AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Shelley Schanfield, Author of The Mountain Goddess
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.
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About the Book:
Title: THE MOUNTAIN GODDESS
Author: Shelley Schanfield
Publisher: Lake House Books
Genre: Historical Fantasy
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: Thank you so much for this interview, Shelley! Can you tell us where you are from?
I was born and raised in Minnesota, attended college and graduate school and met my future husband in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we raised our two kids in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Go Blue!), where we still live.
Q: How did you come up with your title?
The Mountain Goddess is first of all the Himalayan mountain peak that guards the village where the heroine Dhara, a rebellious warrior’s daughter, grows up. But the goddess is also the divine feminine in every woman. Her power manifests in Dhara’s warrior spirit, in the yogi Mala’s supernatural powers, through a wife and mother like Dhara’s friend Sakhi, or through the healing power of Mala’s daughter Kirsa.
Q: They say you can judge a book by its cover. Can you tell us a little about your cover and who designed it?
It was my good fortune to be referred to Streetlight Graphics and Glendon Haddix, who created the award-winning cover of the first book in my trilogy, The Tigress and the Yogi. The Mountain Goddess is the second book, and for its cover Glendon has combined two key elements: the spiritual realm of the mountain, and an flesh-and-blood woman who makes her mark in the real world. He worked similar magic in the first book, in which the dark, almost fair-tale forest melds with a mythical tigress.
Q: Can you tell us something about your book that would make me run out and buy it?
If you love a long ago and faraway setting, extraordinary women who follow their passions no matter the challenges, and more than a dash of magic, myth, and romance, you will love my books.
Q: Are there any messages in this book that you want the reader to know about?
No messages, but only questions to explore. Siddhartha, who became the Buddha, left his wife and newborn child to pursue enlightenment. Do the truths he found, which have helped millions, counterbalance the pain he caused when he left? How would a woman undertake the same spiritual quest? What are her choices and limitations? Hint: there are no ultimate answers, only more questions.
Q: What was your most favorite chapter to write and why?
I have many favorite scenes, but I loved writing (and rereading!) the chapter where the tigress Rani tells her story to the heroine Dhara. Rani, who serves the warrior goddess Durga, is wounded in battle and faces a difficult choice. To survive her injuries, she must commit a grave sin and kill a holy man for food. It’s a reimagining of a Buddhist legend that speaks to personal sacrifice.
Q: Why did you feel you had to write this book?
I’ve had a lifelong interest in Buddhism as well as a love for historical fiction. I’d always wanted to find a good novel that told the tale of the Indian prince Siddhartha, who left his wife and infant son and a royal inheritance to seek enlightenment and became the Buddha. His teachings had helped me through many dark times. No retelling that I found brought him or his time to life for me. The writer Toni Morrison has said that if no one has written the book you want to read, you must write it yourself. So in a moment of insanity I decided to write my own. Just learning the writer’s craft well enough to do a story justice is daunting. To be honest, there were times I desperately wanted quit! But the passion to tell these women’s stories prevailed. Two books in the Sadhana Trilogy are now published, and the third is a work-in-progress. It’s an enormous sense of accomplishment.
Q: Now, some fun questions – What deep dark secret would you like to share with us?
I’m afraid my deep dark secrets would scare you away!
But here’s something quite personal for readers of your blog who want to write and are afraid to try or think they are not talented enough: I was so scared to pursue this dream that my hands literally shook when I signed up for my first creative writing class. The first day, I sat in the parking lot for fifteen minutes in the January cold before I dared to go in. Once inside, I found wonderful, encouraging teachers and supportive and talented fellow students. I’ve never looked back.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Full disclosure: I’ve never been to India! It’s a lifelong dream to go there and I hope to do that in the near future. Actually, I like my comforts and I’m somewhat of an armchair traveler, though recently I’ve managed to visit my daughter in Morocco, where she’s been studying Spanish and Moroccan history. I highly recommend a visit there! It’s a stunningly beautiful country filled with warm, welcoming people.
Q: Are you a morning person or a night person?
Is 2 a.m. morning or night? Because that’s when I often get up to write! The quiet at that hour lets my imagination flow.
Q: Are there any members in your family who also like to write?
My parents and sisters were all great readers. I have some journals that belong to my oldest sister, who died too young, and they are very beautiful. I also have some excellent papers written by my mother. She grew up poor during the Depression and had to work right out of high school, but she was a great believer in education. When my sisters and I started college, she decided she would get a degree, too. She went back to the University of Minnesota and graduated Magna Cum Laude in English. Amazing woman.
Q: As a child, were you a dreamer?
Of course and still am. I’m grateful for the opportunities to have made many of those dreams come true.
Q: Last but not least, the magic genie has granted you one wish. What would that be?
May everyone everywhere on earth have a safe and peaceful place to sit and read and discover wonderful new worlds through books.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview! Do you have any final words?
Thank you very much! If you want to continue our conversation, I invite you to contact me at: