Cary J. Griffith sets his mysteries in the outdoors, drawing on a childhood love of nature.
Cary J. Griffith grew up in what he calls a “Huck Finn” existence, spending summers wandering the woods at the dead end of his street in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, mucking about in the shallow waters of nearby Indian Creek.
He and his wife and children now live in Rosemount, in a house that abuts a 47-acre wood. It is no wonder that nature and the out-of-doors figure so prominently in all of his work.
“My sophomore year in college, I read [Ernest] Hemingway’s short story ‘Big Two-Hearted River,’ ” Griffith said, “and I have sometimes thought about that evening as a cracking-open-of-the-egg experience. In the story, Nick Adams is returning from the war and using a solo backpacking/fishing trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to heal himself and recover his spiritual center. For me, being outdoors has often provided solace, refuge and restoration. When I was 19, I thought it would be a worthwhile life pursuit to see if I could capture that on a page.”
Griffith is a graduate of the University of Iowa and has a master’s in library science from the University of Minnesota. He works as marketing manager at Ceridian and is the author of four books, all of which are grounded in the outdoors. Two are nonfiction: “Lost in the Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woods” and “Opening Goliath” (winner of a 2010 Minnesota Book Award). Two are fiction. “Wolves,” the first in a series of Sam Rivers mysteries, was published last fall and was a finalist this year for a Minnesota Book Award. His second, “Savage Minnesota,” will be published serially in the Star Tribune beginning next Sunday and as an e-book.
Q: What prompted your move from writing nonfiction to writing fiction?
A: I love to write both fiction and nonfiction and will continue pursuing both. The difference is plot; when writing fiction you create it out of airy nothingness and hopefully it has a purposeful design. When writing nonfiction, the plot is created for you. In both instances I try to imagine the perspectives of each character and write the story from their point of view.
For me, fiction is easier, because once the plot is outlined, the trajectory of the story is in place. I can wake up, put on a pot of coffee and begin writing. With nonfiction, I’m researching and interviewing whenever I can find a spare moment, and writing whenever time allows.
Q: The outdoors, nature and wild animals factor prominently in your novels. Why do you find this so interesting, and is there a message you’re hoping that readers take away?
A: Wild places and the flora and fauna that inhabit them have always held a deep, personal attraction for me and have at times been profoundly restorative. So I enjoy researching and writing about them. I hope readers find the wolf biology conveyed in “Wolves” and the cougar biology in “Savage Minnesota” interesting. In both novels I try to convey a healthy respect, reverence and sense of awe about the natural world.
Q: Why did you choose to set “Savage Minnesota” in, well, Savage, Minnesota?
A: I’ve always loved that city’s name. Coincidentally, several years ago, I read about a cougar sighting in a remote part of the Minnesota River Valley near Shakopee. A worker in a nearby business who discovered the big cat’s prints near a fresh deer kill set up a motion-sensing camera and captured an image of the mountain lion, which appeared in the article. Years later it gave me the idea for “Savage Minnesota.”
Q: There are plenty of landmarks in the book — some actual places, some invented. Explain your choices.
A: Early on, in doing research for the book, I actually nosed around down off Hwy. 13. What I noticed is how remote some parts of the Minnesota River Valley are in that otherwise suburban area. Based on those excursions, it was easy to contrive the fictitious landscape around McGregor Industries.
Being a coffee-holic, I have also stopped by the Dan Patch Coffee Depot on occasion. I appreciate Starbucks and Caribou, too, but if there’s a local store I can use, I will use it. Another good example is having one of the bad characters in the story walk down Judicial Road. It’s appropriate, and can also lend a kind of verisimilitude to the fiction. But sometimes, as with Wannamake Circle and The Club, fictional names and places are more appropriate than a real location.