[Note: This is an abridged report of a Q&A with GRRM at TusCon 43, courtesy of the History of Westeros podcast team. Questions not particularly relevant to GRRM's writing have been redacted. Some questions are paraphrased.]
[Question about the original inspiration for the Faceless Men.]
You know, it’s a common trope of fantasy, that you have the guild of assassins. I was hardly the first one to invent the guild of assassins; you know, that’s largely a fantasy trope. There’s not much evidence for that in history. Well….the one evidence is you did actually have a group called the Assassins (Hashshashins) who were in the Middle East and there was a guy called the Old Man of the Mountain who would send forth his assassins to kill people in the Middle East, where they’d been killing people for many many centuries. But they were not like fantasy guilds of assassins, so I decided to put my own spin on it. I actually came up with several different guilds of assassins, not only the Faceless Men, but the Sorrowful Men and all that.
There’s a little bit in there in the philosophy of the Faceless Men; they’re- in some senses they’re a death cult, and it’s a religious basis, which I kind of thought about and extrapolated from that. I’m surprised we don’t have more death cults in the real world, because it just seems to me, if you’re gonna worship something, death is a pretty good thing because you know, like, we have all these religions that promise you life-everlasting. None of them ever deliver on it. Everybody in all the other religions dies anyway, so the death cult is the one that wins. The death cult can really deliver death. ‘Come and worship with us, and you will die.’ Well, yeah, you probably will! So….what the hell. I took with that and ran with it.
I just wanted to ask - I know you have quite a lot of Dunk & Egg books planned - are we ever going to see Tanselle Too-Tall again? Are we going to find out what happened to her?
Well, that would be telling. *laughs* But I think there’s a good chance, yes.
Are there going to be any more Tuf books?
I would like - I have ideas for another twenty Tuf stories. But I’m kind of busy with the Ice and Fire thing right now, so I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing them. At some point, sure. I even at one point had a contract for a second Tuf book. You know, the first was called Tuf Voyaging, and the next one was gonna be called Twice as Tuf. I never wrote the stories, and I got involved in this other stuff and I eventually bought out the contract by paying the publisher back. Someday I’d love to do that. He was a fun character to write, and those stories were kind of fun. They’re a little lighter than most of my stuff. Although not really a romp; there are like entire worlds that are destroyed and stuff like that.
It’s interesting what’s considered light entertainment and what’s not considered light entertainment. I’ve thought about that sometimes. You kill one character that people know and love, and you get this reputation for being bloody. But you wipe out millions of people and no one blinks. It’s like, we look at Schindler’s List as this incredibly dark and gripping film about the Holocaust and you know, we see people die who are killed who are shot and all that. And we consider Star Wars a light romp, but in Star Wars, they blow up the entire planet of Alderaan. ‘Oh I just felt a great disturbance in the force. 50 billion people have just been snuffed out. And what’s the next Act?’ So it’s odd the way, you know, one death is a tragedy and 50 billion deaths are a statistic, I think someone once said. So...there are horrible things that happen in Tuf stories, but they’re in the realm of statistics.
Who are some of your favorite characters in fantasy in particular?
Of course, I’m a huge Tolkien fan, so you know, the characters from there, Frodo, and Sam and Gandalf, and Aragorn, and Boromir. I always like grey characters, so I have a thing for Boromir. Poor, grey Boromir….got arrows in him. I read mysteries, detective fiction as well - big fan of the Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald. One of my favorite characters is Travis with his wounded birds. Of course, I read mainstream literature. The Great Gatsby is one of my all-time great books ever written and I reread that one every few years.
In science-fiction/fantasy, I mentioned Poul Anderson earlier, you know he had a character called Nicholas van Rijn, that I loved, there were a whole series of books about him. The first one was called The Man Who Counts, although when it was published, it was serialized in Analog - astounding back then, as The Man Who Counts was a novel - and they changed it to War of the Wing-Men, but it’s still a terrific book, and the first one to feature the character who came back many times.
