Posted on Leave a comment

Sad Horror & Blood, Blood Blood

An author interview with Moss Covered Claws author Jonah Barrett

It’s true, we love chatting with Jonah Barrett. There’s something about their cheeky humor and blatant honestly that keeps us leaning in to learn more about their writing, filmmaking, and multiverses of monsters and ghouls. I sat down with Jonah just after Moss Covered Claws, their debut short story collection, hit shelves around the Pacific Northwest last month (don’t worry, they’re in my COVID bubble!). Here’s what Jonah had to say about writing books and making art:

Q: What was one of the most unexpected things you learned about yourself while writing this book? 

Jonah Barrett (JB): The biggest thing I had to learn was that I was good enough to write a collection on my own. I still have imposter syndrome about this. Like holy fuck, Jonah. You have a collection of short stories? And not a small collection either. Jesus on a cracker what have you done? Logically it wasn’t unexpected but emotionally it was still pretty shocking.

Another thing I learned was: I write about blood a lot more than I thought I did. I’m diabetic, and I’ve been pricking my fingers and drawing blood my entire life, so the plasma’s always just sorta been in the background. When I was going through and making content warnings for each story, blood came up the most. I never thought I was so fixated on blood, but apparently it’s my subconscious’ favorite topic.

Q: What advice would you give young writers who are thinking about publishing their first book? 

JB: Independent is the way to go. As cool as it’d be to get picked up by the big five or whatever, small presses are gaining popularity and accessibility everywhere. Just like filmmaking, the tools to create amazing art are now in everyone’s hands. You get more creative freedom and flexibility when it’s just you and a small team of dedicated publishers. Indie publishers are kinda the lifeblood of the literary world right now (there I go with blood again). They’re more interested in works that deviate from the norm and try new and exciting things.

Also, and this is just a personal preference, but don’t work with Amazon. They’re ruining the book world (and the real world to boot), and they can go die in a goddamn fire. Fuck Amazon.

Q: You create so many things – creative writing, movies, newspaper articles – how did you decide what to include in this book and what to nix? 

JB: I think this is why having a great editor on your side can be a big help. Christina Butcher really helped me with slimming these stories down—originally there were going to be thirteen. We got rid of the poetry and experimental pieces pretty fast. She also helped me notice themes that held the whole collection together, stuff that I never really gave any thought to. One of those themes was depression. All my characters seem to have some kind of depression, because spoiler alert: that’s what I have!

Q: Is your creation process for writing a story similar/different to filmmaking? How so? 

JB: The first part of both processes is pretty similar for me to be honest. Both writing a first draft for a story and writing a first draft for a screenplay have the same highs and lows of, well… writing. For screenplays though I maybe only go through one or two revisions before I start heading into the rest of the pre-production stage. With filmmaking it’s like you go through all the trouble of writing and you’re maybe like, 1/5 of the way finished with the project as a whole. For writing, the writing is the finished medium, so that involves much heavier editing and revising. You can focus more heavily on THE CRAFT.

The way I usually start a story is coming up with the creature that I want to feature in it. What does that creature represent? How do people come across it? What’s going through their minds as they encounter it? And then I go from there.

Q: Has being a bookseller changed how you look at/interact with books? 

JB: Books are just objects. Unless they are hand-made or super rare or old, they are always replaceable. When I was just a reader I used to think of books as these sacred things that must be cared for and coddled. But it’s not the books that are sacred; it’s the writing within them. I like books now that have been around the block and have worn covers and smooth edges. Books are wonderful things that can easily be created or destroyed.

From a technical standpoint, it was awesome learning how to make a book as we went along. I could bring things I learned from bookselling to the table, and vice versa. I always hated blurbs and endorsements on books, I just wanted to read the freakin’ synopsis on the back. But you know who the endorsements are really for? Booksellers. We’re trying to find recognizable names that we know our customers love. That blew my mind when I learned that.

Q: There’s a lot of, er…… gore in these stories. They’re kind of serious and dark. Was it hard working on this book during dark and scary pandemic times (when, as some believe, we need all the light we can get)?

