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

by Mark Dorset


What the Author Is Up To

AKE A TYPICAL CASE: for more than thirty years now, Eric Kraft has been working to construct a single large work of fiction composed of many smaller parts interconnected in intricate ways . . . like a complex machine or a multi-celled organism or a human society, or a bowl of clam chowder. His work began one cold afternoon in the winter of 1962, when he dreamed up the central character of this big work. Created would be far too grand a term, since Kraft was dozing over a German lesson at the time. Here is the story as he tells it:

I was a sophomore in college. I had settled myself comfortably in a study carrel in the library. My feet were up; my chair was tilted back. The room was warm; I was tired. I dozed. When I woke up, I was lying on the floor, my books were scattered around me, people were laughing, and I was embarrassed. I gathered my things and rushed out of the library. 
In the cold air, the memory of a dream returned to me, a dream that I had had while I was dozing there, before I tumbled to the floor. In the dream, or at least in the memory of it, I saw a nameless little boy sitting on a dilapidated dock, in the sunny warmth of a summer day, dabbling his feet in the water, playing a game: he was trying to bring the soles of his bare feet as close as he could to the surface of the water without touching it. The memory of that dream has never left me, and it continues to surprise me. 


Sitting on a Dock in a Dream . KRAFT HAS TOLD THAT LITTLE STORY so often now that, he claims, he no longer knows exactly which parts of it are true:
I think that all the details are true, but I also think that in fact they were widely separated in time and unrelated.  Over the years, I’ve brought them closer together to make a story, improving their relationship without really altering the truth of any one of them, although I’ve certainly altered the truth of the totality of them.  This impulse to improve on the past seems always to have been with me, and it is one of the traits I’ve given to the character who grew from the little boy on the dilapidated dock: Peter Leroy, the character at the center of all my work, and the narrator of it all. 
(Allow me to demur here, briefly. I do not object to Kraft’s designation of Peter Leroy as the narrator of “it all,” and I admit that as a creation of Leroy’s I am, therefore, a part of “it all,” but I submit to you, reader, the evidence of this demurrer to support the claim that I am the narrator of a good portion of “it all,” even if I am dummy to Leroy’s ventriloquist, as he is dummy to Kraft’s.)
Peter Leroy tells the sad story of his boyhood friend Matthew Barber in Reservations Recommended; the buoyant love story of his maternal grandparents in Herb 'n' Lorna; the trials and eventual triumph of the sultry older sister of his imaginary friend in What a Piece of Work I Am; and his own life story, greatly embellished, in LITTLE Follies,Where Do You Stop?, At Home with the Glynns, Leaving Small’s Hotel, and Inflating a Dog. He will, I hope, continue telling stories in many volumes to come. 
The Years of Daydreaming and Self-Defense YEARS PASSED after that dream in the library. From time to time, the memory of the dream returned, and from time to time the dream itself returned. It wasn’t an obsession for Kraft—not yet. It may be now, but it wasn’t then. It was just a pleasant amusement, a diversion, a vacation from whatever Kraft was working on, thinking about, or worrying about. He could drift into that dream and play with it, and in playing with it, exploring it, he began improving it. He added a context for the boy—an island, where the old dock was, an abandoned building on the island—a grand house, perhaps, or an abandoned hotel—he wasn’t sure which, a gray bay, and the mainland, where the town of Babbington lay. He wrote none of this down. This was not writing—not yet. Kraft had no intention or expectation of making a piece of writing out of this. It was daydreaming.

SOON, HOWEVER, like most people who read books, Kraft began to want to write one of his own. Like most people who want to write books, he really wanted to write a book about himself. He tried, but he found that he was too close to his subject. His feelings toward that subject, the “Eric Kraft” of the narrative he meant to write, were ambiguous. Kraft wanted “Kraft” to be something better than he was, and he respected that aspiration in “him,” but he wished that “he” could learn to live more comfortably with “himself,” and he could see that “he” would be better company if “he” could learn to laugh at “himself” now and then. Kraft began wanting to trip “him” up, play practical jokes on “him,” deflate “him.” In anything Kraft tried to write, he seemed—more and more often—to be about to make “Kraft” take a pratfall, and since Kraft was “Kraft” he didn’t want “him” falling down in any book he wrote.

