Long Read: George R.R. Martin

Mikal Gilmore at Rolling Stone has a long interview:

Martin takes me to a small house with a book tower that serves as his office and writing space. (The home where he lives with his second wife, Parris, is nearby.)… At his office, Martin escorts me to the den where we would talk. The room’s walls hold glass cases, full of hundreds of beautiful miniatures of medieval figures and fantasy characters and scenes from Martin’s books. Near a staircase that leads to Martin’s library – at 65, he remains a voracious reader – stands a full-size and operational model of the famous Robby the Robot, from the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. “Robby the Robot,” he tells me, “it was a great kick to buy him and to show him off. A bunch of money sitting in a pile – what do I get out of that?”

Martin is an affable, candid, terrifically smart man, and he is loquacious. We talked for 10 hours that day, breaking only for dinner. His way of discussing Game of Thrones surprised me: He often spun questions into larger dissertations about history, war and society. Because Martin is a big man, with an infectious laugh and white hair, there might seem something of a Santa Claus aspect about him, except for his eyes, which are constantly flickering with thought – some of it quite dark – conveying a mind as shrewd as that belonging to any of his characters…

In 1966, you entered Northwestern, in Evanston, Illinois. I know that in the years that followed you underwent some serious moral and political changes due to your opposition to the Vietnam War.
I was, like many kids of my generation, a hawk. I accepted that America was the good guys, we had to be there. When I got into college, the more I learned about our involvement in Vietnam, the more it seemed wrong to me. Of course, the draft was happening, and I decided to ask for the conscientious-objector status. I wasn’t a complete pacifist; I couldn’t claim to be that. I was what they called an objector to a particular war. I would have been glad to fight in World War II. But Vietnam was the only war on the menu. So I applied for conscientious-objector status in full belief that I would be rejected, and that I would have a further decision to make: Army, jail or Canada. I don’t know what I would’ve done. Those were desperately hard decisions, and every kid had to make them for himself. To my surprise, they gave me the status. I was later told – I have no way to prove this – that I was granted the status because our conservative draft board felt that anyone who applied for CO status should be granted it, because that would be punishment enough: Then it would be part of their permanent record, and everybody would know that they were a Commie sympathizer, and it would ruin their lives…

With the exception of the fantasy elements, Game of Thrones might well have been a reimagination of the Wars of the Roses.
I did consider at a very early stage – going all the way back to 1991 – whether to include overt fantasy elements, and at one point thought of writing a Wars of the Roses novel. But the problem with straight historical fiction is you know what’s going to happen. If you know anything about the Wars of the Roses, you know that the princes in the tower aren’t going to escape. I wanted to make it more unexpected, bring in some more twists and turns. The main question was the dragons: Do I include dragons? I knew I wanted to have the Targaryens have their symbol be the dragons; the Lannisters have the lions, the Starks have the wolves. Should these things be literal here? Should the Targaryens actually have dragons? I was discussing this with a friend, writer Phyllis Eisenstein – I dedicated the third book to her – and she said, “George, it’s a fantasy – you’ve got to put in the dragons.” She convinced me, and it was the right decision. Now that I’m deep into it, I can’t imagine the book without the dragons…

It doesn’t surprise me that Martin calls his father ‘a functional alcoholic’ — so was mine, along with a large percentage of the men I grew up among, and something about the combination of mordant wit / sudden violence feels very familiar. Old Irish proverb: Is it the drink that brings the tales, or the tales that bring the drink?

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82 replies
  1. 1
    raven says:

    Conservative draft board in Evanston? I guess they all were in 66, I guess.

  2. 2
    Baud says:

    I’m a little surprised that Martin didn’t kill off Gilmore in the middle of the interview.

  3. 3
    Iowa Old Lady says:

    @Baud: I (and a bunch of other people) had dinner with GRRM at a writers’ conference a few years back, and he was talking with horror about the number of characters Connie Willis killed off in The Doomsday Book. Seriously, man, this is called projection.

  4. 4
    dedc79 says:

    The world needs to stop enabling Martin’s procrastination

  5. 5
    Baud says:

    @Iowa Old Lady:

    LOL. That reminds me of when the Republicans complained that Obama had too many “czars.”

