AUTHORS OFTEN WRITE under a pen name (a “pseudonym” if they’re into Greek, or “nom de plume” if they fancy French). I’m no exception. The full name I was born with is Michael Craft Johnson. I decided to write as Michael Craft not to conceal my identity or to create confusion, but merely to give my author’s persona a more “literary” ring. Somehow, “Michael Craft” sounds more like a man of letters than does “Mike Johnson.”
I was born in 1950 in Elgin, Illinois, which is located on the Fox River some 40 miles northwest of Chicago. My childhood was unremarkable, as I grew up during the heat of the Baby Boom in a small Midwestern city that then numbered about 50,000 and still manufactured wristwatches. I attended a Catholic grade school for eight years, and while the religion didn’t stick, the discipline and the love of language did. Back then, remember, those first eight years of education were known as “grammar school.”
The next four years were spent at Elgin Academy, a private boarding school (now a day school) that I attended as a day student. A number of lifelong interests were nurtured there, including music, theater, and running. I graduated valedictorian, which sounds more impressive than it really was because there were only 34 of us in my class — I was something of a big fish in a small pond.
Then on to college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (a considerably larger pond). I enrolled as an architecture student, but switched during my first year to graphic design, the major in which I graduated. I stayed on for several years of graduate school with the Institute for Communications Research, but by 1976, I realized it was time to enter the “real world.”
I was lucky enough to land a job at the Chicago Tribune, not as a reporter (as some of my readers might assume), but as an art director in the paper’s editorial-design department. I was one of perhaps a dozen designers responsible for the look of the paper itself. During my ten years there, I spent four years designing the front page of “Tempo,” the daily features section, and another two years designing the Sunday magazine. I also absorbed the milieu of the newsroom, which would later prove useful as the setting for my Mark Manning mysteries.
During my tenure at the Tribune, I moved north to Kenosha, Wisconsin, which, like Chicago, is located along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Commuting the 50-some miles by train, spending some three hours a day sitting with my briefcase in my lap while watching the world whisk by, I decided to put that time to use by working toward a long-held goal: I wanted to write a novel. Sometime in 1980, I started making notes, and within a year or so, I had a draft.
After many false starts and an abundance of trial and error, rejection and revision, I finally secured my first contract in 1991 (11 years later!), when Los Hombres Press, a small gay publisher in San Diego, agreed to print my first novel, Rehearsing. It was released in February 1993. The old adage couldn’t be truer: persistence pays. And to my astonishment, that first effort was recognized by the Chicago-based Society of Midland Authors, which honored Rehearsing as a finalist for its 1994 Adult Fiction Award. (Click here for book details.)
During that long struggle to get published, I went through two important life changes. First, in 1982, Leon and I found each other. Second, in 1987, I left the Tribune and went to work with Leon in his family-owned business, which manufactured musical wind instruments. With the support and security I enjoyed while working with Leon, I was able to launch my “other” career as a novelist.
That career took a crucial turn in late 1995, when Mitchell Waters, then a new agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York, agreed to take me on as his first client. I had the manuscript of Flight Dreams in hand, and Mitchell suggested that I work up a proposal for a sequel to it so that he could attempt to secure a contract for a series. In 1996, we signed on with Kensington Books for the first three installments of the Mark Manning series, and in June 1997, Flight Dreams was published. (Click here for book details.)
In June 2000, the Mark Manning series moved to St. Martin’s Press, which published the remaining four volumes of that series, as well as all four installments of the Claire Gray series.
Around the time both of those series were wrapping up, in 2005, I moved from Wisconsin to the California desert near Palm Springs, which allowed me not only to focus on my writing, but also to pursue a graduate degree. In 2007, I earned an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. A few years later, when the California marriage laws changed in 2013, Leon and I made it official on the night that “would have been” our 31st anniversary.
As a reflection of my long-held interest in theater, I have also tried my hand as both a playwright and a screenwriter. My stage play Photo Flash was first produced in Wisconsin in 2003, then again in California in 2008. In 2011, I was deeply involved in the production of an independent film titled Pink Squirrels.
But my abiding creative interest rests with book-length fiction, which has led me to return to the mystery genre. I recently completed the three novels of the award-winning “Mister Puss” series. Now I’ve introduced a new series featuring a gay white man and a straight Black woman, Dante and Jazz. The first installment, Desert Getaway, was honored by the Mystery Writers of America as an Edgar nominee for the Lilian Jackson Braun Award. The second installment, Desert Deadline, was released in July 2023. I hope you’ll check it out.
Thank you for your interest in my writing. Please feel welcome to visit this site anytime, as it will be frequently updated. And rest assured that I would be happy to hear from you. If you have a moment, drop me an “e.” Just click here.
With my best wishes,
Lambda Literary Foundation
Mystery Writers of America
Society of Midland Authors
Cat Writers Association
Independent Book Publishers Association
Palm Springs Writers Guild
Rancho Mirage Public Library Foundation