Our stories: Balancing Act & Seeing Better

Balancing Act by K.T. Stephens

With the help of his older brothers, Joey ran away from abusive parents and joined the circus, becoming part of a successful tightrope act. Ten years later, he scorns anyone who doesn’t live up to his standards—especially the new acrobat who consistently fails. It’s in Joey’s nature to pick on Lewis, even though his actions garner negative but much-desired attention from the circus strongman. He can’t trade his pride for acceptance. Or can he?

Seeing Better by Eliza Archer

A girl finds that sometimes the world as isn’t the way you’ve been seeing it all your life. It just takes looking at it with clearer vision.

Excerpt from the character interview Jena Baxter did with Balancing Act’s Joey.

It’s great to have you, Joey. Would you tell us a little bit about your story?
“Ohh, that kind of interview. I thought I was going to get chewed out. Again.” He brightens, sitting a bit straighter. “Sure. See, my brothers and I are tightrope walkers. That’s why we joined the circus. I’m really good.” His brows draw in. “At least, that’s what my brothers and everyone else tell me.”
“It sounds like you having really protective brothers. I hope they aren’t as bad as Selene’s,” he says glancing toward the door. “Are you all pretty close?”
Joey shrugs. “I guess. We take care of each other. The twins are eleven years older than me and like to boss me around. Things are good when they don’t drink our pay away, but I’d still rather be with them than anywhere else.”
Tolor nods. “I agree, there’s nothing like spending time with family. Juliette, Selene and Colovere are my family now.”
He frowns. “The notes I have suggest your parents were abusive. What was it like being separated from them? Were you glad to go with your brothers?”
To read the entire interview visit Jena Baxter Books

Our stories: Quitter & Summer Rains

Quitter by Day Jamison

Colleen has never scored less than 100% on a test. When she makes a rookie mistake on a calculus exam, she’s sure it marks the beginning of a downward spiral. Her best friend Liv is tired of watching Colleen’s perfectionism create walls between them and gives her an ultimatum: learn to fail or learn to live without Liv. Colleen’s brother Roland, home for a surprise visit from his Ivy League university, might unwittingly show Colleen how to mend her friendship and her broken sense of self.

Summer Rains by E.N. Loizis

Joanna’s best friend Violeta has been growing distant over the past couple of years. Popular Violeta seems to have no interest in spending time with her shy bookworm of a friend and Joanna wonders if they still have anything left in common. When Violeta proposes a night out with Joanna’s not-so-secret crush, Joanna thinks their friendship might withstand the test of time. Or will Violeta’s pride get in the way?

Excerpt from Author Spotlight interview with E.N. Loizis at Jena Baxter’s blog

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think I ever consciously decided I wanted to be a writer. I kind of always wrote. I started as a kid with rhyming poems about flying or sailing away (which surprisingly was at the core of much of what I wrote as a pre-teen) and went on to more angst-ridden, heart-breaking prose poems and –what I now realize were– flash stories about unrequited love, which also seemed to be a recurring theme in my early scribblings. I also kept numerous diaries from age 12 through 21.
I stopped writing altogether during most of my twenties when sometime around my 27th birthday I realized I was deeply unsatisfied with something. It was the fact I wasn’t writing. So I decided to take it up again and here I am now!
What genres do you write, and why?
I don’t like restricting myself to just one thing, since I tend to get bored easily. So far I have written or started writing all kinds of stories: from creepy dark ones (like “The Bee Eater” due to appear in Apocrypha and Abstractions in October), to humorous supernatural ones (like “Till Death Us Do Part” which appeared in Stupefying Stories) to coming-of-age stories. I also have stories in the works that feature sentient robots, a retired superhero and a man who dies and comes back to life for a do-over. So I’d say my genre of choice is whatever seems to interest me at the moment.


To read the entire interview visit Jena Baxter Books



Interview with cover artist Luke Spooner – Part 2

In the second part of our interview, Luke tells us a little bit more about his background and the role drawing/design played in his life from a very young age.

When did you first start drawing and when did you know it was what you wanted to do professionally?

I was doodling from the moment I discovered pencils and things to scribble on so putting a pin in the exact moment is futile at best. During those years it was just a way of emulating what I loved; I used to draw my favourite characters from television shows, books – even imaginary characters. It became a second language through which I was able to convey ideas that were bigger than my language skills at the time. I trundled along in my own little world quite happy in the belief that everyone understood what I was on about for a few years. I was surrounded by grown-ups who’d enjoy drawing with me and encourage me to do more, so I figured that if my little universe worked like that, then everything outside of it must do too. When I arrived at school and caught people staring at me and my far larger than necessary bag of drawing utensils, I started to realise that maybe it wasn’t something everybody had to or even wanted to do.

When I turned 18, my art teacher suggested that I do a Foundation Degree at the Wimbledon College of Art in London. Making things seemed to make me happy and the idea of pursuing professions that could potentially risk or skew my view of the world seemed akin to spiritual suicide, so I started applying. I got accepted onto the degree and in total it lasted a year. I spent the first couple of weeks sampling everything the establishment had to offer and after much deliberation I found myself in an umbrella option called ‘visual communication,’ which loosely translated, meant: commercial imagery in the broadest and vaguest sense. I had to trek to the very edge of central Wimbledon, to the top floor of an old building, and sit shoulder to shoulder with photographers, graphic designers, typographers, traditional illustrators, children’s book illustrators and even a couple of fine artists. Together we’d aim to work out exactly what ‘visual communication’ meant to us. You’d think that such a melting pot of diverse disciplines and expertise would breed a hive of good ideas but in truth I barely made it out of that year with any artistic prospects intact. Purely through the confusion of many convoluted, and constantly conflicting influences barraging me I pretty much lost any sort of direction or idea of what I truly wanted to be. However, I did survive and from there decided to sign up to The University of Portsmouth’s illustration degree as illustration itself seemed to be where I belonged, or at least something that could help me develop as an artist.

downloadPortsmouth confirmed my thoughts. I was reminded of what I truly enjoyed and what I wanted to do in the future. The degree provided the perfect platform for me to start from. The unofficial mantra that got passed down by the lecturers was “what you put in – you will get out,” and while that obviously sounds like common sense but you’d be amazed at how many people decide to sit back, put in minimum effort and just assume the work will just find them – both during University and in the big wide world of work. It just doesn’t happen like that, you have to do the leg work, you have to put yourself out there and you have to believe in the work you’re creating. To be honest though – if you truly enjoy what you’re doing, it won’t even feel like effort and that in essence is perhaps one of the most beautiful things about what I do. I heard from one of my friends at a London based art degree while I was at Portsmouth that her department’s stock phrase was “nobody wants you,” which although incredibly depressing is an unfortunate truth. The difference with Portsmouth’s degree is that you come out of there wanting to make people want you.

Many creative people often feel “out of place” as teenagers. What was adolescence like for you? Did drawing play a huge part in it?

Adolescence was a very strange time – an English teacher of mine once turned round to the class and announced that very soon we’d be deciding what kind of people we wanted to be and that the decisions we were on the verge of making would affect our lives in a way that previous decisions hadn’t. He may have said it in the casual off-hand manner but there was no mistaking the weight of his words sitting in the room with us.download_Jeff Sheldon

Gradually I started to see the forecast his words had set out baring fruit all around me. People who just the previous week were pushing over heavier students and laughing at them trying to get up, were Googling what steps to take in order to have a prosperous medical career ten years down the line. All around me immaturity and innocence seemed to be dwindling and nobody seemed concerned. It was occurring in all sorts of students and even some of my closest friends – I was only just becoming accustomed to the way school life worked and now I was expected to drop it all and plan for another life altogether.

Instead, I found myself visiting the art rooms of my school at lunch time with increasing frequency, making excuses of ‘overdue homework’ to friends looking to talk about ‘career goals’ but luckily nobody seemed to notice the major flaw in the notion of somebody constantly in the art rooms being behind on his art work. Needless to say; my sketchbook became increasingly fat and my pencils short but I was happy. In retrospect I suppose I was making those decisions the English teacher had prophesized. I may not have been making the relevant applications to the right places like everyone else, but I was practising my craft and I felt self-assured in doing so.

If you could go back in time and talk to your teenage self, what would you tell him?

I wouldn’t tell him anything, I might give him a hug because let’s face it – hugs are universal regardless of time travel and people having the same face as you, but as far as words go I wouldn’t say anything.


Cover reveal – Pride volume and interview with cover artist Luke Spooner

We are very proud to present the cover for the first volume of the Seven Deadly Sins YA Anthology: Pride, accompanied by the first part of our interview with Luke Spooner, a.k.a. Carrion House.

