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)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Misty Morning 5.52 AM (Poem #1)

Misty morning 5.52 AM.
The sound of squirrels dancing on deck chairs,
corn flakes half digested.

Has anyone noticed that sidewalks are full of emotion?
I jog through the silence of ivy,
avoiding primaries and the destruction of iPads.
It's better this way: 

The innocence of morning.
Stray cats counting paws under beat-up Mazdas,
librarians quoting Rumi into the stillness.
Nothing can kill me today,
not even the threat of hash tags,

dissolving before we know it. 

The picture is from Santa Maria degli Angeli, Umbria in 2013. Poem from April 27, 2016. Copyright, Peter H. Fogtdal

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Earthquake Anniversary in Nepal - A Country Still Struggling a Year After the Disaster

In December 2012 I was in Kathmandu to give a talk at the Literary Jatra, and I fell in love with Nepal. the Nepalese, and the Tibetan community in Boudha. As most of you will remember, Nepal was hit by a huge earthquake a year ago where 9,000 died, so this is my small homage to the beautiful country in the Himalayas.

Please join me in supporting organizations like Karuna-Shechen by donating money to the reconstruction of Nepal. 100% of the donations go to their projects. The operating costs are paid by a donor, which makes this Buddhist charity founded by Matthieu Ricard, one of the most credible around. Click here if you're able to help.

Copyright, Peter H. Fogtdal, November, December, 2012.


Monday, April 11, 2016

An English Translation of The First Chapter of The Egyptian Heart (Det egyptiske hjerte)

My thirteenth novel, Det egyptiske hjerte was published in Denmark in late 2015. Here is a translation of the first chapter by Mark Kline that takes place in medieval Venice.  (There's a rambling prologue from contemporary Venice before this chapter, but you have to wait for that and the rest of the book until it comes out in your language)

If you're interested in knowing more about The Egyptian Heart, contact foreign rights manager from PeoplesPress, Louise Langhoff Koch ( who is at the London Book Fair here in April.  Seventeen publishers around the world are considering my strange and entertaining reincarnation novel right now: six from Germany, four from France, two from Sweden, and one from the Czech Republic, Netherlands, Russia, Portugal, and Brazil. 

 You can read more about the novel on the older entries of my blog. 
Louise Langhoff Koch at
Louise Langhoff Koch at
Louise Langhoff Koch at

Chapter 1

Pietro Polani, the thirty-sixth Doge of Venice, greets the person he hates most in the whole world.
    The year is 1144; world history hasn’t reached the lagoon yet. It’s preoccupied with the Crusades and the Holy Land and paying no attention to Serenissima, the Venetian Republic. Actually, the Doge has invited world history to the lagoon several times, but world history keeps giving him the cold shoulder. World history has nothing but contempt for sand banks and merchant fleets. It demands bloodbaths of epic proportions - it insists on massacres of women and entire families. In short, world history is a psychopath, and we’ll never understand it if we don't recognize that.
    Pietro Polani has been Doge for fourteen years. He has grown into the position in such a way that he no longer knows where the Doge begins and Pietro ends. At the tender age of twenty-nine, he was elected because of his reputation for honesty and intelligence. But now the most powerful families of Venice are tired of him because of his honesty and intelligence. 
   The times haven't been kind to Pietro Polani, who wanted to be a Prince of Peace but instead inherited war. Wars are raging everywhere around the Adriatic Sea. When one fire is put out, another flares up. Hungarians attack the Dalmatian coast; Normans try to contain Venice; Padua and Fano are sassy children who receive well-deserved spankings. The world is aflame as always, but luckily it’s God's flame, so there's nothing we can do about that. After all, who should we complain to? The Devil?

