Michael Craft was born in the year 1950 in Elgin, Illinois, as Michael Craft Johnson. Craft has his MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles.
He writes as Michael Craft, as it gives his author persona a much more “literary” ring to it. Michael Craft sounds more like a man of letters than Mike Johnson does.
Three of his novels were honored as national finalists for Lambda Literary Awards.
He grew up in Illinois and spent his middle years in the state of Wisconsin, which would later inspire the fictitious setting of his series of novels.
Craft was able to get a job as the art director in the editorial design department at the Chicago Tribune. He was one of about twelve designers that was responsible for the look of the paper. He spent four of his ten years designing the front page of “Tempo”, the paper’s daily features section, and two years designing its Sunday magazine. He absorbed the milieu of the newsroom, which would prove quite useful as the setting for his books starring Mark Manning.
While living in Wisconsin, he had to commute fifty miles, spending three hours a day sitting with his briefcase in his lap and watched the world go by. He decided he should put the time to good use and work toward a long-held goal of writing a novel. At some point in the year 1980, he had put some notes together, and inside of a year, he had a draft.
After a bunch of trial and error, false starts, rejection and revision, he finally was able to get a contract some eleven years later. This is when a Los Hombres Press agreed to print his first novel.
Craft writes the “Mister Puss” series, the “Claire Gray” series, and the “Mark Manning Mystery” series. His debut novel, called “Rehearsing”, was released in the year 1993.
“Flight Dreams” is the first novel in the “Mark Manning Mystery” series and was released in the year 1997. Seven years ago Helena Carter (who is a Chicago socialite) vanished. In just three months, she is going to be declared legally dead and her fortune will be going to Chicago’s Catholic Archdiocese.
Mark Manning, investigative journalist, thinks the missing heiress is still alive. In order to prove his case, he goes into a world where politics and religion make rather uneasy bedfellows. While he also confronts the rather inescapable truth that he is in fact gay.
“Eye Contact” is the second novel in the “Mark Manning Mystery” series and was released in the year 1998. It all starts as an easy assignment for Chicago Journal reporter Mark Manning. He just got hired to replace Cliff Nolan on a major story: Pavo Zarnik, a renowned astrophysicist, claims to have found a tenth planet.
To this skeptical reporter, there is no story since there is zero proof. Quickly, Manning makes startling discoveries. Nolan’s body has been found with a bullet hold in his back, as well as the fact that the last interview with Zarnik has gone missing. Now, this story is not just a matter of metaphysics, but one of murder.
To make things even more complicated, Manning’s new, young assistant is haunting both his dreams and days. Together, they are determined to find the truth out about Nolan’s death as well as the damning, inevitable piece of proof that the murderer is willing to do anything to destroy. Even if that means killing again.
“Body Language” is the third novel in the “Mark Manning Mystery” series and was released in the year 1999. One unexpected windfall has given a burned-out Chicago journalist Mark Manning the opportunity to reconnect once again with his boyhood roots. With the blessing of Neil, his lover, he departs from the Windy City to go back to Dumont, Wisconsin, in order to take the town’s paper over.
Mark’s long awaited family reunion gets cut short after Suzanne, his cousin, is bludgeoned to death right before Christmas dinner. Before she is killed, she whispers the name of her son to Manning.
Was Suzanne expressing a mom’s dying wish for her child’s future welfare? Or actually revealing her murderer’s identity? As Manning winds up in the local law’s sights, he quickly finds he is racing against the clock in order to clear his name and catch a killer. With plenty of suspects, from a lesbian activist to a trouble homophobe to a housekeeper, the clock ticks on a story that might be the biggest of Manning’s whole career. Assuming he lives long enough to tell it.
“Name Games” is the fourth novel in the “Mark Manning Mystery” series and was released in the year 2000. Mark Manning, who was once a prominent journalist at a major daily newspaper in Chicago, now owns and publishes the Dumont Daily Register, the daily paper in a tiny Wisconsin city.
The biggest news in the town is the upcoming election for Sheriff, the upcoming yearly exhibition of the Midwest Miniatures Society, and the impending city council report on a proposed new adult bookstore zoning law. In a unique turn for the first-ever miniatures exhibition in Dumont, Mr. Carroll Cantrell (who is the “king of miniatures”) has agreed to come to judge the main event of the show.
The exhibition is soon pushed off the front page after Cantrell is found killed in his room. To make things worse, Doug Pierce, the sheriff, is the one widely believed to have done it. Pierce, who was a closeted gay man and a buddy of Mark Manning’s, was carrying on an affair with Cantrell. He was also the last one to be seen leaving his room before the body was found.
Conservative elements in the town look to exploit the killing, as well as the sheriff’s association with the dead man, to their own means. At the same time, Manning with helps from architect Neil Waite, his friends and staff, and his lover, starts an investigation of their own. Since Cantrell led a bit of a double life with an endless amount of possible enemies, and seeing as how the miniatures world is a hot bed of closely held resentments and rivalries, the truth starts feeling as an elusive thing. Public sentiment starts to swing and time runs out for Sheriff Pierce, Mark has to uncover some of the most deeply held secrets of this close-knit town if he is going to find out the truth.
Books in order of publication by series:
Claire Gray Books
Mark Manning Books
Mister Puss Mystery Books