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Green River Valley Book Launch

Robert Lashley’s book launch for Green River Valley was powerful and surprisingly emotional (in positive ways), thanks to Robert, who shared his poems and experience in the editorial process, and guests Jodi Poorwill, Graham Isaac, and Kellie Richardson!  Watch the video below, then scroll down for some cool BONUS CONTENT from Robert!

BONUS CONTENT: 10 Books That Influenced Green River Valley

Fans of Robert will be delighted to know he put together a reading list of 10 books that influenced Green River Valley! Read below to get a sense of who and what had an impact on Robert and his writing over the years!

1: The Panther And The Lash by Langston Hughes

A lost classic of African American poetry, written as a homage to the Harlem that never ignored him long after chic poetry movements did.

2: Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks

Schooled in the modernists and the Harlem renaissance poets, adept in tight forms and ornate Jacobean blank verse, Brooks made her people, city, and block in Brownsville as eternal as any poet’s in the living world.

3: Field Work by Seamus Heaney

Heaney is one of world poetry’s great adults, stylists, and working class heroes. He wrote about Ireland in such a beautiful, universal, and precise way that made a ghetto nerd from 23rd and G see himself in it.

4: Morning, Paramin by Derek Walcott

Where Walcott ends his remarkable (if flawed) career with one of the strongest books of poems he’d ever written; a lean, exact, and gorgeous collection immersed in nothing but the fundamentals of his gifts.

5: Desolación (“Despair”) by Gabriela Mistral

Mistral wrote about motherhood, poverty, folklore, and layers of oppression; and did so in poems so impressive that much of the world was compelled to take notice.

6: View With A Grain Of Sand by Wisława Szymborska

For my money, Szymborska is poetry’s great misanthropic philosopher; and like every great misanthrope, the sharpness of her wit was that wall that guarded a heart affected by WWII, Stalinism, and the callowness of the human condition in a modern age.

7: American Journal by Robert Hayden

This book is an ambitious, one-man excavation of Black American history from the slave trade to present of his time, with numerous symbols of and references to Black history, culture, and folklore. Also one of English language poetry’s great stylists, with a supple ear to fuse black vernaculars with a grand, lyric, formal language.

8: Mercurochrome by Wanda Coleman

Deep blues, heavily invested in the oral tradition, no-bullshit barometer and gangsta-ass take on formalism? Wanda is like a literary parent to me.

9: Ash Wednesday by T.S Eliot

In creating a Christian conversion story, Eliot humanized his towering voice, turning from the surfeit data and darkwarter bigotries of his earlier work to a more empathetic perspective on the human condition.

10: The House On Marshland by Louise Gluck

At first I was surprised that her nature poems didn’t have the haunted stripped down sorrow of early Frost, or the mercilessly kinetic Darwinism of Dickinson’s gangsta ass pastorals. However, that very gentle need of hers to find a way beyond the blues makes her nature imagery work for me.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Lashley is a writer and activist whose  was a 2016 Jack Straw Fellow, Artist Trust Fellow, and a nominee for a Stranger Genius Award. He has had work published in The Seattle Review of Books, NAILED,  Poetry Northwest, McSweeney’s, and The Cascadia Review. His poetry was also featured in such anthologies as Many Trails to The Summitt, Foot Bridge Above The Falls, Get Lit,  Make It True, and It Was Written. His previous books include The Homeboy Songs (2014), and Up South (2017), both published by Small Doggies Press. In 2019, The Homeboy Songs was named by Entropy Magazine as one of the 25 most essential books to come out of the Seattle area.

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Moss Covered Claws Book Launch

On March 19th, we officially released Moss Covered Claws, the debut short story collection of Queer, speculative fiction by Jonah Barrett! Hit play below to watch the event and revel in the phenomenal storytelling, fake piano playing, and overall good cheer of the event!


Moss Covered Claws Fundraiser Reading, Nov 19th, 2020

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JONAH BARRETT is a nonbinary filmmaker, writer, and multimedia artist. They usually find themself in old haunted buildings or overgrown swamps.

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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.

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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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“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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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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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
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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.