writer pens latest mystery,
plans to direct play
by Kenosha News Staff
Photo by Bill Siel
The Kenosha News
February 5, 2003
This writer needs a flow
chart to keep track of all his projects. Hes a literary juggling
act. Over the past two years, Michael Craft Johnson has written
four books and a play.
Ive been busy,
understated the prolific Kenosha-based author, who has carved out
a niche in the gay-mystery genre with his popular Mark Manning series
and is building a readership among mainstream mystery fans with
his Claire Gray series.
The Mark Manning series
features a gay investigative reporter. The Claire Gray series features
a successful Broadway director who moves to Palm Springs, California,
to teach theater. The second installment in the Claire Gray series,
Desert Winter, has just been published. The first was issued
last year. And the thirdalready writtenis due out next
year. The sixth installment in the Mark Manning mystery series was
published last year. And Johnson has written a play, titled Photo
Flash, which will be produced by Kenoshas Lakeside Players
in the fall.
His most recent books
have been published by St. Martins Press, a major New York
publishing house, and they are sold in bookstores across the nation.
Ive been writing
a lot over the last two years, said Johnson, whose pen name
is Michael Craft. The seventh Mark Manning mystery has been outlined
and contracted with St. Martins. When its published
next year, I will have about one million words in print. Its
been a long haul, and now Im in a bit of a lull.
Johnson, who is vice president
for communications at G. Leblanc Corporation, somehow manages to
find time to write prodigiouslyand draw positive reviews from
book critics. If you dont make the time to write, it
wont get done, he said.
Although the Manning and
Gray series are separate, they contain strong plot ties. For example,
some characters appear in both.
In Desert Winter,
protagonist Claire Gray is directing her first major play at the
college where she now teaches, a production of the suspense classic
Laura. She needs a particular kind of clock as part
of the stage setting, Johnson said. She discovers that
she might be able to borrow it from an eccentric antique collector.
The collector agrees to lend her the priceless clock, but when she
goes to his estate to pick it up, she stumbles on his body in the
kitchen. Its quickly determined that he was murdered.
And while Johnson was
writing that book, he himself stumbled, figuratively, on the idea
for a play. I was working on the outline for Desert Winter,
doing plot research, and I looked into Laura, he said.
It had been a play, a book and a movie. I read the book, then
I read the play, and then I watched the movie, and I saw how it
translated from one medium to the other. No two were exactly
alike. There were similarities, but also some striking differencesdifferent
characters, different narrators. It was very instructive, and very
Johnson had considered
writing a play for a long time. He has acted in several Lakeside
Players productions and directed one. And his books often relate
to the theater. His research into Laura gave him an idea:
Why not write a play that would also become a book?
I had the germ of
a plot, and I conceived the third Claire Gray mystery, Desert
Spring, as the basis for a play. I used the plot twiceas
a stage play and a novel. He opted to write the play first
because its a more compact medium. I thought it would
be easier to expand and novelize a play than it would be to condense
and dramatize a novel.
Writing the play was both
challenging and exciting, he said. A stage play is far more
restricting than a novel in terms of writing, simply because, by
and large, it takes place in a single room and in real time. Theres
no jumping around from one place to another or from one time to
another. You cant get into characters heads. Basically,
everything you know is what people say. I found the drafting process
for the play a lot of fun. It went quickly. I had already meticulously
outlined the plot, which is how I work, and when I got down to putting
the play on paper, it took only about three weeks.
Over the years, he had
read hundreds of scripts in addition to the plays in which he performed,
so he has a well-honed sense of stagecraft. Now Johnson will cast
and direct Photo Flash. Lakeside Players will produce the
play in September as the opening production of its 30th season,
which makes the event a sort of double celebration.
The plot of the playand
the bookinvolves a famous movie producer who attends one of
Claire Grays plays and winds up dead in her swimming pool.
Some of the circumstances point to Claire herself as having
had a motive, Johnson said. The play has eight characters.
Four men and four women and one interior. Two acts and one
intermission. Its a very conventionally structured play.
Itll be a thrill
to see his characters come to life on stage. Ive been
recruiting everyone I can think of who I want to audition for the
play. I intend to deliver a first-class production, from the casting
down to the set design.
For information on auditions,
which will be held in May, e-mail
the author from his Web site, www.michaelcraft.com.
by The Kenosha News, Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Reproduced with permission.