Body Language Headline

Interview by Bill Robbins
Photo by Paul Williams
The Kenosha News
May 4, 2001

Michael Craft at the Rhode Opera House in downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin. The community theater inspired the setting for his latest book,
Boy Toy.

Whodunits move out of their niche
and into mainstream

     Two weeks ago, Michael Craft flew to California with his life partner, Leon Pascucci. Midway through the flight, Craft glanced across the aisle. “And there sat a total stranger reading one of my books,” Craft said. “It was the paperback of Body Language. My heart skipped a beat. I’d known, or at least hoped, that something like this might happen eventually. But when it did—what a rush.”   
    At one point, Pascucci couldn’t resist tapping the reader on the shoulder and an nouncing proudly, “See the guy sitting next to me? He wrote that book!” That incident exemplifies the accelerating pace—and increasing success—of Craft’s career as an author.
     Boy Toy, the fifth installment in Craft’s murder-mystery series featuring gay journalist Mark Manning, is due out in June. And Craft already has written the sixth book in the series. That’s tentatively titled Hot Spot and is scheduled to be published in June of 2002.
     But Craft has decided to “go straight—sort of,” at least in the literary arena, he said with a grin. In November, his New York–based publisher, St. Martin’s Press, will launch Craft’s new, second murder-mystery series aimed at a broader audience. The series features as its protagonist Claire Gray, a heterosexual woman and acclaimed theater director who has taken a job at a California college. The first book in the series is titled Desert Autumn.
    “So I have two books coming out during the next few months,” said Craft, “the fifth Mark Manning book and the first Claire Gray book. Their plots will dovetail.” Craft, whose full name is Michael Craft Johnson, is vice president for communications at G. Leblanc Corporation in Kenosha. Michael Craft is his pen name.
    “My new series is targeted toward a more general audience,” said Craft, who is gay and has carved an impressive niche in popular gay

Theater takes center stage
as “Dumont Playhouse”
in latest murder mystery

     Kenosha readers of Michael Craft’s fifth Mark Manning mystery novel, Boy Toy, will likely recognize a local landmark described in detail. The Rhode Opera House takes center stage in Craft’s most recent whodunit.
    The Dumont Playhouse and the Dumont Players Guild theater troupe form the backdrop for the book’s central plot, in which Manning’s ward and nephew, Thad, becomes the prime suspect in a fellow student’s baffling murder. Both youths have been preparing for roles in a summer community-theater production.
     “I drew from my own experience in depicting Thad’s involvement with the Dumont Players Guild, having myself been involved with amateur theater off and on since high school,” Craft said. Craft has acted in 17 plays, directed one, and is a past president of Kenosha’s community-theater group, Lakeside Players—based at the Rhode.
     “The Dumont Playhouse described in the book bears an uncanny resemblance to the Rhode Opera House in downtown Kenosha, and the history of the two buildings is essentially identical,” he said.
     “Rest assured, the similarity ends there,” he added with a smile. “While artistic temperaments have sometimes flared within the ranks of our [Lakeside Players] theater group, they have never—at least to my knowledge—turned murderous.”

fiction. “While the new series will still contain what I call a ‘gay presence,’ it will be told from the perspective of a straight, middle-aged woman and will contain no gay eroticism.”
    He doesn’t mince words when asked why he’s aiming for a new literary horizon. “I want to sell more books,” he said. “I’m a writer, and I want to be read.” He admits he’s diving into the vast literary mainstream “as a small fish. But there’s potential for a much larger readership.”
    A lot has been happening in Craft’s writing career.
     • Boy Toy will be his sixth published book.
     • “I’m entering a highly prolific period of publishing,” he said. “Consider: Beginning with Flight Dreams [his first Manning mystery], my four previous novels appeared over a period of four years. Beginning with Boy Toy, my next four novels will appear over a period of 17 months. I’m already working on the second Claire Gray mystery, which is due out in November of 2002.”
     • Five of his hardcover books are now available in paperback.
     • And last year’s Mark Manning installment, Name Games, has been selected by the Lambda Literary Foundation in Washington DC as a finalist for its 2001 “Lammy” Award as Best Gay Mystery published in 2000. “That’s the first of my books to achieve finalist status for a national award,” Craft said.
     The winner will be announced at a booksellers’ convention in Chicago on May 31. There are four other finalists in the gay mystery category, including Christopher Rice, son of Anne Rice, for his much-publicized debut novel, A Density of Souls. “So I have some stiff competition,” Craft said.
     • Last November, Flight Dreams was published in German, with more of Craft’s books to follow. That marks his first translated novel.
     • And last October, Craft made the “Gay 101” list in Entertainment Weekly magazine, his first national mainstream press notice. The magazine said Craft is “one of the top novelists in the cultishly popular gay mystery genre.”
     • Craft’s fan mail has surged, he said. “During the past year, I received about 100 warm letters from readers otherwise not known to me. That’s very rewarding.”
     Craft attributes his growing success to hard work. “I’m not a literary wonder kid who suddenly appears and lights up the sky,” he said. “I’ve achieved this through dogged persistence. I do try to hone my skills and, each time out, write a better book. And I am getting better.”
     Now that the Claire Gray series is in full swing, Craft says he’ll slow down his near-manic writing pace. “There’s no way I can continue writing two novels a year. I’ll write one a year. And that will seem like a breeze.”

© Copyright 2001 by The Kenosha News, Kenosha, Wisconsin
Reproduced with permission

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