Back when George R.R. Martin was penning scripts for TV in the 1980s, long before he became a No. 1 best-selling fantasy author, he had to rewrite a lot. For whatever show he was working on — most notably The Twilight Zone and CBS’ Beauty and the Beast — ”I’d always write a very big, budget-busting first draft,” says Martin, 59, ”and then have to go back and cut down the number of characters and settings and matte paintings we’d need, and deliver it on budget.” The experience left him with an itch: ”I wanted to do something with a cast of thousands, and not worry how long it was. I wanted to write a big novel, something epic in scale.”
Cut to 2007, as his legions of fans impatiently await A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book in his sprawling hit fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, set in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and starring Martin’s dreamed-of cast of thousands. The book was supposed to be out by now, and some fans are griping online about the wait. ”I’m working on it as hard as I can!” protests the author, who’s based in Santa Fe, N.M. ”What am I supposed to do, send it off unfinished, or bad?” In the meantime, disciples can content themselves with two new Martin doorstops, Dreamsongs Vols. 1 and 2, which collect the prolific author’s short stories, teleplays, and juvenilia.
Earlier this month, in advance of Dreamsongs, we asked Martin’s fans to post questions for the author on our PopWatch blog. Here, finally, are his answers to a few of your (occasionally testy) queries regarding the delay over A Dance With Dragons, the proposed HBO series based on Ice and Fire, and why he’s so good at killing off his characters.
I understand that you have a life outside of Ice and Fire, but I feel like you’re just being cavalier toward your fans, who’ve been patiently waiting for you to finish [A Dance with Dragons]. Why do you feel like you can blow off your fans like this? — Bridget
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: I’ve tried many different replies [to these types of questions]. I’ve tried putting updates on my site, or addressing these things in my live journal. But nothing seems to satisfy some people. Or, you satisfy Bill, but then Fred is angry at the tone of your reply to Bill, or something like that. I certainly don’t think I’m being cavalier to my fans. I think I go above and beyond the call of duty in terms of staying in contact. What they want is the fifth book of Ice and Fire, and my editors and publishers also want that, I want that. And I’m writing it! What am I supposed to do, send it off unfinished, or bad? I’m working on it as hard as I can. Writing it tough sometimes, and it doesn’t always go as fast as you want it to. [Sighs] One thing I’ve learned is to stop trying to predict when it’s going to be done.
NEXT PAGE: ”Why is A Dance With Dragons taking so long if it’s already been written?”
Why is A Dance With Dragons taking so long if it’s already been written? —Melody Auvinen
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN:This is a common misconception. Parts of A Dance With Dragons were finished in 2005, when I finished [the previous book in the series] A Feast for Crows. It’s not like I had two complete books. I had one complete book, and one that was partially written. And I made an estimate as to how to long it was going to take me to translate that partial book into a full one, and it was a woefully optimistic guess. [Laughs] What can I say? It’s taken a lot longer.
Why do you find it so easy to kill off your main characters? —Brian H.
It’s really irritating when you open a book, and 10 pages into it you know that the hero you met on page one or two is gonna come through unscathed, because he’s the hero. This is completely unreal, and I don’t like it. If I was a soldier going to war, I’d be pretty scared the night before a battle. It’s a scary thing. And I want my readers to feel that fear as they turn the page. I want them to feel that no one is safe — that if my character is surrounded by three people with swords, he’s in serious trouble, because he’s only one guy against three. It’s a great way to show that you’re not writing this cartoon adventure where the hero is going to slay 20 men at once with his brilliant swordsmanship and go through unscathed while making wisecracks all the way.
In the Song of Ice and Fire series, for which character’s death did you get the most flack from readers? —Emily
The scene that was hardest to write was the wedding scene in Book III. That was the most violent and difficult. And I’ve gotten a lot of mail from readers, many of them saying it was brilliant, but others saying they couldn’t read past that, and they were giving up on my book, it was too painful. But it’s supposed to be painful. It was painful to write, it should be painful to read, it should be a scene that rips your heart out, and fills you with terror and grief. That’s what I’m striving for.
NEXT PAGE: ”What’s going on with HBO turning Song of Ice and Fire into a TV series?”
What’s going on with HBO turning Song of Ice and Fire into a TV series? —NYC Fan
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN:Well, the script has been written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and it was submitted a few months ago. HBO liked it, I’ve been told, and they’re doing a budget on it now, but they still haven’t given it a green light. Of course, the writers strike has hit now, so there’s no telling what’s happening in Hollywood. But HBO is what I’ve wanted for this from the beginning. The book series will be about 10,000 manuscript pages when it’s all done, so the story’s just too big for even a series of movies. And there’s a lot of sex and violence, which is one reason I couldn’t look too seriously at the broadcast networks. HBO can do it the way it would have to be done. I’ve got my fingers crossed. It’s all in HBO’s hands now.