JB: I don’t like pretending I’m “light” when I’m so obviously in a dark place. I remember during the first few weeks of quarantine I tried so hard to write a comedic screenplay with that mindset of “we need light,” and it just wasn’t coming out. The meat and potatoes were really in the darker things I started to scribble down, and I think it’s a kind of catharsis really. For a long time our society has taught us to suppress our darkness, to not let ourselves cry when we need to and put a smile on instead. It’s healing for me to read dark stories; it’s like flexing a muscle we haven’t been allowed to use most of our lives. I really think you need both light and dark to find balance.

This might sound weird, but I don’t consider Moss Covered Claws to be a “grim” collection. Sure, I turned the dark elements up pretty high in some cases, but the stories don’t revel in the muck, so to speak. You know what I mean, right? Sometimes I read horror stories and it’s so obvious the author is writing these horrific scenes in delight. I didn’t necessarily enjoy writing the fucked up things in my stories. (Two exceptions I can think of are the nazi-punching scene, and anything the demon in “Stripes”—her name is Jerusha btw—says or does.) I don’t actually like sick, twisted things. Well I mean I do but I also don’t. I think the true horror for these types of scenes is how sad or tragic they are. There we go, that’s the genre I write in. “Sad horror.”

Q: How did it feel to have your first book drop into the hands of almost everyone you know (and folx you don’t know, too!)?

JB: I was pretty nervous, actually. I felt like there are parts of myself that I’ve kept hidden from people that rear their ugly heads in this collection. I was scared to death at what my mom would think. I was scared at all the assumptions people might make about me. I was scared the violent elements would overshadow the emotional aspects of love and melancholy, the parts I really cared about most when writing these stories.

Q: Do you have a favorite story from the collection, or a least favorite story? What are they???

JB: Right now I am really, really proud of “Warmonger,” which is kind of a shame because it has the least amount of monsters. I think it captures my generation’s frustration and is about something bigger than my usual themes of “Jonah is sad.” I’m trying to dip my toes further into “high fantasy” as well, and I’m exploring this one alternate world in “Warmonger” and “Snow Thing” where I can talk about issues in my own world without getting bogged down in the hyper-details that I’m too dumb to know.

My favorite though is “Boggy.” It’s the most autobiographical of my stories, since I grew up in that very bog. I didn’t have an imaginary friend when I was little, I had an imaginary monster, and Boggy was that monster. If you want to get really dorky, he is a prehistoric throwback-cryptid called the Tanystropheous, and he lives in my bog on a diet of frogs and peat. I literally convinced myself this creature existed when I was little, so it was a joy to bring him back into my life for this story. I also really love Anita, and plan to come back to her at some point in the future.

Least favorite? Probably the first piece, “Acts of Violence.” It’s based off an Alan Watts talk about how we are all the universe since we make up the universe, but I don’t know if I conveyed that in the way I wanted in the story. It also was just awful reliving my Catholic school days on the playground. Not that we beat anyone up for being gay, but there was a lot of homophobia (and bullying) in hopes of covering up our own questioning identities. I just hate revisiting that dark part of my life… so naturally I had to write about it.

As a whole, my favorite thing about the collection is how the stories all take place in the same multiverse. I didn’t plan it like that, but some characters popped up in multiple stories, and I just followed along. So if you step back it’s like this web where everything is connected. That was my favorite part of making this collection, going back in and adding little fun Easter eggs everywhere. Even the stories that take place in my high fantasy world are a part of this web. It’s never outright stated, but in “The Way Things Were” the concept of string theory and multiple timelines and worlds is introduced. Maybe the Dallas you meet in one story isn’t the same version of Dal you meet in the next. It’s wild and messy, and I like it that way.


