B. J. Campbell – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Close Calls: The True Tales of Cougar Bob is a collection of stories about North Idaho native, Robert L. “Cougar Bob” Campbell. People know Cougar Bob as the man who climbs trees and takes cougar and bear with his pocket knife, if necessary. They might know him as the trapper who, at Idaho Fish and Game’s request, caught the Bayview Cougar, after it killed livestock and stalked children at the school bus stop. They may have heard of his swimming the Lochsa River at ice floe to set road survey points on the opposite bank. Naturally, most of the book’s twenty-six stories feature a narrow escape.

All of the stories are true. The book’s creative non-fiction format shows the action as close as possible to actual events. Most tales offer readers a chance to laugh, as do “Hound Music,” and “The Brush Fit.” Other stories carry serious themes, such as Bob’s bout with polio in the Navy, “Bracing for Life,” and his “Coming Home.” Either way, readers of the book will get to know him.

News Flashes from “The Cougar Bob Review,” the twenty-year annual newsletter publication about the man’s exploits and character, appear between the short stories. The Flashes include such scenes as “Bear in Mind,” the grizzly riding away in the bed of Bob’s pickup after trapping man and dog in the cab. In another, “Tiptoeing Tips,” Bob gives advice on how to stalk and pick up porkypines with his bare hands. Yet another, “Ballistics Decision Frozen in Time,” features a rare a photograph of hell buried in snow and ice the day he changed his choice of ammunition.

Tell us something about yourself. (Where are you from, what is your background, how long have you been writing or anything we might find interesting about you.)

I’m an Idahoan and can’t think of any reason to leave. Grew up in South Idaho, then migrated to North Idaho after I earned a BA in Biology and English at Northwest Nazarene University and married Cougar Bob. Taught high school English and Public Speaking, and coached Drama for a few years, then took a clinical research job at a pharmaceutical manufacturing company. Finished a Communications Masters at Eastern Washington University during that time. By the end of a long career at the laboratory with varied assignments, I owned my Technical Writing business, Write On, and quite a stack of Cougar Bob stories.

What inspired you to write this book?

Being married to Cougar Bob is a stroke of luck for me as a chronic writer. He has tales to tell. My husband is colorful and doesn’t realize it, and his routine adventures give us conversation topics for dinner. Usually at a point in his stories, I say, “You did what?” Then I write the plot on a paper napkin.

The “Cougar Bob Review” evolved from a page-layout course I took at a local college. The course required a project for practice. My dinner napkin collection furnished a never-ending source of stories for the CBR. I recorded Bob’s legends and sent the periodic CBR publication to family and five-hundred of my closest friends for about twenty years. I wanted to make certain his family, friends and other readers come to know him better than they might otherwise. I hoped they would see his spirit in the face of great saddness, like realizing after his polio, he probably would never break the World Record for the four-minute mile. But he focused on what he could do, like following jail escapees with his man trailing bloodhound. His courage underlies every story.

Soon after the “Cougar Bob Review” hit press, I began to flag news flashes that would furnish fun for the readers if they knew the whole story. The short story collection grew.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

I chose Gray Dog Press with Publisher Russ Davis, whom I heard speak at a writers’ group meeting. His attractive published books included a good representation of non-fiction on outdoor topics by Northwest authors. Close Calls: The True Tales of Cougar Bob seemed written for his Booklist. In an e-mail query, I expressed that thought. Publisher Davis agreed and bought my book.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Find a publisher whose Booklist includes books of genre and theme similar to your book. For instance, investigate whether the publisher focuses on Western Novels, or Science Fiction Novels or Non-fiction Self-Help, etc. Your book will have a better chance of seeing print if it fits into a publisher’s established plan.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

The thought of publishing stories appealed to me, but for years I did not submit any for publication. I wanted to avoid the agony of the publisher’s rejection. I shared the Cougar Bob story, “Licked,” with a friend of my husband’s. Without telling me, he hand-copied and submitted it to a coursing hound magazine. The magazine published it. It was my first publication. After thus discovering a market for my output, I found renewed purpose in generating all those words.

How do you do research for your books?

Depends on the subject. A forty-minute phone Interview with logger/ hunter Sweet gave me all I required for “The Brush Fit” — definition, history, categories, styles and cures. In other cases, such as “Tanning Hides Requires Brains,” in addition to the sixty-minute Interview, I handled leather made by different processes, read a couple of books, articles and information from online searches for a bit of background.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

Treat handwritten notes on a dinner napkin with respect. Someday they could become a memorable story.

What are you reading now?

A Walk in the Rain, a novel by Michael Marsden

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Check the Cougar Bob website http://home.mindspring.com/~writeon.bj/ It features all of the “Cougar Bob Reviews,” information on Cougar Bob, sample stories from Close Calls: The True Tales of Cougar Bob, and contact information for obtaining a copy of the book.