“I’ve learned from every contributor, and for that I’m thankful.”
A chat with Craig Ledoux, editor-in-chief of Madcap Review.
Along with a group of his grad school friends, Craig Ledoux co-founded Madcap Review in 2014. They are a “semiannual online journal of literature and art” that encourages “the impulsive, the reckless, and the lively, but we also have great respect for form and restraint.” As explored in this interview, Madcap has very few submission restrictions because they believe that great writing isn’t easily categorized. Their reading period is Sept 1. To Oct. 31.
Interview by Kailin Swift
Since Madcap Review started in 2014, how do you think your voice and style have evolved? Are there things you did then that you wouldn’t do now?
When we started Madcap, I wanted it to be a democracy, so a group of us got together and picked a name. It was not my first choice. For years now, people address their submissions to “Mad Cap,” “Mapcap,” and yes, even “Mudcap.” Worse than that, we called ourselves Madcap Review, and to this day, people who’ve never read an issue ask us to write reviews of their books, art, etc. [TRR Editor’s note: The Review Review also will not review your book. But we will try to review your litmag if you send it to us.!] It was a pretty massive tactical error. So yeah, I would have picked a different name. In terms of content, my tastes have evolved. I probably wouldn’t pick all the same prose and poems and artwork, but I’m glad I chose them. I’ve learned from every contributor, and for that I’m thankful. When my friends and I started the journal, we were a year out of grad school, living in different states, and searching for the sense of community we’d left behind. We found it in this journal. And we keep building it every issue.
As the about page says, you embrace the ‘impulsive, the reckless, and the lively’. Would there be anything you considered too out of the box for Madcap? Are there any subjects or social/political issues that you would not publish in your magazine?
Absolutely. Plenty of people read that description and send us massive documents with crazy formatting, thinking that’s somehow a substitute for content. We’re open to experimentation, but the quality has to be there. Once, a guy sent us a 600-page document full of clip art. Sometimes you can only shake your head. As for social and political issues, I believe that skilled writers can tackle any subject, but there are always lines. Protagonists can be scum, but you never want to feel like the author is. Clumsiness and ignorance are as common in writing as they are in the real world. Look at the publication and marketing of American Dirt, or Woody Allen’s memoir. I’m open to reading challenging work, but I won’t publish something repugnant (or impulsive or reckless) just because it’s skillfully rendered. If it’s offensive to me, I won’t inflict it on my readers.
I am particularly curious about your poetry submission guidelines, specifically the phrase, ”If you think your writing has the feel of poetry, then send it under that label.” How far can the boundaries of poetry be stretched, in your opinion?
I’m a fiction writer, so prose poems already make sense to me. We’ve had plenty of poetry submissions that don’t feel like poetry, but that has more to do with quality than stylistic choices. The designations can feel so rigid, but I love the freedom between poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The best example of this is Robert Vivian’s nonfiction piece “High Lit Lonesome” in our second issue. I read it and think “poem,” but I also don’t especially care how it’s categorized. I’m interested in the piece itself. The most controversial blurred line has to be fictionalized nonfiction, though I’ve read some entertaining arguments in favor of it. The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and his fact checker, Jim Fingal, is a lot of fun if you’re interested in the most creative form of nonfiction.
What draws you to work and makes you believe it is great writing? Are you surprised by what catches your eye?
Generally, good work gets its hooks in early. Recognizing that is more intuitive than analytical, the way most people know the difference between good and bad food as they eat it. A great story or poem can start smoothly and build, or it can go wild from the start. If you quickly begin to trust the author, or become immersed in the work, that’s a great sign. I asked my friend, our former poetry editor Jeffrey W. Peterson, a similar question a while back. He said, “I like poems that break my ankles.” What he meant is that the unexpected thrills him. He likes to be caught off guard, to have to swivel to keep up with what he’s reading. That’s one way to identify what we’re looking for, but I’ll never discount a piece that’s just plain comforting.
Your submissions guidelines encourage unpublished writers to submit to Madcap. Do you feel you are more likely to publish solicited over non-solicited work? How often would you say you publish emerging writers’ work?
We reach out to a few people we know or admire early in the submission process to ensure a certain quality of work, but the majority of the pieces we publish are unsolicited. Despite this, we generally only accept between one and two percent of submissions. We’re picky. Depending on the quality of unsolicited pieces we receive in the first month of submissions, we sometimes do a second round of solicitations. It’s pretty rare for us to reject solicited work, but it happens, and it’s as awkward as you might think. Most of our stories and poems come from emerging writers, and a handful of those people are being published for the first time. I’ve occasionally recommended another journal to someone whose work we’ve rejected, especially if it’s good but not the right fit for us, or if an editor and I disagree on a piece but want to send some encouragement the submitter’s way. Generally, though, we leave that up to the writer. If the writing is strong, but something isn’t quite right about the piece, I tend to invite that person to submit again. The next story or poem might be exactly what we need.
Kailin Swift is a senior at Gonzaga University and a lifelong literary enthusiast. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in the publishing field.