Sara Shepard, author of the Pretty Little Liars and the Lying Game series, spoke to Northern Valley students at both Old Tappan and Demarest campuses on Friday, November 4th. She was warm and funny, and engaged the students with stories of her early efforts to write (comic books about square-headed people) and the creative process as well as her daily work ethic, even after publishing more than twenty-four books.
Sara spoke about growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, graduating from NYU, and beginning her career as a “ghost writer.” She wrote books in series, like The It Girl, under a pseudonym but it gave her practical experience learning how to plot out an entire book and how to write dialog. When she began thinking about writing her own series, she decided to focus on her life and experiences. While she never had actual experience with stalkers and uses little social media – aside from texting (like in Pretty Little Liars) – she drew on her everyday memories of high school.
Interestingly, Sara’s publisher bought four books right away, and then, before she was even finished with them, requested another four – this isn’t very common in publishing. In the end, her Pretty Little Liars series was 18 books long! A few years after the series was published, a television producer contacted her about the pilot program being planned. Sara wasn’t involved in writing the show or casting the actors. She feels that the actors did a good job of portraying the characters and, although “they looked different, they had the attitudes.” She continues, “They still feel like those original characters even though they have grown over the years it has been on TV.” Sara had two cameo roles in the show: a substitute teacher and a news analyst.
Sara feels that her eighteen books and the television show “are like two parallel versions, two interpretations of the same story.” Sara watches the show “like everybody else,” is delighted when the writers use some of the plot twists and lines from her books. She likes what the script writers have done to the characters. Sara wishes [SPOILER ALERT] she could have saved Mona like they did on TV instead of killing her off in the books. But, even Sara doesn’t know who “A,” the stalker will turn out to be. She has asked the TV producers, “Please don’t tell me!”
The series in ending now and Sara feels that it is time. “It has been fun to see all those actors who brought to life the characters that existed in the same head with the characters that I drew in grade school, like the square-headed people.”
Sara also spoke about her newest book, The Amateurs. “It is a mystery about teenagers who get together online to solve a cold case.” Compelling and fun, the characters actively put puzzle pieces together to solve the mystery.
Students asked thoughtful questions about her writing process and inspiration, such as “Are your characters based on anyone you know?” “What was the inspiration behind choosing this genre?” “Were you happy with how the TV series turned out?” and “Would you want to change anything now about the book series?”. Sara was more than happy to spend extra time taking photos with students and making sure no question was left unanswered. One student, who is an exchange student from Kurdistan, told Sara that her friends are jealous because she has had the opportunity of meeting Sara from whom they learned English by reading her books and watching the show!
The Northern Valley high schools loved hosting her and having her visit their Media Centers and they highly recommend her to other libraries/librarians & would welcome her back any time. For more information about booking future author visits, please contact Abigail.