LAS VEGAS — Sara Shepard is a 41-year old American author from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She attended NYU for biology and later switched her major to English. Shepard is best known as the writer of the bestselling “Pretty Little Liars” book series which turned into a TV series that aired on ABC Family and later on Freeform.
Over the weekend, she was one of the keynote speakers at the 2018 Las Vegas Book Festival. Shepard told the crowd that all of the characters from “P.L.L.” engaged in bullying and cyberbullying. Therefore, that was the topic of her speech here in southern Nevada.
When did bullying begin? The bestselling author did some research and learned that the first record of it took place in 1862 in the United Kingdom. A soldier named John Flood was bullied by another soldier. He slipped into deep depression and had thoughts of suicide.
“Bullying changes people,” Shepard told the crowd. “Sometimes it ruins people. People became aware of how damaging bullying is. It started to change in the 1970’s. Bullying hasn’t gone away it’s gotten worse.”
The 41-year-old said that she was never bullied as a kid growing up. However, she admitted to doing something far worse–while attending graduate school.
“I stood by and let it happen. I’m 25 and I should know better. All fiction writers were very self conscious. We all support one another. My second year, a woman I’ll call Sophia, joined the class and was different. We made fun of her. I have to give credit she kept showing up. It was group mentality…follow the herd or risk being made fun of yourself. We all wanted friends and acceptance.”
Traditional bullying is still more common than cyberbullying, Shepard said. On average, one out of every five kids is bullied at some point during their life. With the invent of cell phones, text messaging, the internet and now social media, cyberbullying is on the rise.
“I always get a lot of questions about cyberbullying. We hear a lot about it. It’s not a new thing. I knew bullies. I wrote a series of books that centers around that topic. There is a way to harass somebody invisibly. It started to capture the public when it led to teen suicide. Cell phones made the epidemic even worse. States introduced cyber bullying laws but they didn’t do much. New apps started popping up. Horrible posts can spread far and wide reaching thousands. The depth and breath of what kids could do to each other are terrifying.”
In fact, “Pretty Little Liars” TV creator and executive producer I. Marlene King was bullied by fans of the show. Then, Shepard began to wonder if her book series, which led to the TV series, made the bullying problem even worse?
“Did we create this monster? It scared me. It is fiction. I didn’t want to glamorize bad behavior. These are just characters. The people they are attacking are real people with feelings. I just didn’t wanna talk about bullying anymore. I started thinking about it again. I felt strangely responsible. I reached out to some of my readers. I was surprised by what they said. Most of the time, the series helped people.”
During the question-and-answer session, the 41-year-old author was asked how involved she was in the production of the popular TV series by the same name.
“The television show was very separate. I was not involved with the adaptation. They had a team of people including I. Marlene King. I read the pilot and talked to her about it. We’re going to keep it in the vane of your work and I sort of trusted her. I got to watch the show like a regular viewer. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The “P.L.L.” TV series brought in huge ratings for ABC Family and later, Freeform. It also got popular on social media channels such as Instagram and Twitter.
“People identified with the struggles and the shows twists and turns,” Shepard explained. “Certain fans took things too far and turned to bullying. Many fans got angry about Emily and Page as a couple. They wanted them to commit suicide. There are always people who are envious with low self esteem. There’s always people who stand idly by.”
However, the author has made it her life’s mission to help those who are struggling with this negative behavior. She regularly answers her e-mail and messages from fans via Facebook and Twitter.
“Something I feel good about is talking to people about bullying and hearing their stories. If you’ve gone through it, you want to be heard and validated. I’m trying to help and I’m trying to listen.”
Look for the complete “Pretty Little Liars” book series in bookstores everywhere and on Amazon.