Monday, February 01, 2010

The Dark Side of the Soul -- Interview with a Prince

A single pulse. No drop hits the golden ether. Yet the circle ripples once, a curve grooves it in twine, and a moan like a whistle and a song escapes as it widens.

It splits in two. Knowing they were One, two selves – one, light gold, the other, darker – awake from an endlessly dreaming mind.

I am.

Thus two souls are ripped apart by an angel, doomed to spend an eternity’s eternity searching for each other through countless incarnations in The Dark Side of the Soul. And it is the characters assumed during these incarnations – transgendered Native Americans, evil cowboys, hustlers, young rebels who live in the bowels of New York City, a young Ottoman prince who finds love on a Grecian island - that make this story such a fantastical read. The novel is explicitly about longing -- the yearning for one’s other, the other that makes one complete – one’s soul mate. The two souls experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion as they search for their other is the original premise of this tale.

A caveat: The author, His Imperial Highness Prince Selim Djem, is a friend, one I ‘met’ nearly four years ago in an on-line writing class. I knew him then – as now – as Jimmy, and it wasn’t until months later, when we’d agreed to read and critique our novels, that he ‘came out’ to me and admitted his royal lineage. His status didn’t stop me from ripping apart, and then patching together, The Dark Side of the Soul. He returned the favor with my novel Brighter than Bright, still seeking a home.

Jimmy graciously agreed to an interview...

Yours Truly: How long have you worked on The Dark Side of the Soul?

Jimmy: Stephen King once wrote that we all have ONE story in us that we repeat it continuously, embellishing it, filling it with maturity as time goes by, deleting beautiful unnecessary sentences and chapters, writing it over and over again. In a way, I’ve been writing and will continue writing this story all my life. Perhaps it will come out as a painting or as music – who knows? Maybe I’ll finally learn to play an instrument? The DSOTS first emerged in the 1970s as a collection of poems and, later, as a series of graphic novels I never published... Never the same characters, never the same objective, never the same story, but always the same mood, atmosphere, theme. Then, 10 years ago I wrote what was to become chapter one of The DSOTS. I had no idea who the two beings were. Next year, I wrote about a struggle between two entities trying to invest the same body, that of a young savage fostered by a wolf clan. Another year passed and I wrote the story of a group of mountain climbers. In 2001, I flew to Montana, and The Crazy Mountains became the nexus of my story. In other words, I wrote various, unlinked chapters, many ending in the wastebasket, while others completely rewritten in my novel.

YT: You have a wealth of unique, even eccentric, characters. How did you come up with them and make each unique?

J: Characters were not difficult to create because they write themselves through their dialogues, their inner thoughts, the interactions they have between each other. Since I’ve interviewed hundreds of people over the years, it gave me a slight edge when writing dialogues. It’s something I do –thanks to my work in journalism – quite easily.

YT: What aspect of writing your novel did you like the most? The least?

J: Every day, I ran for an hour and during that time, my heart pumped blood into my dreamy mind and unasked for ideas popped out. I call these ideas “conceptual atoms”. These conceptual atoms linked unrelated chapters, scenes, characters, whatever, making them totally coherent and harmonious with one another. That’s the greatest part of the writing process.

The part of the writing process I did not enjoy at all was choosing which scenes, chapters, sentences to delete. Thankfully, during the downsizing process, the conceptual atom shtick worked as well.

Writing a novel is like solving a succession of riddles, puzzles, mysteries, enigmas and conundrums... and that’s real fun.

YT: Do you have a single character you love most of all? Tell us about him/her?

J: Not one, but these are my favourites: Nimble Foot, Wolf Shield, Two Souls, Pederson, The Kid, Max, Jack and Wolf. I loved creating Nimble Foot, Wolf Shield and Wolf (same soul within different incarnations), Max and Pederson (same soul within two distinct incarnations), and Two Souls, The Kid and Jack (same soul within different incarnations and different periods of his life.) Pederson/Max were interesting to write because they are so evil. I enjoyed thinking up all the horrible things they do to the protagonists.

Why not Alex and Gwen or Tania? Because they’re too autobiographical and so less interesting as the characters I invented from scratch.

YT: What character was the most difficult for you to write? Why?

J: Nimble Foot/Wolf Shield. Because of the amount of research I had to do in order to create the personas in the most realistic environment I could come up with. I read numerous books about the history of the Native Americans in the Rocky Mountains at the time the Europeans hadn’t conquered the West of the American continent yet.

YT: You are a Prince, 9th in line to succeed the Ottoman Empire if it still existed. How did this very unique perspective inform your story? How autobiographical is this story?

J: The Sifnos part where Alex meets Gwen is autobiographical in the sense that I met a girl in summer 1973 in Sifnos and fell in love with her. I described the various locations and situations as best I could, but for the most part, Gwen is a total creation. The girl I met and I never had long philosophical conversations, were not interested in religion at all, and she was not a painter. Father Zinon is a total fabrication and I never went to Artemonas with her at night or even during the day. In fact, the first time I visited Artemonas was in 1995. Everything that happens in Switzerland is true – everything concerning Alex, his mother, his sister and his niece is accurate. I wrote it from memory, but omitted the ugly parts, parts that only concern my family. You don’t wash your dirty laundry in public.

Finally, I used this novel to state as clearly as possible my point of view about how the Turks abused the Ottoman Family and continue to do so to this day. I was disgusted by their attitude at the time, but I am much more so today. If I would rewrite this story today, I would use much harsher language against the Turkish government.

YT: What can we expect from you next?

J: The story of the Ottoman Dynasty from the very beginning – 700 years ago – to today, with a very detailed description of my close family’s life and of mine.


Read more about the The Dark Side of the Soul, including how to order. HIH Prince Selim Djem blogs HERE and tweets HERE.

Peace, Linda


  1. You're a real journalist; you really did your homework on that one.
    Thank you, Linda and BRAVO!

  2. Ah, the Prince. :) Good interview. He sounds interesting and his book sounds fascinating.

  3. Super post with a bonus: Introduction to an interesting book and an equally interesting writer.

    Congratulations to Jimmy on his debut novel.


  4. Hi Deborah and John.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    John, we both spin tales of mystery and horror and I wonder whether living in a place called Kill Devil Hills is a source of inspiration.I know for a fact that living in a boring Swiss city compels me to invent weird stories filled with strange people and creatures from other realms.

    -- Jimmy