Arrival of the
Muse and the Subject
IN 1963, KRAFT MARRIED MADELINE CANNING. This was a lucky break: the writer who marries his muse is lucky indeed. By 1965, the couple had two children, Scott and Alexis. Kraft went on to graduate school and began teaching.
Then, in 1969 or 1970 (“I can’t say just when,” Kraft claims, “but it must have been around then.”) he found his subject, his obsession, his vocation, his life’s work. It was, of course, that little boy who had been sitting on a dock in a dream. One should not assume that he simply began writing some part of what has become Peter Leroy’s personal history; what Kraft began writing was nothing like what the work has become.  He began in the wrong way, in a wrong way, but it was a beginning, and he finds now that when he looks back at that misstep it seems all right, not a waste of time, not a mistake, but a useful detour, the kind that takes one to a place one would otherwise ever have visited, might even have deliberately avoided:
Sometimes, now, that beginning that once seemed so wrong seems like the only way I could have begun. I began writing about the dream. I was still trying to write about myself, of course, about my self and my dream, but as I worked I began to develop the dream more and more, and although I was merely exploring my own speculations about the dream and the little boy in it, I had begun a process that would eventually push me out of the story.  It was as if a part of me were shouting, “Release me from the confines of memoir! Let me wander over yonder in the big, wide world of fiction!”
(One is always pleased to see oneself quoted, even if misquoted or paraphrased, as in the preceding passage.  I have said, on many occasions during the website “brainstorming” sessions we hold at Corrine's Fabulous Fruits of the Sea, “Release me from the confines of the author’s brain! Let me wander over yonder in the kingdom of time and place!”)
Kraft began writing about Peter Leroy in an exploratory way, not for publication, and not even in an attempt to tell a story, just to find out what was there. This exploratory phase—practice, as we might think of it now—lasted nearly eighteen years, eighteen years that Kraft spent learning about Peter’s friends (including, of course, me), the town of Babbington where he lived, his family, his experiences, his feelings and ideas.  Kraft was just taking notes, though he didn’t realize it at the time.  He thought he was writing parts of a novel—a novel about Peter Leroy.  He began accumulating these writings—scenes, snatches of conversation, encounters, bits and pieces of something, a work he hadn’t defined yet. 
Whatever this work was or was to become, Kraft found that he couldn’t stop working on it.  He left teaching and became an editor at an educational publishing company.  (He would do this work for the next seven years, from 1968 through—or nearly through—1975.)  In the evening or early morning hours, he continued elaborating Peter Leroy and his world, creating his personal history, adventures, and experiences.
For ten years or more Kraft never showed it to anyone but Madeline.  The work grew.  He accumulated cartons of notes.  “I still have the cartons,” Kraft claims. “I haven't opened them since 1980 or so. I don’t need to refer to what’s there; I know it as well as I know my own memories.”
The Game of Forking Paths IT WAS ALSO AT ABOUT THIS TIME that Kraft invented an electromechanical game that he called, at first, “The Game of Forking Paths” but later came to call “The Babbington Game.”  It was a switching game, in which nine switches were arranged in a linked circuit so that the state of each switch controlled the state of subsequent switches along the pathway.  Nine lights indicated the state of the various switches.  The object of the game was to set the switches so that all nine lights were lit.  This would have been a simple matter if the switches were toggle switches, so that one could see the position of each switch, but Kraft used pushbutton switches, so that the state of a switch could only be determined by observing the effect that switching it had on the other switches.  In other words, one could only know the effect that a move would have on the state of the entire array of lights after making the move.  It seems to me that there are implications about hyperfiction in the design of this game, and if I had the time I would draw the schematic diagram of the game and explore the hyperfictional implications further, but at the present moment (on the morning of June 24, 2001) I do not.  (I will say, however, that it has just occurred to me that the game might also serve as a schematic for the linked effect that the episodes of a serial novel have on their readers, since the reading of any one episode will alter the reader’s understanding of some, and perhaps all, of the other episodes—those to come and those already read.  And it has additionally just occurred to me that the game models—in a greatly simplified way, of course—the relationships among the characters in the author’s mind.  Some day I really must get around to including the schematic here.)
The Wearying Quest for a Sufficiently Elastic Form MORE AND MORE, Kraft began to ask himself what he was going to do with all of the stuff he had written. It had grown so large that he couldn’t imagine a form that would contain it all.  The bits and pieces were piling up, and his ideas were accumulating even faster.  It seemed that the longer he waited to begin publishing this work, the less likely it was that he would ever get it into a form in which it could be published—or even find a form that could accommodate it all. The hunt for form was wearying and frustrating.  It almost killed the work.  In this period, roughly from 1970 to 1976, there were times when Kraft wanted to quit, abandon the little guy in Babbington, do something else.  Whenever he tried to make something coherent out of what he’d done, he would begin on one tack, go a little way, decide that it was wrong, change course, try again, change again, and so on. Sometimes he didn’t think he was up to the task, and sometimes he began to wonder whether the task was worth the effort it demanded and the toll it was exacting.

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Copyright © 1992, 2001 by Eric Kraft

A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author

Portions of A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) were first published by Voyager, Inc., as part of The Complete Peter Leroy (so far).

The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.