It’s a theme that plays well in the life of W. Bruce Cameron, as well as in the pages of his best-selling novel, “A Dog’s Purpose,” which is about to find renewed life on the big screen.
The book has already found a renewal that pushed it, over the past few weeks, to No. 1 on the USA Today and The New York Times best-seller lists – quite the feat for a novel that was first released nearly seven years ago.
“I feel so humbled and so gratified over everything that has happened,” Cameron said in a telephone interview, “and I recognize that I played a small part in this whole, huge feat.”
Cameron is being overly modest, perhaps. He’s had a career that would be the envy of most – his newspaper humor column was read by millions in the late 1990s to mid-2000s; his book, “8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter,” was a best seller and adapted into a successful sitcom starring John Ritter; and “A Dog’s Purpose” was the first in a series of successful novels he’s written since it was released in 2010.
Originally “A Dog’s Purpose” spent 52 weeks on the best-seller lists, but it never quite made it to No. 1, but his wife, Cathryn Michon, a screenwriter and also a successful author, was an early believer.
“Cathryn gave me a keychain several years ago,” Cameron recalls. “It was a dog-tag shaped key chain, and it says on it, ‘A Dog’s Purpose, No. 1 New York Times Best Seller.’ The only person who ever had faith that would happen was Cathryn.”
Little wonder – “A Dog’s Purpose” was originally conceived 12 years ago as a love story for Michon, then Cameron’s girlfriend. Michon had momentarily rocked the couple’s budding relationship when she announced, after the death of her beloved Doberman pinscher, Ellie, that she didn’t think she could ever have a dog in her life again. The loss of Ellie, she said, was too painful.
To comfort Michon, Cameron said, “I made up this story for her about a dog who reincarnates and remembers each life and sets off on a special quest to find his purpose.”
When he was finished with the dog’s tale, Michon made a declaration: He had to make it into a novel.
And the story was reborn as “A Dog’s Purpose,” which has earned Cameron a loyal following of dog lovers ever since. And the couple also adopted a rescue pup named Tucker.
Despite his success, Cameron has never stopped writing. In fact, he has a new novel due out this spring. He and Michon also served as screenwriters for the movie adaptation of “A Dog’s Purpose.”
Turning his book into a movie was not even an ambition he held, Cameron said, but he said he’s been grateful for the experience.
“We got home last night (from vacation), and as we turned down our street, there was a billboard for ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ – a huge picture for all the world to see. It was somewhat astounding. It left me a little speechless.”
Translating “A Dog’s Purpose,” which occurs over several decades and the lives of a number of dogs, from the page to the screen gave Cameron a new appreciation for how audiences will experience his work.
“As an author, you are aware that people are consuming your art as individuals, one book at a time,” he said. “They sit down and read it by themselves. Unless they are reading it aloud in a classroom or maybe to a child, it’s pretty much a solitary act.
“But this movie means that people will see my story together, with families, with friends, grandmothers and grandchildren. Everybody will be experiencing it together. They’ll be seeing it at the same time. That will be a whole new experience for me, and I’m so looking forward to it.”
Cameron and his wife were able to spend time on the set of the movie in Canada in the fall of 2015.
“I suppose that my job as screenwriter was to talk to the producer and the director,” Cameron said, “but I spent all my time playing with the dogs.”
And, the author admits, he shed a few tears, but he stressed that, like the book, the movie will be an uplifting experience for audiences.
“I suppose the phrase ‘good cry’ comes up all the time when people are describing the book,” Cameron said. “For me, what I tried to do with the book was what a dog does to our life, which is to bring joy and happiness and then a profound sense of meaning to us, as well.
“Dogs are with us for such a short period of time, and they live their lives so joyfully. And I believe the message of the dogs is: Humans are here for a short period of time and that we also should live our lives joyfully. And that, I hope, is the message of ‘A Dog’s Purpose’.”