Saturday, October 18, 2008
I'm in Seattle, Washington on my book tour.
I've been here several times before. The Seattle area is absolutely gorgeous. It looks a lot like Sweden and I love Sweden, even though you're not supposed to admit that when you're Danish.
I've done several lectures before at University of Washington and those semi-Scandinavians keep on inviting me back. I don't mind at all. I'm totally in love with the UW campus. It looks like a wet dream for any sophomore and God knows I'm a sophomore at heart. I still get excited about college football and iPods that don't work.
At UW I'm presenting The Tsar's Dwarf in a class called Masterpieces in Scandinavian Literature. That's my kind of class. The poor students are forced to read Hans Christian Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard, and Peter H. Fogtdal. But I'm the only one who has been invited. Hey, I might not be the best Scandinavian writer around but at least I'm not dead.
Yesterday I did a presentation of The Tsar's Dwarf at Elliott Bay Book Company, a wonderful independent book store in downtown Seattle. A lot of construction was going on outside, so traffic was a mess. The sun was shining, too - a rare occurrence in the state of Washington.
I would lie if I told you there were a lot of people there: I counted three friends from UW, an American couple who told me they had a thing for midgets, some nice Danes from Microsoft, a Norwegian from Wisconsin with a name I couldn't spell, and a few other people who escaped before I could force them to buy my book.
But what a great book store. Elliott Bay Book Company is the kind of place where you could get lost for days. And the great people at Elliott named The Tsar's Dwarf Book of the Week, so I'm not complaining about anything!
A few quotes from the two reviews in Seattle I'm aware of:
Seattle Times:: "This is the first novel to appear in English by Peter H. Fogtdal, a Danish writer who splits his time between Copenhagen and Portland. It shouldn't be his last; the guy has talent — especially in his rendering of his narrator's biting, contrarian, misanthropic voice ...
With an obvious fondness for the negative twists in his narrator's character, Fogtdal suggests how a vigorous, questioning, nihilistic mind can be a source of strength for a social pariah. And through Sørine he casts a steady eye on the more general whys and hows of existence. "Which," she asks, "is worse: when life stands still, or when it's pulled out from under you like a rug?" - Michael Upchurch.
Book of the Week review from Elliott Bay Book Co.: "Fogtdal's story is grotesque and sometimes brutal, but so richly imagined that it is captivating from the start. It is the story of Sorine, a Danish dwarf and self-described "curiosity cabinet" who is taken from the disease-ridden basement in which she lives to Tsar Peter the Great's court in Russia.
Here the lines are blurred between Sorine's world of filth and the comparative lavishness of the nobles, who treat dwarves both as "poppets," to be coddled and dressed up, and as brutish animals. Part historical fiction, part nightmare, The Tsar's Dwarf is a heart-wrenching tale of humanity." -M. Woolbright
Thank you, Seattle! I like you, too.
Last night I also did a reading at the Nordic Museum. It's an interesting place with a souvenir shop where you can get a year´s supply of Norwegian flags, Swedish napkins, and Danish toilet paper. The Nordic Museum also offer courses in Scandinavian weaving and how to throw herring after people you despise. (Well, almost)
"Why didn't the Scandinavian countries ever unite?" a gentleman asked me after my reading. "Your countries are totally the same."
People looked angrily at the man who needed police protection to get out of the museum afterwards.
"We actually were united in the 15th century," I offered. "It was under Danish rule. But Norway and Sweden didn't like it much."
Luckily, I also got to sign a few books, and it was a great audience, spirited and tolerant of my rantings.
Wednesday I'll be at Garfield Book Store, Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma before I continue to Minneapolis, St. Paul, Madison, Milwaukie, Chicago, and Scandinavia House on Park Avenue in New York.
Life is good and I'm enjoying myself immensely.
Thanks for stalking me on my blog. Please come back for more, you hear?
Ah, the life of a writer, going from one airport to the other. Please notice how my sweater doesn't match my suitcase. If only I could afford a publicist who would follow me around like a lap dog telling me where to go, what to say, how to dress.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I love satire on religion.