Who else do I like? Oh, I’m sorry, I’m getting away from science-fiction/fantasy. Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books, historical adventures. That’s interesting, because Flashman was originally introduced in Tom Brown’s School Days about a Victorian kid who went to boarding school where he was bullied unmercifully by this cad called Flashman, and that became a classic of Victorian literature, and the basis of several miniseries on PBS and all that, but George MacDonald Fraser said, ‘oooh, what happened to this Flashman guy after he was expelled for drunkenness from the school?’ And he wrote this whole series of marvelous adventures about how Flashman enters the army and he remains a bully, a cad, a letch, a liar, a scoundrel….but a very charming one. He’s involved in every war of the 18th to the 19th centuries, usually ends up running away with his tail between his legs, and yet gets acclaimed a hero and gets another medal and a promotion at the end of it. And the books are just a delight, and also a rich, rich source of historical truth. You learn things about history you never learned before. So….I know we’re out of time. I could go on for another hour, but….I love to read, I love characters.
[NOTE: This interview is actually of George R.R. Martin interviewing Stephen King, rather than vice versa, but there are various personal anecdotes embedded within it that make it seem a proper addition to the collection.]
[Note: A very long and detailed report of multiple private and public encounters with GRRM from a member of the ASoIaF forum, The Fattest Leech. Original thread here]
The Donation Dinner on Thursday, May 26, 2016: *quick note: anything that I “quote” means it was a direct quote from George as he said it. His words, not mine.
I knew another poster here was going to attend the dinner, so we agreed ahead of time to meet in person. Through the rest of the convention, she and I attended most panels and readings and such together. I will only name her if she agrees to it and as of this writing I haven’t had a chance to ask her yet. Preston Jacobs was there, but I didn’t know it at the time.
1. I was at table 5, which the way it fit in the small room sat me right next to table 1 as well! Of the other five at my table, only 1 has read the books, two are an older couple there to support Balticon, and the other is there and he is the MC of the event and the one to do the official GRRM interview on Saturday. He name is Mark and he and I are getting along famously!
2. GRRM described himself as a “sex positive feminist”.
3. GRRM just sat with my friend and he is talking about SpiderMan and Greenwich Village.
4. My friend asked him about Gendry and Arya meeting back up and when will Arya get her moonblood to which GRRM answered “soon”… and GRRM had an interesting response to Arya and Gendry meeting back up. I will let her tell you the answer. But I do know he said of Arya and Gendry that, “I’ll visit them again.”
a. A note from my friend about something that happened at her table: “Also the guy sitting next to me brought up the Hodor elevator story to him. He said he didn't remember it, but everyone at the table still had a good laugh about it.”
b. GRRM talked about Dorne! He wasn't exactly dissing the show, but he didn't have anything good to say about it. One guy talked asked if season 6 would spoil the books for him. Something like "Don't think what happens in the show will happen in the books, the show is completely different. The books will be nothing like that." You could really feel the dislike he had for it.
5. George’s assistant Joanna (Jo) sat with us and explained and few things about George and stuff… but then she and I got to talking about lots of other stuff and I grew to love her very quickly. Lenore cam ea round and sat with George during the dinner. Parris was feeling ill.
6. George just sat right next to me. He was crazy nice and shook my hand … but not before noticing and complimenting me in my silver wolfhead necklace pendant. The conversation started with his work at the wolf sanctuary that is something he is very passionate about. That was the one time his tone changed and became very serious. He went on about the sanctuary and how sometimes humans can be irresponsible with what they think is "cool" by having wolf-dog hybrids and how that is worse for these poor animals. There was passion there.
8. GRRM is describing the maesters and how he wanted them to have a lot of flower knowledge and to be very clean.
9. Then someone at my table told him I like his story Meathouse Man and he turned to me and told me I was a freak!!! And laughed and then told me how he came about writing Meathouse Man and it was cool. I am also a writer and could appreciate the writing process down to the editor and publisher.
10. And he said fuck or fucking about 50 times
11. At The dinner, his assistant Joanna told me his other assistant who does the artwork for some of the graphic novels said she was working on something "super secret". And then when George was at my table a little later, he told me that he was working on more stories that included Bloodraven in them. I was first excited for the possibility of She-wolves of Winterfell in the D&E stories, but then I was like duh, it's probably Winds and his art assistant was working on something else.
12. My first “big” question I asked was, “who had a better chance of getting together and that there is no right or wrong answer to this (hahahaha), Jon and Val or me and Bloodraven.”
a. That is when he laughed and said I was weird and then said, "Bloodraven is half a tree," to which I replied, "So? I’m a gardener and the wood jokes write themselves."
b. Then he paused, took a minute to think, and told me he is writing more with Bloodraven in it (to which I died )
c. Then he paused again and said "Jon and Val, huh? That would make a good fit"
13. I had dessert with George and 5 other people at my table. GRRM sat directly next to me on the right. I had the “Reach Pear Tart” and GRRM had the lemon cake.
