Welcoming New Additions to Dream Foundry

The Dream Foundry would like to welcome Alexei Collier and Jordan Scism to Dream Foundry.

Jordan Scism will be joining Dream Foundry as the Community Manager in the Arts. Jordan will create events on the forums that focus on developing the forums as a useful space for beginning artists.

About her new position, Jordan says, “Each day awakens in me a desire to share the dark joy I found when, at six years old, I stumbled upon an illustrated copy of the complete literary works of Poe. What I found inside, the spooky tales of terror married with the queer illustrations of Harry Clarke, filled me with a lifelong delight in the horrific and the mysterious, the wondrous and the speculative. I've always striven to bring that same love and joy to my own illustrations and creative content and it excites me to be able to do so as part of the great team we have here at the Dream Foundry.”

Alexei Collier will be joining the content management team. As our new dedicated arts editor, Alex will be responsible for developing and editing art content on a monthly basis. Expanding the content management team to include an arts editor will allow us to continue to feature content from a variety of disciplines within the speculative arts community.

If you are an artist or illustrator interested in having your work featured or paying it back to a small but growing community of nascent creators who work in visual mediums, please reach out to us with your bio and samples of your work—that, or a link to website where your work is featured. The Dream Foundry specifically requests and seeks out work from marginalized groups—whether they’re creators of color, creators with a historically marginalized sexual orientation or gender identity, or from a nontraditional socioeconomic background or age bracket. If in doubt, contact us—we want to hear from you!

On a personal note—I’m particularly excited to welcome Alex as our arts editor because he’s a friend and we shared a writing group for a few years. Alex would regularly assemble visual writing prompts for the group, and his interest in art and art culture expresses itself in his written work. It’s going to be fun to work alongside him, and I’m grateful for his generosity in giving his time!

For his part, Alex says: "I'm delighted to be joining such an amazing team doing great work! Art and spec fic have both been lifelong companions for me. Growing up, my parents' bookshelves were filled with sci-fi and fantasy classics. I also went to a very unusual school (in a creepy old mansion) where they actually encouraged art and artistic expression. While I abandoned any aspirations of a career (or even a hobby) as a visual artist, I kept my love of art -- and of SFF. As a writer, I've long been tempted by the dark side, er, the editorial side of things, and I'm excited for this opportunity to contribute to the Dream Foundry!"


2019 Retrospective

As we head into 2020, we thought it might be fun to look back at 2019 and some of the things the Dream Foundry accomplished, with a little bit of looking forward to what we hope to do in the new year, too!

Kickstarter

Our first official Kickstarter was ambitious, aiming to fund our programming for the year with lots of stretch goals, including an early run of the contest. We reached our goal and then some, and made sure to put that money to good use! Details on many of those things are in the following sections. We're very grateful to everyone who donated, pledged, boosted, and supported the Kickstarter.

We will be running another Kickstarter in the spring of 2020, so be on the lookout for that and expect lots of nifty loot to be available.

Official Media Exploration Club (OMEC)

One of our first major programming initiatives involved professionals from many areas coming together to discuss the theme of Found Family across different works and mediums on our forums. During the course of the OMEC, we analyzed the first two episodes of Firefly, Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series, the entirety of Dragon Age: Inquisition, episode 11 of the podcast The Voice of Free Planet X, and volume 1 of the manga The Girl from the Other Side. Looking at a theme across works in different mediums allowed us to dive in depth into the craft elements of each story, and our industry professionals aided and guided the discussion. We had some great conversations—which you're welcome to contribute to, even now, on our forums. Our president, Jessica Eanes, had some thoughts on this first program and the lessons we learned, and shared them on our blog here.

We'll be running another iteration of this program in 2020, and we hope you'll drop by the forums to meet the professionals, engage in good conversations, and analyze craft elements across different works.

Blog Content and Website Revamp

Our website got a new look in 2019, putting our awesome content front and center. We've had interviews, roundtables, industry news, articles focusing on the business of art, game design, podcasting, writing, and more.

In 2020 we'll be looking for even more articles, interviews, and industry news. We're going to continue providing content across the speculative arts. If you have an article you'd like to pitch to us, please get in touch with content@dreamfoundry.org. We’re particularly interested in topics relevant to art, gaming, and the pragmatics of the business.

Contest and Winners!

