ONEONTA, N.Y. • It took close to seven years for J.K. Rowling to deliver the first Harry Potter saga. Flaubert laboured for five agonizing years over Madame Bovary. And then, of course, there are the 16 years Jane Austen reportedly spent writing Pride and Prejudice. George Saunders, a brilliant U.S. writer now dramatically reaching new heights, occupies his own niche. It took him more than a dozen years to complete one of the short stories in his critically acclaimed new book, Tenth of December. But he’s characteristically matter-of-fact about it. He’s also refreshingly laid-back about his sudden explosion into fame — the kind of fame that has just triggered a New York Times Magazine cover story cheeky enough to declare that “George Saunders has written the best book you’ll read this year.” Meanwhile, here he is, on this wintry afternoon, modestly explaining why a story can take years to get right.