14. GRRM was at my table and we started talking a little about Targaryen history and GRRM mentioned he uses Elio to help with the details he can't remember (something we all know) but then GRRM mentioned that Elio has a guy he knows that lives in Scotland that helps with "other" things.
15. My other “big” question to him was about my Targ/Non-Targ theory.
a. Curiously enough, when I asked him at the Thursday dinner about my Targ/Non-Targ first born babies, he replied "interesting", then told me, "you know alot".
b. GRRM then started to diverge the conversation in to the Blood&Fire book, and that he would have to "go back and look at his notes." Regarding my Targ theory. This may be a way he avoids answering questions that could be spoilers.
c. This is where he mentions using Elio to help him remember and link details… to which I responded, “interesting as well.” He laughed.
GRRM/ John Picacio interview Saturday, May 28, 2016:
1. the interview ended a few minutes ago and GRRM did make mention at how when you see actors at other cons, which are considered shows as opposed to fan conventions, that the guests and show actors are there because they are paid (does that equal employee?) There were a few other subtle tidbits in there as well and if this convention gets a video of the interview up, then it will be towards the end.
2. George just answered the Picacio question, “What part of Kong are you working on right now?’, and GRRM answered that he was working on a Cersei chapter when he left home the other day and he still has a ways to go.
3. He is probably closer than he thinks because when he wrote Game, he thought 1200-1500 pages wasn’t enough and it was his editor that told him to scale it back to the now finished size. However, GRRM did add, “I still have a ways to go. I shouldn’t be here right now…”
4. GRRM and Picacio both made the joke about "you need to pay the artist" and such regarding general fan fiction. And then GRRM said he has issued some sub-licenses to things like art and games, etc. GRRM also mentioned that HBO owns the rights to the exact likenesses of the tv version of the story, meaning, no art can be made where Dany looks like Emilia. He was very careful in avoiding a real link in feeling between him and HBO even though he was asked about it twice. Then GRRM mentioned, and Picacio joined in, how GRRM knew the show would overtake the books. Not too much new.
5. GRRM did say how he hates when movies stray too far from the books.
6. An audience member asked GRRM, “As the Game of Thrones TV series moves farther away from the book, has this changed or done anything to your views on fan fiction?
a. GRRM’s Reply: “No. I continue to be opposed to fan fiction because it’s copyright infringement. HBO, of course, gets around this by paying me large dump trucks full of money. So, if you would like to arrive in front of my house with a large dump truck full of money, I may consider allowing you to do some fan fiction. But I won’t consider it fan fiction then. I would consider it a sub-license. I make many sub-licenses to people who do games and card games and coins, etcetera. But Harlan Ellison always had this rule that he has been very vocal about over the years. You can find his diatribe about it on YouTube. And I think John also feels (one must) pay the artist, because this is how we make our living.”
ASOIAF fan talk and (separate thing) ASOIAF trivia:
7. My friend and I attended both. We were busy!!!
8. The trivia was awesome and she and I were killing against the other groups of four or more. Woo-hooo to us!
9. The fan conversation was boring. Sorry. Too much whining about things that are barely ASOIAF related.
Gender/Sexism in GoT Panel Saturday, May 28, 2016:
1. It was up and down I guess. The first thing they talked about was Loras and Renly acting like gay stereotypes, they got that right.
2. There was one guy who talked about the Sansa v. Jeyne thing, really ripping into the show for not having the northern lords and no one caring that Sansa was being raped. That was a highlight.
3. And then a female panel leader claims that no one in the book universe or even the readers care that Jeyne Poole was tortured and raped… she was not important to anyone and readers have no sympathy for her. I just found my quoted notes… the panel lady sayd, “"no one cared for Jeyne (Poole)" I just found a pic of the panelist https://twitter.com/hannahetoile/status/736681991534465024
a. I will admit that I lost my willpower and shouted “NO” and then went on to explain the motivations Mr. Benioff and Mr.Weiss used to get Sansa in with Ramsay and so on. I actually had people come up to me after this panel ended and thanked me for speaking up. I was shocked, yet happy with that.
b. The guy on the end in the panel was telling the crowd how empowered Sansa was after her rape.
c. One audience guy made a point to say in the books everyone around fArya/Jeyne knew who she was and even heard her crying and such.
