The first story Sara Shepard ever created was about the adventures of BB and Greeny Grassy. BB was a blanket that her little sister had, whose best friend was a blade of grass. Today, her stories are a bit different.
Best known for her hit series Pretty Little Liars, Shepard’s characters have taken hold of the hearts of fans everywhere. With 16 books and a hit TV show, audiences have come to love Shepard’s talent for creating intricate young adult storylines full of mystery, secrets, and love.
In 2010, ABC Family, now called Freeform, picked up Pretty Little Liars for a series order. The show does not follow the books exactly but incorporates the original storyline. Though Shepard created the world of the Liars, she had no problem letting it go in the hands of showrunner I. Marlene King. After seeing the pilot and King’s dedication to the story, Shepard knew the series would be well taken care of.
“It made me feel comfortable that she was going to take it in whatever direction she was going to take it and it was going to be a good direction,” Shepard says.
With Pretty Little Liars heading into its seventh season on Freeform, Shepard’s faith in King was clearly well placed. In fact, Shepard notes that there has never been a moment where she thought the show made a mistake in its storyline.
“I think she has fleshed out the world and the characters in really interesting ways, that maybe I wouldn’t have, but work for who they really essentially are,” says Shepard. “I’m totally happy with it.”
Perhaps the biggest draw of Pretty Little Liars, and Shepard’s writing in general is secrets.
“I think everybody has secrets. Whether they’re big or whether they’re not so big, everybody has things that they don’t want to reveal,” says Shepard. “It’s just a fun thing that I can’t stop writing about!”
Despite writing entire series about secrets, Shepard admits she’s not a great keeper of secrets herself. This is partly why she avoids spoilers about the show.
Contrary to popular belief, Shepard usually doesn’t know what is going to happen on the series. In fact, she doesn’t like to know what’s coming. She admits there have been occasional exceptions where she saw the script beforehand, but most often her theories are entirely based on everything normal audiences see.
That said, Shepard is a great guesser. So much so that she’s accidentally gotten herself in trouble with the network for being so close to correct. In March of 2015, Shepard gave her theory on “A,” guessing that there was a secret DiLaurentis sibling.
“I didn’t realize I was right. They actually got mad at me for that.” Shepard says, laughing. “They thought I had somehow gotten insider information. They were like ‘You have to stop talking.'”
It’s no secret that Sara Shepard’s books are addicting. What started as a four-book series became a series of 16 with Pretty Little Liars. Now, Shepard is set to release her 30th YA novel, The Amateurs, in November. The Amateurs is the first in what will be a trilogy of thrillers and is the first book in a new imprint Freeform.
The book will follow the journey of Seneca Frazier and her best friend Maddy Wright as they join forces with two other friends to solve a cold murder case. Of course, you can’t get too close to a murder case without the murderer catching on.
The book promises to deliver secrets, plot twists, steamy romance and stunning revelations that fans of Shepard’s previous works will devour. The key question the book asks is “how well do you really know somebody?” When asked what she’s most excited for, Shepard revealed that the ending of The Amateurs will leave readers audibly gasping.
Though she promises she was not stalked or terrorized as a kid, Shepard does admit that in order to write these thrillers, it is necessary to get to a dark place in her mind.
“Honestly, for really tense moments I have to leave my desk and just be somewhere else and think it through and come back,” says Shepard.
While she is no stranger to writing thrillers, writing from a male perspective was a foreign concept. The Amateurs is Shepard’s first foray into speaking from a male point of view. The character, named Maddox, will serve as one POV for the story.
“Sometimes his dialogue was hard,” says Shepard. “Sometimes I was just like ‘What would a guy say here?’ I have nephews but 17-year-old boys don’t talk much I find.”
Though she has two sons, they are still very little and have a ways to go before becoming teenagers.
With The Amateurs launching in November, Shepard is already hard at work on the second book in the series. The writing process takes time and multiple drafts, and she is no exception to that process. In the original draft of Pretty Little Liars, Aria’s parents were swingers. Lots of revisions happen.
For Shepard, it’s common to create up to six versions of the book in her own editorial process. She notes that The Amateurs especially went through multiple iterations before coming to be.
Though there are fewer books in this series, Shepard thinks the story will be just as, if not more satisfying than her previous works.
“I hope people fall in love with the characters like they fell in love with all the Pretty Little Liars girls,” Shepard says. “And Ali as a villain, and all the guys. And characters in The Lying Game too, and everything that I’ve done.”
Even with multiple successful series under her belt, The Amateurs feels like a restart for Shepard. A decade has passed since the release of the first Pretty Little Liars book, while The Perfectionists came out around the birth of her son making the release a bit more challenging. As a result, The Amateurs feel like the first new thing she’s done in some time, creating plenty of excitement.
Will we ever see the adventures of BB and Greeny Grassy? Never say never. Shepard loves the idea of collaborating with her little sister to create a children’s book. Until then, we have The Amateurs to satiate our need for Sara Shepard’s brilliant writing.