The Doge receives the Patriarch of Grado in the Great Hall of the Doge Palace. The Patriarch is the Pope's representative in the lagoon. He wields more power than a Cardinal and is number two in the Church hierarchy. A herald bangs his spear on the stone floor and announces the Patriarch in a high, piercing voice that ricochets off the walls, tapestries, and trunks like stinging slaps to the face.
    Pietro Polani is surrounded by courteous servants and his loyal eunuch, Sano, who was castrated at the age of twelve. The eunuch is a short man with tawny red hair and a wrinkled face who looks like a cross between an elderly man and an infant. He carries several rolls of parchment under his arm. His lips are shaped into a permanent sly smile. The table in the Great Hall is set for a feast, the icy lagoon air oozes in through the smoke hole, the flames in the fireplace flicker. Polani has donned a long ermine robe and leather gloves to keep warm. He's wearing his lemon-yellow Doge skullcap and ear flaps, and a heavy chain of gold hangs from his neck.
    The thirty-sixth Doge of Venice is a thin man of medium height with small, friendly gray eyes, a large nose, and lips outraged by his fellow humans' pettiness. His mouth is small, his cheeks and intuition sharp, his hair and beard curly are every bit as dark as the anxiety he bears.
    The Patriarch of Grado sits at a large, heavy oak table, a gift from the Norman Emperor that had been shipped from Sicily to the lagoon in 1138. The two men are sons of merchants from the San Luca parish close to the Rialto Bridge. They were childhood friends, though they show no sign of that now. Their shared past can be sensed only as a migraine of the soul, but the Doge intends to appeal to the best in the Patriarch, should there indeed be any best remaining to appeal to. In other words, the Doge will look his old friend in the eye before deciding whether or not to crush him.

