Monday, June 23, 2014

Hide & Seek Book Tour: Interview with Author Amy Shojai

Today I am absolutely delighted to be interviewing my friend Amy Shojai. Her book Complete Care for Your Aging Cat proved to be an invaluable resource through the many medical issues of my previous cats, long before we ever met in the cat blogging community. For as long as I am a cat mom, (in other words, for the rest of my life), this book will have a place on my bookshelf. Nowadays her thrillers are the only books that make me veer from my typical cozies.

You can read my review of Lost and Found here.
You can read my review of Hide and Seek here.

Welcome, Amy! Please tell us about yourself :)
The short answer: I'm a pet lover, thriller author and ... ooooh look, SHINY! 


The longer answer: I live on a 13-acre "spread" in North Texas surrounded by about 500 antique rose bushes and assorted wildlife. Although I'm a transplanted Texan, after living here more than 20 years this has become "home" to me--despite the bugs. In addition to being an expert in dog and cat behavior and care, I'm an actor/singer and stained glass artist. So I enjoy surrounding myself with color, bling, music and furry fun, and they all show up in one form or another in my writing.

What made you decide on a career working with animals?
I didn't really "decide" -- it was an opportunity that seemed to happen on its own. As a newlywed, my husband and I moved to a very small town in Eastern Kentucky for his work. When a newly graduated veterinarian opened a clinic in town, I interviewed for the job (there were virtually NO other openings). I'd always loved pets and grew up rescuing baby birds and turtles and such, so it turned out to be my dream job. The interview happened during a Chihuahua's C-section--the vet asked me questions and handed out puppies for me to resuscitate--and I think I got the job in part because I didn't pass out.

Note: Seeing blood doesn't bother me, and I loved assisting in surgery. I suppose that's a good thing in a thriller writer.

How did that transition into a career writing about animals?
Again, I didn't really "decide" to write. (Are you detecting a pattern here?) I've often called myself the "accidental pet writer." While working at the various vet clinics, it often fell to the veterinary technicians to offer quick tips and short talks on cat and dog care basics. Summer time visits prompted the "flea talk" and a new puppy or kitten was an opportunity to explain spay and neuter information or house training. Also, sometimes the veterinarians' explanation left pet owners saying, "Huh? What'd she say?" so that I needed to translate the medicalese into more easily understood information.

I'd begun writing these little talks, rehearsing and delivering them like I learned and performed lines in plays. I graduated with performance degrees in theater and music, but once married, there was little opportunity to perform--and writing offered a creative outlet. So truly, loving cats and dogs and working in the vet clinic opened the door on my pet writing career. When I told my Mom about some of the funny, weird, heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud vet clinic experiences, she urged me to write them down. So I began writing personal experience stories for the "pet press" and got my first book contract when a book publisher read my work and tracked me down.

Please tell us about your September Day Series and what inspired you to write them.
When I first started writing nonfiction articles, at the same time I aspired to write fiction. Once I became regularly published (and paid!) in nonfiction, the fiction was set aside but the dream remained. In fact, I'd already written five novels (some with dog viewpoint) before my first nonfiction book was published. Incidentally, those "practice" novels will never see the light of day--they sucketh big time, but sure taught me a lot about writing.

Publishing has changed drastically over the past ten years. After more than two dozen award winning cat and dog behavior and care books, interest in those kinds of books diminished. So finally I returned to my dream of writing a thriller, and my debut novel LOST AND FOUND became the book I'd always wanted to read.

LOST AND FOUND introduces animal behaviorist September Day. She's fled back home to Texas after her husband's murder and is haunted by an unnamed tragedy. September trains a German Shepherd puppy, Shadow, to be a service dog for her autistic nephew--and when the boy and dog become lost in a freak blizzard, the race is on to save them. Shadow has his own "view point" chapters and I had an absolute ball writing them.

HIDE AND SEEK the sequel continues September's story. Shadow has become September's service dog to help her deal with PTSD resulting from the tragedy in her past. September's past comes to light, secrets are revealed and laid to rest, and hope rekindled for a future.

SHOW AND TELL is the third book in the series.

What is a typical working day like for you?
Usually my newest pet, Karma-Kitten, wakes me about 6:30 or so. After all the fur-kids get fed and walked/played, I indulge my caffeine habit while reading the newspaper. Generally I'm at my computer by8-8:30 am, often walking on my desk treadmill for an hour while reading/answering Email and visiting Facebook, blogs and the like.

I try to write by 10:00 am, usually take a lunch break about 2:30 or so (and run the Magical-Dawg again), and then work until 5-6:00. When I'm at deadline, I often work 12-hour days 6-7 days a week, but I'm trying to get better about that and take at least one day off. Between blogging three times weekly, writing a weekly newspaper column, and articles for my puppies.about.com site, I must stay very focused and work from a weekly and monthly to-do list. Most months I try to front-load with the columns/blogs so that the last three weeks I have free for the next fiction project.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be a writer?
You'll often hear that aspiring writers should write what you know. Please, for the love of doG, don't do that if it's BORING. Instead, you should WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE!

Notice in one of the above answers I said LOST AND FOUND was the book I wanted to READ, not write.

Writing is a tough job, it's not for weenies. :) Whatever your passion, you'll have to live with your work for days and weeks (if it's short work), and months or years (for book-length work) before it's ever published. So you darned well better love it.

I love my SEPTEMBER DAY series, and adore writing from dog viewpoint. The books have all my favorite ingredients: sympathetic but tragic main character, funny and endearing dogs (and cats) who DON'T talk but act like real animals, bad guys who think they're heroes, and nonstop roller coaster action. These stories are also a way for me to present cat and dog behavior and care information--and pet issues--in a non-lecture-type info-tainment format. And my animal characters are based on behavior science and my knowledge of how dogs and cats react and interact in their world, a topic I do know about but also love.

What do you enjoy reading when you have some quiet time?
Thrillers, of course.

What do you have for pets?
I have a 17-year-old Siamese wannabe named Serendipity, an almost eight-year-old smart aleck German shepherd named Magic, and a 10-month-old delinquent kitten named Karma. They keep life interesting!

What are you currently working on?
I have three current projects. My co-author and I just finished STRAYS, THE MUSICAL, a fully orchestrated "drama-dy" with dog and cat characters which will be produced this fall at N. Texas theater. I'm also working on a new nonfiction title COMPLETE PUPPY CARE as a companion book to the kitten title. And the most fun of all, I'm working on SHOW AND TELL, the next book in the SEPTEMBER DAY series -- in which the bad guy from the first book returns to wreak more havoc. (bwaaa-hahaha!)

What is something people don't know about you that might surprise them?
I'm allergic to mango. I fell in love with mango when I spent three months in Haiti while I was in college. Love 'em, they're so yummy, but the last time I ate one, my face swelled up like a chimpanzee.

Hide and Seek

by Amy Shojai

on Tour June 1 - July 31, 2014






Book Details:


Genre: Suspense/Thriller

Published by: Cool Gus Publishing

Publication Date: January 2014

Number of Pages: 254

ISBN: 978-1621251477


Purchase Links:
Synopsis:
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.



“Recommended for anyone who likes a 'bite-your-nails, hold-your-breath' kind of thriller." -- Dr. Lorie Huston, Cat Writers Association President


Read an excerpt:

HIDE AND SEEK
Prologue

Tommy Dietz grabbed the car door handle with one bloody fist, and braced his other hand against the roof, worried the carcasses in the back would buck out of the truck’s bed. Despite the precaution, his head thumped the muddy window. He glared at the driver who drove the truck like he rode a bronco, but BeeBo Benson’s full moon face sported the same toothless grin he’d worn for the past two weeks. Even BeeBo’s double chins smiled, including the rolls at the nape of his freckled neck.

The ferret thin guy in the middle snarled each time his Katy Railroad belt buckle chinked against the stick shift he straddled. Gray hair straggled from under his hat and brushed his shoulders. He had to slouch or he risked punching his head through the rust-eaten roof. Randy Felch’s snaky eyes gave Dietz the shivers even more than the freezing temperatures spitting through windows that refused to seal.

Three across the cramped seat would be a lark for high school buddies out on the town, but the men were decades beyond graduation. Dietz was in charge so Felch could either ride the hump or share the open truck bed with two carcasses, and the new Production Assistant.

Dietz stifled a laugh. Not so high-and-mighty now, was he? The man must really want the job. Vince Grady had turned green when he was told to climb into the back of the truck. Just wait till he got a load of the dump. Dietz remembered his first visit three years ago when he’d been out scouting locations. He wondered how the spit-and-polish Grady would react.

He’d hired locals for the rest of the crew. They needed the work, and didn’t blink at the SAG ultra-low pay scale, the shitty weather, or the stink. In this business, you took anything available when pickings were slim. Then the show got picked up and union fees grabbed him by the short hairs. Amateur talent screwing around and missing call times cost even more money, so he needed a Production Assistant—PA in the lingo—with more polish and bigger balls to keep the wheels greased. A go-to guy able to think on his feet, get the job done. No matter what.

If Grady wanted the PA job, he’d have to be willing to get his hands dirty, and stand up to BeeBo and his ilk. Riding in the open truck bed was illegal as hell, though here in North Texas even the cops turned a blind eye unless it was kids. This was an audition, and Grady knew it.

He had to give Grady props—he’d not blinked, but clenched his jaw and climbed right in when they collected him at his hotel. He’d been less enthusiastic after following the hunters most of the morning, tramping to hell and gone through rough country until his eyes threatened to freeze shut. Something drove the man, something more than a PA credit for piss-poor pay and worse conditions. Hell, something drove them all to work in this unforgiving business. Dietz didn’t care about anyone else’s demons as long as they let him feed his own.

Dietz craned to peer out the back to be sure the man hadn’t been tossed out the tailgate. Grady gave Dietz a thumbs-up. Probably wants to point a different finger, Dietz thought.

Grady wore the official Hog Hell blue work gloves and ski mask—dark blue background and DayGlo red star on the face—or he’d be picking his frostbit nose off the floor.

Prime time in the back woods. Dietz’s quick smile faded. Nothing about this trip was prime, not even the butchered Bambi in the back. Deer season ran November through early January, and it was always open season on hogs, so they were legal for any follow up film footage. The two deer hadn’t looked good even before BeeBo dropped them, but that’s what viewers wanted. Crocodile wrestlers, duck dynasties, and gold rush grabbers with crusty appeal and redder necks.

Nobody wanted actors anymore. Casting directors looked for “real people.” So he’d caught a clue, jumped off the thespian hamster wheel, moved to New York and reinvented himself as Tommy Dietz, Producer. He’d found his calling with a development company relatively quickly.

A movie star face didn’t hurt. Everyone these days had a little nip-and-tuck; it was part of the biz. He’d been selling his version of reality for years anyway, and always came out on top. He hit it out of the park on his third project. Hog Hell kicked off the next step with a Texas-size leap. He’d show them all, those who’d laughed at his dreams, calling him a loser. And he’d make them sorry.

The shabby pickup lurched down and back up again, and its engine growled and complained. Dietz was surprised the seat hadn’t fallen through the floor. The overgrown road the hunters called a pig path consisted of frozen ruts formed from previous tire treads. They damn well better not get stuck out here.

“Don’t worry, she’ll make it.” BeeBo talked around the stub of his unlit cigar. “This ol’ warhorse made the trip so often, she could drive herself. Ain’t that right, Felch?” BeeBo reached to downshift and Felch winced as the other man’s ham-size fist grabbed and jerked the stick between his knees.

Dietz sighed. Out the window, skeletal trees clawed the pregnant sky. Weird flocks of blackbirds moved in undulating clouds, exploding from one naked tree after another to clothe the next with feathered leaves. Spooky.

Thank God the icy weather stayed dry. Heartland, Texas had dug out of a record-breaking snowfall, and the locals hadn’t quite recovered. It put a kink in Hog Hell filming and they’d barely met the deadlines. Delay turned his balance book bloody with red ink.

Back home in Chicago they’d been hit with the same blizzard and so had NYC. But big cities knew how to manage winter weather. Apparently North Texas rolled up the sidewalks with even the hint of flurries. He wondered if BeeBo and Felch knew what to do in the snow, and didn’t want to find out. The thought of hunkering down overnight in the truck with these men turned his stomach.

Dietz adjusted his own ski mask. He’d folded it up off his face so the blue cap hugged his head while the red star painted a bull’s-eye on his forehead. He wore the official coat, too; dark blue and a bright hunter-safe star on the front and back, with the Hog Hell logo. The Gore-Tex fabric crackled with newness, and his blistered feet whimpered inside wet, dirt-caked boots. No way would he wear his new $300 Cabela’s, purchased for photo ops at the upcoming watch party. He had a gun, too. In Texas nobody cared if you carried. They expected it.

BeeBo’s preferred weapon, an ancient short barreled shotgun loaded with deer slugs, contrasted sharply with Felch’s double gun he’d had custom made last season. Felch shot 44 Magnums, and the cut down double barrel rifle boasted enough firepower to take out an elephant, or a charging feral boar hog.

They sleeved the guns in canvas cases stowed in the back of the truck, but the hunters cared far less about their own attire.

BeeBo and Felch would wear official Hog Hell gear at the watch party in five weeks, but not before. Dietz didn’t want them stinking up the outfits. Today they wore wash-faded coveralls, heavy work coats, earflap hats, clunky boots with thorn-tangled laces, and frayed gloves with fingertips cut out. A bit of peeling DayGlo tape formed an “X” on the back and front of each coat after Dietz insisted on the nod to safety, even though he knew the two hunters paid little mind to official start and end dates during hunting season.

That was the point of the original reality program Cutting Corners that focused on people forced to skirt the rules to make ends meet. The unlikely stars of a single episode, though, turned Felch and BeeBo into overnight sensations and birthed the new show after Cutting Corners tanked. The two hunters were experts at skirting rules. Dietz was no slouch, either.

In the truck bed, Grady swayed back and forth. He’d pushed up the ski mask enough to expose his mouth. White breath puffed out in a jerky tempo, and Dietz wondered if the man would pass out. If Grady took a header off the truck bed, the liability would kill the show. “Find a spot to stop, BeeBo. I think our new team member has had enough.”

Felch grunted. “No place to stop till we get there. Unless you want us to get stuck.” He grinned, but the expression never reached his eyes. “You don’t want us lugging that shit back to your hotel. The stink ain’t something you want close by.”

BeeBo guffawed. “Got that right. With all the hunters unloading, it’s what y’all might call a ‘renewable resource.’” He twisted the wheel and the truck bucked, jittering the decades old pine-shaped deodorizer suspended from the rear view mirror. “The critters take care of the stink pretty quick, though.” His hairless wide-eyed face was a ringer for the Gerber baby. “It’s around that next bend. You might even catch a whiff of Jiff by now.”

Dietz wrinkled his nose. The pungent aroma wasn’t assuaged by the air freshener that had probably come with the vehicle. He shielded his head from another thump, and squinted ahead through the crusty windshield. Wiper blades had torn loose on the passenger’s side and smeared the detritus rather than clearing the view. It didn’t bother BeeBo.

The trio remained silent during the final bump-and-grind through the trees. They pulled halfway into the clearing, and Dietz waited impatiently until BeeBo cranked the steering wheel, turned, and backed beneath a massive tree with pendulous clusters decorating the branches. Grady ducked, or he would have been scraped off by low limbs.

Several similar trees bordered the clearing, and another smaller truck squatted at the far end of the area. An elderly man stood in the truck bed and flailed tree branches with a long pole, while the woman dodged and weaved beneath to gather the resulting shower in a bucket.

“What’s that?” Grady wasted no time jumping off the truck bed. He gagged when the wind shifted.

“Nuts.” Felch unfolded himself from the cramped middle seat. “Pecan trees. They’re gleaning the nuts.”

Dietz’s stomach clenched. He pulled the ski mask over his lips and breathed through his mouth, imagining he could taste the odor that closed his throat. Neither Felch nor BeeBo seemed to notice the stench.

Grady wiped his watery eyes. The breeze paused and he gulped a less contaminated breath. “Pecans? To eat?”

The truck squeaked, rocked and grew two inches when BeeBo stepped out. “Back in town they’ll pay $8 to $10 per pound, once shelled. I got my daddy’s old commercial sheller—held together with baling twine and spit, but works okay. I only charge fifty-cents a pound to shell.” He shrugged. “Every little bit helps. It’s too early for most of the big-name commercial farms, but for the gleaners, if ya wait too long the squirrels get ‘em off the trees, or the pigs root ‘em off the ground. Pigs eat lots of the same stuff the deer and turkeys eat, acorns and suchlike. But they get ground-nesting bird eggs, too. Pigs’ll root up and eat damn near anything.” He jerked his chins at Felch. “Gimme a hand.” He lumbered toward the back of the truck and waited by the taillights.

