George rr martin

In con­ver­sa­tion with the leg­endary Wes­teros cre­ator.

SFX - - Contents -

The world’s most popular liv­ing fan­tasy au­thor loves his job.

Amidst the non- stop flow of at­tendee traf­fic and the hy­per- en­ergy of the San Diego Comic- Con, George RR Martin sits qui­etly, as much Bud­dha as word sor­cerer. The Game Of Thrones cre­ator has just crowned the Mar­riott ho­tel chain’s cos­play contest “King” and “Queen”, and spent an hour on­stage an­swer­ing his fans’ count­less ques­tions. And though he has two more ea­gerly awaited nov­els to write be­fore his wildly popular A Song Of Ice And Fire se­ries con­cludes, he’s spared a lit­tle time to chat with SFX.

“I sold my first story in ’ 71,” Martin be­gins, when asked about the time he spent break­ing into his field. “I didn’t go full- time un­til ’ 79. I was a ris­ing writer dur­ing those years. I was pub­lish­ing more and more, but I still wasn’t mak­ing enough money to live on. So the first thing [ I thought] was, ‘ Am I ever gonna be able to be a full- time writer or will I al­ways have to be a teacher or a jour­nal­ist or some­one who writes on the side? If you look at the his­tory of sci­ence fic­tion, even some of the gi­ants of the Golden Age, they never were full- time writ­ers. Asi­mov was ul­ti­mately able to go full- time and Brad­bury mostly did, but peo­ple like Clif­ford Si­mak, for ex­am­ple, one of the great Grand Masters of sci­ence fic­tion, spent his en­tire life as a jour­nal­ist for a small- town news­pa­per. He didn’t go full- time un­til he re­tired. Gene Wolfe was a mag­a­zine ed­i­tor for years – he didn’t write full- time un­til he re­tired. So there was that. Then the other thing is, in this business you’re only as hot as your lat­est book. I was a ris­ing star in the ’ 70s and the early ’ 80s. Then in 1984 I pub­lished a novel called The Ar­maged­don Rag, which was nom­i­nated for a World Fan­tasy Award and got great reviews... and no­body bought it. Sud­denly my ca­reer as a nov­el­ist was over! I couldn’t get a pub­lisher to buy my next novel. No­body wanted to know my name. They’d looked at the sales fig­ures.

“I of­ten tell young writ­ers,” he says, “‘ This is not an oc­cu­pa­tion for some­one who val­ues se­cu­rity. It’s all ups and downs. The ground can dis­ap­pear un­der­neath your feet at any mo­ment.’ So I’ve had my ups and downs. Thank­fully, lately, it’s mostly been ups.”

Though Martin has his Wes­teros nov­els to thank for many of those re­cent ups, in HBO’s Game Of Thrones – along with The Walk­ing Dead, ar­guably the most popular tele­vised drama in the Western world – the au­thor’s found a level of fame that’s not with­out con­ster­na­tion. Martin’s at­tended Comic- Con for many years, but he can no longer walk the con­ven­tion’s floor with­out se­cu­rity. Then there’s the be­wil­der­ment caused him by those who cos­play as George RR Martin.

“I get a lot of emails from fans who some­times send me pho­tos and pic­tures to sign,” ex­plains the scribe. “So I got one a lit­tle while ago from a guy on the east coast. He said, ‘ My girl­friend met you when you were in North Carolina last month, and you were so kind to her and the two of you had a din­ner to­gether and it was de­light­ful. She’s such a huge fan of your books. She re­ally loves them and she loved spend­ing time with you. We’re about to get mar­ried and I want to send you this print of the pic­ture of the two of you hav­ing din­ner. If you would sign it to her, it would mean so much to her.’ It was a very touch­ing let­ter. I open it up, and of course it’s not me. It’s some­one with a Greek sailor’s cap and a grey beard that I’ve never seen in my god­damned life.”

Martin chuck­les. “So I had to write to this poor woman and say, ‘ I’m glad you had a nice din­ner with this guy, but I don’t know who he is. And he cer­tainly ain’t me!’

“That part of it,” he ad­mits, “is a lit­tle disturbing.”

chang­ing faces

Martin is well aware of the ef­fect that Game Of Thrones has had on his au­di­ence, and he’s come to terms with the fact that, for many read­ers, the ap­pear­ance of his char­ac­ters will be for­ever de­fined by the show.

“I started the books in 1991. We had the first meet­ing about the TV show in 2007. So I have 16 years solidly rooted in my brain of who th­ese char­ac­ters are and what this world is like and where I’m go­ing with it. I recog­nise that, to other peo­ple, when they think of Tyrion, they’re al­ways gonna see Peter Din­klage. When they think of Arya, they’re al­ways gonna see Maisie Wil­liams. Much as I love Peter and Maisie, that’s not true for me. My char­ac­ters

have 16 years of pri­macy over them. The books are the books and the show is the show, and the videogames are the videogames and the comic books are the comic books and the replica swords are the replica swords. But the books are the things that are im­por­tant to me.

