Please welcome Dori Jones Yang, author of Daughter of Xanadu and my fellow Seattle-suburb resident, to Damsels in Regress!
1. How did you become interested in this story of East-meets-West in medieval Mongolia?
My husband, who is Chinese, suggested I write a novel based on Marco Polo, who was the first Westerner to visit China and write a book about it. Once I started reading, I realized that Marco Polo lived during the High Middle Ages and that China was then part of the much larger Mongol Empire. This opened up a whole new world. Then, I decided to turn history on its head—and write about what Marco Polo looked like through Asian eyes. No one had ever done that before. Of course, that meant a cross-cultural love affair. I had already done personal research about that!
2. What sort of research did you do for the book?
I started by reading Marco Polo’s own book, and then I read everything I could find about Khubilai Khan, the Mongol Empire, and Mongolia today. Then, I visited Mongolia, twice! I stayed in a yurt, rode a camel, drank mare’s milk, and even found the ruins of Xanadu, the site of Khubilai Khan’s summer palace. That was a thrill.
3. Did you feel your experience in journalism helped you in writing or researching this book? If so, how?
Journalism introduced me to China and the Far East. But it didn’t prepare me to write fiction, with plot, setting and character. For that, I had to take classes, many classes. And for research, I relied mostly on my training in history and my love of travel.
4. You previously wrote a contemporary middle grade novel that also deals with “culture clash.” How was writing Xanadu similar or different in terms of content and age level?
The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang is for readers aged 10 – 12, the perfect age for the kind of great children’s literature I remember from my childhood. Xanadu is for older readers; I often say ages 15 to 95. I initially wrote it for adults, and then I made some minor changes so it would fit in the ‘young adult’ category. Writing Xanadu took me much longer than Gina Zhang. I hope teens love it, as well as adults of all ages.
5. What are some books you’ve read that helped or influenced your writing (especially YA and/or historicals)?
I enjoy books by Margaret George, Tracy Chevalier, Susan Vreeland, Amy Tan, Lisa See, and Gail Tsukiyama. I also like books that view history through the eyes of women, such as The Rent Tent, Mists of Avalon, and Philippa Gregory’s books on the Tudor women.
6. Emmajin has aspirations that would be much easier to fulfill if she were male in her culture. Does this reflect your own experiences growing up, or were archery and wrestling the furthest things from your mind?
Emmajin is a fine athlete, and I am not! But Emmajin aspires to succeed in a man’s world. I know about that from my experience at Princeton, where I was one of the early female students, and in business journalism, where women were rare when I started.
7. Do you have plans for your next book? Do you think you’d like to write another historical or step back into the present for awhile?
What happens next to Marco and Emmajin? I couldn’t just leave them. So I am working on a sequel to Daughter of Xanadu. After that, I’m thinking of a story set in America in the 1960s. But that could change!
Please be sure to visit my website, www.dorijonesyang.com, where you’ll find some videos and articles, as well as links to author appearances and many online reviews of Daughter of Xanadu. Thanks!
And stay tuned for a chance to win a signed ARC of Dori’s book starting Friday!