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, November 10, 2010

Dying Inside Ikea: You May Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave

I love IKEA.

When I was a kid in Denmark, everybody shopped there. You just didn't talk about it - shopping at a Swedish store was considered high treason. But the deals were so great you had to go. IKEA was trendy in a twisted way. You could buy easy to assemble ping pong tables; you could even get laid.

I mean, let's face it, who doesn't love IKEA?

It's Scandinavian imperialism at its best. It's cheap and big - it's like Burger King without the burgers. If you hang out there long enough, you meet everybody you know. And IKEA is the greatest place in the world to get lost.

By the way, I got lost at IKEA in Portland the other day.

My girlfriend and I went there to buy toilet seats but we fell so much in love with the place that we decided to spend the night. It was an easy choice; we couldn't find our way out.

"Where's the exit?" I asked a man who didn't look Swedish.

"There is no exit," he said and looked at us gloomily.

For a minute or two, we panicked. Then, we started walking. Exit, a sign said, but soon we ended up in a dead end aisle with Norwegian doorknobs.

"No, it's this way," my girlfriend said, looking paler by the minute. We walked in the opposite direction, but there were crowds everywhere: Seniors looking for easy chairs, children looking for parents, Finns looking for vodka, all of them with their hands full of coupons.

I gasped for air; the walls started to cave in. At one point, I thought I saw Bjorn Borg and Caroline Wozniacki making out on a beach towel ($9.99), but it was probably just my imagination.

A Muslim father fainted in front of me. "Do you know ... we have an Ikea ... in Mecca?" he mumbled. These were his last words.

I looked desperately at my girlfriend: "We have to get out of here," I said.

"No," she said, "they have an amazing deal on coat hangers."

At midnight, we still hadn't found the exit, so we camped out in an aisle with a few other survivors. Luckily, there was a cafeteria we could raid. We munched on herring, lutefisk, and other gross Scandinavian delicatessen that would make any one vomit.

"We're going to die at Ikea," my girlfriend whispered, "you know that, don't you?"

"Yes," I wept and reached out for my blackberry, "but please don't tell any one in Denmark. They're going to hold it against me forever."

Rewritten version of blog post from February, 2009.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Being Published in the US: The Joy of Losing My American Virginity

I'm a newcomer to American publishing. You could call me a virgin.

Late in 2008 my first book came out in the US. It was a translated novel, The Tsar's Dwarf, and I was very excited. Even though I'm an eternal optimist, the novel got more reviews than I expected. And lots of attention from wonderful indie book sellers everywhere. I also went on a US tour to nine states, and during those months I learned a lot of things about American publishing.

First of all, you Yanks have a God I'd never heard of before. She's called wordcount. Every time I talked to writers, agents or publishers they prayed to this deity. It almost seemed as if she was more important than the books themselves. "How many words did you write today?" "120,00 words are too long for the market." "Thirty-four sexual slurs on a page won't go down well with your readers in  Kansas."

Another thing that fascinated me was the many exciting genres you have in the America:  Literary Fiction, Gay Literature, Trans Gender Poetry, Horror Romance with Zombies, Horror Romance without Zombies, and my favorite, Non-Creative Fiction. Everything needs a label, so the books can hunt down an audience.

My reading at Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon, the biggest book store west of the Rockies, fall, 2008.

In a certain way, this makes sense, but you have to realize that I'm from a country of less than six million inhabitants. Actually, Denmark is so small that people in the US ask me if I know their cousins in Belgium. So when I go into huge book stores in America and find books onFamous Crack Addicts In Beaverton, it makes me laugh with joy.

So am I appalled with American publishing, you may ask? Am I one of those degenerate Europeans who look down on best seller lists and can't wait to go back and write haiku poetry? Not at all. I would love to write a best seller in English. But I only want to do it if it's on my terms. I wouldn't dream of speculating in genres, topics, and trends. Writing novels is my biggest passion, and I will do it till the day I die.

So is there any hope for me in the US? It seems like it. Nineteen months after its release, The Tsar's Dwarf still receive reviews in America, Canada, and Great Britain. And my first experience with an American publisher, Hawthorne Books has been very positive. You may even argue there's a market for Weird Satirical Genre-Bending Historical Novelists From Denmark With An Attitude?

