A desperate gay concierge, overwhelmed by the emotional baggage of vacationers. A straight black private investigator desperate to save himself from personal and professional disaster.
Sounds like the stuff of a binge-worthy streaming series.
Hold that thought; “Desert Getaway: A Dante & Jazz Mystery” (Brash Books) must first be devoured by book lovers.
Whichever way you turn it, Rancho Mirage author Michael Craft is sure to receive accolades for his new novel, a tale worthy of our investment that marries the dark mystique of noir with sunny beauty. of the desert for winning purposes.
“Most of the people in the valley were from elsewhere, so the desert lends itself to great stories just because of the natural beauty,” Craft said of the history of the Coachella Valley. “The desert can also be described in a poetic sense through the eyes of an outsider who experiences it as something wondrous and enchanting. This makes it an ideal place for mysteries.”
The centerpiece of the novel is the misadventures of two unlikely allies.
Dante nurtured a herd of dreams — and love interests — that never caught on. (Insert a deep sigh.) When he finds a corpse floating in his rental pool, his tarnished past comes back to haunt him.
Enter: Jazz. Clever, tough and determined to put her life in order, the private detective – she nearly arrested Dante for the murder of her husband a long time ago – teams up to solve this baffling crime.
And maybe save yourself in the process.
“I wanted there to be an instantly recognizable conflict, or at least superficial differences between these two characters,” Craft explains. “They start out as antagonists.”
As the story unfolds, Dante and Jazz get to know each other better and forge a “very tentative working relationship”.
“By the end of the novel, they became friends in a way,” Craft explains. “The important thing is that they have each earned respect and affection for the other.”
He didn’t elaborate on whether this element — finding common ground — might be an appropriate message for today’s lingering cultural clashes, but readers will no doubt appreciate the inclusion. And it wouldn’t be the first time Craft had delivered a thought-provoking read.
A prolific author of 18 novels – four of which became finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards – Craft grew up in Illinois and eventually became a graphic designer at the Chicago Tribune. He rubbed shoulders with a variety of creative journalists who encouraged him to consider writing. An avalanche of writing manuals later, he decided to give it a try, and within months he was writing his first manuscript – on a typewriter no less – and “blindly” sending his work to various agents and editors.
“It never came to fruition, but I was getting some nice, helpful rejection letters,” he says. “And I took it all to heart.”
Twelve years later, he found a publisher for his novel. In time, an enlightened agent came into the fold, and Craft suddenly found himself submitting his work to publishers who needed gay themes.
“I was in the right place at the right time with the right agent,” he says. “I was actually living that dream.”
Eventually, seven installments of the Mark Manning series, which revolved around a determined investigative journalist, followed. Other works were also born, and in 2017 Craft’s professional archive was acquired by the Special Collections Department of the Rivera Library at the University of California, Riverside, a notable honor for sure.
Just like the accolades for another of his mysteries, “ChoirMaster” (a Mister Puss mystery). He became an IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award gold winner.
The genesis of “Desert Getaway” began before the pandemic. Local author/editor Barbara Demarco-Barrett reached out to local writers in hopes of collecting compelling stories to fill her anthology, “Palm Springs Noir.”
“I really hadn’t written much in the noir genre,” Craft says. “But I immediately thought, ‘You know what? Here’s an opportunity to spread your wings a bit, get out of your comfort zone and try something completely different.’ I said yes as I walked in.”
Initially, he wrote “Desert Getaway” as a short story. Somewhere between that and the release of “Palm Springs Noir”, another spark was ignited: why not expand the original short story into an entire novel and revolve it around two main characters – one a gay white man, the other a straight black woman?
“I pulled it entirely out of my imagination – it was all new characters from a new fabric,” says Craft. “The fact that Jazz is Black only came to me when I was good in the process, and I was like, ‘What to do? I’m not always comfortable with straight people writing gay characters. ‘ But any writer – any writer of fiction – can’t limit each character in a book to their own experience or identity. Sometimes that’s just stretching. So, I tried to write this black female character, not just in an unimportant background role.”
Jazz became the second most important character in the book, in fact.
“It was risky,” Craft thinks. “But I knew my heart was in the right place. And I knew how I wanted it. I just fell in love with the characters.”
For most, fiction should be more than just entertainment. It should also inspire.
“I’ve always tried to do that in my stories,” Craft says. “The reason most people choose a mystery novel in the first place is that they’re willing to enjoy a puzzle. But it’s not just a puzzle. I try never to overlook the aspect of character development in my books. Writing is a wonderful creative outlet, and, on some level, writing should provide the reader with a broader view of the world.”
A book launch event celebrating Michael Craft’s new series will be held May 1 from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Artists Center at Galen, 72567 Highway 111 in Palm Desert. Free entry. The seats are limited. To register, visit eventbrite.com/e/310013688287.
To learn more about Michael Craft, visit michaelcraft.com.
Greg Archer writes about agents of change, chance, and the entertainment industry. Her work has appeared in USA Today Network, Palm Springs Life, Huffington Post, The Advocate and other outlets. Her memoir, “Grace Revealed”, chronicles her Polish family’s odyssey during World War II. gregarcher.com.