girls do that, or are prickly about not doing it, and very physical women are likely to be heavier than they “look.”
      (At that time, I had a buddy seriously estimate that I weighed 100 pounds. No, I didn’t kiss him, his fiance would’ve filleted me.)

      • at 5’7″ (before I lost height) I was 129 and couldn’t lose more. I also was extremely muscular and people usually guessed my weight under 100.

        • ” I also was extremely muscular and people usually guessed my weight under 100.”

          Snerk. I think that too many people (guys) are prone to actually believing what Playboy bunnies list as their weights in their profiles. 🙂

      • Whereas I nearly got slapped for estimating a girl who was about 5’10” in high school at 140lbs (yeah, she was skinny, but I figured the height would offset it – and no, I hadn’t learned yet.)

        • Hah. I even got a couple of emails bitching me out for making my 5’8″ very athletic female Warrant Officer weigh 145 as being “unrealistically heavy”. In a fanfic. Go figger.

          I didn’t even bother pointing out that the body model was my former S.O. who was also that height and weight, and in the same general physical condition. Just waved it off as not being worth the pixels required to argue.

          • “She’s just big-boned”. 🙂

            Seriously, I mentioned to a friend once that I am VERY big-boned, and he responded that x-rays show that’s a myth. It took a while to realize he thought I was trying to say that’s why I’m fat. I don’t remember the context, but I remember wondering how he got that notion. No matter – I was trying to start a conversation about how odd I found it that some of the hits I had taken growing up didn’t result in broken bones, plus the fact that I used to sink in water before I ballooned up to Free Willy size. AND how people back then would underestimate my weight, even though I wasn’t particularly muscular (at 6′, when I weighed 185, I looked emaciated. 210 is the right weight for me, no matter what the charts say).

            • “I was trying to start a conversation about how odd I found it that some of the hits I had taken growing up didn’t result in broken bones, plus the fact that I used to sink in water before I ballooned up to Free Willy size.”

              Heh. I had negative buoyancy even before my health took a hit and I dropped weight. I’ve always been slender but dense…

              And my perceptiveness aside, I’d always weighed more than I looked like, too. 🙂

              * Figured I’d make the obvious density jokes before you guys did. Nyah!

              6’1″ and slender most of my life. At peak, when I worked out a lot and used to hoist a 50lb bag of dog food onto each shoulder to put them away, I tended to average about 175, which was a bit heavy for my build. Most of it was in the chest and arms. I never looked like I weighed in at 175.

              Now I tend to stay around 145 to 150… I really never have recovered any weight since the near lethal case of walking pneumonia I had a few years back.

              • When I had walking pneumonia, they gave me arythromicin (Sp?) in IV for 11 days. I never recovered either. Turns out one of the side effects is weight gain. I was back to my pre-kid weight and had only gained 1/2 inch on the hips. No more.

                • They kept trying to tell me that I had a viral respiratory infection, and the only thing they could do was wait it out – antibiotics being no good against viral diseases.

                  I finally got tired of it, and tired of feeling almost dead with my lungs full of congestion, and went for a second and then third opinion.

                  That doctor examined me, got a horrified expression, told me I had pneumonia, and put me in the hospital.

                  I recovered, but I never have really gotten my strength back from it over four years later.

                  • I had intracellular pneumonia. It was “walking” and steadily worsening for about a month, and then they put me in ICU on IV antibiotic for 11 days. It took me… six or seven years to fully recover, and sometimes I think I haven’t. Also, my hair went white. What remained that wasn’t (I had two streaks of white at 28.) I was 33.

                    • I don’t remember exactly what I had. They told me, but I was in less than receptive condition for the memory to stick, I think. 🙂

                      Funny: I had also the intracellular thing when I was in my early thirties. I wasn’t in the hospital with it for eleven days, but it was several – long enough.

                      This last bout I was fifty-two, and it was a lot rougher this time around.

            • I have three younger sisters who are the same height as I am (used to be 5’10”) – but the three of them have a wrist-bone circumference of 2/3 to 3/4 mine – confirmed via tape measure. They are tall and slim, I am tall and square. Don’t tell me there is no such thing as ‘big bones.’

              I’m not talking weight; that’s a completely different subject.

            • Males on my mom’s side all sink when they hit water, too. One almost got booted from the Navy for failing the “deadman’s float,” until the instructor decided that if he had the correct form it was OK that he was a foot under the surface.

      • “So just look up the Army standards, subtract 5-15 pounds, and if she mentions her weight have her growl about it.😀 Even skinny girls do that, or are prickly about not doing it, and very physical women are likely to be heavier than they ‘look.'” – Foxfier

        Yeah, I’m aware of that phenomenon. *grin* I’ve gotten crossways of that by guessing a little bit too accurately once or twice. (In person, it’s easier: you can go by shoulders, forearms, and wrist diameter and hit pretty close.)

        And muscle density adds weight, hence the “heavier than they look.”

        My former S.O. was 5’8″ and 145-ish, and she did sword (AARMA), so I was figuring that anything under 150 was a bit light… but I wasn’t sure. I thought 160-165 might be too heavy, but also wasn’t sure.

        So I decided to do what made sense, and ask where I know there’s a percentage of women writers who are also fairly active and athletic.

        • And who will be willing to give you honest summaries of what we use to be– especially since there’s slim to no chance that you’ll be looking at us sideways and going “really? THAT was light for you?”

          • Well, yeah. 🙂

            But seriously, I’d be more likely to be eying your wrists and forearms and doing mental calculations off of that. Of course, there’s no way for you to know for sure that the slight frown and thoughtful look indicated mental mathematics, and not skepticism.

      • Remind to tell you about the time a girl (we were good friends at the time) punched me because I underestimated her weight…

        • Because you underestimated it? That’s unusual.

        • …was there a practical side involved?

          I’ve got a really funny shirt from after my first baby…which is about two sizes too small.

          My husband asked a lady at the store who “looked your size” and went with the higher of the two sizes she suggested.

          ❤ ❤ ❤

  12. “Item, two arms. Item, two legs. No tail. No tentacles. So far so good.” (What do you mean other sf writers don’t do that? Really? Odd of them.)

    Not an sf writer (to my knowledge) but I know one fellow who likely goes through it more like: “Item, two arms. Item, two legs. No tail. No tentacles. Another day, another disappointment.”

  13. The Other Sean

    But is it ducks all the way down?

  14. Every gun control argument I ever heard, explained in one sentence.
    “We don’t elect futurists. We elect mostly lawyers, which means people who think the world is not only made of words . . . but that if you change the words the world will change.”

    Absolutely perfect.

    I always read your column, Sarah, not because you are consistently great (no offense, even Babe Ruth wasn’t consistently great), but because you occasionally hit the ball over the stands, out of the park and into the river. This is one of those moments. Thank you. My year is complete.

  15. Just caught a great complement to you on another blog: “I read Sarah Hoyt, not because she’s such a great writer or even a great thinker, but because she occasionally hits the ball over the stands, out of the park and into the river. This is one of those moments.”
    Joe Doakes
    http://www.shotinthedark.info/wp/?p=58366