  6. 6
    draftmama says:

    I guess George Martin is of my generation, and it is understandable that our parents were drunks. My father spent the last two years of the war in a Japanese POW camp, my mother drove an ambulance in Bristol which was bombed every night for years, my father-in-law was a Battle of Britain fighter pilot at 19 (got a great pic of him shaking hands with King George), various aunts and uncles were air raid wardens, in the French resistance, prisoners of war, naval officers on convoy duty, some of them on the Murmansk run through unimaginable winter weather, torpedoed, burned, almost drowned, shot down or generally so busted up they never returned to being human beings. Sure they drank – in England that was how they all got through the war. We have no right to be judgemental – they saved the world for us, at least in Europe.

  7. 7
    kindness says:

    I get Rolling Stone and leave it in the bathroom. I’m about half way through that interview. Sure hope he lives long enough to write the last 3 books.

  8. 8
    Elmo says:


    Jesus, what a legacy. Seriously, a family to be proud of.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    Elmo says:

    Two points:
    AL, thanks for the link – I enjoyed reading the interview very much. The line about “little Orc cradles” made me laugh out loud and read the whole paragraph to my wife.

    Second – everyone please remember that a regular here is a personal friend of GRRM and his wife IRL, so please please PLEASE lay off the idle speculation and snark about his weight, his slowness publishing, and his eventual mortality. Valar morghulis, but there’s no point in beating that horse here.


  11. 11
    Pogonip says:

    George, stop rambling and start typing.

    I read the interview too, and I guess I understand his pessimism a little better. The race may not always be to the swift, and things may not always go to hell in a handbasket. But that’s usually the way to bet. Then again, Shirley Jackson wrote stuff as grim as Martin’s, but also wrote very funny stuff. So maybe he’s not as grim as he seems.

  12. 12
    lamh36 says:

    OT, but important film on PBS right now!

    Frontline films: Locked Up In America. About America’s prison industrial complex!


    @frontlinepbs 9m
    Black students in the US are suspended & expelled at 3x the rate of white students http://ow.ly/i/5p4Ib http://to.pbs.org/1rLlIod #LockedUp

  13. 13
    Pogonip says:

    A point I haven’t seen brought up: there’s been what appears on the surface to be a disproportionate amount of attention paid to Tommen’s cats, and Arya can skinwalk as a cat. Do you suppose he’s setting up a way for her to get close enough to Cersei to off the bitch?

  14. 14
    Walker says:


    You can tell from other stories that Martin let the story get away from him, and he is finding it painful to write because he does not know how to get it back under control. I starting to come to the belief that it might be better if HBO finishes the story for him.

  15. 15
    Anne Laurie says:


    Sure they drank – in England that was how they all got through the war. We have no right to be judgemental – they saved the world for us, at least in Europe.

    I didn’t mean to be ‘judgemental’, just honest. That’s the point to the proverb: Without a little chemical lubrication, your folks (and mine) might well not have survived the horrors they were forced to live. On the other hand, that same self-medication habit also led to a lot of horrific — if sometimes funny-after-the-fact — incidents. It’s dwelling in that psychological borderland that, IMO, gives Martin’s stuff a quite different feel than JRR Tolkien’s, for instance… and is probably not unfamiliar to more than a couple BJ readers.

  16. 16
    🌷 Martin says:


    they saved the world for us, at least in Europe.

    My family in the US looks pretty similar. Both grandparents on dad’s side served. Grandma was a nurse and wounded when her ship was fired on, grandpa suffered from PTSD after 3 years hopping around the pacific including a month at Iwo Jima. Her brother-in-law lost both arms and legs in the war. All 5 of his brothers served as well. 3 were shot – one partially paralyzed from it. One stepped on a land mine and lost his leg and sight in one eye. The youngest saw his first deployment as a medic on D-Day. He came home uninjured but cripplingly claustrophobic. Couldn’t be in a house with the windows closed. Couldn’t ride in a car or an elevator – had to walk everywhere. If the Irish blood wasn’t enough to make them all alcoholics, their war experience sealed the deal. I’m sure it was all some of them could do to function some days.

    The real problem was that the military wouldn’t recognize PTSD for those that suffered. The bottle would have to suffice.

