Dori Jones Yang is the author of Daughter of Xanadu, a book about a Mongol princess who wants to become a warrior. How cool is that? Tending the cooking pots sounds like an extremely dull occupation, so Emmajin wants to be a fighter in her grandfather’s army. Dori agreed to stop by the virtual offices to discuss her book, which is one of my most anticipated 2011 releases.
Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
Formerly a foreign correspondent in Hong Kong, I am a writer who loves historical fiction, travel, China, and the Mongols.
Can you tell us a little about your book, Daughter of Xanadu?
Emmajin, fictional granddaughter of the Great Khan, wants to join the Mongol Army; her beliefs are challenged when she meets a foreign merchant, Marco Polo. This book has battle scenes, dragon hunting, moonlit walks, archery contests, storytelling, and an unusual and dangerous friendship.
How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
I relate to Marco Polo because he was the first Westerner to write about China. Marco lived in China from the age of 21 to 38 and he never mentioned a love affair; so I created one for him. But I wanted to tell the story from her perspective. We don’t usually hear about history from the viewpoint of an Asian woman.
What have you learned about yourself through your characters?
Like Emmajin, I had to balance my own dreams – being a foreign correspondent and writer – with my love for a man. And like her, I fell in love with a man from a very different culture. Writing this book made me think deeply about what it means to be loyal to your own country vs. being open to people of other countries.
Is there a message you want readers to come away with after reading the book?
- It’s important to build bridges and increase understanding between cultures, particularly between East and West;
- Cross-cultural love affairs can help break down barriers, if both parties admire the other’s original culture;
- Women can be strong and capable even in a male-dominated world.
Why did you decide to write a story set in 13th century China? What do you find most interesting about the time period?
When Marco Polo arrived in China, it was ruled by a Mongol, Khubilai Khan. So when I started writing this book, I read as much as I could about the Mongol Empire. It was the largest land empire in world history! In those days, Asia was far more advanced than Europe. In the 13th century, gunpowder was first used in battle, and it traveled from China to Europe on the same trade routes as Marco Polo. That changed the world forever. I think the 13th century was the fulcrum of history, when the balance began to shift away from Asia and toward Europe.
If you were sucked into a time vortex and ended up in 13th century China, what would you miss the most? What do you think you would like the best about your new life?
I would miss the freedom to decide what I want to do with my life! We’re so lucky to live in a time when we can decide for ourselves what person to marry and what work to do. But I think the Mongols felt a kind of freedom we can barely understand, galloping across the grasslands with the wind in their hair, moving their tents every few months. That would be really cool.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?
Journalists are not trained in the techniques of fiction: plot, dialogue, character development, emotional depth. I had to learn all that. For me, the biggest challenge was to truly get inside my characters’ heads and understand what motivated them.
If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, what would it be?
The Lord of the Rings, for sure. I read it three times in middle school and named my goldfish after the characters. I even learned to read and write in elvish script. I was obsessed. Oddly, I think it’s what made me fall in love with China and Mongolia. I love faraway places, different-looking people, distinctive customs, intriguing languages.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
Believe it or not, I like to go crabbing and shrimping! We have a little boat, and I love to get out on the water, catch crab or shrimp, and then enjoy a scrumptious feast. Especially on sunny days.
Thanks for the opportunity to do this!
Thank you, Dori!!
Still not convinced? Here’s a trailer for the book.
You can learn more about Dori by visiting her website. Daughter of Xanadu is available now! You can purchase it from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the handy widget below.