Interview – G.W. Renshaw, Author of “The Chandler Affairs” Series
G.W. Renshaw hasn’t done everything, but he’s trying: Canadian Forces, retail slave, forest ranger, computer programmer for 30 years, college teacher, film actor, security and intelligence, jeweller, black smith, Search and Rescue manager, and member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms.
He started writing professionally in 2011 and teaches at a medical school. He is now the author of four novels and a collection of short stories who calls himself an “aggressively Canadian author.”
His short fiction has appeared in On Spec magazine as well as the Starklight 3 anthology. His paranormal thriller series The Chandler Affairs (The Stable Vices Affair, The Prince and the Puppet Affair, The Kalevala Affair), published by Javari Press, chronicles the career of Calgarian private investigator Veronica Chandler and her unusual cases.
On a more personal note, G.W. was born in Toronto and lives in Calgary with his lovely wife of nearly 40 years. Time flies when you are having fun!
Author Interview: Meet G.W. Renshaw!
Tell us more about you and what ignited your passion for words.
I had ADD before it was a real thing, which wasn’t fun because the diagnosis at the time was that I was undisciplined, stupid, and lazy. The only time I could really concentrate was when I was reading.
My parents bought the latest Tom Swift or Hardy Boys book for me each week and I’d devour it before the end of the day. My mother tried to get me to read what she called real books (these days we’d call them Oprah picks), but with infrequent exceptions I never did.
My grandfather was paralyzed in one of the first automobile accidents in England, and was bedridden as long as I knew him. Instead of just lying there or listening to the radio his mind roamed the universe. Originally a brass worker, he taught himself astronomy and physics, and was a talented amateur painter, poet, and literary critic. I learned a lot from him, including that science fiction was an honourable love.
I’ve always been interested in science, so I graduated to Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov (who I met at the same time as my lovely wife. She was prettier so I married her), and the rest of the old masters. In high school I discovered Tolkien and more modern fantasy writers.
Shortly after Star Trek came on TV I hand-wrote what would now be considered fanfic. I still have it. It’s utterly hideous and will never see the light of day, but it was the first non-school creative writing I ever did.
Writing remained a hobby until 2011 when I decided to get serious about it. I sold a story to On Spec Magazine a few months later, and placed in the Robyn Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest. After that I decided to write mysteries, and therein lies a tale. [thunder on the sound track]
What type of books are you writing? Can you tell us more about it or where we can find it if already published?
My big project for the next while is The Chandler Affairs (so far The Stable Vices Affair, The Prince and the Puppet Affair, The Kalevala Affair, and The True Love Affair). The idea started out as a bunch of short mystery stories about a PI and immediately turned into something completely different. The series follows the life (and bizarre cases) of a young woman who is a private investigator in Calgary.
Of course, there are several fictional teen detectives, but Veronica Chandler is different. She’s a real licensed PI, not a talented amateur. She’s also a chef. She has no superpowers or special occult knowledge. She has romantic partners and questions her identity.
I find it amusing that I get asked why I’m qualified to write about women. Some askers are angry (“how dare you!”), and some are confused (“that must be hard!”). The simple answer is that women are people, so I just write people. If there are specific things I need to know I ask women about them, and here’s the clever bit, listen to what they say. My secret weapon is my Young Padawan, whom I have known since she was 14. She has no qualms about telling me if I get it wrong. She’s also my martial arts student and cover model.
The books aren’t easy to classify, but are marketed as paranormal thrillers. There are definitely Strange Things Happening, but it isn’t clear what the explanations are until later. I will tell you two things. One is that you won’t see it coming. The other is that I’m honest with my readers; the outcome is logical; when the series ends everything is answered; and you have just as much information as Veronica does.
So far my known reader demographic is from nine (a boy) to 85 (a woman). Some adults think the series is only for adults because it deals with adult themes. A lot of teens think the series is perfectly reasonable for ages 14 and up. Take your pick.
One more thing: if you are old enough to remember The Man from U.N.C.L.E. you may guess where I got the format for my titles. An “affair” in Cold War-era spy-speak is an operation or mission.
All my books are at least available on Amazon if you can’t find them locally, as well as other online stores. I will try to keep a list of sources on my website, but in common with most authors my website tends to get forgotten when I’m writing.
Would you mind sharing a high, a low or something special you experienced writing this book?
