George R.R. Martin is perfectly aware that the Game of Thrones TV series may be moving faster than he can write the new books. Two volumes away from completing his seven-book series, Martin has met with the show’s creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, to talk about the speed with which they’re catching up. “They are. Yes. It’s alarming.”
But fans of Westeros and its complicated narratives shouldn’t panic just yet. Martin has a surprisingly detailed plan for how the show can slow down and give him enough time to catch up:
The season that’s about to debut covers the second half of the third book. The third book [A Storm of Swords] was so long that it had to be split into two. But there are two more books beyond that, A Feast for Crowsand A Dance with Dragons. A Dance with Dragons is itself a book that’s as big as A Storm of Swords. So there’s potentially three more seasons there, between Feast and Dance, if they split into two the way they did [with Storms]. Now, Feastand Dance take place simultaneously. So you can’t do Feast and then Dance the way I did. You can combine them and do it chronologically. And it’s my hope that they’ll do it that way and then, long before they catch up with me, I’ll have published The Winds of Winter, which’ll give me another couple years. It might be tight on the last book, A Dream of Spring, as they juggernaut forward.
Not only that, but Martin is up for a Breaking Bad or Mad Men-style hiatus inserted in the middle of the final season, or even a prequel season. That said, “I don’t want to sound too glib about this. This is a serious concern.” He continues, “We’re going forward, and the kids are getting older. Maisie was the same age as Arya when it started, but now Maisie is a young woman and Arya is still 11. Time is passing very slowly in the books and very fast in real life.”
For our April issue cover story about Game of Thrones, which returns to HBO on April 6, Jim Windolf visited Martin in his Santa Fe home for a lengthy conversation, about the books, the show, the author’s giant imagination, and the places where even a well-funded HBO series can’t quite match what Martin saw in his mind.Dany and Missandei are like sure uh huh ok bitch
A house in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Two leather wingback chairs face each other. Novelist George R. R. Martin sits in one, I take the other. To my left, on a shelf, is a miniature replica of the iron throne from Game of Thrones, the HBO adaptation of Martin’s epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire. He has completed five of a planned seven volumes. (This interview has been condensed and edited but not much.)
Jim Windolf: How do you like this throne?
George R.R. Martin: That throne is very iconic and now it’s known all over the world as the Iron Throne. But it’s a case where David and Dan and their designers departed very significantly from the throne in the books. There’s a version by a French artist named Marc Simonetti that I put up on my Not a Blog and said, "Here’s the Iron Throne. Somebody finally nailed it."
Besides the show, there’s games out there: there are card games, board games; there are miniatures. Much of it that predates the show. There’s a calendar, an art calendar; there are illustrated versions of books. I’ve worked with numerous artists over the years, and some of them have done wonderful work, and some of them have done less wonderful work, and a dozen artists took runs at the Iron Throne, and no one got it quite right, and it drove me a little crazy at certain points, because I’m saying, “I’m not describing this right. No one is getting it right. I can’t draw it myself. How do I get it...?” So, finally, I worked with Marc Simonetti, and he finally nailed it!
The main difference is scale. The Iron Throne that’s described in the books is gigantic. It’s huge. There’s actually a scene in the show where Littlefinger talks about the thousand swords of Aegon’s enemies, and says, “Well, there’s not really a thousand swords. That’s just a tale we tell ourselves.” And David and Dan made a brilliant speech of that, because there clearly are not a thousand swords in that one. But in the real one, the one in the books, there really are a thousand swords! Maybe two thousand swords! You have to climb a steep set of steps, and it’s ugly, and it’s asymmetric. This one, it looks dangerous, with the spikes, but it has a certain beauty and a symmetry to it. The throne in the books, there’s a point made that it was hammered together by blacksmiths, not by furniture designers. It was meant to be a symbol of conquest and triumph, and, you know: “Look. I took the swords form these people and hammered them in. Now I park my ass on top of them.” It has a message there.
Everything is much bigger in my head, for the most part. We have the largest sound stage in Europe, in the Paint Hall, in Ireland. The Paint Hall is very big, and the sets are very big. But they’re still movie sets. I’m picturing St. Paul’s Cathedral in my head. I’m picturing Westminster Abbey. And a throne that would dominate that room. We couldn’t even fit the kind of throne that I’m imagining into the set that we have! So. You know. That’s the kind of compromise that you make.