  17. 17
    🌷 Martin says:

    And all that aside, most great writers drink. Moderate drinking increases confidence and loosens inhibitions. It’s a major occupational hazard.

  18. 18
    ruemara says:

    I’ve been learning more about GoT by reading the Wiki. I swear, only Walking Dead has characters that have left me so cold. Such a dearth of nobility. It seems like my choices are sick by circumstance versus utterly depraved. Every society makes me recoil, plus his affection for constant rape and abuse. Yeah, I couldn’t keep up with all that. I need some level of real hero to root for. I hate everyone.

  19. 19
    🌷 Martin says:


    It seems like my choices are sick by circumstance versus utterly depraved. Every society makes me recoil, plus his affection for constant rape and abuse. Yeah, I couldn’t keep up with all that. I need some level of real hero to root for. I hate everyone.

    You would make a terrible Republican.

  20. 20
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @🌷 Martin: Oddly, I don’t think my grandfather ever got over the war but that was because he loved it. He was in a unit that operated behind the actual front lines most of the time but also well out of reach of the formalities of the various HQs. He was doing exciting, important things and coming back was weird for him. He went away with a newly pregnant wife and came home to a nearly four year old son and that child’s mother. He and my dad never bonded the way my grandfather did with his other two children. I understand that that was true of many fathers and sons of those two generations.

  21. 21
    Mr Stagger Lee says:

    @Walker: If he dies before it is completed, whoo boy what fun that will be! Does he have any heirs who try to do what Frank Herbert’s son did when he tried to continue the Dune series? Or is their a army of hacks and chimpanzees that will hack out GOT for the next century?

  22. 22
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Mr Stagger Lee: It is my understanding that he has left outlines of the storyline with HBO.

  23. 23
    srv says:

    A death row inmate died of a heart attack Tuesday night more than 40 minutes after his execution was halted because the lethal injection of three drugs was botched.

    Witnesses said Lockett writhed and convulsed on the gurney, shaking uncontrollably.

    RR Martin episode or Oklahoma?

  24. 24
    🌷 Martin says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Yeah, that’s my understanding as well. My dad never really bonded with his father, but that was mostly because when grandpa was home he was somewhat regularly trying to kill the family. My grandmother was convinced that the doctor that diagnosed him with schizophrenia in order to commit him to the VA hospital saved their lives.

  25. 25
    lamh36 says:

    Damnit Frontline!! Alright this is just too sad. This young 14 y.o. girl got me misty-eyed.

    Damn. All she wanted to do is go to her mom’s grave for her mother’s birthday, but since she assaulted her aunt, she has to get permission from said aunt to come get her and bring her to the grave, but for maybe obvious and not so obvious reasons, the aunt said no.

    So she’s got a pass to go, but since the aunt won’t bring her, if she leaves the premises, she’s gonna be considered an escapee.

    Damn, damn, damn u Frontline.

  26. 26
    sm*t cl*de says:

    I have my copies somewhere of the 1977 Analogs in which “The Dying of the Light” was serialised (with the Schoenherr illustrations). You youngsters who only started reading GRRM in the last decade or two, geddoffmylawn.

  27. 27
    🌷 Martin says:

    @srv: If anyone is optimistic that the botched execution will have any policy impact, execution by firing squad is still legal in Oklahoma.

    They have a backup, and one that fits in well with their values.

  28. 28
    Ruckus says:

    @🌷 Martin:
    Besides the non recognition of PTSD there also was a few cultural things going on. First there was little mental health care available for anyone. Second it was and probably still is in many areas, considered weak to ask for help, real men(and women) just suck it up and deal. Third, prohibition and the depression had ended not all that long before and that changed a lot of people. Fourth, even 20-30 yrs later drinking was just part of the military. Some what officially frowned upon but widely tolerated and in some cases encouraged.

  29. 29
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @ruemara: If you look at the real historical period on which he based the stories (Late Middle Ages/ Early Renaissance depending on location), there weren’t many really heroes. Edward IV came close. Handsome, brilliant, never lost a battle, but once he was king he was self indulgent – probably to compensate for the tribulations of this youth. He ended up as fact as his grandson, Henry VIII. Also, I come from the pro-Richard lll camp, but I know there is a lot of evidence pointing the other way.

  30. 30
    scav says:

    @🌷 Martin: Sarah will no doubt soon be equating these sort of executions with yet another sacrament. To a not insignificent number of cheering fans. They are so fundamentally careless.

  31. 31
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @Walker: It’s not just that he let the story get away from him. It’s that rather than spend time figuring out how to fix the problems and actually writing, he decided to put all of his effort into cashing in on a product that wasn’t finished, that he was barely making progress on, and had no idea what to do with.

    That’s a shitty way to treat your readers.

  32. 32
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:


    Some what officially frowned upon but widely tolerated and in some cases encouraged.

    Our motto was “I may be so drunk I can’t walk but. by God, I’ll crawl home like a sailor.”

  33. 33
    🌷 Martin says:

    @scav: What I’m expecting is Republicans cheering on the end of ‘political correctness’ and demanding more 40 minutes in agony executions.

  34. 34
    PaulW says:

    What the hell is the Great Bearded Glacier doing taking 10 hour interviews when he SHOULD BE WRITING?!


    Shaddup, Neil, he is too our bitch! WRITE DAMMIT! AND STOP KILLING OFF STARKS!

  35. 35
    trollhattan says:


    Oh, what a beautiful mornin’
    Oh, what a beautiful day
    I’ve got a wonderful feelin’
    Every thing’s goin’ to the crapper because they botched my execution

    Am so gosh darn proud we’re one of two developed nations clinging to the death penalty. Yay, us.

  36. 36
    Jay says:

    That’s the brother of Gary “Executioner’s Song” Gilmore doing the Martin interview.

    Loved Mailer’s book.

  37. 37
    Walker says:

    @Mr Stagger Lee:

    Sanderson did okay finishing Jordan. The post-mortem collaborations were better than the middle novels in that series.

  38. 38
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Jay: Loved the Adverts’ song.

  39. 39
    Edmund Dantes says:

    Martin is not finishing the books independent of health, age, etc.

    He long ago lost the plot. He has become a parody of himself. He started to get praise about how great he was, he was subverting the genre, et al. He believed his own press clippings.

    Now the pressure of living up to it has crushed him. He does everything he can to do anything but write what he has to write. One of the worst things he did? A bunch of writers got asked to write a story for an anthology to support a fellow writer. Guess who they waited months and months and months for him to finish? Missed deadline after deadline? Mr. Martin.

    Oh I forgot the best part. The punch line is that he never did deliver. They finally gave up on him.

  40. 40
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @Iowa Old Lady: to be fair, there are at least a few characters Martin hasn’t killed. The same is not true of the Doomsday Book.

  41. 41
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Edmund Dantes: Sometimes I get a real sense of pessimism and negativity from people on this blog. It vexes me.

  42. 42
    David Hunt says:

    @Pogonip: Every time someone nags about when the last books are coming out, GRRM kills another Stark.

  43. 43
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @David Hunt: This is patently untrue. There weren’t that many Starks.

  44. 44
    Groucho48 says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    Well, to be doubly fair, the Doomsday Book took place during a Black Plague epidemic. Many small villages, like the one in the book, were completely wiped out. Agniola Di Tura, as quoted in the book:

    Buried with my own hands five of my children in a single grave. No bells, no tears. This is the end of the world.

  45. 45
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Groucho48: I obviously don’t read the same fantasy/sci-fi that most here seem to enjoy.

  46. 46
    CTVoter says:

    I was what they called an objector to a particular war

    And that’s some epic BS from a high-functioning whatever.

    Don’t watch GOT. But sure seems like there’s some mythologizing going on with the author.

    “I objected to a particular war”?

    Yes, epic.

  47. 47
    Groucho48 says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Connie Willis is well known and respected in the field but not really known outside it. Doomsday Book is excellent as are a couple of her short story collections.

  48. 48
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Groucho48: I’ve never read Pratchett either. As a general rule, fantasy/sci-fi is not my genre.

  49. 49
    phoebes-in-santa fe says:

    True story. I was in the Dallas airport about eight months ago, waiting to board an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Albuquerque. Because I fly a lot, I had been upgraded to First, so I was standing in the line and I overheard two men talking about their books.

