11 April 2023

Story Mining

I don’t often write about the genesis of my stories because I often don’t know or don’t remember much about how they came to be. My stories don’t exist, and then they do.

On the other hand, “Denim Mining” (scheduled for publication in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine), has a distinct, three-part path from concept to finished story.


In early 2019, I read several articles about the value of vintage blue jeans—especially Levi’s—and how collectors scour abandoned farms and mines looking for denim treasure. Particularly significant finds can be worth several thousand dollars, as CNN reports in an October 13, 2022, article about a pair of 19th century Levi’s found in a mine shaft that sold for $87,000. Silver mines in Arizona, California, and Nevada seem to be particularly good locations to find vintage Levi’s. I printed hardcopies of some of the articles and made a few notes about a possible story, and stuck everything into a file folder.

Not long after that, I read some articles about silver mining in Texas, and was fascinated to learn that Franciscan friars discovered and operated several silver mines near El Paso, Texas, around 1860, concealing the mines when they feared they would lose control of them to the Jesuits, and that several silver mines operated in Texas well into the 1950s and sporadically since then. Of particular interest was Jim Bowie’s lost silver mine near Menard, Texas, which legend says may contain a billion dollars’ worth of silver.

So, I began writing a story about two men—one an assistant professor of Texas history who believes he has identified the locations of several abandoned and forgotten Texas silver mines—who go in search of vintage denim.


Around this time, Bouchercon announced the theme of the 2019 anthology, Denim, Diamonds and Death. So, I wondered what might happen if my denim-mining duo stumbled upon a cache of diamonds in one of the silver mines. I made more notes and wrote more bits and pieces of a story, and then...nothing. I returned to the story repeatedly, well past the deadline for the Bouchercon anthology. I figured out how the diamonds came to be in the mine, and I sort of knew what I wanted to happen, but the story wasn’t progressing. It had no ending.


I rarely discuss stories-in-progress with other writers, but mid-summer 2020, I posted something here about having a few stories that had hit brick walls. Fellow SleuthSayer Leigh Lundin offered to look at one of them, and I took him up on his offer. He read what I had written and made several suggestions—an important one having to do with weapons of the past—that broke down the wall and allowed me to bring “Denim Mining” to a satisfying conclusion.

One interesting note is how I structured this story. Most of my stories are linear, with one event happening after the other. “Denim Mining,” though, alternates between the past and the present. The scenes from the past tell the story of how the diamonds wound up in the mine while the scenes in the present tell the story of how the diamonds are discovered. In a sense, “Denim Mining” is two separate stories woven together, but what happens in the past clearly impacts what happens in the present.

For those of you who like to track these kinds of stats: “Denim Mining” was submitted to AHMM on 8/20/20, accepted 7/29/21, and will be published in the May/June 2023 issue.

Released yesterday: More Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties (Down & Out Books), the sequel to last year’s Groovy Gumshoes. This rollicking romp through the sixties features stories by Michael Chandos, Wil A. Emerson, Jeff Esterholm, John M. Floyd, Nils Gilbertson, Wendy Harrison, Dave H. Hendrickson, gay toltl kinman, Lynn Maples, Jarrett Mazza, John McFetridge, Robert Petyo, Graham Powell, Bev Vincent, Joseph S. Walker, Stacy Woodson. If you haven’t already read the first volume, why not order both?


  1. Congratulations on your story and best of luck with More Groovy Gumshoes. When, by the way, did PI's cease to be gumshoes?!

  2. Interesting story about an interesting story. Congrats!

  3. An interesting story. Real life often inspires my fiction as well. I'm blown away, however, by the amount of time between the story's acceptance and publication.

    1. It does take a long time, Jacqueline. It reminds me of the bit of wisdom, "Things take longer than they take."

  4. Congratulations, Michael! Interesting how the story developed out of bits and pieces. It seems that you too think AHMM is worth waiting for (as do I).--Susan Oleksiw

  5. I well remember that story, Michael. Very imaginative.

  6. Congrats.....thanks for sharing the development of your ideas and the progression of the story.


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