Read this exclusive Q&A with James Renner, author of True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, and then make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a copy of the book!
James Renner, author of True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, has been obsessed with missing people since he was a child. After learning about the disappearance of Maura Murray, he put his investigative journalism skills to task and began studying the case. He set up a blog to track his process and hoped to grow a community that could share his passion and help find out what happened on that day in 2004. After years of research, Renner has written a book about his search for Maura Murray.
Well, we had some questions of our own! James was nice enough to sit down with CrimeHQ and provide some great answers about the book, society's current obsession with true crime, and a few lighter questions about his personal life.
How did writing True Crime Addict compare to writing your novels The Great Forgetting and The Man from Primrose Lane? What are the differences in writing fiction and nonfiction?
The method of building the book is very similar. I think many people don't realize how much research goes into a novel. Or, at least, the novels I write, because I want them to feel real. I did so much research into the science of time travel for The Man from Primrose Lane. For The Great Forgetting, I had to research conspiracy theories—where they began, why people want to believe them.
In your latest book, you’re as much of a character as the people you’re researching and writing about. What was the hardest part about writing about yourself?
The hardest part about writing yourself is being open and honest. But, if you're going to write about yourself, you'd better be open and honest because nobody wants to read about how awesome you are at everything. The book opens with me visiting a strip club after being fired from a newspaper. I am not written as a likeable character. Maura Murray had her faults. So does James Renner. We're all human. We're all struggling.
As a self-proclaimed “true crime addict,” what are some other cases you’d like to investigate and write about in the future?
Honest answer: I am done investigating cold cases for a while. It's a promise I made to my wife that I intend to keep, at least for a little bit. Writing novels is much more fun. That said…for my next novel, I did a TON of research into the Tamam Shud mystery.
You’ve been obsessed with missing people since you were a child. What drew you to the disappearance of Maura Murray?
What draws me to Maura's cold case is that it's actually two mysteries coiled around each other. The first mystery is: what happened to Maura Murray on Route 112 that night? The second mystery is: what was this nursing student doing up there in the first place. If you can answer one, you can get closer to the other answer. After six years of research, I believe I've solved the second mystery.
With shows like Making a Murderer and podcasts like Serial, it seems like everyone’s interest in true crimes is at an all-time high. What do you think makes true crimes so addictive?
I strongly believe, when we look back at this moment in history, we will come to realize that our society is having an existential crisis. We're searching for meaning and coming up short. What we're finally learning is that the world is indifferent and that our only defense against the horrors of life is to start treating each other better, and fast. I think that's why unresolved mysteries with no sense of closure have become a part of pop culture—we're beginning to understand that closure is a myth.
If you could team up with any detective, real or fictional, who would you choose and why?
I think Robert Graysmith and I could do some serious damage if we joined forces and went up against, say, the Original Night Stalker.
What do you want readers to think or feel after finishing this book?
I want people to realize that everyone has secrets, that we're all fallible and insecure. There is a darkness, the other part of our soul, and it's how we choose to fight that darkness (and whether we do at all) that defines us. I want people to recognize that every life is important, every life matters, every person is worth searching for.
Describe True Crime Addict in five words!
Mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Where can people find more information about Maura Murray and her disappearance?
You can read through over a thousand pages of documents related to the case at my blog: http://mauramurray.blogspot.com
What other true crime books are among your favorites?
The Shadow of Death by Philip Ginsburg—it's about the hunt for The Connecticut Valley River Killer and takes places in and around the area where Maura Murray disappeared.
What are you currently reading?
I'm getting back to some heady mystery novels, currently enjoying the upcoming book, Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking.
What are you currently binging on Netflix?
Just finishing the new season of House of Cards. Jumping into the last season of The Killing. Going to rewatch Twin Peaks soon.
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James Renner is the author of The Serial Killer's Apprentice and several other works of nonfiction. His true crime stories have appeared in The Best American Crime Writing anthology, as well the Cleveland Scene and Cracked.com. His method of using social media to solve cold cases was the subject of a CNN profile, in 2015. He has also written two novels, The Man from Primrose Lane and The Great Forgetting. He lives in Akron with his wife and children.