Writing’s a funny sort of business. You sit in a room and tap on the keyboard for hours that stretch to days that stretch to weeks that stretch to months. Maybe you have a day job where you talk to other people—hell, maybe you even enjoy your day job—or maybe you have kids underfoot, and a dog or two.
Maybe you live in a tall apartment building from which you can look out the window and see buildings and cars and people for miles. Or maybe you live in a little cabin in the middle of a field of dry grass, with only a dirt road connecting you to the outside world. Maybe you’re in a suburb and the block party’s tonight and while you should be making your famous dry rub, you’re actually scribbling away at the sex scene you’ve been building up to for weeks.
“Where’s your dish for the pot luck?” one of the neighbors asks.
“So sorry,” you say. “I got completely caught up writing porn. You know how it is.”
No one knows how it is. No one. Except other writers.
I’ve never met any of the other writers in this anthology in person. We’ve never shaken hands. I’ve heard their voices, a few of them, through various audio readings (some under duress; peer pressure works well into adulthood!). But I could pass any of them on the street without recognizing them.
And yet in a different sense I feel closer to them than I did most of my coworkers throughout the years. Sure, we haven’t stood around an employee break room griping about our boss, or found a quiet corner in a retail store where we could gripe about our boss, or waited until our boss’s shift was over at the coffee shop so we could gripe about them in absentia—
Hang on. I’m sure I’ve bonded with coworkers over things other than terrible bosses. I just can’t think of any right now.
This is only the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to virtually hang out with my co-conspirators in the same anthology, and I gotta say, it’s better than any break room. I could whine to any one of them that I was slacking off on something important because I was in the middle of That Scene—you know That Scene—and they’d know exactly what I was talking about. (It’s not porn for everyone, of course. But let’s be honest: for me it’s usually a scene with vulnerability and emotion and intensity, and I love using sex as a medium to get to all those places.)
This is a collection of stories about masks in various forms, and I’d like you to join us by considering some of your own. Maybe you wear a mask to parent-teacher conferences, or to big meetings at work where you’re presenting a project you’ve been working on for weeks. Maybe your mask shields you from small talk at social gatherings, where you insert “mm hm” and “oh yes” at varying intervals to demonstrate you’re paying attention (when in actual fact you’re desperately trying to hear the ball game someone nearby is illicitly streaming just below your hearing range).
Your mask might be the perfect life you show on your Facebook feed when in actual fact it’s all fiction. Then again, late nights on Twitter might be the only time you can drop your mask and truly be yourself.
Join us in celebrating a little bit of carnival—put on a mask, if that makes you feel free, or rip your usual mask off. Whatever you do, take our hands and follow us into darkness.
Follow Me Into Darkness: Five Tales of Carnivale Romance
Carnivale is a time for decadence, for revelry, and for mischief. A time when we shed the figurative masks we wear in everyday life in favor of new ones… ones that allow us to be a little bolder, a little more adventurous, and perhaps a little truer to ourselves. Follow Me Into Darkness is a compilation of original tales of queer romance by five of the premier authors of contemporary romance.
Hurricane by Santino Hassell
Interesting things never happened to Zay. He was the wallflower everyone forgot about as soon as the booze began to flow, and Mardi Gras had never been an exception. But after a chance encounter with a devil-may-care grifter, this year’s celebration brings adventure and whirlwind romance.
If We Be Friends by J.C. Lillis
Seventeen-year-old Ven should be flying high—he’s playing the title role in a new TV drama about Hamlet’s teen years, and tonight they’re having a Mardi Gras cast party in a possibly-haunted castle. But Ven’s lost all his mirth since his boyfriend suggested they “take a break,” so he plans to skip the bash and brood in his trailer all night. Then the exasperating guy who plays Horatio challenges him to a Shakespearean soliloquy-off, and Ven knows his actorly honor is at stake. He says yes to the duel, trudges off to the the party to meet his fate–and finds that more awaits him onstage than a battle of wits and words.
Masked by J.R. Gray
Blistering heat and half-naked masked men as far as the eye can see, but Heath runs into the one face it’s taken him fifteen years to forget. Javier is plagued with a life of regret, but when a second chance confronts him, can he let go of his hang-ups and seize the moment?
The Queen’s Reflection by Kris Ripper
Isah plays the role everyone expects: malleable and cautious, a true queen. But what others see as a queen’s appropriate modesty is really just a disguise for what Isah has never told anyone, the thing no one can ever know.
This body, dressed in the queen’s gowns, is a lie.
Once a year, at carnival, Isah dons someone else’s clothes and becomes them for a night. A young cook in stained whites, or a stableboy in worn breeches. As long as no one gets too close the pretense holds.
Until two strangers look past all the characters and Isah finally exposes the person behind the mask.
Touched by Roan Parrish
Sometimes when he touches people Philippe Rondeau sees their future. It’s erratic and inconvenient, but mostly he’s learned to deal with it. Sure he hasn’t found true love yet, but he has friends and lovers, and is kept busy running his family’s jazz club in Prohibition-era New Orleans. But now it’s Mardi Gras and all bets are off. In the space of one night, Philippe falls under the spell of jazz musician Claude and learns a terrible secret about his powers. If Philippe is certain of anything it’s that the future can be tricky, but the chance at love makes it all seem worthwhile.
Kris Ripper lives in the great state of California and hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Kris shares a converted garage with a toddler, can do two pull-ups in a row, and can write backwards. (No, really.) Kris is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns because they’re freaking sweet. Ze has been writing fiction since ze learned how to write, and boring zir stuffed animals with stories long before that.
Kris can be found on Twitter, Goodreads, and KrisRipper.com.