Sara Shepard, SAFE IN MY ARMS

Sara Shepard, SAFE IN MY ARMS

Zibby moderated a conversation with Sara Shepard about her latest novel, Safe in My Arms, as part of the virtual Penguin Bookshop Writers Series in Pittsburgh. The two bonded over their habit of expecting the worst-case scenario in every situation, and Sara shared what projects she’s working on next. The two also talked about Sara’s essay in Zibby’s first anthology as well as why it might be a bad idea for Sara to think about thrillers while jogging around her neighborhood. And, check out Zibby’s @gmabookclub IG Live with Sara here!


Amanda: Hello, everyone in the Zoom-iverse. My name is Amanda. I am an events coordinator here at the Penguin Bookshop. We are delighted that you have all decided to spend your evening with us for a very special installment of the Penguin Bookshop Writers Series. Susan Hans O’Conner, the Penguin Bookshop’s owner, is unfortunately under the weather tonight, so I’m going to do my very best to try and give tonight’s event a warm introduction, as warm as she does. For those of you who aren’t familiar with us or who are joining us for the first time, it’s a pleasure to meet you. The Penguin Bookshop is a woman-owned and predominantly woman-operated independent bookstore that’s located just outside of Pittsburgh. If you can believe it, we’ve been around since 1929. While the pandemic has dealt us, like many other bookstores, some challenging hands this past year, it’s been a complete pleasure to connect virtually with authors who are both near and very far away. Tonight is no exception. We are so, so excited to be hosting Sara Shepard and Zibby Owens to celebrate the launch of Safe in My Arms, Sara’s latest novel. It’s always a treat to be able to host local authors for an event, but our heart always skips an extra beat when we’re able to host a book launch. Even though we are still sticking with virtual events for the time being, we know that everyone tuning into tonight, every one of you is very excited, as excited as we are. Thank you.

Two quick notes before I introduce Sara and Zibby. One, they will be answering questions during the conversation. If you have a question for either Sara or Zibby, please do not hesitate to write them in the chat or the Q&A. We’ll try our best to get to them. Number two, Sara has graciously offered to personalize copies of Safe in My Arms. If you purchase a copy of the book through our website or in store, and we’ll definitely put a link to the book in the chat, just leave a comment during the checkout. You can just denote in that comment who you want the book to be personalized for. We’ll make sure that Sara gets that information. Without further ado, Sara Shepard is the number-one New York Times best-selling author of the Pretty Little Liars series. She has also written other young adult series and novels including The Lying Game, The Heiresses, and The Perfectionists. Sara, who was born in Pittsburgh, now lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, sons, and dogs. Zibby Owens is the founder and CEO of Moms Don’t Have Time To, a media company that features podcasts, publications, and communities. She is the host of the award-winning “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” which Oprah and I agree, both, well-worth a listen. If that isn’t enough, Zibby also has an anthology coming out this fall, a children’s book, and a memoir that’s coming out next year. Without further ado, I welcome Sara and Zibby.

Zibby Owens: Thank you.

Sara Shepard: Hi. Thanks. Thanks, everybody, for coming. I was just going to say, I live in Pittsburgh. That’s an old bio. I’m sorry about that.

Amanda: You know, I was reading that and I thought, hmm, I wonder how she’s going to personalize those copies.

Sara: I used to live in Philadelphia, but I now live in the Pittsburgh area. Penguin Bookshop is my favorite bookstore.

Amanda: on behalf of the city, whenever you decided to head back from Philadelphia.

Sara: I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for over ten years.

Amanda: I’m very sorry about that.

Sara: No, that’s funny.

Amanda: I just wanted to say one quick note before I hand it off to you guys. Since the book came out today, I hope that everyone that’s tuning in already has a copy. If you don’t, we’re going to try really hard not to spoil anything. True to Sara’s form, I think this book is filled with some exciting mysteries, so we don’t want to ruin anything right off the bat for you. We’re going to try really hard to keep it under wraps. Without further ado, thank you so much for coming, to you both. We’re really excited to hear what you guys have to say.

Zibby: Great. Hi, Sara. I’m so glad we’re doing this again. I’m so excited to be chatting with you. Congratulations on pub day for Safe in My Arms.

Sara: Oh, my gosh, thank you.

Zibby: My pleasure. Sara, for those people who don’t know anything about this book, which obviously is far from your first but definitely your most recent, what is Safe in My Arms about? What inspired you to write this book? Where can we get a backpack that says “a novel” written like ? It’s the coolest thing ever. I want the backpack.

