Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Interview with Carla Sarett

TLY:  Today, TLY welcomes author Carla Sarret.  We begin by asking:

Certain writers—Hemingway, for example—are famous for writing standing up.  Truman Capote famously described himself as a “horizontal” writer?  What position do you write in?

CARLA:  I literally write standing up, since I use a standing desk.  I think standing up makes me more alert, too, more prickly.  But for casual writing, like blogs, or this interview, I can sit.  Seriously, I can.

TLY:  Do you have a favorite city or region you return to in your writing?

CARLA: I am a New Yorker at heart, but I write more about Philadelphia.  It’s saturated with history, with layers of history, and there’s something magically hidden in all of its narrow alleys.  I am obsessed with historical re-enactment, history re-created, and Philadelphia is all about reliving its past. After all, it hit its peak of fame and glory in 1800, and it’s been downhill from there. 

TLY:  If you wouldn’t mind a bit of free association, what characters immediately come to mind when you hear the following:  London, Paris, Rome.  And why?

CARLA:  For me, London is Dickens, and Dickens is London—so invariably, my mind turns to David Copperfield, Nickolas Nickleby, Mrs, Jellaby, Mr. MIcawber, and the others who live with me daily.

Paris, Colette’s Cheri, Gigi.  Colette herself, who somehow seems to embody my notions of the city.  And Bel-Ami, the social-climbing hero of de Maupassant’s novel of the same name. 

Rome, well, that’s the lost Americans of Henry James, and Charlotte Stant in particular, from The Golden Bowl.  Recently, I have been researching the circle of American 19th century female sculptors of “new women” who lived in Rome; and learned that character of Charlotte was modeled on the sexual intrigues of famous lesbian actress, Charlotte Cushman. 

TLY:  Have you ever wanted to travel to a country so you could write about it?  Why?

CARLA: Not a particular country, but I would like to live on a remote island, very tiny, cut off from the world in the way Sarah Orne Jewett writes of the islands off the coast of Maine.  Someplace with its own, very old, culture, that’s been allowed to survive, but isn’t impoverished or damaged.  (All suggestions welcome.)

TLY:  What inspired you to write the story “Forever Unread,” in which a writer finds her tastes and aesthetic sensibilities at odds with publishing trends?

CARLA:That piece of frivolity was written for a website, Lost in Fiction, which asked me to submit for its Lost in Romance Month. At the time   I’d  recently submitted another story, one of my favorites called “Mandolinata” and the editor of a “literary” journal had written back to say how much he admired the writing, but he felt the piece was not “dark” enough for his journal—which made me giggle. So,I decided to poke some fun at this current (to my mind, mannered) preference for so-called edgy fiction, and also to educate readers a bit about some of my literary heroines like Laurie Colwin and Nancy Lemann.

TLY:  Your work is infused with a high degree of humor.  What sorts of things make you laugh? 

CARLA:  Oh my, such a long list.  Writers? Ring Lardner, P.G. Wodehouse, Muriel Spark, Evelyn Waugh, Dawn Powell, Mark Twain, and of contemporary writers, Maria Semple and Joe Keenan. Old British “Ealing Studio” films, Preston Sturgess, Billy Wilder comedies,  Elaine May-Mike Nichols routines, Doris Day comedies, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” I get a laugh out of Larry David and Eddie Murphy. Things people say crack me up, especially when they are being serious.  Most self-help books and advice anything makes me laugh. Taking life too seriously is inherently comical. But I never, ever make jokes.  Don’t ask me why, I dislike them.

TLY:  In “No Old-Fashioned Romance,” one observation struck me in which one of the characters—the mother—says, “That's the real love story.  That's the one that no one else can see.”  What sort of love escapes notice or is invisible to us?

CARLA:  Well, that particular story is about my mother, and her uncanny ability to see the unseen, to care (passionately) about people whom others overlook.  But in general, I think we have a deep emotional connection to the past, to the family we never knew and to people whom we have lost. Love doesn’t vaporize with death.  So that continuing love is often invisible, it is powerful, it guides our lives; but in our culture, it is hard to speak of.  I think that explains Americans’ new fascination with psychics, and the paranormal: we want to express that love.

TLY:  You are a great champion of women’s writing.  What does “women’s writing” mean to you?  Why is it important that we celebrate women authors?

CARLA: Well, more accurately, I am a champion of women’s art in part because historically so much of women’s presence in the visual arts was later erased, forgotten.  So, as a girl, I grew up with a distorted  historical timeline, that snipped out, say, Judith Leyster (whose works were then attributed to Franz Hals.). So, correcting that record is important. In literature, women were more fairly treated.  But again, there’s a sense of relative inequity in the critical rankings  When I compare Willa Cather to, say, Ernest Hemingway, the latter seems adolescent; yet Hemingway enjoys far broader critical recognition than Cather.  Critics have devalued so-called women’s writers like  Daphne du Maurier in favor of male hardboiled fiction—I enjoy both, incidentally.  Then, we have the same erasing of female voices:  the feminist novels of Helen Hull, the mysterious works of Barbra Comyns,  Dawn Powell’s comedies, and on it goes.  I have been reading E.H. Young, who writes so eloquently about female experience, especially in her masterpiece, “Miss Mole”—why isn’t this book better known? But there is progress: Library of America released its female noir writers, who were a revelation to me.  So, there’s a joy in finding these forgotten women, and yes, celebrating them—and for that, I also thank my mother.

TLY:  Carla, it has been a pleasure.  Thank you for taking the time. 

Carla Sarett’s fiction and essays have appeared in magazines such as Crack the Spine, Page and Spine, The Big Jewel, Loch Raven Review, Blue Lyra Review (nominated for Best American Essay,) Skirt! as well as short fiction anthologies. Carla has a Ph.D. from The University of Pennsylvania, and has enjoyed success in TV, film and market research. She blogs at http://carlasarett.blogspot.com. You can find several of her story collections on Amazon, including Strange Courtships: Nine Romantic Stories, Spooky and Kooky Tales, and, for those with an interest in forgotten artists, The Art Collection: Three Short Stories. She has recently completed a novel set in the world of Philadelphia’s re-enactors.


  1. Always worth listening to -such creativity and originality coming from 1 brain

  2. I am in complete agreement. Best wishes


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