The Doge's Palace is not the present-day opulent structure on St. Mark's Square, a palatial wedding cake featuring Byzantine embellishments. Back then there was no glazed facade with broad arcade, marble benches, and Gothic columns. Nor did the Lion of St. Mark's stand on its pedestal, staring out at the horizon. And it still lacked wings – they flew in from Persia or Egypt in or around the thirteenth century. The Doge's Palace was nothing more than a large, clumsy Middle Age fortress with stout walls, four round castle towers, and a closed courtyard for knights and their horses.
   Only a small segment of the Middle Age foundation survives today. It rose out of the mud during excavations in the 1700s. Suddenly the gates holding back the repressions of the twelfth century opened. Agonies and memories stood in line to escape; they seeped up from the underground as murderous threats and unanswered prayers, as frail voices, each with a story that segued into a cloud and sailed over the lagoon. Stories never disappear. They bury themselves in the bodies of cities and shape the geography. Stories engrave themselves into the minds of humans and alter their perception of reality … or at least make them aware that realities come and go, for Heaven knows, there are so many versions.
   Pietro Polani's waiter pours wine into the clay-colored mugs.
   The large hall is dark, the air heavy with smoke and mildew. Inch-thick sheep rugs cover the cool stone floor, but no matter how the Doge's men try to keep warm, the freezing wind off the lagoon shows who's boss. One can’t tyrannize nature; it always gets the last word, no matter the century.
    The Doge toasts with the Patriarch.
    The Patriarch toasts with the Doge.
    Sano the eunuch closely observes both men. He has been looking forward to this meeting, because he's convinced that blood will flow.
    The Patriarch of Grado sits erect in his burgundy-colored robe and high hat. He was born Enrico Dandolo, an uncle to the "real" Enrico Dandolo, who sixty years later will be honored as having made Venice a major power. Why? Because he burned to the ground the greatest city of the Middle Ages, Constantinople, along with its 100,000 citizens. I repeat: the road to immortality is always paved with greed. Think of idiots like Alexander the Great, Peter the Great, and Napoleon. What do they all have in common? They could never get enough. That's why they were great.
    The Doge and the Patriarch study each other over the knots of the oak table.
    The spiders on the wall creep closer together.
    Each of these powerful men has devised a strategy for this meeting. The Patriarch has thought through everything down to the tiniest detail, has considered his arguments and weighed them on Biblical scales, whereas the Doge's strategy is the exact opposite – he doesn't have one. The right words will appear when he needs them. Pietro Polani is nothing more than a ventriloquist who seeks his inspiration from St. Mark and trusts that inspiration will flow out of his mouth at the proper time, and should that against all expectations not happen, he will bequeath his fiasco to God – that's his strategy.
    "I have requested Your Excellency's presence to have a talk, man-to-man," the Doge says. The Patriarch nods, but he's already on his guard. His eyes are glued on Pietro, his one eyebrow raised as a sign of an unhealthy scepticism, his fingers readying themselves for drum solos on the table, should they gather the courage.
    The Doge stands up enthusiastically. "Do you remember when we went fishing in Rio San Luca and found a body drifting down the stream?"
    The Patriarch of Grado stares in surprise at the Doge. "No."
    "It was the first dead man we'd ever seen."
    "You don't remember?"
    "No, unfortunately not," the Patriarch says. He reaches for the documents he has laid on the table; if there hadn't been any documents to reach for, he would have reached out for his wine mug, and if there hadn't been a wine mug, he would have groaned a bit louder than he permits himself to now.
    "You're the one who emptied his pockets and found the three silver coins."
    The Patriarch remains silent.
    "The dead man worked for your father, didn't he?"
    "I wouldn't know." The irritated glint in the Patriarch's eye seems to have hardened.
"Three silver coins was a lot back then. Do you remember what we spent them on?"
    The Patriarch shakes his head.
    "A knife, Enrico. A very dull knife we bought at the market in San Salvador. We took turns using it, and once we fought over it."
    The Patriarch looks down at his boots; where else could he look, with the Doge insisting on blabbering like a stupid hag. The mood in the Great Hall is dull and listless, more so than at any time during the occupancies of the past twenty Doges. In fact, there is no mood; it's fled to the lagoon, for a mood can only take so much.
    The eyes of the Doge and the Patriarch meet for a few short seconds, but the Patriarch doesn't like eye contact. He wishes only a dialogue with our Lord, for our Lord is the only peer of the Patriarch, and even that is debatable.
    "With your permission, Principe." Enrico studies his pudgy hands. "Surely you haven't invited me here to talk about old times?"
    "Indeed, I have." Polani beams.
    A nervous tic flashes over The Patriarch's face. Why is it that the Doge makes him feel so insecure? Enrico is clearly more gifted and superior to Pietro in every way, yet he feels as if he's tagging along behind when he is with his childhood friend. Is it because of the respect associated with the five-hundred-year Doge tradition? No, that can't be it, the Church has existed longer than Serenissima, and besides, Jesus Christ is its King.
    "So you don't believe that our personal relationship has any influence on our present-day disagreements?" the Doge asks.
    "I have no disagreement with you, Principe," The Patriarch says.
    "For the love of God, Enrico." The Doge pounds his fist on the table. "Can't you get it through your thick skull that I'm speaking to you as a fellow human being? I'm trying my best to strip away the formality of our positions, so we stand naked before each other – don't look so shocked, Enrico, I'm speaking metaphorically here. Come on now. We were together in The Holy Land in the time of the old Doge, you even saved my life. Everything we went through together, doesn’t that mean anything at all to you?”
    "There’s no reason to patronize me," the Patriarch snaps.
