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, 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. Or maybe it was in Poland, there isn't that much difference. My Pale 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 crying out for their parents, Finns shouting for vodka, all of them with their hands full of useless coupons they found in a dumpster. I gasped for air; the walls started to cave in the way they do in a second rate thriller. At one point, I thought I saw Bjorn Borg and Caroline Wozniacki making out on a beach towel for $9.99, three for 20, 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, but she shook her head, "No," she said firml, "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 on Famous Crack Addicts In Beaverton, it makes me laugh with joy.

So am I appalled with American publishing, you may ask? 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


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.