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.
Q: Did you model any of the characters on any real people?
A: Absolutely not. I do not know any sheriffs or police people, and though I have spoken with some deputies Up North, in doing research on nonfiction projects, no character in “Savage Minnesota” is based on a real person. I have never met the Scott County sheriff and I’m certain he or she bears no resemblance to Rusty Benson. Neither have I ever met a Scott County deputy or any policeman, for that matter.
All of the characters in the novel have been created to tell different aspects of the story. You cannot have a thriller involving a murder without a murderer. But again, I don’t know any murderers. I just try to use my imagination to make the characters believable.
Q: You have a family, and a full-time job. When do you write?
A: Well before the rosy-fingered dawn. It has been my lifelong practice to try and write one to two hours before going in to work. I have always had a day job. That said, I love to write and consider my daily practice a sacrament I will not break. Even if I hadn’t published any books, I would continue my daily writing practice, which in many ways is an end in itself.
Q: And where do you write?
A: Usually at the kitchen table, sometimes to the annoyance of my lovely and patient wife. If I’m spending some serious time on a manuscript, I will disappear into a downstairs bedroom that has a desk and plenty of sunlight.
Writers love an audience and I feel blessed, honored and, frankly, lucky to have you reading this here, now. Seriously. Thank you.