The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy

Questions (and Comments) from Readers, Answers from Eric Kraft (

Bob Williams:
Which is Spike’s correct given name?

Lily (as in “The Girl in the White Muff” in Little Follies)


Rose (as in Chapter 7 of Where Do You Stop?)

Peter Leroy:

Spike’s full name would be Lily Rose Gardenia O’Grady if I were to give her a name fully parallel to the name of the girl who was the seed of the plant that became Lily Rose.  That girl’s name was just as flowery and just as difficult for a tomboy to bear.  I should never have called her Lily, though, and I realized it after the fact, because Lily came too close to one of the actual girl’s actual names.  That’s why I switched to Rose.  Both names were “hers.”

Eric Kraft:

See the answer to Frankie Furman’s question, below.

Frankie Furman:
    I am confused about which of the good-looking Leroy brothers was older, Bert or Buster?? In Herb 'n' Lorna, Bert is a year older (p. 223). In What a Piece of Work I Am, it is Bert's older brother (Buster?) who is "ill fated" (pp. 126, 138). Who's older?
Eric Kraft:
    Thank you. This error has never been brought to my attention before, and, obviously, I never noticed it myself. Herb 'n' Lorna is correct. What a Piece of Work I Am is not. 

    I have no excuse for the error in WAPOWIA, but I do have an explanation for it. I think that (at the time of writing and revising) I was too deeply in the world of the book to recall the situation that I had set up in H&L. There was also some interference from memory in the case of WAPOWIA, I think, that I had managed to overcome in H&L. The two Leroy boys owe something to my father, who was killed in WWII, and to my stepfather, who had been a boyhood friend of my father’s (whom my mother married when I was five). Putting myself into WAPOWIA, I think that I felt the loss my paternal grandparents must have felt when my father was killed. He was their only child. He never saw me; I never saw him. All of that may have made me think of Buster as the "firstborn," since it's closer to "only," and he was my paternal grandparents' only child. If we look at a diagram of the author's brain, we can see that the problem probably arose in one of the Zones of Confusion (or, as they are more popularly known, the "Fuzzy Zones").

Kevin Leonard: 
Several years ago . . . I read a positive review of Little Follies in, I believe, the Wall St. Journal, purchased the book, and read it with absolute delight. . . . After reading Little Follies I was able to purchase copies of Herb 'n' Lorna and Reservations Recommended and, subsequently, each new work -- including the Voyager title -- as it has appeared. As a matter of fact, your books have become my gifts of choice whenever a nephew, niece, sibling, etc., celebrates a birthday, graduation, or the like. At present, one of my nephews has taken to presenting your books as gifts to his own friends: it appears you have a growing group of admirers here in the middle west. And, of course, we anxiously await each development of your saga. 
I just read "What I'm Up To" in Forever Babbingtonian (July 28, 1996) and I am curious about your early self-published work. You mentioned "Larry Peters Is Missing" and "Larry Peters, Child No More." Did you rework these stories to form "Call Me Larry" as it appears in the Crown edition of Little Follies? If the early stories are either entirely or substantially different from "Call Me Larry," are they available for purchase from you or from any publisher? What about the pamphlets or newsletters you produced prior to your more formal publishing arrangements with Apple-wood Books and Crown Publishers? Are those items readily obtainable anywhere? 
Eric Kraft (
Thank you. I can't think of any higher praise for the work than your giving copies as gifts. I'm very grateful. 

"Larry Peters Is Missing" and "Larry Peters, Child No More" never did make it into "Call Me Larry." Eventually, I think that Peter will get around to discussing the Larry Peters stories that he has written and published, and someday, when I have the time, I'd like to write all of them, but, for now, those two pieces of juvenilia are all that exist. I have some copies of them, and I have a few copies of the old newsletters, too. Eventually, I plan to offer copies of first editions, including the earliest stuff, for sale here. Watch the "Contents and Connections" listing for the anouncement. 

