Interview with G.W. Renshaw

Published 2017-10-05.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My cats. Especially when they decide to play on top of me.
Who are your favourite authors?
In no particular order, I'd have to say Jim Butcher, Lois McMaster Bujold, David Weber, Anthony Bidulka, Robert J. Sawyer, E.E. "Doc" Smith, Kelly Robson. Those are the ones who pop to mind immediately. There are a ton of others, of course.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
There's something else besides writing?
I cook, make wine, have a brown belt in karate, and teach my Young Padawan aikido, krav maga, sword, baton, knife fighting, emergency first aid, and mantracking. In between times, I teach medical students, read other people's books, and watch a few TV shows.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Thank you for reminding me. *shudder* Apart from the one paragraph stuff I did for homework at a very early age (none of which has survived, even in my memory) the first actual story I wrote was called "The Vulcan's Triumph." I wrote it long-hand because I didn't have a typewriter and that was before computers. These days it would be called Star Trek fan-fic. It was located somewhere on the far side of Awful, at the intersection of Pre-teen Wish Fulfilment and Clueless.
What is your writing process?
I get an idea. One story started with remembering nothing but one sentence from a dream, "I really hate the snakes and onions." Most are less obscure than that.
I always write a short synopsis of the raw idea and put that in a file in my Ideas folder. It's extremely important to write a detailed enough synopsis that another person could recreate the idea with no hints, otherwise I find myself going to the file in six months and wondering what the heck I was thinking. I've lost a few stories that way.
I'll mention my writing tools here. I run Xubuntu Linux and use LibreOffice. All the software I use is free and open source, including The GIMP for covers and Calibre for ebooks. I created document templates for writing so that I don't have to worry about formatting--novels look exactly as they will in print; short stories are in proper manuscript format; ebooks look exactly like the final ebooks should (although I do have to move some stuff around from the print version). It's worth the time to do the work ONCE so I never had to do it again.
Once I have a synopsis, I write the story. This is usually interspersed with a lot of research, because as a reader I know that an author getting some easily checkable fact wrong annoys me. An example: In general, what do Calgary police officers call their cars? Units? Black and whites? Cruisers? Answer: cars.
If the plot or characters want to go in a different direction than my original plan, I let them. They're a lot smarter about their own story than I am.
On a writing day I'll produce between 1,000 and 10,000 words, depending on other commitments, research, and laziness.
Unlike most writers, I love editing--polishing those last few bits that aren't quite perfect. Of course I have open source tools to help me--LanguageTool is a free grammar checker for which you can write your own rules, so I wrote one for proofreading.
Describe your desk
I wish that I could say that I have an antique Victorian walnut desk, originally belonging to J.R.R. Tolkien, that is a deep source of artistic inspiration.
That fact is that my writing desk is a shelf attached to an Ikea storage unit. It holds my laptop at eye height (to prevent neck problems), a separate USB keyboard, two speakers (so I can listen to Venice Classic Radio Italia while writing) and a plastic box full of Rockets. Sometimes there's scrap paper and a pencil for figuring things out. The shelves surrounding me contain books on a wide variety of subjects.
There is one link to Tolkien. The books to my immediate right are about Esperanto, a language that Professor Tolkien also spoke. You can see the influence in the movies, where Elrond speaks Elvish with a distinct Esperanto accent.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing gives the voices in my head something productive to do. Otherwise they'd just sit there all day bickering among themselves. Writing gets their stories out into the world so they'll shut up. At least, temporarily.
Also, other people seem to like my writing. It gives me a a lot of joy that I can give other people a bit of happiness.
What are you working on next?
I'm currently working on an urban fantasy/SF series collectively called The Chandler Affairs. It's about a normal Canadian private investigator (Veronica Chandler) who keeps having her cases turn out weirder than she could imagine. So far there are four books out (The Stable Vices Affair, The Prince and the Puppet Affair, The Kalevala Affair, and The True Love Affair). I'm working on five and six (The Diplomatic Affair, and The Private Investigator's Cooking Course). Yes, book six will be a cooking course based on Veronica's recipes.
I also have a scientific romance (steampunk) novel in the works.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Originally, I thought it would be fun to write a mystery. I wrote a few short stories with the same characters, then realised they needed to be novels.
