What I Learned About “Pretty Little Liars” the Day I Met Author Sara Shepard

Sara Shepard Author Sara Shepard at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2015

A few weeks ago, I got to fulfill one of my Pretty Little Liars fantasies: I got the chance to meet Sara Shepard, the author behind the books the ABC Family television show is based on, at the 2015 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. I’ll admit I completely fangirled out when the announcement came out that Sara was selected to be the conference’s keynote speaker. As a big fan of both the Pretty Little Liars books and television show, Sara has always been at the top of my list of authors I would most like to meet.

Despite the success of Pretty Little Lairs both in print and on screen, I was impressed with how down-to-earth and humble Sara came across, taking her time to answer questions from her youngest fans. Not only did I get several books signed and attend the two lectures she gave on writing, I got the chance to hang out with her during her book signing. It was interesting to to hear how she started her career, developed her now-iconic series, and learn that we have a few things uncommon.(We both grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and wanted to be fashion designers and soap opera stars when we were kids.) The best part though was learning about the creation and development of the Pretty Little Liars books and getting some insight into the ABC Family television show.

For all my fellow fans out there, her are some fun facts and insider tidbits I leaned about Sara’s career and the creation of Pretty Little Liars.

  • Sara got her foot in the door at Alloy Entertainment, the company that packages the Pretty Little Liars book series, by attending the company’s annual Christmas party with her inter who was interning for the company at the time. She convinced some of the employees to take a look at her work, and she was brought on as a ghostwriter.
  • In 2005, Sara was asked to develop her own original series. She wrote an eight chapter synopsis, submitted it to her editors, and a few weeks later green-lighted to write the first four books.
  • The idea for Pretty Little Liars came from Sara’s fasciation with stalkers, her childhood growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, and a desire to create characters with substance going through poignant events in their lives.
  • When it comes to which Lair she relates to most, Sara says each one for the four main girls has a little bit of her from various points in her young adult life. Hanna is like her in middle school, Emily is her late middle school/early high school, Spencer is her through out her high school years, and Aria is her at the end of high school as she got ready to begin college.
  • The character of master manipulator Alison is named after Sara’s younger sister- the same sister who took her to that infamous Alloy Entertainment Christmas party. (Although I bet the real-life Alison is much sweeter than the fictional one.)
  • ABC Family may be the home of Pretty Little Liars now, but it was not the first nework to option the books for a television show. The series was originally optioned by another network a few years prior, but, for unknown reasons, the project fell through. (Looks like that network’s loss was ABC Family’s gain.)
  • Pretty Little Liars originally ended with eight books, but the popularity of the show allowed for the series to be expanded into sixteen books with two additional books Pretty Little Secrets and Ali’s Pretty Little Lies.
  • Though she some initial reservations about the fact the actresses didn’t match the character descriptions in the books, Sara is very proud of how successful Pretty Little Liars has become on the small screen. She believes the writers have been very respectful of the source material and have translated some of the more complex storylines very well, citing Emily’s coming out as a lesbian as an example. She also doesn’t mind that show has taken of it’s own, and admits to being a big fan of the television show herself. (No, she doesn’t know who A is on the show.)
  • Yes, Sara has met all Troian Bellisario (Spencer), Ashley Benson (Hanna), Lucy Hale (Aria) and Shay Mitchell (Emily). She speaks very highly of the girls and says they are all very sweet and talented.
  • Sara has appeared on Pretty Little Liars twice: Once as a substitute teacher season one episode “The Homecoming Hangover” and once as a news reporter in season five episode “I’m a Good Girl, I Am.” (She says acting opposite Lucy Hale in “The Homecoming Hangover” was a nerve-wracking experience as she does not consider herself an actress in any way.)
  • Sara may be known for her fiction work, but she got her start in writing as a journalist for a financial magazine. (Turns out, reporting wasn’t for her and she realized she would much rather be creating characters and events than covering them.)
  • In addition to the Pretty Little Liars series, Sara also penned The Lying Games series, The Perfectionists and The Good Girls for young adults, and The Heiresses, The Visibles and Everything We Ever Wanted for adults.
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