Writing Contest Finalists!

We wrangled and we read and we processed over 300 entries. It was hard, but we got the list down to ten finalists, and here they are!

  • S Rain Lawrence - Minnesota
  • Douglas Wu - Connecticut
  • Steven Berger - Texas
  • Jamie Adams - Minnesota
  • Sam Tovey, United Kingdom
  • Tiffany Smith - Texas
  • Andrew J. Savage - Japan
  • Rose Wachowski - Virginia
  • Samantha Lynne Sargent - Canada
  • Claire Whitmore, Madison - Wisconsin

Stay tuned for the finalists from the art contests. Winners of both will be announced on November 15.

While you wait, make sure to check out our fall fundraising activity. Your donations and support during this time are how we'll keep our programming going, fund future contests, and bring you exciting new things! Browse our auction, swing by our merch sale, back us on Patreon, or give a direct donation via Paypal.


OMEC Retrospective

Six months. Six examples. Six conversations. September closed out the first cycle of Dream Foundry’s Official Media Exploration Club and we learned a lot. I want to take a moment to extend a deep and heartfelt thank you to all of our discussion leaders. Ferrett Steinmetz, Rachel Quinlan, KT Bryski, Darcie Little Badger, SL Huang, and Emma Osborne: you are all, individually and as a whole, fantastic. Thank you for stepping up to be the first.

If you want to visit the insights about craft and the specific works we discussed, you can share in that learning by dropping in on the conversation here. Just because the facilitated part of the conversation is over doesn’t mean it’s disappearing or that the conversation has to stop.

The learning I want to talk about here, though, isn’t a rehashing of the conversation happening in the OMEC but about the OMEC itself. This was the second program offered by Dream Foundry, launching a few months after we started publishing content on our site, and we learned both about program planning and implementation in general, as well as how to run this program in particular. Now that we’ve had a few weeks to evaluate, I want to discuss some of those takeaways, both so people can get some insight into how our programming planning and evaluation works, and so others can benefit from our experience when planning their own endeavors.

From the outset, the OMEC was designed as a program to embody the core premise of the Dream Foundry by bringing creators from different areas of the industry together to a shared conversation where they could learn from each other. It helped that as a program happening online, on our forums, potential expenses for the program were low: the necessary threshold for success the pilot had to hit in order to justify itself was, consequently, modest and attainable. With that, we had two major metrics we planned to use for assessing the program’s success both while it was running and after.

Does it work on its own?

The first of those metrics was the success of the program itself. Did it run well and cause the kinds of interactions and conversations we wanted it to facilitate?

Specifically, we examined:

  1. Did discussion participants represent the diversity (in role) of the industry?
  2. Was participation consistent from month to month?
  3. Were the logistics of the OMEC implementation (e.g. recruiting, onboarding, and paying discussion leaders) smooth, functional, and replicable?

The third criterion was the one that was most dynamic over the course of the cycle. Payment was smooth from the outset because that procedure followed existing procedures we’d established for content management. Onboarding got better as the cycle went on. The first couple of instructors, after agreeing to join and choosing a work, were basically told: “We’re figuring this out. Do what seems like a good idea and we’ll see what happens.” (Those early discussion leaders, especially Ferrett Steinmetz, deserve an extra dose of gratitude for stepping up under those circumstances.) Once we had an idea of what seemed to work and what didn’t, we developed onboarding documentation, which was a huge step in the right direction. It wasn’t a fix-all, though, which leads us to the biggest takeaway for this criterion: recruiting for discussion leaders needs to be completed >before choosing a theme and starting the cycle. Not every theme can be well supported in every medium. “Found family” was a great theme for a lot of categories but didn’t work well for illustration or games. We made it work (and the games segment of this cycle was the one I personally found most enlightening), but we brought unnecessary complications by choosing a theme without involving everyone who’d need to work with it in the conversation.

The first and second criteria (diversity of role and consistency of participation) couldn’t be meaningfully evaluated while we were in progress, so we’ve examined them after the cycle ended in September. They were both more miss than hit. OMEC participation reflected the prose-writer-heavy demographics currently present throughout the organization. That makes sense, but it is notable that despite being a program very much designed to bring in and offer value to people from a variety of backgrounds, there’s no evidence the OMEC attracted participation that was more diverse than the organization as a whole or generated integration across roles. Similarly, while different months had participation from different people, the participants who were consistent across months *cough* work for us.

As a result, in planning for the next cycle, we’re specifically looking to:

  1. Get commitments for discussion leaders for each month ahead of time and have their input involved in theme selection.
  2. Include the OMEC in outreach efforts planned for 2020 to address the current overrepresentation of traditional prose writers in program participation. (We’re not trying to get rid of any of you, prose writers. We’re glad you’re here! But having the rest of our industry hanging out here is good for us, too.)
  3. Increase participation stickiness from month to month.

With the pilot cycle as a baseline, we’ll have a clear means of measuring the effectiveness of the changes we make.