Veronica Irene Chandler is a unique PI in that she doesn't fit the typical middle-aged ex-cop mold. She's a completely normal Canadian girl with a few quirks. She loves to read. Her father taught her how to be a chef. Her mother is a homicide detective. Veronica is also young: In Alberta you can take the PI licensing exam at the age of 18. She encounters all kinds of unusual stuff, but she has no super powers except for one magic trick with a piece of string.
Unlike other young investigators, she's actually licensed and grows older as the series progresses.
I'm on book five of (probably) ten.
What is the meaning behind your work?
People are always asking artists what their work means, and frequently the correct answer is, "what do you think it means?"
Personally, I think of myself as a craftsman, not an artist. Yes, some of my work has an inner meaning that I'm trying to get across. Other times I'm just telling a story.
If a craftsman builds a Queen Anne desk nobody asks why he did it, or what the inner meaning is, even though they may marvel at the skill of the artisan, or the beauty of the work. When I wrote the story "In the Family Way," it was just a story about a guy who builds an android daughter becuase he wants a familhy. A reviewer said that it was a deeply insightful exploration of what the concept of family means in a digital age.
Take your pick.
In the famous words of Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first story I remember reading was The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis. Two scenes stand out in my memory: The Wood Between the Worlds, and the hall where Jadis awakens when Diggory rings the bell.
The common element is the sense of ancient mystery. Everything has a back story, and I remember wondering at the time where these places came from. The Wood is utterly mysterious, like a manifestation of quantum theory made into wood, water and soil. Jadis and Charn's history is lightly mentioned, but what else happened there? Enquiring minds want to know.
Questions like these are the beginnings of more stories, although to date I admit that I haven't specifically thought of writing them.
In science fiction, I read Heinlein's Between Planets at an early age. I still have that copy on my shelf.
Interestingly enough, my favourite planet is Venus, even though (because?) it is nothing at all like the swamp and ocean visions of early SF.
How much research do you put into your stories?
Far more than I need to.
In "Hic Sunt Dracones" (available on Smashwords) I looked up the rise time and phase of the moon on the given date in 1913 in what is now Romania so that it would be correct in the story. Otherwise it would have bothered me. I also looked up how British dates were used in 1913 (day, month, year), the transit time from London to Rotherfield, and the name of the family whose farm neighbours the Endeavour home to make sure that they were correct. Some people accuse me of having CDO (that's Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but with the letters properly arranged in alphabetical order).
Robert J. Sawyer gave me a wonderful criterion for the science in science fiction: It doesn't have to be provably true, it just needs not to be provably false. That lets us play with hypotheses that might one day be proven false, but in the meantime lead to interesting ideas in the stories. I used that in The Chandler Affairs where the physics is based on the Ekpyrotic Universe rather than the standard Big Bang theory.
Does it matter to the stories? Yes and no. Yes, in that if you look closely the story's details are as factual as I can make them. No, in that it doesn't matter what the phase of the moon was historically, as long as it works in the story. In other words, you don't have to be an expert to read my stories.
What does G. W. stand for?
According to Robert J. Sawyer, who graciously provided me with a cover quote for The True Love Affair, "Great Writing! Not to mention, Gosh Wow!"
Apart from that, I have to maintain some air of mystery, don't I?
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Books by This Author

Odd Thoughts: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 20,060. Language: Canadian English. Published: April 12, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - single author, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Psychological thriller
(4.00 from 1 review)
Odd Thoughts is a collection of short stories ranging from science fiction to psychological thrillers. The common thread is that somebody in the story is having – Odd Thoughts.
Hic Sunt Dracones: Being a True Account of the Rescue of Professor George Herbert Endeavour from a Curious Misadventure
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 8,750. Language: British English. Published: April 4, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Victorian, Fiction » Mashups
(4.00 from 1 review)
Professor Endeavour is perhaps the most brilliant scientist of the Victorian era. Certainly that is his opinion. The veteran of many expeditions, he has gone to Hungary, determined to capture a newly reported predator in the Carpathian Mountains. But who is hunting whom? And what fearless adventurers shall save him?