“Marley & Me combined with Tuesdays with Morrie.” —Kirkus Reviews on A Dog’s Purpose
A Dog’s Courage, by New York Times and USA Today best-selling author W. Bruce Cameron releases today. The sequel to A Dog’s Way Home which was made into a feature film starring stars Ashley Judd, Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi, Alexandra Shipp, and Jonah Hauer-King, A Dog’s Courage reunites readers with Bella. When Bella is separated from her beloved people, Lucas and Olivia, she finds herself in the middle of a wildfire threatening to overtake the Rocky Mountains. Will she find her way home? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
In this interview, W. Bruce Cameron shares about a typical writing day, his favorite scene from the book, and what he enjoys most about co-writing screenplays (based on his best-selling books) along with his wife Cathryn Michon.
When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
I literally can’t remember a time when I did not want to be an author. I assume I began writing my first novel when I was still in the womb. To me, there was nothing more exciting than being an author. I suppose I pictured ticker tape parades and being featured as a guest on The Tonight Show on a regular basis. It was only in later life that I discovered that mainstream society holds an author in about the same amount of regard as it has for “professional sun-tanner.” By then, it was too late: my ambitions were focused and intense and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
What is a typical writing day like?
Typically, I begin my day with a healthy dose of self-loathing. I counter this by actively procrastinating until I have pretty much run out of daylight. And then, I go to bed vowing to write the next day no matter what.
On the days when I do manage to spend time in front of the computer, I plunge into it late morning, after having taken the dog for a walk. A lifetime of typing, starting with manual typewriters, has rendered my carpels into tunnels. So, I generally can go no more than four hours before I have to stop. By that time, I will have consumed several cups of coffee and at least 12 separate snacks. So, I break for lunch. In the afternoon, I avoid rereading anything I have written and instead try to lie around until it is time for me to take a nap. After the nap, I am too sleepy to do anything but snack, then eat dinner, then take the dog for a walk. They say a body in motion remains in motion, but I have yet to try that.
Do you come up with the names of the dogs in your books before you begin planning out each novel, or during the writing process?
I name all of my characters before I’ve finished the first draft of the outline. I go through several drafts of that outline, and then I have a conversation with each character to make sure they are ready for me to get going. Sometimes they have doubts that they express to me and we work on it a little bit. For most of them, it is their first time being in a book and they are pretty nervous.
What was your favorite scene from A Dog’s Courage?
Early on there is a scene where Lucas and Olivia are fleeing a forest fire in a Jeep. There is fire moving rapidly in front of them and then they see a fire in the back. They have to go off road, straight down the side of a mountain. It’s insane. I defy anyone to read it without their pulse increasing rapidly. The only people who would be unaffected are those who have no pulse at all. I love it because it gives a very early signal that this book has plenty of tension and plot.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you work on up to seven novels at once. How many novels are you currently working on at the moment?
I am really slacking off, with only three novels going. One of them is in the “almost ready to submit” phase, and I don’t expect to spend more than 45 more days before I hand it over to the publisher for the editor to get to work. Another one is fully written but is so not up to my standard, and I intend to completely rewrite it. The third one is in the planning/outline stage, though it will ultimately be done in about five months. I think this is good because we are hoping to be on set shooting a movie this fall and that has a tendency to distract me from my novel writing.
When you go from writing a novel geared more towards adults versus those for young readers, how do you get in the mindset for the type of stories that will appeal to young fans of your work?
I honestly don’t make that big of a change. To me, younger readers are just adults who are short. My novels have never had a significant amount of language, violence, or sexual content. Most things are just hinted at – after all, most of my books are told from the point of view of a dog who probably doesn’t connect all the dots on everything. I do have a fantastic editor for my younger reader books who will swap out vocabulary that is too sophisticated and make sure that nothing is too intense for children. But honestly, children are very sophisticated readers in most respects. I think the worst thing that an author can do is dumb down a book for children.
Tell me about a few of the rescue organizations that you are a part of.
I think you meant to say “small part of.” Animal rescue is an intensive, extraordinary effort practiced by dedicated people. I try to do my part, but it’s nowhere near that level of involvement. I think last time we checked we discovered that I have supported over 300 animal charities with my efforts. I continue to do what I can whenever I receive an appeal. I am a strong supporter of the Best Friends Animal Society’s efforts to have no-kill by 2025. I supported the Life is Better effort to repeal breed discrimination laws in Denver and included this horrible law as a big plot point in my novel, A Dog’s Way Home. The same dog, Bella, who is the hero of the book is in the sequel: A Dog’s Courage.
You co-wrote the screenplays for three of your books with your wife, Cathryn Michon. What do you enjoy the most about working with Cathryn to bring your books to the screen?
She is my partner in every single meaning of the word. We complement each other’s work perfectly. She directed a movie and I produced it: I’m really good at managing people and processes, and she’s really good at talking to actors, mapping out the scenes, and cutting the movie together. When we write, I’m really good at coming up with the story; she’s very good at the nuances of people’s characters. Plus, working with her means that if I fall behind on my deadlines, I have someone else I can blame.
What are your words of advice to students who dream of becoming an author?
Understand that to write about different worlds you really need to live in them somehow. It is certainly possible to write a Western novel that takes place in the year 1850, even though you can’t go back in time to truly experience what life was like. But you can visit ghost towns, you can spend nights in Colorado, and you can do other things to broaden your understanding of the era. You can research, you can watch movies, you can drink in everything until the world seems as real to you as the one in which you are living.
If you’re young, and your parents are not willing to let a third grader take the car and drive around the western United States for a couple of years, you might rather turn your attention to a world you know. It may be difficult to believe, but most of us adults are no longer in third grade. If you write about third grade, write about what it is like to you right now to be a third-grader. You will surprise us with things that we have long forgotten, and experiences that are totally new to us because when we were in third grade, things hadn’t been invented, like the Internet, or water. Whatever your age, your place in life is a wonderful laboratory for you to give thought to what is happening that is unique and interesting and that would make a good story.