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Shanti Hershenson: 15 books by 16 years old

Young author draws notice at San Diego Writers Festival

Author Shanti Hershenson, 16, at her Writers Festival table, in front of her 15 pubished books.
Author Shanti Hershenson, 16, at her Writers Festival table, in front of her 15 pubished books.

This is scary. I’m here at the April 6th San Diego Writers Festival, a modest gathering that people are starting to take seriously: the organizers were able to promise “90 speakers at 40 events” all in one day, and they included Ed Zwick, the Oscar and Emmy-winning director, and big-selling authors Dr. Judith Orloff the psychiatrist-clairvoyant and Matthew Quirk, writer of The Night Agent and other political thrillers. But the scariest, at least for us grown-up folks who are still desperate wannabe authors, was seeing this…kid, a high-schooler, Shanti Hershenson, 16 years old, with 15 published books under her belt. Mostly sci-fi, self-published, but still out there.  

“I started when I was 12 years old,” she says blithely. “It was in the middle of the pandemic, and I started writing my first book, Biome Lock. It takes place 30 years after an alien invasion, with humans under alien control. And then, in the time that I was editing that book, I wrote these.” She points to a half dozen of the other books displayed on the table. The Bane of Angelfall Academy, You Won’t Know Her Name, The Nightmare of Ziel DeLaine, NeverDying, and others. 

What else can you ask? “How long does it take you to write each book?”

She is forthright, energetic, confident, Goldilock-pretty, and loquacious in her reply. “In the first draft, it usually takes from one to three months, sometimes even more. But then the second draft, and by the way I’m always writing a book and editing a book in tandem, and the editing process can take up to a year, even more. For example this book right here, Little Green Man, which I have coming out on April 29th, I actually wrote it when I was 14, and it took two years to edit.” 

“What is it about?”

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“This book is about a 17-year-old alien enthusiast, and she lives in this small town in Colorado. She tries to investigate what she believes to be aliens in her town. And every day, she gets closer to uncovering the truth. And then one day, there’s this mysterious boy who, you know, comes to her school, and they become friends, because they have a shared interest. And together they grow closer and closer to discovering whether or not there are aliens in their town. I really enjoy creating characters in these worlds. I enjoy hearing from readers and hearing how much my stories have touched them. And I have a really great reading team, and they give me early feedback, and I have so many ideas I just can’t imagine stopping!”

Sci-fi looms large in Hershenson’s work.

Of course I have to ask her advice for “a friend who wants to be a writer.” And though she is only 16, she gives me the unvarnished message that all my older writer friends have already shared: “It’s probably bad advice, but just sit down and do it. That’s all I have to say. Like, find a nice quiet area and just get started.”

And, she says, write 1000 words, in one hour, come hell or high water, every day.

Ooh. That screech. I think I can hear the rubber hitting the road. 

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Author Shanti Hershenson, 16, at her Writers Festival table, in front of her 15 pubished books.
Author Shanti Hershenson, 16, at her Writers Festival table, in front of her 15 pubished books.

This is scary. I’m here at the April 6th San Diego Writers Festival, a modest gathering that people are starting to take seriously: the organizers were able to promise “90 speakers at 40 events” all in one day, and they included Ed Zwick, the Oscar and Emmy-winning director, and big-selling authors Dr. Judith Orloff the psychiatrist-clairvoyant and Matthew Quirk, writer of The Night Agent and other political thrillers. But the scariest, at least for us grown-up folks who are still desperate wannabe authors, was seeing this…kid, a high-schooler, Shanti Hershenson, 16 years old, with 15 published books under her belt. Mostly sci-fi, self-published, but still out there.  

“I started when I was 12 years old,” she says blithely. “It was in the middle of the pandemic, and I started writing my first book, Biome Lock. It takes place 30 years after an alien invasion, with humans under alien control. And then, in the time that I was editing that book, I wrote these.” She points to a half dozen of the other books displayed on the table. The Bane of Angelfall Academy, You Won’t Know Her Name, The Nightmare of Ziel DeLaine, NeverDying, and others. 

What else can you ask? “How long does it take you to write each book?”

She is forthright, energetic, confident, Goldilock-pretty, and loquacious in her reply. “In the first draft, it usually takes from one to three months, sometimes even more. But then the second draft, and by the way I’m always writing a book and editing a book in tandem, and the editing process can take up to a year, even more. For example this book right here, Little Green Man, which I have coming out on April 29th, I actually wrote it when I was 14, and it took two years to edit.” 

“What is it about?”

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“This book is about a 17-year-old alien enthusiast, and she lives in this small town in Colorado. She tries to investigate what she believes to be aliens in her town. And every day, she gets closer to uncovering the truth. And then one day, there’s this mysterious boy who, you know, comes to her school, and they become friends, because they have a shared interest. And together they grow closer and closer to discovering whether or not there are aliens in their town. I really enjoy creating characters in these worlds. I enjoy hearing from readers and hearing how much my stories have touched them. And I have a really great reading team, and they give me early feedback, and I have so many ideas I just can’t imagine stopping!”

Sci-fi looms large in Hershenson’s work.

Of course I have to ask her advice for “a friend who wants to be a writer.” And though she is only 16, she gives me the unvarnished message that all my older writer friends have already shared: “It’s probably bad advice, but just sit down and do it. That’s all I have to say. Like, find a nice quiet area and just get started.”

And, she says, write 1000 words, in one hour, come hell or high water, every day.

Ooh. That screech. I think I can hear the rubber hitting the road. 

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Young author draws notice at San Diego Writers Festival
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