    By listening I realised they lived in Santa Fe. I am active in a senior lifelong learning program there and we’re always looking for new speakers. So, I politely asked them if they were authors and they said they were. One was David Morrell, whose books I had read, and the other one was George RR Martin. I had never heard of him, so I asked him what he wrote. He was very gracious and told me. I had never heard of him! (He also had just bought one of the art theaters in Santa Fe.) Anyway, they both agreed to speak to our group. I was so embarrassed and only contacted David Morrell and he did a great job and is coming back. I never had the nerve to call Martin, even though he had given me his card and said he’d love to speak.

    Am I the ONLY person alive who didn’t know who George RR Martin is?

  50. 50
    kindness says:

    Martin killed off Joffrey so I will thank him for that.

  51. 51
    Groucho48 says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    I’ve never read any Pratchett, either. Humor and fantasy is a mix that just doesn’t work for me, so, I avoid it.

  52. 52
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Groucho48: Oddly, the more I hear about his work, the more I think I should give it a try.

  53. 53
    Comrade Mary says:

    @Groucho48: Connie Willis is lovely and has written many fine books which I have loved, but Blackout/All Clear was one immense book that bloated into two immense books while holding barely one slim novel’s worth of story. Of course, she won the Hugo and the Nebula for those bookends, so my opinion is probably in the minority.

  54. 54
    Comrade Mary says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Start with Small Gods. It’s one of his most kind and humane works and it is set pretty well apart from the rest of the Discworld series. This is not the kind of “funny fantasy” you get from things like the Xanth series.

    If you like, the Internet and I will have other suggestions from his work. You don’t have to — and probably should not even try — to read them in published order.

  55. 55
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Comrade Mary: Is there a chronological order to the stories?

    I was once given a collection of Thomas Covenant novels. I hated them. Just hated. Christ, they were awful.

  56. 56
    Groucho48 says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    A lot of folks do. It’s just a quirk of mine that I don’t like that kind of thing.

    but Blackout/All Clear was one immense book that bloated into two immense books while holding barely one slim novel’s worth of story.

    I didn’t like them, either. As in Doomsday Book her leading characters tend to attract strays in dire straits and then devote a ton of time and energy caring for them and being bossed around by them, while not having time to do what they are supposed to be doing. In Doomsday Book, that worked, but in Blackout and All Clear, it didn’t. Maybe because many of the strays were pretty unlikable and way too needy and demanding to be sympathetic. I did like all the historical stuff, though, which many folks thought was unnecessary padding.

  57. 57
    Kristine says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: The Discworld books shake out into categories: the Guards books, the Witches. Rincewind. Death. Many folks start with the Guards books: “Guards! Guards!” Men At Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo. I agree that Small Gods is also a good place to start because it’s a standalone, but gives you a feeling for the Discworld.

    Don;t start with the first few books–The Colour of Magic, Pyramids, Moving Pictures. Pratchett hadn’t hit his stride, and they’re not as good as the later books.

    Here’s a graphic that sorts out the categories.

  58. 58
    Kristine says:

    Neil Gaiman wrote a blog post a few years ago that included a reply to the question: Is it unrealistic to think that by not writing the next chapter Martin is letting me down, even though if and when the book gets written is completely up to him?

  59. 59
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    I was once given a collection of Thomas Covenant novels. I hated them. Just hated. Christ, they were awful.

    Yes, yes they were, and every half-literate sf fan would agree with you.

    You don’t have to read Pratchett, but if you liked Monty Python, you might enjoy Small Gods or Pyramids. While they are set in the Discworld universe, both of these are independent of the main character continuities, so they’re like movies instead of long-running tv serials. Or take a look at Wyrd Sisters, which is mostly a parody/meditation upon the works & probable life of William Shakespeare, in the mode of Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

  60. 60
    Comrade Mary says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: There is a loose chronology, but honestly, I read them all in any which order and had no problems finding my way into each story. For example, in the Guards sub-series, the character Vimes goes through some changes in his personal and professional life, but there’s nothing confusing or spoilery about starting with a mid to late Guards book instead of starting with the earliest.

    (My ex liked heroic fantasy and corny “funny” fantasy. Although I told him that the first few Pratchett books were not the place to begin and suggested Small Gods, he insisted that any fantasy series was properly started with the first book. He never finished the Colour of Magic and declared that Pratchett wasn’t worth reading. Fucking engineers.)

    I don’t think I got very far into the first Covenant book: I might not even have made it to chapter 3. Truly vile stuff.

  61. 61
    Comrade Mary says:

    @Groucho48: Willis’ novels often have a strong farcical element, whether or not they are largely intended as humour. But what you describe as her pattern, which also includes a LOT of blind alleys and failures to meet up with important people at the right time, has slowly gotten out of control with each new novel.

    This Wikipedia description of her writing style seems bang-on:

    Willis tends to the comedy of manners style of writing. Her protagonists are typically beset by single-minded people pursuing illogical agendas, such as attempting to organize a bell-ringing session in the middle of a deadly epidemic (Doomsday Book), or frustrating efforts to analyze near-death experiences by putting words in the mouths of interviewees (Passage).

    Other themes and stylistic devices include:

    – a scientist as protagonist (the main theme of Bellwether, but also present in Uncharted Territory, Passage, and—to a lesser degree—the Fire Watch universe stories).
    – an aversion to rampant political correctness (notably the over-appreciation of indigenous cultures in Uncharted Territory, anti-smoking stances in Bellwether, censorship of “addictive substances” in Remake and censorship of an English class in the short story “Ado”).
    – the inclusion of meticulously researched, detailed trivia related tangentially or symbolically to the narrative (fads in Bellwether, mating customs in Uncharted Territory, old movies in Remake, the Titanic disaster in Passage, famous pairs of ill-fated lovers in To Say Nothing of the Dog).
    – the constant presence of trying to come to terms with grief, loss, and death; this is often attributed to her mother having died while Willis herself was still a child.[citation needed]
    – “Romantic ‘screwball’ comedy in the manner of 1940s Hollywood movies, updated”[12]

  62. 62
    Paul in KY says:

    @draftmama: Good point. My mother was from Warrington & spent nights in air raid shelters when she was a teenager.

  63. 63
    Paul in KY says:

    @lamh36: Maybe she shouldn’t have assaulted her aunt?

  64. 64
    Paul in KY says:

    @CTVoter: I objected to it too, Thank God I was too young to get drafted. I probably would have gone, but that was a fucked up war.

  65. 65
    Rob in CT says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    One of the few series of books I actually regret reading, and wonder why I finished (must… know… the ending…). Ugh.

    Small Gods by Pratchett is excellent. I loved it. One cool thing about Pratchett is that his books are fairly short. I don’t mind a long book, so long as things are actually happening. Pratchett doesn’t spend 100 pages just telling you what something looks like.

    Martin: Robert Jordan 2.0. He’s lost the plot, he keeps introducing characters mid-stream, etc. Same damn thing. And he’s up to about 7 years per book.

    I’m pretty sure I’m done with the series. It’s utterly depressing (so few characters who aren’t just plain awful or awfully pathetic or pathetically awful or…), it’s not going anywhere, and it takes forever to get the next installment.

    Martin isn’t obligated to write for us, but neither are we obligated to sit around slobbering in anticipation of something that may or may not actually arrive. Enough already.

  66. 66
    Paul in KY says:

    @phoebes-in-santa fe: Yes. Yes you are :-)

  67. 67
    Paul in KY says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Having your main character be a leper is usually not the way to establish a rapport with your audience.

  68. 68
    ...now I try to be amused says:

    @Edmund Dantes:

    He started to get praise about how great he was, he was subverting the genre, et al. He believed his own press clippings.

    “Writing can trap you. Some writers tend to write what has pleased their readers in the past. They hear accolades and believe them. There’s only one final judge of writing, and that is the Writer. When he is swayed by the critics, the editors, the publishers, the readers; then he is finished. And, of course, when he is swayed with his fame and his fortune, you can float him down the river with the turds.

    — Charles Bukowski

  69. 69
    mcjulie says:

    @Paul in KY: But the leper thing is all the Covenant series really has going for it.

