An Interview with Carlie St. George

Potrait by Norah Burrows

Carlie St. George: Writer. Pop culture nerd. Californian. Feminist. Cisgender. Silly hat enthusiast. Board game fan. 30-something. Avid-but-distracted reader. Low Stakes Detective, most recent cases: The Mystery of The Missing Lipstick, Where Does Time Go, and What Is My Sexuality, Anyway? Clarion West 2012 graduate. Amateur poker player. Selfie apologist. Firm believer that any story can be improved by adding a murder mystery. Lover of clothes and books and horror and sugar. Sidekick-in-waiting. She/her.

IZ Digital: First off, ‘An Atlas of Names and Footprints and Thoughts Unsaid’ is a great title. Do titles usually come to you as you’re writing a story, or after? Have you ever thought of a title and then decided to try and write a story for it?

Carlie St. George: Thank you! I’d say that for the most part, I find the title after I’ve finished writing the story. But very occasionally, I do come up with one while writing, and I actually did have one title – ‘15 Eulogies Scribbled Inside a Hello Kitty Notebook’ – before I really started the story proper. (Well. Mostly. I did have to change the exact number of eulogies, but unlike most of my work, that story actually started out as a cool title and a vague concept, rather than my usual process: write the story, then cry as I reread it for the 17th time, desperately trying to figure out a title that somehow pulls the whole thing together.)

IZD: When did you start thinking about ‘An Atlas of Names and Footprints and Thoughts Unsaid’? Had you been thinking about these two characters for a long time?

CSG: You know, I hadn’t, actually. I initially wrote this story for an open call to a fantasy romance anthology, and while I quickly became very invested in Cimcim and Yesterday – if that’s not too obnoxious a thing to say about your own characters – I really feel like I learned them as I was writing them. Of course, now I can’t stop thinking about these two and their relationship. I have way too many potential projects on the docket right now, but I admit, I am intrigued by returning to these characters and this world sometime in the future.

IZD: On your website, on your Works Published page, you pair Radiohead tracks to your stories. The brilliant ‘Spider Season, Fire Season’ (Nightmare #94, July 2020) for example is paired with ‘2+2=5 (The Lukewarm)’. How does music, generally, feed into your writing? Do you need music as you create?

CSG: Sometimes. I’m a bit inconsistent. I have a Mostly Instrumentals playlist that I often listen to while writing, but sometimes I need silence to figure out a tricky section, and other times I want something bouncy and fun just to get me energized. 

As far as Radiohead goes, I always pick the song after I’ve finished writing the story, and it’s usually more of an instinctual choice than a methodical one. I just generally pick whatever makes the clearest music video in my head.

IZD: What tools, if any, are essential for you when you write?

CSG: I definitely prefer writing on a laptop to a notebook. I can spend a lot of time reworking a single sentence, and I get frustrated trying to do that while handwriting. Too many cross-outs, and I’m just gonna want a fresh clean page, which is absolutely a waste of paper. Beyond that, though, it’s pretty much just my headphones and a soda if I have one on hand. I don’t know if sugar is an essential tool, exactly, but I’m pretty fond of it.

IZD: You have published close to 30 stories. What are the most interesting things you’ve learned about yourself as a writer over the last decade?

CSG: Oh, God. Um. Well, I don’t know how interesting it is, necessarily, but putting a collection together will certainly let you know just how often you revisit certain themes and tropes. Which, it’s not like I didn’t already know that I often write about found families, platonic relationships, and escaping abusive homes and situations, but when you start going over your stories and listing out all the central ideas…well. Yeah. You do start worrying that maybe you need to diversify your interests.

I’ve also learned that I rarely find myself writing in third person omniscient, probably because I struggle maintaining a clear, consistent voice (or voices, rather) in that particular POV. On the other hand, it’s been lovely to learn that editors will buy my stories in second person, despite the fact that some people are very averse to that POV. Second person is definitely the POV I slip into the most easily, and I just enjoy writing in it so much.

IZD: Which writers do you look to for inspiration? What stories have lodged themselves in your mind recently?

CSG: I’m regretfully behind in my 2022 short story reading, but I did recently read Suzan Palumbo’s ‘Douen’ in The Dark, and it’s fantastic, just like every other story I’ve ever read by her. There are so many wonderful short story writers doing great work out there. A few of my personal favorites: Eugenia Triantafyllou, Alix E. Harrow, A.C. Wise, L Chan, and Kelly Sandoval. (Also! I’m cheating by switching to novels, I know, but I recently read Siren Queen by Nghi Vo and it’s magnificent. Highly recommended.)

Another awesome writer I’d like to single out is John Wiswell, not just because he’s super talented – although he is – but because reading this thread about the long journey to publish his Nebula-nominated story ‘For Lack of Bed’ is actually what inspired me to continue submitting ‘An Atlas of Names and Footprints and Thoughts Unsaid’. I wrote this story years ago, liked it, believed in it – but it just kept getting rejection after rejection, and I’d given up hope that I’d ever find a home for it. After reading John’s excellent thread, though, I decided to keep searching and submitting, and the next place I tried out, well. Here we are!

IZD: You Fed Us to the Roses (Robot Dinosaur Press, 2022) is your debut short story collection. How did you go about selecting and sequencing that? Did you see any of your works in a different light when you went back to them? Most crucially, is it an awesome Radiohead mixtape?

CSG: I primarily write contemporary dark fantasy and horror, so I first focused on those stories and threw out, say, the odd sf story or second world fantasy or noir. Then I narrowed down by focusing on those tropes and themes I mentioned before, trying to make the collection as cohesive (but hopefully not repetitive) as possible. I had an especially fun time deciding the order of the stories. I very much thought of it like making a mix CD, which I used to do a fair amount. 

And yes, I like to think it’s a decent Radiohead mix! Hail to the Thief and A Moon Shaped Pool are definitely the most represented albums, if those happen to be your jam. But there are always Radiohead songs I’m surprised I don’t have a story for yet. I definitely need to write something for ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘A Wolf at the Door (It Girl. Rag Doll)’ for sure. Also ‘The Butcher’. Also ‘Talk Show Host.”

IZD: What is the question that you always wish you’ll be asked, but never are? What’s your answer?

CSG: Oh, that’s difficult. Hm. I get asked about the Radiohead thing a lot for obvious reasons, but I don’t usually get asked about other music I Iike or that I’m currently listening to. My Recently Added playlist, for instance, is somewhat…eclectic. It’s a mix of bouncy Eurovision bops, a bunch of great instrumentals from The Crowned Clown and Nobody Knows, a few classical pieces, some pop and alternative songs I found while watching Beyond Evil fanvids, the theme song for A Black Lady Sketch Show (Season 3), and the score from Six on Broadway. I like to think it’s a delightfully weird little mix, myself.

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