About the Author

Jonah Barrett is a queer filmmaker, writer, and multimedia artist. Their debut book, Moss Covered Claws, was released in March 2021. They have also been published in the Forest Avenue Press collections Dispatches From Anarres and City of Weird. Jonah has directed and written three feature films, a dozen-ish short films, and four web series—with their film work being presented at the Olympia Film Society, Northwest Film Forum, and Trans Stellar Film Festival. They usually find themself in old haunted buildings or overgrown swamps.

Posted on

Hybrid Poetry by Ching-In Chen

Hello, dear readers! This month, we’re excited to bring you hybrid poems from one of our favorite writers in Washington state: Ching-In Chen.

Ching-In Chen is a genderqueer Chinese American hybrid writer, community organizer and teacher. They are author of The Heart’s Traffic and recombinant (winner of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry) as well as the chapbooks how to make black paper sing and Kundiman for Kin :: Information Retrieval for Monsters (Finalist for the Leslie Scalapino Award). Chen is also co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets. They have received fellowships from Kundiman, Lambda, Watering Hole, Can Serrat and Imagining America and are a part of Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities. A community organizer, they have worked in Asian American communities in San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside, Boston, Milwaukee and Houston. They are currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington Bothell.

After finishing one of Chen’s poetry books, recombinant, this winter, we asked them to share more of their writing with our audiences. Lucky for us, they agreed (!) and we now have five phenomenal, hit-you-in-the-gut, hybrid poems for your reading pleasure. If you enjoy Chen’s writing, support them by purchasing one of their books at your local indie bookstore and drop them an email to tell they how amazing they are. Now, let’s get to the poems.


Still Green by Ching-In Chen

Still Green by Ching-in Chen

Pilgrimage

Flood Fathers

Flood Fathers by Ching-In Chen

Overnight Holiday

Overnight Holiday by Ching-in Chen

Emperor

Inspired by Swati Khurana & Hari Alluri

Emperor by Ching-in Chen

Photo by Cassie Mira

Ching-In Chen is a genderqueer Chinese American hybrid writer, community organizer and teacher. They are author of The Heart’s Traffic and recombinant (winner of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry) as well as the chapbooks how to make black paper sing and Kundiman for Kin :: Information Retrieval for Monsters (Finalist for the Leslie Scalapino Award). Chen is also co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets. They have received fellowships from Kundiman, Lambda, Watering Hole, Can Serrat and Imagining America and are a part of Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities. A community organizer, they have worked in Asian American communities in San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside, Boston, Milwaukee and Houston. They are currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington Bothell.  

Posted on Leave a comment

It’s Your Country, Too

A conversation with authors Yousef Allouzi & Samuel Snoek-Brown about writing, publishing, and co-creating

With the launch of The Bedouin by Yousef Allouzi and There Are No False Alarms by Samuel Snoek-Brown right around the corner, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to give readers a deeper understanding of the how’s and why’s behind the paired chapbooks and their authors. So, we asked Yousef and Sam to chat with us about their writing, the publishing process, and their relationship as writers and co-conspirators. Enjoy, friends!


Yousef Allouzi, “It’s Your Country, Too”

Q: Yousef, your essay centers on heritage and reconnecting with your family, but it also touches on racial profiling and discrimination in the U.S. Will you talk about how those themes intermingle in your writing and personal life?

A: The intermingling of heritage and family with discrimination and racial profiling has always been a part of my life.  From the time I was young, I was very aware that being Arab-American was drenched in stigma, whether it be the “t word” (terrorist) or the general portrayal of Arab-Americans in pop culture and television.  I lived much of my youth ashamed of my heritage. I liken it to the feeling of being poor.  I can remember the first time I visited a kid’s house in a gated community back in Texas.  I felt like I shouldn’t be there. No matter how many showers you take, or how expensive the clothes you are wearing, you don’t feel like you belong. So, naturally, I try and let those feelings seep into my writing. 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from reading your essay?

A: The American story is a story of diversity. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s your country too.  It’s become somewhat of a cliché, but history has a way of repeating itself. Our country has a very fickle relationship with civil rights during conflict, and the fallout of 9/11 was no different. 

