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

by Mark Dorset


So Many Selves: The Making of the Author’s Characters

from Very Large Fiction 
By Mark Dorset

Sometimes my author feels as if he has become a character in his own work.  Of course, he has.  The Eric Kraft who does his writing is someone he has made over the course of the thirty-something years that he has been making the world in which I live.  The writing Kraft is the private, authorial version of himself.  There is also a public version of him, but I sometimes think, and he sometimes feels, that the private person, the author, has become the only true self, the only completely real Eric Kraft, and that all the rest of us—his fictional characters and his public self—are the products of his labor.
   Here is the critic Michael Wood on that subject, from his appreciation of Vladimir Nabokov entitled The Magician's Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction:

“The poet,” Yeats said, “is never the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast.”  Proust said the same more generally for the writer: “a book is the product of another self (un autre moi) than the one we display in our habits, in society, in our vices.”
Actually, Wood chooses to omit a portion of Yeats’s remarks that he may have felt depreciated the value of the novelist in comparison with that of the poet, a few additional words that, given the fact that he was writing an appreciation of one of the very best of all novelists, he chose not to include; Yeats went on to say:
he [the poet] has been reborn as an idea, something intended, complete.  A novelist might describe his accidence, his incoherence, he must not; he is more type than man, more passion than type. . . . He is part of his own phantasmagoria . . .
Well, I can tell you from personal experience that my author certainly does choose to describe his accidence and incoherence, albeit in a deliberate and coherent manner, that he is no less intended or complete than any poet, and that he is most certainly no less a part of his own phantasmagoria.  So there.
. And out of what one sees and hears and out 
Of what one feels, who could have thought to make 
So many selves . . .

   Wallace Stevens 
   “Esthetique du Mal”

Schematic Diagram of the Author The following diagram illustrates in schematic form the situation of the author within the world and of the worlds within the author’s brain, including the author’s imagination. (Perhaps it is even a schematic diagram of the so-called author function.)

Schematic diagram of an author, showing the progress of an event from outside the author (the bite of a whining mosquito, an ant, or a spider, for example) to a position within the author’s imagination (as a whining character, perhaps) and its subsequent return to the outside world (in a novel, to name one example).

   The area outside the outermost ring represents the ambient reality through which the author moves and from which he gets everything that he knows of everything there is; this is what Emerson called “the actual world—the painful kingdom of time and place—[where] dwell care, and canker, and fear.”
   The first ring is the author’s persona, a thin protective shell around the author within. Notice, however that the ring of persona is gray and fuzzy, as are all the areas in the diagram.  These qualities in the schematic, grayness and fuzziness, are meant to indicate (1) permeability, the fact that information can pass through an area (in both directions) and (2) imprecision, the fact that the boundaries of the regions are ill-defined, not sharp and precise. So, the persona is a kind of semipermeable membrane, through which information about the real world can pass into the region of the author and through which the products of the author can pass into the real world.
   The region within the edge of the outer shell is the totality of the person who contains an author, un autre.  The region within the author’s ring is the region of the author—but remember that in the case of a region with fuzzy edges we have a difficult time saying where, exactly, the edge of the region is, where the region stops.  Remember also, please, that Author Kraft is a creation of Total Kraft’s, or if you like, a character in a work of Total Kraft’s, as is Persona Kraft; now, if we consider that Total Kraft includes Author Kraft and Persona Kraft, then we must take the creation of the totality of Kraft to be a work of Total Kraft’s, too: a kind of fiction, as, of course, it is, but if we pursue that line we’ll go on pursuing it and pursing it without ever getting to the end of it, and we'll all get really splitting headaches, so let’s return to the characters who appear on printed pages, or more broadly considered, characters manifested through words, and confine ourselves to them.
   To answer a question asked of all authors: yes, all of those characters (including, of course, me) have their origins in the region outside the author, in the real world.
   I mean what I said and only what I said, that we all have our origins there, but I do not mean that we all have relatives out there, bundles of accident and incoherence who are wondering what’s for breakfast, and I do not even mean that we all necessarily originate from people out there.  Some of us have arisen from other things: a melody that suggested a singer; moonlight that seemed to call for a pair of lovers; or even a vacancy toward which people seemed to turn, a vacancy that implied a missing someone.  Now that I have qualified it, I will repeat it: all of us originated outside.  Each of us began as a perception; that is, something from the region outside that was taken in to the region of the author.  (I employ the passive voice here because so many perceptions are accidental, unwilled.  For example, just a few days ago, while I was enjoying a rare hour of relaxation, lying in the sun on a chaise longue, reading Anthony Trollope's The Small House at Allington, I was, apparently, bitten by some insect of which I was at the time unaware, but which seems to have injected me with a toxin to which I have had an allergic reaction, leaving my right side and an area of my lower back just above my right buttock covered with red welts that are sore enough to make sleeping uncomfortable, giving rise, as you might expect, to uneasy dreams.)
   So, we all began as perceptions, but all perceptions are misperceptions, because (a) our senses simplify and distort what we perceive, (b) an instant later, the intellect has further distorted and simplified the already simplified and distorted perception and categorized it and filed it for reference in the memory, so that it is now (c) only a recollection of a perception, a shadow of its former self, and by some mysterious process still poorly understood despite the best efforts of students of consciousness, these memories begin an apparently inevitable drift toward the region of the imagination, where they are massaged and amplified and bent and twisted until they are scarcely recognizable as the offspring of the bits of the outside world that gave rise to them.  Thus, Scrooge’s undigested bit of mutton becomes the Ghost of Christmas Past, and thus there are no immediate experiences, and thus there are no characters drawn directly from life.  We are, each of us, born, or made, somewhere along the path from the real world to the region of the imagination.
Our imagination, and our dreams, are forever invading our memories; and since we are all apt to believe in the reality of our fantasies, we end up transforming our lies into truths.  Of course, fantasy and reality are equally personal, and equally felt, so their confusion is a matter of only relative importance. . . . I am the sum of my errors and doubts as well as my certainties.

   Luis Buñuel, My Last Sigh
   (his autobiography, translated by Abigail Israel)

SEE ALSO my essays on: 
The Making of Peter Leroy 
The Birth and Astonishing Development of Ariane Lodkochnikov 
The Author As Clam: A Schematic Comparison

Asking yourself, "What, oh what, can I do to support this work?"
Here's a swell idea from Eric Kraft's sparkling publicist, Candi Lee Manning:
Buy a copy of one of Kraft's books for yourself.
Collect 'em all! Trade 'em with your friends! Barnes&
Herb ’n’ Lorna
Herb ’n’ Lorna
Reservations Recommended
Reservations Recommended
Little Follies
Little Follies
Where Do You Stop?
Where Do You Stop?
What a Piece of Work I Am
What a Piece of Work I Am
At Home with the Glynns
At Home with the Glynns
Leaving Small's Hotel
Leaving Small's Hotel
You'll find more swell ideas from Candi Lee here.
Copyright © 1996, 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.