Sara: The book, it’s about three moms who are newcomers to this area. It’s this very exclusive but totally made-up area in California. I find that it’s better that I make up settings because then people can’t be like, that’s my town. Why are you saying these things about my town? or whatever. It’s a completely fictitious place. They become unlikely friends and are keeping some secrets from the community that are all very poignant, have something to do with motherhood and how they came to be mothers. They unwittingly get involved in this scandal and are blamed for this event that happens. I don’t want to give too much away. Mostly, it’s just unraveling what that is and the secrets of this community and of the school. I feel like I can’t say too much more or I will spoil something. I was inspired to write it — it’s funny, this book started out as — the original title of the Word document was Daycare Horror. It was a very different story. I was trying to think of book ideas. I was like, let’s think of the worst-case scenario of things that could happen to your children. I was doing all this reading about daycares in which a child, unfortunately, passes away in their care. That’s not what this book is about. I moved away from that.

Zibby: Here’s the book I didn’t write.

Sara: Yeah, that is the book I did not write, but the characters that are in this book sort of came from that book. I didn’t get, honestly, that far. It was more, originally, about this awful thing that happens and a community trying to figure out how that happened and how that could’ve happened. Then my editor wisely said, “I don’t know if we want to have things happening to children.” I’m like, “You know what? I understand that.” It came out of that, these worst-case scenarios as a young — I’m not a young mother — as a mother of two young children. It evolved from there, as books do. They’re always evolving.

Zibby: It was great that you set the scene at this crazy, now toned-down, post-recession-ish time at the school. You poke fun at the things that are no longer there like all the catering and the past hors d’oeuvres. This is sort of toned down for them. Yet here are these three new moms sneaking Baileys in the corner. I was like, should I have been doing that? If there’s wine available, fine, but spiking my drink from my purse, that’s one step — I don’t know, maybe they had a lot more fun.

Sara: The one mom brings it just because she’s really nervous about joining this group of people. It doesn’t come from, I want to be super fun, the super fun parent. Although, I feel like I’ve known those people too, though never to that extent. I’ve never been at a school, especially in the morning, where somebody .

Zibby: Exactly. It’s not even a cocktail party. I once went to a school — it was in the library at my kids’ school. I probably shouldn’t even say this, and this is not about you. I get there. I ran over to the wine station. This other mom was there. She was like, “Is this a nightly occurrence for you?” I was like, “What? No. We’re at a cocktail party. What else am I supposed to do?” Anyway, so I appreciated that. I also appreciated how when Lauren is feeling like she’s losing her mind — she has her child, Matthew, and her husband, Graham. Graham is always turning stuff around so that she thinks she’s nuts, which I think every mother or parent has felt at one time or another. She’s just like, I’ve had it with everything being attributed to mom brain over and over. Tell me a little bit about that.

Sara: That definitely was something I experienced, especially with my first child. I was kind of second-guessing myself and my decisions and my emotions and all of that, forgetfulness and taking people’s reactions to a thing, blowing it up. Is this hormones? Is this mom brain? Then I stepped back and looked at it later and thought, no, not completely. I think that’s the thing that’s just so murky about being a parent, but especially being a mom. There are these constructs set up. Of course, everybody’s just tired and forgetful. It’s not us. It’s you. I wanted to explore that a little bit. At the same time, it is a real thing. You are overtired. You are thrown into this completely new experience of having a child and not knowing what that is and not knowing if you’re doing it right. That’s another big theme, undercurrent of this mystery and this thriller. All three of these moms feel like they’re not doing it right. Nobody really knows if they’re doing right. I feel like, yeah, mom brain, definitely, it’s a little bit of a sore subject for me. It wasn’t really with my second kid because then, I was just like, no, this isn’t — I know I can distinguish. With the first, it’s just a little bit of gaslighting. Gaslighting’s always a fun little plot twist to throw into any novel.

Zibby: Wait, I have to hear about how you structured — I know you said some of these characters were from the Daycare Horror, which will keep me up tonight just even thinking about. You had so many different — I know it’s three moms, but then you have the daycare director and her assistant and everybody’s extended family and their kids. There are a lot of characters that you developed very quickly. What was the secret behind that? How did you do that? Did you draw a chart to whose kid is who and the names and what their main thing was? Everybody has something. Each family has a big thing. How did you go about that?

