|Michael Craft addresses readers at a previous
book launch on the mezzanine of the Kenosha Public Museum.
Gray’ talks about her author,
his new novel, and a book signing
Interview by Alice Anne Conner
The Kenosha News
February 27, 2004
Kenosha News writer
Alice Anne Conner, having played the role of Claire Gray on stage,
writes the following interview in the first person, reflecting her
involvement with the character and the series based upon it.
At right, Alice Anne Conner as Claire and Dan
Dane as Tanner in the 2003 production of “Photo Flash.”
|As a rule, I don’t lust after younger men.
I’m married to a guy my own age, have six grandchildren, and
I’m well into my AARP years.
But last fall I played
the role of Claire Gray, the 54-year-old former Broadway director
who has a 26-year-old lover in her new life as head of the theater
department at an arts college in Palm Springs, California.
The play was Photo
Flash, written and directed by local novelist and man-about-town
Michael Craft Johnson. More than 1,100 people saw the show over three
weekends at Lakeside Players’ Rhode Opera House.
On stage, my lover,
Tanner, and I did a little innocent smooching in a couple of scenes,
held hands, and mostly danced around the issue of sex. So imagine
my surprise when, while reading Johnson’s latest Claire Gray
novel, Desert Spring—the novelized version of Photo
Flash—I came upon a scene with Claire and Tanner in a swimming
And they weren’t
swimming, I can tell you that.
“I would love
to have been a fly on the wall when you read that scene,” Johnson
said with a big laugh during an interview last week. “Obviously,
we couldn’t put that scene in the play.”
On Sunday at 2 p.m.
at the Kenosha Public Museum, Johnson will talk about his latest novel,
its relationship to the play, and the art of writing a murder mystery.
Even though the book
has different details—and more characters—than the play,
they are essentially the same story: Teacher and director Claire Gray
holds a cast party after her latest triumph. Suddenly, the body of
a famous producer is discovered in her swimming pool, and Claire’s
detection skills are once again called upon. Nobody—not even
Claire’s closest friends and her young lover—is left off
the suspect list.
Johnson said he got
the idea for writing two versions of the same story when researching
the play Laura while writing the second Claire Gray novel,
Desert Winter. Novelist and playwright Vera Caspary wrote the
play, book, and screenplay of the classic murder mystery and made
each telling unique.
just say this,” Johnson said with a smile. “If people
liked the play, they’ll love the book.”
launching is his tenth. He’s written six in his Mark Manning
series, stories that revolve around a gay journalist’s propensity
for stumbling onto murders. This is the third in his Claire Gray series.
“I intend to write one more Mark Manning book and at least one
more in the Claire Gray series,” Johnson said.
And yes, he’s
considering writing another play. “A play is such a living,
breathing thing,” he said, shaking his head. “I know I
told Leon (his partner) to slap me if I ever again said anything about
wanting to write another play, but once that bug has bit, it is with
you for life.”
Johnson has always
loved the theater, and his time on stage goes back to high school
in Elgin, Illinois. He is probably best known by Lakeside audiences
for his marvelous portrayal of Salieri in the 1994 production of Amadeus.
Johnson, who is vice
president of communications at Leblanc Corporation, started his writing
career with the publication of Rehearsing in 1993.
book launching, Johnson said he plans to read from Desert Spring
as well as answer questions and sign books. Some of the members of
the Photo Flash cast will also be at the event. And if you
ask him nicely, he may even go into detail about how he gets his ideas
for certain scenes in swimming pools.
of course. After walking miles and miles in Claire’s designer
shoes, I grew to love her. She’s intelligent, independent almost
to a fault, and deeply devoted to her friends. She’s also a
sucker for romance. In fact, Claire and I have a lot in common, with
I prefer my men with
a few more miles on them.
Copyright 2004 by The Kenosha News, Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Reproduced with permission.
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