Journalism, Law, and Writing the Next Great YA Novel

Cameron Headshot With Book

Cameron Beach (Duke ‘20) has loved writing for as long as she can remember. “I’m a big journal-er and notes-app writer-down-of-thoughts and such. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but didn’t have the time for it. So, when Covid hit, I realized that it could be something fun to do to balance out the un-fun process of studying for the LSAT and working.”

Her debut novel, The Jigsaw Project is now in its first run by New Degree Press. “All I wanted was to hold a physical copy of a book that I wrote. That was such a mountainous and extreme task, and I just wanted to try and see if I could do it.” The process took two years from start to finish, which according to Cameron is pretty fast. The response so far is more than she imagined, “It’s actually been a bigger success than I was expecting in the first weeks since being published. I’m heading home to talk to my high school and middle school, and I’m doing book tours around DC and back home in Chicago. It’s a larger response then expected, which has been fun.”

The Jigsaw Project centers around four high school pranksters, who set off to complete the biggest and best senior prank their school has ever seen. “The prank goes very, very wrong and ends up killing a student by accident. They spend the entirety of the novel trying to figure out what to do about that. That’s the general premise, and of course crazy things happen, they get in terrible situations, they make bad decisions.” She wrote the book for a young audience with her siblings in mind. “It’s for eighth grade and up, those are the people who would enjoy it and that’s the audience I wrote it for. I wanted to write something my young siblings would want to read.”

They helped her workshop the book, but the real story started to emerge once Cameron took the time to reflect on her “why” behind writing. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to write about and I had this thought that I had to write something that is a tome or something very meaningful and world shaking, and I realized that I actually don’t know many things, right? I haven’t had 90% of the experiences that I’m going to have in my life. There are lots of things I don’t understand yet. And I didn’t know if it was within my reach, or within my own collection of experiences, to write that type of novel. So, the way the book really started is that I released myself from that expectation. It was like, the real purpose of a book is to let people escape into the words, enjoy themselves outside of the confines of their own existence, lose themselves in a story. That’s the point. So, I decided that’s what I’m going to try to do. And once I said that to myself, the rest of it flowed super easily.”

It’s a leadership lesson in giving yourself the grace and flexibility to be creative in your pursuits, whether that’s writing a novel or overhauling complex systems in the world; something Cameron is excited to take on next, as she starts her next professional journey at the University of Virginia School of Law. “I always wanted to go to law school and it’s coming at a great time for me, since the book will be out for a few months before I start. So, I’ll have the time to give it all I’ve got before I never leave the library again. One of the big reasons I chose to go to Virginia is they have a great first amendment clinic and work with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press – I’d love to work with them.”

Two uniquely Robertson experiences helped Cameron solidify her goals. “During Campus Switch, I had the space to be away from my day-to-day life at Duke and it gave me the ability to reflect on what I actually wanted to do with the rest of my years. At the end of it, I knew that I wanted to do journalism. A big commitment that I have is defending reporters.” Her Launch Summer was the another one. “When I was reporting in Asheville, I got in an Uber to go to a crime scene and I had to race over there, so I asked the driver to speed up a little bit and he asked me where I was going. I told him I was a reporter for the newspaper, and he kicked me out of his Uber. He called me the “fake news media”. It was a very eye-opening. I had seen the negative sentiments for journalists growing in the country, but I’d never experienced it on a personal level and then I had. So, I made that connection from this national talking point to this real man that was looking at me and telling me that I was ruining the country, and I realized that I could also use my law degree to combat that misconception.” For Cameron, it all comes back to being a role model for her young siblings. “Being a big sister to my two siblings has defined most of my life. Being a good role model for them has been the main propelling factor in every change that I’ve made for myself. Knowing that I’ve made mistakes, and probably done the wrong thing many times, they’re the reason I want to do the right thing continuously, whether it’s more often than not the difficult thing to do. So, they’re my driving force. They’re the reason behind writing a YA novel, because I wanted them to be involved with it and see that you can do things that are outlandish – like write a novel – or whatever they decide to do that’s equally outlandish. The other thing I would say is that I’m very driven by a sense of fairness. And I knew that back when a kid would steal my toy on the playground, or watching a kid steal someone else’s toy. I did not like it. I’ve always been the most vocal when I see or notice or feel injustice, which is why I think that law school is the right choice for me. Those are the two things that drive me most. Playground justice. That’s why I’m becoming a lawyer.”