4. And then there were other guys asking why no one cares that the males are mutilated, etc.
5. Honestly, one hour does not do that topic justice. This panel did not "kill it" because the girl on the end only hopped in last minute because they were asking for panelist. The focus went all over the place but rape was a focus.
6. That said, it was nice to see a crowded room with that many people thinking and talking about it.
Saturday evening at a bar:
7. Me and another poster here got to meet and hang out with Preston Jacobs for a while over a few beers. He was super nice, about 6”6” tall!
8. I don’t know many of his theories at all, but we talked about some, to which I agreed to some and disagreed to others. However, he was kind enough to also listen to my theories and we had great, civil discussions on both.
9. at the after party bar where we met Preston Jacobs and a few other really nice book fans, just before we left, a guy recognized us from the gender/sexism panel and praised our argument/statements we made. I guess he wasn't impressed with the main three panel players either?
Liars Panel Sunday, May 29, 2016:
1. The Liars panel is hilarious. GRRM just admitted he once received a nipple piercing gift certificate as a gift and that he knows all the words to Petticoat junction and he just sang a bit
Book signing Sunday, May 29, 2016:
2. Since I was at the donation dinner I had a very low number to get my book signed. I was #6.
3. When I approached GRRM he remembered me right away from the donation dinner. We talked for a minute and he really liked my Bloodraven “fan” t-shirt I have printed up special for the signing. He once again told me I was, “weird,” and, "nobody likes Bloodraven."
4. I had GRRM sign the one art page in Knight of Seven Kingdoms book that shows Bloodraven (notice the theme of my personal favorite here?). He also signed the inside cover of my book = two signatures in one book !!!!
Marin reads Damphair! Sunday, May 29, 2016:
1. Not much to add here that you have not already seen online by now.
2. The a/c was cranked in the room. I was cold L
3. My con friend and I were also second row back, three to the right from center. Great Seats!!!
4. I’ve never been much of an Iron Islands type fan, but holy shit, this was awesome and renews my respect for GRRM’s work.
Episode 6 viewing Sunday evening:
1. George never showed, but the other authors. Guests of honor did and they sat in the back row.
2. One thing I have noticed tonight is that while the opening "look back" scene was on, and then the opening credits, people gave little woo-hoo's and claps to their favorite actors. I decided I would clap and give a little woo-hoo to GRRM's name when it went up in the opening credits (I mean , he IS Guest of Honor at this convention). I gave a respectable woo-hoo and a few people joined in... but when D&D's name came on screen, lots of people shouted big WOO's and waved their hands around like crazy even though the same ones were silent for George.
3. Reactions after the episode
a. People were confused about Sam taking Heartsbane. It seemed out of character for him to do so.
b. Amanda Peet was talked about (Benioff’s actress wife) and apparently, people do not like her. Typecast for being a b*tch.
c. Dany on Drogon seemed random and a repeat of previous seasons.
d. Others loved Dany on Drogon.
e. People praised Sam for sticking up against his father.
f. Where is George?
Kaffeeklatsch (Coffee Talk) Monday, May 30, 2016:
My con friend and I attended a kaffeeklatsch (coffee talk) with George and about 8 other people. It lasted about an hour and a half in a very small, private room that overlooked Baltimore's inner harbor (interpret that as you will). The first half of the talk was boring because some woman bombarded the conversation with her tales of living in China and golf and how golf pays her bills and China and golf. The rest of us realized we would have to just cut her off if we were going to talk about anything else. And so we did. I do have a recording of the talk, but can't get the file small enough to share easily. I did start to take written notes as he said certain things as to not forget the specific phrasing.
The funny stuff:
The two tables were pulled close together and GRRM sat in the middle of the two with me on his right, and Joan Jett in front of him. We almost did not make it in because the sign-up was limited and there was zero information to be found on how and where to sign up. We had a leprechaun on our side that morning.