Susan Liebeskind: 
I stumbled onto H&L more than 6 years ago, if I remember right, and I was hooked. I managed to come up with 4 of the little Applewood books before Little Follies was published. In fact, I read the latter out loud in its entirety to my husband, over the course of a couple of months. OK, so I'm never going to be signed by Books On Tape, but we had a lot of fun. In "Call Me Larry," when I read the tub of jello excerpt from the Larry Peters story, I thought I had killed my husband, he was laughing so hard. All I had to say for weeks was "demitasse spoon," and he would collapse into, well, a heap of jello. Ah, the 5th grade production of King Lear! And when we have to make a decision, it's always "chicken or clams" . . . Peter has become happily enmeshed in our day-to-day discourse, and we thorouhgly enjoy his presence in our lives. 
Eric Kraft (
When I went on tour for LITTLE Follies, I had a set of selections chosen for readings, but when I arrived in Philadelphia, the interviewer at the public radio station there had chosen an entirely different set of readings. I claimed to be happy to read whatever she liked, but in fact I was horribly nervous about reading something that I hadn't prepared. Ordinarily, I practice every reading (Madeline listens to them again and again) until I feel confident enough to stand in front of strangers and perform, but I hadn't practiced any of the selections that she wanted to me to read. I had read everything to Mad when I had written the book, as I always do, but that had been a long time ago, since the novellas in LITTLE Follies had been published years earlier. So, I sat there in front of a microphone, live, and read the selections she wanted. The last of them was the tub-of-jello scene. I read with my eyes down, concentrating on the text, and didn't dare take my eyes from it until I had made my way through. I was aware of an odd silence while I was reading, and assumed the worst: that I had bombed. When I looked up, the interviewer had her mouth covered and tears were running down her cheeks from suppressed laughter. I turned toward the control room to see whether Mad thought it had gone all right, and the engineer was sprawled across the controls, laughing. The tub-of-jello scene has been part of my selection of readings from LITTLE Follies ever since. 
I am delighted to think that you've turned bits of LF into household words. I couldn't ask for more. 

Kevin Lauderdale: 
Have you given any thought to merchandizing? I bet you could make quite a lot off Forever Babbingtonian t-shirts and bumper stickers. 

I'm just starting Herb 'n' Lorna. Loving it. 

Eric Kraft (
Yes, I have. (At this point, I'm very tempted to say something about the marketing possibilities that Herb 'n' Lorna offers, but that would be giving quite a lot of the plot away, so I'll say nothing.) I've thought of souvenirs of a visit to Babbington: Leroy Lager bar coasters (with a poem on the back, of course), that kind of thing, and genuine Babbington clam shell ash trays. Watch this space. 

Steve Smith: 
The realization that it won't be until next year when I can get my Babbington fix is just, well, awfully depressing. D'ya have any good clam chowder recipes to cheer me up? 

Just out of curiosity, who's next in the Babbington parade? Are there other characters whose past and personality you want to explore more? 

Another question: as we move into the next century, do you think that your satirical view of the 50s and 60s will become outdated or foreign to your readers? What of Babbington in the disco 70s? 

Eric Kraft (
Eventually, I'd like to establish within the pages of Forever Babbingtonian a virtual clam museum, which would include recipes. Who knows when I'll get around to it. First, I have the books to write; everything else is second to that. However, here is my grandfather's recipe for fried clams. 
Put a quart of oil into a two-quart saucepan. Heat the oil until it is good and hot. Put some flour, a little salt, and a little pepper into a brown paper bag (a kraft paper bag). Open the clams. (My grandfather always used the clams he caught, hard-shell clams, Mercenaria mercenaria, in the size called cherrystone, not big chowder clams. Restaurants almost never use hard-shell clams for frying, but I think they're much tastier.) Put the clams into the bag, half a dozen at a time, and shake them in the bag to coat them with the flour mixture. Fry them in the oil, half a dozen at a time, until they are brown enough to be crunchy, not pale and limp. I've never eaten better. 
Peter is next (again) in the parade, in Immortal Hilarity. Several pieces will be appearing in Andrei Codrescu's literary magazine, Exquisite Corpse, in issues 58 and 59, I believe. (Exquisite Corpse, P. O. Box 25051 Baton Rouge, LA 70894, U. S. A.) 

After those have appeared in print, I will begin posting pieces in Forever Babbingtonian, probably beginning in September 1996. 

After that, I think it will be Matthew Barber and Bertram W. Beath making a joint appearance in Passionate Spectator. Then, I think, Ariane Lodkochnikov will make another appearance with her own book, Making a Self, and Dinner. Since Ariane is (a) a figment of Peter Leroy's imagination (the sultry older sister of his imaginary friend) and (b) dead, this will be ghosted by Peter. After that, I think I will finally do the authorized biography of Porky White, Kap'n Klam, but I'm less sure about that. I've also been working on Making a Very Large Fiction. In that book, the protagonist is me. 

I don't think that my readers will find the past outdated or foreign in a way that makes it uninteresting, because my readers seem to be a particularly interesting and intelligent bunch, and such people are likely to find the unfamiliar exotic and intriguing. It's only dolts who aren't interested in anything they're not already interested in, who don't want to know what they don't already know, and dolts don't read me. 