Sara: An issue they’re dealing with. I usually can keep characters straight in my head pretty well. Also, I went through a lot of drafts. Obviously, it was probably not as clear in the first draft as it was in the fifth draft of this book. Even writing any of my other books or my other series, I usually have a lot of characters. I usually get into worlds that there are just a lot of people. Sometimes people do say, there are so many characters in this book, any book that I write. It probably comes from the original series that I wrote, Pretty Little Liars, where there were four main characters. They each had a thing. They each had a very distinct personality. It was just working on that. I got kind of used to working with multiple characters and then building out who their families were and all that stuff. I’m sure I kept some sort of chart. I don’t know where that chart is now. I usually have a lot of Word documents and scribbles on pieces of paper of who connects to who and how it all makes sense and put notes in the document itself. It was keeping some of it in my head, but yeah, I definitely took notes on how it all fit together. It’s a big world.

Zibby: It’s a big world. Can we talk about Andrea’s issue, if you will, or what makes her unique, or is that a plot twist?

Sara: Yeah.

Zibby: I’m so mindful of not ruining anything.

Sara: No, I don’t think it’s a plot twist. No, I don’t think so.

Zibby: It’s central to who she is. You do it in a really interesting way. I feel like it’s not too far along. I was hoping I could just read a little .

Sara: No, it’s probably her first chapter.

Zibby: It’s page forty-ish or something. Can I read this paragraph? Is that okay?

Sara: Yeah.

Zibby: You write, “She hurried into the bathroom. At the mirror, she leaned in close and inspected the lines on her face and the nakedness of her features. A swipe of lipstick here, a blot of concealer there. ‘Hang on, let me put on my face for the day,’ her mother Cynthia used to say. When she was a teenager, Cynthia’s boudoir became Andrea’s favorite guilty pleasure, beholding her mom’s giant vanity of colors, labels, scents, all those private hours of slathering and puffing and brushing and then hastily wiping it all off when she heard her mother’s key in the door down the long, long hall because back then, Andrea wasn’t a her in her mother’s eyes. Andrea was her mother’s son,” dun, dun, dun, which I had gotten no glimpses of until that sentence.

Sara: Oh, wow.

Zibby: I don’t know, maybe I’m not the best reader or something. I find thrillers are continually surprising me. I just didn’t pick up on that until then. I found it to be very powerful.

Sara: Wow, that’s interesting. That’s great. I think there was tiny hints in the scene where they’re all together in the very beginning, but nothing very heavy-handed. I think we went back and forth on how observant — the first chapter where they’re all together is this omniscient narrator. It’s just sort of looking at everything objectively and not getting a lot of internal thoughts from each of the characters. I don’t think that’s so out of — you’re not a bad reader for not picking up on that. At the same time, it’s not really a secret. That is a bit why Andrea brought the Baileys to the breakfast. What was your question?

Zibby: I was going to say I found it super interesting to read about a mom whose transitioning you detailed in quite a detailed way. You had the twelve months and the hormones and this and that and also all the interpersonal issues it brought up within her family, especially coming from this big-deal, real estate honcho, powerful New York family and this very proper mom, and with her brother. Here she is taking off to the West Coast and starting over from scratch and trying to pretend to be someone she’s not, and how you ended up depicting her character and how she handled everything. I was wondering about creating that particular type of mom and if you did research into — of course, then you have her blogging about microaggressions and things like that. Did you get informed by somebody you knew? Was that a compilation of a lot of research? How did that come about?

Sara: It was both. I follow a few trans women on Instagram, or parents who have transitioned, actually — they’re male-to-female or female-to-male — and have found it always an interesting look at parenthood, and obviously kind of changes not what sort of parent you are at all, but how the world is seeing you and what that means. I just thought it would be a really interesting character to explore. What does that mean within the community? How does that mean as a parent? Andrea’s son is like, I just see you as my parent. I did a lot of research on that. I read a lot of books and talked to people on Instagram. Then I also had a really great sensitivity reader who really informed me on certain things that I did not even think about that would be triggering to somebody or a person would be, maybe, sensitive about and to play up certain moments and things like that. In the early draft, it was more of a secret that Andrea was trying to keep, not really from the community, but Andrea would keep from her mom. Then I thought about that. I didn’t want it to seem shameful even though the family — she comes from this super masculine dad, brother. They are not aware, but that’s only because her mom was like, they are not to know. Even though they have their own opinions about it, I didn’t want it to be about any kind of shame. I wanted it to be about other things in Andrea’s life besides this new journey that she’s going on where she really does feel so much better about herself.