    "There's every reason to patronize you, Enrico, otherwise we'll never untangle this knot we're in. And may I remind you that I'm responsible for the influence you now have as Patriarch."
    "Let's get down to business," Enrico snarls. How can one take this fool in the Doge's Palace seriously, a man enthusiastic one moment and phlegmatic the next, more known for his strange behavior than his capabilities? Pietro Polani is not a good Doge. For the fourteen years he has sat on the throne, he has been an unworthy representative for Serenissima. He is popular among the citizenry, yes, because he has seduced the hearts of the poor, but fortunately The Great Council clipped his foreign-policy wings before he could do too much damage.
    "With all due respect, Principe, what I mean is, it would be better to –"
    "I'm not sure you know what's 'better', Enrico, for you or for God. But let's get down to business, as you so un-poetically call it. For almost a year now you've attempted to thwart the appointments I've made, the latest of which is the abbess of San Zaccaria. You swept my candidate aside and installed your own."
    "I wouldn't use the word 'thwart'."
    "Well I would." Again the Doge slams his fist down on the table. "Appointments to offices in Serenissima is a responsibility of my office, which is why I take it as a personal affront when you overrule my decision."
    "I act only with regards to the reforms of Pope Gregor, which His Holiness in Rome wishes to be implemented –"
    "And in that way you oppose me."
    "This is not a personal attack on you, Principe."
    "Everything in this world is personal, Enrico," the Doge yells, "and I’ve had enough. Last year you intervened by overruling a case under the authority of the Bishop of Castello, but my appointment of the new abbess in the San Zaccaria parish will not be disallowed, Enrico, is that understood?"
    "With all due respect, the Church overrides the secular world."
    "So now you’re saying that you also have no respect for the constitution of Serenissima?"
    "Of course I do. I just have greater respect for God."
    "Then let's get everything out in this Light you claim to be serving." The Doge smiles wanly. "Let's get it all out – your damn pettiness, your lust for power, your enormous inferiority complexes, Enrico. Let's look at how your monks break into cloisters and rape our sisters in the name of God. How they acquire Bishop positions, not because they're pious but because they're granted property with their purchase. Our beloved Church is becoming more and more corrupt. What do you say to that, my fat friend?"
    "Do not call me your fat friend, Pietro."
   "But you’re fat, and you are my friend," the Doge says triumphantly, "so come down off your high Bible and talk to me man-to-man before your intrigues drive me insane. This doesn't have to be so nasty, Enrico. I don't enjoy being mean, but you're forcing me to be."
    The Patriarch stands up and furiously gathers his documents. When he finally speaks, his voice is shaking. "Principe, you should know that a messenger was sent several days ago to His Holiness, to expedite a solution to our problem –"
    "To which of the popes, my dear Enrico, Peter or Judas? Until recently there were two of them."
    The Patriarch's voice trembles. "New winds are blowing across our peninsula, winds that will have great influence on our beloved Republic, but I see no reason to speak more of this. It's out of my hands. Is there anything else, Serenissimo Principe? More ridiculous accusations plucked out of thin air? Or more pointless childhood memories you wish to bring up?"
    Pietro Polani rises. "No, nothing more, Enrico. But I want you to remember one thing: we in Serenissima have never bowed down to Sancta Sedes. We leave that to Pisa, Genoa, and the other cowardly states. We respect His Holiness, but we’re not his lapdog. Tell that to your damned messenger."
    The Patriarch bows ironically, but as he and his shocked entourage are about to depart from the Great Hall, the Doge steps forward and embraces him. To all appearances it's a loving embrace – perhaps an apology for the rough words spoken in the heat of battle? Or for the childish things spoken by the Doge when he was offended? But no, it’s in fact a show of power. More than ever, the Doge has need of demonstrating who may be on a first-name basis with him and who may not, who may embrace the heads of the Church as if they were oversized stuffed animals and who may not. All this is signified by the embrace the Patriarch is forced to endure, from which he attempts to extract himself without pushing the spindly, moody Doge away – Enrico can’t afford to do that. He mustn't even use his talent for quick comebacks to put the Doge in his place. All he can do is show his disgust by peering up at the ceiling or down at the Emperor's oak table or at Sano, the eunuch, who is trying not to laugh at the bizarre sight in front of him – the tall, angry Patriarch and the strange Doge in a long, brotherly embrace. 
   At last Pietro loosens his grip and pounds Enrico hard on the back, as if he's an old mutt with a bone stuck in his throat. Finally the Patriarch can leave the Great Hall, while the Doge is thinking, what a nice day. Or is it a nice day? For who can weigh the consequences of our small Pyrrhic victories? Who can weigh anything while trying to understand something as delicate as a human life? The consequences of what we do and don’t do follow us for centuries. Nothing disappears in this world; all embraces, quarrels, and childish behavior come back to haunt us when we least expect it. The Doge knows this, and therefore he should have acted in a dignified manner, but he couldn't, because he was too wounded.
    We now take leave of the deeply shaken Patriarch of Grado, who steps off the quay and into his gondola displaying the silver and red colors of the Dandolo family. He is followed by his scrivener, a Father, and three demons sitting on his shoulders, screaming for revenge – how dare the Doge speak to the Church's most important man in the lagoon as if he were a simple shepherd of souls! The demons will make certain that the Patriarch is avenged, but more than five years will pass before it happens.
    Enrico sails down the Rio Barrio and through the labyrinthine canals toward the clan's courtyard in San Luca parish, while the banner of the Dandolos snaps in the icy wind. When he arrives at the market at the Rialto Bridge, he is shaking from the cold and from an enormous rage he’s almost unable to control.

