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Cover Reveal: Red Earth by Esther Vincent Xueming

We’d like to introduce you to the lovely and whimsical cover of Esther Vincent Xueming’s debut poetry collection, Red Earth. The artwork utilized in the cover was created by Singapore artist Shu Yin. To give readers a sense of how the cover art came to be, and a peek into the artistic viewpoints of Esther and Shuyin, we interviewed them both earlier this month. Scroll down to immerse yourself in Red Earth‘s dreamy book cover and author and artist interviews!

An Interview with Esther Vincent Xueming

Christina Butcher (Publisher): Esther, will you talk about how the artwork for Red Earth intersects with your poetry? 

Esther Vincent Xueming (EVX): The cover art for Red Earth masterfully captures the duality of my poems, and the search for harmony and balance—of wakefulness and dreams, of memory and imagination, of darkness and light, of the conscious and subconscious. The circle motif in the centre of the cover represents night and day, moon and earth, air and water. I wonder if this was intentional on the part of the artist, Shu Yin, but I notice that most of the elements on the cover are predominantly feminine! The moon and earth are commonly associated with the female body, the water with emotions and the sacral chakra, and night with yin energies. The whale for me is a keeper of time, and the moth a signifier of transcendence.

Coincidentally (Shu Yin did not know this), I am a sun in Cancer, ruled by the moon, and a moon in Taurus, grounded by the earth, and so the cover image (half moon, half earth) is particularly resonant for me. I also love how Shu Yin draws our attention to the moon and earth, which are recurring symbols in my poems of light, desire and grounded-ness. My poems deal with themes of the earth, woman, body and memory, among others, and I think Shu Yin manages to encapsulate the feminine energy of my poems on her cover art in a subtle, evocative way.

CB: What drew you to Shu Yin as an artist?

EVX: I first found out about Shu Yin through The Tiger Moth Review, the eco journal that I edit. She sent in some work, Tribute to Inuka and Singapore Mermaids which are featured in Issue 2, and since then, I have fallen in love with the way she works with watercolors. When Blue Cactus Press picked up my work for publication, I knew immediately I wanted Shu Yin to design my cover art.

Her style is gentle and thoughtful, and there is a softness and optimism that appeals to me. I’m someone who tends to see the positive, hopeful side of things and who remains open and curious to nature, and so maybe that’s why I’m drawn to her work, which I think does all of that. As a woman artist and art therapist who works with nature and the community, I appreciate her sensitivity and careful attention to the work that she does.

At the same time, Shu Yin is a versatile artist as her portfolio will show. What I like about her art is her feminine style and how she as a person is very much in tune with female, lunar and earth energies, as her cover art of Red Earth will reveal.

CB: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

EVX: I hope that readers will take away exactly what they need to and what the book is able to offer them, and that might mean different things for different readers, or the same reader reading it at different points in their life.

I know that doesn’t seem to answer the question, but just as Red Earth was a searching and journeying for me, a tunnelling deep into my memories, subconscious, dreams and imaginings, entering into different states of consciousness, traversing geographies and moving in time and place in order to make sense of home and the self on earth, I hope Red Earth does something of the sort for the reader—makes them contemplate and re-evaluate their place on earth.

Red Earth is also a dedication to the earth, my first mother, and so I’m hoping readers will learn to see the earth anew through my poems, and be inspired to find their own unique ways of singing to the earth in gratitude, humility and love.

CB: What has been the most surprising aspect of this design and editorial process for you?

EVX: I think I’ve just been so pleasantly surprised at the congeniality with which we have all been able to work together. The publisher Christina of Blue Cactus Press has been every writer’s dream to work with, and I love her consultative and collaborative approach to the design and editorial process. I am so thankful for the way she has created an environment of openness, respect and appreciation.

Early on, I also specified to Christina that as far as possible, I wanted to work with women on the team, to grow and support women in the traditionally male-dominated sphere of publishing. I’m grateful to be able to be a part of such a publishing model, and I believe that this environment—one of support, solidarity and kinship—is what will make Red Earth, my debut, even more special upon its release.


An Interview with Shu Yin

CB: How did you come up with the concept for the cover art of Red Earth? Can you talk a bit about the creative  process?

SY: The process was pretty organic. When the publisher and writer first engaged me, they provided examples of my artwork which they liked as reference for the preferred style of the cover art. I read the poems in the book, and drew sketches of images that came to mind. Some strong imagery related to individual poems surfaced, and I tried piecing some of the elements together into a single composition. I came up with a few concepts, then sought feedback from both the publisher Christina as well as the writer Esther. In the end, the sensual visuals of the red earth from Esther’s poem were prominent for me. Contrasting with the fiery red earth, was the subdued moon which represented the ‘yin’ and subconscious, themes that consistently recurred throughout the book.

CB: As an artist whose medium is primarily drawing/painting, do you think there are parallels between creating art on the easel and poems on the page?

SY: Yes, definitely. Both the artist and poet are channeling the drive to create, using their specific media – the paint and words respectively. We are all expressing and bringing to life our personal inspiration and ideas, which are a part of us but also more than us, the collective subconscious. The creative process is a state of flow through which the subconscious is brought to the surface and externalized. The media we are using are tools that come with their own characteristics and limitations. I feel there is an element of surrendering to the creative process and what it needs to be brought to life. We are also presenting a part of ourselves, which can be very personal, to the viewer to ‘consume’, and once it’s out there, how it is perceived by the viewer is beyond our control.

CB: Can you talk a little bit about making artwork for a book cover, specifically? Did  it change how you approached the artmaking journey?

SY: I had admired Esther’s work with the The Tiger Moth Review, a pioneer in Singapore curating literary and visual art works on nature. When she approached me, I was honored and eager to create the cover for her debut book of poetry. It is my first time creating artwork to be published on a book cover and also my first time formally collaborating with Christina and Esther (apart from The Tiger Moth Reivew). It certainly helped that the poems were enjoyable to read and I could resonate with them. For the artwork, it was important for me that all partners were satisfied with it. I valued their feedback and it was also affirming that my collaborators were open minded to my suggestions and trusted my artistic vision. Art creation can be heavily influenced by one’s collaborators. It was heartening that we have similar values and ideals, and they were supportive of the kind of art I create.

CB: What drives you to create? What pushes you to try new techniques or start working on a new piece of art?

SY: Creating is an integral part of my life whether it’s for commissions or personal expression. It’s an embodied thing, not just cerebral, and I don’t have an external material ‘why’ as a reason for creating or trying new techniques apart from it being an intrinsic need. It keeps me happy and I feel it’s a natural part of being alive. As long as I’m able, I would be curious and want to create or try new ways of creating. Creating puts one in a flow state where we’re right here and now in the present moment, instead of worrying about the past or future. It also produces happy chemicals in the brain like dopamine, and lowers the stress hormone cortisol. Creating helps me process thoughts and emotions about things that happened, and imagine new possibilities. What we can imagine, we can materialize. Furthermore, as my life can be socially isolated, sharing art on social media helps me stay connected with people who view and comment on my art. I feel touched, understood and connected when I hear that others resonate with what I have made. As for what pushes me to try new techniques or start a new piece, I think it depends on what I need at that moment. Sometimes, I need to do the same thing to ground myself, and sometimes, I need to do something different. It’s about staying curious, aware and sensitive to what is needed at that point in time.


Readers based in the U.S. can pre-order Red Earth here. Readers based in Singapore can pre-order Red Earth from Pagesetters in August 2021. Red Earth is a joint publication between Blue Cactus Press and Pagesetters. It is a cross-cultural collaboration in a time of heightened border controls.


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Cover Art Reveal: Green River Valley by Robert Lashley

We can’t keep this incredible cover art under wraps any longer! We’re excited to reveal that the cover for Robert Lashley’s forthcoming poetry collection, Green River Valley, will feature stunning photography by Jody Poorwill! Take a look at Jody’s photograph below, titled “August 19, 2018 • Tacoma, Washington”!

Some of the things we love about Poorwill’s photography is their attention to subtle variations of color, composition, and stark contrasts between manmade objects and nature. This photograph features all three of those components, as well as relays a sense of dissatisfaction with the “progress” of industrialization. That same dissatisfaction is also found in Lashley’s poetry. Still, both Lashley’s and Poorwill’s work also capture the beauty that continues to pervade our landscapes and lives, regardless of “progress,” gentrification, or intrusion.

