Josephine Cameron. Contributed photo.

BRUNSWICK — As soon as local author Josephine Cameron heard the words “dog-friendly town,” her pen automatically followed them with the phrase “jewel heist.” 

For anyone else, the pairing might not have made sense, but the two seemingly disjointed terms became the backbone for Cameron’s new book, “A Dog-Friendly Town.” 

The story follows 12-year-old Epic McDade and his family, which runs a dog-friendly bed and breakfast in Carmelito, California, which has just been named “America’s No. 1 Dog-Friendly Town.” To mark the occasion, the creme de la creme of canine society and their owners come to town for a weeklong celebration. It’s a great week for the McDades, but when Sir Bentley, a famous Saint Bernard, loses his $500,000 jewel-encrusted collar, everyone is a suspect. 

Epic, along with his sister Elvis and brother Rondo, must use their individual strengths to solve the mystery together. 

The book, published by Macmillan/FSG Books for Young Readers, is the Brunswick-based author’s second novel for middle-grade readers. It’s set for release Aug.4.

Though she has never hunted for the thief of a jewel laden collar belonging to a famous dog, Cameron drew on many of her own life experiences, especially those with her brothers and sisters, to create her newest book.

Epic is the oldest of three kids, and Cameron is the middle of five — more than anything, the book is about siblings, she said. 

“Summertime just felt like this time when we were out exploring and creating and doing stuff together,” she said. “I wanted to capture that feeling.”

Epic is preparing to start seventh grade in a new school without his brother and sister, but doesn’t feel ready to grow up and be on his own yet. 

Cameron remembers feeling the same way.

“I was terrified to go to a new school,” she said. “All my friends were so excited. … They wanted to grow up and I just wanted to be a kid.” 

But life is full of changes, she said, and added she hopes kids reading the book know that’s okay. 

“We can sort of grow and explore new things, and as long as you follow your curiosity and keep true to who you are and you have people around you, friends and family that help you be the person you want to be, those changes aren’t so bad,” she said. 

Such lessons are part of what has always drawn Cameron to middle-grade fiction, the genre designed for readers between 8 and 12 years old. 

“I was always the college student taking my study breaks reading the newest Lois Lowry,” she said. 

That age range is a unique stage of life when a person is no longer a young child, but not quite a teenager, a time when “you are starting to find your voice but you don’t know how you’re going to use it in your world,” she said. 

Kids at that age are smart and perceptive, she said, so when writing a mystery novel, she felt she needed to be even more careful to “dot my I’s and cross my T’s” than if she were writing for adults. 

“Nothing gets past them,” she said. 

She didn’t make the clues more obvious or the thief less clever, she just changed the perspective to focus on what a 12-year-old might notice that a 35 year old might not. 

During the writing process, Cameron’s workspace was papered with spreadsheets and Post-it Notes to keep track of all the characters, the clues and the plot points. 

A natural outliner, she likes to know where her story will start and end, and while she generally tries to plan how the characters will get there, she said with “A Dog-Friendly Town,” there were at least two major plot points that completely changed. 

She also had to change her learning style a little bit, to deviate from the books she had pulled out and instead just learn by doing. 

Epic, who is in some ways inspired by her younger brother Alan, likes to tinker. Epic (and Alan) is always building gadgets and taking apart electronics, something Cameron said she was always too nervous to do as a child. 

But to give life to Epic (and later to create YouTube videos for kids) she had to let go of the fear that she’d break something and force herself to experiment. 

In that way, the book is somewhat of a tribute to Alan, who was always mischievous and curious.

It is also a love letter to two others: her husband and the late actress, singer and animal welfare activist Doris Day. 

Cameron is allergic to cats and dogs but her husband is “constantly yearning for a dog,” she said, so she wanted to write a book “that has a ton of dogs for him and that would make him laugh.” 

As for Doris Day, Cameron “watched her movies constantly” as a child, and the McDade’s bed and breakfast was inspired by The Cypress Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California (which also inspired the fictional town of Carmelito). 

The Cypress Inn is a dog-friendly, boutique hotel co-founded by Day in 1929 and Cameron, who has been there for dinner on more than one occasion, was struck by how well-behaved the dogs were, even as they sat at the table. 

It was in Carmel-by-the-Sea, which touts itself as the real-life No. 1 dog-friendly town in America, that she first moniker that inspired the novel.  The small city boasts hotels, shops and restaurants with water bowls, dog treats and biodegradable bags at the minimum, and going so far as to offer “massages, doggy turn downs, surf lessons and yappy hour,” and though Cameron kept thinking some of her ideas were too ridiculous, she kept discovering they existed in real life. 

The book is silly and fun, she said, and is one she hopes readers will enjoy.

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