Portrait of a white person with attitude in the best sense of the word. They are facing the camera, shoulder's at a slight angle, with a confident smirk. Their reddish brown hair is closely cropped at the sides and coiffed fetchingly at the top. They are rocking a black jacket over black shirt.

An Interview with the Dream Foundry's Writing Contest Judge Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey is a Hugo Award Winning and Bestselling author of speculative fiction, short stories, and essays. They have been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for multiple years running. Their bestselling adult novel debut, Magic For Liars, was published by Tor Books in 2019. Their most recent novel, The Echo Wife, and first original comic book series with BOOM! Studios, Eat the Rich, are available now. Their shorter works and essays have been published in Mashable, The Boston Globe, Vice, Tor.com, and the Atlantic. Their work has been translated into seven different languages and published around the world. You can find links to their work at sarahgailey.com and on social media at @gaileyfrey.


Writers are frequently looking for the "key" to win or be published, but there's no singular piece of advice that can be universally applied. With that in mind, how do you find yourself navigating and evaluating submissions? What stands out to you?
 Author A. B. Guthrie Jr. once said that the secret to writing well is a constant undercurrent of the unexpected. Delight takes many forms and can come from many sources, but in the end, I find it to be the one unifying feature of the media I remember and value. For me, that delight often comes from seeing a brilliant craftsperson in their element, taking risks and delivering things I wouldn't have known to ask for. A story that delivers the unexpected will always delight me.
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?
In the publishing industry, as in many media and entertainment spaces, everyone's looking for a 'sure thing' -- a product that reproduces the successes of the past. This naturally has a flattening effect that does a disservice to everyone involved -- creators, consumers, and publishers alike -- but it's difficult to make the idea of 'risk' appealing to an industry that constantly reminds itself of how thin it's already stretched. Open submission opportunities sidestep questions of risk and certainty by reframing risk as opportunity. People love the notion of discovery, of being the first to recognize something great, and the open submission call promises the opportunity for discovery. It serves as a cushion for those who might otherwise close themselves off to new writing styles, new voices, entirely new stories. I think open submission calls can be incredibly stressful for new and upcoming writers who feel that each chance might be their last -- but for me, open submission calls have also been energizing, giving me the opportunity to grow comfortable with the pace and practices of the publishing world.
Do you have any advice on how emerging writers can get the most out of participating in the writing contest?
I usually hesitate to offer 'advice' because every experience is unique and so is every person. This question is an exception. I have advice and it's this: don't write anything just for this contest. Never write a piece that is designed to be strictly and solely for any one contest, submissions call, anthology, podcast, magazine -- never limit your stories that way. If you yoke your tender creative heart to a single outlet, you will find yourself creating stories to try to drop off at that outlet. When your story is rejected you will feel that it has failed you. When your story is accepted you will end up feeling that you've left it behind. Be inspired by outlets and submission calls, be galvanized by them, but do not write for them. Write for yourself. Connect yourself to your story first and foremost, then walk up to the contest with it to find out if there's a good fit between the two. Hold the tiny soft hand of your story and know that if the place you tried to go together doesn't work out, there's still a whole world for the two of you to wander.
What kind of experience do you believe transfers from the writing contest to publishing at large? What can emerging writers learn from this process?
Emerging writers can use this contest to learn how to write to deadline, how to write to spec, how to aim a story at a specific audience; they can use it to learn patience with the pace of the publishing world, patience with their own creative minds, patience with contracts; they can use it to learn gracious acceptance of victory and sturdy acceptance of rejection. No words are wasted words. All writing is learning.
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?
I don't seek joy in my craft. That's not to say no-one should seek joy in their craft, it's just not my thing. In my craft I try to find the edges of what I'm capable of and how I understand stories, and then I try to peel those edges back to find what else might be possible. Exhaustion deserves respect and accommodation and so does despair; I don't look to fix or escape either one through my work. That's where the motivation lives: in the understanding that when I turn to my work it is not for relief or respite but to whet my imagination, which is the finest tool I have.
As for the state of publishing, I am a jellyfish. The water takes me where it goes.

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.

