Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I love Hong Kong. It's one of my favorite cities in the world along with Venice, Perugia, Sevilla, San Francisco, New York, and Molyvos in Greece.
My first two days I'm staying at Sai Kun in the New Territories, a far cry from the frantic city center with its tall buildings and hard working egos. Out here there are still sun sets and wild cows roaming the streets.
That's right, Sai Kun is known for its wild cows munching out on the grass in the roundabouts. These vicious animals are known to attack bus drivers and mosquitoes. They get in the way of the traffic, but contrary to the holy cows in India, these cows are not into meditation. These Chinese cows mean business. They will gang up on you and maim you before you have the chance to say dim sum.
Am I making this up? Maybe a tiny bit. I'm introduced to these weird cows when my Chinese guide drives me through Sai Kun on the way to a posh country club at Clearwater Bay.
By the way, I'm not exactly country club material. I'm known to pick my nose in public, and luxury never impresses me too much. However, I'm a bit of a view freak, and Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club has a view to die for. The bay is right underneath, full of greenish water, small windy islands, and lazy sampans.
But right now I'm just warming up to two events at Lingnan University with some country club fries in the 86 degrees weather, while I'm writing on my next novel. My only problem is a sign by the entrance that makes me vomit.
"Are you serious???" I ask the lady at the counter. "I brought my Filipino maid, my Indonesian butler, and my Norwegian slut, and you're telling me I can't bring them into the pool area?"
"So sorry, Sir," the Chinese lady says.
"But I promise you they won't drool."
"Not allowed, Sir."
"I could tie them to a post somewhere," I ask politely. "Norwegians are used to that."
A few minutes later it gets ugly. The Chinese lady calls her boss, and I'm carried out of the club foaming at the mouth. "I'm the owner of three yachts," I shout. "No, make that four yachts. Five. Siiiiiix..."
Ah, the problems of the rich ...
Did this really happen, you want to ask?
Well, let me put it this way, I felt it happened, for thank God I'm only an underpaid novelist who has no business in a country club. Believe it or not, I don't even have people to write my books for me which just goes to show how out of place I am in Clearwater Bay ...
At night I learn that a new survey has come out. It claims that Hong Kong is the place on earth with the largest gab between rich and poor.
The next day my Chinese guide takes me to the picturesque pier in Sai Kun with fish tanks full of Barracudas that you can munch on for lunch. Here I feel right at home being a bit of barracuda myself.
Tomorrow I'm going to Lingnan University to do my first Hong Kong reading on My Pretentious World Tour for The Tsar's Dwarf.
And hey, I'm planning to bring some of the wild cows with me, so I'm sure to have a sizable audience ...
Monday, October 19, 2009
I've found my mission in life.
I want to get high school kids addicted. Not to crack or pot. Not even to a healthy dose of French porn, but to something nice and wholesome - Scandinavian literature.
That's why I said yes to the kind invitation from Lincoln High School in Portland to do a presentation of The Tsar's Dwarf. Hell, I'm in the middle of My Pretentious World Tour anyway, so why not introduce these impressionable youngsters to my South Scandinavian filth?
Two classes were forced to sit through my lecture. And these 16 year old kids behaved much better than the kids you see on reality TV. No one was doing methadone, everybody was as polite as traffic cops, raising their eyebrows when I said fuck or Norway.
Since I'm the epitome of humility, I told my audience that there actually are other Danish writers in the world than me - not to talk about Swedish and Norwegian wordsmiths. We just don't get as much attention as the thriller writers unless we murder someone ourselves.
As any book seller knows, Swedish thriller writers have become the new Abba. Stieg Larsson is simply the most popular dead guy around. His The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire are world wide hits. Henning Mankell, another Swede, is also selling millions of books. However, none of those gentlemen are among the best writers in Scandinavia.
So, dear readers, why don't you put away those nice thrillers? Why don't you leave Dan Brown at Taco Bell and dive into the fabulous world of Scandinavian literary fiction? We may be from the countries of Lego, Ikea, and frostbite, but hey, we can write, too.
Here are a few books I'll recommend for you English speakers who have made the cruel discovery that there's a world out there of great translated literature:
The Royal Physician's Visit by Per Olov Enquist. You will be hard pressed to find many historical novels as good as this. It takes place in 18th century Denmark where a German doctor comes to Copenhagen and ends up ruling the country instead of the mad king. It's a beautiful love story, too. And a must read for any lover of historical fiction.
Popular Music From Vittula by Mikael Niemi. A funny and poetic coming-of-age novel that gives you a great insight into the Finnish minority in Northern Sweden. Presumably the most sold novel ever in Sweden.
I'll recommend this to any one who's ever had a childhood.
Hash by Torgny Lindgren. Two older gentlemen set out to taste all the local recipes for hash (a dish, not something you smoke) This doesn't sound as much perhaps, but Hash is another hilarious novel from our "boring" brothers across the sound. Yes, those delightful Swedes are often very funny.