To showcase the parallels in their work, we decided to let readers peek at one of the poems within Lashley’s Green River Valley, titled “Value Village Love Poem.” Enjoy!

“Value Village Love Poem” by Robert Lashley

Old jackets don’t fit, love, but did they ever?
Insignias and hats fade in the cycles
of discount trend racks.
Jerseys and spanks contract arbitrarily,
and scarfs hollow in the klieg lights
without the heads that gave them meaning.
Age and price may dictate our shape
but wherever you are is the boulevard.

Let me adorn you a crown of price-check rosaries.
Let my love be the alms that never signal
for without you, hoop earrings are metal,
extensions just threads away from their orbit,
away from their center and star.

Let them price to infinity
our posters and memories.
Let them splice the hood
to the meridians of invisibility.
In my arms, you are never gone.

My dear around-the-way girl,
dance with me by sale colors.
Time may erase all style to memory
but the intercom is playing our song.


To pre-order Green River Valley by Robert Lashley, click here.

To learn more about Jody Poorwill and peruse their art, click here.

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BCP Fall Reading

For those who couldn’t make it to our Fall Reading, never fear: we recorded the full event! You can now enjoy it at your convenience! Our reading lineup was made up of authors whose non-fiction writing graced our pages (and screens) earlier this summer. The lineup included Yousef Allouzi, Gina Hietpas, Tamiko Nimura, and Samuel Snoek-Brown. Grab a glass of wine, sit your butt down in a soft chair, and hit play, friends!


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

YOUSEF ALLOUZI is an author and data analyst currently living in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a BS in Economics and a Master of Public Policy from Oregon State University. He’s also the author of The Bedouin, a memoir essay and chapbook published in July, 2020 (Blue Cactus Press).

GINA HIETPAS is a self–taught poet, born and raised in Tacoma, Washington. Nowadays, she lives outside Sequim, Washington, on a small farm with her husband, a few cows and a passel of chickens. She’s the author of Terrain, a poetry collection delving into allyship, healing, nature and care, published in September, 2020 (Blue Cactus Press).

TAMIKO NIMURA is a third-generation Japanese American and second-generation Filipina American. She’s a freelance writer, essayist, community journalist, and public historian. She just published her first book, Rosa Franklin: A Life in Health CarePublic Service, and Social Justice, in 2019 (Washington State Oral History Program).

SAMUEL SNOEK-BROWN teaches and writes in the Pacific Northwest. He’s the author the Civil War novel Hagridden, the short story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, and flash-fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin. He also works as a production editor for Jersey Devil Press, and he lives online at snoekbrown.com.

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NEW Call for Submissions

Hello, readers and writers! We wanted to share some BIG news! Blue Cactus Press is now accepting submissions from Women of Color (gender non-conforming and women identifying individuals of Color included) for an anthology of non-fiction creative writing highlighting and uplifting the voices of Women of Color (WoC) in the greater Tacoma area.

The anthology will be published in Winter 2021 and will be created with support from the Tacoma Women of Color Collective (TWCC), an organization working to cultivate spaces for professional WoC to nurture community, collaborate, and share professional, educational and life resources. All contributors whose work is accepted for publication will receive a $50 stipend and a copy of the anthology upon publication.

To Qualify for Submissions, Interested Writers Must:

  1. Identify as a WoC, to include gender non-conforming and women-identifying individuals of Color
  2. Produce creative works in and/or reside in the greater Tacoma area

Submission Guidelines:

Submissions should be non-fiction, to include (but not limited to) essays, poetry, or content addressing social/cultural issues faced in our community and/or lived experiences. Works that demonstrate a potential to inspire community dialogue and/or shed light on lived experiences often ignored by mainstream culture and media are highly encouraged. 

  • Submissions should be sent in a single document (.pdf, .docx or .doc format) in 12 point, times new roman font
  • Poetry Submissions may include up to 3 poems, but must be 10 pages or less. 
  • Essays and narrative work must be 10 pages or less.
  • Please include a short bio and contact information (full name and email address) along with your submission. 

