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.