Translation by Mark Kline. Foreign rights, Louise Langhoff Koch from PeoplesPress,
Photo from Arnold Busck book store, Esben Von Tangen-Lund-Christensen. 
Louise Langhoff Koch at


Saturday, March 5, 2016

When Ancient Egypt Creeps Under Your Skin and Comes Out As A Novel

I swear, my novel made me do it.

I didn't mean to go to Egypt with a stop over in Venice. I don't like to travel. I prefer to sit by my computer and stare into the screen like a Danish zombie, but sometimes a writer has to suffer for his art. Sometimes your novel forces you to do the most atrocious things, like going to Luxor on a whim because Osiris begs you. And hey, part of your Danish novel takes place in Egypt in the 18th century, anyway, so it's not as if you don't have an excuse.

Well, okay. I'm a little slow reporting on this, because it all happened a year ago. I came back from Egypt in March, 2015, and Det egyptiske hjerte (The Egyptian Heart) was published a few months ago in Denmark to stellar reviews ... but as all you spiritual airheads know, time is an illusion. Time has laws we're not wise to - and that's the exact feeling you get when you walk around the temples of Upper Egypt, where ancient Pharaohs breathe down your neck and centuries of desert find a way into every part of your body and remain there for longer than you want.

But oh, my God, Egypt is worth all kinds of suffering, the simple reason being that most of the ancient wisdom accessible to us today derives from this land - not from the time of the Dynasties as historians like to call them, but from the older mystery schools where souls were initiated and taught about our place in the universe - about our relationship to Sirius, Orion, and the understanding of time.

An example: The Pyramids and the Sphinx in Giza are much older than we think. They're not from 2,500 BC or 3, 500 BC but probably from 10,000 BC.  However, that might be wrong, too, so what if there's another explanation, one that's more logical and provocative? Perhaps they were never built.  Maybe the Pyramids have always been there as a silent witness to our dreams and aspirations? Why is it that we humans want everything to have a beginning and an end? What if the most sacred is eternal in a way our minds can't comprehend?

For instance, the Buddhists argue that the world never was created. It has always been here and will always be here, and so will we in one form or another, traveling through the universe, slowly shaking off our egos and desires like they were dandruff.  We're all on a long journey through time, suddenly finding ourselves in bodies in today's Copenhagen, in Pietro Polani's medieval Venice, or being inspired by an 18th century explorer, Frederik Norden, while we learn more about ourselves and our Source on the way.

Experts or not, we know very little about the universe or Prehistoric Egypt for that matter. Our "facts" mostly come from myth and intuition, the odd vision under a starry sky, a sudden goose bump at the banks of the Nile. So when I walked around the temples at Karnak, Luxor, Hatshepsut, Ramses III and Medinet Habu, I discovered I wasn't the slightest interested in Kingdoms, Dynasties, and Pharaohs - I just wanted to meditate and sense these amazing places, so I could go back to a time the eternal part of me knows so well.

On the surface, Det egyptiske hjerte (The Egyptian Heart) isn't a novel about Ancient Egypt. Most of it takes place in before-mentioned Venice, Copenhagen, and on the banks of the Nile in 1736-37, but my book is deeply inspired by Egyptian mysticism. All mystics are inspired by this ancient land, so I didn't go to Luxor just as a writer who wanted to finish his book. I went there as a human who hoped to remember what he forgot.

But enough of this for now. I'm going to shut up and let my pictures speak.  

You can get Det egyptiske hjerte in all Danish book stores or online at, both as regular book, e-book, and audio book.

