Colbert: Why do you write short stories? America likes big. Go big or go home. We like big, huge, huge, huge novels. 

Saunders: I’ll tell you why. If you imagine this, let’s say you were madly in love with somebody and your mission was to tell the person that you love them. So here’s two scenarios: one is you can take a weeklong train trip with the person, take your time, you’ll be in boring situations, beautiful scenery, everything. That’s a novel.

Colbert: Sounds good, sounds really good.

Saunders: The second scenario is she’s stepping on the train and you’ve got three minutes. So you have to make all that declaration in three minutes. That would be a short story.

Colbert: Can I get on the train with her?

Saunders: No, you’ve just got to shout it as she goes.

Colbert: Why can’t I get on the train?

Saunders: Because it’s a short story. You’re not allowed. You have to end it in eight pages and get out.

Colbert: But this is the short story I want to read — where is she going? Why can’t I go with her? We’re on to something here. Does she love me back? I’ve got to know!

Saunders: I don’t know yet! Sometimes a short story will just end with that question — does she love me back? So it’s a very special kind of beauty.

Saunders will be at the library with another eminent talk show host, Dick Cavett, next Tuesday, Feb. 26 to talk about his much-lauded latest story collection, “Tenth of December.”