I've always loved satirical films about faith - not because I'm an atheist, but because I actually believe in God. God is very real to me but that doesn't mean I can't laugh at somebody who pulls down the pants on fundamentalists. On the contrary, they deserve it more than any one I know.
You see, I'm deeply suspicious of organized religion - and sometimes I suspect God is as well. Any belief system that claims it has all the answers is downright dangerous. As long as Christians claim you only can be saved by Jesus Christ, we'll never experience love for mankind, only saintly arrogance. And as long as Muslims believe that Hindus, Christians, Jews, and Buddhists are infidels, there won't be much peace on earth. We have to accept all religions as rivers flowing into the same sea. But even though a lot of people would agree on this, very few behave as if they do. The religious followers always "know" that their God is superior to all others.
However, Bill Maher doesn't have that problem. He thinks that every single religion is crazy and that makes for a good stand up routine, but not for a good movie. However, Religulous is a documentary and starts off by being very funny. Bill Maher interviews a bunch of Christians in "Jesusland". He is witty and irreverent without being too disrespectful. He asks good questions and provokes the church goers, but slowly, ever so slowly the interviews become tedious and repetitious.
It's easy to understand why. Religulous is basically one and a half hour of amusing cheap shots against Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Scientologists who aren't allowed to finish a sentence, who are cut off and scorned by a host who seems friendly at first but slowly comes across as a satirical scumbag. None of the victims of the film's editing have a chance of coming off as coherent or sane. Why? Because Bill Maher doesn't want them to be sane; he clearly thinks that all religious followers are nuts. They act as straight men to his punch lines; they're half wits who should know better than believe in fairy tales. And if you don't get the "truth" of this, the director Larry Charles puts funny subtitles on the screen to underscore how stupid and gullible the believers are.
So is all this amusing? Often, yes. Should we take it seriously as "proof" of religious insanity? Not at all, because Bill Maher wins all arguments. He always gets the last word. The wisdom of everybody else ends up on the cutting room floor and that makes for a predictable movie.
I read somewhere that a lot of people find Bill Maher courageous for taking up the subject. I sure don't. If the man were courageous he would have gone to Yemen to shoot the Muslim section of his film. Now he just flew to Amsterdam to smoke some weed and make fun of people whose English isn't good enough to understand his sarcasm.
Nice going, Bill. You suuuuure have a great job!
Excellent satire requires a warm heart. It requires cynical curiosity, a certain degree of rage, but not self righteous anger. Even though Bill Maher suffers from the latter, he seems like a nice guy. I'd drink a glass of Kool Aid with him any time, but to my mind Religulous was a major disappointment. Not only for the Bill Maher fan in me (I love him on HBO), but also because I admire Larry Charles who directed Borat and many episodes of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm . Both are unpredictable and close to being masterpieces.
Religulous is definitely neither but could have been interesting if Bill Maher had been a tiny bit open minded. If his attitude had been, "this is weird, but let me see if I can make some sense of it", the film would have been more provocative. Now he just wants to poke a finger into the eyes of the non-scientific "morons" who have experienced God one way or another.
So would somebody please make a funny, warm, irreverent movie about God and religion - preferably somebody who doesn't have all the answers?
You see, Bill Maher is a hilarious man, but when it boils down to it, he's just as dogmatic as the people he criticizes. And that's what I found was the funniest thing about the clever cheap shots in Religulous!
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I'm so happy that the United States exist.
If the US didn't exist, the Art of Shameless Self Promotion would never have been so predominant. In the US, people aren't afraid of being entertaining. You Americans have turned showboating into an art form and I like that.
Yes, if it weren't for America, writers would stare into carpets when interviewed. Novelists and poets would be as introverted as cattle, taking themselves and their art too seriously. The US has taught the world that there is nothing wrong with a hint of Disneyland in the world of letters.
As my readers know, I'm a bit of a moron but I think literature is supposed to be fun. It should celebrate joy and tragedy with great stories, great prose, and a voice that hits you in the gut. I don't understand why literature has to give you hemorrhoids.
