How many of us writers dream of making it onto the New York Times Bestseller’s list? For Bruce Cameron, that dream came true with A Dog’s Purpose—soon to be a DreamWorks movie, too.
I actually heard about Bruce’s “novel for humans” via a Facebook ad, of all places. I’d never clicked on one before, but being a complete animal-lover, I clicked this time. Maybe it was fate, because I immediately connected with Bruce’s story of striving for success, and asked his publicist for a Q&A. The timing worked out perfectly, as his next novel, Emory’s Gift, is releasing next week on Aug. 30.
So thank you, Bruce, for taking time out of your busy schedule to offer advice for those of us who are still working toward the Dream! Here are my 10 questions for Bruce:
1. SHARI: Your book, A Dog’s Purpose, is a New York Times Bestseller and soon to be a movie by DreamWorks, according to the book’s website. However, in your bio, you mention you didn’t reach success as a writer until later in life. What was the key factor that made THIS book successful, as opposed to other works of yours?
BRUCE: Well, I suppose the main factor in this book’s success is the fact that it was published. When I refer to my lack of success as a writer in the years previous, I’m talking about the fact that I wrote many books that were never published. However, my first book, 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter, was a New York Times bestselling book and was made into a television show on ABC. I think that once I began writing about themes that were universally appealing (such as family, relationship, animals, etc.) I connected with my audience.
2. SHARI: Many of my blog followers are developing writers, or professional writers looking to reach success as authors. What are the top 3 pieces of advice you can offer them, to help them reach that success?
BRUCE: The first thing that I would tell them, is that they should ask themselves what they mean by “success.” All my life I wanted nothing more than to have a hard cover edition of a book of mine for sale in a bookstore. I have achieved that, but it is during a time in which fewer people are reading and bookstores themselves are disappearing. Does success mean selling a few thousand copies of an e-book? Is it material success, critical acclaim, great reader response? What has happened to me with A Dog’s Purpose is that I have touched a lot of people’s lives. That’s not what I started out to do but it has turned out to be the most profound element of my success.
I wrote and wrote for years without selling a single thing. So my second piece of advice is keep writing, don’t get discouraged, don’t give up.
Most writers feel that a work is not successful if it is not read by large numbers of people. To reach large numbers of people one must spend an awful lot of time marketing. My final piece of advice would be to prepare yourself for just how much time it will take to connect with your audience so that they are even aware of your work.
3. SHARI: How did you start writing? Was it your original career (such as a degree in journalism or English), or did you begin writing later in life?
BRUCE: I started writing when I was in the fourth grade. I wrote my first novel when I was in high school. I was an English major, and worked briefly as a freelance writer before poverty forced me to get a day job. But I have always been a writer; albeit not always a professional one.
4. SHARI: What is A Dog’s Purpose about, and how did you think of the idea?
BRUCE: A Dog’s Purpose asks the question, “what if your dog never really dies?” I got the idea because I was riding my mountain bike in Colorado one day and met a dog along the way who reminded me so very much of my first dog Cammie, whom I met when I was just eight years old. I was struck with the odd sense that I had just interacted with my long dead friend. Ever since that day, I have wondered if it really was Cammie, and if so, what did that look like from the dog’s perspective? These questions ultimately led me to writing the novel A Dog’s Purpose.
5. SHARI: You have a new book coming out soon, Emory’s Gift. Tell us about this story, and when is it due for release?
BRUCE: On August 30, 2011, Emory’s Gift will be released in hardcover. It is the story of a 13-year-old boy who teams with his father to save a wild grizzly bear from the people who would do it harm. Once they embark on their mission, the lives of the boy and his father are changed forever.
6. SHARI: As a writer, what has been the largest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
BRUCE: Because I was not able to make enough money as a writer to survive, I got a day job – a good day job – and wound up getting married and having children. The demands on my time were great and so it was always my writing that got sacrificed. I don’t regret any of it, but it is true that my choices led to me not being as productive as I would have wanted.
7. SHARI: What do you think makes a great writer, versus someone who’s just average?
BRUCE: The writers I enjoy reading the most are those who combine talent with an understanding of the importance of plot, character, and story structure. Writing is an art, but it is also a skill that must be practiced over and over.
8. SHARI: Now that you’ve finally reached success as an author, what’s it like? Are you enjoying it?
BRUCE: I am living the life that I always wanted. My biggest challenge is trying to adjust mentally to the idea that this is really it, that I don’t have to continually scan want ads for jobs that I could do to support my writing.
9. SHARI: Do you have any recommendations of other writers/authors/teachers for my blog subscribers to follow?
BRUCE: As a screenwriter I have had to spend many hours reading and rereading Sid Fields seminal work screenplay. It has taught me so much about story structure and I would recommend it even to people who have no intention of ever writing a script for a movie.
10. SHARI: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BRUCE: Readers who were drawn to and pleased by the spiritual message of A Dog’s Purpose will find that this same theme shows up in Emory’s Gift. Though it doesn’t have a dog on the cover, I urge anyone who felt moved by A Dog’s Purpose to give Emory’s Gift a look.
[Want more interviews, like today’s Q&A with Bruce Cameron? Then sign up to get posts from ‘Rogue Writer’ delivered by email, every Thursday! Still not sure? Read up on this blog and my experience, first.]