Today’s interview is with author Carla Sarett. I “met” her through Facebook and enjoyed reading her collection Nine Romantic Stories Below is our interview in which we discuss short stories and their place in contemporary fiction writing.

WITTLE There is a theory that an artist gets his or her talent bug at around age 12. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

SARETT When I was a girl, I wanted to be an actress, and writing was the last thing on my mind!  I got the “bug” to write short stories after my mother’s death a few years ago. (I had written screenplays earlier on, but that came from a different side of me.) I was given a journal as a gift, and tried to write memories and instead started writing short stories.  After that, writing became more than a bug—let’s call it a late-life love.

WITTLE What books most influence your writing?

SARETT Dickens for his endlessly varied characters; Kipling’s  stories for their ironic tone and masterful storytelling; P.G. Wodehouse for laugh out loud humor and inventive vocabulary; and the Yiddish writers with their blend of the mystical and the everyday.  I read lots of history, and the “voice” of history writers like Jan Morris is a big influence too.

As for the living writers, I try to avoid reading contemporary short story masters like Deborah Eisenberg when I am writing—but they’ve no doubt seeped into my brain!

WITTLE From your work, I get the impression you are mainly a short story writer. What appeals to you the most about this genre?

SARETT Well, I love the form, and if you don’t write what you love to read, you’re sunk.

Why do I love short stories?

First, I’m not psychological and I get bored when writers “explain” characters in terms of personal history.  It doesn’t appeal to me.  I’d rather know characters through their stories.  Second, I enjoy super-tight structure, and that’s easier to accomplish in short fiction.   And finally, I love hiding things, hinting, revealing the shapes but not their insides. That’s what short stories do best.

WITTLE Some say the short story is dead and only other writers read short stories. Do you think this is true?

SARETT Not at all!  Mobile devices make short stories ideal reading—and if you combine that with people’s ever-pressed schedules, I think that we’re ripe for a rebirth in short fiction.  After all, we do have over  4000+ literary magazines online—and some of them publish darned good fiction.

But yes, there’s been a trend toward what is best termed “writing school” stories, recognized by the constant use of the present tense.   I guess that writers like these stories, but regular readers, well, not so much.  So potential readers get a few too many such pieces, and think, oh, I don’t like short stories. But that’s a fad, and like other fads, is sure to change.

WITTLE What do you think is the key to a successful short story?

SARETT Ideally, a story has something to say that’s fresh, original and true.  So, the styles that express that vision can differ – no two writers could be more different than, say, Kipling and Salinger, and yet they’re both so wonderful.   The other key, in my mind is a great ending.  It’s like figure skating – the performance can be great, but if the ending isn’t clean, the story falls flat on its face.

WITTLE Who are some of your literary heroes and why?

SARETT I worship Muriel Spark because I think her writing approaches perfection, and her religious/mystical content is amazing.  Spark excelled in novellas, a form I love— she can  be funny and lyrical at the same time.

Willa Cather is the writer whose content I admire most.  I’m awestruck by the depth of feeling in the late novels and her non-standard use of plot.

My other constant star is Dickens, because of his humanity.   Every one of his characters is different, recognizable, and has a soul of his/her own.  He never discards a character.  It’s a world in which all people count – that’s the world I want to live in.

But I read voraciously so there are many other writers in my pantheon—lots of comic writers, like Dawn Powell  and Ring Lardner get neglected, but are fantastic.

WITTLE Could you briefly describe your drafting style? Are you a get the story out from beginning to end and then go in and start picking or do you go sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph?

SARETT I have a great time when I write.  I start with a story in my head and my first draft flows quickly (by my standards.)   But invariably, I’ll re-think the arc or change the voice until it comes to life. And I tinker around a lot with word choice until it “feels” right.  I let characters take me in different directions.  But I do spent lots of time working on the ending – that’s always the toughest part.

I also like to put a story aside, let it rest, and pick it up as a reader might and seeing how it flows.  Most of the stories in Nine Romantic Stories went through another edit on this basis.

WITTLE  How do you know your story is ready to be published?

SARETT I read it to others and I read it aloud to myself.  To me, if a story doesn’t “sound” right when it’s read aloud, something’s wrong.   I will hear it if it’s false or sounds imitative (which is another form of false.)   With comedy, if I’m not hearing laughs, guess what, it’s not funny.

I submit stories often.  If a story gets rejected more than once, I take a good hard look at it, and think, what’s missing?   (And yes, it’s usually the ending.)

WITTLE  When you are putting a collection of short stories together, how do you pick the order the stories will go in?

SARETT Hmm, that’s something I need to figure out.  I don’t pay much attention to the order of stories in the collections that I read because I flip around, and read the short ones first.  But in ebooks, I guess order does matter.

WITTLE What are you working on now?

SARETT I’m working on a short novel based on characters whom I introduced in the short stories “Career Girl” (in the anthology, Love Hurts!,) “Skinny Girl, “ and “Bonny Lass” (in Nine Romantic Stories.)  It’s a romantic coming-of-age/comedy.  I’m having a lot of fun with this character, and seeing where she takes me.  It also allows me to write funny scenes that I couldn’t fit into a short story.  With a longer form, you can have these comic detours as long as you can get back on the road.

Many thanks to Carla for taking time to answer my questions. Below is information to find her and her books.

Carla Sarett’s Bio:

Carla Sarett is a Ph.D. who has worked in academia, TV, film and market research.  Her short  stories have been published in over twenty literary magazines.


Carla Sarett’s Blog:

Carla Sarett’s Books can be found at:

Nine Romantic Stories

Crazy Lovebirds:  Five Super-Short Stories