In this week’s Behind The Pen I interviewed Cathryn Michon, screenwriter, director & actress of Muffin Top: A Love Story, and W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog’s Purpose. This husband & wife team recently brought the book A Dog’s Purpose to the big screen.
What do you love about writing?
Bruce: For me, writing is a way to get stories out of my head and on paper and, in the process, clear the way for more stories. For many years my brain was clogged with imaginings that had no outlet, but I’ve found that once I’ve written something I can stop revisiting the characters and scenes over and over again like a broken streaming service.
Cathryn: Nothing. Not one thing. I do not love writing. In fact, I like it so little that I will actually plagiarize my answer from Gloria Steinem and say, “I don’t like writing, I like having written.” Wait, that’s not plagiarism, that’s an homage. There. I wrote something. I’m exhausted. We need lattes now.
How does one get into the ‘writing world’?
Bruce: There’s a Writing World? Is it like a theme park? I think the all day pass to Writing World is simply to write. Do that, and you’re in.
Cathryn: Worst. Theme park. EVER. What is it, up the road from Tortureland? My husband is right, write.
What top 2 challenges do you find in writing?
Bruce: Life. I used to scoff at people who claimed to need a hibernacula in order to be able to write. Usually it was a mountainside cabin, snow coming down, bears waving from the woods, birds smiling down from the trees. I used to write while sitting on the bleachers at my daughter’s volleyball games. But lately life has gotten so complicated. People send me an email and if I don’t respond within a day, they ask me if I got their email. There are bills to pay. I just want time to write and I am looking at renting a cabin in the mountains with Disney characters in the forest.
Cathryn: Hibernacula? Are you kidding me? You can’t put a $50 word like that into anything and have any success. Seriously, this isn’t a National Spelling Bee, it’s an interview. We’re not putting Hibernacula in this. So my number one challenge is a partner who wants to put words like that into what we’re writing, give me a break.
Number 2 challenge is where are the lattes? I obviously cannot concentrate until they arrive.
If you could give an upcoming writer one piece of advice what would it be?
Bruce: I’d say the first thing you write will be no good. The second thing will be no good. Maybe by the fifth or sixth one, you’ll get the hang of it. I meet so many people who believe their first screenplay will be their big ticket. No, your first screenplay will be your first screenplay. Write another one.
Cathryn: Don’t. Write, I mean. Seriously, be an accountant and then be related to me, I could really use a good accountant. We’ve got enough writers in this apartment, and possibly the world. If I’m not discouraging you in the least, well then I guess you’re a writer, poor thing.
What do you think is the biggest difference and/or challenge between writing a screenplay vs. a novel?
Bruce: A screenplay has a clock on it. If you get to sudden death overtime, you’re dead. At 120 pages, you’ve overshot and no one will read a word of it. A book, on the other hand, can run thousands of words past the target and no one will care very much. It’s easier to write a book, but quicker to write a screenplay.
Cathryn: Good writing is always good writing, and the people that act like a novelist could never be a screenwriter are usually a. screenwriters and b. wrong.
How hard was it to turn A Dog’s Purpose into a movie?
Bruce: There were so many ways to go with A Dog’s Purpose, so many paths to take, that picking one over the other was the tough part. To this day I question some of the decisions.
Cathryn: Movies are collaborative, and there are no perfect movies. Maybe Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, but that’s just one. That being said, adapting any novel is about capturing its essence in a leaner, more visual form. I’m proud of the film A Dog’s Purpose, but if you want the fuller, richer experience, read the novel, which is true of every film ever made from a novel, I think.
Where do you find inspiration for your book or movie ideas?
Bruce: Ideas usually drag in as I’m following a story I am building in my head. I came up with The Dogs of Christmas when I was thinking of something else: my publisher asked me a question about Emory’s Gift, because there is reference to the boy, Charlie, adopting a dog. What were some of the ideas I had about that, and would it make a book? I started picturing how Charlie might adopt a dog and got distracted by the idea of the timing for this proposed story, which would be Christmas. Next thing I know, I’m talking about a man who adopts a bunch of puppies and has to find homes for them at Christmas.
Cathryn: On my solo writing projects I usually obsess about a topic for a long time and then finally find the way to make it into a story. My creative process involves buying a lot of vintage cashmere sweaters on eBay, that’s an essential, and I will note, should be tax deductible. If I ever get that accountant relative I’m longing for I’m hoping they’ll figure that out for me. So far, Bruce says no. But he’s a #1 New York Times bestselling author, not an accountant, so really, what does he know?
Do you think working as a husband/wife team gives your writing and movies an advantage? How so?
Bruce: We have a great writing partnership! Frankly, I don’t know how writing partners work together if they can’t kiss each other.
Cathryn: It obviously gives us an enormous advantage, this ability to kiss. Our last movie was a big hit, so you know, the proof is in the pudding. I will frankly admit I have never understood that phrase. If the proof is in the pudding, isn’t the proof all sticky and ruined now?
What is 1) The most challenging piece you’ve written and why and 2) Your favorite piece you’ve written, and why?
Bruce: 1) The toughest thing I do is write from the POV of a dog. Their frame of reference and vocabulary and way into the world is so different from ours. My dog characters are real dogs, they don’t talk to other dogs or animals and don’t understand much of anything people are saying. I catch myself making mistakes all the time.
2) I think my favorite piece has shifted. It used to be Emory’s Gift, then it was The Dog Master, and now it is A Dog’s Way home. A Dog’s Way home just has such a great story, and I love how people tell me it makes them tense, and makes them laugh, and makes them cry.
Cathryn: 1) For me writing is like childbirth, I immediately forget all about the agonizing pain and blood and screaming, and then I stupidly go back and write something else. I should note that I have never given birth to a child, but I’ve heard it’s really bad, and then you forget how bad it was, and go and have another kid. So, I honestly can’t remember which thing was hardest to write. It was all bad. Then I did it again, like an idiot.
2) My favorite thing I’ve ever written is the new movie I wrote that I will be directing later this year. But conveniently, I can’t talk about it because my latte just arrived.
Where can people go to see more of your work?
Bruce: I have a pretty hefty library of books and they are all still in print! I love it when people give my Repo Madness series a try; it’s completely different than the A Dog’s Purpose series. My humor books also are way different.
Cathryn: Muffin Top: A Love Story, the romantic comedy feature film I wrote (with Bruce) and directed and star in, is currently on Amazon Prime, so, you know, basically free. How much do you love me now? I just gave you a free movie!
Is there anything else you’d like to add or say about yourself and/or your writing?
Bruce: My love of writing started as a love of reading. I’d urge anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a writer to make sure they never are without a book at hand. My parents would often ask their friends, “what book are you reading?” because the assumption was always that people had a book going at all times. I inherited that attitude and it is the only reason my novels are at all coherent.
Cathryn: I think that if the cashmere sweaters aren’t tax deductible, they should be counted as income. I mean really, if I get a $300 Dolce and Gabbana sweater on eBay for $23.00 (this actually happened!) I honestly think a good (family) accountant would reasonably say that I have basically earned $277.
I’m right about this.