Submissions should be emailed to BlueCactusPress@gmail.com with the phrase “WoC Anthology Submission” in the email subject line. 


*This call for submissions will remain open until December 20, 2020. Writers whose work is accepted for publication will be notified in January 2021. 

**Simultaneous submissions are permitted, so long as you let us know where your work is already being considered. Please include this information in the body of your email. 

 *** By submitting your manuscript to Blue Cactus Press, you are guaranteeing its content is your own, original work and is not plagiarized, borrowed or reproduced from other sources. 

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Gift Cards Are a Go!

Hello readers and writers! We’ve been making small (but fun) changes to the website this month and are now able to offer digital gift cards! Seems like small potato stuff, we know, but for us it’s a big leap forward in creating a more full experience for our patrons. So, we thought we’d tell you about it! You can now purchase a digital gift card (with a value of anywhere from $10-$100) and have it delivered right to the recipient’s inbox for online use, at their convenience!

Purchase a gift card here for friends and family who can’t get enough reading material and/or have *very particular* reading tastes. Enjoy!

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“Community Partnerships” Launch

We thought we’d take a few minutes to bring you up to speed, dear readers, about who and what we’ve been up to all year! As you already know, we’ve been working on crafting books all year (duh), but not just our own! We’ve also been working with self-published authors to help them publish and market their own books, on their own terms, for several years.

We provide editorial, design, and project management services to authors whose work aligns with our values and goals as a publisher, which are to craft books that inspire dialogue about the undercurrents of humanity, to build local economy, and to uplift and honor voices and stories from underrepresented groups in our communities.

And because we’re hustling, trying to make our way in the publishing industry as a BIPOC and Queer-owned (and centered) business, we are excited to share a new development: we’re now working with several authors whose books we’ve helped shape to sell their books right here at bluecactuspress.com and at local markets! We encourage you to check out these books on our Community Partnerships page. Two authors we’re featuring now are Lawrence Garrett, author of The Equity Starter Kit, and Philip “Sharp Skills” Jacobs, author of You Are the Solution.

We are proud to have worked with these authors – both of whom are community leaders and small-business powerhouses – on their books, and to partner with them in making their books more widely accessible to audiences. If you feel called to the work, please consider purchasing a copy of their books. Doing so supports their presence and impact in our community, and that of Blue Cactus Press in the process.

About Our Community Partners

Lawrence Garrett is considered a modern-day cultural savant. Known by many for his knack of decoding cultural behaviors that either support or undermine values and performance, Lawrence has grown a reputation for getting to the heart of the matter by identifying specific behaviors that are directly impacting business outcomes. Over the last 15 years,  Lawrence was able to hone these skills through his current consulting practice, Eight-Twenty-Eight, LLC., focusing on Leadership and Inclusion in the greater Pierce County area, his prior role as Executive Director of Advancing Leadership, as well as his numerous partnerships and consultative work with various non-profits within the community.

Philip “Sharp Skills” Jacobs is a hip-hop artist, author, business consultant, and speaker. He is the author of Accuracy: A Guide to Living Skillfully and Successfully in Today’s Crazy Times (2014), and his music has been featured in television shows including Sons of Anarchy, America’s Next Top Model, The Mindy Project, Castle, Bones, Nakita, Signed and more.  Philip earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Seattle Pacific University and he was the recipient of the institution’s prestigious Medallion Award in 2019. He is passionate about equipping creative leaders to realize their full potential and leave a positive impact on the world. He lives in University Place, Washington, with his wife, Menzelle, and two sons. Find him online at The Sharp Skills.


Make sure to check back at our Community Partnerships page periodically to see who we’re adding to our roster of engaged, impactful community members and books!

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Watch the Book Launch: Terrain by Gina Hietpas

Did you miss the official launch of Gina Hietpas’ debut poetry book, Terrain,on September 10th? Don’t worry if you did, we recorded the event so those who didn’t get a chance to join us could tune-in later! Watch the video below to hear Gina read from Terrain, and to hear a short Q&A with the author afterward. Enjoy!