Continue reading It’s Your Country, Too
Posted on 1 Comment

Learning From My Garden in Four Colors


Learning From My Garden in Four Colors

An essay by Tamiko Nimura

Green

Mid-March 2020, Washington state. Too anxious to even buy seeds. Too soon to plant seeds outside. I remember what I’d started a few years ago: my desktop garden. The ends of romaine heads, the tops of carrots, the bottoms of baby bok choy. Soon I’ve got trays of vegetable scraps on my work desk.

Daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, I begin to “upcycle” (hoard) the plastic clamshell containers for strawberries, the aluminum trays and clear covers that came with our takeout dinners.

Continue reading Learning From My Garden in Four Colors
Posted on Leave a comment

Allyship in This Time of Civil Unrest

A note from the publisher, Christina Butcher

Now is the time to stand up and support Black community members across the country in the fight against police brutality, systemic injustice and racism.

Yes, this is a fight. And yes, we need to stand in solidarity as a community of supporters, allies and activists to ensure personal safety and freedoms of Black people, especially, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), generally, as they are continually targeted by police and racists across our country. Refusing to take a stand in some way, even in the smallest, most personal show of support you can muster, counters the efforts of activists and reinforces the corrupted systems in place. Complacency is complicity. I’ll say that again. Complacency is complicity.

As a company, Blue Cactus Press stands with Black Lives Matter and supports the wider, continuous efforts toward racial equality and justice in the U.S. We are working to increase the ways we support Black community members and take action to counter racial injustice. We can do more, and this is the start of that.

As a Woman of Color, I also stand with Black Lives Matter and support the work it, and other organizations, put into changing our socio-political landscape for the better. I see this work and I’m eager to participate. As a pregnant woman though, my physical limitations keep me from participating in many of the ways I’d like to. And I admit, I have been slow to accept the reality that my body is not my own, and to temper my mental and emotional desires to “do more” in this fight. I know there are many of you out there, as well, looking for ways to take meaningful action despite your own physical, mental and emotional barriers. So, in an attempt to lay out an actionable plan for myself and others, I’ve written a list of things we can do to be better, stronger allies with Black and BIPOC community members in this time of civil unrest.

Continue reading Allyship in This Time of Civil Unrest
Posted on Leave a comment

Artist Interview: DJ Smokey Wonder

Prickly Pear Podcast Episode 10: DJ Smoky Wonder

Yeah. A whole podcast episode of nothin’ but good-good music by one of our favorite, Tacoma-based musicians, DJ Smokey Wonder. Why? Because life is hard and sometimes it’s refreshing – and necessary – to participate in things that bring us joy and don’t expect a damn thing in return. 

So take a break from worrying about  the CODIV-19 heath crisis, the overwhelming number of online meetings you have to attend, work or the lack thereof, and everything else cramping your style this summer and just listen to some damn-good music. After a six-month-ish podcast hiatus, we’re back and eager to share a brand new podcast episode featuring homegrown, bad ass, get-down-funky music by DJ Smokey Wonder.

Continue reading Artist Interview: DJ Smokey Wonder
Posted on Leave a comment

Cayote Speaks to Me by Gina Hietpas

Coyote Speaks to Me

by Gina Hietpas

So you want to know this place? Be up at dawn,
when first light brushes the sky beyond the grove
of madrones you call the seven sisters.

Don’t whine. Learn by exposing yourself
to the dark and cold.
I sleep in the blackberry tangle edging the hayfield,
my thorn fortress warmed by southern light.

Every fall, glossy fruit hangs outside my door. Breakfast.
There’s the pioneer orchard, trees gnarled,
apples like knobs, but I tell you – nothing like a feast
of field mice and fallen apples.

It’s a quick lope along the fence to the ravine.
Good mousing by the cedar posts
bunched with grass and ragged leaves.
Listen. The water, eighty feet below,
roars with yesterday’s rain.

Stick with me!
I’ll show you persistence and the art of pounce.
Watch me shrug off disappointment.

In solitude you learn your story.
Only then can you riff on the moon.