In my imagination, I can come up with anything that I want. I can make things very large and very colorful. I can have a cast of thousands of characters, but when you’re translating it to TV, you have to take certain practicalities into account. You have to build these giant artifacts or do them with CGI. If you have a cast of thousands, you have to cast a thousand people, or at least create a thousand people with CGI. Since I worked in Hollywood for a long time, I’m familiar with the other side of this. I can put the screenwriter or producer hat on. But given the challenges that faced us? I thought these books were unproduceable. It never dawned on me that they could be rendered so faithfully and so brilliantly on screen, when I was writing them.
I’d given up on Hollywood at that point. I tried to get TV shows on the air back in the early 90s, when I was still working out there – I designed shows with concepts that would have been easily produceable. And none of ‘em got produced, so I finally said, "The hell with it. I’m just going to write something gigantic. It’ll never be produced. I don’t care. It’s a book. That’s what it’ll be – it’s a novel!" And in one of life’s little ironies, that’s the one that gets on. Fortunately, David and Dan have to solve all these problems, and I don’t.
When you first got the idea in your head for it, in 1991, did you know it was not just one novel, but many novels?
The first scene that came to me was chapter one of the first book, the chapter where they find the direwolf pups. That just came to me out of nowhere. I was actually at work on a different novel, and suddenly I saw that scene. It didn’t belong in the novel I was writing, but it came to me so vividly that I had to sit down and write it, and by the time I did, it led to a second chapter, and the second chapter was the Catelyn chapter where Ned has just come back and she gets the message that the king is dead. And that was sort of a realization, too, because when I was writing the first chapter, I really didn’t know what it was. Is this a short story? Is this a chapter of a novel? Is it all gonna be about this kid Bran? But then, when I wrote the second chapter and I changed viewpoints – right there, right in the beginning, in July of ‘91, I made an important decision. The minute I went to a second viewpoint, rather than having a single, solitary point of view, I knew I’d just made the book much bigger. Now I had two viewpoints. And once you have two, you can have three, or five, or seven, or whatever. Even by the time I was three or four chapters in, I knew it was going to be big.
Initially, I thought: a trilogy. And that’s what I sold it for, when I finally put it on the market. Three books: A Game of Thrones, A Dance With Dragons, The Winds of Winter. Those were the three original titles. And I had a structure in mind for the three books. At the time, in the mid-nineties, fantasy was dominated by trilogies, as it had been since the sixties. In one of those little ironies of publishing, Tolkien didn’t actually write a trilogy. He wrote one long novel called Lord of the Rings. His publisher, in the fifties, said, "This is too long to publish as a single novel. We will divide it into three books." Thus, you got the trilogy, Lord of the Rings, which became such a mega-success that all the other fantasy writers, for more than twenty years, were writing trilogies. It was really Robert Jordan who broke that mold decisively, with The Wheel of Time, which, I guess, also started as a trilogy, but rapidly grew beyond it, and people began to see, "No. You can have a series that is longer. You could have, essentially, a mega-novel!" And I, ultimately, came to that same realization, too, but not until ‘95 or so, when it became apparent that I already had fifteen hundred manuscript pages on A Game of Thrones and I was not even remotely close to the end. So my trilogy, at that point, became four books. Then, at a later point, it became six books. And now it’s holding steady at seven books.
Hopefully, I will be able to finish it at seven books.
It’s big, you know? And the truth is, it’s not a trilogy. It’s one long novel. A really, really long novel. It’s one story. And when it’s all done, they’ll put it out in a box set, and if anyone is still reading it twenty years from now, or a hundred years from now, they’ll read it all together. They’ll read it from beginning to end, and they’ll lose track, as I do, of what occurred in what book.
Was it a big shift for you, when you were writing the scenes that take place at Winterfell and suddenly you have the Daenerys scene, with an entirely different location?
Pretty early on, in the summer of ‘91, I had the Daenerys stuff. I knew she was on another continent. I think I had already drawn a map by then – and she wasn’t on it. I’d just drawn the map of the one continent that would come to be called Westeros. But she was in exile, and I knew that, and that was sort of the one departure from the structure. It’s something I borrowed from Tolkien, in terms of the initial structure of the book. If you look at Lord of the Rings, everything begins in the Shire with Bilbo’s birthday party. You have a very small focus. You have a map of the Shire right in the beginning of the book – you think it’s the entire world. And then they get outside it. They cross the Shire, which seems epic in itself. And then the world keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And then they add more and more characters, and then those characters split up. I essentially looked at the master there and adopted the same structure. Everything in A Game of Thrones begins in Winterfell. Everybody is together there and then you meet more people and, ultimately, they’re split apart and they go in different directions. But the one departure from that, right from the first, was Daenerys, who was always separate. It’s almost as if Tolkien, in addition to having Bilbo, had thrown in an occasional Faramir chapter, right from the beginning of the book.
Although Daenerys is hooked into Winterfell, because we hear talk of her family, the Targaryen family, early on.
You see overlaps. Daenerys is getting married, and Robert gets the report that Daenerys has just gotten married and reacts to that and the threat that it poses.
You have very strong reversals and you keep the reader off balance. You might think you’re in Sword in the Stone territory early on -- you can see the book it might become, with Bran as the hero, but then it’s like a con game between you and the reader.
I think you write what you want to read. I’ve been a reader, a voracious reader, since I was a kid in Bayonne. "George with his nose in a book," they always called me. So I’ve read a lot of stories in my life, and some have affected me very deeply; others I forget five minutes after I put ‘em down. One of the things I’ve come to really appreciate is a kind of unpredictability in my fiction. There’s nothing that bores me quicker than a book that just seems, I know exactly where this book is going. You’ve read them, too. You open a new book and you read the first chapter, maybe the first two chapters, and you don’t even have to read the rest of it. You can see exactly where it’s going. I think I got some of that when I was growing up and we were watching TV. My mother would always predict where the plots were going, whether it was I Love Lucy or something like that. "Well, this is going to happen," she would say. And, sure enough, it would happen! And nothing was more delightful, when something different happened, when it suddenly took a twist. As long as the twist was justified. You can’t just arbitrarily throw in twists and turns that make no sense. Things have to follow. You want the thing in the end where you say, "Oh my God, I didn’t see that coming, but there was foreshadowing; there was a hint of it here, there was a hint of it there. I should have seen it coming." And that, to me, is very satisfying. I look for that in the fiction that I read and I try to put it into my own fiction.
Like with Bran getting pushed, you foreshadow that, too, so the reader doesn’t feel cheated. Same with the Red Wedding.
There’s always this tension between fiction and life. Fiction has more structure than life does. But we have to hide the structure. We have to hide the writer, I think, and make a story seem like it was true. Too many stories are too structured and too familiar. The way we read, the way we watch television, the way we go to movies, all give us certain expectations of how a story is going to go. Even for reasons that are totally unconnected with the actual story itself. You go to a movie, who’s the big star? O.K., if Tom Cruise is the star, Tom Cruise is not going to die in the first scene, you know? ‘Cause he’s the star! He’s got to go through. Or you’re watching a TV show and its name is Castle. You know that the character Castle is pretty safe. He’s gonna be there next week, too, and the week after.
You shouldn’t know that, ideally. The emotional involvement would be greater if somehow we could get past that. So that’s what I try to do, you know? Bran is the first of the major characters you meet, after the prologue. So you think, "Oh, O.K., this is Bran’s story, Bran’s gonna be a hero here." And then: Whoops! What just happened to Bran there? Immediately, you’re changing the rules. And, hopefully, from that point, the reader is a little uncertain. “I don’t know who’s safe in this movie.” And I love that, when people say to me, “I never know who’s safe in the books. I can never relax.” I want that in my books. And I want that in the books I read, too. I want to feel that anything can happen. Alfred Hitchcock was one of the first ones to do that, most famously in Psycho. You start watching Psycho and you think she’s the heroine. Right? You followed her all the way. She can’t die in the shower!
Were there writers that you read as a kid, or shows that you watched, that did that kind of thing? The Twilight Zone did it.
