Kat Howard and Megan Kurashige, creators of A Thousand Natural Shocks

Your new campaign for a dance/story collaboration, A Thousand Natural Shocks, went live on Saturday. I was going to ask you about how you planned to manage the campaign to a successful conclusion, but then you guys went and hit 60% funded after just one day. Without jinxing yourself, to what do you attribute your blockbuster first day, and do you have any stretch goals in mind if you need them?

Kat: I think it’s a dangerous question, to ask what it is about any work of art that causes people to respond to it. You risk – especially as one of the people involved in making the art – narrowing your vision, and making assumptions. But whatever it is that has caused people to look at this project and want to support it, I am glad, and thrilled, and very grateful.

And really, if I had to pick one thing that helped us be that successful on our first day – aside from the excellent video Megan and Shannon made – it was that people were willing to support us by linking to the project, and talking about it on various platforms. That helps so much.

Megan: I agree… So many people helped us spread the word on the first day. It gave us a nice jolt of momentum and excitement. It was a little overwhelming (in the nicest way, of course) to see so many people telling their friends about our project and saying such kind and enthusiastic things about it. It made me get a bit misty in the eyes. We’ve been working on this project for so long with our little band of comrades, just going into the studio to work and think and make things, and we suddenly have all these people who are interested in what we’re doing and cheering us on.

Right now, I can’t imagine what we’d have for a stretch goal… Our first performance is on Monday and thinking about that has completely consumed my brain. We just settled on the final pieces of music this morning! However, Shannon and I have been daydreaming about the possibility of performing A Thousand Natural Shocks, or parts of it, in other places, so if we manage to pass our original goal, we may very well explore that.

You describe your work as an exploration of life and death and the stories in between. How do you translate that into dance? What role do the stories play in the performance?

Kat: I’m going to tackle the easy one first – pieces of the stories will be heard during the performance. In some cases, I wrote before seeing the choreography, in some cases after, and of course there was revision, but it is very much a project that is meant for the two pieces to go together and support each other.

As to how to translate things like life and death and stories into dance, well, I didn’t do the choreography, but I imagine it is much life translating those things into any art form – you speak the language of your chosen medium as well as you can, and hope your audience understands.

Megan: The dancers perform all of the text. Sometimes, the text accompanies the dance and sometimes it stands alone. In one section, the dancers break up a duet by racing back and forth between the microphones and the dance, tossing off this great, snappy, screwball dialogue that Kat originally wrote as an exchange between Lucifer and Titania. The text and the dance definitely support each other. They talk about the same things in different ways… It’s a bit like traveling along a certain road, but doing so by foot and then car and then bicycle and then pony cart and then maybe something really strange, like ostrich.

I think dance, or at least theatrical dance, is in the strange position of being both a visceral, natural language that everyone understands and an art form that some people feel is alien or stuffy or something they don’t quite “get.” There’s an expectation, sometimes, that going to see a dance performance means going to a grand theater and sitting still for a long time while you watch something pretty happen on a stage very far away from you. But, I think that dance can really rip your head open and peel your heart bare. Everyone understands movement as a form of expression, so dance can exploit that understanding and condense enormous ideas and feelings into pungent, vivid movement symbols. Of course, doing that successfully is very hard…

You are part of the same Clarion class, so I’d assume you have a lot of love for fantasy and science fiction. How does this factor in A Thousand Natural Shocks?

Kat: Originally, A Thousand Natural Shocks was going to be a straight-up fantastical piece. It was going to be an exploration of myths of the underworld, and for a long time the working title was Descent. Pieces of that remain, but it is a very different thing now. (Although the undercurrent of the fantastic is still very much present.)

Megan: Shannon and I both love fantasy and science fiction. Before Kat instigated the project that eventually became A Thousand Natural Shocks, we were toying with the idea of making a dance about superheroes. I think dance is a particularly good medium for exploring elements of the fantastic. It can make your brain work in a similar way. There are exaggerations and gaps, things standing in for other things. Since we started out by looking at myths of the underworld, our brains were already in that place and I think that fed into the way the piece developed.

What was it like working on a collaboration from different coasts? What can you tell a geeky audience about your creative process?

Kat: You mention above that we were in the same Clarion class. For me, that made the collaboration a lot easier. I knew Megan, and not just as a person, but as an artist. I knew that the same sort of things mattered to each of us, and that we shared a common sort of sensibility. Which meant that,going into the project, I had absolute trust in her, both as a person and as an artist. That shared background made things a lot easier for me.

