Twists on a Theme by J.R. Gray
When I got together with my co-writers to put together the predecessor for Follow Me Into Darkness, I knew it was going to be a mixed bag of awesome. The way each of our minds twisted and put our own spin on the graveyard theme of Lead Me Into Darkness, fascinated as well as entertained. In continuing with our off holiday anthology premise, we decided to do Carnival with a theme of masks.
The first thought that entered my mind when our theme was decided was intense eyes, shining through a mask. I couldn’t get these eyes out of my head and soon I had two characters who wouldn’t quit talking. I wrote my story in a whirlwind two days. Heath is in Brazil returning to where he grew up for a job interview as well as carnival. Stumbling home from a night of debauchery he sees those eyes; ones he never thought he’d see again. Masked was to be the merging of an old relationship with a new one. For my story, Carnival and the masks were the spark.
In Santino Hassell’s Hurricane, carnival is the catalyst. We have shy Zey who’s only lived in New Orleans for a few years. He refers to Carnival as the spring break of NOLA. He’s the anti-partying type, but gets dragged out by his friends anyway, only to fall into the arms of a man who will turn Zey’s night upside-down and challenge all of his reservations. Both our plots use homophobia to kick off the story, but they take opposite turns from there.
After reading J.C. Lillis’ piece in our last anthology, I knew If We Be Friends was going to be emotional. It’s about teenagers caught in a tryst of adolescent drama under the curtain of a cast party, while mingling Shakespeare, acting and carnival traditions. We are quickly thrust into Ven’s life and heartache. One of the reasons I’m drawn to young adult literature over and over is the intensity with which young people see the world, everything is new, horrible and wonderful all rolled into one.
From the first words in Kris Ripper’s The Queen’s Reflection, I was hooked. I’m a sucker for fantasy, and Ripper has flawlessly immersed us in a world without any over explanation. Zir dedication says it all, ‘For everyone who looks at their reflection and doesn’t recognize the person staring back.’ This story is like none other I’ve read. It carries a message of accepting yourself without any feel of preaching.
In Touched, Roan took us back to New Orleans, 1929. It’s easy to tell she’s inhabited New Orleans as the story unfolds, making the reader feel like they aren’t just reading the story but are inside it. She painted us a picture of a fully formed life, waiting for tragedy to strike but instead of disaster, a sexy stranger wanders into Philippe’s world. In her elegant prose she weaves a paranormal story of forbidden love, not only because it is about two men, but also because of the color of their skin.
Santino brings us new love, while I bring us love rekindled, and J.C. gives us young love. Roan takes us back to an old world and Ripper blows it out of the water with a new world. All the stories were so different but at the same time they all gave us a little taste of wonder for the carnival season.
Follow Me Into Darkness will release February 4th, 2016 from Open Ink Press. It will be available from all major vendors.
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.
About the Authors
When not staying up all night writing, J.R Gray can be found at the gym where it’s half assumed he is a permanent resident to fulfill his self-inflicted masochism. A dominant and a pilot, Gray finds it hard to be in the passenger seat of any car. He frequently interrupts real life, including normal sleep patterns and conversations, to jot down notes or plot bunnies. Commas are the bane of his existence even though it’s been fully acknowledged they are necessary, they continue to baffle and bewilder. If Gray wasn’t writing…well, that’s not possible. The buildup of untold stories would haunt Gray into an early grave, insanity or both. The idea of haunting has always appealed to him. J.R. Gray is genderqueer and prefers he/him pronouns.
tumblr: theoriginalgray.tumblr.com (NSFW)
Santino Hassell is a writer of queer romance heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.
J.C. Lillis writes contemporary YA novels about fandom, friendship, love, and art. Her Mardi Gras story was inspired by crazy days and nights in her college theater, where part of her heart still beats under the floorboards. She lives in Baltimore with her patient family and a cat who intends to eat her someday.
Roan Parrish is currently wandering between Philadelphia and New Orleans. When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.
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.