Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blog Tour: Author Dori Jones Yang, author of Daughter of Xanadu

Mongolian girls in traditional dress

I am delighted today to participate in the blog tour for author Dori Jones Yang, whose exciting new book, Daughter of Xanadu, was reviewed yesterday on my blog.  I asked Dori to tell us more about her research for this exotic story and share some of her photos of her travels.  After reading what she has to say, you too will want to go off to explore Mongolia--or, if you prefer, be an armchair explorer and read Daughter of Xanadu!

I love exploring places and times that are long ago and far away. For this book, that meant finding out about an era I knew nothing about: the Mongol Empire in the 13th century. That steep part of the learning curve is the most fun for me, so the research proved fascinating.

Marco Polo was my starting point. I knew that he was one of the first Europeans to go to China and that he wrote a book about it. But I had never read his book – and I didn’t realize that he spent 17 years there, from the age of 21 to 38. In his book, he never mentions a special someone he met there – and there must have been!  So my imagination took flight. Who might she have been?  Why did he stay there so long?

She must have been Asian. And she was probably Mongolian, since the Mongols were ruling China back then. But she would not have been an ordinary girl. I wanted her to be connected with the emperor, Khubilai Khan, who was 60 when Marco arrived. Aha! His granddaughter. I asked a Mongolian woman for some believable names, and she came up with the name Emmajin. But how and why would a princess meet a foreign merchant? I had to stretch my imagination even further.

In Marco Polo’s book, he tells the story of Ai-Jaruk, the daughter of a Mongol khan, who is so strong she defeats all her suitors in wrestling – and thereby wins the right to live in freedom like a man. I did some research on this woman warrior and found out she would have been Emmajin’s second cousin, though quite a bit older. How would it affect Emmajin to hear of a woman who achieved respect by becoming a successful warrior? And how might it change her, to get to know Marco Polo, a foreigner from a distant land the Great Khan had not yet conquered?

Many writers have written novels about Marco Polo, usually from his point of view.  I decided to try a totally different approach, and write from her perspective. What might a European have looked like to an East Asian who had never seen blue/green eyes or curly brown hair?

Once I decided my main character was Mongolian, I started a whole new line of research. I knew a lot about China, and I even speak Mandarin Chinese, but I knew nothing about Mongolian customs and culture.  So I read a lot, then – of course! – I had to go and visit Mongolia. Wow, was that fun. Mongolia is so different from any place I’d ever been.

Traditional Mongolian yurts
By tradition, Mongolians lived in yurts (they call them gers), tents that they move several times a year when their flocks need fresh pastures. They ate only meat and dairy products, and their favorite alcoholic drink was fermented mare’s milk. (An acquired taste!) Men and women both wore a type of robe called a del, with a sash at the waist. In Mongolia, I got to stay in a ger, drink mare’s milk, buy a del, ride camels and Mongolian horses, and even play their favorite musical instrument, the horsehead fiddle. Very fun.

The author plays a horsehead fiddle
So – did Marco Polo return to Venice with a beautiful Asian girl? Did he ever marry or have children? You can do research and find the answers. But to find out what happened with him and Emmajin, you’ll need to read Daughter of Xanadu.

I got carried away! I hope you will be, too.

Please visit my website,, and check out my lovely book trailer video at
(It has horsehead fiddle music in the background.)

And don't forget to enter to win a copy of Dori's book; just leave a comment with your e-mail address at this link.
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Tess said...

Wow, I love this. The photos are amazing. I may have to write a novel like that just to have an excuse to go on a trip like that -- haha!

Stephanie (Books Are A Girl's Best Friend) said...

The research Dori put in to it is amazing and I'm sure it has payed off in the book! LOL I agree with Tess, hmmmm wouldn't it be great to be able pop back in time to research a historical book. I really enjoyed reading this post :)

Unknown said...

Good post. Thank's a lot for your post.Mark David.