Thursday, April 20, 2017

Interview & Giveaway with 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.


Where did you grow up?

I grew up near Minneapolis on beautiful Lake Minnetonka. Summers were filled with swimming, canoeing, and water skiing; winters with ice skating and skiing. Our house was filled with books, so when it was too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter, I never ran out of reading material.

What is your fondest childhood memory?

I had a fortunate childhood and lots of good memories, but in a way they blur together so I wouldn’t single out just one.  I did have a rather mystical experience when I was maybe eight or nine, which both exhilarated and terrified me in a way that only began to make sense when I began Buddhist meditation and my yoga practice. It even figures in my second book, The Mountain Goddess. It happened when I stretched out on the grassy hill that overlooked the lake we lived on and looked up at the sky. It was a favorite pastime, but on this warm summer day as I gazed at the constantly changing clouds, the overwhelming sensation that I was falling up and would keep falling (or was it flying?) until I flew through the clouds and out of earth’s atmosphere into dark, infinite space entirely seized me. I felt huge and unbounded, truly like I was part of the universe, but at the same time tiny and insignificant. I could never call up the feeling but sometimes it struck me unawares. Even nowadays, it will sometimes come in my meditation practice, but it takes focus and concentration.

When did you begin writing?

I began writing fiction seriously in about 2000, seventeen years ago. It was around the time my husband’s father died. He was a very accomplished man, an aerospace engineer, a wonderful father-in-law and grandfather. Not long before his death he encouraged me to follow my dreams, whatever they might be. I took his advice to heart and signed up for my first writing class.

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

I love to get up around 1 or 2 a.m., when the world around me is asleep, and either take up a journal and write with black ink on a pristine white page or else sit at my computer and fill the screen. That’s the best time to create new work. I can pretty much edit any time of day.

What is this book about?

The Mountain Goddess is about the young woman who became the wife of Prince Siddhartha, who became the Buddha. She’s a fierce warrior and a spiritual seeker in her own way. It’s the second book in the Sadhana Trilogy, which follows the transformational journeys of women of the Buddha’s time. The first book, The Tigress and the Yogi, takes a Buddhist legend about a man who becomes a vicious outlaw and gives it a feminist twist—the outlaw is a woman who escapes life as a low cast slave to seek vengeance as the ruthless leader of her own army.

What inspired you to write it?

An interest in Buddhism from childhood was reawakened when my son and I were earning out black belts in Tae Kwon Do. Did you know that Prince Siddhartha and many of his followers were warriors? Many Asian martial arts have links to Buddhist techniques for calming the mind and centering concentration. The more I began to read about the Buddha, the more the women of his time and place (2500 years ago in Northeastern India) began to interest me.                                                                                  
Who is your biggest supporter?

My bemused and patient husband.

Are you a member of a critique group? If no, who provides feedback on your work?

Yes, I have a fantastic critique group with which meets weekly and gives honest and helpful feedback. Sometimes it hurts; sometimes I don’t implement it; but I always listen to them and consider their thoughtful input.

Who is your favorite author?

Impossible to pick one. I’m a voracious reader—historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, literary fiction, as well as books on history, philosophy, and religion, and that’s just a sampling of my interests.

Do you have an agent or are you looking for one?

I had one for a year. It meant a lot when I signed with her that someone thought they could sell my book. We parted ways when she didn’t, and by that time self-publishing was well-established and made complete sense for me.

Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?

Fairly smooth sailing to publication. The tough part is discoverability: getting the word out when there are hundreds of thousands of titles published every year is daunting.

If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

Oh, of course. But I’m not sure my experience would be useful for others. Everyone’s path is different. The main thing is just to keep writing.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

Both my books are available in paper and e-book editions now from all major on-line retailers. Bookstores can also order paperbacks from Ingram or directly from my distributor, Thomson-Shore. Links to all are on my website.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?

My website has links to some interesting resources and brief bibliographies that include a small selection from what I used while writing.

What is the best investment you have made in promoting your book?

I’m not the greatest promoter, but one thing I knew was that I had to put a quality product out there. Many experienced publishing gurus say that word of mouth is what really sells a book, so you should write the best book you can. Viewed that way, I would say that the best investment I made was in a great developmental editor, Jane Ratcliffe, and Meghan Pinson , a great copyeditor. Next to that, it was a really talented book designer, Glendon Haddix at Streetlight Graphics.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

Trust your own gut about your story.

What is up next for you?

Right now I’m working on Book Three of the Sadhana Trilogy. Sign up at my website to get updates!

Is there anything you would like to add?

Keep writing!

Terms & Conditions:

By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
Five winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter to win one free e-copy of The Mountain Goddess.
This giveaway ends midnight April 28.
Good luck everyone!

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