I Take My Chances with a Seasonal Man

by Gina Hietpas

There was a time, your green shirt ripe
with herring roe was pungent comfort.

You, gone again for the salmon run.

Me, city bred, newly wed
plunged into cold water living:
prime the pump, lime the privy, sliver kindling.

I polish the cook stove’s blue porcelain door,
such a fine Wedgewood,
tidy the drawers of the kitchen hutch,

first date receipts, errant buttons, string too short to save,
a clutch of mismatched dice.
Shake for luck and roll.

Stuck, I scour the sour whiff of mushrooms,
grey decay crouched in corners.
I must not cower.

Alone. Trim the wicks, light the lamps.
Feed the fire. Listen to coyote chatter.


Riffing on the Moon

by Gina Hietpas

A full moon rides the scruffy sky.
Restless as incoming tide, I wander,
room to room, in raw pursuit of sleep.

Led by mosaic light, I step into the yard
to breathe frost and stars
and expanded space.

A coyote yips an opening chord.
The pack jubilates – howling tremolos,
braided barks, a high descant.

Across the valley another band accepts the challenge,
riffs with alto warbles, solo yelps,
a running keen.

Echoing pitches volley, a call and response
of boundaries and bonds.
As the canticle fades, final alpha barks

dissolve all illusion of aloneness.


IMG_1215Gina Hietpas is a self-taught poet, born and raised in Tacoma, Washington state. Nowadays, she lives outside Sequim, WA, on a small farm with her husband, a few cows and a passel of chickens. Her land is a habitat for elk, deer, coyotes and an occasional bear. It is, for the most part, a peaceful coexistence. The opportunity to be a back-country ranger for several seasons shaped her connection to wilderness. Professionally she was a middle school teacher for twenty five years.  Now that she has retired, she focuses her efforts on writing. She has studied with Kelli Russell Agodon, Alice Derry, Holly Hughes, Susan Rich and Kim Stafford. Hietpas’ work has appeared in Minerva Rising, Tidepools, Spindrift and New Plains Review.

Posted on Leave a comment

Author Interview: Kellie Richardson

We can’t keep Kellie Richardson’s book cover under wraps any longer! It’s too good to keep to ourselves, and the story behind it – and behind Kellie’s creative work in collage – is worth sharing. So, let us introduce you to The Art of Naming My Pain, a collection of prose, poetry and collage by Kellie Richardson.

The cover of is based on one of Richardson’s collage pieces, “Listen,” created in 2019 with acrylic, tissue paper and found items on canvas.

Continue reading Author Interview: Kellie Richardson
Posted on Leave a comment

Writing with Gender-Inclusive Language

If we truly care about creating a more equitable society in which a person’s individuality is not reduced to their sex and/or gender, than our language should reflect that.

pronouns graphic

Writing with Gender-Inclusive Language

A brief guide to writing tactfully as our language evolves  

By Carlisle Huntington

Continue reading Writing with Gender-Inclusive Language
Posted on 1 Comment

Anal Pleasure & Health

Filmmaker, writer and multimedia artist Jonah Barrett recently debuted a personal essay, “Anal Pleasure & Health,” at Creative Colloquy in January 2019. Jonah’s essay is authentic, humorous and heartfelt, and for those reasons (and many more), we’re incredibly excited to  feature “Anal Pleasure & Health” here at Blue Cactus Press. We’ve also included a video recording of Jonah’s performance at Creative Colloquy below. Go ahead, read your heart out, friends.


Anal Pleasure & Health

by Jonah Barrett

I’m bad at bottoming. I’m just horrible at it. Throughout my life I’ve successfully done the deed about four times, with three of those instances involving more than enough alcohol. As a cis gay man, I really should have the act down by now. It’s the act of preparation that really gets me. Who knew getting ready for fucking had to be such a chore? I won’t go into the details, but it usually involves planning a few hours in advance and hoping to God you’ve eaten at least one piece of fruit in the last 24 hours.

Continue reading Anal Pleasure & Health