MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR AMY SHOJAI
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
My name is Amy Shojai. I write prescriptive nonfiction about cats and dogs (how to/care/advice), and I write a pet-centric thriller series.
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
My debut thriller LOST AND FOUND was the story I’d always wanted to READ. For many years, I’d wanted to transition from writing my successful nonfiction books into fiction, while using my pet care expertise in the story. I’m a certified animal behavior consultant for cats and dogs.
From time to time, I’d read novels that included dogs or cats, but very often, they weren’t portrayed in a believable way. In the stories that tried to include the animal viewpoint, too often they were characterized as little humans wearing fur suits. That’s fine in fantasy, or children’s stories, but didn’t work for me in thrillers or other genres.
I’ve also always loved medical thrillers, and so I wanted to combine my background in veterinary medicine with the plot. The plot revolved around a service dog (puppy in training) partnered with an autistic child. I hadn’t a clue how to write in an autistic child’s viewpoint, and so I decided those chapters would be told through Shadow (the service dog’s) perspective.
LOST AND FOUND included a dog viewpoint character that acted, reacted based on my expertise as a behavior consultant. He does not talk per se, but his inner dialogue has more to do with his struggles to understand the humans he loves.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
Writers are often told to “write what you know” or “write about what you love.” I’ve always loved and read thrillers, especially medical thrillers. I know dogs and cats, and have a background in veterinary medicine from working as a vet tech many years ago, and having interviewed hundreds of experts for my 30+ pet care titles. Since I live in North Texas, it made sense for the book to be set in my back yard.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
Wow, I can get lost in the research! That’s fascinating to me. Much of my research centered around autism, the wide range of those in the spectrum, and these other-abled folks’ challenges. I learned that in many cases, the medications prescribed for children have not been thoroughly tested and that drugs may be prescribed after extrapolating the benefits from adult populations. This “off label” use is also typical of some treatments in veterinary medicine. When partnered with the all-too-real love of a parent, willing to do anything to help a child, that set up the potential for a truly terrifying thriller.
I also researched PTSD, since my main character September (a dog trainer) suffers flashbacks from her past. From my own experience in the dog training and behavior world, I knew how service animals are trained, the benefits of these partnership, and the challenges that can ensue for both the human partner and the animal companion.
I also wanted something uniquely “Texas” in the story, but perhaps stretched the believability for some readers. LOST AND FOUND takes place during a North Texas blizzard just before Thanksgiving. Snow is rare, and a blizzard even more unusual, but I based the story on the actual 2010 N. Texas blizzard that dumped feet of snow all around my house. The trailer for the book has video of the storm, including footage of my dog racing through the snow. Yes, the Shadow character was based on my dog Magic.
Can you tell me about your Series?
I never intended to write a thriller series. But once LOST AND FOUND debut, my publisher—and readers!—asked for another book. I’d packed so much into the first story, some questions remained unanswered.
The second book, HIDE AND SEEK answers the questions about September’s haunted past when her stalker finds her. At the same time, the medical thriller aspect introduces a horrifying “what if” when both humans and animals come down with Alzheimer-like symptoms. It also shines a light on a uniquely Texas challenge of feral hogs, with a fun twist on a reality TV show filming. (In another life, I’m an actor, and familiar with this world as well).
The third story, SHOW AND TELL, ties up even more loose ends from LOST AND FOUND. The child victims from the first book become heroes in this story, and September at last opens her heart to the possibility of love.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT, the fourth installment, introduces some new characters. After putting September and Shadow through the wringer in a short span of time, they needed a break! So they’re both in the story, but more peripherally. Lia and her Rottweiler puppy are the focus. She’s training the dog to be a K9 officer, when they find a runaway young girl, and a body.
Do you have a favorite book out of this series?
Oh, that’s like asking “which child is your favorite” or “do you love your cat or dog best.” Ha! I have a soft spot in my heart for the first in the series, but I’ve become a better writer with each book. My favorite always seems to be the one I’m working on at the moment.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
I’ve been a fulltime writer since 1992. Usually I’m at the computer by 8:30 in the morning, and write until 4:30-5 each afternoon. When I’m at deadline, I may work another shift after dinner, until 8-9 at night.
Usually I take Sunday off, and part of Saturday when I can. I love writing, and it’s hard for me to shut off my brain, so I tend to work longer and take fewer breaks than I should.
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
I’m currently writing the fifth installment, HIT AND RUN. September and Shadow once again are the focus, and this story takes them out of Texas back to the place of September’s haunted memories. If she’s ever to move forward to a life of love and happiness, she must finally put to rest the ghosts of her past. I hope to have the book released around Christmas or shortly thereafter.
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
My characters seem to name themselves. Sometimes that’s a problem. Once the name evolves, then I have to figure out a plausible explanation for the occasional odd name.
