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Carly Miller’s story “Inside the Smoker” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, coming February 20th.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I was born in Michigan, which is part of the Midwest but sometimes does feel a little different from where I currently live. Michigan has a lot of forests, a lot of lakes and rivers. Now I live in Illinois, which feels to me more like the essence of the Midwest. It has the fields, the huge skies, in some places even remnants of the great prairies. The skies of Illinois really influenced Inside the Smoker—there is a scene where the main character is sitting outside gazing up at the stars. I used to climb onto the roof of one of the buildings at my college, which I’m not sure you’re supposed to do, exactly, and I’d spend a lot of time there, just looking up. When I moved to Illinois there was a lot more sky than in Michigan—the trees tend to block it out—and it was completely startling, unsettling. The Midwest sky is an important part of almost everything I write.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
I’m almost certain this is a very unpopular opinion, but for me the it is the winters. I know that sounds…absurd. But the winters here are so fierce—they’re awe-inspiring. I’ll walk out the door completely draped in coats and scarves to go to a night class in February, and every single time the sheer force of the cold takes my breath away. I think this is a unique disposition; I hate the summers. Midwestern summers are the least compelling aspect of the Midwest.
How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?
Michigan has the great lakes, of course, but also so many inland lakes, and rivers too. I always joke that you can’t drive more than 20 minutes without hitting water. I spent so much time in the water as a kid. In the spring, as soon as the ice melted we would start swimming, so I have pictures of my cousins and I swimming in the lake by my grandmother’s home in March. So I can’t get water out of my head. I almost never write anything that’s void of water; I’m just not interested in that.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
Writing is a lot of work, obviously. I’m a twelve draft person. I can’t write a good first draft to save my life, but I’m okay with that because I’m always changing my mind about how I want a story or a poem to go. So it gives me something to do. And when I just can’t write, I don’t make myself. I go do something else. I feed my brain something different. I’m a psychology student, so I’ll hang out in the lab if I need a break.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I can’t yet. I normally stop working on a project because I’m obsessing so much it’s making me sick and then someone, one of my friends—bless them—will tell me to stop.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
There are too many. I will say that right now I’m working on a project which is influenced and inspired by Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life.
What’s next for you?
Well. Graduate studies? I hope.
Where can we find more information about you?
I have a Facebook page—Carly Anna Miller. I also can be reached through Unify Galesburg’s website.