Two More Articles About GRRM and A Dance With Dragons

Bookstores grateful for a 'A Dance with Dragons'
Can one book save an industry? The success of HBO’s A Game of Thrones, based on G.R.R. Martin’s fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire, has revived the book world. That’s because Martin’s latest book in the series, the long-anticipated A Dance With Dragons, hit bookstores last week, and it wasn’t just fans of the preceding books that were eager – it was also the new fans created by the miniseries. Random House said 170,000 copies were sold in the first day, along with 110,000 e-copies.

The sales were a welcome sign of rain in a drought-plagued industry. Booksellers, both indie and chain stores, were astonished by the success of the big fat fantasy (it comes in at well over 1,000 pages). And that’s just existing fans. The HBO miniseries has also created an upswing in demand for the first four books in the trilogy (a little Douglas Adams joke there), as fans of the show have become fans of the books. On Amazon, Dance With Dragons was at number 1; the boxed set of the preceding books was at number 2.

This is great for Martin, who is a veteran author and television writer and creator. No overnight success, he, and it shows. The books are lauded – rightfully — for their complexity, grand scale, marvelous writing and character creation, and gorgeous world building. And I’m not even a fan.* Imagine what people who actually like the series think.

At the same time, it’s too much to ask for a book to save an industry whose business model is changing by the minute. A Dance With Dragons wouldn’t have been able to prevent Borders’ bankruptcy, for instance. Not even a boy wizard could do that, as long as we’re talking about a successful fantasy series. But here’s what Martin (beloved troll) and J.K. Rowling (flawless goddess) and yes, Stephenie Meyer (stranger bitch) have done: they have created media-rich stories that combine all forms of storytelling – book and film and television and audio – for a complete experience.

To take advantage of this, bookstores will have to evolve. Barnes & Noble has already done so with its Nook sales initiative, independent bookstores have banded together under the Indiebound marketing strategy, and Borders, if it is to make a comeback, will also have to make changes.

*Well, he kept killing my favorite characters!
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Author George R.R. Martin 'Playing For Keeps'

George R. R. Martin is best known as the man behind the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. The latest volume, A Dance With Dragons, is now in bookstores after an epic six-year wait (after initially claiming that it would only take one year, just saying). An HBO series based on the first book, A Game of Thrones, just wrapped up its Emmy-nominated first season.

But in the 1980s, Martin was a television writer, churning out scripts for shows like Beauty and the Beast.

"Whenever I would turn in a script, the producers would say, 'George, this is wonderful but it would cost five times our production budget to produce it,'" he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

So Martin turned to the one medium that could support his outsized imagination: fiction.

"One of the great things about books is, you can afford to do anything," he says. But, he adds, even the fanciest fantasy must have some grounding in reality. Martin found his inspiration for A Game of Thrones during a visit to Hadrian's Wall, in northern England.

"But, of course, fantasy being bigger and more colorful" than real life, Martin says, "I couldn't have a wall that was 10 feet tall like Hadrian's Wall. So I had a 700-foot-tall wall, and I made it out of ice, and I gave it this storied history. And then, of course, I wanted something to emerge from those hills and trees to the north that was a good bit scarier than Scotland, so I came up with that, too.
"So you start with the kernel of reality, and then you extrapolate and you build from there."

Martin has often been called the American Tolkien, but he says readers who pick up his books looking for gallant tales of hobbits and orcs may be disappointed. There's no absolute good or evil in his work, just people motivated by human desires — people who often meet messy ends.

"If you're going to write about war, which my books are about, wars are nasty things," Martin says. "I think it's sort of a cheap easy way out to write a war story in which no one ultimately dies."

Martin adds that he wants his readers to experience the story emotionally, not just read it.

"I'm playing for keeps here, and no one is safe in these books. If the characters get in trouble, it might very well be fatal trouble," he says. "The cavalry isn't necessarily going to come riding to the rescue." (still bitter about certain crimson nuptials, tbh.)

That edge of uncertainty and danger is one thing that inspires Martin's fans, some of whom know the books better than Martin himself.

Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson live in Sweden and run the westeros.org website (and are a couple of pressed haters) — Westeros is the continent where much of the action takes place — and Martin says he often turns to them when he can't remember, for example, what color a character's eyes are.

"Elio will write me back right away, 'Yes, his eyes are blue-gray, and you say that in the second book on page 314.'"

Such an obsessive fan base can have a downside. Many fans grew angry and alienated during the six-year wait between the last book in 2005 and A Dance With Dragons. But Martin says that if readers want his best work, they'll just have to wait. "I'm going to take as long as it takes to write these books, to make them good." (fine by me... as long as you stop fucking around with writing other series and side projects, js.)
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