Book Launch Event for Gina Hietpas’ Terrain, September 10, 2020

About Gina Hietpas

Gina Hietpas is a self–taught poet, born and raised in Tacoma, Washington. Nowadays, she lives outside Sequim, Washington, 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. Several seasons as a backcountry ranger for Olympic National Park shaped her deep connection to wilderness. She has worked professionally as the director of a non-profit and a middle school teacher. 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.

About the Reading

INTRODUCTION: Gina was introduced by Tim McNulty, a poet, essayist, and natural history writer. He is the author of three poetry collections: Ascendance, published by Pleasure Boat Studio, In Blue Mountain Dusk, and Pawtracks, and ten poetry chapbooks, including Cloud Studies, published by Empty Bowl. Tim is also the author of eleven books on natural history, including Olympic National Park: A Natural History (4th edition released in 2018 from University of Washington Press), and Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park. He contributed an introductory essay to a reissue of Murray Morgan’s Olympic Peninsula classic, The Last Wilderness. Tim has received the Washington State Book Award and the National Outdoor Book Award among other honors. He lives in the foothills of Washington’s Olympic Mountains and is active in Northwest environmental issues. Tim’s website is timmcnultypoet.com.

Q&A: After Gina’s reading, Holly J. Hughes moderated the short Q&A session between Gina and audience members. Holly is the author of Hold Fast, Passings, and Sailing by Ravens, co-author of The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World, and editor of the anthology Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease. Her fine art chapbook Passings received an American Book Award in 2017. After commercial fishing for salmon in Alaska, skippering a 65-foot schooner, working as a naturalist on ships, and teaching writing at the college level, she now lives on the Olympic peninsula, where she leads writing and mindfulness workshops in Alaska and the Northwest and consults as a writing coach. Find her online at hollyjhughes.com

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¡Book Giveaway!

We’re crazy about our newest chapbooks, The Bedouin | There Are No False Alarms, by Yousef Allouzi and Samuel Snoek-Brown, respectively, and we think you will be, too, once you get your hands on them! To celebrate these beautifully crafted, memoir chapbooks and the hard work the authors put into writing them, we’re offering a delectable BOOK GIVEAWAY!

For the next week, anyone who purchases a copy of The Bedouin | There Are No False Alarms will get a FREE BOOK from Blue Cactus Press! Here’s how it works: 

  1. Add The Bedouin | There Are No False Alarms to your cart.
  2. When you checkout, include the title of your requested, FREE book in the order comments (located at the bottom of the order page). Select among any previously published BCP title. 
  3. Complete your purchase!

That’s It! Just enjoy your books when they arrive in the mail! Happy reading, friends!

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Publisher Christina Butcher ft. on “We Art Tacoma”

Last week, BCP publisher and poet Christina Butcher recorded a podcast episode with our friends at We Art Tacoma, a podcast about the arts in Tacoma, Washington, and the story of the people behind the art.

Listen to the podcast here and enjoy a short conversation between Christina and We Art Tacoma host, Erik Hanberg, about how Blue Cactus Press got started, the literary scene in Tacoma, and who has time for their own creative writing (hint: not Christina).

For those of you unfamiliar with We Art Tacoma and the podcast network it’s a part of, let us fill you in! We Art Tacoma is a part of Channel 253, which has multiple podcasts about Tacoma, featuring conversations on art, civics, journalism and more. Check out more of their podcasts here.

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Virtual Book Launch & Reading Is a Go!

We’d like to invite you to join us on Monday, July 20 at 7PM, for a short, digital reading and book launch for Yousef Allouzi and Samuel Snoek-Brown! Both authors will read from and answers questions about their newly published chapbooks, which are launching the same day!

REGISTER  FOR THE EVENT (registration is required!) by emailing bluecactuspress@gmail.com.

The Bedouin by Yousef Allouzi and There Are No False Alarms by Samuel Snoek-Brown will publish in tandem as part of the Blue Cactus Press Chapbook Series, which pairs emerging writers with an established author who mentors them through the publishing experience. Find out more about the chapbooks (and pre-order your copy) here. 

During the launch event, the authors will read from their work, answer questions about the publishing process, and dive into the ins and outs of their creative work for audience members. Please join us in celebration and support of these two, phenomenal authors!