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 (

- Finish things. —Heather Hudson (

- 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 (

- 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 (

- 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 (

- 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 (

- 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 (

If you are an unpublished illustrator, make sure to apply to the Dream Foundry contest!

You can find more info at:


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.


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.


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!

Official Dream Foundry Media Exploration Club

Have you heard about the Dream Foundry’s first piece of recurring programming yet? No? Well, you’re in luck!

Over on the forums, we’re spinning up our official Media Exploration Club. We’re going to pick a theme and a variety of works from all the different formats the field covers, and then we’re going to talk about them. The discussion around theme selection is happening now; the current top contenders are “Transformation,” “Coming of Age,” and “Vulnerability.” If you’d like to have a say in that, swing by and make your preferences known.

This is a very cool and exciting project for us. We’ve been champing at the bit to launch this from the very beginning, and we’re super excited to have it be one of the first recurring programs we’re offering.  

Why are we doing this? So glad you asked!

“The arts” are one of those things where some things are universal, and some things are highly specific, and there’s a long tradition of fistfights (rhetorical and otherwise) over which is which. The fact is that all art shares a similarity in purpose and, so far at least, is by and for humans. The Romantics back in the nineteenth century all had a shared aesthetic, but they expressed it in everything from music to sculpture to poetry. The medium for their art didn’t matter so much as their interest in the way big, dramatic feelings and atmosphere can warp and shift otherwise realistic representations. The poets were talking to the painters and the composers, discussing and refining shared purpose, spurring each other on, and together producing one of the most exciting bodies of European art. (Or so says me, anyway.)

Very few people are fluent in all the mediums available. That isn’t just okay, that’s normal. But fluency isn’t required in order to appreciate a piece, even from an analytical, craft-driven perspective. A prose writer isn’t necessarily likely to have a hot tip about a Photoshop brush, but they could very well notice how the framing in a comic panel references another piece and what extra work that does for conveying the content of the panel. And if they don’t notice that on their own, they’re definitely in a position to learn a lot when somebody else points it out. After all, while the prose writer isn’t going to frame a visual image as part of their work, they certainly can echo structure and motif from prior work to good effect. Plus, they might someday wind up writing for comics, and knowing something about panel layout and design will suddenly be quite useful.

I could go on and list a dozen more scenarios for the kinds of craft discussions that could be useful to a variety of folks (narrative techniques for developing character sympathy as a template for compelling game mechanics, anybody?), but the proof is in the upcoming conversation. Come read, watch, listen, and play, then stay to talk. If the medium for that month isn’t one you can speak about, then ask questions. Insight into what catches somebody with a different background and perspective is the stuff of epiphany and inspiration. So come on, dive in, and join us for all the enticing conversation we have coming.

Inside the Dream Foundry - Auction Insight

Everything starts with spreadsheets.

I suppose, technically, everything starts with the acknowledgment that we need a spreadsheet, but the spreadsheet shows up pretty quickly. A lot of things go into building a nonprofit from the ground up, but if you want to know the engine powering the Dream Foundry, it's spreadsheets. There's a spreadsheet that outlines all the spreadsheets we need to make, with timelines for when. I've configured it to get awkward and red if we're behind, and to purr in green when we wrap things up. So when it was time to run our first fund-raiser, meant primarily as a practice run so we could make all our mistakes on something small and manageable, there was a spreadsheet for that, too. We were doing an auction. That meant we needed items to put in the auction. What were those items going to be, and where would they come from?

We approached it very similarly to how we've approached everything so far: We put out a call to our volunteers for items and help. We sent word to our various networks. And then we started putting people in a spreadsheet. But not just any people.

Auction purchases getting ready to go out to their new owners.

Moments like these are where, if you're thoughtful, you expose your core principles. Relevance is one of ours. There were a ton of things we could have put into the auction, but we didn't want to put just anything there. Or just one kind of thing, either. We're building a community of professionals who work in the speculative arts; we want things that will be valuable to them.

But we'd exposed a value before we even reached this point. We could have done a straight-up fund drive, asking people for money in exchange only for the promise that we'd spend it well in service of our mission. We probably would have seen success—people started offering us money before we'd formally incorporated—but we didn't like that approach. Inclusivity is another of our core principles, and while there's a lot that goes into fulfilling that, one of the elements is a firm stance that professionals deserve recognition and compensation for their work, even—especially—from us. There's a material difference between asking for naked donations and curating an opportunity for people to acquire items they'll treasure in exchange for their support. We care about that difference.

From the inside, the Dream Foundry is a stream of people constantly and generously saying "yes." A number of people replied to our request for something small with, "Sure, but wouldn't you like this other, better thing?" Yes, we would, thank you. People stepped up to offer items, and administrative work, and research. They spent time spreading the word about the auction and making a case for why it was worth time and attention to others. Some of them made cash donations without bidding on anything. Some of them donated and bid.

Dream Foundry's president and secretary get hands-on sending out purchases.

A lot of the founding members and early volunteers in the Dream Foundry are primarily traditional prose writers. Many of them wear other hats, too, but that was how they came to us. That meant a lot of the unprompted donations and people we were close enough to solicit had offerings relevant mostly to writers of traditional prose. We could have accepted that and been content—after all, this was our very first fund-raiser and meant to be a small, practice event—but we didn't. Relevance matters, and that means being relevant to everyone we want to include right from the start. And one of our other principles, Networking, would have been quite disappointed in us if we stopped there. In the end our inventory included portfolio critiques, art prints, and craft items.

Thank you cards for donors.

Spreadsheets proliferated: inventory tracking, bidder tracking, fulfillment tracking. Then, the really fun parts, the final tallying of what we brought in, what we spent, and what our working budget is going to be for the next few months. There's a lot more green on that spreadsheet than we expected at the beginning.

It's only been a few months since the Dream Foundry was a pipe dream without a name. It might have faded and vanished, a wistful what-if. But we are professionals working in the speculative arts. Making the what-if real and giving it power is what we do. Nothing quite like this has ever been done before, but we're doing it, figuring out how as we go. We'll learn. And then we'll teach it. After all, our fourth core principle is Mentorship.

Workers casting metal in a foundry

Coming Soon

The Dream Foundry will soon have a blog! Watch this space for exciting posts about everything related to the speculative arts.

We're also testing out options on the blog, so please bear with us if things look a little wonky from time to time.