Oh good! An easy question!
So far, the most depressing experience in the series was when I wrote the chapter The Duty. I kept crying, and after a while, I couldn’t force myself to read it again.
I like to over-research everything in my writing, and every time I dig out an obscure fact it’s a rush. However, there is one thing that stands out as totally cool because it was so unexpected.
My Young Padawan has her own PI character, so I suggested we collaborate on the plot of The Kalevala Affair. Rather than co-writing, we each own the plot and will write individual books from our own PI’s point of view. We needed a McGuffin for the characters to chase and came up with the Sampo from the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala. What better thing to chase all over the world than a lost, mythic artifact?
A FaceBook friend said he’d been to Finland, so I asked him some research questions. It turned out that the town I’d randomly chosen for the book was one he’d spent the summer in after being drafted to sing in a series of metal concerts. He in turn introduced me to his friend in Finland in case I had more questions. That was Plamen Dimov, the organizer of the concert series, musician, songwriter, and teacher. He invited me into the closed group for the concert musicians (I refer to myself as their groupie), so I now have incredibly talented friends all over the world. Years ago, Plamen had some students whom he encouraged to start a band—Nightwish.
Until all this happened I had no interest in any kind of metal music. Now I’m a fan of symphonic metal and both Plamen and Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish frontman) have read The Kalevala Affair. Plamen says I have the soul of a Finn, which is kind of cool.
Are you working on anything new? At which stage are you with this new project?
I’m about to dive into book five of the series, although I don’t have a title yet. The research is mostly done, and Veronica gets to be far more of an adult than she ever thought possible or desirable. Much like every other young person.
At some point in the near future there will be The Private Investigator’s Cookbook. Some people think that cookbooks are passé, but I have readers calling me to ask when this one will be available. As I mentioned, Veronica’s a chef, and another character suggests she teach a cooking course. Of course that requires a textbook, so she gets a writer friend to ghost-write it for her. Seriously though, it’ll be a book for people who want to learn to cook like a chef rather than just following other people’s recipes. Written by Veronica. There may be mystery involved.
After the series is completed there’s a hard science-fiction novel I have already outlined about a manned expedition to my favourite planet, Venus.
There’s also a novel about an inventor who tries to do a good thing and unleashes really, truly bad stuff. Veronica may appear in that one in a guest role.
I also have a lot of other books projects that I’m slowly outlining, and I keep getting new ideas. Every once in a while somebody will ask, “how do you get so many ideas?” My unhelpful answer is, “how do you not?”
What advice would you give a new writer?
Believe you can, but remain humble. You will write something early on and believe it’s the best thing ever. If you leave it for two months and read it again, you’ll probably be shocked at how much it sucks. How will it suck? The plot may be full of holes. The characters may be flat, or stereotypical, or just awkward. The language may not do what you thought it did. It may be a novel masquerading as a short story, or vice versa. It may just be a bad idea. There are a lot of lessons to learn and every writer learns or fails.
Keep writing. Nobody likes to practice their art or craft, especially in the beginning when you try to paint a bird and it looks vaguely like a drippy blob with feet. If you don’t keep writing, and seeing how you suck this time, you’ll never get better. The good news is that nobody (NOBODY) is brilliant at first. Some are better than others, but if you ask a famous author about their early work, they usually go a bit green and change the subject.
Don’t edit immediately after writing. Sure, you’ll find some things to change, but the chances are that you’ll keep making the assumptions you made when you first wrote the story. Is there enough description for a reader who has no idea what’s going on? Is there too much? Have you red that sentence so many times you cant find the typo? Go write something else for a few weeks and then edit the first piece.
Finish it. If you don’t write an ending you have no idea how to write endings. Also, nobody will buy a half-finished work.
Don’t try to be completely original. Yes, my PI is a young woman from Calgary instead of a retired cop from New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. But she’s human and has an easy name. If you insist on a PI from another planet named Ipurukerieri of the Bazioetikeleni Clan who acts just like an earthly cat but looks like a spider with the head of a baboon, you are in trouble. Nobody will identify with your character. Nobody will be able to pronounce the names. And worse yet, nobody will care regardless of how original it is.
