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)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Neurotic Notes From A Book Tour (The Wisconsin and Illinois Entries)

The two small book clubs in Madison, Wisconsin who had suffered through The Tsar's Dwarf before I arrived. My hostess in Madison was Danish professor Nete Schmidt, second on the left.

Monday October 26th
It's a wet dream for any writer of the male persuasion.

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin at my only private gig on my book tour. Fourteen women are sitting at the dinner table with me. They have all read The Tsar's Dwarf and claim they love it. Since I know that my readers are going to accuse me of making this up, I'm putting a picture of them on my blog.

Look at them, just look at them. Fourteen wonderful women with exquisite taste in literature are holding up my book. Isn't that just the most beautiful thing you've ever seen? Who needs Taj Mahal or Grand Canyon when God has created American book clubs in Madison?

Downtown Madison, Wisconsin, the proud capital of the state. Hey, it's situated in Dane county. We Danes haven't lived in vain after all ...

Tuesday October 27.
I have a day off in Madison, Wisconsin walking aimlessly around campus, admiring the squirrels and the fall colors. It's a cold but beautiful day. The fraternities are preparing for Halloween and hangovers. You see skeletons everywhere - skeletons and John McCain.

I feel happy and content. The lakes are gorgeous in Madison. I want to bring one of them with me to Portland, Oregon, so I have something to look at when I'm writing. I have this thing for lakes. They always give me a kick.

In the evening I end up at the Danish table in the Ratskeller on campus. Every Tuesday night the Danish students meet up to practice their language skills. Most of them have Danish grandparents. Or maybe they got laid in Copenhagen and fell in love with the place for that reason. After an hour in their company, I feel deeply depressed. The American students speak better Danish than I do. And they look way better as well.

Wednesday October 28.
My hostess in Madison is Nete Schmidt. Nete is a Southern Scandinavian whirlwind from Aarhus, full of passion and initiative. At 6 pm we enjoy a meal at an Indian restaurant and then I do a reading on campus. 40 students show up. More chairs are brought out. They're one of the most quiet crowds I've had, but they listen attentively, ask good questions, and drink the wine. What more can you ask of any one?

And hey, they know how to "humiliate" a visiting novelist as well. "Do you have any idea why Scandinavian writers always write about the Outsider?" a professor asks me.

"We do?" I smile feebly. "I had no idea."

"So you're not aware that you're part of a great Scandinavian tradition?"

"I'm not aware of most things in life," I blush. "You're talking to a man who can't even make his iPod work."

After the reading I think of the Outsider. Is it truly a Scandinavian phenomena to write about people who are odd, different, and on the fringes of society? I think all novelist do that, for the simple reason that we feel like outsiders ourselves.

But what do I know? I'm not an academic, I don't know how to put literature into perspective. I just love writing, hoping that my novels will resonate with people in Madison, Marseilles, and Marstal.

At Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop at Downer Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Thursday October 29.
I meet up with my girlfriend in Milwaukee, an hour and a half west of Madison. She has flown in from Portland to spend some quality time with me - if you can use the words quality and me in the same sentence.

At night I do a reading at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop on Downer Avenue. My hostess Stacie Williams is absolutely great. She has fallen in love with my book, creating a huge display in the window AND in the book store.

"I recommend it to everybody," she tells me. And I believe her. Stacie is by far the most passionate book seller I've met on my tour. I would hire her as my publicist any time. I can just picture her hunting down journalists, breathing down their necks like an aggressive, endearing terrier. My God, if everybody was like her, my book would be number one on The New York Times' bestseller list.

Needless to say, I enjoy my stay immensely, even though an older lady falls asleep two minutes and thirteen seconds into my presentation. Maybe it's because she has chosen the softest chair in the house. Or perhaps I'm just more boring than I think. At one point, I almost walk over and sit on her lap, but I decide against it. I don't want to be cruel, so I just kick her instead.

Chicago, Illinois on a cold Sunday in late October ...

Friday October 30
On to Chicago with my pale girlfriend who shall remain nameless until she gets a tan.

I've never been to The Windy City before. Luckily, it doesn't live up to its name. It's 68 degrees, the sun is out and it's Halloweeen. We keep on running into ghosts, pirates, and grown ups in ridiculous costumes. Are grown ups allowed to go trick or treating? Or are they just trying to upstage their own kids?

In the evening, we eat bad soup in our expensive hotel room. Outside a cold front moves in without asking my permission. Why do I hate cold weather so much? I'm Scandinavian, for Christ's sake!

At the hotel we run into two different conventions. One is for plastic surgeons, the other one for psychiatrists specializing in adolescence. "Can't you combine the two?" I ask a woman in the elevator. "There gotta be a lot of fourteen year olds with nervous disorders who need a nose job. Can't you exploit that?"

The lady ignores me. Later she stares at me in the lobby as if she wants to say, I'm putting you under the knife, buddy, you just wait.

Small time writer hits Chinaski's bar in Bucktown, Chicago. Watch the desolate street behind me. It was Halloween, but sixteen people showed up, anyway.
Saturday October 31.
I'm putting my teeth into a Norman Mailer burger.

I mean, why not? I'm at the most literary bar in Chicago, Chinaski's in the Bucktown neighborhood. The place is named after Charles Bukowski's famous alter ego - an alter ego so famous I've never heard of him. But the burger is good. So are the French fries, even though they should have been named after Camus.

It's a long time ago I've done a reading at a bar, but it turns out to be great. The people in the audience are gorgeously drunk. They must be, anyway because they laugh like crazy. I love every second of it. Man, I'm having the time of my life on this tour. Chinaski's even put my name on their billboard which makes me feel like a rock star.

"Your name has been out there for weeks," Matt, the owner of the bar tells me. I nod, liking the idea of everybody in Chicago going, "who the hell is Peter Fuckday ...?"

After my show I sign a few books and get a ride back to my hotel with the only Dane in the audience. Bucktown is a great neighborhood full of small shops and restaurants - it's much more exciting than the overrated Magnificent Mile downtown. I mean, what's the big deal cramming fashion shops next to each other? They even do that in Dubai. It's so old.

By the way, Tuesday November 11 I'll be at Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue in New York at 6.30 pm. The event is hosted by the American-Scandinavian Foundation and the Royal Danish Consulate. I probably have to clean up my act for that one (it's Park Avenue after all!), but if I work hard I know I can do it. I am, after all, a serious novelist who's written a serious book. There's nothing to laugh at. ...

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