Some quotes from the latest reviews of my translated novel:

"The Tsar's Dwarf (translated by Tiina Nunnally) challenges readers to find sympathy for a character driven by misanthropy ... Fogtdal pursues this path through the literary tradition of existentialist style, established in characters ranging from Dostoevsky's protagonist in Notes from Underground to Seybold's Austerlitz." Joe Ponepinto, The Los Angeles Review, Volume 7

"Sørine is an original. I have never come across her like in a book before ... It's another historical novel that is funny, sad and delightful, all of which makes it sound elegant when in fact it's contemptuous, uproarious and potentially overwhelming."Juxtabooks

"Fogtdal’s prose is fantastic and I was thoroughly impressed by the translation ... It is quite unlike any other book I’ve read. Never has a character like Sørine been created; her unexpected uniqueness is a breath of fresh air. Though brash and uncomfortable at times, The Tsar’s Dwarf is quite the accomplishment. Highly recommended." The Literary Lollipop


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Scandinavian Rivalry: Why I Love Sweden, Even Though I Really Shouldn't

I hope no one saw me.

I looked around and sneaked into the restaurant an early Sunday morning. Then I sat down at a table in the dark, praying that no one would recognize me. Just to be sure, I wore sun glasses and a cap in the most obscene colors that I know, blue and yellow.

Yes, you guessed it. I was visiting a Swedish restaurant in Portland. But since I'm Danish there is no way I can be seen in a place like that. If any Dane saw me, I wouldn't be able to return to my homeland. They would all go, "what the hell were you doing in a Swedish restaurant? Trying to get food poisoned?"

Yes, that's how sad the relationship is between our Scandinavian countries. We Danes just can't forgive the Swedes that they gave birth to Abba. And that they're bigger than us, but then again, every country in the world is bigger than us, except for Liechtenstein.

But actually, I like the Swedes. I probably shouldn't admit this, but I've always had a weakness for our Scandinavian brothers. They make good films (Roy Andersson), they have great writers (Per-Olov Enquist), wonderful actresses (Greta Garbo), cute cars (Volvo), and they're inhabited by cute blonds who marry Tiger Woods.

Yes, I even forgive Sweden when they pretend that Stockholm is the capital of Scandinavia. I just shake my head as anyone would when a toddler plays with himself.

But let's get back to the Swedish restaurant in Portland.

It's called Broder, Brother. You find it in the Clinton district. It's dark and gloomy as you would expect of anything Swedish, but the food was good. I got pytt i panna, Swedish hash, and my American cutie feasted on æbleskiver, apple sized Danish pancakes with maple syrup.

Yes, a Danish dish had sneaked into the menu, but at least Broder was honest enough to admit its proud origin. I mean, one thing is that Sweden stole half our country in the 17th century, they're not going to steal our damn æbleskiver!

However, it was a surreal brunch. No one in Scandinavia would dream of eating pytt i panna for breakfast, and the service was appalling - just like in Malmö. It took forty minutes to get our food and the waiter looked as if he'd been gang raped at IKEA. But hey, there weren't any pictures of Björn Borg on the wall, so I'll still recommend the place, kind of.

Frankly, our Scandinavian rivalry is kind of hilarious. And pathetic as well.

Seen through the eyes of the world, the classic Scandinavian countries Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are totally alike. We basically speak the same language, we have the same background, and are fond of herring and movies about incest. But still we fight like spoiled siblings.

Most people would argue that Sweden is the big brother, Denmark the troubled middle brother, and Norway the Benjamin who looks up to the older siblings but excels more than we would like.

There is a historical reason for this. Norway was Danish for over four hundred years and Swedish for about a hundred, so they feel they have to prove themselves all the time. This is also why the Norwegians are patriotic to the point of insanity. The Norwegians are the kind of people who'll break down and cry when they hear their national anthem. And if you've ever been to Oslo May 17, you'll find that it's the scariest place on earth.

On the Norwegian national day, Norway becomes a huge erection that extends itself into the Nordic Sea and explodes in red, white, and blue semen.

The Swedes, however, are way too introverted to feel as patriotic about their homeland. And the Danes are way too drunk.

In the US, Sweden and Norway are more known than Denmark. I don't like admitting this but it's true. When Denmark celebrated Hans Christian Andersen's bicentennial in 2005, we Danes were surprised to find that most of the world had no idea that Andersen was Danish. They thought he was Swedish, German or Vietnamese.

Actually, the only true famous Dane is Hamlet and he was the sick brain child of an English playwright. So maybe we're not the center of the universe after all. Maybe that's one of the things we have in common with the The Pacific Northwest - we never make the world news; it just rains all the time.

