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Exploring Flights of Foundry, A Virtual Sci-Fi Convention

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On April 14, I moved my favorite houseplant to the edge of my desk and clamped my backdrop behind my office chair, adjusting my lights and setting up my webcam. I was not the only one. Writers, podcasters, and artists across the world were doing the same, preparing to appear at the annual online Science-Fiction convention Flights of Foundry from the comfort of their homes. 

I am a Science-Fiction and Historical Fiction author and a Speculative poet. I have spoken regularly at Science-Fiction conventions all over the United States for many years about writing craft, podcasting, and anthology editing, as well as about being a working artist or about fandoms. As an author, I find conventions are a great way to find an audience and gain exposure for your books, though they’re equally helpful for bloggers, podcasters, and artists—and the genre-specific events are hard to beat.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, all in-person events immediately stopped. Like most of the authors I know, my world came to a screeching halt. We did our best to remain safe and figure out what to do next. A few months later, most conventions experimented with virtual alternatives, and I learned how to do a Zoom meeting.

This is when I discovered Flights of Foundry, or Flights, an online Science-Fiction convention sponsored by an organization called DreamFoundry, a 501(c)3 non-profit that works to support creative professionals pursuing careers in the speculative arts. The annual three-day event showcases high-quality speakers and panels on a multitude of topics. This year was their fourth year. Flights isn’t a conference tailored only to authors; beyond writing tracks, they also offer tracks related to science, podcasting, costuming, Speculative poetry, and other genre-related topics. Every sort of panel and event you might expect to find at an in-person Science-Fiction convention is represented, including author readings, artist demos, and Speculative performances. 

Flights has always been online, never in-person, and organizers build the event’s schedule on a world timeline. It is not American-centric but truly international in scope. Panels take place around the clock, encompassing all time zones, and panelists and audience members hop into the system during times that work for them. 

This Year’s Flights of Foundry

The Guests of Honor for the 2023 convention included a diverse selection of authors, artists, and Sci-Fi creators:

  • Solomon Robert Nui Enos, a Native Hawaiian artist, illustrator, and visionary
  • Helen Gould, a writer, editor, sensitivity consultant, speaker, Twitch streamer, and part of Rusty Quill Ltd.
  • Shelvi Garg, aka The Dancing Bookworm, who gives a glimpse into her life through her vlogs
  • Sloane Hong, an illustrator, comic artist, and tattooer from Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa, New Zealand
  • Xueting C. Ni, who was born in Guangzhou, during China’s reopening to the West. She is currently translating and editing a collection of contemporary Chinese Horror fiction and lives just outside London with her partner.
  • Sarah Gailey, a Hugo Award–winning and bestselling author of Speculative fiction, short stories, and essays

The Guests of Honor are featured, but there are dozens of program participants at Flights, each speaking or moderating panels on a myriad of topics. All panels are recorded and live streamed to the website. The program later uploads selected panels to DreamFoundry’s YouTube channel for public viewing.

Via Webex, the program also hosted non-live-streamed conferences where authors could hold private readings of their work. Attendees could also gather and hold conversations, similar to how you would chat with others in the hallway at an in-person convention.

Being A Panelist at Flights of Foundry

I frequently teach Speculative poetry workshops at conventions across the country. This year, I taught my generative workshop, “Prompts To Poetry,” at Flights. With the Webex conference rooms, I could not only hear my students but also chat with them in real time. My class was filled to the audience limit, and I had returning students.

I also did an artist demo from my home studio. I have been a line-art artist on the convention circuit for twenty years, but I changed up things for 2023 and held up my watercolor notebooks, paints, and tools instead. I even got to speak about my hobby of urban sketching. 

As a poet laureate, I also spoke on Speculative poetry panels, as well as about being an anthology editor, and I moderated a fun panel about writing fanfiction. Speaking on the formal panels, which were recorded and live streamed, was a little more complex. As a panelist, once you found your way into the virtual room via the link they sent beforehand, however, it was all quite simple. Flights assigns a volunteer to take care of all technical needs. 

How to Participate

Participants register for the event at the group’s website, https://flights-of-foundry.org. You are welcome to attend for free, but organizers do request a donation to help keep the program going. Registration begins several months before the event begins and remains open throughout the event. The website hosts the program guide, which is accessible once you create a login account, and lists the panelists and their biographies, as well as information about the artists and vendors who are selling their wares at the event. On the website, you can watch most panels and main events via Webex live stream.

There is more to the event than a simple website, however. The backbone of the action is on the DreamFoundry Discord server. The server is up year round and is a place for writers and artists to stay in touch when the convention is over. During the event, the DreamFoundry server expands with new channels related to the Flights of Foundry convention. Each live-streamed “room” has a corresponding channel on the Discord server, allowing people who are watching to chat with one another and ask questions of the panelists. Attendees can also join Webex rooms as audience members during panel sessions. After a panel, it is customary for panelists to pop into the designated Discord channel to greet the audience and answer further questions. 

In addition, DreamFoundry sets channels for vendors to post about their wares and for artists to showcase their paintings. They create a popular channel for people to show off their pets and then offer the photos as part of a panel later in the convention. Once the event is over, DreamFoundry will remove these special channels from public view, allowing the server to offer a clean slate each year for the next event.

Final Thoughts

Flights of Foundry is a high-quality convention offering several program tracks of benefit to authors of the Science-Fiction genre, from writing craft to marketing, as well as a chance to listen in on the words of your fellow published authors. It is a convention you can attend from the comfort of your own home without the high cost of travel or paying a high fee to register. It truly puts a convention within reach of anyone with access to a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Next year, Flights of Foundry will take place September 27–29. Those interested in attending can join the DreamFoundry Discord Channel for updates, or check in with the group’s website in late spring 2024 at https://flights-of-foundry.org/.

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