And you are aware of the fact that I’m Danish too and that two Danes having a conversation in English is pathetic. That’s the kind of thing we did when we were fourteen and hung out in places where no one knew us. Remember? We would act as if we were English and have fun with people in stores. But how old are we now, 43?
I would prefer to say 35, but between you and me—yes, 43.
Well, if I’m going to do this in English, you owe me one.
I owe you a lot. For instance I owe you this feeling of having a split identity. These days it’s truly as if I’m divided down the middle. To be frank it’s as if I have an avatar.
Well, I go around minding my own business in Denmark. I write, I translate, I go to the grocery store, I buy liver pate, I drive home in a long line of people also driving home in the late afternoon with their liver pates. I never wear heels. Heels aren’t good for your back when you sit at a desk all day writing, you know…but lately it feels as if I have an avatar, and the avatar is having a ball in America!
Is the avatar being naughty?
No, the avatar is publishing Karate Chop, my story collection with the aforementioned 15 stories. And one day back in September, I suddenly had a story published in The New Yorker. I was sitting in Denmark in my pajamas looking at my toenails, when suddenly out of the blue I had a story in The New Yorker. I called my Danish editor and asked her if that had ever happened to a Dane before, and she said: No, I don’t think so, but maybe the Baroness?
Baroness Blixen! Karen! She was doing great in America before she returned to Denmark with her turban, her syphilis and her little harem of male poets. But guess what: Karen Blixen apparently never made it into The New Yorker, and I tell you: It’s been a feast for my American avatar ever since. She’s doing great over there. She’s wearing heels!
So okay, you feel schizophrenic, because you’re experiencing some sort of breakthrough in the U.S. while you yourself are just hanging around in every day life in Denmark?
You’re sharp. Now ask me about the stories. You could, for instance, ask me how I came up with them.
Well, how did you come up with them?
For a couple of years I moved around a lot and for some reason all the places, experiences, people I met during those years started popping up in these stories. I look back on the book as a sort of logbook. Readers can’t see it, but I think they sense it.
And how was the writing process, if I may ask?
It was great! I borrowed a summerhouse on the west coast and wrote seven of the stories during my stay there. It felt like being in love! One day I stepped out on the porch and looked at the dunes and the ocean and I thought: Karate Chop! It’s going to be called Karate Chop! Tight, hard hitting and to the point. No babbling on for pages, just: bam!
Oh, I remember that day. Sunny, wasn’t it? Wind from the west, and I think you were in love, but lets leave that to rest. I want to know why you started writing short stories after having written three novels. Rumors has it that your books—unlike yourself—keep getting thinner and thinner.
I love that short stories have to be so accurate. They have to be tight, full of contents and voice. More than anything the voice has to be strong and if you don’t get it right, it’s just not good at all.
So the short story is a challenge?
When a short story works well it’s the best.
I sense that you’re beginning to wear heels in Denmark, too, so lets get down to Earth. What’s up in the near future?
This afternoon I’m driving to the grocery store to buy liver pate. I’m short on rye bread and toilet paper too. But in February I’m going to New York to celebrate the launch of Karate Chop.
Rendezvous with the avatar?
Rendezvous indeed. We’re talking fancy clothes, nail polish, doing readings with Fiona Maazel and A. M. Homes. I can hardly wait to give my American editor a hug, and say thanks to her and all the people in the U.S. who have helped me beat Karen Blixen on her own grounds. It’s going to be something. I’m even going to wear panty hose.
And since you owe me one, can I come?
Oh, you know I couldn’t do it without you.
DORTHE NORS is the author of five novels, and the recipient of the Danish Arts Agency’s Three Year Grant for her “unusual and extraordinary talent.” Her stories have appeared in AGNI, A Public Space, Boston Review, Ecotone, and FENCE. Karate Chop is her first book to be published in English. She lives in Copenhagen.
Photo Credit: Simon Klein Knudsen