There's another reason that Americans know Denmark less than our Scandinavian brothers. We had fewer immigrants coming over, and most of the Danish immigrants didn't go to Oregon and Washington. They headed for Utah, California, and the Danish Belt in the Midwest.

Yes, that's right, the Danish Belt. Don't roar with laughter, but that's what any enlightened being would call Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin. These proud states were overrun by Danish farmers in the 19th century - farmers who historically got anxious when they saw a hill higher than 200 feet.

The Swedes went to Minnesota where they could freeze their asses off. And they opened restaurants in the Pacific Northwest where you can get your pytt i panna when you miss those wonderful neighbors across the sound.

So here's to you, Sweden. I love you, but I'm sure as hell glad you didn't make it to the World Cup.

You wouldn't have humiliated yourself the stylish way we did!

If you want to read about Denmark, go to Denmark for Dummies: A Superficial Guide to the Happiest Country on Earth.

or about other Scandinavian traumas:
Dying Inside Ikea: You May Check Out Any Time You Like But You Can Never Leave


Friday, July 23, 2010

Reincarnation: The Storyteller's Best Friend

Where do writers get their inspiration from?

Artists and other losers have pondered this question since the dawn of time - yes, even before that. But instead of writing boring essays about it, I wish they would've asked me.

That's right. I'm a novelist, blogger, and airhead, so I have all the answers to the biggest questions in the universe. And since I've written quite a few historical novels I've often asked myself, Peter, where do you get your inspiration from? Dusty PhDs, Renaissance paintings, powdered wigs?

The answer is easy, from hidden memory!

First of all, let me start with a confession that will gross you out: I believe in reincarnation.

So do most people in insane asylums, you might say. As we all know, the world is full of lunatics who are convinced they used to be Napoleon (Here's a test: If your neighborhood Napoleon starts to get nervous ticks when you mention Elba, he might have a case).

However, the belief in reincarnation is not a contest for big egos. It's a help to understand your life today. Our incarnations are still with us. They're hidden in our souls, they have determined our DNA (we were supposedly put in the families that "fit" our karma), and they're narratives that make us who we are today. If you like Jungian psychology, you could call them sub-personalities.

Whether we're writers or not, we're all full of stories that pop up from our subconscious and demand to be taken seriously. And if we're artists they creep into our novels, acting, film making, paintings or music.

Sometimes we learn about past themes from dreams and visions. Most of the time we're not aware of what we're doing. We just call the stories imagination, or we're grateful to our muse - a concept that we're more comfortable with in the Western world than reincarnation.

I have a special connection to Veneto.

Veneto is the region in Northern Italy where Venice and Verona are the two main attractions. It's a beautiful place that I respond to on a very deep level. I've written on several of my novels here, and through regressions and meditations I know of a past life in Veneto that is very important to what I am today - and what has stood in my way as well.

Don't worry, skeptics. Before you vomit all over my website, let me assure you I wasn't anyone "important". Sorry, I don't claim I was Dante or Mussolini (even though I do look good in black). I just know that I feel at home in Veneto and that I was born with some stories, anxieties, and abilities that have nothing to do with my childhood but everything to do with past experiences. I haven't written directly about them yet, but one day I will.

Some people will call this lunacy, but I know of four countries and four cities that I resonate with on a deep level. They give me goosebumps, visions, and ideas. They have taught me about spirituality, illogical fears, and they have convinced me that all humans are wonderful puzzles of DNA, childhood, environment, social class, upbringing, and most important, our soul's experiences through many lives.

The Arts, I believe, is a great way of getting those things out of our system.

And you don't necessarily need an airhead with an astrological chart to go deep. Or a clairvoyant reading your aura like it was Time Magazine.

You can just close your eyes, increase your awareness, and I bet the stories will find you when you least know it...

Pictures are from Bassano della Grappa and Marostica in beautiful Veneto.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kafka in Disneyland (Prague, The City of Sweet Nightmares)

It happened at my wonderful hotel in Prague.

I'd been watching the first half of the Spain-Germany semifinal game and went out to get an ice cream with a friend. We got delayed and ran back to the hotel, up the stairs, and into my room. Then we threw ourselves on the couch, and I turned on the TV.

Strangely enough, I noticed that the TV-set had been moved, but I didn't think much about it. We wanted to concentrate on the game, and luckily none of the teams had scored.

But something felt wrong. I started to look around. On the desk there was a message in a handwriting I didn't know. On the table there was a computer that wasn't mine. Next to it, a book about Basel was thrown onto a chair. I started to sweat. Had I been reading a book about Switzerland without knowing it? Maybe I was sicker than I thought?

