Exclusive: Eric Kraft on Writing the Works of a Fictional Character

Few writers spend as much time with one character as Eric Kraft has with his constant protagonist Peter Leroy. Leroy is at the center of all thirteen (or ten, depending on how you count them) of Kraft’s novels, and appears again in the author’s latest, Flying: a trilogy which collects two previously published Leroy novels and their conclusion… sort of. The world of Peter Leroy is one that denies closure, as the character spends as much time reinventing his purportedly legendary past as he does living in the mundane present. To get a sense of this, imagine if Harry Potter grew up and wrote a memoir where he revealed his time at Hogwarts wasn’t all that J.K. Rowling made it out to be, and now he was going to set the record straight. Mix that with Homer, Cervantes, and Italo Calvino, and Flying begins to resemble a project that is just as interested in the process of writing, and other writers, as it is with creating a character whose obsession with memory is the perfect metaphor for what all writers do when they sit down at the keyboard.

And since we’re big-time book nerds here at Flavorwire, we love a writer who is equally obsessed with the annals of literary history and lets his character wonder aloud about the book he’s supposedly writing along with its inspirations. While some readers might consider Kraft’s approach as mere meta-mindgames, there’s no denying the book is a quixotic romp where the joys of fantasy/adventure mix with Proustian musings. After the jump, we talk with Kraft about living with Leroy all these years and his thoughts on the big K-word. (Kindle. Duh.)

Flavorwire: The completion of this trilogy adds another layer to the world of the Peter Leroy. Why have you stuck with him for so long?

Eric Kraft: You know it’s funny, there’s a woman who comes to the readings that I do, and has been doing so for years, I think only to ask, ‘will you ever write anything else?’ And I answer her every time, ‘no’; his memoirs have proven elastic enough that I think I can get into them everything I want to say, and things that I don’t even know yet that I might want to say. Essentially he’s there because he’s a way for me to write as myself without directly writing about myself. He’s somebody that I can hide behind, but someone who also liberates me, so I can… well I can be humorous for one thing. I’m not normally a person inclined to humor. I spend a good part of the day grumbling about the state of the world. It’s not that case with Peter for some reason. He tends to see the humor in things where I wind up grumbling, so I don’t think I’ll ever need to go beyond his memoirs.

FW: Peter Leroy might be the only character we’ve encountered where you can pick up his life at any point, and instead of hindering the reader’s enjoyment, it almost adds to it. How have you accomplished this?

EK: Well, it was a deliberate effort. I really hoped that it would be that way, so that a person would be able to enter the totality of the work from any of the several books. So, it means that for people who read several volumes, or who read the whole thing, there are things that occur in one book that are alluded to in another, which I hope helps to tie the whole thing together like a rich tapestry. I suppose the trade off is that for some people it seems repetitious. But I have heard from some people that they enjoy noticing that something is told from a slightly different angle, or perhaps you get the point of view from a different character about something when it comes up another time. So repetition is one way I’ve tried to make the books stand alone. I am always thinking about the reader who might come to Peter Leroy late in the game, and I don’t want them to feel as if there are too many people who already know so much more than they do; that there’s no place for them at the table.

FW: The structure of Flying is a clear homage to other writers, mythology, and legends. When you are writing, how conscious are you of creating stories that reflect other stories?

EK: Oh very. You know it’s as if I imagine myself getting to be in a room with the writers of works that I admire, or that I imagine the book that I’m working on to stand on a shelf next to something that I admire. In Flying, of course, Don Quixote is all over the place. The structure of the encounters of people along the way and people turning out to have stories they want to tell you. Certainly that’s a deliberate homage to Don Quixote.

FW: In addition to the structure, your work is a library of literary references, some overt, some hidden. We wonder if you are writing for an audience who shares your love and knowledge of literature, or does it not matter what their background is?

EK: You know I can’t say that it’s really deliberate that I seem to write for two audiences, although I think I can tell where it comes from. I have the feeling that in each book, much of what’s there, much of the story, the characters, the relationships among the characters, is written for anyone who might be coming upon this as the first book they’ve read in a couple of months. And at the same time, a lot of it is written for a very literate set of readers. I can’t pretend that second group, the really literary set, isn’t the audience I prefer, but I relish the attention of the person who is there for story and character. And you know, I think that comes from the tremendous pleasure I took as a young boy from trash novels done as a continued series, which were so completely engaging. You know, the sort of stuff you stayed up late at night to read. I loved that stuff, and I loved being able to identify the characters so easily. So there are the two audiences. But whenever I get an email from somebody who has picked out the tiniest allusion that parallels something in another book, well I love that.

FW: This trilogy also champions eccentrics who try to make things at home from kits, whose fantasy of the final product is way out of proportion with reality. Do you ever feel that way about writing?

EK: Always. Yeah, that is very deliberate attempt to come up with an equivalent for the way I feel about writing. I’ve said it in various ways in the other books as well, essentially the book on the page, the book in its binding, can never match the book in the mind. The book in the mind is always so much better than the result.

FW: Finally, we to ask, what’s your take on the Kindle?

EK: I was thinking about that this morning. One thing that bothers me about it, is that it seems to impose a format on books. It’s a vertical format, typical of a novel for example, but not so useful for an art book… the proportions of that rectangle are invariable. So there’s that little thing about it. The other thing that annoys me, as someone who potentially would like to go directly to Kindle, to perhaps even make some works that I intended to be Kindle books from the start, is that it requires an investment of time just to prepare the text for the Kindle, to design it in effect. And it’s a proprietary format, so you make that investment and the work you’ve created isn’t readable on another e-book platform. If they had used PDF as their format, you wouldn’t have that problem. I can’t really see myself putting the time into making a Kindle book as a Kindle book, instead of having someone do a rough and dirty translation, because where else can it be read? At one point I did go through converting several of my books for the Palm Pilot (laughs). And you know, where is it now?