A Fan Asks After GRRM


martin-dancePolarization comes easy to author George R. R. Martin.

Not by his wish, by the way.

It’s not his novels that does it. Most everyone who reads George’s work loves his grand epic series, A Song of Ice & Fire. It is becoming one of the most important fantasy works in the history of publishing—certainly since The Lord of the Rings—and that means there are a lot of eyes watching its author. While his fan base does not yet rival that of Wheel of Time, it grows daily. And with HBO currently adapting A Game of Thrones into a live-action series for release next year ala Rome or Deadwood, George will have an even larger horde of a fan base to answer to in the years ahead.

While I don’t think writers have to answer to anyone but themselves and their editors, that’s not where the polarization takes place, at least not entirely. It’s not the man himself. No, George is not a jerk. He is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet. Soft-spoken. Super nice. Polite. Always giving to the fans at conventions and on tours. More than willing to answer questions via email despite his overwhelming popularity. A true geek in every way.

I mean, the man brought me a ‘Winter is Coming’ shirt the first time he came to my home—and even got the size right!

That takes talent and being nice.

No, the polarization doesn’t come directly from George but rather indirectly. You see, A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book in A Song of Ice & Fire, is late. Not only late but late late. It’s been five years since George turned in book four, A Feast For Crows, to his editors, and that’s a long time to not have a published book on the bestseller list. The publishers are annoyed. Bookstores are annoyed. The fans are annoyed. But no one else is more annoyed than George himself.

Since George is such a nice guy and is so dedicated to his craft, it’s tough to watch a small segment of his fan base tear him down with every internet keystroke they can muster. I certainly don’t validate such negative actions, but there are reasons why they take place. Underlying the rancor and hatred is a genuine, all too real worry. A Dance With Dragons is late. George posts on his Not A Blog about things that have nothing to do with the next book. Fans see this and think George isn’t writing.

And no matter the reality behind it all, anger erupts, because perception is 9/10 of the law on the internet.

For me, I’m more worried about the Meereenese Knot. I believe the lateness of A Dance With Dragons has very little to do with George’s time away from the keyboard and his extra-curricular activities—time he was taking before Feast when the books were coming out more timely—and more to do with writing himself into a possible corner. For years George has wrestled with the Knot and it has defeated him at almost every turn.

In short, if he hasn’t found a solution to the Knot by now, he may never. No matter what fans say, writing himself into a corner and the resultant implosion of the series is far worse than how many toy knights he painted yesterday after he finished his writing for the day.

The Knot is what scares me most.

Anyway, sometimes a good discussion takes place about all of this though, one that is civilized that doesn’t devolve into a flame war of epic proportions. Yesterday, I received two good questions from a new member on the Terry Brooks website about A Dance With Dragons and more specifically The Winds of Winter, which will be book six in the series. I thought it would be fun to post both questions, answer them, and see what you all also think:

1. GRRM stated in a recent blog entry he had over a 100 pages ready for The Winds of Winter. Should fans be happy that he has almost 10% of that book written or should we assume he is going to revise/edit/throw away those pages after A Dance With Dragon is released and they will have virtually no impact on the completion time of The Winds of Winter?

Given his track record with completed pages, I think only a fool would think them edit-proof. That said, I tend to be foolish when matters of the craft are talked about. We know Dance has been difficult to complete because it is the middle part of the series where characters and events have to be lined up just right for the march toward the eventual climax of the series. The Knot is the reason, primarily, for the lateness and GRRM has been banging his head against it for years and years. Will there be another Knot in the future? Unlikely in my view, since writing knots like this usually take place in the middle of a story. Once completed and undone, the characters will be set up correctly and he should be past that middle and into the march toward the end.

The better question is: Does his hopeful completion of the chaotic middle part of the book bode well for those 100 pages in Winds? Probably. He has a much clearer understanding of seeing the end and how events will play out now, and those characters don’t have the narrative wiggle room they did before Feast and Dance were written. It’s like water going along inside of a tube that gets smaller and smaller; the water has fewer places it can go and it speeds up accordingly. But I severely caution you in giving the book a completion percentage as Winds could end up being even larger than Storm. So, long story short, I say take it with a grain of salt, because we’ve seen George destroy completed opening chapters before in favor of what he deems better openings.

2. This one is more for Shawn, I have seen a number of entries in this thread where you stated that The Winds of Winter will be complete in 3 years because that is GRRM’s traditional average and the delays in A Dance With Dragons is due to problems that should not be repeated in The Winds of Winter (Meereneese Knot, Book Split, Middle Books Difficult). Would you be willing to state that if Martin takes over 4 years to write The Winds of Winter (3 year average + %33 buffer) then something has changed from his writing habits from 1991-2000 and from 2000-Present?

It is my belief, yes, that George will complete Winds faster than Feast or Dance. I arrive at that opinion solely based on how the craft of writing genuinely works, even for freewriters. But it also depends what you mean by “writing habits.” I know for a fact that nothing has changed in how he conducts his craft, so no, I won’t say something has changed even if Winds comes in later than 4 years, at least from the point of view of his outside-writing life. George has always been a freewriter. He has always been a guy who loves the NFL. He has always been a guy who loves toy knights. He has always been a guy who loves traveling to conventions. He has always been a guy who loves editing anthologies. He did all of those things before he wrote Thrones and he will continue to do so, I have no doubt. If you notice, I just listed off all of the things most angry naysayers say are the reason Dance is late, but none of those people put thought into the fact he was doing those same things when the books were coming out more timely.

No, something else happened that has caused the lateness of the last two books. To me, as someone who has struggled through the middle parts of writing two books, it’s easy to see what it is.

What’s changed for George since 2000 is the complexity of the series and entering the all-too-important middle part of the story where delicate care must be given. That’s why, in my opinion, these last two books have been difficult to write. When freewriters enter those parts of their stories, it causes chaos because they have given no forethought to what comes next. Hell, I’m an OCD outliner and I was still changing my mind back and forth about how to make characters go where I wanted them to go. I guess I will have a better answer for your question once Dance is published and I’ve read it. If George starts offing characters left and right, shrinking down possible paths the story can go down even further, I don’t see why Winds will take a long time. If he still has a crap load of characters to deal with, get ready for a long wait, longer than 3 years. Why? Because that means he’s still in that middle part of the story I talked about up above, the chaotic middle that has caused him so much grief the last two books.

And if he has offed a lot of characters and Winds still takes four years to write, I’ll have to read the book first before stating why it took so long for him to write. If it has fewer characters but is just as complex in execution, I would say its the story that caused another delay and not anything that George is doing on the side. If it’s not complex though, there is only one conclusion I could possibly make and it has nothing to do with craft or story…

I think George will surprise you though. We’ll have to wait and see

Anyway, I thought I would share a nice exchange between fans. Feel free to post your own comments below but please write them in a civil tone. No reason to get all worked up over a book, for crying out loud.

In other news, it seems George has been finishing some of the final POV chapters in the book, although he said two days ago he has more than a few to finish.

During the time it takes him to finish and the publisher to publish, I am considering doing a weekly re-read post of the series beginning with A Game of Thrones, since it has been so long since I’ve read it.

Would anyone else be interested in doing that with me?