Interview with Shelley Schanfield, Author of The Mountain Goddess


Author: Shelley Schanfield

Publisher: Lake House


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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Interview with Shelley Schanfield

  1. Does writing energize or exhaust you?


            It’s a lifelong pattern that several nights a week, I’ll wake up at 2 or 3 a.m.  Long ago I learned to use that time—to read, to pay bills, to do quiet tasks. It’s perfect for writing. During those hours, everything is so quiet. It’s a dark and magical space where words pour out.  If I’m lucky, the creative burst will last until 6 or so in the morning.

            Every Tuesday at 7 a.m. I have an hour-long Sun Salutation practice with some fellow yogis; exhilarating if the writing has gone well.  (If it hasn’t, well, yoga practice centers me. Writing itself is a discipline like yoga, demanding focus and concentration.)

I still have a part-time day job and often I’ll have to head to work after my wee hours writing marathon. I’ve mastered the art of power napping, so I can usually make it through the workday with a half hour break in the middle. But once I get home, I’m exhausted!

  1. What are common traps for aspiring writers?

            The most dangerous trap is thinking you know what you’re doing. Especially if you’re an avid reader before you become a fiction writer, you think the writing comes naturally. In reality, like any art it requires mastering craft and technique. It’s important to find a teacher and a constructive critique group or at the very least an excellent craft book.   I like Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, and Donald Maas has a very good workshop book, Writing the Breakout Novel.  For simple inspiration, I go to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.  But beware of the trap of buying one craft or inspiration book after another, rather than actually writing! Pick one or two and stick with them.

  1. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

            Like every writer, there are moments when I think I’m a genius. However, they are quickly obliterated by hours where I can’t even write “the” without thinking it’s an awful word choice.  In my experience, the key thing is beyond ego; it’s the passionate conviction that I must, must, write the story.

  1. What is your writing Kryptonite?

            Red zinfandel and television, two things I enjoy mightily but that totally drain my writing superpowers. And there are so many good zinfandels…not to mention binge-worthy TV shows. (Remember when television was awful and there was nothing to watch…?)

  1. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

            Reader’s block? Oh, ye gods, yes. Oddly, the cure seems to be red zinfandel and television…

            Seriously, when reading fiction doesn’t capture me, reading non-fiction does. For instance, over the holidays I was having trouble getting into any novel, but as a gift someone gave me Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman. It’s a fascinating look at the eccentric and somewhat creepy William Moulton Marston, inventor of the polygraph and the man who wrote the Wonder Woman comics, and his links to American feminists like Margaret Sanger.

Also, it sometimes works to re-read an old favorite novel, one from childhood like A Wrinkle in Time  or The Once and Future King, or a masterpiece like Anna Karenina or the sci-fi classic Dune.  Those fictional worlds have never ceased to grip me.

            And reading those old favorites inspires me to break through writer’s block, too.

  1. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

            There’s so much advice out there on what the market wants and how to captivate readers that it makes my head spin.

            But I feel that Toni Morrison’s advice fits me best. She said you must write the book you want to read. My characters have guided me in telling their stories. My goal is to make the writing worthy of them and trust the work will find its audience.

  1. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

            I’ve found writer friends on-line, at workshops, and at conferences. But my best writer friends and severest critics—or perhaps I should say my severest friends and best critics—I found in the Ann Arbor Area Writers Group. They are all serious about their writing and intelligent readers.  Their feedback is always honest (ouch) but comes from the commitment to help each other improve our art and craft. I’m grateful for everything they’ve taught me.

  1. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

            Hmmm. Not an easy question to answer.  Actually, I wrote the first and second books in the Sadhana Trilogy sort of at the same time over about sixteen years. Yup. You heard right. Sixteen years. The first ten were really more learning how to write—it took millions of words and thousands of hours and umpteen drafts until I felt like I knew what I was doing!  Then both novels came together within the last three years or so. I started using Scrivener, and it was an immense help in structuring the plot, tracking characters, and keeping my research into yoga and ancient India and Buddhism organized. I published Book I, The Tigress and the Yogi in January 2016.

            Since publishing the first book, most of my energy has gone toward putting the finishing touches on Book II, The Mountain Goddess.  But I’ve also been able to write sketches and make notes in preparation for Book III. Scrivener has helped so much with collecting and organizing ideas, and I’m confident the writing process for the last book will go much more quickly.

