Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)

Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)
"A curious and wonderful work of great human value by a Danish master." Sebastian Barry, Man Booker finalist (Click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon page)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Angel Gift (A Poem From My New Uplifting Poetry Collection 'My Crimes of Gelato')




ANGEL GIFT

Sometimes the veil
between here and now
is so thin
that angels descend
in the morning sun
carrying gifts

Mountains
save lives
in majestic twilight

Lakes
carry thoughts
with lucid laughter

Meadows
dance into you
if only you let them

And for a second
our hearts become part
of the universal chest








'My Crimes of Gelato' is uplifting, spiritual, and humorous poetry for a world in crisis. Now available on Amazon in Kindle, E-book, and paperback.  


.....

Monday, March 23, 2020

An Homage to Veneto and Italy In These Troubled Times



Ever since the first time I walked into Piazza San Marco as a wide-eyed eleven year old, I've felt that Venice was a home away from home. There is no place in the world that fills me with more emotion than Veneto and Italy. I get a strange sense of belonging, of familiarity that definitely has to do with reincarnation, with lives in Venezia, Vicenza, and the area around Bassano and Marostica. But no matter whether this is true or not, it hurts my heart to follow the grim news coming out of one of the greatest countries in the world.

Italy saved my life in the Nineties when I suffered from depression. The Italian language became my sound healing and the clouds lifted every time I went to language school in Feltre, Lucca, and Perugia or were writing on my novels in Trastevere or on the Amalfi coast. 


So this is a small photo and love letter to my beloved Italy during this difficult pandemic - to the fun loving Italians, to Vicenza, Francisco d'Assisi, Lecco, Zucchero, Vernazza, Atrani, Taormina, Monica Bellucci, Lago di Como, Aosta, Andrea Pirlo, Belluno, Feltre, Bassano del Grappa, Luigi Malerba, Fiat 500, Campo dei Fiori, penne arrabbiata, Gomorra, Canaletto, Paolo Sorrentino, Ravello, Marostica, Santa Caterina da Siena, Gazzetta dello Sport, Carpaccio, Urbino e un tramezzino al tonno in Piazza San Michele a Lucca alle 11.22.



Thanks for all you've given the world, Italy. GET WELL SOON!




Photos: Venice, Bassano del Grappa, Venice, Marostica.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Hope, Peace of Mind, and The Kind of Literature The World Needs


I was born without peace of mind. At least that's what it felt like, but what I know for a fact is that a huge part of it was taken from me when I was four and a half. The next fifty years was a struggle, but the terror inside was probably why I had to develop a sense of humor.

I've never needed medication for my anxieties. White wine was my medication. So was living in my imagination and unlocking secrets from the stars, but the last ten years I've almost become a grounded human being. Internally, my life has never been better than now and I'm actually grateful for the struggles I've had. I would have been a human disaster if I'd gotten everything I wanted when I was thirty-three.

The awareness I have now will change my writing in the future. Most of the fourteen novels I´ve written I wouldn't write today. The Tsar's Dwarf and Flødeskumsfronten, my World War II novel, have been my biggest successes and I'm proud of them, but they are too dark for me now. And my early novels from the nineties are probably too shallow. From now on I want to lift people's spirit but whether it will happen as a novelist, a screenwriter, a spiritual speaker, a poet, or just by being the village idiot I don't know.

When I was keynote speaker at the Book Forum in Lviv, Ukraine in 2017, I told the audience that the age of thrillers and intellectual masturbation will come to an end soon. In the future we're going to need a literature that speaks to the heart because we're heading toward troubled times with a lot of uncertainty around us.

Hope must never become a four-letter world, but in the world of literature and "serious" film it often is. We seem to be addicted to misery which is understandable since it's much easier to write and has more readers. Killing people on the page is a breeze. Making them breathe is a great deal harder. Perhaps the same goes for life, but a lot of people are waking up to the fact that every word we put out there is important.

Do we want to be human sewers trolling everybody we disagree with? Or is it possible to be agents of positive change without writing spiritual dross?

By positive change I don't mean we should go in Disney mode. We still need dramas, tragedies, and edgy thrillers. Nobody in their right mind would want to "outlaw" zombies or police detectives, but the trick is writing them so we can learn something about the human condition instead of increasing the collective anxieties in our volatile world.

I can only talk for myself, but why would I consciously rob others of their peace of mind when I know how dreadful it is to live without it?

******

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Karen Blixen - Storyteller, Mystic, Witch, and Still Going Strong After Her Own Death



Believe it or not, this is a picture of my new best friend. Her name is Karen Blixen and she is considered the greatest Danish writer of the 20th century. When Ernest Hemingway won the Noble Prize, he said they should have given it to the wonderful writer, Isak Dinesen. Isak Dinesen's real name was Karen Blixen and Meryl Streep played her in Out of Africa.

Last year Karen began to appear in my dreams and meditations; then out of the blue, I was invited to talk about my own writing and hers at Charlottenlund Castle in Copenhagen. At first, I didn't really understand why I was chosen because I've only written two novels that are somewhat inspired by her, The Tsar's Dwarf and Skorpionens hale.

When I arrived at the castle, I was surprised to read in the program that "Karen Blixen would have loved The Tsar's Dwarf."  I don't know if that's true but the main protagonist in my novel, Sørine Bentsdatter is a wise witch, and so was Karen Blixen --- a benign one for sure, but definitely not your average Danish Lutheran. "Real art must always involve some witchcraft," she once wrote and that seemed to go for her life as well.

At the event in Copenhagen, I talked about Karen Blixen, The Mystic - her relationship to  spirituality, nature, and destiny. As a mystic myself, I share her world view and deep respect for all gods and faiths. Perhaps that's why I feel she is with me when I read her. Blixen's world creeps into me and refuses to leave me in a way I've only experienced with Rumi and Hermann Hesse. I simply sensed her presence when I re-read Out of Africa last fall.

Perhaps this isn't as strange as it sounds. The relationship between writer and reader is often a metaphysical one because even dead writers love to be read. Just like their prose, they live on and inspire who they can in this beautiful, magical, and enigmatic universe where nobody ever dies.

Recommended reading:
Out of Africa
Winter Tales 
The Roads Round Pisa and The Monkey from Seven Gothic Tales

...

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Spiritual Perspective On The Russia-Ukraine Crisis And The Ego's Need To Feel Superior



Some months ago, a Ukrainian reader wrote me a fan mail about my novel, The Tsar's Dwarf that was translated into his language in 2017. Naturally, I loved the feedback and after a few mails back and forth, the Ukrainian told me that I wouldn't hear from him for a while because he had just joined the air force to fight the Russians.

I remember thinking, is that war from 2014 still on? And yes, unfortunately it is. Over 10,000 have died in Eastern Ukraine. The Western media just "forgot" about it until a few days ago when Russia attacked and seized three Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea - the Ukrainian peninsula Russia annexed four years ago. The conflict could turn into a full-scale war that might affect us all.

So right now my thoughts and prayers go to my Ukrainian publisher-friends at Fabulabook in Kharkov which is close to the war zone in Eastern Ukraine - and to the many awesome readers and writers I met during my two memorable trips to Lviv.

But my thoughts also go to the millions of Russians who want peace with their neighbors. The extreme nationalism we see everywhere in the world is dangerous whether it's by the Black Sea, in small-town America or in Brasilia.

Extreme nationalism is always the work of the human ego and will only cause strife because  politicians love to exploit the ego's need to feel superior to its neighbors! So if we don't understand why there are so many wars, we should just look at the place in ourselves where our Inner Bully wants to control others. All of us need to raise our consciousness to create a better world. Ranting at warmongers, manipulative politicians, and the press is a good way to let off steam but won't do the job. We need to see ourselves as co-creators on this planet instead of powerless zombies in a random and cruel universe.

Non-violent resistance, the arts, and international connections with people who broaden our horizons can help with that. So can small "insignificant" gestures like being nicer to everybody we meet, whether it's online or offline. A better world starts wherever we are right now, not tomorrow, and definitely not when our favorite party wins the election. The true revolution can only come from within. Revolutions aren't decided in voting booths or by wearing red baseball caps. Sure, our leaders are important but not half as important as we think, so perhaps they don't deserve as much love or scorn as we shower them with?

But for now let's pray that the Ukraine-Russia conflict doesn't become a new bloody chapter in the dysfunctional history of humankind. It might sound like a spiritual cliché, but if we don't see everybody as our sisters and brothers, this planet doesn't stand a chance. However, I do think that the collective nationalism will be gasping for air soon because globalization and major changes for the better are coming and we can't stop the spiritual awakening around us, even if we tried.

Unless, of course, there is somebody out there with a lock to the Internet and the human soul, which thank God there isn't.


****
(Photo: Peter from Denmark, Natasha from Ukraine, and Tatiana from Russia at the International Book Forum in Lviv, September 2017)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Denmark for Dummies 2019 - A Superficial Guide to the Greatest Nation on Earth (Except for Bhutan, Perhaps)




You're smart.

You're planning to visit the greatest of the Scandinavian countries.

