Interview by Emily Stokes
Craig Ledoux is a writer and visual artist from Keene, New Hampshire. He received his B.A. in Art and English Literature from Saint Michael’s College and his M.F.A. in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. He was the art editor and a senior staff member of LUMINA Volume XII. Craig was a reader for the Gurfein Fellowship and has conducted interviews for LUMINA and The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. His work has appeared in Black Heart Magazine, LUMINA, and The Onion River Review. Craig is the Editor in Chief and founder of Madcap Review.
You have a background in both visual art and fiction. Do you see any similarities between the two or feel that your tastes somehow translate across mediums?
They’ve always felt separate to me. I began drawing when I was a child, and grew up with this idea that I would be an artist one day. It was my whole identity.
I read voraciously because television didn’t factor into my life until I was 9 or 10, yet, until high school, it never occurred to me that I could write too. Books were like music, or like cooking: I appreciated them, but I had this sort of mental block which kept me from creating my own material. I thought of writing as something other people did. In high school, something switched on for me. I was reading Neuromancer by William Gibson and all of a sudden I realized, “He’s responsible for this. He’s choosing these words.” Of course, I already knew this on some level, but now it was calling to me. It felt like an invitation to start writing.
For me, art is a refuge when my writing isn’t going well. Inversely, when I need a break from painting, I turn to storytelling. Of course, I’m always evolving as a creator, and I’d like to find the perfect synthesis between the two mediums. A number of graphic novelists have done this. Artists like Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, René Magritte, and Jean-Michel Basquiat have also struck that balance. For now, my art and my writing remain separate entities. They might inspire each other, but they don’t inform each other—at least, not in a way I’m able to see at this point.
You mentioned several artists as well as the writer William Gibson. What other writers do you feel have had an influence on you as an artist and reader?
I’m going to have to be careful here. Between the people I should recognize, need to recognize, and feel pressured to mention, my answer runs the risk of becoming an Oscar speech. Vladimir Nabokov is the inescapable choice. His work, specifically Lolita, fundamentally changed my view of writing. I found myself shaking the first time I read that book. I felt so attached to Humbert, and that disturbed me, but the shaking wasn’t fear or disgust: it was adrenaline. I had never come across an author who so thoroughly took the English language and bent it to his will. Another writer I should mention is Charles Bukowski. I’ve only cried a handful of times in my adult life, but “Bluebird” puts me on the verge of tears every time I read it. There are many ways to define a good piece of writing, but few writers are able to provoke a physical reaction in me. Other writers I admire are Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Anthony Burgess. I could recite more names, but I think the conductor is starting to clear his throat.
What are three things in life (tangible or intangible) that you can’t do without?
Tangible answers are rarely as fun as the intangible, so let’s address the latter. As a creator, inspiration is essential to me. Without that drive, I imagine the world would lose its luster. Friendship always amazes me. You end up with this group of people, sometimes inexplicably, and they turn out to be the most loyal, interesting people in your life. Of course, sometimes they turn out to be shitheads, but there’s much to be said for variety. I think my final choice would be comfort. That one seems self-explanatory to me. Those are my answers. Ask me tomorrow, and I might say family, love, and adventure. I wouldn’t be lying.
What interested you initially about starting your own literary magazine? What was the catalyst that actually made it happen?
I was the Art Editor of LUMINA, a literary journal published by M.F.A. students at Sarah Lawrence College. I was also a fiction reader and a senior staff member, so I was pretty deeply involved in the process. I loved the discovery. I loved every second of the experience.
By creating—with the help of some very talented friends, mind you—my own lit journal, I have access to exciting, undiscovered writers. I can reach out to the artists who inspire me. To me, creation is all about discovery. If you make yourself an island, if you try to aspire to that image of the lonely writer, your work will suffer for it. I wanted to be connected with the world, and this seemed the best way to do it.
What advice can you give to those who are interested in submitting to Madcap? Or submitting work in general?
Send us work you’re proud of. We’re looking for a spark, for something that makes us hold our breath. If you’re unsure of a piece, chances are we’ll see that uncertainty in your work. If you don’t have faith in your story, your poem, your artwork, it’s probably not ready yet.
