I’m excited to have on author James Renner. His genre-twisting mystery novel, The Man from Primrose Lane, debuted in February to rave reviews. Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review) says it’s “punctuated by moments of desperate tenderness, this unusually demanding and grim tale provokes troubling reflections on guilt and innocence, good and evil, revenge and redemption.”
His next novel, The Great Forgetting, is scheduled for release in 2013.
Congratulations on the release of The Man from Primrose Lane! It’s been called a haunting, wickedly clever book. Where did you get the idea for it?
I was a journalist for some time, writing about true crime for the alternative weekly papers in Cleveland. There was this case, involving the abduction and murder of a ten-year-old girl, that I worked hard to solve. The story of The Man from Primrose Lane was inspired by the hard lessons I learned about obsession while investigating that unsolved mystery.
Who is your favorite character in your book?
My favorite character is probably Tanner, the four-year-old son of the writer, David Neff. Tanner is a precocious boy who tinkers with Rube Goldberg machines in his bedroom. I have a four-year-old son who is very much like Tanner and it was fun studying my kid to try to learn how he views the world around him and the pacing of his speech and fun stuff like that.
In three words describe your writing!
My worst fears.
Can you briefly tell us about your next book, The Great Forgetting, coming in 2013?
It’s about paranoia and histrionics. But mostly it’s about memory. It’s a mystery. It’s a cross-country adventure. And it’s very very scary. I think.
You’ve also written two non-fiction books about unsolved murders. How did you become fascinated with hunting down killers?
In 1989, a man abducted and murdered Amy Mihaljevic, a young girl my age who lived in the next town over. The event changed the way I looked at the world forever. I lost that safe feeling kids are entitled to. It made me want to become a detective—or a journalist—so I could have permission to try to find her killer.
Share with us one writing quirk your readers might be interested to know about.
Like the main character in my novel, I like to chew on cigarettes but not smoke them.
How would you describe your life in a sentence?
Much less believable than my novels.
What is your motto or maxim?
You deserve the grace you extend to others.
What’s your greatest fear?
Alone in the house at 3 am and someone starts pounding on my bedroom door.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
Right here, in Akron, Ohio with my family in the house and a good book on the table.
If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
I’d like to understand how to brew beer from malting to bottling.
What is your biggest pet peeve
People who toss cigarette butts out their car window.
If you couldn’t write, what would you do?
List your three favorite authors.
Stephen King (for storytelling)
Donald Ray Pollock (for economy of word)
John Irving (for understanding humanity)
Is there a book you love to reread?
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I catch something new every time I read it. And the structure is very post-modern (stories within stories) for having been written in 1972.
Do you have one sentence of advice for new writers?
Write every goddamn day.
More about James:
He claims to be a reformed muckraker who now writes novels and short fiction. He also occasionally dabbles in film and comedy. In 2005, James directed a short film based on the Stephen King story, All That You Love Will Be Carried Away. King sold him the rights for $1 and it premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival.
James spends his spare time hunting serial killers and writing about his adventures. One of his true crime stories was published in the Best American Crime Reporting anthology. It was the first nonfiction true crime article to use a dream sequence as a narrative device.