The Twilight Zone was famous for its twist endings. Twist endings are hard to do. I worked on the revived Twilight Zone in the mid-eighties, and the network was constantly on us, saying, “You have to have more twist endings!” And what we discovered is, it’s a lot harder to do a twist ending in 1987 than it is to do a twist ending in 1959. The audience has seen tens of thousands of more shows, and they’ve gotten far more sophisticated. We tried to remake some of the classic Twilight Zones, like Anne Francis is a mannequin coming into a store in the original, and we tried to remake that. Three minutes into it, they say, “She’s a mannequin.” Ha ha ha ha! Or the one where the woman has an operation. She’s supposedly hideously ugly and she’s having an operation to make her beautiful. But if you notice how they film that, you never see anyone’s face. You just see her with her bandages. And, of course, they take it off, and she’s incredibly beautiful, and everybody reacts with horror – and you see that they’re all idiot pig people! Well, the minute you remake that, the modern audience says, “They’re not showing us anyone’s faces.” So, trick endings are harder to do. The audience is increasingly sophisticated and wary of such things.
I guess The Sixth Sense was the last to pull that off. But that was fifteen years ago.
It did pull it off. Although – see, if you know – I didn’t see The Sixth Sense when it first came out. Not right away. And my wife, Parris, and I kept hearing, "Oh, it has an incredible twist, you’ll never guess what’s coming!" So, three weeks into it, we see it, and five minutes into the movie, we each took out a piece of paper and wrote a note and closed it up. It was: “Bruce Willis is dead.” You know? Then, at the end of the movie, we opened it. We knew a twist was coming, so it was pretty easy to guess the twist. I don’t try to do that kind of twist ending. That’s almost a trick, you know? But I do try to have the stories take unexpected turns, and some of that is character-driven. I try to create these fully fleshed, gray characters that have ambiguities and conflicts within themselves, so they’re not heroes and they’re not villains. One of my favorite characters – and I love Lord of the Rings; don’t make it sound like I’m bashing Tolkien here, ‘cause it’s like my favorite book of all time – but my favorite Tolkien character in Lord of the Rings is Boromir, because he’s the grayest of the characters, and he’s the one who really struggles with the ring and ultimately succumbs to it, but then dies heroically. You see, he has both good and evil in him.
You signal the ambiguity early on when Ned beheads the ranger but he’s in the wrong. It’s not clearcut. And even Jaime Lannister has a friendly rapport with Tyrion after the scene with him pushing Bran out the window. You see another side to him.
Real people are complex. Real people surprise us and they do different things on different days. I own a little theater here in Santa Fe that I bought and reopened a few months ago. We’ve been having some author events. We had Pat Conroy for a signing a few weeks ago. Amazing writer, one of our great American writers. And he’s spent most of his career writing these books about his father. Sometimes cast as memoirs, sometimes cast as fiction, but you can see his troubled relationship with his father peering through, even when he gives him a different name and a different profession and all that. In whatever guise, the Great Santini character, Pat Conroy’s father, is one of the great complex characters of modern literature. He’s a hideous abuser, he terrorizes his kids, he beats up his wife, but he’s also a war hero, a fighter ace, and all that. In some scenes, like the character in The Prince of Tides, he’s almost a Ralph Kramden comic guy, where he buys a tiger and he’s trying to open a gas station and things are going wrong. You read this and it’s all the same guy, and sometimes you feel admiration for him, and sometimes you feel hatred and disgust for him, and, boy, that’s so real. That’s the way sometimes we react to real people in our lives.
Where did you live when you started writing A Song of Ice and Fire?
