In Joanna Scott's new story collection, Everybody Loves Somebody, characters search for love across the 20th century.

The book's title had me humming Dean Martin's 1960s hit. Is that the soundtrack you heard when you were writing these stories?

I'm finding more and more I'm humming as I'm writing. Old songs, new songs, they find their way into fiction.

Dino's hit is sentimental, unlike your stories. What gives?

The struggle to find love, to break out of isolation, is tough. I don't mean the title ironically. It's a beautiful phrase. I just want to say, "Yes, we do, we do."

Your first story takes place in 1917, the last in 2000. Is this collection meant to be a brief history of the 20th century?

I had it in mind all along. These stories were written over the last decade. I was determined to be patient. I waited until I stumbled on the next story, which I would then write with this grab bag of a theme in mind.

What was the inspiration?

I happened to be reading through an old New York Times. At the bottom of the front page was a personal ad from a brother beseeching his sister to get in touch. I'm always struck, reading old journals, letters, newspapers, how intensely people lived their lives and the abruptness with which they disappear. I explore the meaning of their lives, I guess, in order to explore the meaning of our lives.

You've written seven novels and two short story collections. Do you prefer one form over the other?

I felt frustrated by my early short story efforts. Then I fell into a novel that excited me, and I thought, "That's it—I'm a novelist." I started writing stories again when I had my first child because I didn't have time to sustain the kind of concentration needed for a novel. Because I love changing form, I will always return to the short story. But I love being absorbed, waking each morning and knowing I have work to do. Otherwise, I feel unemployed.

You say that after you've published nine books?

I know, I'm obsessed—everybody tells me.

Writing keeps me from biting my nails. It's what I've chosen as the career for my hands.