Does it work for the organization?

The other metric for judging the effectiveness of the OMEC was whether it worked for the organization. We have a track record now and more organizational maturity than we had when we first launched the OMEC. Despite that, we are still very new and while we’re rich in many things, we don’t have the financial resources to be careless, or even cavalier, about what we fund.

In terms of mission and project goals, the OMEC is and remains perfectly aligned. It ties very clearly into our core principles of “inclusivity,” “mentorship,” and “networking.” “Relevance” is the fourth principle, and while the OMEC doesn’t intrinsically tie into it, by choosing discussion leaders who are active in their fields now and works that are pertinent to the industry, we slip that one in, too.

But one of our organizational needs, across all our programming, is “outreach and growth.” The content builds engagement with the site, develops an archive of resources, and keeps us consistently present and visible. The contest is a giant road sign pointing people to us and drawing them in. (The numbers on that will need more time to be properly crunched, but the preliminary ones are quite good.) Does the OMEC do that?

There are two ways to measure this. The first is in terms of discussion participants, and as discussed above, that’s an area where growth and improvement will be a focus for the next cycle. The other gauge, though, is in terms of organizational reach and recognition. This is, arguably, the place where the pilot of the OMEC demonstrated the strongest success. Engagement on social media sites, especially when current discussion leaders amplified our outreach in those spaces, got a demonstrable boost around the OMEC. This provides some evidence that the core concept behind the OMEC is attractive and appealing and our efforts for improvement should be focused on converting that engagement on social media to participation in the club itself.

What’s that all mean?

There’s a danger here of reading the preceding and seeing a lot of negativity. Yes, there’s “needs improvement” stamped all over that report, but that’s not bad. This was a pilot. If we’d walked away from it going, “Perfect. Let’s do exactly that over again,” we’d be missing opportunities to improve. This pilot cycle could have led to shuttering the program without another run. If the logistical overhead in running it had exceeded the organization’s capacity to support it, we’d have either done a major redesign or nixed it. Similarly, if we’d seen evidence that the OMEC was functioning as a deterrent for outreach or engagement, this would have been its only cycle. What we saw instead was evidence that the core concept works as intended, the program runs well with the resources we can allot to it, and that it has some intrinsic ability to foster outreach and engagement.

We’ll make the changes and adjustments necessary to apply the lessons learned from this cycle and improve the areas that need it. We have two more six-month cycles planned for 2020, and we’ll run those with the same measured, evaluative approach we used in the pilot. Then we’ll do a hard assessment of the program to decide whether, with those improvements and any others we make as we see the effects of the changes, it makes sense for us to keep running it.

That, in a nutshell, is how we plan and assess our programs. Thoughts or questions? Feel free to share, either in the thread for discussion of this article on the forums, or by dropping a line to leaders@dreamfoundry.org.


The Contests Have Closed: The Hunger and the Table

Hey, guess what? We did it! That’s a close on the submission window for Dream Foundry’s first art and writing contests. We had almost 400 submissions total, and our teams are selecting our fabulous finalists. This has been a great experience so far, and I’m looking forward to the results when they arrive.

While we wait, I want to share about why we ran this version of the contests this year. Although we announced the contest as a stretch goal for our Kickstarter, we didn’t wind up funding at that level. We ran the contests anyway. There are many reasons for that, but I’m going to focus on the one I think matters most.

Last November, when the leadership committee met to assess our progress and success so far and establish our goals and plans for 2019, one thing was clear: we were doing well. At that point we’d announced a vision with timelines and goals, we’d done all the hoop-jumping and logistical organizing required to be firmly and formally established, and we were about to launch our first program. About being the key word there. We’d done a lot, all of it important and necessary, but none of it was what we were for. And yet, we were rich in support, well wishes, and people volunteering their time and energy. We’d raised enough money to start strong, mostly because people were hungry for the dreams we were promising.

We looked at the numbers. And the offers. And the plans. There was an opportunity there. That hunger we were seeing? We let it inspire us to be ambitious, and that ambition has been rewarded. Three hundred and ninety-three submissions to a brand new contest from a fairly new organization. That, on its own, is a success. But that’s such a small part of what we’ve seen while we’ve done this.

First, there’s William Ledbetter, who, when asked, dove right in to not only share his experience with writing contest logistics and design, but to spearhead this effort. Then Sara Felix, who just as generously answered when Bill asked her to handle the art side. By the same turn, Rachel Quinlan and Charles Coleman Finlay stepped up when asked to judge. Lisa Rodgers didn’t even wait to be asked, and I’m hoping she enjoys being a judge because otherwise she might think twice before having lunch with me again. Our slush readers? Some volunteered for the job before Dream Foundry had a name or a timeline. That eagerness and enthusiasm, backed by commitment and action, is all over the industry. We jumped on it.

In the process, we found a different hunger.