Yes, admit it, you've always wanted to go to Denmark much more than Sweden because the Danes invented the atomic bomb and hygge. You tell yourself, "Why would I want to go to the French Alps when I can go rock climbing on Falster? I'm trendy, I want to ride my bike with the xenophobic Danes because they're the happiest people in the world." 

Actually, that's not true any more. Finland and Norway beat us this year, but unlike them the Danes always make the news for positive reasons, like killing healthy giraffes in Zoos, or harassing refugees at the border or locking them up on small islands so they get so desperate they flee to Sweden.

Come and visit us, will you? And please bring your credit cards because God knows you're going to need them!



                    GUIDE TO DENMARK
                                    A superficial introduction to our Scandinavian Paradise. 


Name in Danish: Danmark

Inhabitants: 5.7 million

Size: The 8th biggest country in the world if you count Greenland. (Always count Greenland)

Capital: Copenhagen, Copenaghen, Kopenhagen, Copenhague, København (1.5 million)

Ranking: Most Livable City in the World (Monocle, British Magazine, 2008, 2013, 2014)

Other Top Rankings That We Take Pride In:
a) Most Trusting People.
b) Average Consumption of Beer (Fourth highest in the world.)
c) Crime per Capita: Fourth lowest in the world.
d) Best Government in the World (2014)
e) Second Best Country for Women (beating Saudi Arabia)
f) Second Best Country for Singles Traveling Alone.
g) Lonely Planet's Top Destination in 2019, Copenhagen.
h) Least Corrupt Country in the World (We bribed us to that)


Language: Guttural.




Government: Constitutional monarchy.

Currency: Kroner. (6.50 DKK to a US dollar, 0.04 to the Angolan Kwanza)

Religion: No, thank you.

Name of Queen: Margrethe II.

Name of Prime Minister: Mette Frederiksen.




Famous Living Danes: Caroline Wozniacki (tennis player), Lukas Graham (singer), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Mads Mikkelsen, Lars Mikkelsen, (actors), Kevin Magnussen (race car driver), Lars von Trier (enfant terrible), Lars Ulrich (founder of Metallica), Helena Christensen (model), Jussi Adler-Olsen (the Danish Stieg Larsson, just alive), Christian Eriksen, Kasper Schmeichel, Michael Laudrup (soccer players), René Redzepi, Claus Meyer (chefs), Bjarke Ingels (architect), Mary (Crown Princess of Tasmania), Brigitte Nielsen (tall tabloid fodder who just gave birth to her grand child at 54).  

Famous Half Danes: Viggo Mortensen, Scarlett Johansson, Tordenskjold.

Famous Dead Danes You Should Mourn Now: Hans Christian Andersen (author), Søren Kierkegaard (philosopher), King Canute (conquered England), Tycho Brahe (conquered the universe), Isak Dinesen (conquered Africa), Karen Blixen (conquered Meryl Streep), Vitus Bering (explorer who had a strait named after him), Niels Bohr (physicist), Georg Jensen (design), Carl Nielsen (composer), Carl Dreyer (film director), Victor Borge (comedian), Bertel Thorvaldsen (sculptor), Hamlet (Shakespeare's boy toy).

Danish Anti Heroes: Struensee and Nikolai Jørgensen.



Biggest Selling Pop Song of All Time:  7 Years by Lukas Graham (Grammy nominated for Record and Song of the Year in 2017 but beaten by an unknown singer from Tottenham named Adele)

Danish Imperialism: Lego, Maersk, Ecco, Vesta, Bang and Olufsen, Carlsberg, Tuborg, Tiger.

Best Danish Word We Like to Shove Down Your Throat: Hygge. (Hygge almost always involves good food, akvavit, and lighting candles, even though nobody has died. Please don't embarrass yourself by trying to pronounce the word. We don't want to laugh at you)

Best Danish Word You Shouldn't Teach Your Children:  Listepik

Most Important Phrase: Tak for sidst.

Worst Sin You Can Commit in Denmark:  Not saying tak for sidst.

What Does 'Tak for Sidst' Mean? You wouldn't understand, anyway.

Denmark's Claim to Fame in Spain, Greece and Cyprus: Blond girls with herpes.

Denmark's Claim to Fame in the Far East: Badminton.

Denmark's Claim to Fame in the Middle East: Cartoons.

Denmark's Claim to Fame in the UK: Bacon and bikes.




Most Important Danish Invention of All Time: The atomic bomb (Niels Bohr)

Second Most Important Invention of All Time:  Lego

Third Most Important Invention That Actually Wasn't Invented In Denmark But We Take Credit For It Anyway: Danish pastry (Thanks, Austria)




Best Tourist Attraction If You're Into Knights in Shining Armor: Frederiksborg castle (Hillerød) 

Best Tourist Attraction If You're Eight Years Old: Legoland.

