Heather Armstrong (BSS #276)

Heather Armstrong is most recently the author of It Sucked and Then I Cried.



[This is the first show in which a guest’s Twitter feed emerges during the course of the conversation! This historical moment can be found at the 13:05 mark.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering his deficient parental duties.

Author: Heather Armstrong

Subjects Discussed: Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake, checking with other people on stories and blog posts, the fairness of sharing, the private medium of the letter being publicly aired, drawing the distinction between work and fun in personal writing, dealing with negativity and hate mail, public scrutiny, factoring the audience into business decisions, the oddness of an audience as a focus group, writing in all caps and emphatic house style, Armstrong’s affinity for Chili’s, imagining vs. comparing Leta at sixteen, whether or not Bob Costas is insipid, parent writing and the “special” nature of children, Janet Jackson’s nipple, fixating on particular points to keep a narrative going, the two-book deal with Kensington, “having a baby is pretty much a book of commentary,” filtering daily events, following up on investigations by the Pioneer Press, and the concern for “normalcy.”


Correspondent: I wanted to ask about your affinity for Chili’s, which you bring up. I don’t think it can be entirely predicated on a love for the chips and salsa, or the fact that the server brings two Diet Cokes at the same time. This can’t merely be the exclusive reason! So I’m curious if you can elaborate on this particular concern and love and joy you have for Chili’s.

Armstrong: Well, I actually worked at Chili’s for three days back when I was a freshman in college. And I lasted three days. I couldn’t wait tables. I am not a table waiter. And there’s just something about the Americanness of the experience, and having that much food brought to you that makes me very connected to the flyover states — that normally I’m not very connected to politically. You know, I don’t see eye to eye with them. Except when they’re bringing me those two Diet Cokes. And when they’re refilling the basket and basket and basket of chips. I feel very American.

Correspondent: I’m wondering if it’s the specific glasses they use.

Armstrong: Oh yeah.

Correspondent: The specific way in which they bring to your table. Because this is a chain restaurant. There are plenty of restaurants that will bring you two Diet Cokes.

Armstrong: Well, consistently though. I mean, I have never had to ask for the second Diet Coke. They will always bring it. And I wasn’t taught this rule when I worked there. I just think that there’s something about the culture there. They know. They know you need it.

Correspondent: Wow. Maybe there’s some divisions of Chili’s in which they bring you that Diet Coke immediately. Or maybe it’s a Utah scenario?

Armstrong: No, it happened in Tennessee too.

Correspondent: It happened in Tennessee too.

Armstrong: It did. It did.

Correspondent: This is an investigative journalistic report.

Armstrong: It really is. (laughs)

Correspondent: Really. You should pursue this further. I want to talk about when Leta is taken in for an MRI and is given some Nembutal. You write that she was “as drunk as a sixteen-year-old on prom night who has had a Long Island Iced Tea on an empty stomach and is in total denial about how drunk she is.” Now this was very interesting to me. Because I must observe that sixteen is right between your age and Leta’s age.

Armstrong: (laughs)

Correspondent: I must also point out that this is not imagining Leta at sixteen. It’s comparing her to a sixteen-year-old. Does the notion of thinking of Leta at sixteen mortify you? And is this why you need this comparative point to someone who is sixteen? Who couldn’t possibly be Leta? Or what?

Armstrong: I’m probably comparing her to the sixteen-year-old I wasn’t actually. And the possibility that she will be very different than I was. I’m raising her ideologically very differently than I was raised. And I don’t want it to seem that it would be okay with me if my sixteen-year-old got drunk. But there’s a part of me that probably needed to when I was sixteen. And the thought of her in her teens, actually, does absolutely terrify me. Yes, it does.

Correspondent: How far in the future can you think about Leta?

Armstrong: Oh, not very far. No, no, no. You can’t do that with her. I mean, it’s a new lesson. You wake up and you think you’ve got it mastered. And then she will just knock you on your ass immediately the next day.

(Photo credit: Carol Browne)

Categories: People

Tatia Rosenthal (BSS #275)

Tatia Rosenthal is is most recently the director of $9.99. The film is presently playing at the New Directors/New Films series, which is running between March 25 and April 5 at MOMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It is also scheduled for limited release on June 17, 2009.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Ushering in an economic revolution.

Guest: Tatia Rosenthal

Subjects Discussed: Unintentionally defying the “good things come in threes” maxim, animating at two frames per movement, Bill Plympton, the aesthetic advantages of budget limitations, character proportions in relation to the sets, camera placement, a shared affinity for short lenses, immersing puppets in shadow, dealing with sweat in animation, animating natural elements, “A Buck’s Worth” as template for $9.99 (YouTube link), compositing vs. in-camera stop-motion animation, shrinking the Lilliputian puppets down in post, sticking to scale parameters, the look of the piggy bank, human mouths and animating Os, the problems of animating dialogue, whether animation must have fantastical elements to be “animation,” magical realism, animating eyes and blinking, breaking away from stereotypical body movement and defying cliches in animation, animating multiple characters in the Show and Tell scene, Anthony Elworthy, ambition, tracking shots, color coordination, self-help books, and graphical elements.


Correspondent: The other thing I wanted to note is sweat in this film, and bodily fluids in general. Now we see sweat in a love scene late in the film and also in the elevator. However, going back to this question of lighting, I should point out that you lit this in such a way so it appears that the texture is sweating, even though it isn’t. So I’m wondering about how you dealt with this idea of actually having to put some sort of moisture on the puppets in order to get that sense of seat. And not only that. You also have to animate that as well. So I’m curious how this came about.

Rosenthal: I think you’re going to be surprised by the answer. Did you like it?

Correspondent: Yeah, I did.

Rosenthal: Interesting. Because it was an accident. And we were doing our best to conceal the sweaty look. Because the silicone actually appears shiny and looks like sweat. The material that we used. And we were doing our damnedest to erase it with powders and stuff like that. And then some of it would get revealed. Because the animators were touching the puppets. And they looked like they gradually were sweating. And then when we got to post, what we did, when it was really distracting, we deleted it frame-by-frame.

Correspondent: Really?

Rosenthal: Painstakingly. And the places where it stayed were the places where it felt appropriate to the scene. Like you’re remarking. So it was really sweating in reverse.

Correspondent: Oh, but I like sweat! Characters should sweat. Puppets should sweat.

Rosenthal: I like it now.

(Photo: Quentin Jones)

Categories: Film

Adam Del Deo (BSS #274)

Adam Del Deo is most recently the co-director of Every Little Step. The film is presently playing at the New Directors/New Films series, which is running between March 25 and April 5 at MOMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It is also scheduled for limited release on April 17, 2009. You can also read our related review.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Walking a thin line between the need to perform and employment.

Guest: Adam Del Deo

Subjects Discussed: How an outsider’s experience assists in the making of a Broadway documentary, working with James Stern, filming the audition process for the A Chorus Line revival, behind-the-scenes access, hesitation from prospective cast members being filmed, capturing uncomfortable truths in a documentary, documenting the compulsive need to perform, keeping tabs on the many documentary subjects, whether being liked is an artistic liability, casting discrimination, Baayork Lee, Bob Avian’s directorial temperament, Jacques d’Ambrose blowing out his knees in his forties, what a dancer does when he can’t dance anymore, Michael Bennett profiting incommensurately from the dancers, the original A Chorus Line dancers not receiving royalties for the revival, not talking with Wayne Cilento, and whether a documentary filmmaker has the moral obligation to show all sides of the story.


Correspondent: I also wanted to offer an observation. One moment in which Yuka, who is up for Connie, reveals that she was born in Japan. And the production team expresses some concerns because she can’t, in their view, possibly nail the right dialect because she wasn’t born in the States. In fact, Baayork Lee says, “There’s something about being born in America and fighting for a seat on the F train.” Seeing as how Yuka did, in fact, get the part, this is interesting to me. Because if you were to take such a judgment and put it into another occupation, it would be discrimination. So I am curious. If an actor has the chops, should they not be able to essentially get the part irrespective of the background? This is one of the interesting things, I think, about the film, in which you see such a blunt judgment — despite the fact that it’s done in all love — laid down on the table like that. So what of this dilemma?

Del Deo: I think it’s an interesting observation. I think you’re right. Whoever’s right for the role and best for the role should get the role. But casting roles is very, very subjective. There’s not a specific set of standards and information. I mean, what Baayork is seeing and what Bob Avian is seeing, they’re seeing that differently. That part of the film is, to me, one of the most fascinating parts of the film. Because Baayork is looking at Yuka. She created that role. Baayork Lee was taped by Michael Bennett. And that narrative created the role of Connie. She also happens to be the choreographer for the revival. Now over thirty years later, she’s casting the character of Connie. Which is her. And so she says to Bob Avian, “You know, I don’t see myself that cute.” And Bob’s saying, “Well, she’s very likable.” And she’s like, “Well, it’s me.” And so that was very interesting. But it’s so subjective. And there’s a good healthy debate that happened between the creative team as to who was going to play what role. And I think it’s part of the process.

Correspondent: But do you think though that such a judgment almost crosses the line to some degree? Because she does — like I say, she gets cast in the part. She does a great job. And so it could be one of those things that Baayork just let off. Because they’re all excited about casting the right role. Nevertheless, I say to myself, “Well, this is very interesting. Because if this is a judgment. And these people are true professionals. Imagine what all the other shows are like.” And so I’m not sure if it’s entirely fair if the actor has the chops.

Del Deo: I mean, she got the role.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Del Deo: Baayork, she had questions about that. They ultimately all decided she was best for it. Correct? But she maybe wasn’t on board right away with that decision. She wanted to express her desire possibly to cast someone else. I think she talks about J. Elaine [Marcos]. That was her opinion. But it wasn’t her call. I don’t believe it was a racial issue.

Categories: Film

T.C. Boyle III (BSS #273)

T.C. Boyle is most recently the author of The Women. To listen to our previous interviews with Mr. Boyle, check out The Bat Segundo Show #70 and The Bat Segundo Show #10.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering new author taxonomies.