Beyond that, in terms of the actual how – email. Skype. YouTube. Technology made things so much easier than it would have been. I mean, obviously the easiest would have been having me in the same place as dancers, but since that couldn’t happen, having technology helped.

Megan: I was in the comfortable position of working with people who I know well and admire. I trust, completely, in the artistic instincts and points of view of everyone involved in this project. It makes it easy to collaborate when you have that trust. You can discuss and argue and change things without worrying that you’re going to break the skeleton of what you’re working on. It gives you a great deal of freedom.

We filmed all of the choreography as we created it. Then we would upload it to YouTube and send it to Kat. Kat Skyped in for a few rehearsals so she could see the piece as a more continuous whole. We also did some video chat meetings so we could talk about ideas and throw suggestions back and forth without creating too many monster email threads (I just looked up the rehearsal video thread that we started in December… it has 26 separate messages in it.)

You plan to produce a DVD, two different books, t-shirts, postcards, and other rewards. What, if any production and publishing services do you plan to use for these rewards?

Megan: Rapt Productions, a great Bay Area company that specializes in filming dance, is going to film our July 30 performance. Shannon happens to be very good at screenprinting, so she will be designing the screens for our t-shirts and screening them by hand. As for the books and postcards, we haven’t quite decided which services we’ll be using for those. We’re really looking forward to putting them together though.

What are your plans for the future? What do you think lies ahead for A Thousand Natural Shocks? Any new collaborations on the horizon?

Kat: It’s hard to say what lies ahead for A Thousand Natural Shocks beyond these performances. I hope it speaks to people. I hope they love it. Would I collaborate on a project with Megan or with Sharp & Fine or with any of our phenomenal dancers again? Absolutely. I have loved this experience, even on the days it was difficult, and I am so proud of what we’ve done. And I like collaborative art, so I’d be thrilled to have a chance to make more of it.

Megan: I do hope that people enjoy A Thousand Natural Shocks. Part of our mission statement for this piece and for Sharp & Fine in general is that we want our audiences to be “gloriously, luxuriously not bored.” This doesn’t sound like much, but it is, as Shannon says, one of the most ambitious goals and highest achievements that a work of performing art can aim for. I would love for A Thousand Natural Shocks to live on beyond these performances. Shannon keeps talking about making a dance film version of it. We have other projects in mind for the near future, but I’m very proud of this project and the way that we’ve worked together. I hope we get to work with Kat again and I hope we get to do other collaborations with other artists because this one has been such insane, marvelous fun.

Kat Howard is a fiction writer, blogger, and editor. Her short fiction has been performed on NPR as part of Selected Shorts, and has been selected for a year’s best anthology. It has appeared in Lightspeed, Subterranean, and the anthology Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. Her nonfiction has appeared on Tor.com, and is frequently on Fantasy-Matters.com, where she is also the content editor. She blogs and is on Twitter.

Megan Kurashige studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance under the direction of Summer Lee Rhatigan. She currently dances with Liss Fain Dance in San Francisco. She has previously worked with choreographers Alex Ketley (The Foundry) and Christian Burns (burnsWORK), and performed with Ballet Pacifica and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. She is also a writer. Her fiction and poetry has appeared (or will appear) in Sybil’s Garage, Strange Horizons, and Electric Velocipede. She is a 2008 graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD. You can read more about Megan here.


Brian White, publisher of Fireside Magazine

You have run two successful campaigns for Fireside Magazine, your fiction and comics magazine, to fund the first two issues. What do you think you were able to do to make those campaigns successful? And why include the selected writers as part of the campaigns?

I think that the success of the Kickstarter is based on a concept that Amanda Palmer wrote about during her wildly successful campaign: “You can’t crowdfund without a crowd.” Now, I’m not saying I have a fan base like hers, or even what I would call fans. But I have been blogging and tweeting as Talk Wordy to Me for years now, and I do have a small but substantial group of friends that I have made by doing that. And a lot of our success was due to those friends, who saw my crazy idea last year and backed it and promoted it to their friends.

Another factor of our success follows the same idea and answers another of your questions, about why I chose specific writers before starting the campaign, and why I included them in the campaign. Each of these writers has their own crowd, their group of fans and friends and followers, and they wanted to see a new story by that person. If I had just put out there that I wanted to do a magazine with an undetermined group of writers, I don’t think we would have generated the enthusiasm that we did.

