George R.R. Martin may be the world-famous bestselling author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels, a creative force named to the Time 100 list of most influential people for 2011, and the winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards -- the highest honors available to science fiction and fantasy writers. But, in addition to those laudatory things, he is something else entirely.
He is a gnome.
And I'm not just referring to the fact that he looks strikingly like a garden gnome -- a look that appears in no way to be a mere accident of nature. He also has that aura of gnomish wisdom about him -- a manner of speaking that is precise, articulate, and knowing. Appearing at Redwood City's spectacular Fox Theatre last night, Martin positively glowed with that gnomishness, spilling over with a combination of native intelligence and warmth toward his fans, about 1,400 of whom packed the venue, filling it with a cozy adoration.
As I drove to the event, I didn't know what to expect. Would I see hordes of devoted fans in embroidered finery demonstrating their unconditional love of the Ice and Fire novels? Would it be a spectacle of Comic-Con proportions?
There were no costumes, sadly, amid this Wednesday afterwork crowd. There was, however, a very tall older gentleman who alighted gingerly from the rear of a limousine in front of the theater, sporting a Western-themed mode of dress, a long salt-and-pepper beard, and an oversized black cowboy hat with a two-foot pheasant feather sprouting from its band. Sadly, my technical ineptitude with the camera means that there is no photographic evidence of this cane-wielding Deadwoodian character -- but he lives in my memory like a mythic specter of the old West.
Inside, Martin was introduced by yet another best-selling science-fiction author, San Jose native Tad Williams. Williams warmed up the audience and Martin was greeted by enormous applause.
For the next hour, Martin held forth on a number of topics. Yet again, for the benefit of those obsessively impatient fans who have lately professionalized the art of grousing about the six years it's taken since Martin published A Feast of Crows, he explained the lapse in his publishing schedule. He also praised HBO's superlative adaptation of A Game of Thrones, breaking the news that production had just commenced on the series' second season.
Martin took special care to highlight the important role that Kepler's Books in Menlo Park (who organized the event) has played during his career, particularly with respect to the success of A Game of Thrones, the first novel in the series. He explained how Clark Kepler and his staff latched onto the book upon its release as a store favorite, "hand-selling" it when, as Martin recalled, "the book was selling in the hundreds of copies, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands." (Hand-selling is when a bookseller personally promotes and recommends a particular title to customers.) He said that Kepler's went on to sell more copies of A Game of Thrones than any other store in the country, paving the way for the success of the series as a whole.
Martin's fondness for Bay Area readers showed in his response to audience questions.
He told us that his characters are a part of him, and that when he kills them off, he mourns them. He told us that he began writing A Game of Thrones in a sudden jolt of inspiration while he was working on another, now-abandoned novel. He told us that he viewed characters as "gray," rather than either good or evil, and that for his characters, the struggle between good and evil is not between armies on battlefields, but that it plays out within each of their individual hearts -- adding that he views that struggle the same way in life.
Before the signing began, but following a lengthy standing ovation, Martin told the audience -- with gentleness, and at length -- that he could not personalize each signature, as he has traditionally done. He broke the news to the audience with a quiet but real sense of regret in his voice -- and beneath it, I sensed his grateful devotion to his audience -- a feeling that was certainly reciprocated.
The energy in the room was lovely.