Here in Santa Fe. I was living in Dubuque, Iowa, in the seventies. I was teaching college. And I’d been writing since I was a kid but I started selling in ’71 and had pretty immediate success in a limited way. I was selling everything I wrote. I did short stories for six years and sold my first novel and got a nice payment for my first novel. In 1977 a friend of mine, a brilliant writer, he was like ten years older than me, his name was Tom Reamy, he had won a John Campbell Award for best new writer in his field. He was a little older, he was in his forties, so he’d started writing older than other people, but he’d been a science fiction fan for a long time. Lived in Kansas City. Tom died of a heart attack just a few months after winning the award for best new writer in his field. He was found slumped over his typewriter, seven pages into a new story. Instant. Boom. Killed him. We weren’t super close. I knew him from conventions and I’d admired his writing. But Tom’s death had a profound effect on me, because I was in my early thirties then. I’d been thinking, as I taught, well, I have all these stories that I want to write, all these novels I want to write, and I have all the time in the world to write them, ‘cause I’m a young guy, and then Tom’s death happened, and I said, Boy. Maybe I don’t have all the time in the world. Maybe I’ll die tomorrow. Maybe I’ll die ten years from now. Am I still teaching? I really liked teaching, actually. I was pretty good at it. I was teaching journalism and English and occasionally they would let me teach a science fiction course at this little college in Iowa, Clark College, a Catholic girls’ college. But teaching used up a lot of emotional energy. I would write a few short stories over Christmas break and more stuff over summer break. But I didn’t have time.
I had finished one novel before I took the teaching job and I didn’t know when I would write a second novel. After Tom’s death, I said, “You know, I gotta try this. I don’t know if I can make a living as a full-time writer or not, but who knows how much time I have left? I don’t want to die ten years from now or twenty years from now and say I never told the stories I wanted to tell because I always thought I could do it next week or next year. Maybe I’ll starve to death but then I’ll go back and get another job, if it doesn’t work out.”
Once I handed in my notice, then I said, “Well, I don’t have to stay in Dubuque, Iowa anymore. I can live any place I want.” And in that particular time Dubuque had just had some very, very harsh winters, and I was tired of shoveling out my car out from being buried in snow. I think a lot of the stuff in A Game of Thrones**, the snow and ice and freezing, comes from my memories of Dubuque. And I’d seen Santa Fe the previous year while going to a convention in Phoenix, and I loved New Mexico. It was so beautiful. So I decided I would sell my house in Iowa and move to New Mexico. And I’ve never looked back.
Do you like the look of the Game of Thrones show? The castles, the uniforms.
Do you like the look of the Game of Thrones show? The castles, the uniforms.
I think the look of the show is great. There was a bit of an adjustment for me. I had been living with these characters and this world since 1991, so I had close to twenty years of pictures in my head of what these characters looked like, and the banners and the castles, and of course it doesn’t look like that. But that’s fine. It does take a bit of adjustment on the writer’s part but I’m not one of these writers who go crazy and says, “I described six buttons on the jacket and you put eight buttons on the jacket, you Hollywood idiots!” I’ve seen too many writers like that when I was on the other side, in Hollywood. When you work in television or film, it is a collaborative medium, and you have to allow the other collaborators to bring their own creative impulse to it, too.
The different strategies different houses have to get power and to keep it. Renly uses charm, like Bill Clinton. Ned goes by honor. Robb follows in that. Stannis is pedantic but he’s also attracted to magic. And Danaerys has messianic charisma. You see it in politicians we’re familiar with. Do you read a lot of history and think about that?
I’m not a historian by any means but I read a lot of popular history. I don’t read dissertations on the rise of crop rotation in 1332 to 1347 but I love to read the popular histories. The things that happen in real life are amazing and they’re brutal and full of surprises. But I like to make the reader think about these issues and to present different sides. I also want to reflect the fact that the values were different. It’s tricky because you have to make it understandable to a contemporary readership of 21st century people, but you don’t want the characters to have 21st century attitudes because they did not in a medieval society. Gender or racial equality, the idea of democracy, that people would have a voice in who rules them – those ideas, if they existed, were certainly not the dominant ideas in medieval society. They had their own ideas that they held very strongly about God choosing people and trial by battle, with God making sure that the right person won, or the right to rule by blood.
Women are powerful in your books.
But they’re struggling in a patriarchal society, so they always have obstacles to overcome, which was the story in the real middle ages. You could have a powerful woman like Eleanor of Aquitane, who was wife to two kings, and yet her husband could imprison her for a decade just because he was annoyed with her. They were different times, and this is a fantasy world, so it’s even more different.
Which strategy is going to work out in the end?
That would be telling. You have to go all the way to the end to see.
