Dance Interview: With George R. R. Martin Editor Anne Groell


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!

  • John B Good

    I have to say I’m disappointed. Its very much like AFFC, which is easily the weakest book in the series. Just like AFFC, the main plot points barely budge. Dance suffers from bad pacing, little action until the backend, and the same tried and annoying cliffhangers. At times, I wished to skip chapters, and sadly the worst offenders were 2 of the 3 characters with the most chapters (Ironically, the 3rd character, who I don’t even like in the other books, ends the worst, despite being the most interesting POV throughout most of Dance. I don’t care what happens to the character, but its just a really lame cliffhanger.). Certain POVs could have numerous chapters left out or combined and I can think of a couple characters that didn’t even need a POV. Other POVs could have benefited from added chapters, I’m thinking of one very cold and treelike character in particular. GRRM has a great skill for language and he built an interesting world, but the series has jumped the shark since SoS, easily the best book in the series. I hope it gets back on track in the Winds, because the 4th and 5th books are warts on what was a great series. Maybe, this is all because he didn’t do the 5 year skip and GRRM had to fiddle around for two books to get things set up right.

  • Steve

    If she’s been his editor for this long she needs to make him get a move on.

    Dance had everything that was bad about Feast and more.

    One of the two people involved here are not doing their jobs correctly. Another 5 year wait for a weak book will be a joke.

  • Joneck

    With the job she’s done editing the past two books I’d say it’s high time Mr. Martin finds an editor who can reign him in a bit. The first three books were phenomenal. The most recent two could easily have been combined into one volume.

  • Goo Gee

    I’m sory guys… but having just finished ADwD I have to say the book is fantastic… I seriously cannot understand why there is so much hate for the book ( the 6 years wait and no resolution?? it is only the 5th book in the series!!!)…. the characters were interesting…. story told beautifuly I relished every word… ther only character that was annoying through the book redeems herself in last POV…. it is a believeable and well told story and you dear readers are just spoiled and angry for having to wait so long… and angry to know you have to wait even more for the next book!!

  • Goo Gee

    Oh yes…. words are wind!!

  • Phydeaux2

    First I have to say I was always told as a child that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then shut up. So let me say that I am sure Ms. Groell is doing a job that I could not do. I am sure she is a fine human being and I wish her well in all she does in life. However the last two books were a monstrous disappointment to go with the monstrous word count. What I wanted was the same thing all readers do, good characters, an advancing plot, some action etc. What I got was a medieval cook book and travelogue with phrases that became so repetitive that they actually jarred me out of the flow of reading. Really could you describe again how every single person eats and dribbles food down their chin? Could you please use the words leal, words are wind or nuncle, another fifty seven times? Isn’t it the point of an editor to notice these things and to make sure the plot actually advances?

    From the interview I can pinpoint the problem immediately and in her own words, …”In addition to being his editor, I am also a huge fan,…” Many jobs have some sort of objectivity clause, IE.. if you are so close to the subject you shouldn’t be working on it. This publishing house has violated that very astute rule and it shows. Two mediocre books of +900 pages could have been easily edited down to one awesome book of approximately 1100-1200. If it is not the abject fandom blinding the editor, it is the fact that Georges success has become to strong for them to reign in. Either way they are compromised and should relinquish the job they are supposed to be doing.

    Now as the ravening sycophantic wolves come in to blast me and say, “You are just being nonobjective because you are angry over the huge delay.” Let me say you are the ones being nonobjective. Any person who can read reviews from people who have no ties to the writer or book can find the overwhelming truth at any review site. The last two books have TANKED in popularity compared to the first three. Any outrageous sales numbers are due to the success of the first three books and the HBO series, not the sheer awesomeness of the last two disappointments and you know it.

  • Graff

    Dance’s biggest failing is its inability to inspire confidence in a non-trivial portion of the fandom that the series has progressed to a point where Martin (1) can complete it in an entertaining and credible way in just two more books as he has repeatedly claimed and (2) has reached a tipping point where the rest of the series “writes itself” so that they no longer have to wait half a decade each for subsequent books.