    I read the Covenant series as a teenager (when I read an awful lot of crappy fantasy) and liked it — then tried to re-read it a few years later and couldn’t figure out what I’d ever seen in it. It was really the prose style that put me off on a very basic level. He’s a writer who will never use “green” when he can say “verdant,” but then he’ll use “verdant” every single time.

    Then I learned about Clench Racing… http://news.ansible.co.uk/plotdev.html

  70. 70
    mcjulie says:

    @Edmund Dantes:

    He long ago lost the plot. He has become a parody of himself. He started to get praise about how great he was, he was subverting the genre, et al. He believed his own press clippings.

    Yeah, come back after you’ve written your fantasy bestseller and the rest of us will all get weirdly smug and judgmental about your psychological state.

  71. 71
    Comrade Mary says:

    @mcjulie: I wouldn’t psychoanalyze any writer, and I’m still enjoying GRRM’s series, flaws and all, but I think it is not at all uncommon for big writers to basically write as they please without listening to editors after they get to a certain level of success. See also what I wrote about Willis above: her books have gotten much longer and more repetitive, but she sells big and cleans up at awards, so who’s gonna dream of stopping her?

  72. 72
    mcjulie says:

    @Comrade Mary: I know that’s a common fan theory, that when writers (Stephen King, Connie Willis, Martin) get to a certain level of prominence they stop listening to editors and that’s why their later books are often bigger and messier than earlier work.

    But if you go to events where those writers talk about their writing process — at least with the three I mentioned — you find out that fan theory is simply not true. They talk all the time about their editors and other professionals giving feedback and the books changing in response.

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    Comrade Mary says:

    @mcjulie: OK, so why do editors collude to make good writers produce worse books? As I said, I have few complaints about GRRM, probably because I went in knowing that his books were going to be behemoths and they still deliver for me in many ways. I’m looking forward to the sixth volume.

    But the way Willis has slowly declined from Doomsday Book / To Say Nothing of the Dog / various short stories, to the good but flawed Passages, to the elephantine Blackout/All Clear (the latter two still winning awards) just mystifies me. I’m with Adam Roberts on this one:

    The result is a mildly interesting 200-page novel about the ordinary heroism of British civilians during the war, bloated to 800 pages via an egregiously handled time-travel conceit, eked out with great jellied quantities of historical research, endless meandering conversations, long passages disposed into that tiresome typographical convention by which characters’ inmost thoughts are spelled out in italics, and a string of inconsequential chapter-end cliffhangers/immediate resolutions that got increasingly on my nerves as the book went on. There’s little overall tension, and the time-travelling historians come over as both panicky and amateurish – an undesirable combination, one might think, where timelines are lying about ready to be mucked up.

    The aim is a commendable one. Despite walk-on parts by General Patton, Agatha Christie and Alan Turing, the bulk of the characters in All Clear are ordinary people getting on with their ordinary lives. It’s rare to find any novel nowadays happy to pootle along gently as Willis’s does here. But the problem is that the novel lapses too often into dullness. The comedy is weak; the tragedy oddly creaky and unconvincing. Nor are the characters particularly well drawn. In particular, her cheeky cockney urchin, Alf, is so dreadful that I grimaced with displeasure whenever he appeared.

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    Comrade Mary says:

    @mcjulie: In addition, what the authors report in public as a fruitful working relationship and what the editors may report to their friends could vary just a wee bit. I suspect that editors often (not always) can’t and won’t get the massive cuts some books really require, and learn to engage the authors in amicable discussions that lead to some improvements.

    In the end, the publisher wants to deliver a long awaited book by a popular author no matter what. If the author is happy and many book buyers are happy, they count the delivery of a book (especially if it sells and wins awards) as a success.

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    RP says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): That’s nuts. The TV series has brought joy to millions of people who otherwise wouldn’t have read the books. How is that a bad thing. And any problems with the series are independent of the show IMO.

    As a general matter, I don’t think Martin is lazy or that fame has gone to his head. I think he had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do with the first three books, but the ideas haven’t come as fluidly since. That’s the creative process, not arrogance or laziness.

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    JustRuss says:

    @phoebes-in-santa fe: I never heard of GRRM until LawyersGuns&Money started doing posts about GoT, and even then I assumed it was just a lame SyFy series. Now I’m hooked, listening to the third book on Audible.