You have great foils for your characters, like Jaime travels with Brienne of Tarth. And there are other pairings, like Arya with the Hound. Do you consciously think of creating foils?
Well, drama arises out of conflict, so you like to put together two characters who are very different from each other and stand back and watch the sparks fly. That gets you better dialogue and better situations.
Little grace notes that you have in the book are in the show, too. Like Tyrion whistles in the book, and he whistles on Game of Thrones.
Peter is actually different from Tyrion in the books. Just certain basic physical things. He’s taller than Tyrion. And he’s considerably more attractive. Peter is a good looking guy and Tyrion is not. But none of that matters when you see him performing. He’s Tyrion. There he is. And it’s perfect.
When David and Dan approached you, what was it about them that made you feel safe?
I was out in Los Angeles on other business, and my agent, Vince Gerardis put together a meeting for us at the Palm. We met for lunch and started talking about it, and the restaurant was crowded. My attitude going into the meeting was, "This things can’t be done, but I’ll meet with these guys." I’d met with other guys. Breakfasts and lunches and phone conversations. Initially, all the interest in it was as a feature film. Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Rings movies, the movies hit big, making tons of money, and Hollywood is basically imitative. So the minute you had that happening, every other studio in Hollywood said, "Oh my God, look at all the money New Line is making. We’ve got to get us one of them, too." And they started looking around at all the big fantasy series. And I think all of them were optioned, all of the fantasy books that were on the bestseller lists. And they came to me, to make features, but my books are bigger than Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings, really, all three volumes, if you combine them, are about the same size as A Storm of Swords. So I didn’t see how it could be made into a movie. And of course some people wanted to make it into a series of movies: “We’ll do it in three movies, like Lord of the Rings!” And I would say to them, “Well, we could maybe try that, but are we going to get a deal for three movies?” “No, no, we’ll make one and if that’s successful, we’ll make another.”
Well, that doesn’t lead to Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson had a deal, when he finally got the green light on that, New Line ordered three movies. He knew he had three movies going in. He filmed three movies at the same time. There are some great economies of scale there. Also, at least you know you’re going to tell the whole story. If you do one movie and then we’ll see if we can make more, that gets you Narnia. That gets you Philip Pullman’s books, where they make one, it doesn’t do well – Gosh, we’re never going to get the rest of that story. I didn’t want that to happen to my books. I’d rather have no deal.
Fortunately, the books were best sellers, I didn’t need the money, you know, so I could just say no. Other people wanted to take the approach of, there are so many characters, so many stories, we have to settle on one. Let’s make it all about Jon Snow. Or Dany. Or Tyrion. Or Bran. But that didn’t work, either, because the stories are all inter-related. They separate but they come together again. But it did get me thinking about it, and it got me thinking about how this could be done, and the answer I came up with is – it can be done for television. It can’t be done as a feature film or a series of feature films. So television. But not network television. I’d worked in television. The Twilight Zone. Beauty and the Beast. I knew what was in these books, the sex scenes, the violence, the beheadings, the massacres. They’re not going to put that on Friday night at eight o’clock, where they always stick fantasies. Both of the shows that I was on, Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast, Friday night at eight o’clock. They think, "Fantasy? Kids!" So I wasn’t going to do a network show. But I’d been watching HBO. The Sopranos. Rome. Deadwood. It seemed to me an HBO show, a series where each book was an entire season, was the way to do it. So when I sat down with David and Dan at that meeting at the Palm, which started out as a lunch meeting and turned into a dinner meeting, and they said the same thing, then I suddenly knew we’re on the same wavelength here.
And I didn’t know that going in. They were feature guys. But they reached the same conclusion I did. And I was also very impressed by the fact that both of them were novelists, and I think they liked the idea that I’d worked in television, so I wasn’t going to be one of these prima donna novelists. “How could you change that thing?” I understood the process from the other side. But they understood what the process was like from the other side, too, because both of them had written novels, and in the case of David, he’d seen his novels adapted to films. So we had mirror-image backgrounds and we hit it off pretty well.
Did you see that Obama mentioned that Game of Thrones is one of his favorite shows?