Be original and do your research. Make that cop in the Yukon a black woman from Newfoundland instead of a default white man from Regina. Make her polyamorous (or asexual, or bi) instead of a divorcee and deal with it. Write the character as herself, rather than just a straight white guy in another body. Black people everywhere have a different experience of society than white folk in that location. Find out what the differences really are, not just what you think they are, and have her react that way. Ditto with her sexuality, or her background, or whatever. Does Inuit culture allow her to have multiple lovers without judgment? Don’t assume! The only native person from the North that I’ve knowingly met called himself and his people Eskimos. I was told that was a racist term, but among some, it isn’t. Find out who you are dealing with in the place your story happens. Otherwise, you look like an idiot.
Even if they are members of groups, individuals are individual. This applies to human and non-human characters. I had a reader tell me that Veronica’s cat doesn’t act believably because her cat doesn’t act that way. Cats are individuals. There is no such thing as a generic Asian person. Chinese, Laotian, and Vietnamese all have their differences in addition to being individual humans.
Figure out how you need to work, and do that. It doesn’t matter how many people tell me that Scrivener is the Best Thing Ever. It doesn’t fit the way I work. It annoys me and gets in my way. I know several professional writers use WordStar (a DOS program). Another uses LaTEX, which is about as geeky as you can get. Some write the first draft by hand. Some write it all by hand and pay someone to type it out. One writer creates the first draft, then throws it out and writes the second draft from scratch.
What do I use? I wrote a custom template for LibreOffice that lets me write my drafts already typeset and (mostly) ready for the printer. That way I can see exactly what the final version will look like. I use the spelling (Canadian English) and grammar checkers (LanguageTool). I create a new dictionary for each novel so special terms don’t pollute the standard dictionary. I also create new grammar/style rules for myself when I find something the grammar checker doesn’t cover. The instructions are online, you just have to read them. I post the latest version of my template on my website. If that helps you, you’re welcome.
Besides writing, what do you enjoy most? Can you tell us something about what you do outside of writing?
I love teaching. I’ve taught first aid, college computer science courses, cave rescue, cooking, and martial arts. A few months ago a writers group asked me to do a talk on wilderness survival because of my time in Search and Rescue. At the medical school, we’re about to start a course where the students learn how to do male pelvic exams.
My Young Padawan and I get together every Saturday for martial arts practice. I have a black belt in aikido and she started classes with me when she was 14. Currently, she’s 23 (oddly enough, the same age as Veronica Chandler) and she’s studied aikido, staff, tactical baton, knife fighting, Krav Maga, sword, man tracking (I studied with Terry Grant, the original TV Mantracker), and we went to a gun range a while ago. I’m not always a nice person, so I would pay to see a video of a drunk frat boy trying to pick her up after she’s said no.
Although I haven’t been on a mountain in a while, I’ve always enjoyed rock climbing. I’m not so much into the modern style where the route is pre-roped and the rock is treated like a climbing wall. Instead, I’m old school: “there’s a face, let’s find a new route up.”
And, of course, I’ve been cooking since my early teens watching the Galloping Gourmet on TV. My lovely wife is used as the guinea pig for new recipes. Poor woman. She doesn’t seem to mind, though.
The Stable Vices Affair: Veronica has worked hard to become a private investigator. Her first cases should be simple: a little surveillance, a couple of pictures, and get paid.
The problems start with dwarfs who think they are demons, impossible coins, vanishing furniture, a secret society, annoying telephones, and a kinky pony show.
Oh, and the chance that she will end up losing her soul.
The Prince and the Puppet Affair: Alyssa Blakeway wanted me to find out if her abusive husband was having an affair. Being a woman as well as a PI, my sympathy was all on her side. I thought it would be an easy sneak and peek assignment.
I should have known better. There’s a hit-and-run, the worst covert operation in history, the Vatican, Freemasons, and hot but problematic men. And an old acquaintance who drops in for pizza and body disposal. At least I made a new friend or two, and I’m still alive.
The Kalevala Affair: For private investigator Veronica Chandler, being shot at and placed in protective custody makes it hard to earn a living. When she’s offered a job locating a historical artifact in London she jumps at the chance. Too bad there are a few things her client didn’t tell her. Everybody is after the item. She has to dodge bullets meant for someone else, get chased all over Europe, deal with terrorists, and make a new friend. After that, she just has to decide the fate of the world. Again.
At least the volcanoes are nice at this time of year.
The True Love Affair