I’ve adored Conor Robin Madigan since the day I met him, both of us first year students at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It wasn’t just the snake tattoo entwining his bicep, the rambling play about windup toys in an attic room he workshopped, or his deceptive composure that intrigued me. Even in an MFA program in which another student stripped naked in class and circled the room before leaping a chair to flee down the echoing hall, Conor stood out. Now, just a few years after graduation, his novel Cut Up hits the stands—or whatever it is novels hit. The disquieting story of a young couple restoring a falling down farmhouse, the book cultivates a sense of low-lying alarm. Let’s review: tattooed, creative, vaguely menacing. Yep, he’s totally my type. No wonder Conor Robin Madigan is June’s Chicago Crush!
Hometown: Evanston, Illinois
Profession: Guitar repairman
Hobbies: 16mm film, collecting books, typewriters, writing music, gardening, pruning trees at the end of winter
Our Town When did you realize writing was your destiny?
Conor Robin Madigan Early on, my mother took me to the Gettysburg battlefield. We got lost in the orchards and I suffered heat stroke. We walked to a part of the battlefield where a bull was kept in a large field. [He] sat under a big tree and drank muddy water. I made the decision that grunting at the thing was very smart and soon the bull was up and crooning, quite distressed. The farmer came out with a stick and ran [us] away. Back home in Evanston, I had a dream about a boy and his cat. They lived on the battlefield with ghosts and the boy was to stay with his farmer uncle and aunt for the summer. He'd go out at night with the cat and walk with the ghosts. I wrote it on my father's PC in the basement. My oldest brother read it and told me I needed to learn how to spell. I wanted to prove him wrong.
OT Which writers have influenced your concept of the world?
CRM Cervantes was read to me by my mother. [It’s] the only writing that has truly, deeply made a difference in the way I see the world. Henry Green, Muriel Spark, Leonard Michaels, William Trevor; these are the writers who have influenced how I write.
OT What inspired Cut Up?”
CRM One night, a girlfriend wanted me to tell her a story. I was so flattered, I took the task very seriously. The windows were open and the El rattled a few or ten blocks away. Something romantic and quiet came to me. It began with Sheri and Liam walking on a dusty road to market to trade in all of the dead husband's things for fruit.
OT Who is your dream reader?
CRM A teenage man from the Midwest, maybe thirteen, picking up his first novel and his first girlfriend or boyfriend.
OT Do you listen to music when you write?
CRM I listen to Liszt, Mozart, Arvo Part, Wayne Shorter, Dusty Springfield, The Zombies, and in the last five years I've been listening to the music my brother and I write. We wrote a song a week individually, for a while, and I'd listen to the songs as I drafted and wrote.
OT The MFA in Creative Writing is an increasingly pursued degree. Is it necessary?
CRM The MFA is an important experience, [offering] writers the space and time to become highly critical of their writing, but more, to read and read. You need to read the right work. 100:1 [is] a good ratio, book to written piece. MFA programs attached to English departments are a different game. It's risky for a writer to have anything to do with English professors. I kept falling in love with them in college.
OT Where do you find inspiration?
CRM I don't write from inspiration. I write like a turbine spins. I find inspiration to read. And that inspiration is coffee. Maybe I like to print out what I write. In a way that inspires me to edit, which makes me write more.