Before You Sleep by Linn Ullmann. Norwegian magical realism. A great read with an unreliable protagonist who is coming to terms with her family and her fast fading youth. Excellently translated by Tiina Nunnally who also did The Royal Physician's Visit and my own The Tsar's Dwarf.
Tales of Protection by Erik Fosnes Hansen. One of my all time favorite novels. Great storytelling, a masterpiece with four stories that take place during four different time periods and come together in strange ways. Visit Italy during the Renaissance, a small Swedish island in the 19th Century, and Norway and Africa in the 1900s. An unforgettable book that asks a simple question. Why do things happen the way they do? Is there a scientific pattern, a protective God, what?
The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg (Høeg to us Danes). Most reviewers hated this spiritual post modern masterpiece, probably because they didn't understand a word of it. Yes, it requires patience like all puzzles, but it's worth it if you appreciate its many philosophical and spiritual references. This is ground breaking stuff from a man who doesn't care if he loses the million of readers he gained for Smilla's Sense of Snow!
Doghead by Morten Ramsland. A grotesque Danish novel that was a huge hit back home. This one is a funny saga about a dysfunctional family in Norway - we seem to have a few of those in our neck of the woods, don't we? We follow these weirdos through three generations, and it's a great ride.
Nothing by Janne Teller. A dark young adult novel that is coming out in a few months (February 2010). You could call it The Lord of the Flies for the 21st century - the publisher does, anyway. Every age group can enjoy this modern fable that is way too beautiful to be depressing or nihilistic. Translation, Martin Aitken.
So what happened to all the great Finnish novels, you may ask?
Well, first of all, I haven't read any.
Second of all, Finland isn't part of Scandinavia, contrary to what people think. The Finns don't share our language and they're better at holding their liquor. This is a huge compliment to Finland that is neighboring three countries that all qualify as happy vomiters.
However, Scandinavian or not, one day I will dive into Finnish literature. And I'll include Iceland, too, so I can pass as an academic instead of a novelist who takes pride in the fact that he writes much more than he reads.
Enjoy this Scandinavian smorgasbord, people!
Next blog: My Pretentious World Tour for The Tsar's Dwarf hits Hong Kong, China.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Yes, all writers are on drugs.
I'm into two things: Extra Strength Tylenol - and the Piña Colada scent at the Oxygen Bar in Wordstock's VIP room.
Man, did I get high. I put on one of those nasty plastic tubes that go over your ears. It has nozzles that fit into your nostril, so you look as if you've just survived a liver transplant. And then my head began to spin.
After the first hit I started to sing the Danish national anthem. After the second, I shared my selection of raunchy Christian spirituals. They had to carry me out on a stretcher while I shouted, "My name is Richard Dawkins, I'll sign your fucking books now."
This, of course, all took place in my mind, except for the fact that there was an Oxygen Bar in the writers' VIP room at Wordstock - a VIP room so crowded it reminded me of a Polish concentration camp. The coffee was cold, but the people who worked there were hot.
When I arrived at the biggest book event in Oregon, I was met by an escort (no, unfortunately not that kind), then I was led in handcuffs to The Mountain Writers Stage to do my reading of The Tsar's Dwarf.
That was not a wise choice of venues. I'm from one of the flattest countries in the world, so after I started to talk I suffered from vertigo. Verbs fell off the page and crashed to an untimely death while I tried to concentrate on the great audience in front of me.
Apparently, I've gotten a reputation as an entertaining reader/performer which definitely is true when I'm not on oxygen. But it's hard to be a serious writer of lit. fiction when all you can think of is, "I gotta get back to the VIP room for some more oxygen."
So how does an Oxygen Bar look, you may ask? Well, before my first hit I was a middle aged writer with dandruff, but after two rounds of fresh scented air I turned into a gorgeous platinum blond with a nose job.
So yes, Wordstock was great fun. I signed about 15 books, met readers who wanted me to do books on tape, talked for twenty seconds with Chelsea Cain, for nine seconds with Monica Drake, and for seven seconds with April Henry. Then I hung out at Hawthorne Books booth where I harassed people into buying more of my books.
"I'll sign anything, even the Old Testament," I shouted.
Wordstock is a wonderful event. You can listen to 186 writers who all say the same thing. You can buy expensive tacos, attend work shops about adverbs, and run into people like James Ellroy and Sherman Alexie.
But now you have to excuse me. I have to get back to that cool Oxygen Bar for the newest and most popular scent, the Swine Flu.
Next stop on My Pretentious World Tour for The Tsar's Dwarf is Lingnan University in Hong Kong, China.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
An Interview about God, Obama, Kurt Vonnegut, Fender Benders, Writers' Block, and Other Literary Nightmares
This is an interview with me from Willamette Week by Aaron Mesh.
Willamette Week is Oregon's most read paper. I'm one of twenty writers who were quizzed about the things that matter and some that don't. Other "victims" were James Ellroy, Chelsea Cain, and Debra Gwartney.
All of us will appear this upcoming weekend at Wordstock, the biggest literary event in the Pacific Northwest. My reading is part of My Pretentious World Tour for The Tsar's Dwarf.