Do you know how you want to end the Ice and Fire series? —Filthydelphia Eagles Fan
Oh yeah, I know the end. I like to use the metaphor of a journey. If I set out from New York to Los Angeles, I can look at a map and know that I’m gonna go through Chicago and then Denver. But that doesn’t mean I know what’s around every turn and bend of the journey, where there’s gonna be a detour or there’s gonna be a hitchhiker. Those are the things I discover on the journey. And that, for me, is the joy of writing.
Do you think literary highbrows are wrong to exclude fantasy work such as Tolkien from consideration in the high-art canon? —Kayelle
Yes, I do actually. [Laughs] I wouldn’t use the phrase ”literary highbrows,” which is sort of reverse-elitist. But I do think fantasy and science fiction are a legitimate part of literature. I think I speak for virtually all fantasy and science-fiction writers that it’s a constant annoyance for anyone who works in these fields, that whenever a great piece of work is produced, you get reviewers saying, ”Oh, this isn’t science fiction, it’s too good.” Most recently, that’s happened with Cormac McCarthy and The Road. Which is definitely a science-fiction book, and yet it’s winning all these prizes and people are saying, ”No, no, it’s science fiction.” Well, it’s literature and it’s science fiction. It’s a breath mint and a candy mint!
How did Wheel of Time author Robert Jordan’s recent death affect your personal and professional priorities? —Johnny Tex
I can’t say it changed anything, but it saddened me immensely. I knew Jim — Jim Rigney was his real name — and he was a very kind and generous man. He gave me a blurb when my series was starting out, an endorsement for the cover that got me a lot of readers. And his own work really made my series possible. Jordan essentially broke the trilogy template that Tolkien helped set up. He showed us how to do a book that’s bigger than a trilogy. I don’t think my series would’ve been possible without The Wheel of Time being as successful as it was. I’ve always wanted to sprawl, and Jordan, to a great extent, made that possible with his series.
NEXT PAGE: ”Loved Fevre Dream. Will you ever write a horror novel again?”
Loved Fevre Dream. Will you ever write a horror novel again? —Mark
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN:Anything is possible, but I have to finish Ice and Fire first. I love all of these genres. I love horror, I love science fiction, and I even love historical fiction and mysteries. I like to do different things, and when I finish Ice and Fire I think I’ll look around and I’ll see what I feel like writing then. But that’s not likely to be for a number of years now, so who knows?
You have a significant number of early stories that take place in space. What led you to move away from that and into a high fantasy realm? Was it something you always wanted to do? —Katie
Horror, science fiction, fantasy — I grew up reading all these things. My father used to call it all ”weird stuff.” I read Tolkien one week and then I read Robert A. Heinlein the next. Then I read H.P. Lovecraft the week after that. And today, we have these genre barriers, as if these were completely different things. But they’re all stories that have an element of the weird in them. I might write a science fiction novel as my next major project after I finish Ice and Fire. I never left horror, I’m not going to leave fantasy. I try to do everything. I enjoy murder mysteries — maybe I’ll write a murder mystery next. I just don’t want to be told, ”Oh, you write this sort of thing, so please settle down and keep turning out the same thing forever.” That would be boring.
A Song of Ice and Fire seems to be written from a politically progressive point of view (plenty of strong female characters, gay characters, etc.). How do you respond to claims that you’ve fallen into a stereotypically clichéd male-fantasy point of view by showing lots of explicit woman-woman sexual relationships but no explicit male-male sexual relationships? —Arya
[Long laugh] Well, ah, gosh. I don’t know, I hadn’t thought of that one!
Here’s a really particular question (which I realize means it probably won’t get asked in a general interview): In A Storm of Swords, there is a chapter early on where Sansa is thinking back to the scene at the end of A Clash of Kings when The Hound came into her room during the battle. She thinks in the chapter about how he kissed her, but in the scene in A Clash of Kings, this actually didn’t happen. Was that a typo or something? —Valdora
It’s not a typo. It is something! [Laughs] ”Unreliable narrator” is the key phrase there. The second scene is from Sansa’s thoughts. And what does that reveal about her psychologically? I try to be subtle about these things.
Will Arya get her wolf back? —E
You’ll have to keep reading and find out!