For instance, September is named for her birth month. She married a man named “Day” and her maiden name was January. Her sisters are also named for their birth months (blame her parents for that!) so her name can be off-putting or too cutesy for some readers. Actually, the current book HIT AND RUN explores these names, her relationship with siblings and Mom even further, so those who love the series will finally get some surprising insights there.
Where do your ideas come from?
I’m a news junkie—newspapers, online articles, TV, anything and everything. Anything quirky catches my attention, from details about hog hunting or that copperhead snakes smell like cucumber (who knew?!), and that hay bales and green garbage dumpsters float. So I save all these bits and pieces, and they often make their way into my stories as major plot points, jumping off spots, or just nice additions to the texture of the story.
In the back of each book, I include a section called FACT OR FICTION where the major plot points are documented. There, I offer readers the references for what’s included in the story, or I ‘fess up that it’s just made up.
Is there a genre that you’ve been wanting to experiment with?
I had so much fun writing in “kid voice” especially in SHOW AND TELL, that I might want to try writing a YA story in the future. In my so-called spare time, ha!
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Writing the first draft is the hardest part for me. That’s pulling teeth. But I love the editing process, after the first draft is done.
What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I don’t think book trailers have much effect one way or another, but they are fun. Yes, I created trailers for the first three books. The first one, I recorded my own VO, and the others went another direction. Here’s the YouTube link to each:
LOST AND FOUND: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gAjOf7F4SQ
HIDE AND SEEK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RV1eTtpZaA
SHOW AND TELL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36RMspTR3co
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
My nonfiction books and now my thrillers have saved pet lives and relationships with their beloved humans. That truly is astounding and a gift.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
The best thing about being an author is following my dream, and doing what I love to do while making a living. I get to stay at home, make up stories, while my pets inspire me. Bliss!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’ll still be writing stories.
Have you always liked to write?
Yes, I’ve always been a constant reader. That naturally led to writing. Writing for fun and as a creative outlet is different, though, than the discipline of writing professionally. When you have bills to pay, that eliminates “writers block” pretty quickly!
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Write whenever you can. Every day is good, even if for 10 minutes at a stretch. I’m also an actor and singer/musician (piano/cello). Nobody would suggest that picking up an instrument once every six months would qualify for playing Carnegie Hall, and yet many of us assume we can easily write just by wishing it so.
Practice your craft. Read widely what you love to read, and then write what makes you laugh, cry, and your heart beat fast and stomach churn. When your words make YOU feel, readers also will embrace that emotion.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
I’d be performing on Broadway!
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
I shouldn’t read reviews, but I still do. It hurts when someone doesn’t like a book, because my stories are so personal to me. But reviews are not for me—but for other readers. And if a reader doesn’t appreciate my stories, that’s okay, they aren’t meant to appeal to everyone (although I wish they did!).
The first book in a series typically has the most reviews (both good and bad), because it’s the first experience a reader has with a given author. So when I receive an unflattering review, I remind myself that those who DO like the book usually go on to read the next in the series, and then one after that, and so on. Those readers already know what to expect from my books, and the reviews follow accordingly.
I must first write a book that I love, and then find other readers who share my tastes.
What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
Oh, promotion is my least favorite part. I think that’s true of many creatives. It feels very odd to take off the “writer” hat and put on the “promote” hat. I’m getting better at it but it’s not my favorite thing.
Where did your love of books come from?
My parents have always been voracious readers. Mom read to us kids, and we developed a love of books very early. I wrote my first “book” in 4th grade, illustrated it, and “bound” it with shoestrings and cardboard. It was a rip-off of BEAUTIFUL JOE. Even then, my favorite stories had to do with horses and dogs (no cat books when I was young, sadly).
Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
Many of my favorite authors I’ve had the great good fortune to meet. James Rollins gave me my first cover quote for my debut, and I love his action-adventure thrillers. J.T. Ellison is another favorite, and I love Meg Gardner, Dean Koontz and Stephen King stories. There are so many, and I discover new writers all the time.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
Oh, paws down, my favorite character is Shadow, the German Shepherd service dog. He starts out as a young inexperienced youngster, puzzled but engaged in the world, and becomes a dedicated partner to September. He’s so much fun, filled with pure love and emotion and joy, and would lay down his life for his family. I want to be like Shadow when I grow up!
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing energizes me to the point I sometimes have trouble sleeping. My brain doesn’t want to shut off when I’m in full creative mode.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Both. That’s one reason I love to hear from readers via reviews or newsletter exchanges about what they like or question in a story. I expand on favorite characters, or answer story questions that weren’t clear. Some of my readers wanted more CAT stuff, and so the current work in progress HIT AND RUN will feature more feline plot points. A favorite character from the first two books will also return to help September and Shadow solve the story problem.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
WRITING LIKE CATS AND DOGS
Where can your fans find you and follow??
I’m on social media a great deal, and folks can find me here:
Thank you for taking your time to do this interview ❤️