Last fall, when I did a live online chat with the best-selling Brazilian author of "The Alchemist" and about 14 other novels, I was astounded by his sheer internationality. Talking to me in New York from his hotel in Milan, questions from his fans poured in from Egypt, Sweden, Spain, Iran. They wanted to know where he gets his ideas, what are his rituals, how they can search for their own inner treasure. And that is the amazing fame of Paulo Coelho—his books, translated into 65 languages, touch people everywhere, often deeply, with their seemingly simple spiritual messages. Critics tend to slough off his novels as simplistic—especially American critics—but readers don't seem to care: He's sold 85 million books ("The Alchemist" alone has sold 30 million copies) in more than 150 countries.

The surprisingly amiable, 59-year-old author went another round with me recently, calling from his home in Paris to chat about his latest book, "The Witch of Portobello," why he loves to dance, his ambivalent Catholicism, and why it's important to embrace love even if it makes us suffer.

Listen to Paulo Coelho:
Dancing with the AngelsDancing to Today's Music'God Is Action'Why Love Is Worth the RiskWaiting for a Special White Feather

How did you decide to write about a witch?

First, I was thinking about [elaborating] on the feminine side of God. Something that we don’t pay a lot of attention, at least in our civilization. The major religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, they deny somehow that God has a feminine face. However, if you go to the holy texts, you see there is this feminine presence. Second, I [wanted to] connect this subject with the visible reality, meaning what’s around us. Everything for me is sacred, beginning with earth, but also going to things made by man. 

Finally, "The Witch of Portobello" is about people who dare to take some steps towards an unconventional spiritual path. And they are immediately labeled as witches--and well, witch is a word full of prejudices. The book is about that.  A witch was a person who never complied with the established rules, and always tried to dare and to go beyond and to celebrate life, and to love and to have joy and pleasure while doing this.