You’ve said that the Pretty Little Liars series was inspired by your own hometown – Philadelphia’s Main Line. I am hoping it was mostly the setting, and not so much the murder and backstabbing?
Yes, it’s mostly the setting. Although I really liked the idea of everything looking perfect on the outside — manicured lawns, massive estates, idyllic scenes of girls riding horses down the road (yes, this happens a lot), cute little villages and town squares, etc. etc. etc….and then all of these terrible secrets burbling underneath. There was as much turmoil going on in the perfectly-manicured lawn houses as there is anywhere else. It seemed like the ideal setting for this type of book.
Were you ever a member of a clique?
In a way, I suppose. I think initially, I was really intent on being popular, and hanging out with that crowd, until I realized I lacked some sort of social skill to really achieve the kind of popularity I idealized for myself. My friend and I broke off from the world, mostly, doing everything together, including watching a lot of Monty Python movies. Later in high school, I was very artsy. My mother hated the way I dressed — everything was from Goodwill and oversized. I Day-Glo painted my Converse sneakers. I was certain I was going to go to art school, and I was fed up with everyone at my school entirely. So I would say that I started out as Hanna (or a Hanna wannabe), and then ended up as Aria.
Speaking of which, Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna each have a distinct look and personality.
Who is the most like you were in high school? Who do you most resemble now?
I think I have a bit of all of them in me, both then and now. Like I said, I was like Hanna because a part of me was very interested in labels and looking right and being perfect. I resurrected a bit of that in college, when I interned for Elle magazine’s fashion department — I think that’s SUCH a Hanna job. I was like Spencer, too, because I cared about grades — not obsessively, but I certainly tried very hard in all my classes, and I was in mostly APs. (I never, however, plagiarized my sister’s paper as my own.) I was like Emily, too, because swam competitively, and at a certain point wondered why I was doing it — I didn’t even like it anymore. And I was most like Aria in my junior and senior years — disgruntled with the small-mindedness of where I lived, interested in French films and all things counterculture, trying to act like I knew everything (when really I didn’t), etc.
I think I still carry the same traits of all of them today, which makes it easy to write about all of them. I think they have qualities that everyone can relate to.
Alison is (or should I say was) quite manipulative. Who can a kid or teen turn to if she feels that her friend is vindictive or dangerous?
When I was young, I had friends who were never dangerous to me, but were doing dangerous things to themselves. Luckily, I was able to talk to a lot of it with my mom — she and I had a very good relationship, as she was very accepting and tolerant of a lot of things I think some parents won’t even approach. I think it’s important for a teen to have a slightly older person they can turn to — whether it’s a parent, a cousin, a grandparent, a sibling, a friend, even a counselor — sounds crazy, but it does sometimes happen.
The girls are taunted by messages from someone who seems to be watching their every move. Without revealing A’s identity, can you share whether or not you’ve always known who it is?
I have always known who A is, ever since the very beginning. I can’t imagine how hard it would’ve been to plan the book otherwise!
Do you title your chapters as you write them?
No, that’s usually something I do at the end. I’m not very good at chapter titles.
Do you know how many books will be in the series?
There will be sixteen!
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Let’s see…this is a tough one. These might not be my favorite books of all all all all time, but these are books I have loved very much. Many of them are adult novels, but I read most of them when I was pretty young and I think younger audiences can appreciate many of them. Most of them are about angsty kids/teens/twentysomethings:
- Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
- Underworld, by Don DeLillo
- The Basic Eight, by Daniel Handler — This is the guy who wrote the Lemony Snicket books, but this book is about a bunch of smart rich kids who accidentally murder someone.
- The Secret History, by Donna Tartt — Again, about kids who accidentally murder someone. Hmm, and you wonder why I was so inspired to write Pretty Little Liars?
- Chilly Scenes of Winter, by Anne Beattie
- She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb
- Atonement, by Ian McEwan
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer
- The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
- Anything, anything, anything by Judy Blume — She is just amazing.
What are your thoughts on the show?
I, like everyone else, LOVE the show. It was such a surprise that it actually happened– I recall receiving the news back in late 2009, and meeting the girls in March of 2010, and the show premiering that June. It was quite a whirlwind. I think they’ve been very respectful to the books, and everyone is so sweet and friendly whenever I visit. But I do NOT know what’s going to happen next. Most everything in the show is a complete surprise to me. I suppose I could ask, but it’s more fun to watch it like any other viewer.
Are there other projects that are going to be made into a TV show or a film?
Well, one always hopes, but you never know! I know there is some interest in The Heiresses, my latest novel that’s sort of an aged-up PLL-style mystery. There was some talk about The Perfectionists, too– I love the concept of this series. It’s five kids from school who are thrown together in common dislike for a bully at school. They prank him, but it goes wrong…and somehow, he winds up dead and the girls are framed. Crazy stuff happens next– and, in typical Sara Shepard fashion, the girls are in huge amounts of trouble. But again, I have no idea if any of this will pan out. You cross your fingers, but really, as a writer, I just want to keep writing books!