I slowly turned to my friend, "Claudio, I think we've walked into the wrong room."

"No, dai" he said, not wanting to take his eyes off the soccer. At that point, it was a 0-0 game, and Italians can't get enough of 0-0 games. To them it's an art form.

I turned off the TV and we ran out of the room. When I carefully closed the door I noticed that we'd gone into number 5 on the second floor, not number 9 on the third floor.

Evidently, my key card could get me in anywhere at this Czech hotel - well, maybe all over Prague and Eastern Europe as well?

Actually, nothing should surprise you in Prague.

It's Franz Kafka's birthplace. As my literary readers know, Kafka is the patron saint of paranoid schizophrenics everywhere; he's a writer so sinister and dark he makes Stephen King look like Mary Poppins.

Actually, Prague is a pretty dark place, too. I'd been in the Czech capital for less than two hours before I was ripped off. This happened at one of the many official Money Exchangers. I got $20 less than the proclaimed rate and told the woman I wanted my money. "Not possible," she said, her eyes enjoying the fight. A Czech writer friend of mine had to call the police before I got the right amount of koruna.

"Everybody cheats in this city," my Czech friend said. "They feel they have to because they're convinced that you cheat, too."

Kafka would have been pleased.

After that nasty experience, we wanted to do something to cheer us up, so we went to the Medieval Torture Museum. I was disappointed that they didn't indulge in water boarding back in those days, but Dick Cheney wasn't around in the 16th Century. Or maybe he was. I believe in reincarnation and I can easily see Cheney as a Bohemian Duke practicing his art on Slovakian scumbags.

Later we went to a Czech restaurant and feasted on delicious pork knees - something that actually passes for food in the Czech Republic. They took me three days to digest, but hey, at least they were expensive.

So didn't I like Prague at all, you may ask?

You got that wrong, I absolutely loved it. Prague is an unbelievably gorgeous city, a Gothic Disneyland of sheer beauty with castles and magnificent churches. It's one of the prettiest capitals in Europe, but it's not a city that gives you a hug. Prague kicks you in the gut; it's a poetic nightmare. It's unreal, disillusioned, tired, fascinating, and worth visiting if you take nothing for face value.

"The Communists have gone but have been replaced with people of the same mind set", my Czech writer friends says. "Nothing has really changed. Our revolution has become bitter velvet."

Her name is Dominika Dery. We were both invited to a literary conference in Cognac four years ago. Dominika has written a fascinating book about being the daughter of a Czech dissident in Communist Prague in the seventies and eighties. It's called The Twelve Little Cakes and did well in Australia, America, France, and Italy. But strangely enough, it hasn't come out in her own language, Czech.

"People aren't interested in that kind of book here," she said.

We crossed Karluv Most, the famous Charles Bridge where there's a fabulous view to the castle, the green hills, and the Kafka Museum. It's one of the prettiest places in Central Europe. Unfortunately, a few tourists around the world know that as well, so you can't cross it without passing ten Japanese tour groups and 1001 Danes lusting for Czech pivo ...

My last morning in Prague I woke up and discovered that I'd turned into a cockroach.

My back was hard as armor; my abdomen had been divided into rigid bow-like sections. I had numerous legs, but they were pitifully thin in comparison to my old ones.

When I reached for my key card, I got the feeling that good old Franz would have been pleased.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How I Became a Third Rate Academic (With Coffee Stains and All)

The chairman of the Scandinavian department looks sternly at me. We're at the annual conference for Scandinavians in America, SASS. This year it takes place in Seattle and I've become drunk from half a glass of Chardonnay.

"You aren't just a writer, Peter. You're also an academic," he says.

I sigh. Why does this nice man from University of Washington have to insult me? Couldn't he accuse me of something more innocent like robbing banks? But no, the chairman is going for the throat.

I study him. Is this great scholar getting back at me because I borrowed his first name Terje in The Tsar's Dwarf? In my novel, Terje is a drunk and violent Norwegian who swallows his own vomit. But don't all Norwegians? What is so insulting about that?

"You teach at an American university, isn't that correct?" he continues relentlessly.

"Yes, part time, but Portland State didn't hire me as ..."

"And you write historical novels that require scholarly research. So, Peter ..." He looks triumphantly at me. "You're a scholar and an academic."

I sigh but the chairman is right. I'm in denial. I'm an academic, too.

