Since the publication of my first novel in 1993, friends and strangers alike have let me in on a little secret—they, too, have novels in them. It seems everyone does, and it seems everyone has questions for a published author. After a while, I noticed certain themes emerge from these queries, so I’ve put together a list of the Big Ten, my most frequently asked questions. If there’s something on your mind that’s not covered below, feel free to send me an e-mail; just click here. I’d be happy to hear from you.

Michael Craft

1. Where do you get your ideas?
It’s often said that writers write about the things they know best, and in my case, that’s certainly true. Many interests that have developed over the course of my life have found their way into my books—theater, music, architecture, cats, and more. These interests have equipped me with minor areas of ready-made “expertise” that can add color, depth, and credibility to storytelling. As to the “germ” of each story, the inspiration, it seems to be waiting for me when the time comes to start a new project. When a new story is looming, I “raise my creative antenna” and put myself in a more receptive mode for ideas. The inspiration may come from a news story, from an overheard snatch of conversation, or from something that I’ve been sitting on all my life. But it’s always out there. The trick for the writer, of course, is to learn to recognize it.
2. Are the characters in your books based on real people?
Of course not! Well, sort of. I don’t think any writer is capable of creating a fully developed three-dimensional character out of thin air. So naturally, I draw on people I know, or know of, in patching together the characters for my stories. That’s the essence of it—each character is really an amalgam of many people I know, with a good dash of myself thrown in. At the same time, no single character is “me.” And no, I am not Mark Manning. (I’m not Claire Gray, either.)
3. Do your editors ask for a lot of changes?
In the early days of the Mark Manning series, my editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio, asked for extensive changes. When I started writing Flight Dreams, long before it was sold, I didn’t conceive of the story as a murder mystery at all, and John was remarkably patient in showing me the ropes of writing a more conventional mystery. It wasn’t really till I got around to the third Mark Manning, Body Language, that I fully understood the expectations of mystery readers and was able to bring that understanding to the writing process from its conceptual start. The result, I think, was a better story, and my editor asked for very little revision.
4. Do you ever get writer’s block?
I always work from an outline (actually, it’s a brief narrative scene-by-scene description of everything that happens in the book), which is especially valuable to the mystery genre because there’s so much riding on the plot. Recently, while approaching the task of outlining the first book in a new series, I rediscovered a technique that had been preached to me since fifth grade, 3-by-5 cards. I was amazed by the organizational flexibility this allowed, and I will never again approach a new outline without this important preliminary step. (For a peek at this process, see photos.) The outline itself may go through a revision or two (which is immeasurably easier than making bone-deep changes to a manuscript), with my editor ultimately signing-off on it. Then, when it comes time to do the intensive work of drafting, I’m writing from an approved outline, and there’s never any doubt as to “what’s next.” Therefore, no, I never get writer’s block.
5. With books coming out yearly, how far ahead do you work?
With books coming out yearly, the obvious answer is that it takes a year to write one, but the process isn’t that neat and tidy—the “pipeline” stretches well beyond a year. In fact, the publisher has the finished manuscript in hand for nearly a year before the finished book hits the shelf. At the point when one of my books is released, the next one is fully drafted, and the one after that is in the outline stage. In general terms, then, I work a year ahead on writing and two years ahead on “thinking.”
6. What are you planning to write next?
With my seventh Mark Manning mystery, Bitch Slap, and my fourth Claire Gray, Desert Summer, now in print, I have taken a brief hiatus from novel writing. This has been anything but a slack period, however, as I have recently completed a move from Wisconsin to California and have also begun working toward a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing with a graduate program in Los Angeles. Grad school will allow me, I hope, to reassess my goals as a writer and to recapture some of the creative focus I have lost during the past year, which, at a personal level, has been tumultuous. I already feel that I'm getting a sense of my new bearings, and the ideas have begun to flow. I should be able to announce my next novel soon, so please check this site again later.
7. Which other writers do you like to read?
In the gay-mystery genre, I’ve especially enjoyed R.D. Zimmerman’s Todd Mills series and John Morgan Wilson’s books. Even though Wilson’s rough-edged reporter hero, Benjamin Justice, is in many ways the polar opposite of my own gay hero, Mark Manning, I am drawn to Wilson’s books by their unapologetically erotic slant—a trait shared by my own series. Indeed, I’m baffled by whatever reasoning makes so many gay fiction writers shy away from eroticism. In the more general realm of gay writing, I’ve been especially fond of the novels of Chicago humorist Robert Rodi, whom I consider a friend. And in the general realm of literature, I’m a devotee of Ayn Rand, whose novels inspired me to try my own hand at writing, and whose philosophy of objectivism taught me (I hope!) to be a rational thinker.
8. Has your identity as a gay writer helped you or hurt you?
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. Now, ironically, that niche has become somewhat limiting, and I feel that it’s time for me to address a more general readership. But I am what I am. At most, a future shift in my public identity would be from that of a “gay writer” to that of a “writer who is gay.”
9. How long have you been out?
Since September of 1969. I remember it well—it was the Friday night of the first week of the fall semester of my sophomore year at college. It, well . . . happened. I’d been totally naive on these matters prior to that night, and then I was suddenly enlightened. I think of that night as my “coming out” in the most important sense—it’s when I finally leveled with myself and understood who I was. I came out to friends throughout that school year and to my family during the next summer vacation. I have never concealed my sexual identity from an employer, and my gayness has never, to my knowledge, worked against me on a job. In 1993, I came out in a very public way with the release of my first novel and the publicity that attended that event. Given this level of self-comfort with my sexual identity, many people have described me as “openly gay.” I appreciate that the term is commonly understood in a positive sense, but I have never much cared for it. “Openly gay”—doesn’t it seem to imply that there was something to hide in the first place? I much prefer to describe myself as “unremarkably gay.” Which is simply to say, like most folks, I’m a law-abiding, taxpaying, good-natured, fair-minded citizen. I happen to be gay, and I happen to write books.

And finally, my MOST frequently asked question:
10. Do you get to meet the models featured on the Mark Manning covers?
’Fraid not. I’ve been asked, variously, if I get to pick them, meet them, wine them, dine them, or attend the photo shoots. None of the above. The publisher retains total control over the books’ covers (titles, too, as a matter of fact). While my suggestions have always been welcome up front, I’ve had no involvement in actually producing the jackets, with the notable exception of Desert Winter, Desert Spring, and Desert Summer, which all display photos I snapped in California.

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