Felch vaulted in the bed of the vehicle, and adjusted his gloves. He pointed. “Smorgasbord, y’all. Hey Slick, you might want to get video of this. Bet your big-city cronies never seen the like.” His yellow teeth gleamed. He bent low, and grunted as he pushed and tugged the black plastic bag to the tailgate, hopped down and joined BeeBo. Together they slung the truck’s cargo into the pit.

Yipping and growls erupted from below. Dietz stayed back, he’d seen it before. This stuff he wouldn’t put on the air. This’d be too much even for the hardcore viewers without the added value of aroma.

Grady covered his mouth and nose in the crook of his elbow. He edged closer to the deep trough, a natural ditch-like runoff that sat dry three-quarters of the year. Piles of gnawed and scattered bones mixed with carcasses in various stages of decomposition. A family of coyotes tried to claim BeeBo’s tossed deer remains, but was bluffed away by a feral boar.

Grady ripped off his ski mask, puked, wiped his mouth, and grabbed his camera with a shaking hand. He spit on the frozen ground and jutted his chin at Dietz. “So?”

Dietz smiled. “You got the gig.”

***

The damn ski mask dragged against his hair so much, the normally clear adhesive had turned chalky. Victor had removed the wig after dissolving the glue with a citrus-scented spray, a much more pleasant olfactory experience than the afternoon’s visit to the dump. A shower rinsed away any lingering miasma, but he gladly put up with the stink, the rednecks, and the sneers. The payoff would be worth it.

Until then, he couldn’t afford for anyone in Heartland to recognize him. His tool kit of fake teeth, makeup and assorted hairpieces kept him under the radar. For the price, nearly fifty bucks for a four-ounce bottle of adhesive, it damn well better hold the new wig in place for the promised six weeks. He rubbed his hands over his pale, bald head and grinned. Even without the wig, she’d be hard pressed to recognize him.

Muscles had replaced the beer gut, Lasik surgery fixed his eyes, a chin implant and caps brightened his smile. He’d done it all, one step at a time, over the eight years it took to track her down. He’d even changed his name and transformed himself into a man she couldn’t refuse.

He’d done it for her. Everything for her.

He dialed his phone. “I want to order flowers. Forget-Me-Nots, in a white box with a yellow ribbon. Got that? And deliver them December eighteenth. It’s our anniversary.” He listened. “Use red ink. The message is ‘payback.’ Got that? No signature, she’ll know it’s me.” He picked up a news clipping that listed the address, and admired the picture. She was lovely as ever. “Two-oh-five Rabbit Run Road, Heartland, Texas. Deliver to September Day. The name is just like the month.” He chuckled softly. “Yes, it will be a lovely holiday surprise.” He could hardly wait.



Author Bio:

Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award winning author of 26 bestselling pet books that cover furry babies to old fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soupicity. She is the Puppies Expert at puppies.About.com, the cat behavior expert at cats.About.com, and 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. Amy brings her unique pet-centric viewpoint to public appearances. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed dog viewpoint thriller LOST AND FOUND.

Catch Up With the Author:





13 comments:

  1. What an enjoyable interview with Amy! We're fans of her writing, and it was a treat to learn a little more about her!

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  2. Great interview! Thanks so much for introducing us to this author.

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  3. Thanks again Melissa, this was great fun! Great to connect with everyone and (blush) so glad y'all enjoy the books!

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  4. I know Amy from her non-fiction books. Glad she's writing fiction with pets in it too.

    Also, thank you for your comforting words about my Tigris. Much appreciated.

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  5. Melissa I LOVED this interview! I was so happy to FINALLY meet Amy the year before last, and she is just as "sparkly", "glittery" and delightful in person as you could ever imagine! She is so incredibly nice and genuine, adore her! (oh and of course you know I adore her writing too!)

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    1. Awwww . . . *blush* The bling is a bonus, along with the cat and dog fur that goes everywhere with me!

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  6. Amy's books are really fun, thrilling reads. She can also make nonfiction fun to read, a real talent. I you haven't read her thrillers, do it now. PS Love the Art Deco cat.

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    1. Aww....thank you Carol! Can you see my *virtual* tail wagging? *s*

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  7. You always make me laugh with your answers, Amy. Loved the interview;

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  8. I’ve never read any of her books but I’ve heard that Amy is a wonderful person.

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    1. Thank you Cathy. I try my best, anyway. At least my cats and dog think I'm perfect...*s*

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