Though Sara Shepard, author of the Pretty Little Liars series, may be the reason text messages give us minor heart attacks, beloved characters like Alison, Aria, Emily, Hanna, and Spencer wouldn’t exist if not for her books. As the TV series comes to an end, Shepard tells EW what it’s been like to see her characters come to life every week — and divert from the paths she set out in her books.
The author also just released the first book in her next series, The Amateurs, which also sees a group of young adults trying to track down a killer… before the killer gets to them first.
Check out what she had to say about her favorite PLL, characters, which couples she hopes reunite by the last episode, and what to expect from The Amateurs.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You were just on set when PLL filmed its final episodes. What was that experience like?
SARA SHEPARD: I have gone back to set many times, both to film cameos and just to visit. This set visit was special because almost the whole cast was there as it was their very last day of filming. I got to meet all of the actors I’d never gotten a chance to before — like Janel Parrish and Sasha Pieterse. Everyone as usual was so welcoming and sweet (all of the actresses embraced my five-year-old son so lovingly!) but everyone was also so sad. We had cake and champagne to close out the series, but it was very tearful. It really felt like family going there. Every time.
I know those episodes don’t air until the spring, but can you give us any hints?
I like to experience the episodes like a regular fan, so I ask them not to tell me what’s going to happen. I did get a sense from the many people on set the day I visited that the finale is going to be really intense, and fans won’t be disappointed with how the series wraps up.
What do you hope happens?
I really hope some couples reunite — the core ones like Spoby, Haleb, and Ezria. And I’m a big Emison fan, so I would love to see that happen. As for AD, I thought the previous A — Cece/ Charlotte — was pulled off so expertly (I didn’t see it coming!) that I hope this reveal is just as juicy and shocking. Knowing the team that writes the show, it’s certain to be!
What was it like watching the series, especially when the show didn’t always match the books?
It’s like the books and the show exist in the same universe but are just parallel worlds. They compliment each other really well — you can read the books to get extra stories about Hanna, Emily, Spencer, and Aria, or vice versa. I’ve loved watching the show and seeing Rosewood come alive. And it’s been amazing seeing how fans have embraced the characters. I don’t know how many Twitter/Instagram handles I’ve come upon that are named after “DiLaurentis” or “Pretty Little” something.
As the author of the books, how involved have you been in the series?
The book series wrapped up only about a year ago, so for the past seven years I’ve been busy with that and some other books and projects, so I pretty much handed it over into capable hands and let them do their thing. They have been very respectful of the world, though. And I know most of the staff has read all of the books — and that’s a lot of books!
Any favorite moments, characters or episodes?
I loved “The Dollhouse.” It was so deliciously creepy. I loved the black and white episode, too. And all the proms and Halloweens! Incredible. As for characters, man, it’s hard to choose. I adore all of the main girls — Alison included. And Mona! She is divine.
Tell us about The Amateurs. Where did the idea come from?
While the liars had awful things happening to them and fought to make sense of things, in The Amateurs, several characters bond together to solve a cold case — and take matters into their own hands. I’ve always been a fan of real-life sleuthing stories — unsolved mysteries on TV, people gone missing on the local news, and the Serial podcast. Much like the journalist in Serial, I thought it would be fun to have four young adults crack a case. It’s more of a whodunit than PLL — but with the same tension, soap, twist, and turns.
Can you introduce us to some of the characters?
We have our female boss, Seneca, a 19-year-old tough-as-nails smarty who’s got some skeletons in her closet but is afraid of nothing. Then there’s Maddox, who looks like a jock but is actually a big softie– and has his own reasons for searching for the truth. Aerin is our way in to the story– her sister went missing five years ago and no one knows why, and that’s the case the group is trying to solve. Brett is one of those guys who you overlook but then blurts out something brilliant. And then Maddox’s flighty stepsister, Madison, is our stoner comic relief (and also has a killer organized closet) but is actually a huge asset to the team.
Is it hard to come off of a hugely successful series and launch a new one?
In this business, you can’t rest on your laurels– there’s so much great YA fiction out there that you have to be at the top of your game at all times. And also? I “launched” Pretty Little Liars in 2006. Twitter was in its infancy. Instagram/ Snapchat weren’t around. I trolled for friends on MySpace! Book launches mean a lot more now than they used to — YA has come a long, wonderful way as a genre.
How is technology used differently in this new series than in PLL?
First off, the characters in The Amateurs meet online. Quite a few of them don’t have a clue what one another looks like at the start of the novel, which leads to some embarrassment and vulnerable moments. That’s one of the themes to the book, in fact: How well do you really know someone? If you talk to them online only, maybe not as well as you think. Also, PLL wasn’t heavy on the social media but more about texts/ photos/ videos. In The Amateurs, so much of how the group figures out what happened to Aerin’s sister is through her social media trail– stuff teens are more in tune with over adults. There is a top-secret app that I modeled after several popular messaging apps in existence that they rely on heavily. So much about a person can be hidden deep online, and if you’re not savvy about where to look, it can be tough to find.