Foreign rights, Louise Langhoff Koch,


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Presenting My Novel 'The Egyptian Heart' - Magical Realism for the Spiritually Inclined (And It Doesn't Hurt If You Have a Sense of Humor)

After five years of hard work, my novel Det egyptiske hjerte (The Egyptian Heart) finally came out in Denmark in late October. Man, it's been a long journey. Since 2009 I've been writing on two novels at the same time going back between Danish and English, tearing the hair out of my skull every morning. Also, I went on research trips to Luxor, Egypt and my favorite city in the world, Venezia, Venice, Venedig (take your pick). I even got diarrhea but there's no limit to what a writer will do for his reader.

Det egyptiske hjerte is written in this strange tongue called Danish.  It's a sweeping, often humorous and love-affirming novel about reincarnation, eternal love and the stories we tell to make sense of our existence. It's an accessible and lively book for those who love history, spirituality, and thought-provoking storytelling about the inner connectedness of our relationships.

There are three storylines in the novel that intertwine: One in 12th century Italy about the Venetian Doge, Pietro Polano  (1130-1148) and one in contemporary Copenhagen with Zia, a historian who is writing a thesis about an Egyptian explorer, Frederik Norden. Zia and Pietro Polani are both emotional, impulsive, and zany characters who have had experiences with sexual abuse, mysticism, and fire. None of them is comfortable with dogmatic systems but have a strange fascination with Egypt and the Pyramids. Is Zia an incarnation of Pietro?  And is Frederik Norden Zia's guardian angel on her voyage into her past and herself?  The reader will have fun following the clues.

A lot of foreign publishers showed interest in The Egyptian Heart at the Frankfurt book fair so hopefully it'll be sold to a lot of countries within the next few months. If you're a publisher you can get a two-chapter translation in English by Mark Kline by mailing People's Press Foreign Rights Manager, Louise Langhoff Koch at


A few days ago I got a review to die for in Denmark's most important paper, Politiken. "I'm totally hooked," senior editor Bjørn Bredal writes. "The Egyptian Heart is one of the most charming, humorous, and clever books I've read in a long time. Peter H. Fogtdal isn't just knowledgeable, he's witty, has bite, and leaves the Dan Browns of the world in the dust." (I'd rather leave Jonathan Franzen in the dust but okay, I can live with that compliment)

Here is a great quote in Danish about the quality of my prose: "Man sejler igennem det hele, lystigt vuggende i Fogtdals sproglige gondol, som ikke giver en eneste mislyd i lagunen. Han kan skrive, kan han, og han har noget på hjerte om det store, det små og det onde i historien – verdens og romanens."  ("You cruise through the novel, gently bopping in Fogtdal's linguistic gondola ... He can write, can he and he has something important to say about the big and small issues and cruelty through the ages.")

For some reason the review isn't online at yet but should be soon. Not that I'm complaining about much right now ...

Signing books at Politiken boghandel November 4. I'll be at the Copenhagen Book Fair, BogForum Sunday November 8 at 1.30 PM and at Tranquebar boghandel, Borgergade 14 in Copenhagen, November 26 at 7 PM.  Cover, 50 DKK.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Downloading a Doge - Fiction, Imagination or Visions? (As If There Was Any Difference)

The great thing about writing is that sometimes you download an Italian Doge and he ends up being a character in your novel.

That's what happened to me when I wrote DET EGYPTISKE HJERTE (The Egyptian Heart) that's coming out in Denmark October 27, 2015. Pietro Polani was the ruler of Venice from 1130-1148 and he fought the Pope at a time when the Church became more dominant on the Italian peninsula. I started dreaming about Polani a year and a half ago, even though I'd never heard of him before. Actually, I was never interested in the Middle Ages (I'm a baroque kind of guy), but now I think it's a fascinating time period, especially in gorgeous Serenissima, the Serene Republic, that became a force to reckon with in the 12th century.

I've done a lot of research on Pietro Polani in Archivio di Stato in Venice, but the historians don't know much about him. The most "reliable" sources are from two hundred years after Polani's death. However, I got a lot of important information through dreams that helped me immensely.