“Is there an age limit?” youth asked, hungry in a world where there’s a shortage of opportunities for them to be taken seriously as professionals, or potential professionals, and not as children. Adults asked too, people who’ve been busy with lives and work or with careers that delayed their pursuit of their craft beyond the point where anybody says “beginner” and pictures them.

No. No age limit. Come to our table.

“Are there entry fees?” asked people who are used to an ecosystem that feeds on them, at best concentrating resources from many of them to a few, and at worst by actively picking their pockets.

No. No entry fees. Have a snack while you wait.

“Is there a prompt or a theme you have to follow?” asked those who’ve been taught that to pursue their own vision first they have to pay dues to somebody else’s.

No.

We had extra fliers, so I took them around to all the libraries where I am in Chicago. Libraries are great places, full of programs and opportunities to learn and read and practice. Chances to study and discuss. They’re good places to find beginners of all sorts, but especially the arts. It was a small adventure, a tiny side quest in life that would spread the word and let me pop into pockets of community and imagination I wouldn’t necessarily wander into otherwise. What did I find?

Hunger.

By and large, librarians care deeply about their patrons. They have a unique relationship to their needs and hopes, a special opportunity to influence the people they encounter in their professional lives for the better. They respond with a palpable enthusiasm when somebody shows up with fliers and says, “I work with an organization that’s running two contests for beginners. It’s free to enter, and there’s a cash prize. I’d like to make sure people know about it, if that’s okay?”

“No age limit, you said? Can I have two of those?”

Yes.

“Is it okay if they’ve never done anything like this before?”

Oh definitely, yes.

“Would it be all right to tell that art group that meets here about this?”

Yes. Here, take some bookmarks, too.

When I explain Dream Foundry to people, I present it like this: You know the old adage about the best way to build a movie theater? The one that says you find a good spot for a popcorn stand, then put up the marquee? The contest is our marquee. It’s the thing that lets people know we’re there, gets them excited, and prompts them to come in. The real value in us, though, is the popcorn. That’s the everything else. The community. The support. The content and discussions and model of who we are, what we should do, and what we can expect from our colleagues, peers, and ourselves. We’re the popcorn.

Because it feeds that hunger.

There will be finalists, and that will be fun. Then winners, and that will be exciting. It matters. It’s important. But it’s also the capstone on something that is already succeeding in its mission. Three hundred and ninety-three people showed up to our door.

Welcome. Come in. We’ve got room at the table and we’re serving dinner soon. There’s something for everyone, and a ton of popcorn.


Contests Close Oct. 13- Submit Now!

There’s something interesting about firsts. They’re fresh. Powerful for setting precedents, and fragile for being new and inexperienced. Easy to mark because every first creates a transition point of before and after. There’s a magic to first-ness, and like most magic, that brings power, but also risk.

Tally your firsts. The first tooth you lost. The first time you rode a bike. The first story you told. The first sketch you drew. Line them up, collect them together, and you’ll have a kind of self-portrait. It won’t be complete. We’re more than our firsts. But the firsts we have are a bit like the corners on a puzzle, the anchor points that we can use to find the shape of the rest.

Dream Foundry has had a lot of firsts, and we’ve got a lot more to come. Right now, though, we’re in the final stretch of a biggie: our first contest. This is the first time we’re nearing the end of a submission window. Soon, we’ll be announcing contest finalists, for the first time. Then granting prizes to our first winners. Thanking and lauding our first judges. Congratulating everyone who was part of our first cohort of submitters. Soon.

But first, there’s you. Have you had your first sale? Excellent, and congratulations! Get ready to help us cheer on the contest entrants. If you haven’t, though? If that first is still in your future, then you need to hurry. You’re running out of time. There’s only a few days left. Submit. Let me be the first to say, we’re looking forward to seeing your work.


Thoughts on the Dream Foundry Writer's Contest

Every successful writer has their beginning story and it usually involves a long and difficult struggle. Yes, some exceptionally talented writers have had quick triumphs, where not only do they sell their first submitted story to a big name publisher, but also sometimes win awards. Even these rare cases of what look like overnight success usually only come after the writer has quietly toiled away for years, polishing their work and perfecting their style before feeling it was good enough to show to the world. For most writers, it is an even longer journey, through a confusing, depressing, and often overwhelming alien environment.

In a very real sense, the deck is stacked against beginning writers. When sending their submissions to the top publishers, they must compete—for the already too few open slots—with long-time pros, award winners, and big names in the business that often get an automatic read or bump from the slush pile. Then their reply is usually a form rejection that gives them no feedback about why their story didn't make the cut. It is grueling, lonely, and demoralizing. The good news is that nearly every successful writer you can think of has been in this same dark wilderness, and made it through.

While determination and a sometimes-irrational refusal to give up are probably the primary forces behind a writer's success, there can also be other contributing factors. Luck, being prepared to take advantage of opportunities, a community, and a helping hand from other writers can all help beginners. We here at the Dream Foundry can't give you the determination or the luck, but we do strive to give you the community and the helping hand. This contest (and hopefully future contests) is designed to reward the hard work and dedication of beginning writers.