That was very pleasing. That’s always a writer’s little pipe-dream fantasy, ever since John Kennedy said that he was enjoying these novels by Ian Fleming. That’s what made James Bond. James Bond was an obscure series of books with relatively low sales. Suddenly Ian Fleming was a household word. I don’t know if he reads my stuff, though. He likes the show. I don’t know if Obama has read my books. That would be really cool, if he had.
Does the existence of the show ever crowd your imagination or make you feel like you have to hurry to finish A Song of Ice and Fire?
Well, it certainly increased the pressure. But there was a certain amount of pressure anyway. The minute you have a series [of books] and a book comes out, people immediately begin asking, “Where’s the next book?” And the more successful the series is, the more people ask that question, and the more pressure you begin to feel. The fact that the show is catching up to me has really doubled-down on that and made me feel the pressure a lot more. The truth is, some writers thrive on that. I don’t really. I don’t like deadlines. I’ve spent most of my career trying to avoid deadlines. The novels I wrote before A Song of Ice and Fire -- Dying of the Light; Windhaven; Fevre Dream; Armageddon Rag -- all those I wrote without a contract, purely on my own time. And when I was finished I sent it to my agent and said, “Look, I finished a novel. Here, go sell it.” And, thankfully, he did. But nobody was waiting for it. No publication date had been announced that then had to be changed because I didn’t deliver on time and all that. So I could write these books on my own leisure, and there’s part of me that misses that day. But the minute I started doing this mega-novel and publishing each segment, I realized I’d lost that. That’s gone. And when I finish Ice and Fire, maybe I’ll go back to that. After I complete the seven volumes, I just won’t tell anyone I’m writing a novel. I’ll just write it, finish it, give it to my agent, and say, “Here. Sell this.” There’s a certain freedom that comes with that.
David and Dan told me they came to see you here to talk about things because the they are getting close to you, with the show.
They are. Yes. It’s alarming.
Did you tell them where you’re headed with the story?
They know certain things. I’ve told them certain things. So they have some knowledge, but the devil is in the details. I can give them the broad strokes of what I intend to write, but the details aren’t there yet. I’m hopeful that I can not let them catch up with me. The season that’s about to debut covers the second half of the third book. The third book [A Storm of Swords] was so long that it had to be split into two. But there are two more books beyond that, A Feast for Crowsand A Dance With Dragons. A Dance With Dragons is itself a book that’s as big as A Storm of Swords. So there’s potentially three more seasons there, between Feast and Dance, if they split into two the way they did [with Storms]. Now, Feast and Dance take place simultaneously. So you can’t do Feast and then Dance the way I did. You can combine them and do it chronologically. And it’s my hope that they’ll do it that way and then, long before they catch up with me, I’ll have published The Winds of Winter, which’ll give me another couple years. It might be tight on the last book, A Dream of Spring, as they juggernaut forward. (lol @ him thinking they'll bother more than they have to with the non-childofbalon's loins greyjoys and martells and all barry's meereen stuff)
I guess you could take a kind of hiatus, the way Mad Men is going to do, by splitting a TV season in two.
As did Breaking Bad. There are various things. Spartacus went back and told a prequel season. That’s also an option. We have prequel. We have the Dunk and Egg novellas, which take place a hundred years before. And I’ve just published The Princess and the Queen, which takes place two hundred years before. So there’s lots of Westeros material out there, if we want to keep doing Westeros projects, but not necessarily that. But, you know, I realize – I don’t want to sound too glib about this. This is a serious concern. We’re going forward, and the kids are getting older. Maisie [Williams] was the same age as Arya when it started, but now Maisie is a young woman and Arya is still eleven. Time is passing very slowly in the books and very fast in real life.
It’ll work out.
Ultimately, it’ll be different. You have to recognize that there are going to be some differences. I’m very pleased with how faithful the show is to the books, but it’s never gonna be exactly the same. You can’t include all the characters. You’re not going to include their real lines of dialogue or subplot, and hopefully each will stand on its own. We have Gone With the Wind the movie and we have Gone With the Wind the book. They’re similar but they’re not the same. There are three version of The Maltese Falcon, none of which are exactly the same as the novel The Maltese Falcon. Each one stands on its own and has its own value and is great in its own way. Rings is a great example. There are Tolkien purists who hate Peter Jackson’s versions, but I think they’re a small minority. Most people who love Tolkien love what Jackson did, even though he may have omitted Tom Bombadil. He captured the spirit of the books.
Do you have any theory about why you have a huge imagination? Do you ever ask yourself why you are the way you are?
Sometimes I do ask myself why I am who I am. There are aspects of me that don’t make any sense even to me. I came out of a blue-collar environment in Bayonne. Not a literary environment by any means. My mother read a few books, bestsellers and things like that. My father never read a book after he got out of high school, I’m sure. None of the kids I grew up read. Why did I always have my nose in a book? It almost seems like I was a changeling. Is it genetic? Is it something in the raising? What makes a writer? I don’t know. Why are some people great basketball players or baseball players? I certainly had no talent for that.
Do you think you have to be somehow damaged to be an artist? Or can you have talent without emotional damage?
You know, I think there’s something there. I know writers who don’t seem to be damaged and claim to have had happy childhoods and they’re well-adjusted adults, but sometimes, when I hear them say that, I wonder if they’re lying, and they’re just hiding their stuff. I do think that the better writers write from the heart, the gut, as well as the head. And for me that occurred very early, in 1971. I’d published a couple stories. I guess I was a pretty good writer, just telling a story, using words in an acceptable manner early on. But my early published stories were intellectual stories. I was publishing stories about things I knew nothing about, just things that I’d thought about. Some political issue or something like that. But they’re all like an intellectual-argument kind of story or a here’s-a-cool-idea story. Those weren’t very deep. But in the summer of ‘71 I started to write stories that almost hurt to write, that were painful to me, and those are the stories where you’re almost exposing yourself, you’re exposing your vulnerability as a writer. If you don’t ever come to that point, you’re never going to be a great writer. You might be a successful writer, a popular writer, but you have to bleed a little on the page to reach that next level.
Does it bother you that fantasy doesn’t get respect, whereas realistic suburban fiction is more likely to be considered literary?
Well, it does bother me to some extent but not to a great extent, unless I’m put in an environment where someone shoves that in your face. As a science fiction writer, I got used to that very, very early on, even when I was a teenager, reading science fiction. Like Rodney Dangerfield, science fiction got no respect, and was often condemned as trash or garbage. I had teachers say that to me. "Well, you’re very talented, you’re very smart, you have a real talent for writing, why are you reading this garbage? Why are you writing this garbage? Why do you like this crap about Superman and Batman?" However, I’ve seen in my lifetime – I’m sixty-five years old – I’ve seen that change. The prejudice is much less than it was.
I mean, if you go back to the nineteen fifties, you know, just like the prejudice against women, the prejudice against gays, the prejudice against black people, with the Jim Crow laws, all those things have gotten better. They’re not perfect, by any means, but they’re much better than they were in 1956, let us say, and on a much lesser scale. I don’t mean to equate these things in seriousness. The prejudice against science fiction and fantasy and genre literature in general is much less than it used to be in the fifties and sixties. We now have college courses all over the country, science fiction courses or fantasy courses or pop culture courses. Science fiction books and fantasy books have won awards. Michael Chabon won the Pulitzer a few years ago for [The Amazing Adventures of] Kavalier and Klay, a novel about two comic book writers. And he’s been a very outspoken advocate of crossing these genres and all that. Jonathan Lethem, a well-respected literary writer, came out of the science fiction field and has made that crossing to the literary respectability. Once upon a time, as recently as the seventies and eighties, you couldn’t make that crossing. The minute you had science fiction on your resume or had published something in Analog, they didn’t want to know you. And I saw it breaking down. In 1977, I had a fellowship to the Breadloaf Writers Conference, which is very prestigious. I was there with John Irving and Stanley Elkin and Toni Morrison, and the fact that I was invited and given a fellowship showed that that wall was crumbling a little bit. Now, the prejudices are still there, and they still do crop up once in a while, but I think they’re on the way out. I don’t know if I’ll live to see it, but in another generation or two, I think they’ll be gone entirely. The really important thing is, who are people going to be reading a hundred years from now?
Full interview mods!!