by Lorie Lewis Ham
KRL tries to feature LGBTQ+ mystery authors throughout the year (we also have a monthly Queer Mystery Coming Attractions column), but especially during Pride month. This week we are reviewing the first book in a new series by Michael Craft, and we have a fun interview with him as well. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Desert Getaway by Michael Craft
Desert Getaway by Michael Craft is the first in a brand new mystery series featuring Dante O’Donnell who works as a concierge for a vacation-rental outfit in Palm Springs. At fifty-one Dante is feeling his age and like he has wasted his better years on starstruck dreams and the wrong men—including his ex-husband Anthony.
The action in this book starts off right away as Dante finds himself framed for the murder of a wealthy tenant and the theft of an expensive lithograph. Dante quickly resolves the problem by bluffing the real killer and thief into a confession, which is witnessed by an old frenemy, ex-cop Jazz Friendly, who blames Dante for wrecking her career when she mistakenly arrested him for the murder of his ex-husband. Friendly is trying to launch a new PI business so when Dante later finds a dead body floating in the swimming pool at one of his rentals and is again a murder suspect, he reaches out to Jazz for help in finding out the truth. This time the victim is someone involved with LA’s Museum of Anti-Academic Art—a world they soon discover is filled with secrets and lies.
Kenneth and Claudia Terry are the ones renting the house where the body was found and their charming and attractive son Skip is a prime suspect. At Dante’s suggestion, the Terry’s hire Jazz to find out the truth. Skip ends up charming Dante who doesn’t want to believe that Skip could possibly be the killer.
This fun fast-paced mystery is filled with twists and turns that keep you guessing and interesting well-developed characters. Dante and Jazz make an unlikely team whose relationship grows throughout the book and I look forward to more of their adventures. The dark side of Palm Springs is a fascinating background and a perfect setting for your summer reading getaway—be sure to add Desert Getaway to your summer TBR.
Interview with Michael Craft:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Michael: I got serious about my intent to become a novelist in 1980 and began work on my first manuscript, which took about a year to write, but it took me another 12 years to sell it. So, let’s put it this way: I’ve been writing published fiction for about 30 years. My 18th novel, Desert Getaway, was published by Brash Books this past May.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Michael: My first novel, titled Rehearsing, was published in February 1993. It introduced the Claire Gray character, a theater director, who would later return in the series of four Claire Gray mysteries, published between 2001 and 2005. She also makes minor appearances in a few of the Mark Manning mysteries.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Michael: That first novel, Rehearsing, was not a mystery, but a slim little literary novel. That was followed by my first Mark Manning mystery, Flight Dreams, in 1997, and everything since then has been a mystery, with one exception. My 2016 novel-in-stories, Inside Dumont, was a collection of “linked” short stories covering a variety of genres, styles, and narrative voices.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Michael: In 2019, I was approached to contribute a short story to the anthology Palm Springs Noir because I live in nearby Rancho Mirage, California. The anthology was published in July 2021 by Akashic Books. So, the Palm Springs setting wasn’t really chosen, but assigned. The two main characters I developed for the story, titled “VIP Check-In,” were Dante O’Donnell and Jazz Friendly. This contentious duo really clicked for me, and I decided to develop that short story into my latest novel, Desert Getaway. It, in turn, will serve as the first installment of an ongoing series.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Michael: Any mystery reader expects to be entertained, and in the case of a classic whodunit, the entertainment consists of a puzzle. However, yes, I always want readers to experience an added dimension from my books, which contain thematic elements beyond the obvious “righting of wrongs.” I would hope my readers feel they have been taken to places they have not previously visited, both literally and figuratively. In short, I hope to promote a wider worldview.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Michael: When I’m in the thick of writing a novel’s first draft, yes, I will write six or seven days a week, but no more than three or four hours a day, since I’ve always found that kind of intensive writing to be physically draining, and I see no point in working when I’m tired. When I’m not in the heat of a draft, I may not write every day, but I do work “on” my writing every day — planning, researching, editing, rewriting, promoting, corresponding, and such.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Michael: If I had my way, I would love to get in a full morning of writing, then quit at lunchtime. But that rarely happens. For me, the “stuff of life” demands to be addressed in the morning so I can clear my mind of it and get some creative focus. If I’m lucky, by late morning I’ll get around to editing what I wrote the day before, then break for lunch, then come back and pick up where I left off. I never write at night.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Michael: I have always been a devoted outliner. I know that many writers scoff at this, but it’s the way I’m wired. Because mystery novels are very plot-centric, with so many moving parts and interconnected details, I feel it just makes sense to do the grunt work of working out the mechanics in advance. I would characterize my outlines as chapter-by-chapter narrative summaries. I’m never a slave to the outline, and if I’m inspired by a better idea, I go with it, but it’s much easier to tweak a 20-page outline than to make bone-deep revisions to a 300-page manuscript.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning? Do you feel the fact that you are an LGBTQ author with a series featuring an LGBTQ main character made it any harder?
Michael: Yes and no. Early on, when I was first trying to get published, I felt that my gay identity might have been a detriment. Then, when I finally did secure a contract for the Mark Manning series, there was no question that my gayness had worked to my benefit because the series was bought to serve a niche market, the gay market, where I’ve built an audience. A niche can be limiting, of course, but over the years, mainstream readers have become much more accustomed to encountering LGBTQ characters — not only in books, but in mass media — so I feel there’s been a comfortable shift in my public identity from that of a “gay writer” to that of a “writer who is gay.” In any event, I’ve never shied away from it.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Michael: This doesn’t involve a book signing, but it’s a similar sort of story. Shortly after I moved to California 17 years ago, I was eating dinner alone at the bar in a restaurant, and a gay couple came in and sat next to me. We introduced ourselves — first names — and started gabbing. I mentioned that I had lived in Wisconsin, and before that Chicago, where I worked for the Tribune. Other tidbits came up, but nothing about books.
Then one of the guys (they were both named Ted) turned to ask me, “Have you ever read any of the Mark Manning mysteries?”
A bit stunned, I said, “Why do you ask?”
“Well, it’s a series about a gay reporter from Chicago who moves to Wisconsin, and I thought you might enjoy them. Any chance you’ve read them?”
I imagined a drum roll as I paused to phrase my response: “Not only have I read them, I wrote them.”
Ted and Ted exchanged a quizzical look, as if to ask, “Is he speaking in riddles? Is he saying he “could” have written them?”
“Honest,” I said, “I’m Michael Craft. I wrote the Mark Manning series.” Then I handed them my card.
They not only bought me a drink but invited me to a dinner party they had planned for the next week!
KRL: Oh wow what a fun story! What are your future writing goals?
Michael: I’m working on the second installment of the Dante & Jazz series, and the goal, of course, is to get it firmly established in the affections of the most readers possible. Beyond that, the next novel would be number 20 — a goal I’ve been eyeing for a number of years.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Michael: The central murder plot of each book always involves details that are beyond my immediate experience. You can’t always “write what you know.” In the age of the internet, research is now far easier than it was while working on my earlier books, written on a typewriter. I typically need answers, or at least advice, relating to medicine, law, guns, police, and so on.
Purely factual details are easy to find in cyberspace, while more nuanced information comes from expert acquaintances. I don’t obsess over research — for me, the goal is simply not to make mistakes, and to equip myself with sufficient details to tell the story with a voice of authority. The point of telling the story with authority is not to be recognized as smart, but to avoid factual blunders that destroy the fragile “fictitious reality” of the story by causing readers to roll their eyes and drift from the page.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Michael: When I read for pleasure, it’s almost always fiction. Mysteries, sure, but also novels of literary interest or gay interest. Also, collections of “linked” short stories, a medium that has really caught my attention. This may seem strange, but I have long enjoyed reading scripts of stage plays, which stems from having acted in amateur theater since high school. Play scripts qualify as “long-form storytelling” (like novels), but they are so condensed and pithy. What’s more, they provide excellent models of plotting, structure, and dialogue.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Michael: First, stick with it. For most of us, the road to publication isn’t easy, so it’s necessary to develop a thick skin when it comes to rejection. But rejection often comes with advice or pointers, and when you receive that, treat it like gold. It’s often said that “persistence pays.” Obviously, that’s not always true, but sometimes it is, so don’t give up.
Second, while writing is generally a solitary pursuit, the aspiring writer can definitely benefit from workshops or critique groups. When you learn to give constructive criticism to others, when you learn to spot the flaws of others and suggest ways to fix them, an amazing thing happens — it opens your eyes to those same flaws in your own writing, and you will grow.
Michael: I’ve always been a cat person. My husband and I had a wonderful Abyssinian named Anwar for nearly 17 years when we lived in Wisconsin, and we still miss him, more than 20 years later. Living in California now, we’ve considered getting another cat, but Anwar would be a hard act to follow. Cats have been featured in some of my books. Early on, my first Mark Manning mystery involved the disappearance of a breeder of Abyssinian cats. More recently, of course, my series of three Mister Puss mysteries featured an Abyssinian front and center — and on the cover.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Michael: Just my thanks! I truly appreciate the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.
KRL: Thank you for taking the time to char with us. Website? Twitter? Facebook? Instagram?
To enter to win a copy of Desert Getaway, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “getaway,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 25, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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