Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Dan Mayland

Dan Mayland is an author and professional geopolitical forecaster, helping nonprofit, private, and government organizations navigate a changing world. His Mark Sava spy series was informed by his experiences in the Caspian region and Middle East. Raised in New Jersey, Mayland now lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two children, in an old stone farmhouse he and his wife have restored.

Mayland's new novel is The Doctor of Aleppo.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

It communicates the setting (Aleppo), the main character (the doctor), and the main character’s profession (medicine). And for most readers, given the reference to Aleppo, it will also communicate that this is a war novel. Quite a heavy lift for just four words!

Readers might also be interested to know that an earlier version of the book was titled The Royals of Aleppo, which hints at the fact that the original concept was more of an ensemble piece. Truth be told, it still is a bit of an ensemble piece of sorts, in that there are important other characters—the doctor’s wife and children, a Syrian-American woman, a Swede—who play crucial roles in the mystery and love story that unfolds over the course of the novel. But the heart of the novel is the doctor, and the final title I chose helps drives that home.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Very. The life path I took to be able to write this novel wound its way through Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Iran, Bahrain, the Syria-Turkey border days before the Turks rolled across it with tanks, and dozens of other countries. You know that Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime," when David Byrne sings, “My God, what have I done?’” Well, that sums up my thoughts when I scratch my head and consider how a guy from northern New Jersey who, as a teenager assumed he would live something approximating a normal life, instead wound writing a book like The Doctor of Aleppo.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings, for both questions. For all fiction, timing—knowing not just what to reveal, but when—is critical. Reveal too much too early and you’ll crush the narrative. Don’t reveal enough and readers won’t get past the first chapter. Finding the perfect balance is a delicate affair—especially in the beginning of a book.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

All my characters have a part of me in them. I mine my thoughts, emotions, opinions, capacity for love—you name it—and distribute bits of these traits to my characters all the time. But I do the same when it comes to the thoughts, emotions, opinions, etc., of pretty much everyone I know. And so all my characters are strange composites, built out of the materials I have at hand. Once I create them, though, they take on lives of their own, acting not as I or anyone else would, but according to the dictates of their own unique consciences.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

For me, a better question might me what non-literary inspirations haven’t influenced my writing? Travel to far-flung locals, being a father, my marriage, the too-early death of my own father, bartending, investing in real estate, working as a professional geopolitical forecaster and analyst, mountaineering, being part of an extended family, friendships, pets—all that and more has an enormous influence on my writing.
Visit Dan Mayland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue