Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Authors To Watch: 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. 



Author: Shelley Schanfield
Publisher: Lake House Books
Pages: 471
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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Tell us a little about yourself.

My childhood home was well-stocked with books, from 19th century novels to Peanuts paperbacks. I read everything, including the backs of cereal boxes (much better than talking to parents and siblings at the breakfast table).

I grew up in Minnesota, and cold January days were spent in front of the fireplace lost in books about the myths and religions of warmer places. A Buddhist legend from India captured me at an early age. Briefly, it tells the story of a young woman, Kirsa, who is driven mad by her beloved son’s death. She meets the Buddha, whose teachings on impermanence and compassion heal her grief. This tale resonated strongly with me, as a disabling illness had struck my oldest sister, and though thankfully she survived I saw Kirsa’s anguish mirrored in my parents’ eyes.

I went to college near San Francisco, where I fell in love with Asian history and culture. I learned more about the Buddhism, and as an avid reader of historical fiction I looked for a good novel about the man who became the Buddha. I wanted something that would bring to life the legend of the Indian prince Siddhartha, who gave up everything to find the answer to suffering.

Little did I know that I would search for years for that book.  During that time, I acquired a library degree, a husband, two kids, two cats, and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and started practicing Buddhist meditation as well as yoga. Then one day I heard a quote from Toni Morrison, something to the effect that if no one has written the book you want to read, you must write it yourself. In a moment of inspired madness, I decided to write my own novel of the Buddha.

When did you begin writing?
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been sixteen years since that mad moment. It took most of a decade just to learn the writer’s craft. In the meantime, I dove deep into research about Siddhartha’s time and place 2500 years ago in Northeastern India, and goddesses, gods, mortals, demons, and talking tigresses kept jumping onto the page, demanding a role in this epic tale. I realized one novel was simply not enough, and so the Sadhana Trilogy was born.  Book I, The Tigress and the Yogi, was published in January 2016, and it has garnered excellent reviews and averages 4/5 stars on Goodreads and Amazon.   Book II, The Mountain Goddess, has just been released. Book III is my current work in progress, and it will not take sixteen years to complete! Release is anticipated in 2018.

Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?
My first book was a seat-of-the-pants effort.  The main character changed several times before I finally settled on the outcaste girl Mala, whose desire for forbidden spiritual knowledge sets her on an incredible journey from slavery and to life as a ruthless outlaw to a quest for inner peace and mastery of yoga’s supernatural powers.

With the second book, I had learned much more about plot mechanics, character development, and world building, so it took less time to write.

Can you tell us about your most recent release?

The Mountain Goddess is Book II in the trilogy. It focuses on Dhara, a warrior’s rebellious daughter, who captures the heart of Prince Siddhartha. Her lust for power and wealth conflicts with his yearning for spiritual freedom, and against a backdrop of political and religious upheaval they face terrible choices.
How did you get the idea for the book?
While researching the Buddha’s time, the stories of the women who followed him captivated me. I wanted to write about the difficult choices women must make to pursue passion or power or inner peace.
Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?
Worst question ever! Like asking a mother who her favorite child is! Really, I don’t have a favorite among the women—Dhara, Siddhartha’s spirited, ambitious wife; the demon-haunted yogi Mala; Mala’s daughter Kirsa, whose gift for healing can’t cure her own broken heart. I love them all, but perhaps Chandaka, the charming rogue who is Siddhartha’s charioteer and who steals Dhara’s heart, has stolen my heart, too.  

After you’ve read the books, you’ll have to let me know if you can choose a favorite!

Which authors have inspired your writing?
T.H. White for the way the The Once and Future King brings King Arthur to life; Frank Herbert for the incredible world building in Dune, Mary Renault for every novel of ancient Greece she ever wrote, Pauline Gedge for her ancient Egypt novels, Guy Gavriel Kay for practically inventing historical fantasy; stop me now or I’ll go on forever…
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
Keep reading! The best writers agree that this is essential. Oh, and find one or two good teachers; a critique group full of honest, intelligent, and supportive fellow writers; and a few good craft books.

Finally: keep writing, no matter what anyone says!

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