Best Tourist Attraction If You're Eighty Years Old: Tivoli.

Most Overrated Tourist Attraction: The Little Mermaid.

  
Time of Glory I: When the Danish vikings conquered England in the 11th century.

Time Of Glory II: When Denmark won the European Championship in football (soccer) in 1992 beating the Germans 2-0 in the final, and the whole country behaved like a frat party.

Most Awesome Cities in Denmark Apart From Copenhagen: Helsingør (Elsinore), Ærøskøbing, Faaborg, Ebeltoft, Ribe, Silkeborg, Skagen, Svaneke, Aarhus (European Capital of Culture, 2017), and Christiania (if you still think that Che Guevara and bean bag chairs are cool)

Best Time to Visit the Land of the Danes: From late May to early September.

Best Month to Commit Suicide Because It's Dark, Dreary, and Everybody Wish They Were in Thailand: January.

Most Patriotic Sacrifice for the Motherland to Make Sure Our Superior Gene Pool Survives:  Do It For Denmark


 

Best Danish Traits: Tolerance, sense of humor, informality.

Worst Danish Traits: Intolerance, sarcasm, xenophobia.




What You'll Miss the Most If You're an American Visiting Denmark: TV anchors with perfect teeth.

What You'll Miss the Most If You're Norwegian: Norway

Most Stupid Thing to Say to a Dane: Now, which part of Germany are you from again?

Second Most Stupid Thing to Say to a Dane: Sweden is my favorite Scandinavian country.

Enjoy your stay. And please forgive Copenhagen for looking like Pompeii. We're building a Metro that we don't really need.




Winner of www.Denmark.net's International Contest, 2009. Slightly updated January 2019.
Copyright, Peter H. Fogtdal, Danish Accent, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017

Most pictures are mine except the beautiful photo of the bikes in Copenhagen which I borrowed from VisitDenmark, and perhaps one or two more, so please forgive me, I mean well.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Travel Advice for Tourists: If You Don't Do This in Venice, You Need to Have Your IQ Tested



This is what you should do when you visit Venice, or I’m going to get so mad at you it’s not even funny!

First, you should go to Piazza San Marco like everybody else because it’s the most beautiful square in the world with the restored freschi on Basilica San Marco and the majestic Doge Palace facing the lagoon, but you WILL go way before 9 AM or after 8 PM unless you’re suicidal or want to bond with 25 Chinese tour groups, two thousand cruise passengers, and 333 pimpled teenagers from Belgium.

Also, you will NOT - I repeat NOT buy a selfie stick for 3 Euros because then you can be sure I'll unfriend you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or worse, I'll send you signed copies of my third novel that nobody liked except my mother, and she's dead.

However, on your second day, you WILL get up at 5.05 AM, throw away your cell phone and the wrinkled map you got for free at your overpriced hotel that's either close to the station or Piazza San Marco, which are the WORST places to get a hotel, but you're forgiven because you probably didn't know better - and now you WILL get lost in the REAL Venezia, enjoying the narrow canals, the red bras flapping in the breeze, the seagulls attacking the garbage bags outside the medieval palazzi, and tears will stream down your face because you didn't know how gorgeous, turquoise, and calm Serenissima was at dawn.

Yes, it's true. You WILL get lost without your GPS.

Your kids WILL scream at you.

Your partner WILL divorce you, but who cares because you've experienced the greatest city on earth before it's destroyed by mass urination, and the rising sea that some day will leave Venice at the bottom of the laguna like a 21st century Atlantis.




 Copyright Peter H. Fogtdal, Danish Accent who has visited Venice about twenty times, and suffers from a serious Venezia-addiction for centuries that can't be cured, thank God!

************

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wild, Wild Country & Gods of Mango: The Art of Following the "Right" Guru



1.
After nine years of hard work, I've finally finished my American novel about faith and gurus called GODS OF MANGO. I thought it was done in 2013, but it needed two more rewrites. The English language version is shorter, leaner, and a little less farcical than the Danish, Det store glidefald that came out last fall.


Actually, it might be divine timing that I'm done now because Netflix just put out a new documentary about the Indian guru, Rajneesh (Osho), who partly inspired my novel. The six-episode documentary series is called WILD, WILD COUNTRY and describes what happened in Oregon when Rajneesh and his radical devotees built a spiritual commune in the middle of the desert. Let me just say it didn't end well unless you're a fan of arson, assassination attempts, and poisoning humanity.


