Issue 042 Author Interview: Caite Sajwaj and “The Wish”

Tuesdays at LSQ are kind of a big deal, because each week we drop an exclusive interview with one of our current authors. Today let us treat you to our delightful chat with Caite Sajwaj, author of “The Wish.”
LSQ: Reading the end of this story put a huge smile on my face. It reminds me of my favorite fairy tales, the ones with happy endings. What was your inspiration for it?
Caite: When I was very young—seven or eight, probably—my mother took me to a school book fair and I picked out a collection of short stories called “Instead of Three Wishes” by Megan Whalen Turner. Those stories have been knocking around in my head for decades at this point, and “The Wish” is very much an ode to the titular story of the collection.
There’s this trope in a lot of fairy tales that fairies and witches and whatever else are very transactional with their favors. The miller’s daughter owes Rumpelstiltskin her firstborn child. The Little Mermaid owes the sea witch her voice, and sometimes more. In most fairy tales, you probably couldn’t ask for a piece of gum or bum a cigarette without trading your soul or something. “Instead of Three Wishes” explores the flip side of this trope, and that was my intention with “The Wish” as well. The only thing I hadn’t figured out when I started was the ending. I fully intended for Cressida to spite Rowan with an airtight wish that he couldn’t misconstrue, but she apparently had her own ideas…
LSQ: Your descriptions are so vivid, especially of smell, that I was ready to get off that bus with Cressida too. Do you jot down interesting things you experience that you think you might put into a story later?
Caite: All those sensory details are pulled from my own experiences, but I don’t usually write them down. I prefer to let these experiences age a bit before I use them. Memory is fallible, but when writing fiction that can be a good thing! A fuzzy memory is easier to embellish and repurpose. Cressida’s original description of the bus is inspired by an hour I spent in transit from my hotel to the airport. The man behind me reeked of smoke and he kept coughing on the back of my head. I felt like I was hot-boxed with the embodiment of pestilence. So those feelings of disgust and claustrophobia became the inside of the bus.
LSQ: What’s the first thing that comes to you when you’re plotting a story? A particular scene, a character, a word or phrase?
Caite: The first thing that came to my mind when plotting this story was a phrase, and it was “the final resting place of a thousand ancient farts.” Just kidding. Okay, I’ll be serious now. For me, stories always start out with a scene. In “The Wish,” it was Rowan giving the wish/business card to Cressida. Once you have that initial scene, the rest of the plot comes from asking questions. Why did Rowan give her the wish? What does she do with it? In the first scene of the piece I’m working on now, a man steals a witch’s handbag and I won’t say any more than that.
LSQ: This was a fun, complex, satisfying short story. Do you have a preferred story length in your writing?
Caite: Novels are my first love, but writing short stories is a great way to hone your craft and feel the satisfaction of actually finishing something. The authors I love most—Kelly Link, Holly Black, Neil Gaiman—are masters of long and short form and I aspire to the same.