My problem is I don't like labels. I can easily identify with novelist and human being (if the latter isn't bragging), but not academic or scholar. Actually, I take pride in the fact that I only have a B.A., not a Masters or a PhD.  I'm also proud that I've never read a single book on literary criticism in my life. And most important, I don't own a tweed jacket or smoke a pipe.

For the rest of the SASS conference I walk around in a daze.

I look at all my great colleagues presenting papers like "The Aesthetic of the Interface: Performativity and Pornographic Symbolism in the Poetry of Post Modern Sami Writers." I admire how the eyes of college professors are glued to their manuscripts; how they drown their PhD's in exquisite red wine, and use words only known to scholars of the 14th Century.

"How can I compete with that?" I sigh. I've never read Tolstoy or Camus. James Joyce and James Conrad bore me to death. "So what am I doing here?" I shout to the mirror in the elevator, but the mirror doesn't respond. After all, mirrors aren't academics, they're simply useful.

The next day I return to Portland and decide I have to accept my cruel fate, so I enroll into the local chapter of Academics Anonymous.  At the first AA meeting I stand up. On my shoulder lies a blanket of dandruff. In my pocket, two midterm papers sticking up begging for Cs.

"My name is Peter," I whisper. "I'm an academic."

"Hi, Peter," the crowd greets me. I look at the janitors with Master Degrees, the award winning poets, the adjuncts and novelists who dreamed of becoming curling instructors.

In a corner, a bearded man is shouting, "tenure ... I want tenure". It's not a pretty sight. Getting in touch with your Inner Academic never is. I sit down again. Two scholars doing research on the pronouns in the Icelandic sagas embrace me warmly.

I'm going to pull through.  And tomorrow I'll buy that tweet jacket if it's the last thing I'll do.


Monday, April 19, 2010

A Great Writers' Conference Outside Seattle: Cats and Coyotes Are Welcome

I lost my virginity in the state of Washington.

After almost forty readings and book signings in the US for The Tsar's Dwarf, I was invited to a writers' conference to do two workshops.

This happened last weekend outside Seattle at Kiana Lodge in Poulsbo overlooking Bainbridge Island. What a gorgeous place. It reminded me of Scandinavia before it was buried in volcanic ash. 128 people and a cat met up to listen to a bunch of professional writers sharing their wisdom about everything from self publishing to writing through grief.

I was hired to do a workshop on tragicomedy, an apt choice since I think I'm funny and nobody else does. Thirty-five people showed up in a cabin with stuffed moose. No, I'm not referring to the nice folks in the audience but to the aura of beautiful native Indian kitsch.

But don't get me wrong. I loved it all. The local writers were great and laughed in all the right places, except for the time when I read a piece equating writing to masturbation. People looked at me as if they were shell shocked.

Most writer conferences are great, but sometimes they can be frustrating as well. You feel as if you're standing in front of a huge buffet where you want to taste everything, not just the cauliflower.

Field End's Writer Conference was loaded with talent. There were so many writers I wanted to talk to, among them Bruce Barcott who was the delightful keynote speaker, and Gloria Burgess who did the opening address. But the conference only lasted a day, then we all went back to our semi colons.

Before that happened I appeared in another workshop with Dickey Nesenger, a Seattle playwright. The workshop was called Page One. Participants were supposed to leave page one of their manuscripts, and we were forced to say something brilliant about them after they were read aloud to us.

When I teach writing, I always try to stay away from the American mode of "I Looooved It So Much But ..." I try to be honest and supportive, knowing that beginning writers don't need bland praise, just a loving headbutt. 

In the evening I walked a last round at Kiana Lodge, admiring the tribal art work and the beautiful view of the sound. They do weddings here, and sometimes the odd coyote jogs through looking for a haiku poet to munch on.

Going back to Portland, I got a ride with Puerto Rican writer Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. Riding two in the same car is called car pooling in the US, so don't say the Yankees don't have a social conscious.

And hey, they read historical novels, too. The book store at the conference ran out of their pile of The Tsar's Dwarf.

God bless the state of Washington!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In Portland Everybody Is a Writer (Including the Squirrel On My Porch)

A week ago I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Reading Local, a West Coast website that highlights local writers. Since I'm just a visitor with a visa, I'm happy to be considered part of the Portland scene - especially since everybody is a writer in the Rose City.

I'm actually deeply suspicious of Portlanders who don't write. I figure there has to be something wrong with them, a mental sickness perhaps because Portland is an artsy and trendy town - it's one of those place where you don't just work at McDonalds, you're also a Haiku poet.