A background of sparkly silver stars and the words

Announcing the 2021 Dream Foundry Contest Finalists

As 2021 comes to a close, so do our Emerging Writer and Artist contests! We have been astounded by the increasing turn out year after year and it's been humbling to watch. We were especially excited to see entrants from so many in the international community. This year, our contests had around 465 submissions from across 41 countries (as were declared by those submitting): Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Cyprus, Denmark, DR Congo, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, UK, USA, and Vietnam.

Finalists were chosen by Vajra Chandrasekera and Dante Luiz for the writing and art contests respectively and their names have been passed along to our contest judges Premee Mohamed, Charis Loke, and Juliana Pinho for final deliberations.

Without further ado, we are delighted to announce the finalists in the 2021 Dream Foundry contests:

Writing Contest Art Contest
• Shinjini Dey
• Sigrid Marianne Gayangos
• Brienne D. Hayes
• Amy Johnson
• Kellye McBride
• Kay Orchison
• Robin Sebolino
• Cat T.
• Jarred Thompson
• C. Bradley White

• Yue Feng
• Ellen He
• Mikoto
• Albokhari Mohamed
• Nair Nascimento
• Alex Pernau
• Vinnia Kemala Putri
• Julia Quandt
• Mols Slom
• Cathlyn Vania

Congratulations to all our finalists! The winners will be announced early December so stay tuned and keep an eye on this space!

The Craft of Critiques

Giving critiques is something of an art, and it's a skill that most writers should learn to cultivate early on. After all, one of the first community experiences you'll get when you start writing is being asked to provide feedback to other writers. You might start a critique group, you might just trade critiques for critiques, you might even make friends who end up being your primary critique partners. It's not only useful for other writers, but it's useful for you as you grow in your craft and to foster a healthy community of writers. And it stands to reason that, well, we don't actually learn how to critique each other. Instead, a lot of us learned how to provide feedback by keeping various "rules" of writing in our heads like a checklist. Unfortunately, the checklist method is both unfair to different perspectives and unwieldy to "non-standard" writing. And as speculative fiction writers, isn't "non-standard" something we should strive for?

This article is a bit of a cross between a guide and a collection of resources to help you wire your brain for critiquing. Above all, remember that you're looking at work from your peers, who have also poured in the effort and heart as you have into their work. Good etiquette will help you find your footing in the writing community.

Mary Robinette Kowal outlines good etiquette in her guide here:


Another, more detailed resource is Valerie Valdes' "How to Critique."

As much as we want to provide the How to fix when writing critiques, the most useful thing we can do is to give our gut reactions. The reason for this is that as outsiders, we might not know exactly what the writer is trying to achieve. Instead, we can provide hints to the writer at how their work is going to be received. As writers, we might be too close to know where our execution has failed but gut reaction feedback can then tell us how to tweak the work to ensure that our execution is more precise. Frame your gut instincts as exactly that: use "I" statements to make it clear where these sentiments are coming from and avoid anything too prescriptive (i.e. saying "you must do x" or "y doesn't work" or "you should never include z" vs "I didn't feel like y worked for me" or "I was confused by z")

Last year, I wrote a blog post over on my personal site. It's meant to be a way to supplement your critiquing method, to help you learn to look at stories as a whole and to curate your feedback based off what it seems like the writer is trying to achieve. Rather than superimposing your own likes and dislikes onto a story, you should identify your own biases and attempt to critique a work outside of that.

But don't let it all be negative - finding what worked for you is just as important as finding what didn't. Include the bits you liked, the bits that you intrigued you or you felt like was well-executed the story's favour. Did you like the concept? The characters? The decisions that the author made with the plot? Maybe the worldbuilding intrigued you, or maybe the themes resonated. Those are all things to articulate in your critique as well. The positives don't have to feel cloying or fake: they show that you, the critiquer, paid attention to the story and was able to appreciate the work that was put into it.

