George rr martin
In conversation with the legendary Westeros creator.
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.”
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.