Author: T.C. Boyle

Subjects Discussed: How to conquer jet lag, Ellen Key’s The Woman Movement, the individual vs. the spirit of the time, feminism and Frank Lloyd Wright, notions of education, Miriam’s presence and hypercaffeinated prose, balancing the women in The Women, the ABAB narrative of the first section and Talk Talk, representing Wright through his women, novelizing a fictive novelist’s biography, Blake Bailey, the burdens of chronological order, parallels between Wright and Boyle, the question of what anybody really knows about history from hearsay, seeing the details through an ever-shifting prism, the novel as a suspect medium, Riven Rock, dashes, sentences, and parenthetical information, annotations and “the rest is commentary,” art standing above morality, balancing empathy and the satirical impulse, rejecting reader expectations, reputation and renown vs. not knowing, why cruelty is necessary, reevaluation, empathy and narcissism, and understanding an artist.


Boyle: I try to get it both ways. I try to involve you in something in a satiric way. And yet it should also move you. And of course, in this book, I had to do that because of the tragedy of Mamah, which will conclude the book. So you have to set the reader up for that throughout. And I think there is tragedy throughout the book. Tadashi’s life is incredibly tragic in many, many regards. So again, I’m playing one element against the other throughout. And there is commentary upon commentary upon commentary. And, for me, it opened up the structure and it made it fun. It made it invigorating. A lot of the footnotes exist to give you information that I would like you to know about Frank Lloyd Wright and his buildings and where he was at any given time. But a lot of them also, I just express surprise on the part of Tadashi. And I find the hilarious.

Correspondent: Well, the question is: Okay, the reader wants to know about the artist. And essentially you believe — your own particular view is — that the art should stand above any morality. This is interesting because we don’t know about the artists. And simultaneously, well, you do have many details about Taliesin, as well as the skies and the views and all that. But I’m curious if this almost runs counter to the impulse if you’re playing with the reader’s expectations. So that they will never know about the artist, even though this is, in fact, why they read your books. Whether that’s entirely fair to the reader.

Boyle: Well, don’t forget that when I am creating art, I don’t mean to be fair to the reader or unfair to the reader. Those questions lie right outside the parameters of what I’m doing. I’m dreaming something. I’m creating something for my own purposes. I deliberate to you. And I hope that you interact with it in some way. And obviously you do and other readers do. Sophisticated art, to my mind, doesn’t provide answers and doesn’t have an agenda other than art itself. So I think a book like this one, of all my books, is probably the one in which the reader will be most engaged to try and unravel the truth of what it is in its own right. And don’t forget. I’m not writing about an unknown figure here. Kinsey, as you know, was recognizable second only to the President in this country in his time. But by the time I wrote about him, everyone had completely forgotten who he is. No one knows who he is. And Kellogg too was lost to the mists of history. But again, Frank Lloyd Wright, there’s been a thousand books. There’s a cult. People are lined up in Chicago today, freezing, to get in and go on the tour. So this is someone who has been written about eternally and is very well-known. My interest is: How do I get a new angle on this?

Correspondent: So by him being more well known than Kinsey or Kellogg, you can then justify this notion of not knowing Frank Lloyd Wright. That’s what you’re saying. Of the reader not knowing.

Boyle: If this is your interpretation, I would say yes. But again, I think you do know him. You do see him from his point of view a few times. But I didn’t want to represent his point of view a great deal. Because then you know his motivation and you know what he’s thinking. I would rather have it — that’s why I called it The Women. I’d rather have him viewed from other perspectives so that you can make your own determination. And, yes, I think part of that determination is that he was incredibly narcissistic. Maybe one of the most narcissistic people who ever lived. And yet narcissism, as we talked about with regard to Peck Wilson in Talk Talk, can be very damaging to everybody around you. I like to hope and think that I am sympathetic to people whom I meet and with people who are close to me. And that far from damaging them, I might even be aiding them in some way. A narcissist like Frank Lloyd Wright though, or Kinsey or Kellogg, doesn’t view the world in that way. Everybody else is simply valuable, only as they fit into his regime. So I think that any reader, even the least sophisticated reader of this book, will have a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright that may be more true than what you get from a biography.

(Photo credit: Christopher Felver)

Categories: Fiction

Andrea Peyser (BSS #272)

Andrea Peyser is most recently the author of Celebutards.



peysernote2[PROGRAM NOTE: At the 22 minute mark, while the conversation concerned itself with the dangers of generalization, a woman, who was sitting at a table located a good seventy-five feet away from them, gave Ms. Peyser and Our Young, Roving Correspondent a note. The note read: CAN YOU PLEASE TALK A LITTLE QUIETER? Now it should be observed that, while the conversation was animated, the two talkers did keep their volume level to a reasonable decibel level. Indeed, many folks sitting adjacently to these two appeared to be interested in the conversation. (This has been known to happen from time to time, since these conversations are recorded in public places. Indeed, there are a few amicable people working at one Midtown cafe who have urged Our Correspondent to come back because these conversations are apparently quite odd and intriguing to them. It also helps that we tip well.) It should also be noted that the woman with the note had congregated with a group of peers for a discussion that deployed such strange terms as “synergy,” “collaboration,” and “market forces,” and that this group talked at a level far exceeded all other conversations occurring in the cafe. We note all this for several reasons: (a) to explain to the listener yet another odd and unusual moment in the history of this program, (b) to point to the problematic lack of distinction between workplace and social gathering point in our present epoch, and (c) to demonstrate that strange forms of passive-aggressive behavior remain troublesomely alive and well.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pursuing the unexpected qualities.