At one point during a book recommendation, George started talking about sword fighting and how Hollywood gets it wrong. At this point he was physically demonstrating how to hold and wield a sword or shield. He then held both of his hands up and pretended he had two swords. This was all during his talking points about how Hollywood is very inaccurate at sword fighting. Well, during his physical demonstration at how clumsy holding two swords would be, he accidentally bumped my foot and and uncrossed my legs for a brief second. He never said "two swords looks awful", but it was odd and curious how he decided to pretend he had two swords to demonstrate his point. (I am never washing my foot again!!! )
The books or authors he recommended were The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell (that may just be the show name based on the books), and the book Aspects of the Novel.
The serious stuff:
My con friend asked about the Jon/Arya relationship again and brought her (impressive) Game book that had all of her references marked out with little flags. She brought up the Ygritte connections to Arya that Jon saw in her. George did not directly answer yes or no if there would be anything romantic between the two.
He did say, despite what readers see as clues to a romantic relationship between Jon/Arya in the books themselves, he did not confirm this so easily but inferred that what Jon saw in Ygritte was a "comfort" level of femininity (not his exact words, just the jist).
1. Instead, George said he was "pissed" that the outline was posted in the office building and that someone took photos and shared them. He said it was a letter for him and the publisher only. He was very firm when telling this and it showed on his face.
2. He then said that he is not good with writing outlines, making book deadlines, and that often in outlines he was "making shit up", and "characters changed along the way". Side note: I know he said other things in past interviews, so interpret this as you will. * “quoted” words are his words exactly.
I asked him about my Bran/Wood dancers/Pinocchio theory. I pointed out the seemingly heavy influence Pinocchio has in the Bran storyline and he replied, "Interesting." He asked if I saw the Disney movie because that is his "favorite" Disney movie and how "dark and disturbing" it is.
1. He asked if I ever read the book. I answered "yes, as a kid and I love the movie too." He said he never read the original story... but then two or three sentences later he talked about the differences in the book to movie and gave quotes and examples from the book story?!?!
2. George mentioned how Pinocchio at the time, did not want a conscience and smashed the cricket for trying to give him one. He started to relate Bran to Pinocchio when someone cut in.
3. I do believe this was some sort of diversionary tactic because I may have been on to something. And then as he paused and was thinking of the next part of his answer, some other woman cut in to ask about how Shakespeare influenced him. (By the way, this Shakespeare question was asked at least two other times at public discussion panels already )
Oh, and the woman who went on and on about China and golf and golf in China also asked him WHEN WILL WINDS BE OUT???? George did not like that question, gave the standard answer and the meeting soon wrapped up after that. Every person who went to Balticon was made aware either in email, other print or verbally to NOT ask this question.
He went straight from talking about the references in the actual books, to the "differences" in the outline from then to now. He did say that he still knows who sits the iron throne and the end game of the main 5, but also included Sansa, but did not give any details (for obvious reasons).
After the Coffee Talk just outside the room:
1. My friend asked about Arya and Jon again. This time GRRM gave some very pointed replies:
a. Friend: Ok, if you foreshadowed something in the first book, like, really cleverly hidden, would you then follow through on that hint? For sure?.. GRRM: Well, this goes with what I said before, the story changes and expands as I write. I wish I was able to go back and make revised drafts, but that's not giong to happen. (He said way more than this, but this summarizes it. )
2. She asks about the hints for Jon/Arya in the second and third book, the comparing Ygritte and Arya, which wouldn't be there if GRRM had made up the romance for the outline.
a. "You know, I don't think it's a reference for that [for romance]. It's a reference to a certain physical type, and a certain indication of what Jon finds admirable. It's like someone who reminds you of, you know... Other people might be put off by this, you know, hair that looks like small rodents have been living in there."
b. GRRM finished (in the hallway now) by saying that he "wished some past things weren't such strong foreshadowing," and that he "wished some new things had stronger foreshadowing then."
Overall, I had the most amazing weekend. I was tired as hells come Tuesday which is part of my reason for the delay in writing this up.
[Note: This is a collaborative document, based in large part on notes from Twitter user Arhythmetric, with contributions from multiple others cited at the top of the document.]
Ah, the days of Glasgow and Anaheim, when I spent my time hurriedly writing notes, making audio or video recordings, etc. These days, it's all I can do to remember when the next panel is (that includes whether it's one of my own panels -- another change from those days of yore).
However, I figured I could try to quickly scrawl some stuff...
