I didn’t mean to write a novella. My initial aim was a short story — the kind I love reading in collections like Dark and Stormy Knights. I’d finished Conspiracy of Angels, and, if you’ve read that book, you know there’s a final scene where Lil approaches Zack and needles him to make good on his promise to her sister. It’s an intentional echo of when they first meet, a kind of full-circle moment.
But it leaves you hanging. They drive off. End scene.
Except it wasn’t. Not in my head. But it also wasn’t the opening to the second book, Harsh Gods. That book starts out with Zack so down in the dumps that he’s locked himself away playing Assassin’s Creed for close to a month. He’s in full mopey bachelor mode, and Lil is nowhere in sight. Had she been around, she never would have let him sink that far into his depression. Not that there would have been hand-holding and sympathy. This is Lil we’re talking about. She’d have slapped him out of it, if that’s what it took.
But that final scene from Conspiracy still lingered in my head. What happens next? It’s all implied — but I wanted to see it. More than that, I wanted to see a little quiet time between Lil and Zack. Not that anything in their world is particularly quiet — this is the Shadowside, after all — but the first novel was such a rush of one crisis after another, there’s barely any room to breathe. I needed some place where Zack had enough downtime that he could really think about the changes in his life, maybe even talk about them.
So Mortal Sins was born.
It started in the lobby of the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel. That’s where I saw Zack sitting — in the same chairs I’d lounged in while waiting to meet up with my friend Graydancer several years ago for a podcast. If you haven’t had a chance to see the lobby of this historic Cleveland landmark, I strongly recommend you give the pictures a peek. You’ll see why the place inspires stories.
Originally, it was just going to be a single scene. Something I’d likely keep to myself, but written out so I could get a handle on where Zack and Lil ended up emotionally in the days and weeks after Conspiracy of Angels (there is a ridiculous amount of writing that readers never see — all the little pieces the author writes for themselves as foundation for the bits that do end up “on camera,” as it were).
One scene. But then there was a ghost, and the story wanted more. And then Momma Tuscanetti walked onto the stage, and I knew this wouldn’t be the last time we’d see her or her family. I’d be coming back to this tale in a sequel.
And so you have Mortal Sins, an interim story that bridges Conspiracy of Angels and Harsh Gods. It’s a quieter plot than we see in Conspiracy — no less intense, but certainly not as world-shaking. And it’s a love story.
The bittersweet romance of Mortal Sins was as much of a surprise as Momma Tuscanetti and her very fun take on the mal’occhio — the magic of the Evil Eye. But it fit, and, more than that, it held echoes of what Zack was struggling with in connection to Lailah. Without Mortal Sins, it still makes sense that Zack’s struggling with depression at the start of Harsh Gods. I mean, the guy lost practically everything in Conspiracy — lifetimes of memories, any sense of safety, his very identity. But those are broad strokes. With Mortal Sins, we get to see his loss on a very personal level. The gut-punch of grief. Closure’s empty tease.
And we get to meet Lailah.
If you want to know more about that, you’ll have to read the story. Anything more I say will be a spoiler. But I’ll leave you with this: Just like she promises, Lailah will be back. So will Momma Tuscanetti. People like her always come to collect.
Mortal Sins, the first in a cycle of Shadowside novellas, is totally FREE for the week leading up to Halloween. It’s a fun treat, and it’s my gift to all my readers. You can download the tale on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or even from iTunes. Below are some links: