Shelly Li: Barely a Freshman, Already a Published Author
Major: Economics and Philosophy
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
For many students here at Duke, majoring in one subject is hard enough. Now imagine double majoring in economics and philosophy while also publishing a book. For Shelly Li, who is barely a freshman, this is not her imagination but a reality.
Shelly spent the first four years of her life in China before moving to Omaha, Nebraska. Her first language is Mandarin, but she soon learned English and began writing when she was only 8 years old. In 3rd grade, Shelly’s teacher did not allow her to curse due to religious reasons. Seeing herself not being able to curse, Shelly decided to express herself through “creepy stories full of swear words,” which is how she began her writing career. Throughout her life, she has travelled a lot through Asia, from where she gets a lot of her inspiration for her writing. By the time she was in 8th grade, she was able to complete a science fiction novel. She decided to look for an agent who would publish her novel and she found one when she was 14 years old, however after only three months, the agent told Shelly she did not have enough resources to sell the novel. This setback hit Shelly harshly, so she stopped writing for about a year. After a year of no writing, Shelly began to write short, science fiction stories. A friend of hers was able to contact her with an editor from Nature. Thanks to this editor, Shelly was then able to publish her first short story called Replacement. Since then, she has published 8 other short stories in Nature and about 20 other short stories elsewhere. While continuing to publish short stories, she was also working on a young adult novel. At this time a film agent contacted her to let her know that she really liked her work. This agent was able to sign Shelly up with another agent who sold her novel to Penguin Books. For Shelly this was a memorable time in her life, “It was like the craziest moment of my life, I think I could have died.” Her novel Throne Under Siege, which is part of the series The Royal Hunter is expected to hit the shelves in Spring of 2013.
HC: In one line can you describe to me what your novel The Royal Hunter: Throne Under Siege is about?
Shelly: It’s a young adult fantasy about a boy named Adrian who is drafted into the army to hunt magical creatures called dastyxes, but along the way becomes embroiled in political agendas bigger than himself.
HC: How did you come up with the title of this novel?
Shelly: It was originally titled Remember the Mutilated World, after a poem by Adam Zagajewski, but my agent requested that I change it in order to suit my audience. “The Royal Hunter: Throne under Siege” is not only appropriate, but eye-catching. Throne under Siege is the first book in the series–I’m currently plotting the sequel, Turn of the Tide.
HC: Do you have something specific you would like to say to your readers?
Shelly: Read more fiction. Read more of my stories, but even if you don’t, read anything you can get your hands on! Fiction gives you so many opportunities to imagine, sometimes beyond even what the author can imagine. When you read, that world becomes your world.
HC: If writing, economics, or philosophy were not a career option, what other career would you follow?
Shelly: God forbid it comes down to that. I’ll probably have to find some way to survive in the real world… but I’ll never stop telling lies for fun and profit.
HC: Thus far, which had been you favorite class at Duke?
Shelly: Appearance and Reality. It’s a philosophy class and it’s awesome.
HC: Are there any activities you are involved with at Duke?
Shelly: My hallmates tell me that my favorite extracurricular is going to the math help room. Apart from being a part of the University Scholars Program, writing and editing keeps me very busy. But I look forward to exploring my options in these next 4 years at Duke.
HC: Which dorm are you living in? Do people in your dorm or Duke in general treat you differently because you are a celebrity?
Shelly: I live in Bell Tower. No, I wouldn’t say that anybody treats me differently, mostly because I didn’t tell anybody. (Though after my FAC found out about my “job,” the word spread very, very quickly.) I certainly don’t feel that anyone treats me differently. It may be because every one of my classmates excel in something specific–my hobby just happens to be writing, and I’m lucky to have been able to turn it into “work.”
HC: Which is your favorite place to study and eat on campus?
Shelly: My favorite place to write is the Sanford School of Public Policy. My favorite place to eat is the Devil’s Bistro (Food Factory).
HC: What is something you wish I could ask you?
Shelly: How do you like it here at Duke?
HC: So how do you like here at Duke?
Shelly: I couldn’t believe I so quickly began to call it “home.”