    If there was no real possibility of those expectations being met, so be it, but then Martin and his biggest supporters have spent the past six years fanning them with “it’s a seven-book series” and “the knot is the only thing holding him up.”

    The idea that some readers are disappointed because they “wanted a conclusion midway through the series” is a pathetic straw man. Everyone who did not mistakenly walk into Dance believing it to be the last book understood that Dance was not going to resolve the war with the Others or who sits on the Iron Throne when all is said and done.

    They wanted a reason to believe the series was moving *toward* a timely, entertaining, and credible conclusion. Instead, the Others appear to not be doing much of anything to threaten the Seven Kingdoms, Dany is still mucking around out East with untrained dragons, and yet another war for the Iron Throne, which few readers expect to be the last of the series, has just started.

    When these readers start looking for reasons *why* the series is at where it’s at at the end of Dance, they’re inevitably going to lay the blame on pacing problems, which naturally calls to mind terms like “filler,” “pointless travelogue,” and “sitting around doing nothing.” One might be the type of person who interprets the same material as “elegant descriptions,” “unparalleled world-building,” and “brilliant characterization,” but these are ultimately subjective matters. The series growing beyond seven books and taking more than a decade to complete, if that ultimately happens, is not.

    The readers disappointed in the state of affairs at the end of Dance are not necessarily wrong. IF the series grows to eight or more books and takes a decade or more to be completed, or if some people find the final two books rushed with sequences of events lacking credibility, there are reasons for it — whether one believes those reasons improve or diminish the series as a whole — and among those reasons will be what Martin did or failed to do in AFfC and ADwD.

    Remember, Martin himself said it would take seven books to tell his story. This implies both a conclusion and a timeframe of sorts that people have used to decide whether to invest time in following and discussing the series.

    If Martin has decided to transform his Song of Ice & Fire into an endless historical epic set in his fantasy world, however brilliant, instead of telling the story of the War for the Dawn and the struggle for the Iron Throne of Westeros, so be it, but he owes it to his fans to come clean with his intentions.

    As far as his editor, statements like “The stuff with Penny alone…” and ” no one, I felt, could be unsatisfied by the developments” are proof that she has lost touch with the audience that exists outside of Martin’s “inner circle” of friends and hardcore fans.

    And this type of blatant spin almost always comes back to haunt you in the long run: “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,” particularly when one of the individuals who volunteered to help with editing suggested three more months would have helped improve the final state of the book markably. So much for “you can’t rush art.”

  • Stefan24601

    I feel like the last comment in this interview doesn’t bode well. Martin’s editor actually urged him to push two important sequences out of the book? With those sequences, we might have had a sort of self-contained story, the way the first three books were, and some story-lines in a Feast for Crows were (though not many). Instead, we get what amounts to filler. What developments is she talking about? The only developments I can think of are that Aegon is still alive, Theon escaped and Dany rode away on a dragon. Nothing else of note really happened in 900 pages. I feel like there should be at least 1 important development per 100 pages. Instead of cutting out the ending, she should have told him to cut out the middle. The book could have been much shorter if each chapter hadn’t ended on a cliffhanger. Essentially, if each chapter is 10 pages, the first 8 is just description, while all the interesting stuff happens in the last two pages. If each page had been utilized better this could have been 900 pages WTHOUT cutting anything out.

  • Stefan24601

    I would like to add that my comment is from someone who only had to wait 1 book for the week, having only recently started the series. SO these are criticisms that are NOT merely the result of frustration due to long waiting. The last two books have persuaded me to wait until the series is all done to pick it up again, precisely so that I can avoid these year-long cliffhangers.

  • Jp26

    Fantasy is about the escape. I would rather read a lush, complicated, dense novel for an hour a night than a thin, action-packed novella. Certain cliffhangers have become dull, granted. If one more character becomes diverted from point a to point b by a group of brigands, I’m going to scream. But you can’t be a fan of fantasy and argue about pacing. An immersive world requires deep mythology, history, and a vast population, and these prerequisites, done right, inherently slow a story. There are a hundred simultaneous stories to tell. Give the man a break. Do you value action or depth?