As the contest coordinator, I'm hoping to use my experience running other contests to make this one as fair and successful as possible. Many more advanced and experienced writers have helped me, and now I'm glad to have that opportunity to help others in their journey in this small way. So thank you to all the first readers and Dream Foundry volunteers who have made the contest possible and good luck to all the beginning writers who enter.


Interview with Contest Judge C.C. Finlay

How can a beginner learn from writing for a contest and from writing short stories?

Contests for beginning writers can be a good way to gauge where you are in your development. When you submit a story to a magazine, you're competing for attention with other beginning writers, but you're also going up against writers with ten, twenty, thirty years of experience. You're in the same pool with writers who've never sold a story and writers who've won multiple awards.

It's important for beginning writers to do that, to get work out there with the big name authors and try to shine. Every writer goes through that, and all of the magazine editors I know are looking for new voices and perspectives. During the five years that I've been editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, we've published a debut story by a first-time author, on average, in every issue. Even our "all-star" issues, like the 70th Anniversary edition out this month, usually include a first pro sale. Almost always, those writers have been working and submitting work for years before that first sale.

Contests are a good way to stay engaged on that journey toward professional status. In addition to the validation you get from winning, or the important things you can learn by getting a professional critique, there's also the chance to pick up critical skills. When the winning story is announced, it's something you can look at and say, "Okay, this was written by someone at the exact same spot in their career as I am—what skills do I need to work on to bring my stories up to the same level?"

What do you look for in a short story?

I never know if I'm going to like a story until I read it, so that's a hard question to answer. I like to be surprised by fiction, whether it's by the quality of the prose, the voice and perspective, the ideas, the character insights, the narrative arcs, or the plot turns. Or, even better, some combination of all of those things.

Structure is also very important to me. But not structure as in, "Here's a formula, now you have to follow it." Every story has to find its own specific structure. But more generally, for me, all stories need a beginning that grabs me and pulls me in. First paragraph. First sentence is even better. Something specific and unique to this particular story and character is almost always going to feel more fresh to me than some common situation or trope. Sometimes small, relatable stakes are more effective at grabbing readers—and me; I'm a reader first—than big life-threatening stakes, especially if we don't know the characters and don't care if they live or die. After I'm grabbed, the narrative needs to sustain momentum—every scene or section needs some kind of in-the-moment stakes, something to keep us engaged and to move the story forward, and the pacing needs to keep us reading from one paragraph to the next. Finally, I expect the ending to be satisfying. The biggest piece of the impact of a story is the ending, because it's the culmination of everything before it and the last thing the reader sees of a story. Something specific and unique to this story and character is almost always more effective as an ending than something familiar.

Beginnings and endings are the places I see most writers resort to cliches and familiar tropes. Too many new writers try to game editors by giving us exactly what they've seen be successful in another story by a different writer. "Oh, Charlie bought a story with this kind of beginning—I'm going to do the exact same thing." I bought that story because I thought it was unique and reflected that specific writer. The best way to simultaneously stand out as a writer and also connect with readers, is to find your own unique stories. The things that only you could write about in that particular way.

What are common pitfalls that new writers can experience when submitting for the first time?

This goes back to the last question. A lot of new writers submit stories too soon, before the stories are ready to leave the outbox. I also see a lot of new writers telling very familiar plots or using very familiar tropes in familiar ways; they're not finding the new thing they have to offer to the long, ongoing conversation that is genre fiction.

But those are only pitfalls in as much as they're part of the learning curve for new writers. If you're finishing stories, submitting them to editors, and working to improve your craft and hone your skills, then you're on the right track. Not finishing stories, not sending them out into the world, not trying to improve your craft or get better—those are the real pitfalls.

Who are some of your favorite writers? What are some of your favorite short stories of all time?

Different stories and writers resonate for me at different times in my life, and I read old stories over to new effect, simply because I'm always changing, always responding to what's happening in the moment, and being present and aware while I read fiction opens me to seeing different things. On the whole, I think that's positive and one of the traits that makes me a good editor.

That said, The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes is a story collection that I read when I was young, just starting to write seriously, and it's one I go back to reread every few years. "Cora, Unashamed," one of the stories in that collection, is the epitome for me of everything that Hughes does well: the depiction of character and circumstance, the grinding build of tension, the satisfying release at the end. If that story doesn't make you feel, I'd worry that you've closed off your heart. If it doesn't make you think, I'd worry that you've turned off your brain. It's also such a clear and vivid picture of a specific time and place. When he wrote it, no one else besides Hughes was trying to write about those particular people or tell that particular story. For me, it's pretty close to perfect.

Within genre, I couldn't name any living writers without inadvertently leaving others out, and as an editor I don't particularly want to alienate anyone I might want to buy stories from in the future! If I'm understanding the purpose of this question, living authors are most relevant here if new writers want to get a sense of the authors and stories that I love. The best way to do that is to look at issues of F&SF from the past two years or so. I've been really excited about the work we've been publishing lately, which I think are the best issues of my turn at the helm so far, and especially excited about some of the young, new writers who have been appearing in our pages with multiple stories.

Why do you think a contest like this is important in terms of supporting the growth and community of beginning writers?

Becoming a writer is frequently a long and often a disheartening apprenticeship, involving persistent hard work and so much delayed gratification. For beginning writers, this is a chance to take stock, to shine, to get some immediate gratification. From an editor's point-of-view—and, I suspect, an agent's, but you'll have to ask Lisa—it's really important to encourage new writers and help them develop. As the world changes rapidly around us, perhaps more so now than any other time in recent history, we need new voices, new perspectives, and new stories to join the existing voices, perspectives, and stories. New writers are essential to the community of readers, and they'll be the people who'll tell the essential stories in the decades ahead. A contest like this one, that helps beginning writers move toward becoming professional writers, has the chance to be an important part of the process that helps those writers develop, gain recognition, and have success.


In the Beginning

Many illustrators at the beginning of their career are overwhelmed by how to actually start the business of being an illustrator. Often, it can take years to get up to speed on what works and what doesn’t work. I put together a list of tips from myself and other artists that consists of information we wish we had known when starting out.

- There is no one way to build a career. There are many ways to earn an income from illustration and art. Some people focus on client work. Some people work in-house for a business. Some people are independent and sell their art directly to their audience, either online or at conventions. Often, people are doing a combination of all of these in order to have a stable income. —Rachel Quinlan

- Try everything once and feel free to fail, quit, and dislike. I don’t need to tell you that being an artist/illustrator isn’t a particularly secure or straightforward path. You can only find yours if you figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t limit yourself to an idea of what you want to be doing. Chances are you don’t even quite know everything out there. Chances are you might not even like the realities of your dream job.

E.g. I’ve come to the realization that I’m a good commercial artist but would make a shitty fine artist. I love freelance illustration but dislike the whole "artist as an entrepreneur" thing. I don’t like Patreon. Streaming is bad for me and my process. Exhibiting in galleries is a waste of time for me. But I had to try that stuff out first, didn’t I? There are artists doing work in a similar vein as me who are successful doing just those things, but they are different people with different paths. —Jana Heidersdorf (http://janaheidersdorf.com/)

- Finish things. —Heather Hudson (http://www.artofheatherhudson.com/)

- Read and follow directions. This skill will take you far. If an art director, client, or event organizer contacts you, make sure to read everything they send and follow their instructions carefully. Before sending questions, read the email and documents again to make sure that your question was not already answered.

I’ve run several group projects and events. If I’m asked a question that I’ve already answered in a document, it not only wastes my time (and frustrates me), but it doesn’t inspire confidence that the artist is going to do a great job. I will keep working with the people that seem like they take the time and the job seriously. —Rachel Quinlan

- Try not to worry too much about your style. It'll show itself as you work. Even if you have a style right now, it'll probably change over time as your tastes change. —Corina St. Martin (https://www.corinastmartin.com/)

- Don’t self-reject. Apply for all opportunities that you are interested in, even if you don’t think your work is ready. Without applying, your chances of landing the opportunity are zero. —Rachel Quinlan

- Always ask for more money. The worst they can say is no! —Marcelo Gallegos (http://www.niceghost.org/)

- Don’t get hung up on social media. Having a large following on the different social media platforms is great but can take years to build up to. Not having a large following doesn’t mean that you aren’t able to still work as an illustrator and move your career forward. Keep applying for jobs, conventions, and art shows, and eventually you should be able to build a following. And keep in mind that there are successful illustrators out there who don’t even attempt to use social media. —Rachel Quinlan

- Learn to figure out whether critiques are constructive or whether the person critiquing you is just not the right audience. Technical advice is great, but sometimes listening to critics pushes you away from making the art you want or enjoy. —Meredith Dillman (https://www.meredithdillman.com/)

- Find time to make art. The administrative and social media sides of your career can feel all-consuming. Make sure to limit the amount of time spent on those tasks (when possible), so you have space to make new work. —Rachel Quinlan

- Find time for a creative hobby that you don’t monetize. It’s important to have a creative outlet that’s free of any kind of pressure, and it could help your art too. —Nataša Ilinčić (https://natasailincic.com/)

- Above all else, persist. There will *always* be a thousand artists who are “better” than you, who are faster, who blah blah blah. But 90 percent of them will quit before getting anywhere! If you stick with your art, keep believing in it, keep creating in the face of any adversity or success, you WILL make a career out of it, out of doing what you love! How great is that? All you have to do is not quit! —Melissa Gay (http://www.melissagay.com/)

If you are an unpublished illustrator, make sure to apply to the Dream Foundry contest!

