Auntie M is a real dog fan. She and Doc share their river home with a 7 yr-old Italian Spinone, Radar, a goofy clown of a sweet pup. So when she read about Amy Shojai’s series, she decided to ask Amy about what drove her to her books. Welcome Amy!
Auntie M: You wrote nonfiction pet books and articles for years before penning your first novel. What prompted you to decide on this career change?
Amy Shojai: I haven’t stopped writing nonfiction books and articles, but have simply expanded my audience by writing what I call THRILLERS WITH BITE! They incorporate my love for dogs and cats and pet behavior expertise—I’m a certified animal behavior consultant for both cats and dogs. That’s a fancy way of saying I help pet lovers understand problem behaviors and find solutions for them, and preserve the bond we share.
When I first began writing more than twenty years ago, I wanted to publish fiction and wasn’t able to get an agent or publisher interested. When I submitted a YA horror novel to one agent, she had no interest because “YA doesn’t sell” but encouraged me to submit nonfiction book ideas. I became her client and we sold a couple dozen nonfiction pet care books and I became so busy fulfilling those deadlines, the fiction fell by the wayside.
More recently, though, the publishing industry has changed. My nonfiction pet books are prescriptive, information-heavy works and these days, people prefer to “google” and find information for free in the Internet—never mind if it’s accurate or not. Publishers care most if the book sells, so the market for my nonfiction titles shrunk. Today a lot of my pet nonfiction is online at my Puppies.About.com site. And it occurred to me that I could still provide solid pet information—with entertainment—but in fiction books as well. That’s how the September Day Thriller Series was born.
AM: Tell us about your new mystery, and why you decided to write from a dog’s point of view?
AS: HIDE AND SEEK is a stand-alone suspense thriller and the sequel to my debut book LOST AND FOUND. The story picks up where the first one ended, but you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy HIDE AND SEEK.
Now, I’ve read LOTS of novels that include “animal viewpoint” and some are done well while others leave me cold. Most are written as if the animal character is a human wearing a fur coat, LOL! That’s fine in fantasy, and may work in other types of fiction. But I wanted my animal characters to BE ANIMALS in all their furry glory, and to act, react, and sense their world as would their true animal counterpart.
So in other words, the dog character, Shadow, truly behaves like a ten-month-old puppy, and he doesn’t talk—-but he scents, sees and feels the world around him and reacts to that world in a realistic way. I’ve had readers tell me they now understand their dog’s behavior and reactions in a fresh way, and better recognize how easily dogs and people misunderstand each other. Basically I wrote the book that I wanted to read.
I was delighted to receive wonderful praise from one of my favorite authors, veterinarian James Rollins, who also writes in “dog viewpoint” in his Tucker Wayne novels:
“Amy Shojai’s LOST AND FOUND wraps family secrets, murder, and medical miracles around the small form of an autistic child. Riveting, heart-wrenching, and brilliant, here is the debut of a stunning talent.” –James Rollins, New York Times bestseller of Bloodline and The Kill Switch
The first book LOST AND FOUND was so successful that my publisher, Cool Gus Publishing, wanted me to write a series. September’s tragic past that caused her PTSD was only hinted at in the first book, and that past comes back to haunt her in HIDE AND SEEK: A mysterious contagion will shatter countless lives unless a service dog and his trainer find a missing cat . . . in 24 hours.
A STALKER hides in plain sight.
A VICTIM faces her worst fear.
AND A DOG seeks the missing—and finds hope.
Eight years ago, animal behaviorist September Day escaped a sadistic captor who left her ashamed, terrified, and struggling with PTSD. She trusts no one—-except her cat Macy and service dog Shadow.
Shadow also struggles with trust. A German Shepherd autism service dog who rescued his child partner only to lose his-boy forever, Shadow’s crippling fear of abandonment shakes his faith in humans.
They are each others’ only chance to survive the stalker’s vicious payback, but have only 24 hours to uncover the truth about Macy’s mysterious illness or pay the deadly consequences. When September learns to trust again, and a good-dog takes a chance on love, together they find hope in the midst of despair–and discover what family really means.
“HIDE AND SEEK is a creepy must-read mystery for animal lovers. Animal behaviorist Amy Shojai knows her stuff.” –J.T. Ellison, NYT bestselling author of “When Shadows Fall”
“HIDE AND SEEK proves Shojai’s masterful skill at blending ripped-from-the-headlines urgency with an emotional story of real characters in escalating dangers. Add in revelatory dose of animal psychology and behavior, and you have a thriller that had me turning pages deep into the night. Here is a novel written with authority and with a deft brilliance that any lover of animals or nerve-jangling thrillers will cherish.” –James Rollins, New York Times bestseller of “The Eye of God”
The series continues in the third book SHOW AND TELL, with more adventures for September, her service dog Shadow and trained Maine Coon cat Macy.