“It’s never gonna be an ex­act mir­ror,” says Martin of how closely the show has ap­proached his own vi­sions of his char­ac­ters. “Be­cause, again, there have been 16 years. When you’re cast­ing ac­tors, or some­thing like that, you’re look­ing for tal­ent. Not how closely they rep­re­sent that. And I’ve never wanted that... We do a won­der­ful cal­en­dar ev­ery year, the Song Of Ice And Fire cal­en­dar, with great artists. We de­buted one here with Donato

“Ide­ally, I would pre­fer that the books were per­fect”

Gian­cola, and we’ve had Gary Gianni, John Pi­ca­cio and Ted Nasmith. I never look over those cal­en­dars and say, ‘ No, no, no – this is what Jaime should look like!’ I wel­come the artists to do their own in­ter­pre­ta­tions. Un­less they make an ac­tual, fac­tual er­ror – like give him a third eye or fail­ing to no­tice that one of his hands has been cut off at the ap­pro­pri­ate point – I wel­come the in­ter­pre­ta­tions. This is es­pe­cially true of tele­vi­sion, which is a

col­lab­o­ra­tive medium. You get won­der­ful cos­tume de­signs from a very cre­ative cos­tume de­signer. You don’t want me in there say­ing, ‘ No, no, no. This is how I de­scribed it in the books…’ All of that is true. So I pre­fer just to try and part­ner my­self with the most tal­ented peo­ple and let them do their own thing.”

right first time

With A Song Of Ice And Fire win­ning scores of new read­ers ev­ery day, is there any­thing Martin would change had he the time or in­cli­na­tion to re­vise his books?

He shrugs. “Well, yeah. When I lived in Chicago I was in a work­shop with a num­ber of other writ­ers, in­clud­ing the great Gene Wolfe, a mar­vel­lous writer who wrote the Shadow Of

The Tor­turer se­ries, The Book Of The New Sun – a tril­ogy that ul­ti­mately ran to four books. Gene had a full- time job as an ed­i­tor and he was able to write all four of those books in first draft, and then go back and start re­vis­ing them. He didn’t give any of them to his pub­lisher un­til the en­tire se­ries was fin­ished. Then he could re­vise the first book know­ing what had hap­pened in the last book. He could take out things, he could put in things, he could rewrite... That’s the per­fect way to do a se­ries. But it’s con­tin­gent on hav­ing another source of in­come for the decade it takes you to do that. And un­less the Pope wanted to support me, or I had a spouse or a trust fund that was pay­ing my mort­gage, that was not an op­tion that was avail­able to me.

“So I look back, and there are mis­takes in the books. Cer­tainly my fans are ea­gle- eyed in point­ing that out. I have a horse that changes sex. I’m no­to­ri­ous for get­ting eye colour wrong. There are a few more ma­jor things that I might not have done quite the same way. Ide­ally, I would pre­fer that the books were per­fect. That’s not only a gen­eral de­sire for per­fec­tion, but be­cause I also use from time to time the lit­er­ary de­vice of the un­re­li­able nar­ra­tor. So a character will re­mem­ber some­thing that did not ac­tu­ally hap­pen. The sharp read­ers pick up on that. But it con­fuses the is­sue when there are real mis­takes, and they’re con­fus­ing the character’s mis­takes with the stupid au­thor’s mis­takes.

“Some of th­ese I can cor­rect in later edi­tions, like the horse sex and eye colour, but...” Martin breathes a sign of grudg­ing ac­cep­tance.

“I have a com­puter” he adds, ex­plain­ing how he keeps the myr­iad of names and chronolo­gies straight. “I have files on the com­puter. I have charts and ge­nealo­gies. I cer­tainly have a lot of crudely drawn maps. I have print files where I’ve printed out things. But that be­ing said, I have much less of this than most peo­ple would as­sume. It is in my head, and I’ve of­ten joked at func­tions like this that there’s some­thing wrong with me – I have almost a pho­to­graphic mem­ory for some character who played a brief scene. You want to talk about Ser Colen of Green­pools, who ap­peared in A Clash Of Kings for one scene with Cate­lyn Stark? I can tell you about Ser Colen of Green­pools. But if I meet you to­mor­row I won’t know who the hell you are.

“The synapses in the brain that other peo­ple use for real life,” he laughs, “I seem to be de­vot­ing to Wes­teros.”

Daen­erys counts the hours down to the next nude scene.

He knows noth­ing.

Spend­ing qual­ity time with fam­ily is so im­por­tant. Well this seat looks comfy. And safe. Feels safe.

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