It was really interesting. It was a lot of reading and a lot of just making sure that the details were correct and I was doing it in a sensitive way. I think that’s something that’s really great that’s come out of publishing in the last ten or so years, these voices that authors want — we all want to explore people who are not like us all the time because that sometimes gets boring. We also want to make sure that we’re doing justice to their experience and telling it in a way that isn’t just completely imagined and we have really no idea what they’re going through and all that. That is the long answer. Doing all that research and thinking about Andrea, it was a really — they were all really fun characters because they all are dealing with very different issues and pretty intense pasts and secrets and all of that, all that fun stuff. I would love to hear from some trans readers. I’ve heard a little bit on Instagram saying, I love that there was this sort of character. Years ago when Emily was my character in Pretty Little Liars, and she is a teenager and realizing that she’s gay, I have heard from readers who have said, that was the first teen gay character that I came upon as a teen reader. That was a really powerful thing for me. Even if somebody thinks I didn’t get it right, I would like to hear either way. It’s a little scary to write somebody who’s not totally like you. Hopefully, I spoke to enough people and got enough of the authentic experience.

Zibby: Were you working on this during the pandemic? Is that when this was written? Was it before?

Sara: Yes. That’s actually not true. I wrote a draft before it all happened. I turned it in, I would say, January 2020. I can’t remember quite the timeline. I got notes back, maybe — first of all, I thought publishing was just going to shut down. I was just like, who’s going to read books anymore? Why are we even doing this? The world is crumbling. I was like, is this book ever going to see the light of day? I had no idea. Then people kept reading, so that was great. My editor got back to me. Then I had to do a revision of it. I wrote an essay for you, actually, that made it into the anthology right around that time that I probably got revisions back. It was really hard to write anything. At least, I had a draft. I think it would be harder to write something from scratch. At least, I had a draft to work from, and editor’s notes. To have written something completely from scratch, I don’t think I could’ve done it. It’s only this past year that I’ve been able to write from first draft kind of things again. Oh, my gosh, that was a rough time. Somehow, I made it happen. You wrote many things. You have written many, many things over this.

Zibby: I don’t write fiction. I couldn’t figure out a complicated, intense thriller with multiple characters. I like to just write about my life and what’s happening.

Sara: You wrote a memoir.

Zibby: That’s how I process stuff. It all helped me. Your essay, it was in this anthology, Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology. Just so people know, Sara’s essay is called “These Days, I am Running to Stay Sane.” Maybe I could just read a paragraph of that too.

Sara: Oh, sure.

Zibby: It’s all about your running. You said, “I put on my shoes and slide headphones in my ears. If it’s cold, I add a hat, sometimes with a pom-pom on it which bobs as I move reminding me that it’s still there. My gloves are sometimes high-tech ones from New Balance but are just as often woolen mittens from Anthropologie or gloves so old the fingertips are fraying away. I’m not the runner who’s in fashion or whose clothes even remotely match. I sweat a lot and my skin gets unattractively red, and I’m not in neon-colored trendy sneakers, but utilitarian black men’s shoes. They’re an update of an update of an update of a running shoe I was specifically measured for at Super Runners Shop on 24th Street and 3rd Avenue in New York City in 1997. I have been wearing the same brand and make of sneakers, more or less, for twenty-three years. That’s how long I’ve been a runner.” Then of course, you go on from there, and how running is helping you cope. You’re like, “Now I’ve lost track of what week we’re . I’m not breaking any speed records. I’m audiobooks.” You said, “Now every time I step outside, and let me be clear, my running path keeps a safe distance from people, it isn’t just my workout for the day, it’s a valuable, life-saving routine. It’s a meditation. It’s an escape.”

Sara: I think it was my only time out.

Zibby: Are you still running? Did that end up getting you through? Is that still how you cope?

Sara: Yeah. I don’t panic anymore. It used to be, every run I would go on, I would just panic. I don’t know if I was even really able — whatever audiobook I was listening to in those first few months, I don’t think I absorbed the plot at all. I might have even switched to podcasts. Even then, I don’t know, I don’t remember. Now I am not as panicked, but yeah, I still run. It still is very much my — sometimes I run and figure out plot stuff. Then I will write it in my — I wish I had my phone up here. I should post a picture of it on Instagram, where I will write notes sometimes about something I’m working on. I look back at them later, much, much later. I will still make sense of them, but I show them to anybody else and they’re just like, what? Things are spelled wrong. I’m really sweaty and trying to type.

Zibby: You need to voice dictate.

Sara: You know, I was just thinking that, why I don’t do that. I have headphones on. I probably still could.

Zibby: Experiment next time.

Sara: I always run the same roads. I feel like neighbors — I’m already the person who, wherever I go, it’s usually a school event, and people, they have not met me before, they’re like, “Oh, you’re the one that runs.” I’m like, yeah. Me also screaming into my phone about the murders that happened in chapter fifteen — .

Zibby: You know what? I take it back.

Sara: Well, I don’t know.

Zibby: No, no, I take it back. Forget it. Forget I said a word. Don’t do that. Definitely, don’t do that.

Sara: It was great to write that essay. That’s probably the only piece of writing I did for a while. It was very therapeutic to write that because it was like, oh, my god, what is happening? Years ago, I don’t do it so much anymore, but writing, for me, was just a way to get my feelings out and to understand what I was feeling. Often, I didn’t even know why I was angry or why I was upset or whatever. If I wrote it down, I could kind of work it out. That’s what that essay very much felt like.

Zibby: It’s definitely a lot cheaper and less time-consuming than actually finding and going to a therapist, so there you go.

Sara: Yeah, and it often works. For me, it works. I like writing anyway. I guess if you don’t like writing, maybe it’s not as useful.

Zibby: What do you think it is about thrillers and having the worst thing you can imagine — the idea that you were sitting there thinking, what’s the worst thing that could happen? and that, oh, I’ve actually gone too far this time, what do you think it is? What appeals to you about that? Why do you want to explore it? Is it from a place of just anxiety about life? You feel like you can sort of handle through imagining, the worst and living that out and then realizing, actually, we’re all still here and it’s okay? Is there some secrets that you’ve had to harbor your whole life that are corrosive and are eating away at you, and so you’re exploring it? I don’t know. I’m just hypothesizing.

Sara: I like these suggestions. I think the first thing you said is pretty spot on. I think that’s why people like true crime as well, and hearing about the worst-possible things, these grisly murders or whatever. You can kind of live vicariously and almost feel like, well, if it happened to me, I’m ready. I’m ready to get dismembered in a shed or whatever. Especially some of these ones about parenting and terrible things happening while also trying to parent, or in your community or whatever, they are sort of trying to live through the worst-possible thing. Then the thing about secrets — something I remember my mom saying to me when I was maybe ten or something was, “There’s a lot I can forgive.” It was very dramatic. “There’s a lot I can forgive, but I just cannot forgive keeping secrets.” It was like, huh. I don’t think she had major secrets in her life. She was raising two girls. We all know preteen, teenage girls keep a lot to themselves and have a whole private, internal life, that you don’t know about it. I did. I’m sure everybody did. I think she was just trying to preempt that. I’m going to be proactive about this. I’m going to put it in your brain that you should tell me things.

From there, I just thought secrets were so interesting. I tried to figure out what sorts of secrets other people were keeping. It’s always been intriguing because everybody has a secret, whether it’s a big one or a small one or something in between. We all have this private life that we don’t show other people. It has definitely been a theme that has run through every book I’ve written. I think most books have a little bit of a secret to them that a character feels and doesn’t reveal. Then sometimes it comes out in not a great way. Sometimes it doesn’t. The other thing that’s fun about writing a thriller is that it’s sort of a puzzle. I’ve written not very many, maybe only one novel that is not a thriller. Although, I was a ghostwriter for a long time, so I ghostwrote other things that were not a thriller. It’s really fun to figure out the steps and the misleads and when you plot those twists and when you reveal certain things. I really like that part of writing, putting that puzzle together, especially when it all falls into place. When it doesn’t fall place — I’ve struggled with drafts. I’m writing another book now. I think things have fallen into place. For a long time, I was really struggling with, oh, my god, I don’t think the thing that I plotted is going to work. It just isn’t very interesting. Then I poked at it for a long time. Eventually, it did fall into place. It’s so satisfying then. You’re just like, oh, okay, this is something that I think people aren’t going to see coming. It’s a lot of fun.

Zibby: What’s your new book about?

Sara: My new book is yet again about mothers. It’s about an intentional community where these moms are living in the desert and raising their children all together. It is this beautiful situation. This one woman who comes into the community, she’s got some baggage. She’s got a big secret. She gets there and has this huge surprise. Somebody in her life that she doesn’t want to be there is there. Then it’s like, how did this happen? It’s the worst-possible thing.

Zibby: My mind goes there immediately. We’re sitting by the pool. We’re all fine. I’m like, but what if? What if the dog walks right there? Would I jump and save the dog? I go through this. I waste so much time imagining the worst. I don’t know why. From now on, maybe I’m just going to send you —

Sara: — Send me all your worst-case scenarios.

Zibby: You could make a whole book around them. Why not? Now they’re just being wasted.

Sara: I think we all do. If I can’t find my phone, I’m always like, it’s gone. Even the most minor things, I’m like, it’s gone, oh, my god. Meanwhile, it’s so easy to update a phone these days. Even my wallet, anything I can’t find, I’m like, it’s gone forever. How is this going to inconvenience me? Then it goes up to the worst-possible thing.

Zibby: I do that with my car keys all the time. I’m not going to be able to find it. We’re going to be stuck here.

Sara: We’re going to be stuck.

Zibby: It’s just so ridiculous.

Sara: I can’t find my car in a parking lot. I’m never going to find it. It’s gone. Someone has stolen it.

Zibby: I can never find my car in a parking lot. I always have to take a picture of where I parked. I’m like, what’s going to happen? I’m in my forties. By the time I get to my seventies, I won’t be able to find the bathroom.

Sara: That’s really smart, though. If I’m in a really big parking lot, I will text myself the parking area. Taking a picture is smart too. I even lose my car in Target parking lot. Taking a picture of the cars that are next to it, that’s smart.

Zibby: I did, at one point, consult someone because I thought I was losing my mind. I had no memory. It turns out that if you are distracted thinking about other things, you just don’t actually imprint those memories to begin with. It’s like it didn’t even happen.

Sara: Right, I can believe that. I come out of Target with my kids. I’m like, where? Then I’m like, you always forget. I’m sorry.

Zibby: Now, of course, I’ve gone over our little time here. I knew that was going to happen. Time for question and answers. Well, answers, hopefully; questions, for sure. The first one is by Shelli Johannes-Wells, who, by the way, also is an amazing children’s book author and everything. She said, “I would love to know if Sara plans on going back to YA since Pretty Little Liars was so successful or if she’s moving to adult more permanently.”

Sara: I actually had a YA book out earlier this year. It was called Influence. Do I have a copy of it? Not right here. I wrote it with a young teen influencer named Lilia Buckingham. It was about the lives of teen influencers. It was very interesting. I did a lot of research, but I also had a person who is in that world. That was a standalone YA. I actually have another YA book that I just sold, but I don’t know if I can talk about it yet. I would very much like to be in YA still. I love YA. It’s so much fun. I also like writing for adults. I feel like a lot of my Pretty Little Liars audience has grown up. It’s fun to write for those people too. I have the intentional community book — that’s not what it’s called — that I’m working on that’s coming out. I don’t know if it’s next year or the year after.

I also, for adults, am writing — the Pretty Little Liars girls have all grown up. That’s a new thriller. That’s sort of a crossover because teens can read it. There’s nothing really awful in it. It’s the same characters. They are still living in Rosewood. A’s back. Whenever someone says, would you like to write another Pretty Little Liars? I’m like, yes, I would love to write another. You write sixteen, eighteen, however many books I have written, you know those characters so well. It’s so delightful to go back to them. They’re your friends at this point. I’ve written so much about them that I am always happy to write more about them. They’ve had such terrible lives, though. I feel so bad for them. They’ve been nearly dead several times, and tormented. I hope to do both still. That would be the ideal thing. I even thought about doing a middle-grade book. I have not pitched anything. My kids are middle-grade readers now. I would love to do a book that they might like to read because they seem to have no interest in even Pretty Little Liars or any of my YA books. Thank you for the question.

Zibby: William has a couple questions. He wants to know if you plan on working with guy perspectives more, and are any more of your books becoming TV shows?

Sara: Yes, I love doing guy perspectives. I haven’t done a lot. There was a couple characters in The Amateurs series who were boys. That was a lot of fun. If I did a middle-grade novel, which, I’m guessing — I have a feeling I know who you are. I’m not sure you’re a middle-grade reader, but I would definitely have boys in that because I have boys. I have been very much in the mom space. Maybe for the next book, I think that’s a great suggestion, is to bring guys in a little bit more and get the guy perspective. I have definitely written guy POVs. It’s a lot of fun.

Zibby: Excellent. If anyone has more questions — hold on, let me scootch back here to the chat and see if I missed any over here. You can put them either in the Q&A or in the chat, so either way you would like, or I’ll just keep asking questions, which I’m always happy to do. William’s also saying how much he likes true crime. People are saying you did the subject justice.

Sara: Thanks.

Zibby: If there any other questions, feel free. That was it for so far. If anybody else has another question — wait, I think one’s coming in.

Sara: Shelli just wrote one.

Zibby: Are you a plotter or pantser? Thanks, Shelli.

Sara: I’m a little bit of both. I try to plot. I try to write big act breaks of act one, act two, act three. Here’s the big highs. Here are the lows, whatever, of anything. Especially this book that I am just writing now, I also will kind of let the story go in a direction and see what’s going to happen and then be surprised. That’s happened to me a few times. It’s fun. It’s definitely more stressful to write that way because I like having a framework. I like knowing how things are going to end and how things are going to tie up. I feel like if you know your characters well enough, you can, at some point if you don’t feel like your plot is working, then maybe you just do some writing and see where it’s going to go. Most of my YA novels have very, very long outlines. They’re like twenty pages long, chapter by chapter. Here’s the mystery beat. Here’s everything. Like I said, I write a lot of supplemental material of, here’s what’s happening behind the scenes. Here’s what this character is thinking. You might never hear from him, but here’s what he’s thinking. I don’t know if that’s plotting, exactly. I would say my inclination is to plot, but I will kind of let go sometimes.

Zibby: My husband just sent me a link about there being a Pretty Little Liars reboot on HBO Max. Are you involved with that at all?

Sara: Oh, yes. No, I am not involved. Although, I’ve read the scripts. I’ve read a good number of the scripts from the first season. That’s been fun. They’re shooting it in Saugerties, New York. They’re starting shooting, I think, in August. I will definitely visit. I thought about getting involved. The story is very, very different from the books. It still has the Pretty Little Liars vibe to it, but a lot of the characters are very different and come from very different backgrounds than what I come from. I think they were hoping to get writers that sort of reflected those backgrounds. They were nice enough to have me read the scripts and stuff like that. I was never, also, involved in the original show, nor was I involved in The Perfectionists. I don’t live in LA. It would’ve required being in a writers’ room and spending full time there. At the time, I was writing two, three, four books a year. It was just not possible. I’m really excited about it, though. It was such a surprise. I think it came together really fast. If you guys don’t know, the person that does Riverdale is working on it. Then I think it sold really fast. It’s going to be really cool. I just felt like — even the first time there was a TV series of my book, I was kind of like, really? This is amazing that this is a franchise that’s still going and people, hopefully, want to watch and all that. I’m excited to go to the shoot. Hopefully, I can, COVID and all that. I’m really excited to see what they do. A is still there. There’s an A. I think it’ll be really fun. Your other question about other things being TV shows, not that I know of at the moment. We were trying to get Influence. That may happen. That may not. I don’t know. That’s the only thing floating around right now.

Zibby: Becky said that she saw you wrote for a fiction podcast that came out recently. What was it like writing for a podcast? How is different than writing novels?

Sara: Oh, that was really fun. I actually wrote for two podcasts. I say I didn’t do any writing during the pandemic, but I actually did, just very different.

Zibby: Here are your secrets coming out right now.

Sara: These are my secrets. I lied. It felt very different because it felt different than writing books. I just needed something different. The first one was called Memory Lane. It is this near-future, kind of sci-fi, mother-daughter road trip story about memory, secrets, and hidden pasts. It was really fun to do. It’s kind of a novel in eight parts. They split it up into eight parts for a podcast. It’s sort of narrated, but then they have voices. It’s not really a scripted podcast series. It’s somewhere in the middle, but it’s not really an audiobook. It’s in between. Then I also wrote, it was a scripted podcast for this podcast called “Meet Cute,” and completely different than stuff I usually do. Although, it’s funny that I write thrillers because my natural inclination is to be funny and silly. That’s what the “Meet Cute” podcasts are. They’re rom-coms. They are fifteen minutes long each. They’re just these little stories of people meeting and falling for each other, there being a little bit of a complication, and then the end. They always end the same. There’s more than three hundred of those out, not all me. There are so many of these out. They always end the same. It’s happily ever after, or for right now anyway. It’s this wonderful thing to watch right now because if you’re feeling dark, if you just need a little pick-me-up, there’s this silly story you can go to. It’s only fifteen minutes long. It’s not going to take you all day to get through it. There are all these different scenarios that you can listen to.

The one that I wrote, I wrote, actually, nine parts of a series. It’s set on a cruise ship. I wrote it in the fall of 2020 when things got shut down again. We couldn’t travel. We were not going to be able to travel for holidays. It all felt very bleak. I was like, let’s just write something on a cruise ship because that’s not happening right now. It was really fun. They’re all these little romantic stories that take place on this big ocean liner called The Queen Beatrice. They’re all very silly. They feature all kinds of different romance: girls together, guy/girl, people just being friends, people who are older, older/younger. There’s something for everybody. It was a lot of fun. That was so much fun because I could write an episode in a day. I mean, it wasn’t good. I would obviously have to revise it. Talk about being distracted, things got bad again in the fall. We were all worried again. I felt like I couldn’t focus. It was nice to have these little stories that I could work on and just be done with and then move on to the next one and not have to devote so much brain power to this three-hundred-page thing with all these complicated moving parts and whatever. This was light-hearted and just fun people on vacation. I was living so vicariously.

Zibby: Last questions here. You can combine them into one if you would like. What is your writing process/schedule? What book are you currently reading?

Sara: What am I currently reading right now? I’m reading something by Kristin Hannah, but it’s not The Four Winds. It might be The Nightingale. I read The Four Winds and really liked it. I had never read Kristin Hannah before. I’m not that much of a historical fiction reader, but there’s something very comforting about her writing. I had been reading a lot of thrillers. I was like, I need to read something else. Then I’m also reading — I usually read a whole bunch of things at once — this book. I’m going to butcher her name. The name of the book is Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny.

Zibby: Yeah, H-E-I-N-Y. I haven’t read it. I’ve been hearing such good things about it.

Sara: It’s so delightful. It’s so cute. It’s such a cute book. This is a book I’m going to read again, I know. That’s what I do with books. Some of the ones that I love, I read them over and over. I’m just like, this book is so cute.

Zibby: I obviously need to buy this book because now you’re the second person this week that said I have to read it.

Sara: It’s so good. My process is, it just depends on where I am in a book. My schedule is, I try just to work nine to five. This summer with kids home and all of that, and even last year, I wrote when I could. My kids are getting better with me either being on my computer and tuning them out while I’m working on something or going upstairs and just being like, I have to write. I have to work for a little bit. When they’re in school, it’ll be while they’re in school. It’s easier if I’m just editing something or doing all the many other tasks that come with publishing a novel like looking at copyedits or answering queries or doing social media or whatever. That, I can do around my children. Really concentrating on writing something, there’s a lot of yelling where I’m like, I’m working! It’s too hard around kids. They’re talking and whatever. My process, I am definitely the person that writes — I am not precious with what I write. I just would rather have stuff on the page so that I can go back to it and make it better than agonize over every word. I know everybody works differently. I know people who do not work like that. If they can write five hundred, a thousand words a day, they are really happy with that. Often, they’re beautiful words. Half the time, I look at it the next day and I’m like, oh, okay. I feel more accomplished if I just write something. I usually get something out of it. I figure something out while I’m writing. I would say that’s, process-wise, my most important process thing.

Zibby: Awesome. Sara, thank you so much. For everybody, again, Safe in My Arms by Sara Shepard. Then if you happen to want my anthology, her essay is in this as well, Moms Don’t Have Time To.

Sara: And many other good essays.

Zibby: Among some other ones. Safe in My Arms, Sara Shepard, go get it today.

Sara: Thank you.

Amanda: I wanted to thank you both on behalf of the Penguin Bookshop. Thank you to everyone who came and watched tonight and who’s supporting us through the pandemic and beyond. Continue to order online. Continue to come and watch great authors. The books, you can order them through our chat. You can order them online through our website. You can call and order them in the store. Come in. Don’t forget to put a comment in the chat so that Sara can personalize the book to you. That’s always fun and a good gift. Thank you so, so much for coming. Enjoy the rest of your summer.

Sara: Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you.

Sara: Goodnight, everybody. Thank you. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Sara Shepard, SAFE IN MY ARMS

SAFE IN MY ARMS by Sara Shepard

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