So, first, Stockholm and Livrustkammaren: I am told there will be a video of the event there, where George, Linda, and I sat in front of an audience of about 100 (and I don't know how many more in SF Bokhandeln in Malmö, Göteborg, and Stockholm, where it was livestreamed). George's reading -- the Tyrion I chapter -- will not be included in that video, however. It's a chapter which will likely provide a few extra thoughts on cyvasse for those who try to puzzle through the rules (but George again rules out ever actually selling the rights to a game which is supposed to be as deep and rich as chess). Lots of atmosphere, too, with passages punctuated by the thumps of trebuchets periodically letting diseased corpses fly...
The first panel of note is the Fear and Lothing in Hugoland panel, which concerned the current business with the puppies. George was in the audience and at the end spoke up to make an impassioned plea for those in the audience to get their supporting memberships and to vote while they still could.
George's first big event was the Life in Fandom panel with Parris and others. Good stuff about fandom being a way of life, about friends and family, about conventions as family gatherings, etc. Parris shared the story of the tradition that she and some friends started a tradition at a DC area con (Disclave, I think) of sneaking onto the grounds of a nearby hotel, climbing a fence to get at the pool and go skinnydipping. This continued to 1974, when they climbed the fence, proceeded to strip, and some were even in the pool (Parris noted she was one of those) when a bunch of Secret Service men arrived to break it all up. Turned out that the new VP Nelson Rockefeller had taken up residence in a couple of floors of the hotel. Oops.
The next big event for George was his reading of Barristan I, which he prefaced with a long description of the situation up to this point, with a strong emphasis that this chapter features events and characters that have never appeared in the TV series, focusing on the vast number of differences between show and books as time has passed. Fortunately, I have a somewhat dodgy audio recording of the Q&A that followed! I need some time to square some things away and then will go through it -- it's almost 30 minutes long -- to pick out interesting nuggets, but the two items I remember in particular are at the start.
1) George was asked what options female criminals had to avoid execution -- they can't take the black, but was there an accepted thing they could do otherwise? George did mention there were "various" female orders of septas and the likes, and then he focused in particular on the silent sisters, which he specifically called them a "mystic order" who take vows of silence and tend to the dead. Then he switched to discussing the fact that of course Jon had now garrisoned some of the castles with women (spearwives) for when the Others attack. "So we'll see how that works out", he concluded.
2) Asked if Ned ever used Ice in battle. George points out it was a greatsword, very large and cumbersome, a ceremonial sword for beheading people more than a fighting sword, so he suggests that it was "probably too heavy and clumsy" to use unless you're the Mountain. So, I think that's a pretty clear "no". I admit, I was tempted to point out that it was Valyrian steel, not regular steel, so why would the weight matter so much in this case? In particular when the likes of Randyll Tarly and Arthur Dayne are clearly said to have used their own Valyrian/Valyrian-like swords in battle? Tarly is not described as particularly powerful -- in fact he's called lean (doubtless strong and fit, but still, lean) -- and we're told he killed Lord Cafferen with Heartsbane. So... I take this as a firm "no", Ned never used it in battle, but I think George's off-the-cuff explanation doesn't quite fit the facts.
3) A budding young writer asked George how to handle such a large cast of point of view characters. "My main advice would be to not have such a large cast. It's really, really hard." He mused that there are days when he wonders if five kingdoms wouldn't have been easier than seven kingdoms. Keep careful records, he added, and work on a computer, because the search function is absolutely indispensable. Also... "you know, bring in Elio and Linda early in the process, so they'll remember all this crap and then you can just call them up and ask 'What color were this guy's eyes?'" Much laughter. He concluded that there's no easy answer, that it's tough, and that when he started the novels were shorter, standalone, and so he could easily keep all the details in his head but the sheer size of ASoIaF makes it impossible.
4) George was asked if he ever re-reads his own books. He says no, not straight through, but he'll read the last chapter -- sometimes last three-four chapters -- of a POV character when starting their next POV chapter to help recapture the voice. He doesn't re-read his own work for fun, of course. The audience member then asked about the changing atmosphere in the books, and George said that yes, it changes with the action in the books, and the changing situations of characters.
