An Evening with George R. R. Martin – Jester on a Throne of Games?

A couple of weeks ago I got to attend “an evening with George R. R. Martin.” This a fundraiser for the great Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine Locus, and an informal introduction to the similarly legendary grandfather of all science fiction conferences Worldcon.

Martin was being interviewed by John Picacio, an excellent fantasy artist and an able interviewer in his own right.

 

How was it?

As would be expected but was still reassuring to experience, it was very interesting. George R. R. Martin, for any not familiar with this name, is the only full heir to Tolkien in terms of popularity in the same field. Even in larger fantasy non-medieval influenced fantasy, there’s the worlds and publishing empires built by Tolkien, Martin and J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter – and then there’s everybody else.

Analog SF magazine, from July 1975. This picture may have played a role in Chewbacca’s character design.

Martin can even be credited for his part in a chain of events that led to the Star Wars character Chewbacca. Chewie’s character design appears to have been influenced by the magazine cover for one Martin’s earliest short stories, “7 Times 7 Never Kill Man” – published in 1975.

In an evening of pretty interesting discussion in which Martin came off as refreshingly direct, focused, and devoid of bullshit, Martin mentioned some pretty interesting things. Including…

Okay, let’s cut to it: is Martin going to finish “Game of Thrones” or not?

Short answer: I don’t know. At least he has some new pages from the next alleged book to share.

Longer answer: I’m pretty sure he will.

The biggest question on everyone familiar with the Game of Thrones series is: “Will you finish it?” There seems to be only one book left. And Martin, a writer who usually has great speed as well as skill, took 5 years to write the most recent novel in the series “A Dance With Dragons”. That was seven years ago. He’s been writing the sixth novel since then – in theory. He has also announced that this novel now is next to last.

This question was answered before any discussion with Martin even began: “Yes. He knows. Don’t ask.”

Here’s why I think he is going to finish the original series within the next few years :

Martin really caught my ear with a statement that HBO is currently considering five different possible TV shows in the Game of Thrones universe. At least one is currently moving forward to a pilot.

George R. R. Martin, an author who holds the power over many fans lives and dreams, left. John Picacio, an artist not normally known as a devastator of nerds, right.

The final season of Game of Thrones starts broadcast  in 2019, and Martin has already told the showrunners the end he plans for Game of Thrones. So the TV series will definitely end, whether or not he completes his versions that he is writing. HBO will be strongly motivated to fill in the hole for its most successful series since the Sopranos. So at least one of those pilots is likely to hit.

And relatedly, Martin shared how in just a couple of months he wrote another 450,000 words in the Game of Thrones universe. Aggravatingly, this still wasn’t the final novel in the original Game of Thrones series. Instead, all of this new text was inspired by setting down the history and backstory of the land of Westeros. As a nod to Tolkien’s encyclopedic history for the world of “Lord of the Rings”, Martin called it his “Grimarillion”.

A selection of that gigantic backstory forms the basis of the new series Martin is launching which occurs before the current Game of Thrones tales.

So frustrating as all of this new text is that doesn’t finish the current job, I think it bodes well.

What Martin might be doing is trying to set the hook of a new series before he finishes the current one. The upside of that is, once one of those new series catches, he might finally be able to finish the current Game of Thrones.

So in essence, and also because I like the worldplay:

He could be trying to maintain his Throne through these sorts of Games.

Argh. Why would he do that though?

In the course of the evening, Martin shared his previous experiences in writing before Game of Thrones. He has already had two careers fail. One was as a novel writer, when after several very successful novels he went against all known advice and wrote a fictional apocalyptic fantasy about rock music. It tanked and took his career with it. His agent stopped calling him. (How odd is that? You’d think people would be smart enough to stay with artists who have shown quality. But so it apparently can be.) He had a lot of debt, and that left him over a barrel and needing to scramble very quickly.

That led to his second career, reinventing himself as a TV writer. He wrote for the 80s TV show Beauty and the Beast. (Not to be confused with the comedian Martin Lawrence’s pilot episode Beauty and the Beast. Reality and Google can be quite tricksy). This lasted 3 seasons and then tanked. But this time Martin paid off all of his debts and saved his money.

