05 May 2020

A River Runs Through It

Although I’ve written and sold short stories in a variety of genres, my crime fiction primarily fits within the subgenres of private eye, hardboiled, and noir. I’ve written many stories in which violence is on the page, sex is on the page, and the climax involves someone getting shot. (The crime fiction I wrote for men’s magazines—prior to their demise as viable markets—often involved climaxes of a different sort.)

While I’ve done well working within these three subgenres, I realize restricting myself to them limits the number of publications that might use my work and relying on shooting someone for a climax lends a certain predictability to my stories.

So, during the past handful of years, I’ve made a conscious effort to expand my crime fiction into other subgenres. “Sleepy River,” in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, is a good example.


I envy fellow short-story writers—Art Taylor, John Floyd, Robert Lopresti, and several others—who write wonderful essays about the inspiration behind this story or that story. I often find those kind of essays difficult to write because I rarely know where my ideas come from.

For example, all I can find in my notes is that I created a Word document for “Sleepy River” on June 19, 2018, and I had, at some point prior to that, roughed out five pages of handwritten notes. There is nothing to indicate where the idea came from, but the key elements of the story—including a rough sketch of the dock where the story begins and ends—are in the notes.


I’m uncertain what sub-genre “Sleepy River” fits into, but it’s clearly not private eye, hardboiled, or noir.

It’s about what happens to two young girls idling away their time during summer break. There’s no sex, no bad words, and only muted violence. But there are good guys, bad guys, and a dead guy. And nobody gets shot in the climax.



  1. Michael, it doesn't matter where these ideas come from--main thing is, you write terrific stories. This one sounds good too--I haven't yet read it, but looking forward to it. And keep writing in those subgenres. To me, they're often more interesting than traditional crime stories.

    I like your coronavirus hairdo. The world has learned it can do without barbershops!

  2. I'm looking forward to reading your AHMM story when my copy comes. Congratulations!

  3. Michael, I would have sworn the story I wrote yesterday came from you. In a comment on my SleuthSayers post yesterday, you wrote that the editor of my latest cross-genre story (whom I mentioned in the post) had taken a certain story of yours when no one else would, and you told me the whole story, including the twist ending. I'd been napping, but I am 100 percent sure I was awake. I remember every word. Yet you never wrote such a comment or, presumably, such a story. So I got up off the couch and wrote it. Did that story come from my unconscious? Or from yours? And as John says, does it matter?

  4. Michael, just finished reading "Sleepy River." It's an engaging story from start to finish. A couple of bold girls in what turned out to be a not so boring summer.

  5. Always interesting how you do it.

  6. Everybody’s talking about the story and the haircut. I’ll be different: love that T-shirt! (And I have the issue but haven’t gotten to the story yet....)

  7. Temple gave me the "Quarantine Cut" a few days ago, and she bought me the T-shirt when we were in New Orleans for Bouchercon a few years ago.

    John: I'm trying to channel you for a clue-driven story I'm working on. I don't usually (ever?) write clue-driven stories, but I have three suspects with means, motive, and opportunity, and I'm dropping clues in for the detective to find. I'm aiming for a classic finale where the three suspects are brought together and the detective explains everything. And nobody gets shot in the climax!

    Elizabeth: Apparently, magic isn't just used in stories. Sometimes it's used to create stories. Now, get outta my head and quit stealing my good ideas!

    Glad you enjoyed the story, R.T., and thanks everyone for your comments.

  8. Branching out, Michael. I've been doing that since I first started writing short stories. I figured it was a good way to find out what I did best as far as genre is concerned, or at least what I would be the most comfortable doing. It kind of worked. I'm sure I'll never write a speculative novel or a literary one, or a romance. I'm still having fun writing different types of shorts, though, from cozy to hardboiled and dipping my toes into other genres. Keep writing. You apparently have a knack for it.

  9. I look forward to reading it, Michael. And congratulations on yet another sale!


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