Blogger Interview: George R. R. Martin


martin-dance.jpgA few days ago, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist posted the first look from Warriors, the Tor Books anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. The excerpt was from The Mystery Knight, which is the third novella written by George set in the Seven Kingdoms of his wildly popular A Song of Ice & Fire series.
I knew what was coming the moment Pat posted it.
As soon as The Mystery Knight excerpt went live, the comment area of the thread exploded into a frenzy of negativity and volatility. It seems any article devoted to George R. R. Martin—even a positive post like a first-look excerpt—brings out the utter worst in people. For whatever reason, fans who feel like George is cheating them inundated the thread. In mere hours, the comment area became a heated cesspool of erratic discourse.
I know that animosity and anger very well. I witnessed it first hand when I wrote the rebuttal article In Defense of George R. R. Martin last year.
Why these people couldn’t just view the fruits of George’s creative talent—the exact thing they have been looking forward to for more than a few years—and simply enjoy the excerpt is completely beyond the capacity of rationality.
Rather than get lost in the mayhem of that thread, I thought I would take the essence of what each person posted there, break it down, and invite a few other people to add their own assessments—whether they agree or disagree.
Not that George needs defenders. He doesn’t. He gave up trying to explain himself to his fans a long time ago when every attempt to illuminate why his novels took longer to complete than he thought only incensed a small minority of his readers all the more. No person needs that. That does not mean, however, that I should sit idly by and let falsehoods and misunderstandings continue when I see them. I call a spade a spade, after all.
To get a few different takes on the situation, I sent the same questions to Aidan at A Dribble of Ink, Jeff at Jeff’s Fantasy Review, and Adam Whitehead of The Wertzone. Definitely visit their websites and read what they think on this subject. I understand some people are going to be angry no matter what, no matter if their embittered beliefs are challenged and crumble before fact and evidence. That is their choice. It is my choice to not let those readers get away with it.
Let’s get to it.

1. Don’t George’s other pursuits–watching football, editing anthologies, traveling to other countries and conventions, blogging about his merchandise–hamper his completion of the new book?

I happen to think that vast majority of those who are angry that George has not completed A Dance of Dragons pin it on the other pursuits that the man has in his life.
While his hobbies do take up a certain amount of time in his life, they cannot be used against the man for not finishing his book. An example: I write five or six hours a day when I am working on a book. Anything I write after those hours is trash and not worth the time spent writing it. My day lasts about sixteen hours. What do I do with the other ten hours? The hobbies I pursue, of course. Watching sports. Going to the gym. Writing emails. Maintaining the websites I must. Shipping out signed books. These other pursuits help reinvigorate my writing batteries for the next day.
Every writer has those batteries. Every writer has the need to recharge them in order to get the best out of their craft. If those hobbies are taken away, the craft suffers dramatically.
The question is: Do his angry fans just want a book, even if the quality is low due to writing 15 hours a day and foregoing watching his Jets, or do those fans actually want George’s best effort?
Sadly, that question will come up later in the interview too.
It simply speaks to the idea that most readers have no comprehension what it means to write, or write a book, or write a book at the quality that George gives us.

2. Are readers of A Song of Ice & Fire entitled to be angry that George has missed his own created deadlines?

Most definitely yes! They can most certainly be angry with George. I believe he has missed his own deadlines several times over the last ten years and every time one of the deadlines comes and goes people get angry about it—to the point of obscene name calling.
Three things about this point though that people need to remember:

  1. 1) No one is angrier about missing deadlines than George.
  2. 2) Some of those missed deadlines have legitimate reasons behind them.
  3. 3) After George missed the first two deadlines, why did the fans keep trusting him?

Point #1 is self-explanatory. George share your grief. He mentions it all of the time on his blog. For Point #2, I’m not going to go into the details of it but you are more than welcome to read my article, In Defense of George R. R. Martin. As an example: So many fans believe that George took five years to write A Feast For Crows. He didn’t. It only took him 3 1/2 years to write the book they read. Point #3 is also self-explanatory. I feel one of the worst things about all of this is the lack of responsibility most fans are taking on.
That too, will come up later in the interview, I believe.

3. Is it unethical for George to write on his blog about his other merchandise opportunities when the majority of people visiting his website are only interested in A Dance With Dragons?

Not. At. All.
This is one of those hot points for me. I have read so many fans write that they are only interested in updates to A Song of Ice & Fire and, in their opinion, there is no reason for George to waste time writing about anything else on his blog. That sounds all fine and dandy, except these people forget two points:

  1. Many of George’s fans actually do love his other work and want to keep informed about it just as they want to be informed about Ice & Fire.
  2. George has a duty to notify his fans of his merchandising and other endeavors. Those companies go into business with him knowing that he draws a large group of readers to his blog every day. It is part of their marketing strategies.

As for the people who are only interested in A Dance With Dragons news, I often wonder if these people read other fantasy writers out there too?

4. Is it legitimate for a fan who has bought his previous books to criticize George since their money has helped his success?

