Before beginning the interview below, you may want to go back and read a previous post entitled The Compleat Cases of MORGAN TAYLOR. Morgan Taylor was the actress-sleuth created by Susan Sussman and Sarajane Avidon who appeared in two well-regarded mystery novels before the death of Sarajane in 2006.

Susan Sussman

   After the profile of the Morgan Taylor the detective had been completed, I got in touch with Susan Sussman, who quickly agreed to answer a few questions for me:

Q. Can you say something about your friendship and collaborative work with Sarajane Avidon, especially the Morgan Taylor books? And my most sincere condolences on the loss of someone who appears to have been a best friend.

A. I met Sarajane many years back, between our junior and senior year of high school, when we were both enrolled in the Cherub Program at Northwestern University — Sarajane was in theater, and I was in Radio/TV/Film. I was from Chicago and she was from Parkersburg, West Virginia.

   The books came about when Sarajane was battling cancer, unable to act for a while. She was feeling depressed and I suggested that, since she was sprawled on the sofa not doing much of anything, perhaps she’d like to write a book with me about a Chicago actress. It was the perfect creative outlet for her at the perfect time.

Q. As I understand it, her input was largely, but not limited to, that of providing and describing the background of being an actor and the world of the stage, would that be correct?

Sarajane Avidon

A. How we worked was, I’d write a scene or chapter, and Sarajane would read it. Then we’d discuss it over refreshments (there was always food involved) and she would say something like “You didn’t mention theater dust. You must mention theater dust.” Then she’d arrange for us to go backstage someplace so I could smell and experience theater dust and describe it in the book.

   She was a brilliant and careful reader and brought a richness to the theatrical and angst-riddled world of Morgan Taylor.

Q. Are you a long-time mystery reader yourself?

A. I’ve been reading mysteries since I was very little. Cut my teeth on Nancy Drew mysteries. (The original old ones. She was much more independent and inventive in those years.) I love mysteries, always have, although the books on my nightstand run a wide gambit.

Q. What authors from the past or present are and have been your favorites?

A. For true-to-life characters, Stephen King; for humanity, Ray Bradbury; for humor, Susan Isaacs and Elaine Viets; for razor-sharp political commentary, Carl Hiaasen; for scary stuff, Tess Garritsen…. the list goes on and on. My nightstand is piled high with fiction and non-fiction, screenplays, plays and some sheet music I keep promising myself I’ll learn to play.

Q. Was Morgan Taylor based on any real life person? If so, was this person aware of this?

A. Morgan was entirely a figment of my imagination. As a writer, I much prefer life behind the scenes. Sarajane, the consummate actress, was all about finding the brightest spotlight in which to stand. Sarajane told me that, after the first book was published, she received calls from friends of hers who were convinced they were one character or another in the book. She never told them otherwise. But this happens with many books. Friends think they are my heroes and heroines and are certain they know the villains.

Joan Cusak

Q. If the Morgan Taylor stories were to be picked up by Hollywood for movies or TV, what actress would you most enjoy see playing her in the role?

A. I would love to see Joan Cusack in the role. In fact, I think she’d be knock-out in a weekly series based on Morgan Taylor (…sort of a Murder, She Wrote for the younger set.) Joan has the humor, the vulnerability and the talent to bring Morgan alive and make us care what happens to her.

Q. The books were received quite well, from the excerpts from the reviews. Would you agree?

A. We were blessed with wonderful and lively reviews, and our appearances in bookstores were always a great hit. What we did was act a scene from the book. Sarajane was a gifted actress and I was a superb straightman.

Q. A third book was mentioned as being in progress. Is there a chance that it will be completed?

A. At the moment, a play Sarajane and I wrote — Woman Standing — is in the hands of a Chicago theater. It was a labor of love for us both and was based on the life of Chicago artist Shelly Canton. I’m waiting to hear from the theater on that. Meanwhile, I’ve just published a children’s book and am under contract for another. I have all the research for the next Morgan Taylor book, and have outlined two others.

   But at this moment I can’t honestly say what will happen. I’m just taking things as they seem to be ready for me to do. The play was a really big push — Sarajane died soon after our second reading done with professional actors — and I’ve just recently finished incorporating her ‘notes’ from the reading into the final play. So these children’s books are like a breather for me before I gear up for the next novel.

Q. Is there anything you’d like to say or add in closing?

A. I haven’t yet been able to access your blog, so I hope my angle of response is what you were looking for. Sarajane Avidon was a fabulous actress and friend and those of us who knew her are richer for it.

Q. Your responses were exactly what I was looking for. Thanks very much for taking the time to reply.

A. You’re welcome!