Petracca is the son of screenwriter Joseph Petracca, and grew up in Southern California. After studying music, art, and the French language at the University of California, Los Angeles, he did graduate work at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the early 1970s, completing a master's degree there in 1972. As well as teaching writing, Petracca has also worked as a prison counselor, and has played guitar for musical groups J. T. and the Zydeco Zippers, Bunnyhead, and Cosmic Love Child.
Petracca's two novels, Doctor Syntax and Captain Zzyzx, published by Capra Press, feature Harmon Nails III as a protagonist. In Doctor Syntax (set in the Los Angeles area), Nails is a graduate student struggling to finish his dissertation. In Captain Zzyzx (set in the fictional "Fiesta City", in Southern California), Nails has rejected academia and plays in a rhythm and blues band while searching for love.
In recent years Petracca's writing has focused on popular culture criticism and creative nonfiction, the latter relating volunteers' contributions in the areas of habitat conservation[not in citation given] and hospice care.
- Doctor Syntax (1989)
- Captain Zzyzx (1992)
- The Graceful Lie: A Method for Making Fiction (1999)
- Academic Communities/Disciplinary Conventions (with Bonnie Beedles) (2001)
- Reading Popular Culture (with Madeleine Sorapure) (2012)
- Common Culture: Reading and Writing About American Popular Culture (with Madeleine Sorapure) (1994, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2013)
- Lacher, Irene (October 5, 1992). "Searching for Clues in the Maze of Life : Empathetic or neurotic? Novelist Michael Petracca is the first to admit that he--and his protagonist--find lots of ways to look at the world". Los Angeles Times.
- Gray-Blanc, Elena (December 8, 2007). "Weird UCSB Alumni". Santa Barbara Independent.
- "Bunnyhead", Santa Barbara Independent, retrieved 2018-08-29
- Mills, Ted (June 25, 2010), "Behind the Iron Curtain – An obscure but celebrated Santa Barbara synth band makes a cult comeback", Santa Barbara News-Press
- Petracca, Michael (Summer 1996). "Cornyphones and Cardboard Flamingos: A Green Consumer Reads His Breakfast". Journal of American Culture. 19 (2): 71&ndash, 77. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.1996.1902_71.x.
- Reviews of Doctor Syntax:
- Faculty website, UCSB