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)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Yes, It's True: I've Stopped Dating My Novel

Susanne Aamund: Scorpion 19. One of her paintings will grace the cover of my new Danish novel.

It's over.

I've stopped dating my novel. I've given it to my editor and my Danish publisher, Gyldendal. They'll put it out into the world in January. It's out of my hands. My novel has left me for good.

Every writer knows how wonderful a feeling it is. And how awful. A period of my life is over - a very good one. For nine happy months I woke up and ran to my computer. Words would pour out of me before I was awake. Ideas would line up, insights would flow out of my fingers and onto the screen. I would smile and I would laugh because I thought I was with my best date ever.

By the way, my new Danish novel is a fairy tale for grown ups called Skorpionens hale (Scorpion's Tail). A bit like Arabian Nights, with a shot of Hans Christian Andersen, Hermann Hesse, Boccacio, Jellaluddin Rumi, and let's not forget Le Petit Prince. And my mother.

"My mother?" you ask, "why your mother?" Well, I'll tell you why. I was lucky to have a beautiful one. Her name was Marie Huda Fogtdal and she passed in 2004. I followed her die with incredible grace and with an incredible sense of humor. She let go of old anxieties, she kept on enriching our lives, even when she suffered the most. I wish everybody could die and surrender like my mother did, and I know that somehow she helped me write my new book. She definitely inspired the last story which I believe is the strongest of them all.

But now it's over. I'm done, I'm dry, I'm uninspired, I'm an empty well. And when I stare out of my window, it rains. I'm in Portland, Oregon after all. And Portland, Oregon is not a fairy tale.

So what do I do with my life? I'm a novelist without a novel. What could be more lonely than that? Still, I'm a lucky man. I have a pale girlfriend, I'm healthy, I teach European Comedy and Satire for a great bunch of students, I actually have a life.

It wasn't always like this. When I was a struggling writer, my life depended on my novels. I could only concentrate on what I didn't have. What has happened? Did I actually grow up? Or am I only happy now because I have more of what I want? Does my happiness depend on me getting my way?

No matter what, I'm enjoying life at Portland State University, laughing, teaching, shooting the shit with ex-students, browsing through Powell's book store like there's no tomorrow. And I'm even being published by a great local house, Hawthorne Books. My first novel in English, The Tsar's Dwarf will be out next year and I can't wait.

My American publisher and I just received the translation from Tiina Nunnally, the star translator of Hans Christian Andersen and Peter Høeg. It truly is a great translation. A good translator captures the voice of the writer. When I'm reading The Tsar's Dwarf, I'm reading me. I wasn't lost in translation, the words are still mine, the mood and the voice are like the original. So if people hate the novel when it comes out, it's my fault only.

The Tsar's Dwarf is coming out in French next year as well, so for a novelist without a novel, I ain't doing too bad.

By the way, I'm praying to God that I'll be invited to Cognac again like I did when my first two novels were published in France. Cognac is the host of a literary conference that has to be the best in the world. It's called Salon Littérature Européenne Cognac.

My God, you get spoiled at that place. You have waiters forcing vintage wine down your throat. You have mountains of foie grass waiting to be devoured. In four days, you have dinners at four castles, you live, you laugh, you fart through palaces of opulence - all this because you wrote a book that's out in France.

And to top things, you meet wonderful authors from around the world. In 2004 (when my Le Front Chantilly sold 8 copies in Lyon) I became great friends with Sergio Luis de Carvalho from Portugal and connected well with a great writer from Poland, Olga Tokarczuk. Two years later (when my Le Rêveur de Palestine sold 5 copies in Nantes) I spend a lot of time with Dominika Dery from the Czech Republic and Sebastian Barry from Ireland - both of them great people whose novels I've used in my literature classes at Portland State University.

All I can say is that Salon Littérature Européenne Cognac is a great place for any writer. Being invited to speak at this conference is like going to Heaven - a Heaven with a free cognac bar; a Heaven where the archangels make sure you get a buzz. When I was there last time, they even flew the Danish flag in the main square. Those people know how to make an insignificant writer feel great!!!

The last supper at Salon Littérature Européenne Cognac in 2006. Four writers who just gained a considerable amount of weight: Peter H. Fogtdal (your Dane), Sebastian Barry (Ireland), Peder Hove (another Dane), and Juan Carlos Llop (Spain).

Back to rainy Portland, Oregon and a question to ponder: Is there life without words? Can a writer be a writer without having a novel on the way? Back in the old days, I always felt something was wrong with me when I wasn't working on a book. It was as if I didn't exist. Now I'm much better at being a human being. But old ghosts show up when I can't disappear into italics. "You're no good," they whisper. "You're a lazy bum," they continue, following me around as if I were Hamlet incarnated.

Sometimes I ask myself: What do other writers do when they don't write? A lot of them drink themselves into the ground but I stopped that a long time ago. So what can I do? Be nice to my pale girlfriend? Donate socks to charity?
It doesn't really matter because right now I'm in a period of mourning: I lost a funny date - a friend that made me laugh for nine months. Now I have to do the most difficult thing of all: Trust that my book will find an audience. In her way. Not mine.

Thank God, I teach at Portland State University this quarter. Without twentythree students to torture, life would be almost meaningless ...