Author: Andrea Peyser

Subjects Discussed: Why celebrities cannot be ignored, “anti-American” sentiment, Sean Penn’s trips to other countries, whether or not Alec Baldwin is entitled to privacy, photographers and paparazzi, the limits of the media, whether hypocrisy is a valid description of celebrity, First Amendment rights, Martin Sheen’s 9/11 remarks, being invited to be honorary mayor, rudimentary viewpoints and free thinking, Nancy Pelosi’s importance, whether it’s possible for Peyser to agree with Al Sharpton, Munich and Black September, the problems of holding an artist’s statement on the same level as the art, Steven Spielberg’s remarks about Israel, the problems with generalizing about Mumia Abu-Jamal’s followers, being friends with Rosie O’Donnell and O’Donnell’s betrayal, on not taking the high road, celebrities of virtue, Bruce Springsteen, old Hollywood vs. the present publicity machine, on being vituperative in the New York Post column, quibbling with the infamous Heath Ledger column, “knowing” the celebrity from a snippet view, whether or not Peyser is happy, giving into the readership, and a few positive things that Peyser can say about the entertainment industry.


Correspondent: You deem Alec Baldwin a celebutard partly because of the infamous voicemail to his daughter. But I’m wondering if it really is fair, given what you’ve just discussed in relation with Sean Penn and his political sentiments, to take something that was never intended for the public and put it up there with something that is actually in the public record. I mean, is it really fair to deem someone a celebutard for their private actions like this?

Peyser: Well, private actions. He left a voicemail. Any idiot knows that anything you say on a cell phone, anything you email and voicemail, it’s out there. He was in the middle of a custody battle. He was threatening his daughter. To come over to California and straighten you out. It got into the public eye and he got furious because of that too. He blamed others for his own actions. That’s also a common thread in celebutardism. When Barbra Streisand, for example, is caught being really, really stupid, she blames other people for her own stupidity. So in the case of Alec Baldwin, he did something really stupid — actually dangerous — and he blamed someone else.

Correspondent: But if it were not Alec Baldwin, someone could leave that voicemail and it may not have been disseminated out into the media like this. Just as, for example, you mention George Clooney and his anger and fury towards a photographer shooting a picture of him above the men’s stall. You’re saying to me that if a photographer came up to you while you were doing your business that you wouldn’t have any particular problem with that?

Peyser: No.

Correspondent: It’s out there to be disseminated?

Peyser: I wish George Clooney would make up his mind. One day, he’s fighting against the stalerkazzi, as he’s called them. As other celebrities have called them. People who stalked Princess Diana. Of course, the courts found that she was killed not because of the paparazzi, but because of her drunk driver. But anyway, he made a very big deal about that. People could be seeing it as censorship. Whatever. But then he turned around and he decided that I am going to back off. And that is censorship. And it’s okay. Say whatever you want about me. So I wish he’d make up his mind really.

Correspondent: Well, he is expressing understandable anger at a photographer shooting a picture of him above the stall. If someone did that to me, I would probably also be quite upset. I’m sure you would too.

Peyser: Yeah.

Correspondent: I’m wondering if it’s fair to hold him accountable for that particular understandable reaction and use this in the broader painting of who he is in relation to all of his other actions.

Peyser: Well, that was in Australia, first of all. He’s giving a picture of the media. The media. I love that word. I’m not shooting George Clooney naked. I really don’t care. But that was in Australia. He got the thing suppressed. He threatened a lawsuit. And I wish he’d now be quiet. And now he’s decided that the media has to be left alone. Which one is it? Are they killing Princess Diana? Or are they okay? Which one is it?

Correspondent: But do you believe that a celebrity is entitled to some level of privacy? Is it really fair to constantly — I mean, you’re living a life as a celebrity. You’re having all these photographers, reporters, paparazzi, you name it, invade your particular personal space. So understandably, your particular lines in interviews and the like are going to be subject to more scrutiny. And so this makes me wonder whether it’s actually fair to attack them.

Peyser: What I really love is how somebody — like, take Madonna, for example. Way back when, she was creating things that would attract media attention. She was desperate for media attention. And now that she’s a huge star, she’s the most controlling person who exists as far as interviews go. So why can they run to me and say, “Please, pay attention. Pay attention.” They do everything including taking their clothes off in public to get us to write about them. To take their pictures. And then when they reach a point of fame and fortune, it no longer exists. I don’t know. Actually, I would say that the media is dreadfully controlled by celebrities. I don’t think it’s as much of a free-for-all as you’re suggesting. I think there are armies of publicists out there who really control the image.

Correspondent: I certainly agree with you about that. You make many interesting points about Tom Cruise and Michael Moore certainly.

Peyser: Yes, that’s very…

Correspondent: I would never interview them because of these particular controls. But nonetheless, look at what happened with the Christian Bale outburst. This was remixed in a very fun way on YouTube. And suddenly things did get out. But the question is whether it’s entirely fair. I mean, I understand what you’re saying. Which is that the media — one needs it to advance in one’s career. But simultaneously, is there a particular point when the media should back off? Should they be probing and taking pictures of children and the like? And that sort of thing?

Peyser: Well, you know, personally, I have never done that. I don’t go after somebody’s children. Not without permission. But you know, I don’t know. Michael Jackson goes out in public with his children in veils. I would say that he’s attracting more attention to them then if he had just gone out in public with children with their faces showing. But I don’t personally condone using children. But I think that a lot of celebrities put them out there. Put them out there to attract attention.

Correspondent: Even if they’re doing their shopping, for example. And the children happen to be along. And then the paparazzi come. I mean, see, this is where we get into — I’m trying to just clarify where you’re coming from here.

Peyser: See, once again, this is a very small thing. I make the point. And I do this in the cases where the celebrity is obnoxious in the control. Of pointing out that at one point in their career, when they were very young, they would do anything for attention. Now I have never stalked anyone. Everything I get is from above-board sources. So I’m not speaking for myself. I’m talking about the hypocrites. The celebrities who use the media and then have no use for it once they’re famous and rich.

Categories: Film, People

Tony Stone (BSS #271)

Tony Stone is the director, writer, producer, editor, and actor of Severed Ways, a film about Vikings that opens in limited release on March 13, 2009.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Unsure of whether he wants to be a Viking or not.

Guest: Tony Stone

Subjects Discussed: The many crew positions that Tony Stone worked, music clearance people who keep weapons under their beds, making a film with seven chapters, how a two week shoot went on for three years, not getting the visuals right the first time, motivations for handheld camera work, accepting art as it is, “Greedo shoots first,” contemporary slang transposed into Viking talk, A Knight’s Tale, how far filmmakers can go in “modernizing” historical settings, the ethics of killing chickens on screen, Ingmar Bergman’s Shame, helpful ways of agitating both vegetarians and meat eaters through cinema, filming a defecation scene, the appropriate constituency of shit for a beautiful shot, Charles Leland’s Algonquin Legends, abstaining from profiling the Abenaki religion, paganism, anarchy, and secular humanism.


Correspondent: “This fish is pretty killer.” Well, “killer,” as I understand it, is a recent modifier in the English language.

Stone: Yes, it is.

Correspondent: And I don’t think necessarily that the Vikings were using this or that the Nordic tongue had any answer to “killer.” So why the modernization of etymology here? Is this an inroad point along the lines of the Viking headbanger who likewise appears in this?

Stone: Yeah. It’s that. But it’s also that a lot of the times, you’d watch any period piece or historical film, whether it’s Romans or barbarians or whatever else, they’re speaking in semi-Shakespearean accents in their Old British. It doesn’t really make any sense. And everything’s very formal. There’s no reason why, a thousand years ago, they weren’t just as casual as us and they had their own vernacular. So this is using a piece of dialogue — like “This fish is killer” — is basically more of an accurate translation in my mind. Because you’re taking whatever their vernacular was and putting it into our vernacular. So you understand the tone and the vibe of what they’re actually saying. So I actually find there’s more accuracy in it. And we’ve just been so beaten down by the traditional Hollywood stupidity of how I’m dealing with history in films. So that sort of explains why I wanted it there. And of course, the film is trying to bridge the past and the present. And so it’s maing these characters have mannerisms that maybe the dude walking down the street has. Or whatever else. It’s trying to just not have it be this distant, far off, separate thing. It’s trying to make it more current and now. And it is with us.

Correspondent: But on the flip side, there is a certain point where it becomes ridiculous; i.e., A Knight’s Tale, for example. In which you have the Nike swoosh in the Middle Ages. Do you remember this film?

Stone: Yeah, I do. I do.

Correspondent: I mean, it was totally ridiculous. It was fun. But at the same time, one does not look to this for verisimilitude.

Stone: “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Yeah.

Correspondent: So the question is: how far can you go with this?

Stone: Yeah, that’s interesting. A Knight’s Tale. I forgot about that. It’s been a while. But yeah. They use modern music.

Correspondent: “We Will Rock You.” Yeah.

Stone: Then there’s that amazing part where they’re going back to London. And the Thin Lizzy song comes in. “The Boys Are Back In Town.” (laughs) It’s very incredible.

Correspondent: I mean, if we’re talking about Hollywood stupidity, I’m wondering how…

Stone: Yeah. Obviously, there is a level of absurdness to it. I’m not going to deny it. But I think the film is sort of rebellious in a way. It’s trying to set up a dialogue. I don’t know. But in a way, like I’m saying, it’s sort of modernizing the Viking. Making him a current character. Making him more similar to somebody maybe you know is the idea. I’m just getting away from that wall that’s usually put up in terms of dealing with historical material.

Categories: Film

Eric Kraft, Part Three (BSS #270)

Eric Kraft is most recently the author of Flying. This is the third of a three part conversation with Kraft about all of his Peter Leroy books, an epic of more than a million words which Our Young Roving Correspondent was insane enough to read. These podcasts tie in with a roundtable discussion of Flying involving numerous people.

(To listen to Part One of this conversation, go here. To listen to Part Two of this conversation, go here.)



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contemplating the stamina of listeners.

Author: Eric Kraft

Subjects Discussed: Writing about a location when not being at that location, intermittently returning to Babylon to absorb some details for Babbington, the limitations of revisiting place, having too many facts at one’s disposal, mysterious dark-haired girls, Peter Leroy’s muses, the gradual augmentation of swagger, seducing the audience, misheard literalisms, whether or not a meal has feelings, Boston Phoenix restaurant critic Robert Nadeau and B.W. Beath, the “warm and cuddly” label attached to Kraft’s work, perverse impulses and the telling of the tale, the source of the odd smell in Matthew’s apartment in Reservations Recommended, Kraft’s delivery of a letter to Jean Shepherd and a subsequent radio show based around that letter, dwelling more on the recent present, going to towns that have interesting names, Leroy’s influence on the memories of Kraft’s friends, efforts to make Kraft a famous writer, the effect that Random House’s purchase of Crown had on Kraft’s books, making a big score with a commercial book, dealings with Amblin, writing the Inflating a Dog screenplay, Donald M. Murray’s My Twice-Lived Life, the relationship of socks to a writer’s output, Madeline’s position on mismatched socks, self-congratulation and repetition, how to become an experienced tequila drinker, the semantics of “cult audience,” whether or not Kraft gets bags of cash in the mail, caring about an audience, the jokes that the Krafts wish they heard in bars, waiting for the dialogue to come, being in control, and the burden of holding onto scraps.


Correspondent: Has it ever occurred to you to try and make a big score in terms of writing a completely commercial book? In an effort to get people attached into the Peter Leroy universe? Or is such a thing absolutely impossible? Or did you, in fact, try to do this and it turned out to be so quirky and eccentric?

Kraft: (laughs)

Correspondent: I’m just curious.

Kraft: Where is it? I’ve forgotten which book it is.

Correspondent: Oh yeah. One of the books where there’s the publishing meeting. I think it’s the first one in Manhattan.

Kraft: It’s in Leaving Small’s Hotel, where Peter’s publishers want him to add more blood and gore to the Larry Peters series. And he can’t do it. It doesn’t work out that way. He keeps turning in quirky Larry Peters stories. And I’m much the same way. I don’t think I could possibly do it. I haven’t bothered wasting my time trying to do it. And the other way I’ve managed to shoot myself in the foot so very well is in the matter of film sales. When Herb ‘N’ Lorna was released and was reviewed on the front page of The New York Times, I got a call almost the next day from Amblin — Steven Spielberg’s company. And I spoke with people there. And we had a number of interesting conversations. And I think perhaps, in the second or third phone call, I said, “Of course, the one thing that’s of great concern to me is that, because I have plans for all of these characters, there are many, many other things I want to do with them. I would have to retain control of the characters.” There was a silence. And essentially after that, a click!

Correspondent: (laughs) Oh my god.

Kraft: It wasn’t quite like that. But it was almost like that. That the matter was at an end.

Correspondent: Wow.

Kraft: And there have been other little explorations from Hollywood and so on. And I’ve basically said the same thing. However, now that I’ve brought the characters along as far as I have, I’m ready. So…

Correspondent: Well, this makes me curious about a parallel universe in which you would open up a Happy Meal and get a piece of erotic jewelry. That would be very good for America, I think.

Kraft: I think that the marketing rights are something we’d really have to — yeah.

Correspondent: But simultaneously…

Kraft: And Leroy Lager, I think, would be launched as well. A poem on the back of each bottle.

Correspondent: Simultaneously, you did write a screenplay for Inflating a Dog.

Kraft: I did.

Correspondent: So you were actually trying to have a big score here. Or at least some sort of film out of the deal.

Kraft: Actually, that was a time when there was no work for us in educational publishing. I couldn’t find any work at all. And I had a lot of time on my hands. And I was thinking, “What can I do that might bring in some cash?” So there were two things that seemed to me like brilliant ideas. Write a screenplay based on Inflating a Dog. And approach Eli Zabar about turning the shopping experience at the Vinegar Factory into something like a treasure hunt, where I would write descriptions of the foods that would lead people from one thing to another.

Correspondent: (laughs) It would confuse them.

Kraft: An astonishing day would be Eli Zabar whizzing around town from one shop to another. But he almost liked the idea.

Categories: Fiction

Eric Kraft, Part Two (BSS #269)

Eric Kraft is most recently the author of Flying. This is the second of a three part conversation with Kraft about all of his Peter Leroy books, an epic of more than a million words which Our Young Roving Correspondent was insane enough to read. These podcasts tie in with a roundtable discussion of Flying involving numerous people.

(To listen to Part One of this conversation, go here. To listen to Part Three of this conversation, go here.)



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Astonished by the celerity of interlocutor and author.

