In Sara Shepard’s new novel THE AMATEURS, everyone has something to hide.
The Fandom sat down with PRETTY LITTLE LIARS author Sara Shepard at BookCon 2016 to talk about her new YA book THE AMATEURS, which hits shelves November 2016. Not only is Sara friendly and hilarious, but she’s very passionate about YA as a genre and creating interesting characters. Check out our interview below!
TheFandom: How will fans of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS enjoy AMATEURS, and how will it be different?
Sara Shepard: They’ll like it because it’s another murder mystery thriller where you have no idea what’s going on, and where there’s a lot of tension and it moves really fast. There are very dark characters and horrible things happening — and steamy romance. All of the things you find in a Pretty Little Liars novel are also in an Amateurs novel. The difference is it’s a little more serious… the characters are going through some intense things and are closed off in some ways, they have a lot of stuff to get over. I think Pretty Little Liars started off in a lighter place and got darker as the series continued. This series starts in a pretty dark place. Also, it has a few guy POVs…
It was fun to do. You see this blooming relationship from both sides, from the guy side and the girl side. I do get guys who are fans and they have asked me, can you do a guy character? And I’m like, sure! It was fun. It was challenging.
I’m interested to see that because you write a lot of girls. As you are writing tons of girls, how do you avoid falling into the stereotypical, passive female character that can sometimes happen?
Yeah, that does sometimes happen. I just try to create people that I would have looked up to in some ways in high school, or thought was strong and interesting but flawed, of course. There are stereotypes in everybody, like the PLL characters were all a little bit of stereotypes — there was the jock, there was the really smart girl… The Amateurs really don’t have many stereotypical characters. I just try and create as original as characters as you can. I think about who’s reading it, too. YA more than adult fiction you want to be a role model in a weird way, you want your readers to look up to these characters or identify with them and understand what they’re going through… and be strong. I’m always pretty conscious of that.
Would that be the reason you’d say YA literature is important?
Yeah! It’s funny, when I was growing up, YA literature didn’t really exist. There were much more stereotypes. But I was always drawn to writing YA because I thought it was such a fascinating time to go through, and so fraught with figuring out who you are, and I felt like it needed to be more rounded out — now it’s super rounded out! It’s wonderful. I think YA readers get a lot from real depiction of people their age versus the ideal.
Definitely. Your books do have a lot of twists and turns. When you’re writing that, how do you map that out?
I wish I could just see where it took me. And I’ve written other books like that. But for thriller and mystery, I think you have to have a plan, and there’s lots of planning involved. So you first have your initial sketch about how your first book would be, or your first three books would be, and then it gets very detailed. I do a lot of outlining, I do a lot of backstory writing. The amount of files I have on outline and backstory stuff and just additional things that don’t make it into the book… that is probably more than what I’ve written in all of my books. I think my outlines end up being 20-something pages, single spaced, like, insane. But they’re a good guideline. A good story has a little bit of a framework — you know, it has highs and lows, and you can kind of map it like that. Figuring out the twists, figuring out the drama for each character, is the hardest, but the most fun. I definitely outline and re-outline… If I’m writing and I have an idea, I’ll talk to my editor, and I feel like Amateurs went through that — they sort of solve one of the mysteries at the end of the book, and I think I [originally]had someone different guilty.
What can you tell us about the characters of AMATEURS specifically?
There are four main characters, and sort of a fifth — you don’t hear from her but she’s in the group. The first one is Seneca, Seneca is a little damaged, she’s really smart, she’s pretty tough and standoffish, she’s funny… she blew off college to spend all of her time on this website which solves cold cases. We find out why. There’s a whole motivating reason why she does this. She makes friends with somebody named Maddie on the site, and they decide to look into this case of a missing girl. Seneca thinks Maddie is a girl, and Maddie is actually a boy. That throws her off guard and she does not like being off guard. She thinks he lied. They have this back and forth banter. Maddie — his name is Maddox — used to be a dork, then he grew five inches, is a good runner, and now he’s like big man on campus. He plays the part but in his head he’s not that guy still. It’s his secret passion to look into cold cases. He has a sister, his twin sister’s name is Madison, which is sort of the running joke. And then we hear from Aerin. She is Miss Popular, but there’s a lot more to her. The fourth POV is Brett, who was also on this website, and they all sort of meet blindly [through the website]. He’s another guy and he is sensitive, really sweet, and really just heartfelt… and he has tons of money so he can just throw the parties. There’s more to it than that but that’s sort of in a nutshell… What we find out is that all of them are hiding something.
In a few sentences, what is the essence of THE AMATEURS?
Well, it’s the story of four strangers getting together to uncover what happened to a missing girl. It’s more about how everybody is hiding something. It’s full of mystery, tension, drama, and soapy romance — but it really is about how everybody keeps things and how slowly that is revealed.