We’ll be putting together a FAQ in the coming months, but for now I have a single piece of advice to offer: read our submission guidelines. Ignoring them won’t mean an automatic rejection, but a grumpy editor will be harder to win over. The FAQ will mainly cover technical information and rules of etiquette. As for what to send? I’m not sure how to define a great story or piece of art, but if you believe in your work, that’s reason enough for me to consider it.
What is/are some of the best bits of writing (or life) advice that you’ve ever gotten?
I’ve always felt that the best lessons come from personal experience. I can’t trace my evolution as a creator or as a human being to a singular piece of advice. I believe life is too complex for that. As a person, the best lesson I’ve learned is patience. It’s easy to let life take over, to make you feel anxious or betrayed, but if you can step back for just a moment, more opportunities will present themselves, and the anxiety, the betrayal: it will all just melt away. As a writer, my greatest discovery has been freedom. You can listen to “write what you know” or “show don’t tell,” but ultimately you have to find your own truth. There are many ways to write, and there are countless rules to uphold or defy. Experience will teach you the value of these rules, and it will inform your own style. The critics of writing programs argue that great writing can’t be taught, and maybe there’s truth to that statement. Great writing can, however, be guided. So find your guides, find the people who will lead you forward, but remember, writing is ultimately not a democratic process. You will be the final arbiter. You will be free to write as badly or as well as you choose. Be patient with yourself. Grow. When your story is finished, or your poem, or your painting, you will know. Trust yourself, but never be afraid to make mistakes.
I like what you say about knowing when a piece is “done”; how would you define or describe that moment and how do you know when it’s occurred in your own work (either with writing or visual art)?
When you were a kid, did you ever hold your breath as your family drove past a graveyard? That first exhale, as the cemetery drops below the horizon—that’s how I feel when a story is finished. I feel proud, maybe a little guilty. A finished story is like a secret I’m about to tell.
I know a painting’s finished six brushstrokes after the fact, or half a can of spraypaint later. There’s always this urge to add for me. Usually, it’s followed by a desperate subtraction or correction. I’m more self-conscious about my art, perhaps because the reaction is so immediate. On average, museum visitors spend less than 30 seconds looking at a given painting. There’s an added pressure to keep their attention.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about writers? Do you find any generalizations about writers to have some truth to them?
I think there’s this idea that writing is easy, that’s it’s fun. That’s true part of the time, but writing is also a struggle. Look at any great piece of art and ask yourself, “Was this effortless?” The answer is probably “No.”
This hearkens back to an earlier question, but one of the best pieces of advice I ever got came from Brian Morton, the director of the writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. He taught me the value of saying “No.” He explained that when you write, people don’t see it as a job. They say, “You’re at home. You’re not working. Can you do me this favor, this errand, my taxes?” You have to be disciplined. This might offend some people at first, but if you’re dedicated to your craft, eventually you’ll earn their respect. Sometimes, in order to say “Yes” to yourself, you have to say “No” to someone else. That might sound like self-help advice. Good. That’s exactly what it is.
Most generalizations contain a measure of truth, but I prefer not to indulge them. Half-truths rarely hold my interest. I could tell you all about writers, but really I’d just be telling you about the writers I know. Maybe that would be reflective of the whole. Maybe not. I couldn’t say.
Sorry, but I have to ask it: If you could ask only one question of a deceased author you admire, who would it be and what would you say?
I wouldn’t know what to ask. I’d probably stammer and waste my time or blurt out something awful. I’d like to tell Sylvia Plath that her writing cracks me open.
If great writing were like a love potion, I’d ask for the recipe.
What is your vision for Madcap’s future? What’s your ideal outcome for the journal in five years?
I want Madcap to be a haven for artists, writers, and readers. I want people to submit to us because they want their work to be in good company.
From a technical standpoint, the easy answer is that I would like to see Madcap in print. I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen. To me, there’s something sacred about holding a book that just doesn’t translate to the laptop or e-reader.
That being said, I would like us to be read and viewed by a wide audience. I want to embrace emerging technologies. I’m not a Luddite by anyone’s standards. I have a history with the printed book I’ll never shake, but at the same time I’m ready for the new. I just finished Lux, a multimedia supplement to LUMINA, and it was incredible. Never mind QR codes, we’re in the age of the scannable image, the age of the smart-phone-as-magician’s-wand. This is a great time to be an artist. Scratch that. This is a great time to be alive. I’m just happy to be here.