Remember to be constructive! Your goal isn't to put down your peers, it's to help them make the best out of their work. In being constructive, you're looking to provide ways for the writer to make changes to their story in order to make the best version of it. While it's nice to say, "I like x!" that doesn't really help the writer learn what worked in the story. Instead, saying something like "I found x really reinforced the themes, but I thought it would be stronger earlier" combines the positive sentiment with something actionable and specific. Sometimes it helps to also ask questions when providing critiques, like asking what the writer was trying to achieve, so that you can try to provide more directed feedback. After all, the person getting critiqued is looking for something useful out of it.

Critiquing is such a valuable skill, both for you to help others but also for you to learn what works and what doesn't work for you so that you can implement those elements into your own writing. Being critical of others and learning the language of criticism will help you grow as a writer yourself, as you'll be able to strengthen your own analytical skills and translate that into better revisions and better drafts.

Dream Foundry Contest 2020 Winners

Dream Foundry is delighted to announce the winners of our speculative short story contest and the sister contest for artists working in the speculative arts. These contests are designed to provide a boost to beginners in the field, with professional judges and significant cash prizes. We're pleased to have had 454 contestants, with entries from every inhabited continent. We're grateful to have been able to reach so many people across the globe. This year’s first place art prize is the Monu Bose Memorial Prize and is funded by a generous donation. In addition to cash prizes, all six winners will receive first pick of workshop seats at Flights of Foundry and showcase events at the online convention in April 2021.

Writing Contest

1. “Surat Dari Hantu” by Lisabelle Tay
2. “The Failed Dianas” by Monique Laban
3. “The Loneliness of Former Constellations” by P. H. Low


  • Tehnuka Ilanko
  • Nick Thomas
  • Allison King
  • Julia Leef
  • Jennifer Bushroe
  • Finn McLellan
  • Rodrigo Assis Mesquita

Art Contest

1. Thaleia Demeter
2. Lauren Blake
3. Michaela Matthews


  • Aya Sabry
  • Sam Hutt
  • Thaleia Demeter
  • Michaela Matthews
  • Lauren Blake

We would also like to extend our thanks to contest coordinators Vajra Chandrasekera, William Ledbetter, and Dante Luiz and also to our contest judges S.L. Huang, Neil Clarke, and Grace P. Fong. We are incredibly grateful for the gift of their expertise and time to help us uplift emerging voices in speculative writing and illustration.

End of Year Goal Setting

Last month's Free-Fall Challenge turned out to be a success! We hope that everyone who participated picked up something valuable from it, whether it be learning your limits and how to take breaks or how to find the right "get to work" headspace.

With the upcoming new year, we've decided to two communal goal setting and business planning events, for all your productivity New Year's Resolutions. We'll have two community events (one in December and one in January) to help you work through your 2021 goals. Our first guided meeting will be 19 December 2020 at 2PM CST here for two hours, unrecorded. Fill out the form to start thinking about your goals and sign up for check-ins and support from Dream Foundry.

Our second guided meeting will take place January 23rd from 2-4 PM CST.

Want some extra support? Join our Discord server for a community eager to give advice, keep each other accountable, or just general cheering on. Failure or success, the goals of these events is to help you figure out your workflow and capabilities without over-extending yourself. We want to encourage growth responsibly, with plenty of community support to help everyone along.

An Interview with the Dream Foundry’s Art Contest Coordinator Dante Luiz

With the Dream Foundry Art Contest wrapping up soon, we asked contest coordinator Dante Luiz a few questions about the art contest, illustration, and the experience it fosters.


Dante Luiz is an illustrator and occasional writer from southern Brazil. He is one of the two Art Directors for Strange Horizons, and his first graphic novel was published in 2020 by comiXology Originals ("CREMA", written by Johnnie Christmas).


Illustration work tends to be different than other kinds of art. While the fundamentals are the same, what do you find translates from less illustrative art education to illustration? What doesn’t translate over? Do you find there are specific challenges to illustrating SF/F? 

It's hard to capture the entire mood and feeling of a story, I think it's what makes illustration so difficult. You really have to vibe with the story, you really have to get to pass the right tone. When I'm choosing artists for Strange Horizons, for example, I see it like matchmaking. The art has be in the same tune with the story, and the same goes for artist and writer. Additionally, in SFF, sometimes it can be difficult to portray the speculative element. Right now, especially, there are a lot of stories out there that are character-centric and inwards, and the artist might find that the right "feeling" does not show the magic or science, and finding a balance takes work. You have to push yourself out of the obvious to showcase both.


