Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Bruce Cameron

Posted on: February 26, 2015

TuckerBruce2011Author of the best-selling, A Dog’s Purpose, Bruce Cameron has always wanted to be a writer. Cameron reports that he actually sat down in fourth grade to write a novel and made it through twenty-six pages before his hand gave out. At age sixteen, Cameron was more successful in his writing pursuits, selling the very first story he submitted anywhere. This erroneously gave him the idea that writing would be easy, a misconception I asked him about in our interview.

 When Cameron graduated from high school, he eventually decided to attend an all-male liberal arts college in the Midwest, also an experience which I asked him about in our interview. At this all-male college, he served as editor of the literary magazine and the student newspaper, along with having other writing experiences.

With college behind him, Cameron became a freelance writer while also taking on various day jobs to pay the bills. In 1995, he started an on-line Internet column that would change his life. I also asked him about this in our interview. After a humble start of only six subscribers, at its peak, the Cameron Column had 40,000 subscribers. When Rocky Mountain News saw his column, he got featured weekly in their Home Front section. One of Cameron’s columns, “8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter,” actually proved popular he turned it into a best-selling book that also served as basis for a TV show.

This success landed Cameron agents and other kinds of support, all useful in publishing other books such as A Dog’s Purpose, a novel inspired by meeting a dog while taking a bike ride in the mountains who reminded Cameron of his very first dog. As he rode away, Cameron felt convinced that he has possibly met the reincarnated version of my long-lost friend. This sense stuck with him for years, and he found himself wondering what it would be like if dogs never died–What would that look like from the dog’s perspective?

With all these credits to his name, you can imagine Cameron is a super busy author. In fact, he was in the middle of a movie shoot when I first contacted him about an interview. I’m extremely grateful to both Cameron and his agent for taking time to talk with me through email. Needless to say, I kept my list of questions short!

PERSONAL

ALLISON: Who or what most influenced you growing up?

BRUCE: Well, my mother gave birth to me, which I suppose is probably the most influential event in my life. Honestly, though, my parents taught me a lot by example—they always had a book open. We had television in the house, of course, but my father would always prefer a novel over whatever was going on with the Beverly Hillbillies. I became interested in books so early in life that I plunged into adult novels when I was too young to grasp adult stuff. I’m probably traumatized by the experience, and just don’t know it. Certainly after reading a few thrillers I became convinced that women really aggressively liked to kiss international spies, so I put that on my list of potential careers.

ALLISON: You attended an all-male college. What was that experience like?

BRUCE: I promise you that when I was 18 years old, “all-male” was in no way part of my life plan. I was told that the school I was attending was in the center of a glorious triangle of three all women’s colleges. The implication was that if I turned in any direction except North I would be beset upon by affection-starved women. At that point in my life, nothing was more attractive to me then a female with no other options. However, one of the all-women’s college was so far away I never saw it. It really came down to a single school about a mile away where the women were not nearly as desperate as they had been portrayed.

WRITING

ALLISON: If writing is hard, what is your advice for those who pursue the field anyway?

BRUCE: Writing is a bit like running. It takes training, discipline, there’s a lot of pain involved, and sometimes there is an endorphin rush that makes you feel better than you’ve ever felt before. And, as is also true about running, most of the time one must be satisfied that one has merely finished the race. Only a select few, a lucky select few, race and get cash prizes. Whenever someone tells me they are writing a book, a screenplay, or anything at all, I wish them luck, and I congratulate them on the accomplishment. It can be very difficult. I rarely offer encouragement to pursue making lots of money at my craft. Not because I’m afraid of the competition – but because focusing on the dollars will just take all of the joy out of it. We do a terrible thing to our writers: we act as if commercial success is the standard by which anyone who has written something down should be judged. By that measure, many of the authors we think of as having produced classic works of literature would be, in their day, considered complete failures.

ALLISON: Regarding your internet column…. How did it change you?

BRUCE: My Internet column was an expression of my frustration that after years and years and years of trying, I had still not had more than a story or two published. So, I published myself: I sent out, to readers who had not yet encountered spam, weekly essays. At its peak, my column had 50,000 readers in 52 countries (if you count Texas as a country). Then advertisements for Viagra and Nigerian transfers came along and killed it off. By that point, I had amassed such a nice backlog of essays I was able to get a job working for the Denver Rocky Mountains news as a columnist. Anyway, if I had not started that column on the Internet, I would not be an author today.

ALLISON: Regarding your book…. If you were to give one reason a person read your book, what would it be?

BRUCE: I started writing humor books. “Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” started as a newspaper column and became a television show in a process that was entirely unplanned and remains mysterious to me to this day. It was as if I had spent 30 years writing and then had an overnight success. Humor, though, is a tough discipline. I mean, not only is it difficult to be funny all the time, but every single book is judged by the subject alone. People rarely run out and buy a W Bruce Cameron book because they thought his last book was funny. And, my true love was novels.

I had this idea: I thought that it would be really interesting to contemplate the life of a dog if that dog kept being reborn and remembered his previous lives. One day I sat down to write A Dog’s Purpose. When I finished, I felt as if I had truly, and finally, accomplish something really important with my work. Instead of telling jokes about it men not being able to put their socks in the hamper, I followed the life of a very special dog. It changed my life: now I am the “dog book guy.” But I don’t mind that at all. Dogs are optimistic, full of joy, and live each day as happily as they can manage. Someone who picks up one of my books knows that it will not be a depressing, dark, sad novel.

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