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Author John Camp wrote his bestselling thrillers in this cottage-style house on the St. Croix River. You can have it for $1.2 million.

, Star Tribune

River cottage serves as writer's refuge

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD
  • Star Tribune
  • April 16, 2012 - 10:15 AM

Over the past 19 years, crime writer John Camp spent endless hours holed up in his library overlooking the St. Croix River. On his Mac, he conjured characters and plots for his bestselling novels set in the cities and towns of Minnesota.

Although Camp's specific river setting was never used in any of his books, there are occasional references to it, he said.

"Virgil Flowers fishes in the St. Croix where I fish for muskies near my house," said Camp, referring to one of his crime story detectives. "That's when he thinks of a solution to a murder."

The charming English cottage-style house is where the prolific Camp wrote 28 of his 31 novels, including the successful "Prey" series, under his pen name John Sandford. The home on the 2 1/2-acre wooded property, which includes 300 feet of river shoreline, was just listed for $1.2 million.

"It's a glorious place to work, and I've had a lot of fun," said Camp, an avid outdoorsman who canoes, fishes and swims in the river. But with a home in Santa Fe, N.M., and a golf getaway in Wisconsin, Camp has decided to downsize. "I'm just trying to normalize my life and get ready for the last 20 years or whatever I've got," he said. "It's a lot to take care of."

Bucolic setting

In the early 1990s, Camp, a former Pioneer Press reporter, columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, was hunting for land where he could paddle a canoe in his own back yard.

"I'm an outdoors kind of guy," he said. "I once paddled a canoe the length of the Mississippi River all the way from Itasca to New Orleans."

In 1993, he found his sprawling river home in the town of Lakeland Shores, 9 miles south of Stillwater. It was built in 1955 on a bluff overlooking the St. Croix. That stretch of the river becomes wider and deeper and is called Lake St. Croix. The home has a flagstone patio and stone steps leading down to a sandy swimming beach.

"It's a really private and quiet setting," said Camp, "although we've had a couple of outrageous parties out there."

Camp was divorced from his wife, Susan, when he bought the house, but they remarried two years later. "I think she remarried me for the property," he joked. "She was a naturalist and was down at the river all the time." Susan died in 2007.

Writing room

Over the years, Camp remodeled and made improvements to the 4,700-square-foot home. He transformed a second-floor attic space into a large, light-filled master suite, including a bathroom with whirlpool tub and shower. A new three-car garage also houses an artist's studio where he paints.

The new custom library "is the quietest place in the house, where I can really concentrate," he said. Plus it's steeped in character and history. He unearthed remnants of a library from an old mansion at an architectural salvage business and hired a carpenter to restore the bookshelves and cabinets into a gutted space, which was used as a commercial office by previous owners. The library was finished with beamed vaulted ceilings, wood paneling, tiled fireplace and a bank of windows facing the river.

"My deadlines for the 'Prey' series was January 1," said Camp. "I worked really hard in the winter, and the house would feel nice and quiet and cozy. I would get the fireplace going and could work 12 hours a day." His latest book, "Stolen Prey," comes out next month.

To extend the seasonal use of the screened porch, Camp added a stone fireplace and huge picture windows to watch the abundant wildlife on his land.

"I would like to see it go to a nice family," he said. "It's really a place where you can spread out and enjoy yourself."

Until the home sells, Camp will be in the library, tapping out his next thriller, "Mad River," which is set near Redwood Falls, Minn. He'll recharge by taking breaks to watch the eagles soar along the river.

"I'll miss being here in August," he said. "Everything is ripe and lush, and it's close to harvest season. It's my favorite time of year."

Other features:

• The home has 4,750 square feet and includes four bedrooms and five bathrooms.

• Many rooms feature architectural details, such as curved archways, alcoves to display art, stone accents and beadboard ceilings and walls.

• There are four fireplaces -- two gas and two wood-burning.

• The galley-style kitchen has a large eat-in area, granite countertops and hardwood floors.

• The property includes a dock and a large side garden.

• The best river views are from the living room, breakfast nook and porch, which all boast curved walls of windows.

• Location, location, location. Camp has biked to Hudson, Wis., which is 2 miles away; it's a 15-minute drive to downtown St. Paul.

Jill Roffers, of Lakes Sotheby's International Realty, has the listing; 612-875-7579.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

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