So Portland, Oregon is bursting with talent, readings, writer workshops, literary journals, and naked poetry slams. You could call it a Heaven for wordsmiths

Here's an excerpt of the interview with me by Teresa Bergen.

By the way, please take words like "handsome" and "talented" with a grain of salt. I'm neither.


The handsome Danish author Peter H. Fogtdal took a break Friday to let me snoop around his apartment and ask nosy questions. He deserves a break, and a better one than I provided, after the fifteen months since his novel The Tsar’s Dwarf came out from Portland’s own Hawthorne Books.

In that time he has done forty events in ten states to promote his book, taught at PSU, and accomplished the amazing international feat of simultaneously writing one novel in Danish and a different novel in English. I caught him in the midst of editing the Danish novel, which he had just finished writing two days earlier.

Amidst his décor of beautifully misty Portland paintings and a collection of delicate old teacups, we talked about his life of travel and writing.

While Fogtdal has a long and distinguished writing career with twelve books to his credit, The Tsar’s Dwarf is the first to be translated into English. It tells the story of Sørine, a dwarf whom the king of Denmark gave to the Russian tsar in 1716. She is foul-mouthed, foul-tempered, and much smarter than anybody else in the book.

When I asked a question about traditions in what I stupidly termed “dwarf literature,” Fogtdal nipped that line of questioning in the bud.

“I don’t know anything about dwarf literature,” he said, “because I’m not interested in dwarves at all.” It turned out that Sorine was an accidental dwarf. Fogtdal was writing a book about Peter the Great and the Danish king Frederik IV, and their fractious 1716 meeting in Copenhagen ...

“I got so bored writing that,” Fogtdal said. He put the first fifty or sixty pages away for a year. “When I came back to it, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d read several times that Peter the Great kept dwarves like other people collect stamps. So I figured oh my God, the protagonist has to be a dwarf.”

After that, the novel became easy to write. Fogtdal was able to tap into his inner dwarf, the part of him that is angry at the world.

Many historical novels are dense and ponderous, but The Tsar’s Dwarf is a sparsely written page turner. “It’s my fourth historical novel, and you learn one thing,” Fogtdal said, “that all the info you find interesting is not interesting for the reader. And sometimes you wish that other historical novelists would realize that.” In his last drafts of novels, Fogtdal trims ten to thirty pages of extraneous details.

Fogtdal said it would be no fun to translate his own novels. “And my English wouldn’t be good enough. That’s the weird thing. My English, I think, is sufficient to write a novel in English, at least if I use a first-person persona that’s close to me. But it’s not good enough to translate my own novel.”

His first novel written in English is set in India and tells the story of a man who blames his guru for his life not turning out better. Fogtdal has been to India eight times and knows a thing or two about gurus. He has lots of material for his book and is very excited about it.

Fogtdal has long lived a nomadic lifestyle. He is a writer-in-residence in Portland, and doesn’t know where he will go next. Perhaps Hong Kong.

One of his best travel experiences was in 2005, which was the bicentennial of the birth of famous Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. Danish embassies all over the world commemorated Andersen in different ways. The Vietnamese embassy invited Fogtdal to talk to youngsters about Andersen.

“And then we made the very logical assumption why should I do that, why not play him?” Fogtdal said. He traveled to six Vietnamese cities, performing as Andersen, along with a Vietnamese actress who read two of Andersen’s fairy tales, an emcee/translator and a tech man.

“It’s definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had in my whole life,” Fogtdal said. “And I mean, we were treated like rock stars.” The shows were a smashing success, except with the sophisticated kids in Saigon. “Those were the kind of kids that listened for ten minutes and then they were on their cell phones,” Fogtdal recalled. “They were too Western. That was a struggle.”

Portland has been good to Fogtdal. A dedicated bicyclist, he appreciates the emphasis on biking here, although he said there are four times as many bicyclists in Copenhagen. The bike paths in his home country are also better. “Here you call it a bike path when you paint a yellow color on the street where the cars are driving as well.”

Bikes are especially important to Fogtdal because he has made it into his fifties without ever having a driver’s license. “I don’t drive,” he said. “And I never even tried.”

Since he was an adolescent, Fogtdal said he knew there were two things he should never do. “And that was have a gun in my hand and drive a car. And none of the two I’ve ever done. And I never will. It’s never going to happen. Never.”

If you haven't had enough, read the full interview here