We recently had the chance to talk to Sara Shepard, the author of popular series like Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game, about her new book. Wait for Me, her new thriller following 17-year-old college student Casey, is a bit different than what readers know the author for. As in Shepard’s previous works, there is mystery and suspense, but Casey is a different character than those whom audiences may be familiar with. We spoke with Shepard about her inspiration for her latest story and what the future could hold for Casey and Jake.
What, or who, inspired the character of Casey?
The start of Wait for Me is like a fairy tale – Casey is at a ball with her handsome prince of a boyfriend, and she seems to have it all. I guess I took inspiration from fairy tales for that part. But then I twisted this notion because Casey begins to get signals within herself that her fairy tale life isn’t all it seems, and she has to choose whether or not to trust her intuition.
No single person inspired Casey – it was more of shaping her around some central questions. Namely, how often do we trust our gut? What happens when our intuition is warning us of something but everyone around us is telling us we’re not thinking clearly? And could reincarnation be real? Are past lives lurking inside us, shaping who we are, even guiding our choices?
How did crafting Wait for Me differ from your previous works, like Pretty Little Liars?
The Pretty Little Liars novels are complicated because they have four POVs, individual stories, and then a central mystery – but because I wrote so many of them, I got them down to a formula and knew how to outline them effectively.
In Wait for Me, even though the story is told through a single POV – for the most part, except for the introduction – there are definite “acts” in the novel based on what Casey believes and what’s been revealed to her. So I found myself plotting with those things in mind. I also had to make sure to layer in the mystery of what happened to this person she thinks she was in a past life… as well as the romance she encounters, her love triangle, and her family issues. So even though it was a single-POV story, it was still a lot of jugging to keep everything straight!
Wait for Me includes themes of grief, finding yourself, and strength. What do you hope readers take away from the story?
I talk a lot about trusting yourself despite everyone around you trying to convince you that you’re wrong. I think that’s such an important thing for people to think about these days. We have so much noise around us – our peers, our family, and all the standards/comparisons we see [on] social media – that it’s hard to know who we are and what we want.
Casey literally has to separate herself from everyone she knows in order to figure out what’s going on in her own mind. I would encourage other people to do that as well! Maybe not literally – I’m sure we all don’t have the luxury of running off to a beach town in the winter to do some soul-searching – but maybe through journaling, or art, or talking to someone trusted and impartial. The path to happiness is choosing what you want, not what you think others want for you, even if that means giving certain things up.
The final-act reveal remained a surprise until the end. Did you know from the beginning who the “bad guy” was going to be, or did it grow with the story?
Most of the time when I write mystery books, I know who the “bad guy” is going to be, as it helps me layer in hints about that person throughout the novel. I knew it in this case, too.
There have been other books, though, where I started writing thinking I knew who the bad guy was… but halfway through, I realized a better solution. A series I wrote a while ago called The Lying Game is a good example. I feel like I was on Book 2 before I fully realized the killer wasn’t the person I originally planned. Luckily, it didn’t impact anything in Book 1! It happens, sometimes. Writing is a magical thing, and sometimes when you’re writing a story, the story takes over and directs where it wants to go.
The inclusion of dissociative personality disorder was a surprise. Did you develop the story with it in mind?
I’ve always been interested in the mind, memory, and mental illness, and most of my books involve these issues in one way or another. I’ve explored different mental illnesses in various books – depression in a novel called The Visibles, borderline personality disorder in Pretty Little Liars, and Munchausen by proxy in The Elizas.
I started with the concept of reincarnation when developing this story, but I also knew that most people wouldn’t believe that Casey was actually reincarnated and remembered details from her past life. So I started to explore what, psychologically, could best mimic the idea that there was someone “else” living inside you, and dissociative personality disorder seemed the best fit.
I know that what is going on with Casey isn’t exactly what dissociative personality disorder looks like, and the disorder usually arises often from terrible trauma in childhood, but in Casey’s situation, her family refuse to believe she was actually reincarnated, so a psychological diagnosis makes way more sense. But I wanted to show that there’s room for both things to be real.
I was also careful that Casey is sensitive about being treated for mental illness… and that she realizes the benefits of treatment. She faced her own trauma as a child, and she fully, and finally, embraces getting help. There’s no stigma, ever, in mental illness – or getting the treatment you need.
Is there a chance readers will see more of Casey’s, and Jake’s, story?
I would love that! I think there’s more to explore between the two of them. They’re both such a good team in figuring out what happened in the past, and they really stick by each other. I would love to see their relationship develop and maybe for them to get involved in another mysterious search.
Thank you to Ms. Shepard for the opportunity to talk about Wait for Me. Interested in knowing more or reading the book for yourself? You can check out our review and use the links below to purchase your copy today.