And finally, I think the other thing that made us successful was that there is a small but very enthusiastic subset of readers (including me!) who love short stories and were excited to see a new place to indulge their love.

Did you consider other platforms besides Kickstarter? If so, what led you to choose to put your campaign on Kickstarter?

I did take a look at IndieGoGo, but I had read the most about Kickstarter, and I had the impression that Kickstarter had the most name recognition. I thought that was important, especially for a brand-new out-of-nowhere magazine, that people would know what Kickstarter was and be able to trust that they could turn over their credit card information to it.

As the organizer of a campaign, what’s your approach to designing the rewards for backers?

At its most basic, the Kickstarter is a way to let people preorder an issue of Fireside. The price of the eBooks is the same as it is on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Weightless Books. But I also wanted to be able to offer things just for the people who threw their support behind us in the Kickstarter. That’s a big reason we only offer print copies to our backers, it’s something limited and exclusive just to them. Same thing with getting autographs, prints of the cover art, and the mosaic keychains and coasters my wife has been making for backers.

The idea of doing Tuckerizations (which is when a real person’s name is used for a fictional character in a story) is something I had seen on other Kickstarters, and I thought that was a really fun way for people to have their support of Fireside recognized. And Adam P. Knave, one of the co-writers of Issue One’s comic, took that a step further and suggested we also use likenesses in the comic. Those have turned out to be popular and tend to go fast, so I think that people really like seeing their names up in lights, as it were.

What have you learned through these two campaigns that you might apply in the future?

The big thing I learned from Issue One to Two is that it is possible to run a shorter campaign and still be successful. The Issue One Kickstarter was, I think, 32 days long and raised $7,017 from 254 backers, which was $517 above our goal. But the middle weeks of the campaign were very slow, with only a trickle of money each day, which is common in Kickstarter campaigns. I’d read about several campaigns that were shorter and still met their goals. So for Issue Two, we had a 21-day campaign, but we still hit our goal with time to spare, raising $6,314 from 273 backers, $314 more than our goal. The middle of the campaign was still slower than the beginning and end, but it was only one week instead of two. And during that week, the money came in at a higher rate than the middle two weeks of Issue One. My theory is that if we had that extra week, the contributions in that middle period would have just been more spread out, not higher.

So I think that is the big lesson, at least for a campaign like mine, is that you can trust your crowd and not drag things out in the hopes of getting a few extra dollars.

What’s your plan for the future of Fireside Magazine? Do you plan to run a campaign for Issue #3? Or do you think the magazine will be self-funding by then?

I think we will be Kickstarting each issue for the foreseeable future. Fireside is expensive to make. An eBook-only edition, without printing costs or anything like that, would cost nearly $5,000. (Once we throw in the printing and rewards and everything else, it is nearly $6,500.) This is largely because of our commitment to paying our writers and artists at a fair wage. The cost of buying four 4,000-word short stories at 12.5 cents a word is $2,000. The cover art, comic writer, comic artist, and letterer are another $2,000, and we also have to pay our designers. We could cut the short story costs to $800 by paying the minimum professional rate of 5 cents a word, and I could find people to work on the comic and cover art for less, but fair wages are a core component of Fireside. If I can’t sustain Fireside at those rates, then I don’t want to do it.

So Kickstarter is critical to us. Subscriptions to Fireside cost $8 a year, or $2 per issue, on Weightless Books. I get about $1.50 per issue from that. So for Fireside to break even, it would need 3,333 subscribers. Right now we have about 60, which is fantastic for a brand-new niche magazine like this. But it will be a long time, if ever, before we have enough subscribers to sustain the magazine without supplementing it with Kickstarter.

And that’s OK. Kickstarter gives people who believe in storytelling and fair pay for creators a way to support that and to help us make Fireside available for sale to people who just want to buy a magazine. Between Kickstarter and eBooks and all the other emerging funding and publishing technology, it is really a cool time to be working on a project like this. And it is exciting that we are able to create a community around a magazine and see where we can take it.

Fireside is edited and published by Brian White, whose day job — well, it’s actually a night job — is on the copy desk of the Boston Globe. A committed word nerd, he is also the proprietor of Talk Wordy to Me, a blog about words, editing, and other oddities. (He tweets @talkwordy.) He lives near Boston with his wife, a theatrical lighting technician, and their cat, Bast, who is most likely asleep or shredding their couch as you read this.