Present time and past time will get equal space in Immortal Hilarity. I (gulp) will narrate the present time sections, about the passing parade of guests at Small's Hotel over the course of the summer and fall, leading up to Peter's fiftieth birthday. At the end of each section, we retire to the lounge, where, after dinner, Peter reads from the next volume of the Personal History. Each reading is self-contained, since guests come and go, but for the guest who stays for all the readings (you, I hope, reader) they add up to a single work. 

Dan Patterson: 
You're so obscure out here [in Oregon]. You need to make an appearance at Powell's [bookshop in Portland]. 
Eric Kraft (
I'd love to, but I can't afford the expense of the trip. However, where there's a will there's a way. The key to getting me to Portland (or anywhere else, for that matter) is a reading or lecture at a university, because universities, unlike bookstores and my publishers, pay travel expenses for visiting authors. If you have any university connections or connections with connections, try pursuing them. It could work, and once I'm there bookstore appearances can be added to the mix. 

Jane Longpre: 
We are going to a wedding next week and have been asked by the bride and groom to read a really silly thing about relationships . . . . I am sure I can find something more clever . . . and I immediately thought there would be something in Herb 'n' Lorna. . . . Does something immediately jump to mind? Can you help? HELP! 
Eric Kraft (
I think I've found something in H&L that would be suitable, but I have to raise a question: If the bride and groom asked you to read something specific, it must be because they like it, so maybe you should bow to their taste and read what they want. However, if someone other than the B&G chose the reading, then you might consider reading from pages 113 to 114: 
In Time and Free Will, his essay on the immediate data of consciousness, Henri Bergson remarked that joy and passion are "very like a turning of our states of consciousness toward the future. As if their weight were diminished by this attraction, our ideas and sensations succeed one another with greater rapidity; our movements no longer cost us the same effort." That is precisely what Herb, in his joy and passion, experienced, though he didn't give it a thought. He just found the rowing remarkably easy. The water seemed as insubstantial as the moonlight that played upon it. Herb took long, languid strokes. When he lifted the oars, silver droplets fell from the blades, leaving silver circles on the surface, circles that widened in the wake of the little boat. The boat glided on, as easily as if it were floating above the lake, through the clear air of the Whatsit Valley. Lorna reclined in the stern and looked at the stars. She let her fingers brush the surface of the water on either side of the boat. They left rippling wakes of their own. Herb couldn't see where he was going. He had his back to the bow; he saw only Lorna. He was quite content. He saw her smiling, and he was delighted to see her smiling. This was a smile of contentment, of serene joy. 

"Lorna," he whispered, "close your eyes." 

Still smiling, she closed her eyes. Herb went on rowing. 

"Imagine that you see your future," said Herb. "Tell me what you see." 

Lorna drew a breath, and the air she inhaled thrilled her. For a moment, she could hardly believe that she was breathing ordinary air, the effect was so intoxicating. She had imagined her future so well that she seemed to have taken a breath from that time, and her smile widened because she'd tasted her future and found that she liked it. Herb was rowing toward the future; the past was in their wake. 

"It must be good," said Herb, watching her. 

"It is," said Lorna. "Close your eyes, and I'll tell you what I see." 

"If I close my eyes, I won't be able to see where I'm going." 

Airy laughter, almost giggles; silvery, moonlit laughter. 

"Of course I can't see where I'm going," said Herb. He swallowed and dared to say, very softly, "But I can see my future." Then he closed his eyes. "I closed my eyes," he said. 

"I see you," said Lorna. 

Need I point out that H&L makes the perfect wedding gift? (And they might want to read the rest of the chapter on their honeymoon.) 

Alan Wachtel: 
You might be amused to learn that the Dorset Diagram, which you posted in the Babbingtonian, was eerily prefigured by a passage in Mrs. Miniver, a best-selling World War II-era novel by Jan Struther that was later made into a hugely successful motion picture. . . . The passage was reprinted by Clifton Fadiman in The Mathematical Magpie, one of two anthologies of stories, essays, rhymes, and assorted fragments based on mathematical themes that he edited. 