Pride Cover

Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House’ and ‘Hoodwink House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree he is now a full-time illustrator and writer for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, for which he has won awards for literary and artistic merit, his true love is anything macabre, melancholy or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures.

Luke can be found on Facebook, and at his Carrion House and Hoodwink House websites.

Interview with Luke Spooner

How did you come up with the central idea for the cover? What did you think of when you heard of the theme for the Anthology?

I really like the symbolism that surrounds the ideas of ‘the sins.’ It’s something that all humans can relate to, probably because we are nearly always somewhere on that spectrum at any given moment. There’s a very primal quality to the understanding of this particular set of emotions and thought patterns. Irrespective of language or culture, they seem to be universally recognised, and the opportunity to cobble that into some sort of visual interpretation is something that is both massive and rare.

Out of all the deadly sins, which one do you think you’re the most susceptible to?

I don’t really see myself in any of their respective symptoms except ‘envy.’ As an artist you’re automatically quite bespoke and alone in what you do, but to do it professionally and as a freelancer you are by the nature of what you do: incredibly isolated. This would be fine if I could switch off from the world completely. I can honestly see the attraction in secluding myself with my work for whole weeks at a time. But the modern age we live in has social networking and I am incredibly dependant on it as a marketing and publicity tool.

Being such a necessity for what I do, it also means that at times rest of the world can slip in without me realising. Quite often, a simple posting of a recent piece of cover art to Facebook has the added side effect of hearing about people I went to school with having kids, buying real houses with real money, committing themselves to partners that they’ve had for years – an endless list of social media cliché complaints really. But despite my own conviction of being a stand-alone individual pursuing a unique and creatively driven career that doesn’t exactly fit with the status quo, I still find myself comparing myself to these people. I wonder if perhaps I’m doing life wrong, if maybe one day I’ll suddenly realise I’m old and have gotten nowhere with my ‘colouring in,’ while those people who I started out at the same height are able to reflect on a life that all would agree has been full and proper in every conventional sense.

That notion could be viewed as ‘envy,’ and although I wouldn’t change anything about myself or the profession I’m pursuing, I do find myself very jealous of those people that are so sure of everything they do. Those people have job security and absolutely no scruples about floating through life in the most conventional way possible.

Did you read as a teenager and if so what did you enjoy most reading? Why?

I’ve always read a lot, from infancy onwards. I actually read ‘The Hobbit’ when I was eight years old and have been actively seeking out books as a source of knowledge, creativity and escapism ever since. During my teenage years I read a lot of horror, science fiction and fantasy, plus books on myths and legends. Thanks to people like my grandparents, I also read a lot of crime and mystery, both contemporary and classic. When I was eleven years old my youngest brother was born so during my teenage years I had the opportunity to revisit all of my old children’s favourites, this time with the advantage of hindsight. I took great pleasure in noticing subtle little messages and meanings that hadn’t meant anything the previous times I read them.

In my later teenage years I actively sought out the classics of horror and fantasy. I went after Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, then the ‘Invisible Man’, ‘Dorian Gray,’ ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ all peppered with Edgar Allen Poe works for good measure. I also got heavily into graphic novels.

The common thread in everything I seemed to seek out on my accord, regardless of age or format, seemed to be horror, primarily for the honesty it implores from those writing it. I respect nothing more in this world than straight up honesty. As a person that effectively gives physical form to other people’s stories and fabricates for a living, I can assure you that being honest is a lot more difficult than lying. Through darker subject matter, you get to explore the truly dark recesses of other people’s minds and often reveal things about yourself that you may not have realised were present in your character, your beliefs or even just your way of perceiving the world.

What advice would you give someone with a love for drawing/design who is maybe just starting out as teenager to experiment with it?

I’d simply be: be very conscious of yourself as an artist. There is absolutely no reward in trying to imitate others or try to be something you’re not. Learn to accept who you are and what it is that you do. Aim to forward that and explore it in any way possible while keeping your own artistic growth a priority. You’ll be able to survive a lot of things, purely because everything will be put into scale according to your desire to be creative and express yourself.

The second part of our interview with Luke is coming soon.

The first Volume of the Seven Deadly Sins YA Anthology is scheduled for release on April 1, 2015 as an ebook and a paperback. Join the release party on Facebook.