You can find more info at: https://dreamfoundry.org/contest-rules/


Transitions

Jen Grogan

Jen Grogan:

When I was growing up, I had two very wrong impressions about motherhood. The first was that being a mom meant always thinking your kid (and possibly every other kid around them) was perfect, no matter what they did. The other was that being a mom meant your entire life centered around kids.

I carried these misconceptions with me until I was a year or two out of college and only fully understood how wrong-headed they were when I started meeting adult friends who had kids, and also had hobbies and interests and, in one memorable case, a frank horror of those cliched delights like children’s choirs and the sound of children laughing. (“But why are they laughing? And what at?”)

While some people might say that my biological clock has pushed me over into a new mental time zone (and, inarguably, this shift occurred slowly but surely over the course of my late twenties and early thirties, right on biological schedule), I prefer to think that I woke up, looked around me, and realized that a lot of cool people had kids. That I liked my friends’ kids. And that I actually got a kick out of sharing my interests with kids, showing them what lives under rocks and in tide pools and telling stories about history and art and the stars.

As I’m getting ready for maternity leave from this and my various other projects, I’m happy to report that I’m going to test all of this out on my own, finally.

What does this mean for the Dream Foundry? First, it means we’ve got a fabulous new addition to our family as well. Langley Hyde has joined our team as Content Co-Manager. She and I have been working in the background over the last few weeks to make sure that the blog continues running smoothly while I’m away, and she’s already brought in great ideas and new energy. Once I return, Langley and I will be working together to build on this beautiful little community that we have here, and continue trying to raise the profile of new artists in our arena in all the exciting directions that the speculative arts can take. In the past few years, nothing did more to assure me that I wanted a kid than watching, and helping, little minds learn new things. I feel like that’s a lesson I can take into all areas of my work and art. What new ideas do I want to expose people to? What assumptions can I challenge? How can I make everywhere I go a little bit more like the kind of world I want my baby to grow up in?

We’re going to keep exploring and pushing and seeking. We hope you’ll join us.

Sincerely,

Jen Grogan

Langley Hyde

Langely Hyde:

When I went into parenthood, I had expectations: of what I’d do, of how I’d do it, of how it would transform me, and of how it wouldn’t. I hoped, but did not expect, that I’d learn more about what it meant to be human and that this would make me into a better writer—an idea that came in part from Diana Wynne Jones’s autobiographical essay. Parenthood has already taught me about human nature (or at least the natures of two very small humans).

You may have heard the saying: It takes a village.

After having children, I became painfully, intimately aware of my own dependency when, post-partum, I needed weeks before I could comfortably climb stairs. I could feel my own children’s dependency, their fragility, as I held them, as my body’s own warmth gave them the perfect conditions that human life needs to thrive. I understood and still understand that I play a pivotal role in their upbringing—yet I am also only one strand that binds them into human culture, and they need all the connections they can get. I can give my children my appreciation of beauty, art supplies, books but they needed someone else to share their love of rap.

I learned that parenthood isn’t a heroic battle—not for me. It’s not about what I do or how I do it. Parenthood is participating in and developing a healthy network and ecosystem for my children to thrive in.

Dream Foundry is still in its earliest days: its infancy. It has a solid beginning. It has people who love it, crucial to the development of anything that must grow and learn. It’s at the center of an ecosystem of professionals who are donating their time and energy. It has its village. But soon it must grow into its own. It will become itself an “ecosystem of professionals from across the speculative fiction industry to share skills, insights, and opportunities” that can support other creators, who then in turn will develop the network they need with each other to succeed and grow in the speculative arts.

As Jen Grogan steps away—temporarily—to care for her newborn network, I hope to continue her strong start in her tradition; when she returns, I am excited that I’ll have the chance to continue to collaborate with her. If I’ve learned anything in the past few years, creating is not about what I can do or how I can do it: it’s about what we can do together. Collaboration, give and take, is at the heart of every relationship. Every strand needs two plies to ensure its strength in the larger network.

I look forward to participating in this growing, diversifying ecosystem. I hope to see you there.

Sincerely,

Langley Hyde


Meet the Cats!

Dream Foundry Secretary Cislyn Smith and Content Manager Jen Grogan sat down recently with Cislyn's cats, who have recently had a day in the sun rewarding (or getting rewarded by?) Dream Foundry Kickstarter backers with pictures and fussing.

Humans: First of all, would you like to each introduce yourselves to our readers?

Bubbles: Hello, I’m Bubbles. I’m the oldest kitty in the house, at a stately seven years old. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Sometimes I bite my tail for fun, but then it hurts? It’s very confusing. Most things are confusing. Cuddles are good though! Except when I’m confused. My main job with the Dream Foundry is to look suspiciously at things and question whether they’re really done. Because if they’re done that means someone might move, and that’s obviously wrong, because I’m right here, in the lap! Or nearby, and easily startled. So, is that realllllly done? I didn’t think so.

Blizzara: Hi! I’m Blizzara! You can also call me Blizzy, and I will definitely answer to that, right after I’m done romping around and leaping and climbing things. Or purring. I do a lot of purring. Do you know how great belly rubs are? They’re amazing! I’m four years old, and I am big and bouncy. My sister looks the same as me, but she’s smaller? Sometimes I think I’m small too, but somehow she fits places that I don’t. The Dream Foundry forums are my favorite thing because you can bounce enthusiastically about all kinds of things there and also take things apart (like themes in fiction and podcasts and stuff) but for some reason I haven’t managed to finish registering. Maybe I need an email first? I dunno.

Blizzara, aka Blizzy.

Bonus: Greetings humans, cats, robots, and other entities. I am Bonus. I’m basically in charge at the Dream Foundry—you can tell by the way humans subserviently pour me water from a cup to drink whenever I ask. I don’t even need to ask nicely. It is my job to help develop long-term strategies and plans—like the Dream Foundry five-year plan. I also enjoy staring meaningfully at policies and bylaws. I spend a great deal of time helping Cislyn write or edit or fuss spreadsheets by sleeping across her wrists while she is typing (so she can never move, of course). Sometimes I help with craft projects by biting yarn, but that is different.

Bonus, the cat in charge.

Humans: You’ve all had a great behind-the-scenes view of the Dream Foundry from the beginning—what was your take on it when the project first started?

Blizzara: I thought it was great! More people were in the house and talking about things and that meant more attention and playing.

Bonus: It’s been a year now since plans were hatched and schemes officially schemed and paperwork was filed. When this first started I was unsure if it would take off—a lot of nonprofit ventures don't make it, after all. I'm pleased with the success the Dream Foundry has had. It definitely means more fussing and treats for me, since I am, as I mentioned, basically in charge.

Bubbles: Wait, it’s already started? I’m confused.

Bonus being adorable.

Humans: And now, what do you think of the results from the Kickstarter? Is it meeting your expectations, or is more fussing necessary?

Blizzara: ALWAYS MORE FUSSING. Please? Please more fussing? Also, these T-shirts are REALLY comfy. More people should get them. I promise not to shed on all of them. Maybe not even any of them! Just this one.

Blizzara enjoying our Dream Foundry t-shirts.

Bonus: Meeting our base funding goals in the first week was very good! I think with more fussing, though, we could manage some stretch goals and do more fun things. More fussing is definitely called for.

Bubbles: I have no idea what’s going on, but yes, stop whatever you’re doing, and fuss me right now.

Humans: It’s often said that many famous writers (T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Patricia Highsmith, Ursula K. Le Guin) are or were cat lovers—why do you think that is?

Blizzara: Cats are great for creators. We’re inspiring! And fuzzy. Maybe mostly fuzzy.

Bonus: The benefit of feline intervention for the creative process cannot be understated. Our purrs are soothing, easing anxiety and imposter syndrome and helping the subconscious to churn ideas more quickly. Our gazes are inscrutable, causing humans to mentally meander in creative ways as they wonder what we are thinking. Our food bowls are empty (even when there are a few pathetic crumbs, that counts as empty), and the erstwhile creative must meet deadlines and continue to produce to feed us. We are soft and fluffy, whilst imagining ourselves to be mighty predators, a situation that many humans can empathize with. Also, most cats don’t constantly beg for attention—long periods of quiet are good for focus, I hear.

Bubbles: Wait, don’t get up. I’m not done sitting here! Come back and make the tippy typing noises some more!

Bubbles looking very dignified.

Humans: What about other areas of the speculative arts? Do you think of yourselves as writing-specific, or are you willing to snuggle up with artists, filmmakers, or game developers, too?

Blizzara: I snuggle all makers and dreamers and nifty humans. Except that one guy who sometimes brings pizza. I don’t like him. Everybody else, though, yeah.

Bonus: I feel that cat-kind has much to offer many creative purrsuits. Our willingness to play with most things can be an inspiration to game developers. We are inherently photogenic, which aids in visual arts. Our insistence on not letting you rise from where you are sitting (lest you disturb us, which is obviously a terrible crime) means that editors must cast another eye to their works and make sure all is well. Basically, we're great. And I, of course, am the greatest.

Blizzara helping out at the computer.

Bubbles: Oh, oh, I know this one! I'm helping! With stuff! All the stuffs. Any stuff. Words and pictures and anything you like.

Humans: Do you have any more special appurrances or work with the Dream Foundry planned for the future? I notice that, as of today, there have never been any feline contributors to the site—is that something you want remedied soon, or are you happy sticking with social media?

Blizzara and Bonus napping.

Blizzara and Bonus: We're too busy napping to want to do too many more appurrances, honestly. Social media works just fine for us!

Bubbles: Let's paws for a second and consider: What if more cuddles? All the cuddles. I'll happily do more work (wait, what is "work" again?) for cuddles.

Humans: Let’s get real—wet food or dry food?

Blizzara: Why not both?

Bonus: Because wet food is icky, that’s why. Dry food, all the way.

Bubbles: Yes. Wait. What was the question?

Bubbles has serious thoughts.

Note from Cislyn: All three cats are on different prescription diets. Life gets interesting around dinner time. We have robot feeders, which read the different microchips of the cats and only open for the correct kitty, because we are living in the future and it can be pretty great.

Humans: Favorite toys or games?

Blizzara: I like it when people play peekaboo with me on the tall climber thing, or when they wave a wand toy, or when Bubbles moves and I pounce on her, or those crinkly toy things, or… I like things.

Bonus: There is a particular length of red ribbon, worn with my tooth marks from the many times I have vanquished it, seized from atop a gift presented to some other, less worthy entity. That ribbon is the best toy in the entire world. Other acceptable toys include Blizzara’s tail (but only if I have the high ground), the pink-and-white wand toy, or anything I have to think about for a while before figuring out.

Bonus and her ribbon.

Bubbles: Are the other cats playing with a thing? Maybe I should try that, too! Wait, how does this work?

Humans: Okay, we'd better let you all get back to your fun. Thanks so much for helping out with our Kickstarter campaign (which finished today at 182% of funding and 92 backers!), and we (or at least Jen, since she doesn't live with you) hope to see you all again very soon!


Do you have a furry, scaly, feathered, or chitinous friend who assists you with your speculative art? Let us know, and share pictures on our forum!


We're On Kickstarter!

Let’s be really straightforward and put the main point up front: FUND OUR KICKSTARTER. Give us your money and we’ll turn it into awesome things. Period. End. Point made.

There’s more to it than that, of course. We’re still small and new and the shrink wrap is barely off our packaging. Actually, we’re more like something that comes in one of those super tough clamshell packages you have to take a pickaxe to in order to get open. It’s a lot of work up front, with incremental progress, until you split open a weak spot in the plastic and BOOM! Object obtained. We’re like that. Or like a series of packages like that, where you get a series of awesome things that combine into a gigantic super awesome thing. We’re disassembled Voltron in clamshell packaging.

We have a lot of hopes, schemes, and plans invested in this Kickstarter. The very base funding is simply continuing what the auction last fall enabled, letting us go along as we are and ensuring we get a full year of that under our belts. That’s great! But we’re a scrappy, ambitious organization, and we want to do more.

The top funding goal we’ve announced lets us run a practice version of the contest two years early. William Ledbetter and Sara Felix are on board to help us with that and make sure that we scrape every ounce of awesome out of that clamshell packaging. We’ve got a range of possibilities for the contest worked out, in part to give you something exciting to build toward, but also, to increase the chances we get to do something along those lines this year. The real mission of the Dream Foundry is the community we’re building, but the contest is what will bring people together, get them excited, give them a reason to show up and a structure that will make it easy to stay. Let’s do it!

There are a lot of important goodies in there, between those extremes. Better rates for the content we publish. Better pay for the professionals who give their time and guidance to the OMEC. More and better art, a shinier website, long-term investment in our ongoing overhead (which makes it less expensive). Also, and this is one I’m personally pretty invested in, we want to pay our staff. We have that broken out into sections across the funding tiers, too. Giving is good for the spirit, but fiscal remuneration is good for the long-term stability of an organization and for ensuring we can get input and support from the variety of people we need to have involved in order to stay true to our mission. (In other words, LET ME PAY MY PEOPLE BECAUSE THEY’RE AWESOME AND DESERVE IT AND I WANT THEM TO STAY FOR A LONG TIME!!!)

This is our first Kickstarter, but it probably won’t be our last. However, we are not planning to be an organization of perpetual Kickstarters. KS is a great tool for reaching out to the community and letting them put their money where their dreams are, but some of our dreams are very, very big. We have a strategy in place for seeking grant money and other forms of funding. That plan folds back into this Kickstarter, though, because demonstrating both that we can raise funds on our own, and what we do with those funds, are critical to being taken seriously as we pursue those opportunities. Some of the grants are based on matching funds; that is, they’ll only give us funds commensurate with what we’ve raised on our own. That means that we have to raise those funds. Because of this, the funding you give us now does so much more than pay for the specific thing we have it allocated to: it builds the case for the Dream Foundry as an organization that can deliver on its aspirations and make good use of grant funds. You aren’t just investing in the programming we run now or plan to roll out soon. You’re investing in a future where we expand beyond what any one Kickstarter can support.

Plus, we have some pretty neat backer rewards. T-shirts, manuscript critiques, fancy dinners, Charlie Jane Anders or Tina Connolly in your ears. And gratitude.

Always, for everything, gratitude. We are the people who support us. Who work for us. Who come to chat and learn and grow and stay to teach and share and advise. We are you, and we’re so grateful that you’re here helping us be.

Now let’s go crack open some plastic!