We ran our very first iteration of our contest for writers and artists in the fall of 2019. We had nearly 400 entries wrangled by contest coordinators William Ledbetter and Sara Felix. We're very grateful to all of our volunteer readers and our judges: Charles Coleman Finlay, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Lisa Rodgers, agent at JABberwocky, served as judges on the writing side. On the illustration side of things, artist Rachel Quinlan was our judge.

And we're happy to honor our contest winners!

Writing:
1st: Jamie Adams
2nd: Claire Whitmore
3rd: Rose Wachowski
Honorable Mention: Lynne Sargent

And art:
1st: Alison Johnstun
2nd: Christine Rhee
3rd: Lauren Blake
Honorable Mentions: Zara Alfonso, Emily Leung, James Russell

First place winners from both contests received $500 each, and all winners received critiques from professionals in their fields. Running a version of the contest this year was a stretch for us in many ways—we ran ahead of our timelines, but we did it for many reasons. We talked about those decisions in this blog post.

In 2020 we’re going to do it again!! We have plans to make it bigger and more awesome, but a lot of that will depend on how fundraising works out. We’re already lining things up, so stay tuned to hear about our plans and how you can help us make them happen.

Cons

In 2019 the Dream Foundry officially put in an appearance at ConFusion, WisCon, ReaderCon, GenCon, ArchCon, DragonCon, and WorldCon.

Would you like to see us in 2020? Is there a con you definitely think we should check out? Please let us know!

Board Expansion

We are slowly but surely growing our board, and added two more members in 2019. Both new board members are also volunteers with the organization who have been with us from the beginning. Coral Moore, who doubles as our social media manager, and Evergreen Lee, our treasurer, are welcome new additions to the board.

In the coming year, we hope to expand the board even further and move the organization out of the start-up phase. If you'd like to know more about the behind-the-scenes management of the Dream Foundry and are considering volunteering, please get in touch with leaders@dreamfoundry.org.

Fall Auction and Merch Sale

We ran our second annual fall auction in October of 2019. With goodies all over the spectrum, from hand-carved wooden trains to signed ARCs and art prints, there was a wide variety for bidders to choose from. We also added a merchandise sale on our website, selling T-shirts, bookmarks, and enamel space dragon pins for a limited time. The fall auction was a success, and helped offset our operating costs.

Patreon Overhaul

Last year we made it easier than ever to support the Dream Foundry and simplified our Patreon, with new support levels and pretty new graphics. There are two ways to help the Dream Foundry now: becoming a $2/month Space Dragon Support or a $5/month Space Dragon Pillar. Each one of these allows us to do incredible things and ongoing funds from Patreon help us to publish more articles, run more programming on the forums, and do more for our contest winners. Pledging at the $5 level gets you a yearly gift of physical loot, too, in addition to extra bonus content. We're very proud of the new Patreon and hope you'll check it out.

And Now, The Future!

We're working toward offering many exciting things in the coming year! We'll be doing short in-person workshops on craft and business and retreats to get more in depth. On the forums, we'll have ongoing challenges and accountability groups, so you might want to sign up now if you haven't already. We've also got plans to offer a set of standardized contracts and documents to help support translators.

If you'd like to keep up with the Dream Foundry on a regular basis, consider signing up for our newsletter. It comes out monthly, with the occasional special news issue, and there are always cute cat pictures included.


Contest Finals and Winners

The finalists for the Art Contest are:

  • Zara Alfonso
  • Deanna Bach
  • Lauren Blake
  • Kae Hunter
  • Alison Johnstun
  • Emily Leung
  • Greer Nielsen
  • Christine Rhee
  • James Russell
  • Abbi Schellhase

The finalists for the Writing Contest are:

  • S Rain Lawrence
  • Douglas Wu
  • Steven Berger
  • Jamie Adams
  • Sam Tovey
  • Tiffany Smith
  • Andrew J. Savage
  • Rose Wachowski
  • Samantha Lynne Sargent
  • Claire Whitmore

And the winners are:

Art

  1. Alison Johnstun
  2. Christine Rhee
  3. Lauren Blake

Honorable Mentions: Zara Alfonso, Emily Leung, James Russell

Writing

  1. Jamie Adams
  2. Claire Whitmore
  3. Rose Wachowski

Honorable Mention: Lynne Sargent

First place winners from both contests win $500, and all winners are getting critiques from professionals in their fields.

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners!


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/