Last Thursday, we were lucky to have author Dori Jones Yang visit our school. Ms. Yang has written a new book about the Mongolian Empire at the time of Marco Polo's arrival in China, and came to Evergreen to share her experiences researching and writing this book.
First of all, I have to say a BIG thank you to Parkplace Books in Kirkland for arranging this visit and for promoting authors in all our local schools. And obviously, a BIG thank you to Ms. Yang for visiting...and for agreeing to present to 9th graders...so brave!
We were able to squeeze 120 students into the library to hear the presentation: 3 9th grade classes, and 1 8th grade class. Chinese Dynasties is a curriculum topic for our 9th graders, so the book fits nicely with what they study. Ms. Yang's presentation was the perfect mix of history, her own travel/research experiences, and the writing process. She brought clothing items and personal photograph to incorporate into her presentation. Students and teachers alike were completely engaged and entertained. I was proud of the kids for the great questions that they asked.
Since many of our students were not able to hear the presentation, I decided to interview Ms. Yang myself, based on questions the students asked. Here are her answers:
Tell us about your latest book!
Daughter of Xanadu is a lively, fun, romantic adventure story, set in China in the time of Marco Polo. The main character, Emmajin, is a granddaughter of Khubilai Khan and wants to join the army. When she meets Marco Polo, he turns her world upside down. They go off on a long journey, which includes a battle against elephants and a hunt for ‘dragons.’
What were you like as a young reader?
As a kid, I read like crazy. My dad had a bookstore, and I would borrow books from the children’s section and read them without breaking the spine, so that he could sell them as new. I especially liked books about magic and fantasy worlds. I was such a total Tolkien fan that I learned to write in his elvish script. In 7th grade, I wrote notes to my friend in elvish code and passed them in class, where no one else could read them!
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first story at age seven and my first books at age ten. I even looked up my name in the library and was sad to find out there were already two other authors with my name, Dorothy Jones. It helped that I later married a man named Yang. Now my name is not so common.
How long did it take you to write Daughter of Xanadu (from start to publication)? How long does it typically take you to write a book?
It took nearly ten years to write Daughter of Xanadu – way too long! I got really caught up in the research and the story. I even traveled to Mongolia, twice, to see how Mongolian people live, what they eat, what horses they ride. [The picture above is from one of the author's visits. She is playing a horsehead fiddle]. My children’s book, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang, took me only two years to complete.
What does your work schedule look like when you are writing?
I do my best writing in the morning, when my mind is clear. So I turn off the phone and close my Internet browser between 8 a.m. and noon. Well, in theory.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are everywhere – in the air, on walks, in conversations, in coffee shops. I often think them through when I’m in bed, trying to fall asleep. I just had a new idea the other day, based on some unusual experiences I had in eighth grade. But I haven’t told anyone about it yet. It’s like a tender shoot, just poking out of the ground. I don’t want anyone to stomp on it!
You have written a book for adults, one for middle grade readers, and now one for teens. What was your favorite to write? Was one harder or easier to write?
I love variety. I love learning new things. So I have written for different audiences with each book. I’m happy to be writing in the ‘young adult’ genre now. It is really growing and attracting a lot of talented writers. Young people are growing up in a multicultural society, in a global world, which means they’re not afraid of reading a book set in an unfamiliar time and place, long ago and far away.
Who are some of your favorite authors? A few books that you think nobody should miss?
I admit a great fondness for the incredibly imaginative J.K. Rowling and, yes, I loved The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, although I thought I wouldn’t. I highly recommend two books by Kirby Larson: Hattie Big Sky and The Fences Between Us, and also many books by Lensey Namioka, including Ties That Bind, Ties That Break.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Hmmm. I spend WAY too much time on Facebook! Of course, I enjoy reading. I also like taking walks on sunny days, boating, crabbing, and watching funny movies.
What is your advice for students who want to become writers?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Find someone who will read your work and give you useful advice. Revise. If you love writing, keep at it and don’t give up! Summer vacations are great times for writing. That’s when I wrote “The Secret of the Lonely Mountain Cabin” – which will never be published! But I learned a lot writing it.
Thank you so much Dori for sharing your stories with us! We are richer for the experience. I love the books that she recommends (most are available from the EJH Library, by the way) and her appreciation of our multicultural society. And I am so glad that I am not the only one that spends WAY too much time on Facebook.
On a side note, one of our students asked about how the cover for Daughter of Xanadu was chosen and whether Ms. Yang had any input (she did). Apparently the publisher chose a Chinese model for the cover as there wasn't a model of Mongolian heritage available. Just wanted to say, we have a student who is from Mongolia and she would have made a perfect model for the cover.
Have you read Daughter of Xanadu yet? You definitely should get your hands on a copy, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction.