Author Interview: 'The Mountain Goddess' Shelley Schanfield

Shelley Schanfield’s passion for Buddhism and yoga arose sixteen years ago, when she and her son earned black belts in Tae Kwon Do. The links between the martial arts and Buddhist techniques to calm and focus the mind fascinated her. By profession a librarian, Shelley plunged into research about the time, place, and spiritual traditions that 2500 years ago produced Prince Siddhartha, who became the Buddha. Yoga, in some form, has a role in all of these traditions. Its transformational teachings soon prompted Shelley to hang up her black belt and begin a yoga practice that she follows to this day.

Because she loves historical fiction, Shelley looked for a good novel about the Buddha. When she didn’t find one that satisfied her, she decided to write her own novels based on the spiritual struggles of women in the Buddha’s time. She published the first book in the Sadhana Trilogy, The Tigress and the Yogi, in 2016 and will publish the second, The Mountain Goddess in early 2017.


About the Book:

A beautiful warrior princess. A tormented prince. A terrible choice between love, duty, and spiritual freedom.

In ancient India, rebellious Dhara runs away to a sacred mountain to study with the powerful yogi Mala, a mysterious woman with a violent past. Flung by war onto an adventure-filled journey, Dhara
meets and captures the heart of Siddhartha, whose skill in the martial arts and extraordinary mental powers equal her own.

Worldly power and pleasure seduce Dhara, creating a chasm between her and her husband, who longs to follow a sage’s solitary path. She takes on the warrior’s role Siddhartha does not want, and when she returns wounded from battle court intrigue drives them further apart. As Siddhartha’s discontent with royal life intensifies, Dhara’s guru Mala, who has returned to her life as a ruthless outlaw, seeks her former pupil for her own evil purposes.

Dhara’s and Siddhartha’s love keeps evil at bay, but their son’s birth brings on a spiritual crisis for the prince.  If he leaves his kingdom to seek enlightenment, he turns his back on love and duty and risks destroying his people. Only Dhara can convince him to stay. 


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Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

I love to explore the romance of other times, places, and cultures, and historical fiction is a great way to do it. In college I studied Asian history and developed a passionate interest in India’s philosophy and religions, rich traditions full of amazing myths and stories. Prince Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism, is a fascinating historical figure shrouded in legend. Born into wealth and privilege some 2500 years ago, he had everything—looks, talent, a beautiful wife, a royal future—but nothing satisfied him. The night his first son was born, he slipped away disguised as a humble seeker of truth, determined to find enlightenment. What he found has eased the suffering of millions.

His teachings have helped me through difficult times, and his story just seemed to beg for a good novel. As a lover of historical fiction I searched for one. None that I found satisfied me. As Toni Morrison says: “If there's a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” So I decided to write my own.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

I’m a librarian by profession, so I plunged into research about Siddhartha’s time and place. It didn’t take long for goddesses, demons, talking tigresses, and fierce and compassionate women from Buddhist legends to demand a role in this epic tale. I realized one novel was simply not enough, and so the Sadhana Trilogy was born: The Tigress and the Yogi and The Mountain Goddess are Books I and II.

And then I had to write them! In truth, it took me years to feel I had gained some mastery of the writer’s craft. Fortunately, I had some good teachers early on (the poet Tom Zimmerman, writers Laura Kasischke, Jane Ratcliffe, and Barbara Shoup), and found a local group of writers who give intelligent, thoughtful, and honest (ouch!) critiques. If a writer can’t find fellow writers locally, there are on-line networks that can be very helpful. For example, Writer Unboxed has a blog and a Facebook group where you can find valuable resources and support. (I found my wonderful copyeditor, Meghan Pinson of My Two Cents Editing through them.)

Along with good teachers and colleagues, I’d say a couple of good craft books are a must. There are so many out there I hesitate to recommend a particular title, but I’ve found Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction a good all-around guide, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is great for inspiration.

Among the best writing advice I’ve come across is Barbara Kingsolver’s: “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.”

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

I had an agent for a time, but we parted ways amicably after a year.  By that time, indie and self-publishing had really come into their own. I started my own imprint, Lake House Books, and I am its CEO, CFO, senior editor, and best-selling author! I love the freedom.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

All those years and all those drafts were worth it when I held my first book, The Tigress and the Yogi, in my hands, and the feeling of accomplishment overwhelmed me.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

Now that The Mountain Goddess has been released, I’ll be working on Book III in the trilogy.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

Some of the mystical experiences described resemble experiences I’ve had in my own meditation and yoga practices.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

India’s rich philosophical and mythological traditions fascinate me, and I hope that my work captures some of its wisdom and wonder for my readers.
Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

May all readers everywhere have a place where they can sit and enjoy the world of books in safety and peace.
Thank you.
Shelley Schanfield
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