5) Asked why his dragons are so similar to other, traditional dragons, when so much else in his work is a departure from the mold of previous fantasy, and George pondered that for a moment and then decided that whenever he makes any decision, it's about what he likes at a particular moment, and what he thinks will work. It's art, not science, and there are aesthetic choices. He wanted to make it a more realistic fantasy than some others had done, to bring it closer to historical fiction, but he didn't want to write historical fiction. He also felt that the lower level of magic was a part of that, because a lot of magic can overwhelm a story in his experience.
6) Asked if Tolkien influenced the story of whatever happened with Rhaegar and Lyanna through the tale of Beren and Lúthien, George said he had a lot of influences, that Tolkien was certainly among them, but the fact is that there's a lot of historical influences -- the Wars of the Roses, the Hundred Years War -- and then Arthurian legend had some influence, the legends of Charlemagne had some influence (but not much, he doesn't know them so well), the Crusades and the Albigensian Crusade. He reads widely, basically, and he's influenced by all he's ever read.
7) Does the TV show affect his image or voice of characters? It has no effect on the characters in his head -- he's been writing the series since 1991, and had been living with these characters in his head for 16 years before the show as event a "glint in HBO's eye." He knows many will think of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion when they read it, but no, not really an issue. And again he focused on the divergences between the books and the show, that characters are increasingly different between the two mediums.
8) Was Ramsay inspired by any real people George knows? Laughter from the crowd, and then, "No, not really," from George. More laughter.
9) Asked about a sequel to Tuf Voyaging, George said he has so many ideas he'd like to do. He'd like to write more eventually -- he wants to do things like Tuf, a Wild Cards novel, a sequel to Fevre Dream, etc. -- but he has to finish ASoIaF, the Dunk and Egg stories, the history of the Targaryen dynasty that he wrote half of already... So there's a lot of things. And he has lots of new ideas, all the time. Ideas are easy but it's hard to turn them into stories. Somewhere in his notes, though, he has notes on a novel called Tuf Landing. Who knows what will be the case 5-10 years from now, etc. "I write one page at a time, that's all I can do."
10) Asked if he reads academic works or fan discussions about his work. George says he does about the academic ones, that to some extant he does. He repeated how he started visiting Dragonstone early on, very flattered that a whole website was dedicated to his novel, but he swore off it eventually because it took too much time, and he saw dangers in fans coming up with theories that were right and it did create a desire to change things but he said "that way lies disaster" because you're going to mess it all up because those mysteries are things you planned from the first, laid the groundwork, etc., and you can't just change it midstream. He compared it to a mystery novel where the writer changed his mind part way through, and all the clues that came before were simply wrong and went nowhere. And then George added that sometimes fans were coming up with ideas there he thought were interesting, but he couldn't be helping himself to fan ideas because "fans could like sue me and shit." Laughs there. So he backed away after that. He knows there's many other websites that have gone far beyond Dragonstone, citing Westeros as the leading one. He's also familiar with Sean T. Collins' Boiled Leather.
Every once in awhile, a loyal minion or Parris will tell him something particularly important or interesting, or Linda and I may contact him about something, but there have now been academic journals and such about his books, and people writing their thesis and such. He finds it very flattering and has looked at some of those and they're often very good, in-depth literary analysis and so on: "It's useful for me to find out what the hell I'm doing. I'm really smart! I can tell because that's what these guys are telling me!" You can imagine the laughter and humor in that, from George and the audience both. Then he went on to add that sometimes there's an essay or even a series of essays that "really gets it right". He specifically cited the difficulty he had with the Meereenese sections of ADwD, trying to figure out the POV, and he called it the "Meereenese Knot." He admitted being annoyed when some turned it into "the Meerenese Blot", but someone made a series of essays with that title. "I read those when someone pointed them out to me, and I was really pleased with them, because at least one guy got it. He got it completely, he knew exactly what I was trying to do there, and evidently I did it well enough for people who were paying attention." Of course, he added that some other essays depress him when people get everything wrong, and when people get everything wrong, well, whose fault is it? It could be his fault because he didn't write it well enough, but who knows?
So when he's done with ASoIaF, he may read more of the analysis type stuff to read about how brilliant he is, perhaps when he's taking his long vacation in Tahiti while sipping piña coladas on the beach.