Yes, that's right, this spiritual airhead claims he tapped into the collective unconsciousness where all stories  and events are available to us if we're sensitive enough to pick them up.  Artists, dreamers, clairvoyants, and other crackpots, who may or may not belong in insane asylums, have done that for centuries. We're all seers, if we can put our rational minds to rest. I have no problem with letting go of "sanity" since I believe that the universe is multi layered - a patchwork of stories, vibrations, and worlds that are accessible if we have the courage to reach out for them.  But as you know, history supposedly deals with FACTS... and silly little me got some of my facts meditating in a float tank, or while snoring in bed.

Needless to say, I don't claim to be a scholar. I'm just a writer who can get closer to the truth by listening to the waters flowing through the Venetian canals than by copying other peoples' PhDs. Why? Because no matter how much research we do, we all have an agenda and an ego. Egos don't vanish because of a degree or because the deceased are breathing down our necks feeding us information. No matter what label we put on ourselves, we see the world through our personal history, our prejudices, and our subconscious. That's why history isn't a science but a fascinating study where historians write as much about themselves and the time they live in as novelists do.

So if you ever read my Danish novel about an unknown Doge by the name of Pietro Polani, you'll read about MY Pietro Polani who strangely enough have some of my strengths and weaknesses. There are probably many reasons for that.  Could it be the usual author narcissism at work?  Or maybe we have known each other in the past?  I did feel the story was handed to me on a celestial platter. Or perhaps there is no separation between Pietro and Peter?  I'm not sure I have the answer to any of these lofty questions but my writing process was the most fascinating I've ever experienced, and I haven't even told you the best parts because I'm afraid you'll lock me up in the basement of the Doge palace if I did ...

DET EGYPTISKE HJERTE (The Egyptian Heart) is a novel about the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our existence - and perhaps it's about reincarnation as well? It takes place in 18th century Egypt, 12th century Venice, and contemporary Copenhagen.

Foreign Rights: Louise Langhoff Koch, PeoplesPress will be at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. Email:


Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Three Days With Sam Shepard That Changed My Writing Life

It happened on a hot day in the beginning of the Eighties.

Everybody was sitting at a long table waiting for the Master. And it wasn't just young students like me. It was professional actors and writers from Hollywood who were going to work on His play at the Padua Hills Playwriting Workshop outside L.A.

Sam Shepard entered, tall and shy, and threw himself into a chair. He wasn't much known as an actor back then but as a poet and playwright who'd just won the Pulitzer Prize for Buried Child. Everybody was ready to write down His words of wisdom, so we all could become instant artists and win the Pulitzer ourselves one day.

Sam Shepard looked us over and said: "So what do you want to talk about?" We all glanced at each other. What a strange thing for the Master to say. Wasn't He going to give us the recipe for greatness, the Keys to the Kingdom, the magic wand that could turn a tired cliche into a pot of gold?

A few started to ask Him about Buried Child and other of His plays, but the Master shook His head, "I'm here to talk about your writing, not mine." Then He sent us out into the hills with an assignment. "Write what you feel in your body."

We looked disappointed at each other and walked into the hills, hoping not to come across one of the coyotes or rattle snakes that roamed in the area. After an hour we came back, sat at the table, and read loud what we'd written. Sam Shepard was honest and soft spoken. There wasn't any "what a great sense of place" bullshit here. There was no "Gosh, I loved it, but ..."  Only a few crisp words from the Master to the dramatist students who now had been forced into poetry by the rugged hills.

We did this four days in a row. At every session the Master would praise two or three  pieces, never more. To my huge surprise, I got encouraging feedback twice and was very proud of that. But more was to come.

The fourth and final day Shepard was around I read my piece, Sam Shepard did something He hadn't done to anyone during His stay. He stared me down for a few seconds without saying a word. "Oh my God, what have I done?" I thought. Was America's greatest poet-playwright going to punch me in the mouth? There was a long pause, then He said, "You have an incredible sense of imagery. You should really cherish that." Pause. "Yeah, you should really cherish that."

There wasn't a sound in the room and I almost died of happiness on the spot. After all, I was just a foreign student and the only one out of twenty writing in my second language. And everybody had hated my funny stuff before Sam Shepard had taken over the workshop.

