Every great writer has a great editor. It is no different for George R. R. Martin. Anne Groell has been George’s editor from the very beginning, when the manuscript for A Game of Thrones hit her desk. Since then she has edited all five volumes of A Song of Ice & Fire, being an integral—but ninja-like—presence in a series that is growing in fandom by the hour. As a result of her job, she has read A Dance With Dragons more times than anyone.
Therefore she is the perfect person to interview about the new book!
Here is a spoiler-free interview with editor Anne Groell:
Unbound Worlds: Anne, you have been with George R. R. Martin and his Song of Ice & Fire series from the very beginning. What does the July 12th release of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS mean to you both personally and professionally?
Anne Groell: Personally? I think I was the first person in the world, besides George, to read A DANCE WITH DRAGONS…and how amazing is that? In addition to being his editor, I am also a huge fan, and the book totally knocked my socks off. And I can’t wait for everyone else to share that experience with me. I think it is one of his strongest books yet–and it’s been really hard not having enough people to talk it all over with! (I know, I know. You feel no sympathy whatsoever for me, but it is true! I’ve been sitting silently on some major spoilers for over three months now.)
Professionally? I am immensely pleased with how seamlessly the book turned out. I know some people accuse George of not working in the five or six years it took him to write this book, but I know how utterly untrue it is. This book gave him fits both for its complexity, and the daunting task of trying to fit all the events in around the timeline already established in A FEAST FOR CROWS. (The two books happen mostly simultaneously.) Many were the phone conversations, going back and forth about which way to take a series of events, or how to streamline the book without losing any structural integrity. Over the course of writing this book, George has probably written and abandoned another whole book equally as long as DANCE. It’s been a massive undertaking–and one that made both our heads hurt when he outlined all the problems and issues he had to solve. Yet when I read that final draft, it was as clean and seamless and as perfect as if he had always intended it to be that way. You could not see any of the blood, sweat and tears he poured into it…which, to my mind, is the mark of the true professional.
Also, it just gives me immense pleasure to see a whole world avidly embracing a series I have always known was incredible. I was not, I regret to say, the acquiring editor of the series. I was a lowly editorial asistant at another house at the time–who became a total gadfly in her then boss’ ear to: “buy this for me, buy this for me now!” Bless him, he did try. We were the underbidders. But George went instead to Bantam. Sx months later, I was at Bantam. Six months after that, the editor who bought him went to the house I had recently left, and I was George’s editor…AT LAST! And all before the fiirst book was even delivered. I have been dancing this dance with him from the very first book, and watching him become a household name has been a true delight. It’s wonderful when quality is recognized…and George is just about the best there is.
UW: You mention how long it took George to deliver this book and the hardships the complex story gave him. Do you foresee him having similar problems with THE WINDS OF WINTER? Or is he back on track with where the story is taking him?
AG: Oh, you don’t know how hard I am hoping! How hard, I suspect, George and I are both hoping. I do think things will get easier from here, and I think George does, too, but each book has a rhythm and issues of its own. And I know all of us fans want the books fast, but I think enough of us also want the books good that we are willing to wait the time it takes to get them there. I actually did a calculation of DANCE, taking the existing word count and dividing it by the five years the book took to write. What I found out was that George was writing a highly-respectable 83,000 word novel a year–which is really nothing to sneer about. These books are big and complex, and they take time to construct. Can he do the next one in a year? Likely not. But in two years? It remains my fondest wish, and I think George’s, too!
UW: Most fans have a favorite character they absolutely can’t wait to read. Who is that character for you and why?
AG: Tyrion, without a doubt. And DANCE is rife with Tyrion going through some very dark times and some absolutely amazing adventures, so I was a very happy woman. The stuff with Penny alone…but I’ve said too much already. Why Tyrion? He just grabbed me right off. He is smart and funny and resourceful, and he has a dry, self-depricating humor that gets me every time. He’s also a troubled character with some very real problems, and dreams that may never be realized, though you deeply hope they will.
I have my own hopes and dreams for where Tyrion’s story will bring him, but I haven’t had the guts to ask George if I am right or not. If not, I’d be devastated, and I need to keep my hopes alive. I know that life is not fair–and even less so in George’s books–but I really want Tryion to catch a break, and have at least one of his dreams fulfilled. The hints do seem to point there, but George is tricksy. Ever since the Lady incident, I’ve known I couldn’t trust him.
UW: You are privy to a great deal of information that the common reader is not. When you read the final chapters of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, were you surprised at all where George is taking this story?
AG: George does not part with his secrets easily. I have winkled a few out over the years–and some he was forced into telling me because we needed to discuss certain vital plot points to which they were central–but, as you can see from the above, I certainly don’t know everything. I don’t even know most things. He says he wants to make sure that I, as one of his first readers, am surprised by things as they happen. And I am. Repeatedly.
In DANCE, we kept pushing him to end one character’s story early, because page counts were getting high, and we all loved the place where it wrapped up in the partly-completed draft we saw. (The end of the book was fed to me in chunks, while he was polishing up the front bits.) But he kept on stubbornly writing. And when I finally got the last chapter of that character’s story line, and saw where it was all leading, and why we couldn’t possibly have ended it early…well, I think I actually howled out loud! And at that point, I was the ONLY ONE to have read that chapter, and had NO ONE to talk to about it. I sent it instantly to his British editors, if only to have someone else to discuss it with, then had to wait until they had finished reading it before I could vent. When you all get to the third to last chapter of the book, you will see what I mean.
So yes, in short, I am constantly surprised. And always impressed.
UW: One last question. I understand that George wrote more material than could physically fit in A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. Some of it will likely make its way to the next novel, THE WINDS OF WINTER. As his editor, how much say did you have in what stayed and what had to be pushed into the next book?
AG: Well… Probably more say that he would have liked…though many of the choices were his as well. Finishing this book where he absolutely wanted to end it would have taken probably another year and more pages than could be realistically bound between two covers. And so much great stuff had happened already that no one, I felt, could be unsatisfied by the developments. So he voluntarily pulled one big sequence out of the book. I lobbied for another…and it came out, too. People may hold me to blame for this, but I still think it was the right choice. The book is so big and complex and rich and wonderful that adding these two sequences would not have made it any better than it already its.
But based on the few things I know that are coming–and on one sneaky bit of information that he fed me early–I simply can’t wait to read WINDS OF WINTER. So, get cracking, George! It’ll be a doozy, I know.
Much thanks to Anne Groell for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions. She has a chaotic week coming up with A Dance With Dragons publishing on Tuesday, July 12th!
Winter is coming…
… partially thanks to Anne!