May I argue that all the best writers in history were entertaining? Read Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Moliere, Pinter, Fo, Kundera, Fowles, Hemmingway, Dumas, Pirandello, Wolf, Saramago. They're sad, funny, and mysterious. They create great characters and are innovative - they're fun to be around, even when they sulk.
I'm not God, but I bet that writers weren't put on earth to bore their readers to death.
53 people showed up for my reading at Powell's City of Books, even though it was my fifth presentation in Portland. Thanks, everybody! I sure had a great time reading, talking, joking around.
I've had a great start on my book tour, thank you for asking.
No less than five stops in Portland, Lincoln High School, Annie Bloom's Book Store, The Scandinavian Heritage Foundation, Portland State University, and Powell's City of Books, the biggest book store on the West Coast.
I had nice turn outs everywhere, especially at Powell's - I even sold a few books, so what more can you ask when you have a last name that no one can pronounce?
Actually, Portland has been incredibly nice to me since I arrived here. You rock my world, Oregon. Apart from the rain and the lousy weather nine months of the year, I love this part of the world.
I adore when women throw themselves at me. It doesn't happen often enough. This fan came all the way from Siracusa, Sicily to get a signed copy of The Tsar's Dwarf. You don't say no to a Sicilian. You just don't.
October 19 I continue on my book tour to Seattle and Tacoma in Washington, then on to Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin, Chicago, Illinois, and I end up in Scandinavia House on Park Avenue in New York City.
Scandinavia House is probably the most prestigeous place for a Scandinavian to appear in the US. So this means I have to behave - I have to watch my language, and I probably should upgrade my after shave.
And hey, maybe it would be best if I did away with my Swedish and Norwegian jokes. I mean, I'm going to do my reading in the Volvo room.
That's right, the Volvo room.
When I heard that, I pleaded with the American-Scandinavian Foundation to move me to the Lego room. Lego is after all Danish, not Swedish and that room would be a much better fit for my juvenile personality.
Here are some quotes from the two first official reviews The Tsar's Dwarf has received:
The Believer, a magazine from San Francisco
"The brisk pace, flip tone, and confounding convictions of its seventeenth-century narrator make the novel, set in the distant past, feel contemporary ... Fogtdal widens the potentially narrow first-person point of view ... that allows the protagonist to relay and consider events she does not witness; this gives the novel a broader historical scope. Sørine’s internal life, however, her observations of behavior and investigations of belief, are the source of the novel’s zest and contemporary relevance ..."
"Just as I began to grow weary, wondering what might happen next to Sørine, she makes a bold move that leads the novel back to its compelling premise: people’s physical oddities are no match for the bizarre manifestations of their desire."
The Portland Fiction Project, an Oregonian website:
"There is no political correctness in Sørine’s world, no “Little People of America,” and The Tsar’s Dwarf is all the more darkly hilarious for it ..."
"Sørine serves as an anthropologist of the human condition – but not just from underneath; from outside as well ... In short, she is a complex character, and a welcome guide through this world of dachas and Russian Orthodox compounds and frightful museums with exhibits that wouldn’t be at all out of place at the Bates Motel."
"Sørine is not so bewitching because she is a dwarf, but because her dwarfism is a magnification of our own inadequacy, our own self-loathing, and eventually our own capacity to survive."
Reader and librarian reviews from amazon.com:
An amazing 55 people have reviewed the book on amazon.com. Most people give it four or five stars, but even though I love being praised, my favorite review is one of the non-favourable. This one is from a reader in Hibbing, Minnesota:
"WARNING PARENTS AND TEACHERS: This book contains the following that might be offensive - vulgar sexuality, infanticide, murder by poisoning, grotesque, graphic nudity, cruel prejudice against dwarves, anti-Christian, anti-God attitudes and rantings."
Thank you, Minnesota.
Read my novel, won't you?
It's a great moment for a small time writer seeing his book in an American book store for the first time. The Tsar's Dwarf is out in four languages now. I feel good, people. I feel goooooooood!