Author: Eric Kraft

Subjects Discussed: The notion of roles in the Peter Leroy books, King Lear, Peter Leroy’s alternative universe, the Muddleheaded Dreamers Motorcycles Club, Marlon Brando, the halfway house between the real world and the imaginary world, geek swagger, adjusting to contemporary folkways when writing about the 1950s, whether truth is findable within limitations, the old definitions of novel, Herman Melville, Pandora in the Congo, Perry Melville’s The Raven and the Whale, increased emphasis on formalist structure in the Leroy books, borrowing structures from other books, Raskol vs. Raskolnikov, being informed by other literary work, Don Quixote, on not knowing narrative details in advance, the risk of losing spontaneity, writing in the predawn hours, martinis at 5:00 PM, the North American Proust Society, the concern for construction in the Leroy books, Peter and Albertine shifting from hotel proprietors to hotel occupants, having twenty titles for future books, the Peter Leroy books on CD-ROM, uphill battles with publishers, why the Leroy books went out-of-print, cross-references and hyperlinks, the epidemic of vidiocy, Kraft’s changing views on online annotation, and the future of the book.


Kraft: Peter’s alternative universe at the time of Flying is located at something like 1960 in our universe and in our America. And at that time, the definition of the roles available to a boy his age were quite rigid. And the number of options was quite narrow. Things were not as fluid, certainly as they are now. And that’s one of the things. When I put myself back in the time from my life that was going to have to serve as the basis for Peter’s, it was something that I reacted against and found laughably limiting. At the time, it was frustrating and annoying. But now, from distance, in how much has happened and how many more options are open to a boy like Peter, it seemed laughable. And so it became essentially laughable. But you know, a lot of those roles were defined not directly, but by various cultural artifacts. You mentioned the MDMC — the Muddle-Headed Motorcyclists Club — and Johnny is the leader of that. Well, Johnny — the portrait of Johnny when you first see him — is exactly Marlon Brando in The Wild Bunch. I mean, there he is. With the same sort of cab driver’s cap and so on. So I very deliberately littered the ground with these references to the kind of cultural role-defining models that existed at that time.

Correspondent: But the MDMC is something of a halfway house between the real world and the imaginary world. It’s almost as if a swagger, which is a big component of this particular book, is something that is presented as an almost alternative form of swagger. I would call it “geek swagger,” which has come an increasingly acceptable notion in contemporary culture. But it also brings to mind what you just described in your answer. And that is you’re writing from your own memories filtered through Peter Leroy, and you’re writing from a time in which folkways are different, mores are different. The way in which we accept things are different. So is the artificial universe the way to find this halfway house? Similar to the MDMC? In order to create a “true” narrative? What’s the situation here?

Kraft: Well, this is the question I’m constantly asking myself. I know that there is an essential truth running through these books somewhere. If I could only find it. (laughs) There’s a time where I thought I was directly heading for it. That I knew it would be something that lay between Peter’s world and my world. And that I probably had a much better chance of success at displaying it if I focused on Peter’s world. Because mine would be an attempt at an honest memoir. And it’s impossible to write an honest memoir. It’s impossible to write a true memoir. As you said, every perception is a misperception to begin with. And from there, it just becomes more and more of a distortion. Can’t be done. However, if you work on the reflection instead, you may be able to adequately suggest the truth of the underlying facts. But finding them is the work of the reader. So because I’m so involved with this, I can no longer quite tell whether that truth is findable, is discoverable. I hope it is. And one aspect of it is, for example, this limiting effect of the roles that society was forcing on people back then. You saw it. So it was there.

Correspondent: Sure. But simultaneously, I might also counterargue that, because the form of this book is different from most novels, that truth, that verisimilitude, really shouldn’t matter so much. So, in a sense, you are both looking for the truth while also redefining what the truth is. And I’m wondering. This must create a dilemma for you when you’re writing any of these particular books. How do you go in and set yourself straight? This is the real I know, and this is the imaginary. We can go Lacan on this.

Kraft: This is a delicious dilemma. This is part of the pleasure of making the books. And I hope it’s part of the pleasure that the reader takes from them. The way I play with verisimilitude is, I hope, a way of scattering treats for the reader. I think it’s what I call absurd verisimilitude. Let’s drop back a bit. Here we are in Edgar’s Cafe. Well, at the time of Poe and Melville, the word “novel” was not what we use it for now. A novel was a true account. A novel would be what we call a memoir today. When Melville wrote Typee, he announced, “This was a novel. It’s all true! It all happened to me!” The opposing form — what we would have in opposition to memoir now is a novel. What was in opposition to a novel was a romance. And what made a romance succeed was not so much the flights of fancy in it, but what at the time people called resemblance. Verisimilitude essentially. Achieved primarily through accumulation of minute detail. Well, that’s what I do. There’s accumulation of minute detail. But my details, I hope, are details that lead the reader to say, “But this is preposterous!” Sometimes, if it works really well, there’s a time when the reader says, “Yeah, yeah, this is real,” and then has that “couldn’t possibly be.” One of the most rewarding moments was at a book club when I was talking with people about Herb ‘N’ Lorna. And after all discussion was over, and we were having coffee and pastries, a woman said, “I just have to confess something. Because this is really hard for me to admit this. But until about ten minutes into your talk, I thought this was all real. I thought this was a biography of two people.” So that was success.