I highly recommend watching the docuseries by Chapman and Maclaine Way. It gives a fairly balanced view of the Rajneesh movement's attempt to take over a sleepy town that will do anything to get rid of this so called sex cult. There are sociopaths on both sides, and everybody sees evil in the others instead of in themselves.




2.
I just sent off GODS OF MANGO to my Ukrainian publisher Fabulabook (Ranok) that did such a great job with my best seller, The Tsar's Dwarf, and to one publisher in India and in the U.S. If any  of you have connections that might be interested, please be kind and let me know. I might end up going with an agent, but only with one who is interested in literature that takes spirituality seriously!


GODS OF MANGO is the story of Nick, a funny but obnoxious ex-CEO who travels to India to visit his new guru, but when he arrives at the Holy Abode outside Varanasi, he can't figure out if his Master is a fraud or a new Jesus. It doesn't help that the ashram is a strange place mirroring Nick's mind. Sometimes it seems like Paradise, other times like North Korea. 


I won't reveal more here, but GODS OF MANGO is hopefully a wise, funny, unpredictable, and uplifting work about spirituality, enlightenment, and faith. Back in the nineties, I was an ambiguous follower of the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba, so spiritual devotees will recognize a little of Baba and Osho in my fictional guru, Sri Bhakti.


PS. The Danish version, Det store glidefald will be presented by the Danish Arts Foundation at the London Book Fair in April as a humorous, fictional Eat, Pray, Love from a male perspective. Wish me luck with my two books. I guess I'm Gemini after all?



Det store glidefald, 333 pages, Turbine forlaget, Denmark. Design by Peter Stoltze.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Visiting Lviv: The Tsar's Dwarf Is Out In Ukraine, And Don't I Just Love That?




From the second I arrived in Lviv, Ukraine, I loved the city. There was something familiar about it, as if I recognized it from a past life, and since I believe in reincarnation, I probably did. 

However, I hadn't gone to Eastern Europe for metaphysical reasons. I'd been invited by Lviv International Literary Festival (Lviv Book Forum 2017) and my Ukrainian publisher Fabula (Ranok) to present my best seller, The Tsar's Dwarf that had come out a few months earlier.




After eight quiet years writing two Danish novels, Det store glidefald and Det egyptiske hjerte, I must admit I loved the attention The Tsar's Dwarf and its author got at Lviv Book Forum, one of the biggest literary events in Eastern Europe with over 200 panels, 320 stands, and writers from 23 countries.

The Tsar's Dwarf is now out in six countries and was on a short list of the best seven foreign works at the Book Forum along with one of my heroes Don DeLillo. The editor at my Ukrainian publisher said that my novel was up there with the best in the business which made me teary-eyed and I signed so many books my face turned yellow and blue which happens to be the Ukrainian colors. 




Apart from that, I was selected to do the keynote speech at the opening ceremony (picture above) where I predicted that the literature of the future will be a literature of healing instead of the darkness of thrillers and the migraine-induced intellectual writing of gloom that scholars are so infatuated with. We're going to need books that offer hope without being shallow and saccharine because we live in challenging times and it might not get better in the near future.  




Lviv was a warm embrace. I met lovely readers everywhere I went. I gave interviews to Western Ukrainian radio, some literary websites, a local newspaper, and both my soul and ego were happy with my five days in one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe.

Lviv had castles, cobblestones, majestic churches, markets, and old world trams rumbling through its crooked streets, but to me the greatness of a city has little to do with tourist sites. Legends grew out of sidewalks and alleyways -- Lviv had so much atmosphere. It was as if the medieval times coexisted with the 1920s, the 1950s, and the present, and they all got along really well. And the fact that the city is cheap for Western Europeans doesn't hurt, either. You could get a fabulous meal for $8 and as you would expect, the borscht was gooooood!





Whenever I visit a new city I like to get up early, walk around, and get lost. This is something I have a talent for, getting lost. Lviv was perfect for that and since I never got a map, I had all the excuses in the world to end up weird places, beautiful places, lovely places, surrounded by letters I didn't understand and the odd angel outside the gorgeous opera house.



When I left Ukraine, it was with joy in my heart. I truly liked the wonderful people at my publisher Fabula. Just looking at the pictures here make me feel good, so why don't you plan a trip to the Krakow of Ukraine before it's turned into a haven for mass tourism?  In five years it might have become another Starbucks-infested city losing its soul to brands, chain stores and Marriotts on the city square. I pray that won't happen, but there's a decent chance it will!

PS. Vladimir Putin, if you're reading this, you should NOT visit Western Ukraine. Check the last picture to see why ...













*Copyright, Peter H. Fogtdal, 2017