Portfolio evaluations are a big part of finding a career in illustration and animation. Can you tell us a little about the selection process for the contest? What are you looking for in submissions? What constitutes a strong body of work versus one or two stand-out pieces in a portfolio? 

Consistency is key. I think every artist has that one work that we did on a whim that just feels better than the rest of our work, but a general sense that the person knows what they're doing and then can do it more than once is what I generally look for. Also a sense of style, cleanliness, knowing how to do more than one thing (nothing kills a portfolio for me more than no backgrounds, or just busts with characters facing left, etc).


Do you have any advice on how to pull together a portfolio, whether for this contest or for job applications? 

Put up only recent, complete works. When I'm hunting for news artists, I often find myself bored if the portfolio archive is too long, or lists too many older works. 6-12 pieces seems to be the sweet spot for art, along with consistency. Less = better, only complete works = better. Sketches, works in progress and such are great for social media, but it's not what people are looking for in a portfolio.


What sorts of opportunities did you see or wish you had when starting your illustration career? How do you see the Dream Foundry Art Contest benefitting beginning- or early-career artists? 

When I was starting out, I felt like resources were being "hoarded" by those who already had access to them, and those resources were not made public, but it turns out I also didn't know how to search for those resources. It's very important to put yourself out there, send your work to magazines, find calls for submission, and not rely only on social media. The Dream Foundry Art Contest can give a beginning artist this initial push, and gives credibility and visibility for future works as well.


Artists are finding community through social media, especially through prompt challenges and theme showcases. How do you feel the art contest fitting into this ecosystem? 

Social media is great for showcase, but artists are also battling against the algorithm to be seen. People with less following tend to be less noticed, and a contest gives everyone a fairer chance to be seen!

Dream Foundry's Free-Fall Challenge

Fall has arrived for those of us in the northern hemisphere and the second month of the global phenomena of using October and November as creative "make a thing" months. Here at the Dream Foundry, we brainstormed ideas on how to pull together an event to encompass creatives of all kinds, forming a community space to encourage attaining goals, fostering skills, and honing craft.

Starting November 1, the Dream Foundry presents The Free-Fall November Challenge: prepare to stretch your creative muscles, set goals, leap into new feats, and cheer each other on!

The goal of the challenge is to foster skills that will help you translate your current workflow into something sustainable as you learn your limits, expand your boundaries, build endurance, and how to work without burning yourself out. Build a plan! Set goals! Make a schedule! And cheer each other on! And if you don't succeed, that's okay too! In fact, failing is also a valuable learning experience and we're here to help guide you through it.

You're writing a novel this November? Or maybe a series of short stories? Awesome. This is for you. You're thinking of making a new interactive fiction game? Good! This is for you, too. Want to stretch your drawing practice or try a new medium for a month? This challenge is all yours. Want to translate a poem a day, or write the scripts for your next SFF podcast? Jump right in! Whatever your project is, if you’re dedicating the month to doing something bigger than you ever have before, the Free-Fall November challenge is for you.

We're running the challenge through our Discord server, complete with a whole new channel for co-working, tips, and encouragement.

How it works!

  • The Dream Foundry is providing space for co-working, accountability, and scheduling help. 
  • Come over to our Discord server and find the #free-fall-challenge channel. 
  • Let us know what your plans and goals are - and if you’re not sure how to set goals that are the right level of challenging, we’ll help you out! 
  • When you have your plan ready, you can sign-up here. If you want to join the official co-working sessions, you’ll need to sign up.  
  • You can also share your progress and join in on twitter with the hashtag #freefallchallenge.  
  • And if you stumble along the way? We’ll help you recover, with some cheerleading from the other folks working on their own challenges. 

Sign up here!

Preparations for your jump can start now! Drop in, get hyped, and prepare to make November a challenge that gives you life!