Categories: Fiction

Eric Kraft, Part One (BSS #268)

Eric Kraft is most recently the author of Flying. This is the first of a three part conversation with Kraft about all of his Peter Leroy books, an epic of more than a million words which Our Young Roving Correspondent was insane enough to read. These podcasts tie in with a roundtable discussion of Flying involving numerous people.

(To listen to Part Two of this conversation, go here. To listen to Part Three of this conversation, go here.)



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Searching for his alter ego.

Author: Eric Kraft

Subjects Discussed: The relationship between Kraft & Leroy, reexamining and reimagining biographical details through a fictional hero, MTV and the 1950s, acts of liberation and the shared mind, the Larry Peters books and the gaps between the chapters, references to other books, the love affair between Peter and Albertine, the stewardess and the dark-haired lady, alter egos, Matthew Barber and B.W. Beath, the many twins throughout the Leroy books, being taken back to an earlier conception of the work, Mark Dorset, characters who knock on the doors, Porky White, aerocycles that does not fly, being able to talk with machines, the burdens of memories and stories being tinkered with, aging and dreaming, memories that trigger events, whether misrepresented representations can be defended, maternal grandmothers and erotic jewelry, the importance of digressing, whether every dreamer needs a muse, Albertine as an enabler, exploring the possibility that Albertine doesn’t exist, strangers vs. maps, Phileas Fogg, the conflict between living life and getting it written down, finding the humor in losing people, “printing the legend” while taking a stance for truth, dogboarding accidents, life as “the first draft of memoirs,” and auditors vs. readers.


Correspondent: Peter sets up this journey early on. He includes a helpful explanation and a chart that indicates his need to digress. He writes, “To digress, you must begin by traveling a route that will get you where you intend to go. You must have a goal and a plan for achieving it in order to depart from it. You cannot digress from the right path unless you are already on it.” And yet Peter does acquire a number of maps obtained from gas stations. He then tapes this up on the wall. And then he decides to do away with these maps. And he writes, “Having no map forced me to ask directions of strangers, and along the way I learned that doing so leads to fascinating exchanges, exchanges that are, more often than not, useless, but fascinating nonetheless.” But then, he writes that if he has to take his journey all over again, well, he would do so without a map. Because he’s decided in hindsight that maps are more trustworthy than the advice of strangers. So it seems to me that there’s a conflict going on here. Almost a tragic conflict. Because on one hand, he wants to digress. He wants to meet these particular strangers. On the other hand, if he had to do it again, he would do it through this kind of topographical thrust. And he becomes just as trapped by living on that particular structure and avoiding the digression, if he goes that particular route. So what of this notion of revisiting a possibility in hindsight like this? When Peter buys the candy bars also, it’s Albertine who comes up to the clerk and expresses the magic of receipts. And it’s a wonderful little passage. But this leads me to wonder if Albertine is something of an enabler so that Peter can occupy this disparity between what he did in this past (allegedly) and what he’s coming to terms with in the present, which might also be further tinkering as well.

Kraft: Yes.

Correspondent: And what he insists he would do now if he had that particular chance again. I mean, could Peter even function without her?

Kraft: (laughs) No!

Correspondent: I’m wondering though if it’s your suggestion that every dreamer along these lines needs a muse? I know that’s a lot to throw at you. But go for it.

Kraft: Yeah. An enabler certainly she is, and muse she certainly is. She also grounds him. In the best sense. In ensuring that if his head is in the clouds, then his feet are somewhere near the ground at least. And she, at the same time, encourages him. She establishes for him a space within which he will be free to let his imagination roam. He wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything much in this life without her. Clearly, when he was a boy before they met, he attempted many things. Nearly none of them ever worked out as he hoped they would. Or even worked out at all. And that’s a pattern that is extended into his mature — can we dare to call him mature? Into his later life anyway. But Albertine, she smiles lovingly at his quirks and follies and the strange things that she tries to do. But she’s also there to say, “Peter, it’s time to calm down, sit down, and look at this rationally.”

Correspondent: But simultaneously, one might also consider that Albertine may also be a figment of his imagination. Certainly that’s what I thought.

Kraft: How dare you! (laughs)

Correspondent: Well, I’m telling you. You’ve been holding back on this whole meetup between her and Peter!

Kraft: You’ve found something that hardly anyone has even dared to suggest. But I have asked myself several times whether that could be the case. I’ll just ask the question. I don’t have an answer for this yet. Is Albertine Peter’s way of keeping himself under control to a degree? I don’t know yet.

Correspondent: It’s certainly possible.

Kraft: I don’t know if I want to explore that much more, but it’s certainly possible.

Correspondent: But since he is in the process of concocting composite characters like Raskol, his childhood friend, since Matthew Barber is fictive sometimes and possibly real in some sense, and since you have constantly avoided the question of how he met Albertine, this is why…

Kraft: Although, that’s coming up!

Correspondent: I know that’s coming up. I know you’ve settled that.

Kraft: But even if you read it, you’ll still be asking yourself whether he might not have concocted this. And I’ll be asking myself too.

Categories: Fiction