This, Martin explained, enabled him to have the time and freedom from fear to start his 3rd career. He got to write something he really wanted to write, which ended up being Game of Thrones.

John PIcacio’s Arya Stark, from his and Martin’s 2012 Game of Thrones calendar which I might have gotten signed.

Martin shared this in the context of advice for writers. His summed-up advice is sage: don’t take on any debt you don’t need. It will leave you free to create in a very uncertain career.

So I wonder if Martin’s delays in completing Game of Thrones are, consciously or unconsciously, influenced by wanting to make sure things can continue before he takes another final step of completing something that’s been very good to him.

 

OK, maybe so. What else did he talk about?

Martin talked about book production and distribution, and other parts of the more formal business side of writing. Interestingly, but not surprisingly from his position and his stature in the industry, he didn’t consider indie book publishing that much. Of course, he started his third career before self-distributed eBooks and Print On Demand were viable options, so that wouldn’t be part of his needed toolset.

But he also clearly loves books as product and art. This was part of his work with and friendship with the artist John Picacio, who so well introduced and interviewed him.

He also discussed his science fiction fantasy series “Wild Cards”. This came from role-playing games he was playing with other science fiction greats in Santa Fe, including the truly superb Roger Zelazny. They created their own superhero-based RPG, and ended regularly playing four hours and then talking about it until dawn. Martin wanted to monetize it, and so they put a way together.

For Martin, an interesting angle to pursue about the possibility of superheroes was: if you got a super power, would the next thing you do really be to put on tights and fight crime? Or, alternately, would you go knock over a bank? Or set up a business? Or do something else?

This was around the same time that the great comic book writer Alan Moore put forth the legendary watchmen series. Martin considers that both “Watchmen” and the “Wild Card ” series are deconstructing the superhero myth in different ways. With Watchmen, Alan More dealt with the ‘hero’ part. With Wild Cards, Martin was dealing with the ‘super’ part.

Separate from the above, Martin also has a TV pilot coming forth – Night Flyers. It’s based on an early horror story he wrote many years ago.

Did he talk about the show and it’s variations from his books?

He answered a question on this with another question: how many children does Scarlet O’Hara have?

Scarlet O’Hara, the heroine of Gone With the Wind, had three in the book, one in the show and none in reality.

So, Martin concluded, he doesn’t mind the variations that producers are applying to characters for the show, and he will continue to write the characters how he wants to in the books.

Give me some other things he said.

“I’m power mad, I always want power and control but I have none.”

“Influence is not the same as power. They’ll take your calls and listen to your thoughts. It’s a collaborative process too, you have to remember.”

“As you rise in Hollywood you don’t get more power but you do get more money.”

Anything else?

A genuinely adorable gushing forth of George R. R. Martin when he was a young fan, and there really was nothing like comic books and science fiction to light a young person’s dreams.

Martin took a moment to recognize the passing of Steve Ditko. His remembrance led to me writing a separate post just on that. Besides my agreement in acknowledging the passing of a great, I had deep respect for the way Martin held this moment. He showed no fear in acknowledging the sadness of a human being’s passing, and stayed in that moment exactly as long as he felt which gave it the weight that it was due. Death is a fact of life whether we acknowledge it or not. Facing it in ways like this leeches death of its power over us. Keeping it real sets us free.

This acknowledgement also led to Martin to mention that Fantastic Four #20 had his fan letter printed in it. Really this is Martin’s first published work. Some seriously go so far as to say this fan holds insight into his later writing. I don’t know about that in a larger sense, but I love how it shows what a deep fan Martin is. He loves imagination and loves story from his bones, back to his earliest reading days.

 

Give me a summary.

I guess, in summation:

George R. R. Martin is an excellent writer, who the only real complaint about is that he is taking too long to give people something they desperately want. I look forward to him finishing the Game of Thrones series – if only so much of fandom can move on and find new things to whinge about.