The First Art Show
Another short that was very fun to write – the first art show in human history.
Another short that was very fun to write – the first art show in human history.
An interesting thing just happened to me. It’s taken a long time to happen, and I didn’t even realize I was crossing this threshold until it was a second behind me, and it was done.
I don’t ever need to hear another Red Hot Chili Peppers song ever again.
Just like that, it just happened. It wasn’t even a choice, it was an after the fact report from something deep inside my psyche.
Something similar happened to me with Led Zeppelin, who I really enjoyed. One day I was driving somewhere, and a Led Zeppelin song came on the radio, and it was like a switch flipped. After all of the thousands of listenings, I had heard them exactly enough times. I had no need to hear a single song more.
And it doesn’t really make me sad. I still love Led Zeppelin. I’ve just heard all the Led Zeppelin I need to, and I’m complete. Maybe for the rest of my life. Or maybe just a cooling-off period of several years.
A lot of art can be the same. And that means a lot of writing. And that means making new things, changing things up. It means new works in the style of flavors we liked in the past.
This is the progression of many human things. I think in all of us to some degree, and definitely in many of us to a strong degree, there is a satisfaction of things that can be reached. And at that point, if not before, there is not just a desire but a need for something new.
Here’s to finding those new things we enjoy, and making those new things we enjoy making.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
I recently had the privilege of attending an interview with George R. R. Martin. Near the end of the interview session, Martin discussed the great and recently deceased comic book artist Steve Ditko. Just like the late great Jack Kirby, his fantastic visions shaped characters and gave us amazing vistas to consider. His Dr. Strange was pure psychedelic wonder. A man with a truly unique vision, even down to functional details like creating the corner box.
As his career advanced, he appeared to come under the influence of an ideological disease: objectivism, the formalized ideology of Ayn Rand. Whatever one’s take on objectivism, Ditko’s interpretation did not seem to serve him well. It apparently led him to increasing difficulties in compromising, which made him less able to actively collaborate with others. This seriously affected him and his career, causing him to leave very successful characters that he created behind and making new opportunities for work increasingly scarce.
I think it’s fair to consider this a lesson for all artists, about being able to bend. No one likes to compromise, but to a certain point it is not only important for careers. One cannot win all points, one is not always right. Creative battles can be fought passionately and then lost by one side or the other. Being able to do this without grudges mean more opportunities for good work.
Regardless of what lessons may or not come from his life his talent was immense, and his amazing work commands respect.
Wherever fantastic worlds you may now visit, Mr. Ditko, may you fare well there in joy.
Harlan Ellison, RIP.
What else is there to say of a fantastic writer and a legendarily irascible persona?
There is the memoriam from an excellent modern writer, Cory Doctorow. He salutes Ellison’s great talent and also addresses his prickly nature. Others have pointed out that Ellison as a teacher was, in a common human blindspot, exhibiting exactly t he same bullying behaviors he hated in early teachers of himself. https://boingboing.net/2018/06/28/rip-harlan-ellison.html
There’s also Ellison’s own words on art and commerce, which really should be required listening for artists in our world, whether they agree or disagree.
But the most suitable words I’ve found yet are other words of Ellison’s own, which come from being asked his thoughts on the creative giant Philip K. Dick.
What you’re asking is really two questions: What I think of him as a writer and what I think of him as a human being. As a writer, he was one of the great innovators. He was sweet, man, an absolutely individual talent, and I admired at least 80% of what he wrote.
…As for the human being, it’s an entirely different answer. When he wanted to be charming, he could be. …
You know what? I’m not going to answer. It doesn’t matter what I think. He could do you a solid or be a very unpleasant person. Like Frank Sinatra. Or God…Phil, like God or Frank Sinatra — they’re all deities.
Mr. Ellison, wherever you are, you were a truly magnificent bastard. Thank you for the work.
Psyched to release a new novella, and the second in a series. “The Luck Thieves” continues the adventures of Aurelian and Lyita in the strange world of crime and magic that is St. Petersburg.
Proud to announce a new book! A collection of my many completed short stories to date.
Now available on pre-order, and fully released tomorrow May 15. Print edition available soon also.
And thanks to you all who keep inspiring me to keep on writing. : )