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Summer-Fall 2001
Vol. 64, No. 1

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After Words

2001: Like Father, Like Son

Although it may appear that Christian Cameron '87 followed in the footsteps of his father Kenneth '53, both assert that the younger Cameron charted his own course. It's mostly coincidence, they say, that both Ken and Chris attended Rochester, joined the U.S. Navy as intelligence officers, and now write novels.

But it may be this shared experience that allows the two to work so well together. This year, the Camerons released Peacemaker, the second of three books in a series of military thrillers written by the father-son team under the pseudonym Gordon Kent.

Begun in the late '90s, the Cameron collaboration was sparked when Chris proposed an idea for a book as the pair were looking for father-son activities. Ken says the usual writer's response to such an idea is "go write it yourself," but thinking the idea was a good one, he suggested the two write the book together. They wrote the first 100 pages just as Chris had outlined, and the first publisher who saw the draft bought the book.

"We were looking for more things to do together," Ken says. "This proved to be a lot of fun and rewarding."

A full-time writer for 30 years, Ken began his career as a teacher, including five years in Rochester's English department. The author of more than 20 books, he has published everything from plays and textbooks to fiction and nonfiction. Chris is relatively new to writing, picking up the craft after leaving the Navy in 1999.

So far, response to the pair's latest novel has been positive, with readers praising the authors' inside knowledge of military intelligence as "Kent" recounts the exploits of the series' hero, Navy Lt. Alan Craik.

"Few authors integrate multiple plots with such dazzling 3-D realism and technical accuracy," as a review in Publishers Weekly said.

The two continue to write, both together and separately, with the follow-up to Peacemaker due out this year. And they are working on a book about 18th-century fishing that, Ken says, is "more interesting than it sounds." Chris is writing a novel about George Washington and his slaves during the American Revolution.

While being an intelligence officer may offer good material for fiction, such insider access comes with creative difficulties, too. Everything the Camerons wrote had to be OK'd by a government adjudicator to make sure no sensitive information was revealed. Chris still worried that he might be giving away too many secrets, so the two wrote under a pseudonym.

"From the moment we started, (Chris) was worried about violating one Navy rule or another," Ken says. "Now he admits we could have gone into more detail than we did."

As writers, the duo also had to tackle the issue of turning military intelligence operations, which can last many years, into exciting stories that keep readers interested.

"The shoot-em-ups, for example, are not really a very big part of counter-intelligence," Chris says. "But that's what people buy books for. If we wrote about how things really took place, no one would want to read them."

Writing together seems a natural extension of careers that look, on the surface, to be quite similar. But the Camerons are quick to point out differences. Ken thought his historical-minded son would be happier at a smaller school than Rochester.

"I loved it there as an undergrad, but I didn't think it was right for him at the time," Ken says. "Fortunately, he went there anyway and found exactly what I had: really exciting teachers in a subject he loved."

Citing the school's reputation in medieval history, which had always been his passion, Chris says Rochester seemed an obvious choice.

"I really feel lucky. I think I was there at just the right time," Chris says. "Granted I didn't spend all my time studying, but the atmosphere was much more intellectual minded, which I appreciated."

While his father joined the Navy because he knew he was going to be drafted and served just the minimum four years, Chris chose the Navy rather than pursuing graduate work.

"It was a Rochester professor, [Wilson Professor Emeritus of History] Perez Zagorin, who told me 'why not make history instead of just writing about it,' " he says. "He thought I had what it takes to do real academic work, but he told me that many people never get out in the real world. I do hope someday to get back to academic work, though."

Zagorin's advice paid off, Chris says. His Navy experience, which included serving in such hot spots as the Gulf War and Somalia, proved to be excellent fodder for his new creative endeavor.

1953: Focused on the Theater

It's little surprise that Kenneth Cameron turned out to be a writer, but what may be a surprise is the variety of his writing. Classmate John Braund '53 would have predicted Cameron to be writing plays and productions rather than military suspense novels.

"He was very involved with the Stagers," Braund says. "The school put on a play he wrote. He was a very good playwright."

Although Braund remembers Cameron on the track and cross-country teams, he says the writer was involved in many endeavors.

"He was a very active guy, always active with running, active with the Stagers," Braund says. "It doesn't surprise me that his career would turn out so varied."

1987: Active or Contemplative?

There was no doubt that Christian Cameron was a history buff. Some students take classes out of requirements or interest, but Cameron tried to live the history he studied, to the point of participating in historical re-enactment groups, starting a fencing club, and even bringing a full suit of armor to class.

"As a student, he was unusually interested, unusually widely read," says Professor of History Richard Kaeuper. "He was obviously taking courses out of a deep personal interest, not merely for requirements."

Although most people with such a strong interest in history end up as teachers or historians, Kaeuper says that a career in the Navy seemed perfectly suited to Cameron.

There are two types of medieval lifestyles, Kaeuper notes: the active life and the contemplative life. He says Cameron seemed destined for the former.

"I told him he could become a historian if he wanted, but I'm not sure if that standard historian career path was what his personality and talents would lead to," Kaeuper says. "All his energies seemed directed toward a more active life."

Jeffrey Marsh

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