Friday, July 15, 2011
George R.R. Martin in New York City
When rumors of Martin's arrival spread through the crowd, a standing ovation began. This one stopped quickly, as the rumors turned out to be rather exaggerated, but after another false alarm or two we greeted the man himself with applause, hooting, and shouts of KING IN THE NORTH. Martin talked for about forty minutes, answering questions for half of it and opened with "See, I really was working on it" while holding Dance up. I'll admit I took no notes, so I'm representing the questions in the order that I remember them, and everything's paraphrased unless explicitly quoted.
Throughout, you could tell that Martin was proud of his work, and deservedly so, but he was never arrogant or pretentious and mentioned the familiar but endearing story of the signing he held after the release of A Game of Thrones were the only four people in the store left as he began to speak, earning him an attendance of negative four.
Of course, the first two things he tackled were the delay on this book and the feared wait for the next. He discussed the split, which most readers here no doubt know most of the details of, and mentioned that a part of the reason he split the characters up as he'd did was that he'd written far more for some perspectives than others. After that, he thought Dance would be fast, having already had enough finished manuscript pages to equal Feast. Alas, many of those were either discarded and revised, and the book proved a third longer (in manuscript form) than Feast.
As for the next book, and the length of the series, Martin would give no promises. He hopes soon, and he hopes no more than seven volumes, but we'll have to wait and see on both accounts. "It will be done when it's done," he said, to a fair bit of applause. Before Winds of Winter, he'll write – and revise and revise and revise – the fourth Dunk and Egg novella and work on the world book, which should likely be coming out next year and might help salve the long wait for the sixth volume. There's also a potential Cookbook of Ice and Fire on the way as well, courtesy of the female duo who're preparing the various meals described in the series here. George, "more an eater than a cook," was presented with a dinner that sounded rather scrumptious at the start of the event.
Martin said that the fans in attendance could be divided into three categories: those with him since the beginning, those who read after watching the show, and those who watched but never read. (I suppose that I, having come to the series at the tail end of '08, am in group 1.5.) About the show, he had nothing but praise and said that he "loved" it and the experience of seeing his work adapted. That being said, he cautioned us, particularly about season's two Battle of the Blackwater, to remember that TV shows have budgets to consider, and that no budget can stand against a reader's imagination. As for a cameo, he had one in the pilot, but those scenes – for reasons unrelated – ended up on the cutting room floor, both for actors that were recast and for the overly humongous hats the nobility of Pentos, of which George was one, were decked out in. He has, however, done a few cameos in Beauty and the Beast, back when his hair was darker and he was skinnier, and fans are free to seek those out. A Game of Thrones attracted no less than 13 Emmys, he told us, and then said that Dance was the biggest seller of 2011 so far.
A fan asked about gay characters in the series, and Martin confirmed their existence and touched on the rather explicit nature of HBO's showing of Renly and Loras. He tries to show people from all groups – "gay, women, and people of color" were, I believe, his words – and that he believes that we're "all human" and all have some good and some bad. He has villains, heroes, cravens, selfish, and selfless from each group and each walk of life.
He responded to a question about the purpose of the gods in the series by discussing the two kinds of readers, one which reads solely for the plot (to whom he suggest the cliff notes) and the other that reads to experience. He's firmly in the latter school, as any of his readers could no doubt guess, and mentions living along with the characters in Lord of the Rings. He's heard claims that his works have gratuitous sex, gratuitous feasting, and gratuitous heraldry, but never of gratuitous violence. To the first of those, he said (and I am, I should mention again, writing from memory, here): "I show an axe entering a skull, and it's fine. But when I show a penis entering a vagina, then the letters will come."
To "Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor," Martin responded "Hodor." As I'm sure most are aware, Tyrion is (still) his favorite character. When asked if his advice for writing has changed in the process of Dance, he said that it hasn't. He advocates writing every day and beginning with short stories, comparing starting with an epic series (one perhaps involving fire or at least some sort of ice) as equivalent to beginning one's life as a rock climber on Everest. "Start on Bear Mountain," he urged us New Yorkers.
Another writing related question followed, where a fan mentioned Howard's sudden and vivid inspiration for Conan, and George's on mention of seeing the direwolf pups out of the blue, and asked how long should fans work towards such visions. Martin's response was to always try and make something out of them, and to keep working at it, though he did caution that it doesn't do to be too romantic about these things. One chapter in Dance came to him perfectly clearly, and demanded to be written, but it led nowhere, and – after attempting it half a hundred ways and even in dream form – he had to leave it on the cutting room floor. He also took a few stabs about the idea of a muse or writing via telepathic communication with another dimension; believe it or not, it's all one rather imaginative bearded man.
Segueing from there (though it was an entirely different question likely asked at the opposite end of the event), Martin said that he keeps almost everything in his head, though he does keep notes. He praised Elio, a certain Westerosi King , and Linda for knowing more about the series than he does and always having an answer (within five minutes) to any question he might ask. He's not totally sure how he remembers all the details and heraldry that he does, as all his prior works were stand alones (which he plans to go back to, after the series).
Despite notes and Ran, he does occasionally make mistakes – the two he cited being a character's magically changing eyes and a horse's sex change – which he hates, because they obfuscate the intentional mistakes of character memory, such as Ned's and Jaime's different descriptions of everyone's favorite kingslayer's finest moment. He hates when "George the Author" detracts from the work of "George the Brilliant Artist."
The last book that he read that made him go wow was James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes, written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, which he said had a war between Earth and Mars, tough Belters from the asteroid belt, and space zombies – exactly the kind of space opera he likes to read. It's received great reviews, so now Martin's got no choice but to keep Ty's head down by showing him the reviews that Dance has gotten. The last question was whether he got protests from his editor about that big thing in A Game of Thrones, to which he only answered "No."
While waiting in line, I agonized the whole while about how to act in my two seconds of fame with him – overly heartfelt? Misery-esque devotion? glib? – and ended up asking if any one scene in Dance was as difficult to write as "a certain wedding in book three" (attempting to avoid spoilers for the A Game of Thrones reading fellow two places back, just in case). He said that Dance was hard in a different way – chronologically, lining all the perspectives up in Meereen – but no one scene was nearly as troubling as the Red Wedding.
Oh, finally – to the fan I sat next to – hello, Zach, if you're reading this. Nice to meet you and talk to you for a few hours. Perhaps we'll meet again, come the winds of winter.