How Peter Cameron’s gullible grandmother changed literature
A look into Author Peter Cameron’s subconscious.
BY ELIZABETH LEE
Backdropped by a wall of paintings and surrounded by a collection of first-edition books bought off of eBay, author Peter Cameron embodies the artistic New Yorker archetype, without the pretentious aftertaste. Instead, his authenticity shines through everything he does, which is partially why his genre-defying books are so vivacious and earnest.
When Cameron was a child, he delighted in crafting outlandish lies to tell his wonderfully gullible grandmother. He cites his early realization of “how easy it was to lie” as the way he became a fiction writer. He continued to hone his writing abilities throughout his adolescence.
“I’m always happier when I am writing, because I feel like it adds so much to my life to be thinking about a book and working on a book,” Cameron said. “It’s just something I enjoy. And I feel more alive when I’m writing a book.”
At 23 Cameron sold his first story, “Memorial Day,” a beautifully vulnerable piece about a 16-year old boy’s complicated relationship with his mother and stepfather to the New Yorker. and Fittingly, it was published on Memorial Day weekend in 1983. After the piece was published he planned to continue in the same vein, writing short stories related to specific dates in the hopes that it would get his pieces published in a “timely manner.”
However, when his story “October” went unpublished, he moved away from the “dated” concept. He did continue to write short stories, and his first book, “One Way or Another,” a collection of stories published in 1986 received a special citation by the PEN/Hemingway Award.
In 1990, Cameron moved on from short stories in favor of writing novels. As of 2022, he has released seven books.
His former student at Sarah Lawrence College, Professor Susanna Horng said that she admires how “he’s just followed his own sort of instinct about when to write.”
Cameron’s method of writing lets him explore what was once unknown to him instead of limiting him to his own lived experiences. For Cameron,“a book is about getting out of the world you’re living in and having another world, a very different world.”
Consequently, Cameron has written about places he had yet to visit. For example, his book The City of Your Final Destination centered around a group of Americans and Europeans who had moved to Uruguay. During the writing process he considered changing the setting to Mexico, a country he was more knowledgeable about, but decided that he needed to stay faithful to how the book came to him.
His depiction of Uruguay was so accurate that when The City of Your Final Destination was adapted into a movie the director, James Ivory, could not believe that he had never visited the country. When he was scouting for a location to film he kept repeating that he had found the exact house and hospital Cameron had described.
It is Cameron’s deep understanding of language that made him such an amazing teacher. Horng still uses an exercise he created on her own students. He would take a beautiful sentence and remove everything but the punctuation. He would then have everyone write their own sentences that fit the punctuation. Professor Horng reflects back on her time in Cameron’s class fondly not only because of the literary exercises, but also because of how dedicated he was to his students.
She described him as “kind,” “selfless,” and “nice.” It is important to note that she means nice in a genuine, “not-pollyanna way.” To her, he is an inspiration who “modeled how to have a writer’s life.”
Peter Cameron said that writing is a collaborative process. He purposefully leaves room for reader’s interpretation in his writing and is fine with readers interpreting his work differently than he intended. While I agree with his sentiment, no one should walk away from this article thinking that Peter Cameron is anything but brilliant.