Monday, August 16, 2010
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 come up and ask me if I know their cousins in Belgium. So when I go into huge book stores in America and find books on say, Famous 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 hip haiku for academics with acne?
Not at all. I would love to write a best seller in English. If I'm lucky I'm doing that right now, but I only want to do it if it's on my terms. I wouldn't dream of speculating in genres, topics, and trends. My novels need to grow out of me like fungus (that was not a good image). They'll never be inspired by literary spin doctors or cold calculation. 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.
So hey, if you expected me to badmouth American publishing, I have to disappoint you. You see, America is a very big country, and there seems to be a market even for Weird Satirical Genre-Bending Historical Novelists From Denmark With A Damn 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
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