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Author Interview: Irving Karchmar

Today, I would like to introduce Irving Karchmar, the author of Master of the Jinn: A Sufi Novel.

He has been a writer, editor and poet for many years, and a darvish of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order since 1992. He now lives near New York City, where he is currently at work on the Audiobook of Master of the Jinn.

Listen to a sample of the story here.

Welcome. Can please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am the son of Holocaust survivors who came to America in 1948. I was actually born in newly built American Army Hospital of a DP Camp, a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany just after WWII. In fact, I use that as a scene in Master of the Jinn. I have also been a writer, editor and magazine publisher most of my working life, and dabble in poetry :) In 1992, I was initiated as a darvish of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, and began writing Master of the Jinn six months later.

What inspired you to write Master of the Jinn?

I was participating in majlis, our twice weekly meeting, saying my zekr in a meditation circle, and the idea came to me without my thinking about it. Of course, I had read about King Solomon and his ring, which according to legend controlled the men and Jinn, birds and animals. But it was at that moment that I thought a modern day story of searching for the original ring of power, would make a good novel, especially from a Sufi point of view.

Please explain the term, Sufi?

A Sufi is dervish, or darvish in Persian, who practices a mysticism that we believe is the heart of Islam, and involves spiritual poverty, that is, not being attached to anything, loving-kindness, honesty, generosity, charity, etc, in other words, all the legendary qualities of the Prophet (SAW).  Rumi, Attar, Junayd, Hallaj and Bayazid were famous Sufis of the past, as were, ibn Arabi and Al-Ghazzali.

What are the main themes one will find in Master of the Jinn?

The main theme is taken from the loving kindness of the Sufi path, and I try to show what life is like in a khaniqah, a Sufi house. Another theme is the adab, or good manners and courtesy we show to each other and our guests, and the states and stations of love that are inculcated into the heart as one progresses on the path. Of course, the quest, and the mystery of the Jinn are a great part of the overarching theme, but underlying it all is the infinite mercy of God. Readers find many themes in the book, and upon rereading it, I have been told, find even more :)

Was it difficult researching the topic of your novel?

Yes, there is really not much material on the Jinn, though I researched it for a long time, and tried to incorporate the legends I found in various sources. There was more information on the archeological aspect of the tale, as well as Tuareg tribal life in the Sahara, The rest came from my fertile and overactive imagination :)

While you researched topics for Master of the Jinn, did you ever get into any type of situations, be it funny, embarrassing or even a misunderstanding?

Not while I researched topics, but since publishing Master of the Jinn, I do get inquiries every once in a while that might be considered a misunderstanding, like asking if I am the Master of the Jinn, or if I have King Solomon’s ring, or if I can contact the Jinn to help them with their love life. When I tell them the story came mostly from my imagination, they think I am just keeping the secret for myself.  Also, some orthodox Muslims consider all fiction just another word for writing lies, so I have had some comments like that also.

What was your favorite chapter to write? Why?

I think my favorite chapters were the first and the last, which I wrote right after getting the idea for the book. I knew immediately how it would begin and end, I have no idea how, except to say that it came fully formed into my head, as if sent from above.

Can you share with us your road to writing and publishing Master of the Jinn?

Writing Master of the Jinn took 12 year in total. The first five years were devoted to writing the first draft, which is really misleading, since I wrote it on a word processor and rewrote each sentence about a hundred times. There were also long periods of time between chapters, when I had no idea what came next. Finally I had a first draft, then it took another few years of sending it out, having it rejected, re-editing it, sending it out again, etc, until technology caught up with my intention and I could publish it myself inexpensively.

What is something you wish you had known about the publishing industry before you became a published author?

I wish I had fully realized the relentless commercialism of modern publishing. Of course I was sending a manuscript to literary agents and book publishers about engaging and heroic Muslim character just after 9/11, so my timing could have been better lol. But the paradigm is changing with self-publishing so readily available, and E-books growing by leaps and bounds. It is a new day in publishing, or at least the first light of dawn of a new day :)

What advice would you give for those who wish to self-publish?

I would tell anyone who wants to self-publish to try the difficult path first, that is, send the manuscripts to literary agents that you have researched and know they handle your kind of book. It is much easier to find a good agent and let them do the legwork. And if you do self-publish, build a good website, and use social media and/or a blog to promote your work. It is a long journey, and you have to believe in your book to take it on.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule and sharing your journey with us! I look forward to your next book! :D For more information about his book, check out his website and his blog called Darvish
This interview was first published on Of Thoughts and Words


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