A resounding NO!
And here’s why.
The purchase of a book gives the buyer one thing—access to the book and the story inside of it. It does not give them entitlement to anything other than that book. It does not give them entitlement over the author. It does not mean the author suddenly becomes the slave of the reader. As Neil Gaiman so eloquently put it, “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.
The purchase of the book merely means you get to read the contents between the two covers. That’s it. Nothing else.
I can hear people thinking out there. “But Shawn, I bought this book with the understanding I will get to read the conclusion to the series!”
Yeah, and you still might. George is still writing, at least as of two or three days ago. Here is where my comment about personal responsibility comes in. Most people who argue since they bought a book they are owed something seem to forget that they knew when they purchased the book that the series wasn’t done yet. Every person out there from the very beginning has known this. At the beginning, the series was to be a trilogy, so no one can say it was originally a stand alone that grew and those people who bought the first book back then got screwed. No, no, and no.
Instead, none of those people take responsibility for reading George early. I stopped at A Clash of Kings because I knew at that point it was going to take George three years to complete a book and there was no reason for me to become wrapped up in it. I made that choice. It is a choice I make with many of today’s authors.
I suggest to those readers who feel they are owed something for buying a book to look at themselves and take some responsibility for their own actions. They are at fault just as much as George is for not publishing books quicker.

5. Does a reader have the right to critique an author’s professional conduct simply because they have purchased a book by them?

Eh, this is a grey area one for me.
That George has been unprofessional, I agree. But not for what you think. Most people feel they are owed something by him. The fact of the matter is this: George has only been unprofessional to his publisher. The publisher assuredly had him under contract for finishing A Dance With Dragons earlier than February 1, 2010. George has broken that contract with the publisher.
Therefore, in my opinion, the only people who can bust George’s chops about professionalism are his editor, Anne Groell, and the president of Random House.
Everyone else? Nope.

6. Doesn’t George have an obligation to finish books in a timely manner so his fans don’t have to keep re-reading his previous books over and over again?

See the last part of my answer for question #4. It gets at personal responsibility for reading a series that is not yet finished.

7. Does George have writer’s block?

The comment about George having writer’s block comes up all of the time on the internet(s).
It is usually brought up by people who have no understanding of what writer’s block truly is.
I think Terry Brooks best described it. He says writer’s block is the inability of a writer to have thought their story through far enough to not get caught writing into a corner.
I go in depth about this in In Defense of George R. R. Martin. In short, George is a freewriter. When he sits down at his keyboard, he never knows where the story is going to take him. He doesn’t outline every character’s path to the conclusion. When a character goes down the wrong path, he usually doesn’t know it until weeks or even months of work have been put it. By that time it is too late. He has lost that time and he must start over. Starting over takes time too. This is why it takes George on average 3 1/2 years per book.
With A Dance With Dragons, he has written himself into a knot that he is trying to unravel in a way that works for what will come next. He has spoken of this knot several times on his blog. Last week he even shared that one of the chapters he had “finished” four or five times before is perhaps correctly written now.
The point I wish to make is this: George writes the same way he did 19 years ago when he began writing A Game of Thrones. He had a type of writer’s black back then. It isn’t going to change now. It is the same craft of writing that has given fans such enjoyment during the first four books. To decry that which has given such pleasure is hypocrisy.

8. Isn’t the best way to show our displeasure with George is to not buy A Dance With Dragons when it is published?

Yup. Exactly. That is your power as the consumer. If you are truly upset with him at taking five years to write Dragons—which is longer than it normally takes him—then your only recourse is to boycott his books.
Of course, I doubt those fans who are angriest at George will be able to stay away from buying the forthcoming book on the day it is published. Still, it comes down to personal responsibility again. Ironically, the people who are angriest are also their own worst enemies.

9. If it has taken George ten years to write the last two books, how long will it take him to write The Winds of Winter?

As I said in my previous article, it really only took George 3 1/2 years to write the book you all know as A Feast For Crows. It has taken him 5 years to write Dance.
That said, pegging how long it will take him to write Winds is difficult. Here is what I know. George is in the middle of his story, arguably the most difficult part of the tale to write. He has created the characters, set them in motion, and now they are being set up in a correct way to march toward the series conclusion. Like a chess match, it takes many of the right moves in the middle of the game to get the checkmate at its end. In Dragons, George is having to set up every character just the right way. The pivotal point of the series is now. It is why it is taking George longer than usual.
Once set into motion, those characters march to their destinies. I think George will have an easier time of writing The Winds of Winter than the last two books. I will say 3-4 years after Dragons is delivered, published, and its resultant tour finished.
I base this simply on the math of how long it took him to write the previous four books, which I talk about in the In Defense article.

10. Isn’t it insulting that George thinks he doesn’t owe his readers anything? Doesn’t he owe us, at the very least, the conclusion of the series since he is living off of the money that we paid him?

I spoke about this earlier. Two things: A book purchased gives the fan a right to said book, and said book only. Personal responsibility.

11. Has George ever apologized for the lateness of his last two books?

Repeatedly. If people think he hasn’t, they should probably go back and read his blog. No one is more upset about him and he says as much often.

12. Don’t readers have an obligation to be patient with a man who is arguably writing one of the best fantasy series of all time and wants it done right, one that will be read long after his grandchildren are gone?
George has been called the American Tolkien. The label is more fitting than most people even know. The Lord of the Rings is considered the masterwork of the fantasy genre. Look up how long it took Tolkien to write it, to get it right. Look up how many drafts it went through. This should give some kind of scale about why it is taking George so long to write Ice & Fire—and why its completion in the right way is so important to him and should be to the fans.
13. Do his other activities and hobbies like conventions, traveling, editing anthologies, and watching football actually help his writing?

Right back to the beginning of the interview. Read question #1 and its answer for the answer to this one.

That’s it for this interview. Definitely read what other bloggers have to say on the subject by visiting their websites: A Dribble of Ink, Jeff’s Fantasy Review, and The Wertzone.
If their answers aren’t up soon, I’m sure they will be.
Own a blog? Want to answer these questions too? Take them and send me a note that you’ve done so. I will link to your blog and keep you in mind for the next Blogger Interview next month!
More soon!