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    Paul in KY says:

    @mcjulie: Thanks for link. Pretty funny. Did not read it all, as I am at work & it is pretty long.

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    Groucho48 says:

    @Comrade Mary:

    Yep. That sums it up pretty well. It’s not easy to get all those elements to balance out and turn into an interesting and engaging book.

    Concerning GRRM, I would say that he has the “problem” a lot of fantasy writers have. He has created a fantasy world he is completely in love with and he has become popular enough that he can show us all the bits that most fantasy writers don’t get to show. I’ve heard many fantasy writers talk about how only 10% or so of the world they have created ever gets shown in their books. They’ll have maps and lists of countries and cities and cultures that never even get mentioned in their books. GRRM is in a position to include the other 90%. Lots of folks don’t care for this. I happen to like it. As long as the journey is entertaining, I don’t care how long it takes to get to the destination. I enjoy almost all the different plot lines. The only one I thought was really forced in was the one with the Dornish guy who wanted to marry Daenerys.

    As for his reluctance to write. Writing is hard work and it seems he is taking advantage of all the things he can to avoid having to sit down and do that work. I used to have the same tactics when it came to homework, so, I can sympathize with him. Not enough, though, that I don’t want to give him a hearty kick in the butt and tell him to sit down and get to work.

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    JimV says:

    Thinking about what I’ve seen of the HBO series based on the Martin novels, yesterday I had the thought that the producers/screen-writers of that series would be just as happy or happier if Martin never finishes the books. They’ve already made so many significant changes to the story that they would just continue on making it up for themselves. Meanwhile, Martin has published a couple of books that aren’t part of the Game of Thrones story, and there aren’t many of his important characters left to kill off in it, so maybe he wouldn’t mind having HBO finish it for themselves, especially since the story seems to be devolving into conventional good-vs.-evil terms (which he disparages in Tolkien-imitators in the interview). But the interview states otherwise.

    After reading the interview and then coming back here to comment I see other commenters have also had this thought.

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    McJulie says:

    @Comrade Mary:

    so why do editors collude to make good writers produce worse books? [..] I suspect that editors often (not always) can’t and won’t get the massive cuts some books really require, and learn to engage the authors in amicable discussions that lead to some improvements.

    I’m suggesting that maybe the problem isn’t something that can be solved by an editor saying “this book is too long, cut some of it.” It’s more like the “why isn’t anything Paul McCartney writes today as brilliant as ‘Yesterday’?” problem.

    That said, Blackout/All Clear probably does suffer from a publisher-level decision to stretch it into two books. But I already think Connie Willis really prefers to write short stories and only writes novels because that’s how a writer makes money.

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    edmund dantes says:

    @mcjulie: Love the appeal to authority. Of course, we’ll make sure you never criticize a politician, a wall street banker or any other profession you are not accomplished in. Let’s see how that works out.

    Lol…as to my contention that he has lost the plot… Look at the turtle menagerie in the 5th book. Look at the man himself admitting he has lost it on numerous occasions (meerense knot, 5 year gap, etc).

    As to editors and believing his own press clippings, Martin started out not using that many esoteric words, but as the books progressed he started using them everywhere. nuncle, must needs, et al.

    His writing has demonstrably changed.

    and if you have the stomach for it, google the “grossening of ASOIF”. Daenary’s diarhea is a lot a fun in the fifth book.

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    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    @Anne Laurie: Interesting. See, I love the Thomas Covenant novels. I suspect that maybe that’s because I’m GenX, and they fit: they came out when I was coming of age during Reagan, and they really fit the tenor of the times; their moral ambiguity fits very well with what was happening vs. what we were being told about those brave brave unpersons who went into those places to make sure the dirty indians^Wcommunists didn’t corrupt us by coughing up money to pay dirty Arabs^WPersians to make sure we looked good to the rubes that were voting for us.

    To be a GenXer is to be a cynical bastard, and we came by it honestly. If you paid attention, it was very apparent that we luxuriated on the backs of shit lives in the third world, and the PTB hadn’t yet put in place the system that ensure that we loved the people doing the oppressing by making it appear that they deserved the shit sandwich that we were feeding them.

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