An Interview with the Dream Foundry’s Writing Contest Coordinator Julia Rios

Julia Rios (they/them) is a queer, Latinx writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator whose fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in Latin American Literature Today, Lightspeed, and Goblin Fruit, among other places. Their editing work has won multiple awards including the Hugo Award. Julia is a co-host of This is Why We’re Like This, a podcast about the movies we watch in childhood that shape our lives, for better or for worse. They’ve narrated stories for Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. They’re @omgjulia on Twitter.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of reading and evaluating submissions? How does it differ – if at all – from reading slush for a magazine?
Reading and evaluating submissions for this contest is a bit different from reading magazine submissions. When I read for a magazine, I am looking specifically for pieces that fit the tone of the publication. For example, I had an open reading period for my Worlds of Possibility project earlier in the year, and for that I was specifically looking for pieces that felt hopeful or uplifting in some way. For the contest, there’s no theme or tone, so it’s okay if a story is very grim, even if that would be an automatic no for Worlds of Possibility. I also might know fairly quickly if a piece feels like a good fit for a specific publication, and so I might stop reading once I am sure of that. With the contest entries, I always read all the way to the end to see what the story is like as a whole.
Professional development spaces for emerging writers are not necessarily easily accessible to those who need it most. How do you see open submission opportunities fitting into the professional development of new and upcoming writers?
I think one of the best ways to develop as a writer is by practice. The more experience you get sending your work out, the more practice you have with writing, following guidelines, and getting experience with weathering the inevitable barrage of rejections that almost every writer will receive over the course of a writing career. Sometimes you may receive some feedback in a response, and that may be helpful, but it’s also important to remember that the majority of responses won’t include personal feedback, and that’s okay, too. All of it adds to the experience and the practice of writing and submitting work.
I think it’s also great if you can find peers to do critique swaps, or even take classes where critique is part of the class, but submitting is valuable in a different way.
Do you have any advice on how emerging writers can get the most out of participating in the writing contest?
Don’t self-reject! Understand that the vast majority of entries will not become finalists, but a few will, and you never know if yours might be one! Also, remember that participating in itself is a kind of victory. You’ve put your work out there! That’s a win!
What kind of experience do you believe transfers from the writing contest to publishing at large? What can emerging writers learn from this process?
Participating in this contest is good practice for other kinds of submissions. Writers who enter will have written a story! That’s arguably the most important part of developing as a writer. They also have gone through the process of reading guidelines and making sure their story submission fits those guidelines. That’s really important for submissions in general. Finally, if you enter the contest, you can also submit your contest story to other venues because this contest does not include publication. Since you’ve already sent it to us, why not send it to others, too?
It’s been increasingly difficult for creatives to feel motivated given the state of the world. How have you been finding joy in your craft these past few years? How are you finding yourself navigating the state of publishing?
This is a hard one! I personally have been dealing with things by letting myself rest a lot and also searching for things that bring me joy. I mentioned before that my Worlds of Possibility project is focused on hopeful or uplifting stories, and that’s because I have personally felt like that’s what I want and need to read right now. I’ve also tried to be very conscious of how much I allow myself to dwell on social media and the news cycle. It can be really easy to get sucked into those things and feel sad or angry and use too much energy on that rather than self care and my own work. If I start to feel overwhelmed, I try to take a step back and ask why. What have I been focusing on and what can I change? Sometimes a quick fix like taking a walk or a nap will help. Other times, I need to give myself more time and care. I think it’s important to remember that creativity takes energy. Much like athletes need to take care of their bodies for competition, writers need to take care of their minds. And bodies, too! Don’t forget to move around and eat and sleep and all that! As for how to navigate the state of publishing, one thing I have learned over time is that publishing is always in a state of crisis in one way or another. The only way to deal with that is to focus on the things I can control, which is to say, doing my own work.