WILLAMETTE WEEK: Probably the only Portland State University professor to devote a novel to a Danish little person sold to Peter the Great, Fogtdal splits time between Oregon and Copenhagen. Wherever he is, he provides regular updates to a blog that considers such diverse subjects as post-religious Europe (“In Denmark God doesn’t even believe in God”) and the softcore movie Dagmar’s Hot Pants. He is a man of many interests, basically.
You can see him at Wordstock (Oregon Convention Center, Portland)): 3 pm Saturday, Oct. 10. at Mountain Writers Stage.
What’s your personal writing ritual, Peter?
I say a prayer and stare stupidly into a wall or preferably a great view. My favorite place to write, by the way, is in Italy. The language and the gelato do great things to my soul. I’m a nomad at heart, so every time I’m at home my muse tells me to get the hell out.
What are your favorite themes to write about (or that you’re most guilty of rehashing)?
Well, I almost always end up writing about spirituality, and often in a “blasphemous” way. I sincerely believe God has a better sense of humor than his followers. In most of my books I examine people’s struggle with the divine, but often in a lighthearted way. I see myself as a tragicomic writer. However, if you don’t have a dark sense of humor, you’re just going to find me tragic.
The most beautiful word in the English language is:
What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place, and why?
You wouldn’t know him. He was Danish like me. His name was Leif Panduro, and he was a satirical writer who had a lot of depth. However, my favorite novel of all time is John Fowles’ The Magus. It’s a masterpiece of great storytelling and postmodern madness.
Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?
I once had the runs at a writers’ residence in Costa Rica and picked up the only book in English I could find. It was Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. After that, my stomach got worse.
Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.
I love Kurt Vonnegut’s prose and sense of humor, but I can never get through any of his novels, except for Slaughterhouse 5, which truly is great!
The Tsar’s Dwarf is out in five languages as we speak. I would love that to be 55. And then I would want to tour all those countries while being adored by critics and cheerleaders.
Most recent nightmare:
I’m on at Wordstock at the exact same time Dostoevsky is signing his books at the stage next to mine.
Your cure for writer’s block:
I simply order myself to stay away from the computer for two weeks. It works like a charm because I love to rebel against anything, especially myself. “Don’t you tell me what to do,” my dark side shouts, and then I quickly return to the computer and write like a madman.
Pessimistic question: Will you keep writing even after people stop reading?
Of course. All true writers will. We always get depressed when we don’t have an audience, but how can that stop us from doing what we love?
Cautiously optimistic question: Obama? Discuss.
On a soul level, he is the best that the U.S. could hope for. For a politician, there is very little ego in the man, which pisses people off who have large egos themselves. But none of this means he’ll be a “great” president. He’s way too right-wing for a social democrat like me, but I trust him more than I’ve trusted any politician since Marcus Aurelius.
Share one thing you’ve had to change in your everyday life thanks to our current recession.
I buy less toilet paper.
Please paste a short paragraph from the blog you’re currently working on:
“Please don’t ever visit Acropolis in Athens when 3 cruise ships are in town and Mr. Mrs. Obesity are looking for a snack.”
You can read the paper's excellent January review of The Tsar's Dwarf here:
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Thanks, Obama, Oprah & the Olympics. Finally Copenhagen is the Center of the Universe (for a Nanosecond, Anyway)
Finally, it's official. Copenhagen is the Center of the Universe.
This time it's not because of some ridiculous cartoons. No one has beheaded The Little Mermaid, either. Hey, it's not even because of the upcoming Climate Conference.
No, Copenhagen is the center of the Universe because of the 2016 Olympic bid.
For the IOC meeting, Chicago has sent Oprah and Obama, Rio de Janeiro has sent Pelé, and Madrid is sending Franco. When you read this, everybody might know the winner, but seriously, who cares?
What's important is that Copenhagen is in the news - my gorgeous, expensive Copenhagen; a city so windy that even Chicagoans complain about the weather.
But Copenhagen is still God's gift to any trendy, bike-riding hippie with a lust for historical castles and designer porn, so here are
THE TEN REASONS YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO LOVE COPENHAGEN
1) In Copenhagen you find more bike paths than anywhere else on the planet.
2) In Copenhagen everybody is as blond and handsome as in any hair wax commercial.
3) In Copenhagen no one is impressed with celebrities, unless they tell us they love Copenhagen.
4) In Copenhagen you can breast feed your baby without getting arrested.
5) In Copenhagen everybody loves the Queen, even though she's a chain smoker.
6) In Copenhagen we're more self-satisfied than the Norwegians.
7) In Copenhagen our baby carriages are larger than our houses.
8) In Copenhagen we have fewer Starbucks than Plains, Georgia.
9) In Copenhagen we believe in climate change because we want to change our own climate.
10) In Copenhagen it makes news when you fire a gun, not when you discuss your clitoris.
So now you know why we're so happy.
But hey, Obama and Oprah, please come back to Copenhagen for the Climate Conference, unless you think that throwing a javelin is more important than the environment?
Please check out my award winning blog, DENMARK FOR DUMMIES: A Superficial Introduction to the Happiest Country in the World