It might surprise ardent fans of W. Bruce Cameron that the main character of his novel The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man is not a dog.
Cameron is best known as the author of A Dog’s Purpose, which tells the story of a dog over the course of several reincarnated lives. The book, which spent 63 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, spawned a series and a film adaptation written by Cameron and his wife, Cathryn Michon, that went on to become the most successful international live-action dog movie of all time. Throw in Cameron’s best-selling Puppy Tales, a middle-grade book series, and Lily to the Rescue, a chapter book series for young readers, and Cameron is the veritable ruler of a literary dog dynasty.
“People talk to me all the time about there being a ‘Bruce Brand,’” Cameron says. “I tell them I’d rather have a ‘Bruce Dessert,’ but apparently as an author I was supposed to write nothing but books from the point of view of a dog. Which I love doing almost as much as I love dessert, I’m happy to tell you. But I wanted to show that it’s possible to write books with dogs in them as opposed to being about them.”
Enter Jake, the lazy but lovable basset hound in The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, which is the first book of Cameron’s Ruddy McCann series. Jake belongs to the main character, Ruddy McCann — a former college football star who is now a repo man and part-time bouncer in Kalkaska, Michigan. Ruddy and Jake share a simple life of repossessing cars, but when Ruddy starts hearing a voice in his head claiming to be the recently deceased father of the girl he’s falling for — and that voice is demanding that Ruddy find his murderers — that simple life becomes very complicated.
“I love dog characters — and Jake is very much a ‘character,’” Cameron says. “But I think a novel with humans in it can be interesting as well. Some of the best novels ever written have humans in them! So, with The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, I decided to stretch my wings and my imagination a little and see if people liked it! And they must, because invariably, when I do a book event, I’m asked when I’m going to write the next book in my Repo series.”
To develop the character of Ruddy, Cameron didn’t have to stretch his wings or imagination all that much. In his 20s, he worked as a repo man in northern Michigan, and feeling Ruddy-esque or “invulnerable,” Cameron says, he would walk up people’s driveways in the middle of the night and drive off in their cars.
“Being a repo man means, as Ruddy himself would tell you, having ‘nerves of stupidity,’” he says. “But the very first time I tried it, I was dumb enough to leave my own car within eyesight of the dwelling. When I returned, the owners were waiting to greet me with pistols. We had a lively conversation. After that, I decided to always meet the people and get a read on their personalities before I risked my life to take away their Chevettes.”
Repo Man is chock-full of these personalities. They include bright-eyed, but dim-witted Jimmy with the Hollywood good looks; Claude and Wilma, who spend most of their time thinking up get-rich-quick schemes when they’re not at each other’s throats; and Janelle, clad in tight jeans and fake jewelry, who has the hots for Ruddy.
“Kalkaska was the perfect location for the Black Bear, a saloon where the same oddball characters hang out every night,” Cameron says. “Kalkaska hasn’t changed much in the past few decades, which is what I wanted: a slow-moving small town. And as much as I make fun of that part of the country, I was born there and have spent a lot of my life there. It’s in my blood.”
Cameron began his writing career with a newspaper humor column, eventually becoming an internationally syndicated columnist. His column “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” became a New York Times best-selling book and a People’s Choice award-winning television series starring the late John Ritter.
Early on, he had tried his hand at novel writing with little success. There were — and still are — a lot of unpublished books gathering dust in Cameron’s closet, alongside rejected manuscripts and screenplays.
Then the woman Cameron was dating in late 2008 lost her first dog and was unprepared for how hard it would hit her. To help her grieve, Cameron began telling her a tale about a very special dog that is reborn again and again and remembers each life.
The reincarnating pet had a purpose. And it gave Cameron his.
“For much of my life, I was an unsuccessful, unpublished and frankly unpublishable author,” he says. “Then I decided the heck with it. I was going to write for fun instead of profit, because at that point I wasn’t having either. As soon as I let my voice be free from worrying about what the market would think, it was funny. I hadn’t realized that I was aching to write humor. And that, ironically, is when I began to achieve some success.”
The humor is fun and plentiful throughout The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, which has something for everyone — it’s part murder mystery, part sci-fi and even part romance. “It’s always challenging to write romance because, as I’m sure my wife will tell you, I’m not very good at that in real life,” Cameron says. “I ask her, ‘What could possibly be more romantic than watching Monday Night Football?’ Answer: Monday Night Football with beer.”
Adapting his novels for the screen also proved challenging for Cameron. The stringent time constraints of a feature-length film requires so much of his novels to be left on the cutting room floor. “It’s like looking at your hands and deciding which finger to keep,” he says. “For an author, it’s an unnatural process — I didn’t put anything extraneous in the story! But to film a movie version of one of my books and include everything would make for a 12-hour movie, and I can’t go that long without visiting the men’s room.”
Cameron, who makes his home in California, is “always” writing — “I don’t take very many breaks because I can’t, not if I’m going to get everything done,” he says. His next novel, titled Love, Clancy, is told (not surprisingly) from a dog’s point of view — a dog who is keeping a diary. Clancy has a lot of things going on: He is plotting to get rid of the cat, he is desperately in love with a Great Pyrenees named Phoebe and he is living with a man who is sort of stumbling through life. “Like the Repo Madness series, the human characters in Love, Clancy are hilariously quirky and odd,” Cameron says.
Hilarious, quirky and odd characters with, of course, a dog — in a starring role or otherwise — has proven to be a winning formula for Cameron. Although material success came to him later in life, he has become one of the most successful, prolific and well-known novelists today. Yet, he seems to take it all in stride.
“Everywhere I go, throngs of fans are missing,” he jokes. “Honestly, living in Hollywood, where celebrities try in vain to enjoy a quiet lunch with a friend or slip unnoticed into a movie, I’m glad to be a novelist. I’ve seen movie stars get interrupted by adoring fans who mean well but who are preventing the poor actor’s sandwich. Nobody talks to me at a restaurant except to ask if I want more iced tea.”
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