" Dorset " wrote: 

"[T]he Venn diagram that depicts the product of the multiplication (in the logical sense) of two classes can be used to depict the product of that complex operation . . . that we call love . . . The linking image is particularly nice, I think, because the diagram resembles two linked rings. . . . 
"Over the years some lovers' circles become so overlapped that only the thinnest crescents of lunes remain at the outer edges . . . they fill the lens of love so full, . . . become so completely a couple that they belong together in [a] strong way . . ." 
"Struther" (a pseudonym for Mrs. Joyce Maxtone Graham, nee Anstruther--in other words, "J. Anstruther") wrote: 
"She saw every relationship as a pair of intersecting circles. It would seem at first glance that the more they overlapped the better the relationship; but this is not so. Beyond a certain point the law of diminishing returns sets in, and there are not enough private resources left on either side to enrich the life that is shared. Probably perfection is reached when the area of the two outer crescents, added together, is exactly equal to that of the leaf-shaped piece in the middle. On paper there must be some neat mathematical formula for arriving at this; in life, none." 
It seems that certain mathematicians took this literary challenge literally, and Fadiman follows it with an excerpt from "Ingenious Mathematical Problems and Methods," by L. A. Graham, who had evidently posed the problem in a mathematics journal. Graham gives a solution by William W. Johnson of Cleveland for the general case of unequal circles. The analysis isn't difficult, but the resulting transcendental equation is messy and can't be solved exactly. When the circles are of equal size, the equation is much simpler, but it still can be solved only approximately. Here "transcendental" doesn't mean the school of Emerson and Thoreau; like "natural," "irrational," and "imaginary," it's a technical term used by mathematicians to refer to certain types of numbers. Graham and Johnson, however, can't resist remarking on the analogy between social and mathematical problems of transcendent difficulty. (And if I understand Struther's reply on being shown the solution, the mathematical journal was called the Dial, which was also the name of Emerson's periodical.) . . . 

I can tell that you've been using computers for a while . . . because I just happened to turn to the Greek text on pp. 67-68 of "Where Do You Stop?" and I see you created it by converting the original English words into the Macintosh Symbol font--right? 

Eric Kraft (
The prefiguring of the Dorset Diagram in Mrs. Miniver is astonishing. I noticed that "Struther" and "Dorset" don't agree on the limits of couple-overlap. In an early version of Herb 'n' Lorna, Mark's whole treatise on the Dorset Diagram was included, and he went on to explain the complications of the Dorset Diagram for his own situation, a clover-shaped diagram: Mark and Margot and Martha. I cut it all from the hardcover edition--because it wasn't Mark's book, after all, and he did run on--but I missed it, so I was glad to get at least this short piece of it back into the paperback edition. 

You're right about my having used computers for a while. I used to work for an educational publishing company in Boston, Ginn and Company. They were bought by Xerox, and in 1973 or 1974 Xerox sent a team from PARC to Ginn to see how editors would react to a gadget they had developed that would "process words." They set up a mainframe in a corner and invited editors to try the thing out. I tried it once and came back every spare moment I had. The screen was much like a full page display, black on white, with an area for trash, cut and paste functions, and so on. Most of the interaction was via a keyboard, but there was also a thing about the size of a brick, on wheels, with a button on top. The user could move this block around on the desktop and see a cursor move over text on the screen. Cool. I was hooked. By the time there was a commercial product based on this, Xerox had laid me off, but I leased one anyway. Later, of course, Apple licensed the interface . . . 

And you're right about my using the Symbol font to fake the Greek. 

Alan Wachtel: 
One difference between the Dorset Diagram and Mrs. Miniver's metaphor (and, for that matter, the Venn diagram) is that Dorset says, in part, that the diagram "resembles two linked rings" (the boundary of the circles), while Miniver and Venn deal with the set of points represented by the interior of the circles (with or without the boundary). The three-circle case of Mark and Margot and Martha, if considered as three intersecting rings rather than a clover-shaped diagram, offers the opportunity for an unusual analogy to the Borromean rings (familiar to many people as the Ballantine Beer symbol). These rings have the unexpected topological property, which you can verify by close inspection, that no two rings are linked directly to each other, but the set of three as a whole is linked together. 

As for the "thing about the size of a brick, on wheels, with a button on top," that protomouse was invented at PARC by Doug Engelbart . . . . 

Kevin Leonard: 
Since Forever Babbingtonian is a journal of the ether I wonder if you plan to publish in print form any or all of the original pieces? Can I expect to see these items in a bookstore someday? 
Eric Kraft (
I do plan to publish the original pieces that appear in Forever Babbingtonian in print--sooner or later. The B. W. Beath pieces will eventually become part of The Passionate Spectator, I hope. My pieces about making a very large fiction will eventually become part of Making A Very Large Fiction, I hope. They show up in journals from time to time, and I read them on my road shows, but the books are years away. 



Copyright © 1996 by Eric Kraft
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