Recently, the Indigo Blog had the opportunity to pose some questions to bestselling author George RR Martin, author of the bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire series; book one of which being the basis for Season 1 of HBO’s A Game of Thrones.
Indigo Fiction Blog: Were there any characters that you particularly disliked?
George R.R. Martin: You know, I even like my villains. There may be a**holes and cretins and evil people there among my cast but writing about them I develop a certain affection for them, so no, there’s nobody that I am eager to get rid of yet but I do know who’s gonna die and when as the story unfolds.
IFB: So to touch briefly on one character, we received quite a few questions surrounding Sansa, both love and hate related. Enlarging that a bit, the female characters in A Song of Ice and Fire seem to be as multifaceted as a male ones, which isn’t necessarily the norm for all fantasy books and series. How do you write such believable and wide ranging female characters, especially those on the younger end like Sansa or Daenarys? How do you write those pre-teen or teenage girls?
GRRM: Well, obviously I’ve never been a teenage girl but I’ve known a few. I try to write all my characters, whether they’re male or female, or young and old, as people first. There’s a process of empathy or identification where, especially the viewpoint characters more than the characters we see externally, when I’m using someone as a point of view character, like a Sansa or Cersei, I have to put on their skin and say ‘what would it be like to be in this position, how would I feel’? And it’s a process of empathy. Can you identify with someone, can you become someone imaginatively even if that person has significant differences from you? And my philosophy has always been really that our common humanity means that we have far more in common than we have dividing us. I mean, a young girl and an old man and a warrior from a savage tribe or a very civilized scholar at the Citadel—there’s many superficial differences but deep down they’re all human beings and they all are motivated by some of the same basic needs and dreams and influences. That’s what I try to keep in mind when I write any of these characters.
IFB: It does seem like the readers out there are very much emotionally invested in your books and in your characters. What is it like having so many fans emotionally invested in the books…the double edged sword of that being you have so much fan adoration on one hand versus, especially in the last few years (I read the great piece they did in the New Yorker about this), their insatiable desire for more of your work and their demands on you.
GRRM: Well, you know, it beats the alternative, which is writing a book that nobody cares about or cares when it comes out. I’ve been a writer for a long time; I sold my first story in 1971. And in the early days I did my share of book signings at the mall where no one comes [laughs]. You just sit there for three hours in front of a stack of your books and maybe at the end of the second hour someone wanders over to you with a cookbook and $20 bill and expects you to ring it up [laughs]. And you know, that’s sort of daunting and I’m glad those days are behind me. People have said that sometimes that love and hate are very close and the last few years have proved that to me. Some of the people who have turned on me and are the most vocal and are people who were previously, I guess, fervent fans but in some ways they’ve been disappointed by the delays or by something they didn’t like on my Not A Blog and now they’ve flipped over into this other thing. It’s been a slightly surreal experience and it still is.
IFB: It’s sort of unique as well. I haven’t seen anything quite like that, although I’m sure other authors have their own experiences.
GRRM: I think they do, though the history of this book has been a little unique too in some ways.
IFB: Things seem to be this much more ramped up and bigger for A Dance With Dragons than your previous release, especially given the non-fantasy readers out there with the HBO series. Now that the first season of Game of Thrones has been completed to wide acclaim on HBO, will this change the way in which your new novel are constructed, or having come from television, having written for television before, were your books, especially in the point of view reference, constructed with television in mind?
GRRM: No. I was certainly influenced by the 10 years in television and learned some valuable techniques. It certainly sharpened my ability to write dialogue in particular and it sharpened by sense of structure. I did pick up the trick of the act break, which is a key to television and something I do use in A Game of Thrones and its sequels—to end each chapter with what is essentially and act break to keep people coming back. I don’t have commercials in between the chapters [laughs] but the technique is similar. That being said, when I began the series, it was almost a reaction against television. It was me saying, after ten years of being told that my scripts were too long, too expensive and too big and we couldn’t possibly afford it on a budget, I wanted to do something huge, something sprawling and epic where I could have as many characters, as many battles and gigantic settings and things that I wanted. I wanted something limited only by the size of my imagination not by the studio’s budget. So, far from being influenced by TV, it’s almost influenced against TV. The HBO series has been amazing but it’s a separate thing. The HBO series is not influencing the books. The book is influencing the HBO series. They’ve done a very faithful adaptation. The current is not running both ways, the river only runs one way.