  1. What was your hardest scene to write?

            All of them. But I have the most fun writing the sex scenes.

  1. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

            The best money I spent was on superb editors: Jane Ratcliffe for developmental editing and Meghan Pinson for copy editing. By far the most money, but worth every nickel.

Book Excerpt:

The scouting party found the wild-looking woman at the waterfall, asleep by
the pool.
“Stay, daughter,” Dhara’s father hissed. She pulled her pony’s reins and
halted next to his sturdy horse.
“Who is she, Father?” Dhara whispered back, unable to look away from this
apparition, whose skin was as dark as the fearsome goddess Kali’s. She wore a
deerskin around her loins, and long, tangled black hair covered her breasts.
Well-muscled arms and legs lay akimbo, as if the woman had fallen in
exhaustion. A short sword in a jeweled scabbard was thrust into the faded red
sash around her waist and a knife was tied to one leg.
“I see no one else, Chief Dandapani!” A young warrior crashed out of the
dry underbrush. Monsoon clouds had yet to thunder against Himalaya’s peaks and
drench the Koli clan’s high forest home, and dead twigs and branches crackled
as he emerged.
The woman sat up straight, instantly awake. The scouting party drew swords
or notched arrows, but she did not reach for her weapons. Instead, she stood up
in one smooth motion, magnificent and tall. She swiveled her head with
deliberate calm, as if measuring her chances against five armed men.
Who was this creature? Dhara sat proud and tall on her pony, trying to look
older than her twelve years. Look at me, she wanted to shout, but the
woman gave her only the briefest glance.
The woman and the chief locked eyes.
“Namaste,” she said, putting her palms together with that same deliberate
slowness. “I am Mala.”
“Mala.” Dandapani gave a quick nod and shifted on his horse. “I am
Dandapani, chief of the Kolis. These are our lands. Few travel them and none
without our permission.”
“Chief Dandapani, my guru Asita sent me here to make a solitary retreat. I
seek only to practice the Lord of Yoga’s disciplines at the mountain goddess’s
sacred cave.”
 “Asita!” Dhara was astonished. She
glanced up at Dhavalagiri’s snow-capped peak towering above them. It was hard
to imagine that the skinny old yogi who had lived up there when Dhara was a
little girl was guru to this woman, who looked more like a warrior than a
wandering truth-seeker.
Dandapani cocked his head. “Asita was a great favorite among us Kolis.”
“He spoke highly of your clan,” Mala said.
Dandapani and Mala had not taken their eyes off each other. “You are hardly
the first sage to seek shelter at the cave, but you may be the first woman.” He
smiled faintly. “And the first to come with such a fine sword.”
Mala’s narrowed her eyes. “A woman faces many dangers when she travels
alone. But now I have no further need of it. I offer the sword to you, Chief
“A fine gift. I accept.”
“Father,” Dhara said in a tremulous whisper. “We must offer hospitality to
a truth-seeker…it’s dharma.”
Before Dandapani could reply, Jagai, the weapons master, spoke. “I don’t
like this. How do we know who she is? They say Angulimala is hiding in the
mountains with picked men, making bloody sacrifices to Black Kali and plotting
against the lowland kingdoms. ”
Dhara took sharp breath. Even the isolated Koli clan had heard the rumors.
The infamous outlaw queen Angulimala, who some said was Kali incarnate, had
disappeared, leaving her renegade army leaderless.
Dandapani suddenly grinned. “How do we know she’s not a demoness? A mortal
woman wouldn’t have dared such a journey alone.”
Mala laughed out loud. Jagai frowned and the other warriors looked
startled. A powerful current was passing between her father and this woman that
Dhara didn’t understand.
“Either way, we have no quarrel with you,” the chief said to Mala. “What
happens in the kingdoms along Ganga’s river is no concern of ours. And even a
demoness may seek wisdom.” 
“I assure you, my lord Dandapani. I am a simple yogi, seeking peace and
A woman yogi! Seeking the highest knowledge, which once gained would make
others strive to learn wisdom at her feet! Not just some clever Brahmin wife
like those in the village priest’s instructive stories, who received all her
learning from a wise husband but had no real mind of her own.
“Well, daughter.” Dandapani looked at Dhara. “What do you say?”
Dhara’s throat was dry. “N-namaste, Mala-ji.” She bowed her head. “Food and
a bed await you in our village.”

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About the Author

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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