Michael Craft and the art of murder
Interview by C.A. Lawver
The Bottom Line, Palm Springs, California
July 12, 2002
the perfect crime requires almost as much skill as writing a novel. One
is a society faux pas; the other, when done properly, is eagerly welcome
and deserving of accolades. Author Michael Craft has once again succeeded
at writing the perfect novel about a murder committedalmostas
Hot Spot is the sixth
in the Mark Manning series, says Craft. When I first set out
to write this book, I had, in the back of my mind, the idea this might
be the last for a while. But my editor wouldnt stand for that, and
St. Martins has already contracted a seventh with me. Fans
of the central character, investigative journalist Mark Manning, will
welcome that news. Their bookshelves invariably hold the titles of his
other books, Boy Toy, Name Games, Body Language, Eye Contact, Flight
Dreams, and Rehearsing.
While mystery fans are dedicated
readers, it is the fact that the struggles of Crafts hero resonate
through the underlying subplots with our own experiences as gay men that
endear the character to us. I think, in a sense, explains
Craft, the growth of Manninghis exploration of self and identityare
complete. I dont see taking that struggle any further. I have brought
him to the point where I want him right now in terms of his development
as an openly gay man, in his relationship with Neil, and of the family
that Neil and Mark have been building with Marks nephew, Thad.
Now that he is committed to producing
a seventh in the series, Craft says, The plots that will involve
Manning in the future wont have as much to do with the process of
his life, as they have in the past. In fact, explains Craft, Readers
may get the impression that things are drawing to a close because a lot
of the ongoing subplots that have been developing in the series do find
their finish in Hot Spot.
There will be a two-year gap before
the next volume will be printed. Ive been writing two books
a year for a while in the process of developing my second series, which
is set in Palm Springs, California, featuring the heroine Claire Gray.
The first book, Desert Autumn, has already been released and will
soon be followed by the second in February, Desert Winter. Craft
says he is already busy on the third.
The new series is very much
like starting over in reaching and developing a readership. Thankfully,
I have my backbone readership that has taken well to the series,
says Craft. Its delightfully surprising that my most avid
readers of the new series are still gay males. I have a large following
of straight women who follow the Manning series and I had intended to
address them with Claire Gray, but the guys are holding in there.
While this new series takes shape,
it is clear in talking with Craft that Manning is not far from his thoughts.
I wanted to step away from Mark Manning so I could at least breathe
between books, says Craft. It gives me time to rethink the
direction I want to take the series and the character. I think the seventh
Mark Manning will have quite a different flavor than the previous books.
I have just a germ of an idea right now. I think it may be a bit darker,
a bit more surprising to regular readers.
As for Hot Spot, Theres
a certain tongue-in-cheek quality in the telling of the story. I had a
lot of fun writing this book. Even though there is a gruesome murder,
there is an element of dark humor in it. The very premise is outrageous.
Craft explains, Mark and Neils best friend, Roxanne, has decided
to get married. The wedding comes off without a hitch. Theres a
large reception immediately following the ceremony. Thats when tragedy
strikes. A beloved local matriarch of a paper-mill empire is electrocuted
to death at the reception when she dips her hanky into a vat of ice water.
A stray extension cord has found its way into the water, and foul play
is immediately suspected. None other than Mannings friend
Roxanne finds herself at the top of the list of suspects.
While Mannings development
as a character is complete, this crime raises for him some profound dilemmas
regarding the ethics of journalism, law, and friendship. But,
says Craft, I dont consider that on the same level with the
emotional battles he has fought in the past dealing with his sexuality
and fidelity to his partner. Any investigative reporter working on such
a case with a best friend involved would find himself dealing with similar
Craft has found great satisfaction
in writing the Manning series. The emotional content is very much
part of me. Its easy to connect with and write because the narrations
are me talking. Not that I think of myself as Mark Manning, but
in any first-person narration, youre hearing the author talk to
you. Typically, in the longer narrative passages that dont deal
so much with action and dialogue, but tend to veer toward philosophizingI
admit, thats me, he says.
In looking back over the course of
his career, Craft recognizes his own strugglesas an author. It
took me twelve years to get my first novel published. After that, it took
four years to get the second novel published, he explains. Frustration
and insecurity are the major obstacles, but the first commandment is to
be persistent because it pays. It is a trait he recommends to all
Writers also need to learn
to develop a thick skin and take rejection gracefully, says Craft.
And when criticism is offered, try to put that criticism to constructive
uses in terms of improving the writing. Theres no such thing as
perfect. He adds, You can always take it to one
more level of revision. A would-be published author needs to revise and
revise and revise.
Commandment number two,
says Craft, is learning to be your own toughest critic. If you dont,
then someone else will surely step in and tell you its no good.
On a more practical level, I think I would advise anyone trying to be
published, who has not yet succeeded in doing that, to take a creative
writing workshop somewhere. Its important to get into a community
of other writers who understand what you are going through and are able
to express criticism productively and help you along the way. Ive
taken writers workshops at several junctures in my life, and since
being published, Ive taught a workshop. Ive noticed from these
experiences that the things writers do wrong repeat themselves over and
over again. You can be taught to overcome some of the classic pitfalls
that signal to an editor that youre an amateur. The sooner you get
all that behind you, the sooner you will get that first book contract.
Throughout his career as an author,
Craft has always maintained what he considers a day job. Very few
writers of fiction, he says, could support themselves from
writing alone. Sure, you could go to the bestseller list and tick off
the authors that everyone knows, but those are the superstars, and the
odds of anyone achieving that level of fame and fortune are infinitely
small. If a person wants to be a novelist to achieve fame and fortune,
they are probably in for disappointment. You have to do it because it
is something you love and approach it as art, for arts sake. What
material rewards may come with it are great, but should be seen as icing
on the cake.
Craft has been able to apply many
of the skills he has as a businessman to his career as a writer. In
business, we always plan, execute, and review, he says.
This business mantra can certainly be translated to equivalent writing
principles, which are outline, draft, and revise. Each one
of them is equally important, and each is tremendously creative and fulfilling
in its own right.
Craft says he outlines his books
on paper, scene-by-scene and chapter-by-chapter before beginning them.
Then, after an intensive period of drafting, he puts it away for a while
to let it cook and simmer and comes back to give it an honest, objective
revision. He says, The point of revision shouldnt be to confirm
to yourself, That was pretty darn good in the first place.
Craft has found, even after writing
a book and having it published, the job does not end. Publishing companies
have their own publicists, and often, that is one person sitting at a
desk and dealing with many books, a fact many first-time authors soon
discover. It is a fact that Craft has dealt with in a logical manner.
In my day job, Im Vice-President of Communications for a manufacturer
of musical instruments, so advertising and public relations fall into
my daily duties, but that doesnt mean I know how to promote a book.
For my last three novels, Ive retained my own publicist. It really
has helped, and I believe in that highly.
So, will Michael Craft leave his
day job? With the skills and commitment he has shown to the Mark Manning
series and now Claire Gray, he probably will be able to.
© Copyright 2002 by The Bottom Line,
Palm Springs, California.
Reproduced with permission.
to return to Hot Spot detail page.
Click here to return to index of novels.
Click here to return to index of interviews.
Click here to return to main page.