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Monday, July 11, 2011

George R.R. Martin Talks About A Dance with Dragons, Chess, and Fandom

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2011 at 7:30 AM

George R.R. Martin is the author of the epic fantasy novels known collectively as A Song of Ice and Fire. The series began with the 1996 publication of A Game of Thrones, a book that slowly built a devoted readership. The series became a blockbuster, and A Game of Thrones has been adapted into a lavish HBO spectacle that recently concluded its first season.

Martin's latest is A Dance with Dragons, the series' fifth novel. It comes out six years after its predecessor, A Feast for Crows -- a gap that has rankled some fans. But those who protest remain the minority, for series' fandom is enormous and affectionate. It could be argued that A Dance with Dragons is the book of the year, and its debut tomorrow, July 12, will be greeted by the faithful at midnight release parties aplenty.

Martin (or GRRM, as he's known by his fans) is set to appear at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City on July 27 -- the only Northern California stop on his book tour. The event is sponsored by Kepler's Books in Menlo Park. We recently spoke with Martin as he was preparing to depart for his tour.

Author George R.R. Martin - PHOTO BY NICK BRIGGS
  • Photo by Nick Briggs
  • Author George R.R. Martin
The title of the first book, A Game of Thrones, made me think of a chess board when I heard it back in 1996. Did chess have an influence on the series? The game of chess has had a huge influence on my life. I made my living through chess for a couple of years in the early '70s -- not playing it, but running chess tournaments. I was a tournament director during the whole big chess boom that followed Bobby Fischer playing Boris Spassky. I earned enough money doing that so that I didn't have to take a full-time job. I could just run chess tournaments and write. It really helped establish me as a writer. So I know a lot about chess. There's a very chess-like game in the Ice and Fire books, so that had a chess influence, too.

How do you maintain the discipline required to produce a vast series of novels like this? What's your process? How do you allocate the time to research, outline, draft, and so on?
My process is kind of haphazard [laughs]. I'm not the most disciplined writer in the world -- never have been. I'm not very good with deadlines. I'm a slow writer and have always been a slow writer.

I like to say there are two kinds of writers. There are the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything before they set a word to paper, like an architect building a house. They draw up the blueprints, and they know how deep the foundations will be. The gardener, meanwhile, digs a hole, and plants a seed, and waters it with his blood, and tries to shape what comes up.

I think all writers are part architect and part gardener, but the proportions differ. I'm much more of a gardener than an architect. I don't outline. I hate outlining. If I outline something in too much detail, something in my subconscious says, "Well, you told that story." And I find it very hard to flesh out the outline. It's like the creative part is done and just the carpentry remains. So I'm more of a gardener.

What sets A Dance with Dragons apart from its four predecessors?
A Dance with Dragons is in some sense is the flipside of A Feast for Crows. When I was writing A Feast for Crows, it got so big that I could not complete it in one volume. So we divided it into two. I made the decision to divide it not chronologically -- by splitting halfway through the year -- but rather to divide it geographically and by character. I told all of the story about half of the characters, rather than telling half the story about all the characters.

Now, with A Dance with Dragons, you're getting the other half of that. You're getting the characters who were not in A Feast for Crows, like Jon Snow, Tyrion, and Daenerys. I believe there are 72 chapters in the book, and those three characters make up about half of that number. There are 13 other viewpoint characters [each chapter is narrated, in third person, from the perspective of a central character] during the course of the book, but they each have significantly fewer chapters.

That's 16 total viewpoint characters?
Yeah, I know. It's scary. It terrified me when I counted them up at the end. But, this is a big project. It's probably gotten a little bigger -- or even a lot bigger -- than I would have anticipated when I set out. I wanted to do something that was as big as my imagination. So that's what I'm doing -- and God, it's big.

Sean Bean as Lord Eddard Stark in A Game of Thrones
  • Sean Bean as Lord Eddard Stark in A Game of Thrones
Do you still see the series as a total of seven books? That's my plan. I'm not writing that in blood or anything, but that's my projection. It has been known to change before. It was seen as a trilogy when I started.

You have attended science fiction conventions for a long time. How have those events changed over the years?
I attended my first science fiction convention in 1971. In the '70s, there was the World Science Fiction Convention, and maybe a half-dozen other conventions around the country. Now, there's a half-dozen conventions every weekend.

Also, back in the '70s, the conventions were all under one tent. You had the science fiction and fantasy books, which were the heart of it. But you also had comic books. People played games. People dressed up in costumes. Now, all of those things have become their own fandoms, and have their own conventions.

What about the segment of fandom that believes it has special rights of ownership over this or that franchise? Where do you think that comes from?
My assistant and I have discussed this, and he thinks it's a generational thing. He talks about the entitlement generation. Maybe it's a consequence of the Internet or something like that. If you're researching something, you don't need to go to the library and get out a book. You just call up Google or Wikipedia and you can find out the answer to your question in a second. The younger generation is so used to instant satisfaction of their curiosity. Maybe that produces it. But it's certainly a different world, and it's a strange one compared to the world that I came into when I started writing back in 1971.

For more information about George R.R. Martin's only Bay Area appearance, visit Kepler's Books.

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