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By Aimee and David Thurlo

Amy Shojai is the award-winning  author of 24 nonfiction pet books and a certified animal behavior consultant.  Her expertise has resulted into her being featured in THE NEW YORK TIMES and publications such as the READER’S DIGEST. She’s also appeared on radio and television, including CNN and ANIMAL PLANET.

Her first fiction work is a thriller called LOST AND FOUND. This story gives Amy the opportunity to incorporate her intimate understanding of the relationship between people and their pets into an exciting, entertaining story full of fun, adventure, and intrigue.

Fortunately for us, the author has taken some of her busy day to answer a few questions about herself and her work, her writing process, and her debut thriller, LOST AND FOUND.

Other than the blurb, what’s your new book about?

LOST AND FOUND is about family, love, misunderstandings and finding your true place in the world. It explores what happens when expectations get turned on their head, as well as how we each define what is “good” based on our own experiences. When the “bad guys” truly believe they are on the side of the angels, what is the right choice–and does the welfare of the majority outweigh the risk to the few?

Parents naturally want the best for their children. And in LOST AND FOUND, a mother risks everything for the chance to have a normal child. Is she gambling for his sake or for her own benefit to get that “perfect” child? Who has the right to judge such things? This mother knows what’s right for her child and won’t let anything get in the way.

The main character, September, is forced to make these unwelcome judgements on her sister’s behalf, first to save her nephew from freezing in the storm, and then from what she considers medical quackery. September knows her sister is wrong and puts her own life on the line to save the child.

The researchers have not only a monetary but a personal stake in the medical miracle. They know the therapy works in most cases, ignore the times it doesn’t, and focus blindly on the positives it will bring. So they will do anything to keep that dream alive, and consider those who stand in the way the real villains.

The dog, Shadow, wants to be a good-dog more than life itself. He’s been trained to be in service to the autistic child–a child incapable of showing affection the dog craves. Chapters told from the dog’s perspective show this conflict between canine duty and the emotive side of Shadow. Can he be a good-dog if he fails to do what he’s told?

How do you balance your career and your private life?

There’s a balance? Where? How? *smile* I’ve been writing about cats and dogs for more than 20 years, live with pets, interact with others who share my furry passion, and there’s not an easy divide between the two. I try to take Sunday off and shut down the email. I’m also a performer, and time singing or playing cello/piano or performing on stage helps energize me. My husband Mahmoud, my dog Magic and cat Seren keep me grounded and remind me what’s important.

What led to making the jump from non-fiction to writing a thriller like LOST AND FOUND?

Many years ago when I began writing, I wanted to publish novels. Even those early tries included animal characters. Along the way I was offered the chance to write nonfiction, and built a successful career with 26 titles and I’ve lost count of the columns and articles. There wasn’t time to do both nonfiction and fiction.

Some people are put on this earth to become doctors or teachers. They figure out along the way their life’s purpose, or what they’re good at, or how they can make a difference. I know that my purpose is to be a voice for cats and dogs.

That sounds silly, perhaps, to those who don’t share their life with a special pet. But today more than 60 percent of Americans share their hearts with at least one pet, and many of them encounter challenges along the way that make the relationship sour. I help with that, in my nonfiction prescriptive titles. With fiction I can expand that audience and help even more people–and edu-tain them at the same time.

Didn’t you ever wonder what your pets think or what they’d say? In LOST AND FOUND, readers find out!

LOST AND FOUND isn’t a how-to book. But it does include a bit of dog and cat training information as part of the story. I’m not interested in writing “talking dog/kitty” stories, but as a behavior consultant, I have a pretty good handle on why cats and dogs behave they way they do and can interpret those behaviors for readers in an entertaining manner. I wanted very much to include a dog viewpoint to give insight into common misunderstandings between people and pets, and how those also mirror misunderstandings and good intentions gone bad between humans.

The trained cat Macy helps bring the bad guy to justice because of the training and relationship with September. And the dog Shadow has his own chapters told from a very dog-centric point of view–and he has his own character arc and his own desires and dreams.

What advice would you give a new writer wanting to break in?

Don’t stop trying. And rather than “write what you know” I would advise new writers to write what you LOVE and write what you want to read. LOST AND FOUND is the book that I always wanted to read and couldn’t find.

How did the concept of LOST AND FOUND come to you?

Well, I’m a certified animal behavior consultant so am very familiar with training concepts and some of the challenges involved with service animals. I have a pet German shepherd and adore the breed. And a tracking dog judge/breeder friend of mine has placed some of her pups as service dogs for autistic children. After quite a lot of information in the news reported some interesting drug studies as well as questions about causality for the autism spectrum I became intrigued. That was the beginning of the idea, wanting to explore the relationship between the child and dog–but I hadn’t a clue how to write from an autistic person’s viewpoint. So the canine perspective followed. Also, I live in North Texas and two years ago we had a freak blizzard that paralyzed the community for several days. That made me wonder, what if a special needs child got lost in the storm but help couldn’t get there–what if? And what if only the dog was with him, but of course didn’t think, act, or react as a human–how would the dog get them both out of trouble?

Who are your favorite authors?

There are too many to name! I’d either write another whole book or leave someone out and feel awful.

Do you have a favorite animal character from a thriller or mystery (other than one of your own?) If so, what did you enjoy most about this character?

Dean Koontz writes great dog characters. WATCHERS probably is my all time favorite, even though Einstein doesn’t truly think/act like a dog since he’s a hybrid creature with human-like intelligence. Of course Mr Koontz has personal experience with Goldens specifically bred for service dog tasks.

I also LOVE the new war dog character Kane in James Rollins’ newest book, BLOODLINE. Kane acts like a dog, even though he’s got all kinds of fancy state of the art equipment, and the relationship between Kane and his human handler Tucker Wayne is spot on.

Both of these authors–Mr Koontz and Mr Rollins–recognize and are able to depict that heart-connection between a person and a companion animal that becomes more than a pet, and is a friend and beloved family member. If readers connect with the September/Shadow relationship in this way, I will have done my job.

Is there anything you’d like to tell a reader who’s just now discovered your work?

Stay tuned! I’ve fallen in love with writing all over again, and have plans to write more THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Aimee and David Thurlo
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