About Amy Shojai:
Amy Shojai, CABC has been reinventing herself for years. She’s a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 30 best selling pet books that cover furry babies to old-fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soup-icity. Amy also writes the September Day pet-centric thriller series.
Amy has been featured as an expert in hundreds of print venues including The Wall Street Journal, 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 brings her unique pet-centric viewpoint to public appearances, writer conferences keynotes/seminars and THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy lives in North Texas with Magical-Dawg, a wise-ass German Shepherd; Karma-Kat, a delinquent silver shaded tabby (the dog’s best friend); and a curmudgeonly 20-year-old Siamese wannabe, Seren-Kitty, currently plotting to become an “only pet.”
What inspires you to write?
I call my pets “furry muses” and the world of dogs and cats informs all my work, whether that’s the nonfiction or fiction books, blog posts, musicals, or anything else. As a certified animal behavior consultant and reporter, I covered “all things pets” for more than 20 years (in dog years I should be dead! LOL!). So when I turned to fiction, the pet focus continued. My stories provide a thrill-ride with human and four-footed characters readers care about, because not only the people–but also the pets have their individual story goals. In this way, using my background in behavior, I show a glimpse into the life of how pets perceive their world, and interact with the humans who love them.
Tell us about your writing process.
With my background in reporting and nonfiction, I do outline but only in big picture terms. Generally I know the beginning, and several of the big plot points that lead to the resolution. I need to know the ending. Of course, sometimes in the process, something outrageously better occurs to me, so the plan is flexible.
Before I begin, I use Scrivener program to create sort of a road map, figure out who my secondary characters might be, and their individual story goals. I write 3rd person with alternating viewpoint characters, focused on the main character September and her service dog Shadow. There usually are a couple of additional secondary viewpoint characters, too. September’s growing relationship with Detective Combs, for example, is a continuing “will she/won’t she?” secondary plot, and in different books there have been fun, quirky characters including a bad-ass 70+ year old computer hacker, an obnoxious radio DJ, and even a pre-teen girl who rescues cats.
I hate “preachy” books. But I do try to find a pet-centric theme or plot to best involve the animal secondary issues. I also love medical mysteries and weird science, so I read lots of veterinary medicine and medical articles and research. For some reason, I have a difficult time starting until I have a great title that I like.
The “bad guy” in each book also must be the hero of his/her own story, with a goal in direct opposition to September. When I wrote the first book LOST AND FOUND, I created character sketches, found a house design that I liked where many major scenes took place, and even found pictures of actors who looked like my characters. But with the second book HIDE AND SEEK and then the third SHOW AND TELL, I found that less is more–I want readers to be able to picture THEIR own image of the various characters so I focus more on personalities and emotion, internal conflict and so on rather than the looks. I also love to use setting and force-of-nature to mirror the characters’ struggles. So LOST AND FOUND featured a freak blizzard (and “frozen” emotions including autism-centered plot), HIDE AND SEEK culminated in a fire (and hot emotions and Alzheimer’s risk), and SHOW AND TELL included tornadoes and floods (sweeping away old hurts to begin anew, with a dog-fight ring backdrop).
My first draft takes FOR-EVER! Urk! For me, that struggle through the first draft is painful, but once the first draft is done, I love editing. That’s where the magic happens. And using Scrivener, I can copy or drag-drop chapters into new orders, flag which ones feature a particular viewpoint character, and so on.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Doesn’t everyone? LOL! Actually, no, I don’t hear voices exactly and haven’t had a specific conversation with my characters. But I’m also an actor and VO artist (I have a home studio and record my own audio books), so as I write, I feel as though I am both “acting” and “directing” the various scenes. I’m a pretty empathetic person and cry at nearly anything. So my stories become pretty emotional, and I find myself in some scenes becoming so involved, that I can see the screen because I’m crying so much.
So maybe I’m weird that way. But I figure, if my stories move me, then I hope they also touch you, as a reader. Once the characters become “real” in my world, they often dictate what happens along the way.
What advice would you give other writers?
Write the book you’ve always wanted to READ. Be passionate, be fearless, and be prepared to fail–it won’t kill you, and actually will make you a better writer. EVERYONE fails. The only way a dog or a cat (or a human) learns is by making mistakes, so that the next time they avoid what didn’t work, and cut to the chase of what proved successful.
I stopped writing for a while, and became frozen when the industry changed. We’re often like cats–who hide under the bed when something changes and seems scary. But given time, if kitty (and authors/writers) are to succeed, you gotta reinvent yourself to live in the “new normal.” I’ve now reinvented myself countless times, and surely will again. So be flexible and learn EVERYTHING about publishing that you can. It is a business, a wonderful business to be sure, that allows artists to create and thrive.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I published many best-selling nonfiction cat and dog care/behavior titles through New York publishers (Ballantine, Penguin/Putnam, Rodale Press and more), but fiction is a totally different animal (pun intended!). I had worked with Cool Gus Publishing to bring back to life some of my out of print nonfiction books. So I approached my editor there first when my thriller was ready, and they gave my debut fiction a wonderful publishing home.
Today publishing has been turned on its furry ear. Look for opportunities to work with other savvy authors in your genre. It’s difficult to go it alone, but a co-op approach to promoting each other, offering beta reads, sharing ideas about book covers and editors/publishing opportunities can be very helpful.
Connect with genre-related writer organizations. I’m a founder of the Cat Writers’ Association, a member of Dog Writers Association of America, a Lifetime Member of Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, and an active member of Sisters In Crime, Alliance of Independent Authors and International Thriller Writers. I have garnered much support from the members of each of these organizations.
Today, writers have many options to publish. There is no single “right way” and I call myself a hybrid author because each book may best be served by a specific path. While self publishing today is easier than ever before, it is not a simple solution–and not necessarily “free” if done correctly. Again, being an author-preneur is a business, and so if you work as an indie, it’s up to you to hire professionals to edit and design your book and perhaps to help with marketing and PR. Even if you work with a “traditional” publisher or small press that handles much of this, it is still up to the author to manage much of the publicity.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I believe traditional publishing will continue much as it has in the past, but with fewer and fewer new authors able to break into the ranks. Publishing houses continue to merge, meaning authors within a given company compete for fewer slots. Brick and mortar book stores also continue to look at the bottom line, with fewer stores and less shelf space for the books. So I believe unless one is a celebrity or an already established “brand name” author, that the place to find new and exciting author voices will be from smaller boutique publishers and/or author co-ops.
The emergence of Amazon’s “lending library” also has impacted library sales. There is so much in flux these days. But with digital readers and phones making Ebooks inexpensively available to the masses, and young people growing up with these devices, the shift to digital will likely continue.
Physical books won’t ever go away. But they may become more of a luxury item, and purchased in a more selective fashion. POD (print on demand) make the physical copies less expensive for self publishers, though, and I foresee the advent of having “print-on-demand” kiosks everywhere at coffee shops, airports, and other outlets.
I also believe that once the “gold rush” mentality of getting rich on DIY books levels off, and the less savvy or dedicated wannabes figure out it takes WORK to be a success, we will be left with higher quality books from indie authors. Readers already are incredibly savvy about such things. Readers today and in the future have the power to create stars of the authors they embrace–but it’s up to the author to provide stellar work.
What do you use?: Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: Thrillers, Suspense, Horror, Nonfiction (cats/dogs)
What formats are your books in?: eBook, Print, Both eBook and Print, Audiobook
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit to allow you the reader to hear the author in their own voice.