The official launch of our Free-Fall Challenge will take place here in our virtual co-working space November 1st. Details and invites will be sent to those who have signed up using our form. We look forward to seeing everyone there!

Make a Thing Month(s)!

There's a chill in the air tinted by the ever-increasing energy of spooky season starting. Which means for those of us in the northern hemisphere, sweater season, warm drinks, and falling leaves. It also means that rolling around the corner are the months of creating things, of making and sharing (or not sharing!) art and writing and whatever else you might have in mind. Whether you're an artist, a writer, or just a creative looking for inspiration from prompts, October and November are excellent times to come together, find a spot in the community among other creatives, and encourage each other to make things.

The goal of these challenges isn't to gain popularity, or to compete with each other. You could go the entire next few months quietly creating away, supported by the community, and never share a thing. The important part is the process! Let the creative juices flow!

Under the cut is a collection of art challenges/prompts. Most of these are intended for use for art, but the creators are quite flexible - tag them so they can see (if that's your sort of thing) or keep them to yourselves, they can even make great prompts for poetry or short fiction.

And, as NaNoWriMo peeks around the corner, be sure to pop by the Dream Foundry Discord server (discord.gg/dreamfoundry) and join the community of writers there for support, sprints, helpful advice, and more! Not a writer? Come by anyway - the Dream Foundry server is a space for all creatives, artists, game devs, comics makers, and more!

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An Interview with the Dream Foundry's Writing Contest Coordinator Vajra Chandrasekera

In light of the Dream Foundry’s Writing Contest opening submissions, we asked writing contest coordinator Vajra Chandrasekera a few questions about the contest and what these sorts of opportunities mean for emerging writers.


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?

It’s really quite similar! All submissions are read and responded to; a shortlisted selection will be discussed further, and final selections will be made out of that.

How do contests and open submissions drive the creation of encouraging environments for emerging writers?

Effectively, or so I hope. Writers need opportunities to be paid and recognized for their work; writers at the beginning of their career, especially, need more opportunities that aren’t predatory or exploitative like the Church of Scientology's Writers of the Future contest; or foreclosed by restrictive eligibility criteria or entry fees like many prestigious literary fiction magazines and contests; or walled off into invitation-only prestigious genre publications.

Professional development spaces for emerging writers are not necessarily easily accessible to those who need it most. How do you see opportunities like the Dream Foundry’s writing contest fitting into the professional development of new and upcoming writers?

I think nine-tenths of “professional development” for a short story writer at the beginning of their career is learning how to make their own practice effective. This means figuring out what they want to write about and what they’re good at writing, and writing more stories where they do those things, ideally at the same time. Sometimes it's just that a contest gives you a clearly defined set of constraints to work within, which can be very productive. Sometimes it's good to hang out in a discord with a bunch of other people who are trying to solve the same problems you are—so you can commiserate and share experiences and animal pictures, if you're into that sort of thing, and even if not, these are good spaces to eventually share knowledge about the industry, too.

Do you have any advice on how emerging writers can get the most out of participating in the writing contest?

One of the most difficult hurdles in a writer's entire career, in a rather cruel irony, is the very first one: submitting your work for consideration in a contest or for publication. I think most of us struggle with it in the early going. It takes practice for it to stop feeling like a huge leap of faith every time—it never stops being a leap of faith, but you do get used to the jump. So if you're a writer eligible for the contest who wants to participate but is already stressing about whether you can even write something for it, you're exactly the person this thing is for.

What kind of experience do you believe transfers from the writing contest to publishing at large? What can emerging writers learn from this process?

If you want to write and publish, then you have to write and submit work as much as you can. This may sound like a mere tautology, or maybe too simple to require saying out loud, but it's neither of those things in real life. Properly connecting the back half of that sentence to the front half can be the work of years, but what matters is that you get started—and when it falls apart, that you get started again.


Interested in joining a community of other writers participating in the contest? Come join our Discord server (discord.gg/dreamfoundry) where you can discuss writing and ask for help in #writer-chat, ask for and receive feedback in #find-crit-beta, discuss industry goings-on in #industry-chat, or just come update us on your story progress in #am-working!