A Word with George R. R. Martin.
Mr. Martin's epic 'A Song of Ice and Fire', is a favourite among the dragonsworn staff. Although we're all eagerly awaiting the next volume, 'A Feast for Crows', rather than concentrate on that (as we'd doubtless be rebuffed on the specifics in any event) we've chosen to take this opportunity to learn a bit more about some background and peripheral points of interest as we pose a few questions to the man himself. We conducted our interview with Mr. Martin via telephone at around 7pm EST, on Dec. 2nd, 2003. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we got down to the serious business at hand -- the interview...
[DGN] Has 'A Song of Ice and Fire' been an idea you've been nurturing while focusing on other projects, or an idea that began taking shape closer to its publication?
[GRRM] No, I actually began it in 1991, five years before the first book came out. I was writing another novel which I'd been planning for a while and the first chapter of ‘A Game of Thrones' came to me. Not the prologue, but the actual first chapter - which is the one where Bran and his brothers find the direwolf pups. It just came to me so vividly that I knew I had to write it even though it wasn't part of the novel I was working on. So I put the other book aside and I sat down and started working on that chapter, which I finished in just a few days. It really seemed to write itself, and that led me to a second chapter, and a third, and I spent a couple months working on it. At that time I was still heavily involved in Hollywood, and after a couple months an assignment came up. I wound up going back up to Hollywood and put the book aside for a couple years while I did some television and some movies. That was sort of a dangerous thing to do. In the past, whenever I've been in the middle of a project and put it aside for a little period of time I go cold on it. I come back to it a year later, or whenever, and find I can't get back into it. Fortunately that never happened with this book. This book had such a strong hold on me that I continued to think about it even though the years were passing. When I finally wound up all my current Hollywood assignments and had some time again, I was able to get right back into it almost as if only a day had passed.
[DGN] So when you sat down after a couple years, had the story evolved in your own mind?
[GRRM] Yes, I think it was evolving all through that time. A lot of my writing takes place on a subconscious level. It's not necessarily that I'm trying to think of it in any kind of rational terms. It's almost a daydreaming process - I'll be driving somewhere in my car, playing music, and all of a sudden I'll start to think of scenes, pieces of dialogue, plot twists, bits of action. They'll just come to me, and that continued to happen all through those years where the book had been on the shelf. Other ideas, other characters, complications; such things continued to come to me. It was all there when I got back to it.
[DGN] In your history as an author, you've written a lot of short stories, you've edited the 'Wildcards' anthologies, and contributed to many collections. However, up until 1996, you had only written a handful of novels, four I believe.
[DGN] Was it difficult to make the transition to such an epic scale as ‘A Song of Ice and Fire' has turned out to be?
[GRRM] Well…. Interesting question. I think my stuff has been getting longer through my career. I think if you go all the way back to the early days of my career, I was writing almost entirely short stories. They were quite short stories. The Hugo Awards and the Nebulas divide short stories into three categories: Short stories, novelettes and novellas. I was writing mostly short stories, and the occasional novelette - the shorter of the two forms. As time went by, I began to do more novelettes, and then I began to do more novellas, and finally in 1976 I wrote my first novel, which was published in 1977. That was ‘Dying of the Light'. It took a while to build up to that. Similarly, it was pretty much twenty years into my career that I was able to tackle something on the epic scale of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire'. I do think, by the way, that that's the best way to do it. I get a lot of letters from fans who are aspiring writers, and they ask me for advice. That's one of the key things I always tell them, begin with short stories. I mean, some of the letters I get are from sixteen year old kids who are writing trilogies of 200 000 word books. That's like taking up rock climbing, and starting with Mt. Everest! (Laughs). You have to start with something smaller, learn the trade, the craft. There's always time for the gigantic trilogies later down the road. Master the short story before you go on to bigger projects.
[DGN] I'm sorry, but you know I have to ask the obligatory question about ‘A Feast for Crows'. In general, have you found this book to be harder to write than the previous three?
[GRRM] Yes. In a word, that's easy. Yes. This one is a killer, I don't know why. Well, I took the wrong direction to start with. I had announced originally there would be a five year gap after ‘A Storm of Swords', and I would move right on to ‘A Dance of Dragons'. I spent a year trying to make that work – and it just wasn't working. It was working better for some characters than for others, but there were certain characters and situations where it wasn't working at all. I finally had to say ‘No, I can't do it like this'. I scrapped a lot of stuff and went back and tackled it this way. Yes, I'm having a tough time with this one, and that's why it's going a little slow.