Monday, July 23, 2012

Interview with Dori Jones Yang, Author of "Son of Venice"

Today I have the privilege of welcoming back Dori Jones Yang, author of "Son of Venice." I enjoyed interviewing her about the first book, "Daughter of Xanadu," a story of the daughter of the Great Khan Khubilai and her relationship with Marco Polo. The sequel continues the story of Marco Polo and Emmajin after the Great Khan sends them on a voyage to the West.

 In what ways is Son of Venice different from Daughter of Xanadu? In what ways is it the same?

Son of Venice is the sequel to Daughter of Xanadu, so it continues the fictional story of Emmajin and Marco Polo. Originally, I wrote them as one book. But that book got to be too long, so I divided it in two. In Daughter of Xanadu, Emmajin resists her growing attraction to Marco because she is set on achieving her goal of becoming a legendary warrior. By the end, she has altered her ambition and clearly chosen him. But in that era, her imperial family and her fellow soldiers could not possibly approve of such a choice. In Son of Venice, she tries to have it all: both Marco’s love and the respect of her family. But those two desires are in direct conflict. Unlike Daughter of Xanadu, which is told in Emmajin’s voice, Son of Venice alternates between her voice and his. Honestly - what was he thinking, pursuing the granddaughter of the world’s most powerful ruler?

In Son of Venice, the two main characters are on a journey to the West. What locations do they see? Were you able to travel to these locations?

I don’t want to give away the ending, so I can’t say all the locations that they pass through and visit, but their journey takes place along the Silk Road, the trade route connecting East and West. I visited many of the locations along the way, including a lovely grape-growing valley called Turpan. It surprised me because the local people are Muslims who love singing, dancing, and drinking wine! Other important locations in Son of Venice are much harder to visit, including Lake Issyk Kul, and huge saltwater lake where some crucial scenes take place. I really want to go there some day!

Is this a sequel you can read it without having read the first book, Daughter of Xanadu? Or do you highly recommend reading both of them in order?

Son of Venice is the sequel to Daughter of Xanadu. I worked hard to make it a standalone book, but it probably would not make much sense to a reader who had not read the first book.

The first book was written exclusively from Emmajin's point of view - the female love interest - but in Son of Venice, you switch back and forth between Emmajin and Marco. What made you decide to use the two points of view in the second book but stick to only Emmajin's in the first?

I chose to write Daughter of Xanadu in Emmajin’s point of view because I wanted to turn history on its head. Usually, we read the white male perspective; I wanted to look at history through the eyes of an Asian woman. But in Son of Venice, Emmajin and Marco are separated for parts of the story. When I wrote only in Emmajin’s viewpoint, I wondered: What was Marco up to, offstage? So I rewrote the book in alternating viewpoints, and I came to understand Marco a lot better. As a storyteller, he longed to plunge into the action and be a hero himself. So by the end of the book, we get to see Marco Polo acting in ways that are bold and daring. It’s tricky having two protagonists; both must make decisions and take action.

While researching this novel, did you run into anything that surprised you?

Oh, yes, many things! One of the most important was gunpowder. I found out that the 13th century was a turning point in warfare, when gunpowder was used in battle for the first time. Before that, the Chinese used it only as a noisemaker for celebrations. It’s an urban legend that Marco Polo brought gunpowder—and noodles—from China to Italy. Marco never mentions either in his book. But it is true that gunpowder first came to Europe during Marco’s era. Since it might have been him, I had to put this aspect into the book. I did research about fireworks and how Marco might have learned to set them off. Son of Venice ends with a big celebration and fireworks –but that scene contains twists and turns that will surprise you. I hope!

If you could invite five historical people of your choice to a dinner party, who would you choose?

I would not choose Khubilai Khan, because as Emperor he would expect to dominate the conversation. We would all have to stop speaking every time he took a sip of airag, fermented mare’s milk. If he could speak English, I’d invite Marco Polo because he was a very entertaining story-teller – and I’d want to know the truth about what love affair(s) he had in China. But frankly, I’d most want to invite Han Suyin, Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), Beryl Markham, and Pearl Buck. They are all women writers – and all born before 1920, so that makes them historical, right? All wrote about their life stories in distant countries – China and Africa. They all wrote beautifully.  When I grow up, I want to be like them!

Thanks for the interview Dori, and good luck with your book!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to hear about the evolution to two POV in your second book. I can imagine that presented new challenges. I like your dinner party choices.


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