AM: You have several pets. Did you model any of your four-legged characters after your own cats or dogs?
AS: Ha! Absolutely! In my first draft of LOST AND FOUND, the dog character’s name was Magic—that’s my own German shepherd. I began writing LOST AND FOUND when Magic wasn’t too much beyond that puppy-stage and it was very easy to “channel my inner dog” with him as an example.
My cat Seren, though, has only a few things in common with Macy, the trained Maine Coon cat in the book. Seren is also trained, and she does some of the same tricks as Macy. But while Seren is a 6-pound Siamese wannabe and now an old-lady cat at about 17 years old—and very persnickety about strangers—Macy weighs over twenty pounds, is a young boy cat in his prime, and never met a stranger. Although Macy does “nail” the bad guy at the end of the book, it’s not out of meanness but only when prompted by September’s command. I suspect that the new story SHOW AND TELL will incorporate a goofy and clueless young cat, since this year we welcomed a stray (Karma) into our home. Karma has become best friends with Magic and it’s great fun to see the 90+ pound shepherd race around with the pudgy kitten.
AM: Tell us about your work(s) in progress?
AS: I’m recording audiobooks! The first four are already available. Three are nonfiction pet titles covering cat and dog behavior, along with LOST AND FOUND. Fiction is quite a challenge because different voices for characters are needed.
I’m working hard on SHOW AND TELL which will continue September and Shadow’s story. I like to include some kind of animal/pet “issue” in each story to provide some edu-tainment along with the roller coaster ride. I also love medical thrillers, so that aspect will be interwoven in this story as well. LOST AND FOUND focused on autism; HIDE AND SEEK examines animals and people exhibiting Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. You’ll have to wait and see what the third book covers. Bwaaa-hahaha!
AM: Other than writing, what gives you the most pleasure in life?
AS: Music and theater. I have degrees in both and love to perform. This past year, I’ve had the great pleasure to combine my three great loves—writing, music and theater—and collaborated with a co-writer to create and perform my second orginal musical comedy, STRAYS, THE MUSICAL. Together we wrote the script, the 12 original songs, orchestrated the show, and will cast and direct the show this fall at the local theater. What a rush!
Currently I’m performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the first annual Shakespeare In the Grove summer event here in Sherman, Texas.
AM: Who designed your book cover? Did you have any say in the final result?
AS: I’m blessed to work with a small independent publisher, Bob Mayer and Jen Talty, who created Cool Gus Publishing. Jen is my editor, and she also designs a good number of the book covers, and asked me for input. She sent mock ups and we worked through eight or nine versions before we had the final versions. At one point the only dog pictures she could find just weren’t right—-wrong color dog, too old, the look simply wrong. So I offered to find pictures of a young black German shepherd, and set up a photo shoot. The cover dog is a nine-month-old bred and owned by Magic’s breeder.
AM: Tell us a bit about your schedule and work habits as a writer.
AS: I’m a fulltime freelance writer, with weekly and monthly deadlines that pay the bills. So it’s a “real job.” Generally I start work at 9 am, work at least 6 days a week (I try to take Sunday off), and am at my computer until the day’s to-do list is done. For instance, as I type this, it is 3:50 pm on a Sunday night. Play rehearsal in an hour, so I need to wrap up quickly.
AM: How do you motivate yourself to write when you’re not in the mood to create even one more sentence?
AS: I look at what bills are due. That’s a great motivator!
Amy Shojai (www.shojai.com) has been reinventing herself for years. She’s a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 27 best selling pet books that cover furry babies to old-fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soup-icity. She is the Puppies Guide at puppies.About.com, the cat behavior expert at cats.About.com, and hosts a weekly half hour Internet Pet Peeves radio show. Amy has been featured as an expert in hundreds of print venues including The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, and Family Circle, as well as national radio and television networks such as CNN, Animal Planet’s DOGS 101 and CATS 101. She’s been a consultant to the pet products industry and a host/program consultant for select “furry” TV projects.
Amy blogs at her Bling, Bitches & Blood Blog at http://amyshojai.com. She is also a musician, actor and playwright, and brings her unique pet-centric viewpoint to public appearances and performances, audio books (her own and others), writer webinars, conference keynotes/seminars and THRILLERS WITH BITE!
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