IFB: And maybe one can say that you’re influencing television and that maybe television will go, especially with the popularity of this and the wide appeal.
GRRM: That would be nice. It would please me to no end if the success of Game of Thrones opened up the doors for more good fantasy on television, because fantasy has not been well represented on television by and large. In film there’s The Lord of the Rings, but in television, very little. I mean, I would love to see Roger Zelasny’s Nine Princes in Amber done as a TV series or a miniseries or the works of Jack Vance. His Cugel the Clever stories would make a wonderful television series.
IFB: So maybe this will open the gate for them. I’ve seen in interviews you’ve previously done that you’ve mentioned that you’re impressed with the HBO series Rome, which is also one of my personal favourites as well.
GRRM: It was one of the best shows ever done on TV. I wish it hadn’t ended so soon.
IFB: I know, it does seem very quick and it’s one in which Game of Thrones has been frequently compared both with cost, the vibrancy, the cast of characters and that realness to it. How do you think Game of Thrones matches up to Rome?
GRRM: I can’t evaluate. I’m prejudiced. Game of Thrones is my baby. “How do you think your child compares to these other children.” You know, you like yours best. But Rome is terrific. Just to be mentioned in the same breath as Rome would please me. And some of the other great HBO shows like the Sopranos and The Wire and Deadwood, that’s the company I aspire to keep with Game of Thrones and if we can ultimately be bracketed with those three or four shows, some of the best dramas that HBO has ever done, that would please me.IFB: We have a lot of people out there requesting your wisdom. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors out there, any pearls of wisdom?
GRRM: I think a lot of it is persistence. I think the key thing for a young writer or aspiring writer is to write a lot, try to write every day. Also to read a lot, not just in fantasy or science fiction. I mean I love those genres but I also read mysteries, I took a lot of literature courses in college, I read a lot of mainstream literature, I read all sorts of non-fiction, history. Read voraciously. Read every day and write every day. I also tell young writers, particularly in the fields of fantasy and science fiction, to start with short stories. That’s the way I started. I published my first short story in 1971. I didn’t publish a novel until 1977. So for 6 years I did nothing but short stories and I published 30 or 40 short stories by the time I did a novel. You can really learn your craft by writing short stories. You can build up a name, which then when you finally do the novel you’re not just some unknown guy who did a novel, you’re this well-known short story writer who’s finally doing his first novel. And in this very competitive marketplace these days, that helps.
IFB: Great advice. And lastly, any chances for some Canadian book tour signing dates? We’d love to have you.
GRRM: You know, I did one for A Feast for Crows. I went to five Canadian cities and it was great. I had wonderful turnouts, so I’d love to do it again but it’s just a question of time. I mean the more I tour the less I write. On one hand I got the mob out the front with pitchforks and torches who want me chained to this desk writing then I got the people who want me to come to store near them to sign their book. It’s just a matter of balancing the two, you know.
IFB: So you’re starting off in Boston?
GRRM: Boston is my first public signing, yeah. I’m going to Baltimore as a first stop on the tour just to do a warehouse signing. I’ll be signing a great quantity of books all day at the Random House warehouse, which will be shipped out to various bookstores. And then from there it’s Boston, New York City and Indianapolis on the first leg of this tour. And then I come home for a few days and it’s the San Diego Comic-Con, which will be pretty amazing, and followed by signings in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and Lexington.
IFB: Great, I don’t want to keep you too long. I’m sure you’ve been talking ad nauseam to all of us in the book industry.
GRRM: I have done a few interviews and yes, it’s starting to blur together at this point but hey, I’m getting good at it.
IFB: So when fans read this on the 12th, what they can expect from A Dance With Dragons (without too many any spoilers)?
GRRM: Well they can expect a lot of Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenarys Targaryen. Those are the three starring characters. If those are among their favourite characters, they’ll get a lot of them.
IFB: They are right up there on the top of my list. Thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with us.
GRRM: My pleasure. I hope I do make it up there to Canada one of these days.
Special thanks are due to our friends at Random House Canada and Random House in the US, as well as Mr. Martin himself for facilitating this interview.