The next two nights I couldn't sleep. I felt as if I was high on mushrooms. I wrote a short play that later was produced at my school, Cal State Fullerton - and when I moved back to Denmark, I wrote an altered version that I sold to DR, our national Danish TV-station, and was broadcast in 1986. In a certain sense, my professional career started when those words came out of Sam Shepard's mouth. They became my antidote when I later got disappointing reviews for my first novels in Denmark; they protected me against self-doubt and inferiority complexes when people accused me of being a light weight. It hurt me but I knew it wasn't true. Sam Shepard had seen me for what I was. And what I didn't know at that time was that my best work was going to be my serious novels, Flødeskumsfronten  (Le Front Chantilly, O Paraiso de Hitler) and Zarens dværg (The Tsar's Dwarf, La Naine du Tsar, A Anä Do Czar) that reflected some inner truths, if not outer about myself. His words were a gift, and I won't forget them as long as I live.

So why am I writing this on my fluffy blog - to brag?  Well, that, too, of course, but mostly because I learned how important it is to encourage others, especially when you really mean it.

At The Padua Hills playwriting workshop, Sam Shepard wanted people to write about what they'd experienced themselves. He didn't want any bullshit no matter how poetic it sounded. Once he actually scolded a black girl for writing about the slaves coming over from Africa.  He did it in a very polite way but his point was, you've never been a slave, so how can you write that?

I was reminded of tis workshop more than thirty years when I saw Sam Shepard in Bloodline on Netflix as the old patriarch of a troubled family. I got goosebumps all over because my three days with him changed my writing life and also inspired me during the three years I taught Advanced Fiction Writing at Portland State University.

Be honest in your writing. If you're funny, be funny. If you're poetic, be poetic.  Write what you are; not what you think you should be!  Or simply, write what's going on in your body, be authentic. Let it come from within!

And remember to encourage beginning writers on your way when you see something in them that they might not be aware of themselves ...


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Floating - A Healthy Trip Into Your Mother's Womb and Your Own Twisted Mind

Floating is the new craze. Or if it isn't, it should be. It's the closest you get to tripping in a salty environment.

So you go to this place called Float On on SE Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon that looks like a gay sauna club from 1977. They have six float tanks, sell legal drugs over the counter, and if you don't watch your back they'll get you juiced up on herbal tea. Then you're put in your own saltwater tank that's the same temperature as your body. It's totally dark inside, no sounds reach you except for the beating of your heart (if you have one). After a few minutes you feel you're back in the womb of your mother or being embraced by stress-free archangels.

I've floated six times, and it's a great meditation unless you suffer from claustrophobia or a fear of imaginary sharks. The first time I got so bored I tried to drown myself though, but the salt keeps you afloat no matter what - and slowly you melt into the darkness like a humid little demon. Every muscle relaxes, and after a while your neck learns that the water isn't dangerous; it's your friend, your lover, your muse.

Some people get in touch with unknown anxieties when they float. Others have lucid dreams, or just empty their bladders into The Great Unknown. I've had two small flashes from past lives, and at one point I thought I'd invented the toaster, but when I came out somebody told me I was sixty years too late. I also DID empty my bladder, hoping it was a rite of passage because I don't want to be a Danish pig. But man, the water is SO relaxing, and the float hipsters clean it afterward with their state-of-the-art filtering system.

That's right, you get your own water to soil, including visions, longings, and ideas for your next novel or snack. Floating is not a trip down memory lane but a journey into
altered states you had no idea existed  - a scenic drive on the freeway of your subconscious. Or at the very least, you get saltwater in your eyes, which can be a religious experience, too.

So friends, followers, health nuts, I can wholeheartedly recommend an anti stress floating to anybody who can stand their own company for an hour and a half. Most people can't, of course. That's why they get iPhones, but that's another story altogether.

(Check out here in Portland. However, they have float tanks several other places in the world)

This is a picture of the float I did this morning (it's me in the middle). Float On in Portland offers three kinds of rooms, two ocean floats, two oasis tanks, and two float pools. I like them all and they seem to like me.