11) The lack of language variation in Westeros was brought up -- lots of cultures, like the Dornish, the ironborn, the northmen -- but everyone speaks the common tongue. George admitted it wasn't very realistic, but he admitted he stole the idea from Tolkien. He admitted he could have more languages, but the books are in English and so he'd create more nonsense words to represent languages and then have to "translate" them anyway. He admitted it'd be more realistic to have seven or eight -- or even fourteen, or twenty-three -- languages, but also Tolkien was a genuine linguist, a brilliant one. He went through how many languages Tolkien made for LotR, and he says that sometimes he says when reading the books he just wants to strangle Tolkien because of how many great names he'd have, and how he could give the same thing four different names (in various languages) that all sounded great. He added that the vast majority of fantasists are in the same boat as him. Then he recounted the anecdote -- which he's recounted before -- of someone mistaking him for a Tolkien type and wanting his grammar and glossary and the like of Valyrian, and George admitting that Valyrian was seven words, and when he needs an eighth he'll make it then.
Of course, he then added that with HBO having created Dothraki through the work of David J. Peterson, he feels like now if he wants to have Dothraki (and Valyrian as well) he'll have to refer to Peterson's work to get it "right", or ask Peterson himself how to say something in Dothraki.
That ended that.
The Lion and the Rose episode was aired, I went up stage to do a quick FAQ (Tyrion is his favorite character, etc.) and to tell people to try and focus on the episode and GoT. Asked about characters doing anything that surprised him, he said yes, happens all the time, but he doesn't buy the mystical stuff of characters talking to him and acting of their own volition; he knows it's his subconscious or something such, but anyways, yeah. Asked about how he says characters are like his children, and sometimes they're disobedient, George admitted that he did have disobedient children and he sometimes kills them. He emphasized the process of working, that he gets a rough outline of what they want in an episode and he writes as they tell him, though he has obvious input. Like for that episode, he had fought to drop all the non-KL scenes, that he just wanted a focus on and around the wedding, but it wasn't possible because they have so much to do. He did say again that although he knows it's impossible, that he did wish the show had 13 episodes a season. I'm sure there was more, but failed to get that recorded and it's a bit of a blur.
Next, there was an academic's more fannish talk about changes in the TV series from the books, and the nature of adaptation and such. She would have a separate, more academic presentation the next day, but this was more generalist and fannish. George came in part way through and sat in the audience, to her shock and brief speechlessness -- she was reading from her notes, looked up, did a double take and went, "Oh, wow," and took a moment before continuing on (with good confidence, I may add!) George offered only one observation when a fan asked about why the white walkers are referred to as such, and not as the Others. George stated that it was early in the development process when they all agreed that Lost, having used the term for the mysterious island tribe, had sort of made it impossible to use that word without possible confusion and such.
Finally, there's the WoIaF panel where George joined us. I admit, this one I had thought I had managed to record, only to discover that the recording app crashed before it was done and I lost the audio. And actually being a part of it, I have to admit it all sort of blurs together... However, I'll point to this post in which I report on George referring to the book as "authoritative" while indicating at the ongoing ASoIaF series (and, come to think of it given his thoughts on Summerhall, Dunk & Egg) are of course the "supreme canon" because that's where he may reveal that details in earlier works are in fact deliberately mistaken and so on.
Since it's a hot-button topic, I commented to George about how some were bothered by what they see as "cultural appropriation" in the novels, citing in particular his presentation of Yi Ti with its obvious influences from Imperial China. George first addressed the term "cultural appropriation" by saying that "it's bullshit." He went on to discuss his own heritage, an American mutt with bits of Italian, German, Irish, etc. in his background, so does that mean he has special rights or ability to write about Italian culture? Of course not. He said that history belongs to everybody, and that the accident of blood or birth doesn't give one any special rights. As to Yi Ti, he discussed it in terms of fleshing the eastern regions out. I noted that I thought that it was quite fascinating, and I think (someone correct me) I pointed out how Yi Ti is this civilization older than that of the Seven Kingdoms, seemingly grander and more advanced, so it wasn't as if it was a negative "appropriation."
Lots of other things kind of cover ground that George or we have already discussed -- the genesis of the project as something publishers suggested to him, his inviting us to work with him on in it 2004 because we had already shown our knowledge and had collected so much information, had been writing essays on history and other aspects of the setting, and he had looked at it and thought we'd be great collaborators for it. There was also discussion of how the Lands of Ice and Fire lead to the great expansion of how Essos looks, and that then kind of required expanding the Other Lands section. We also discussed the historiographic aspect, the way that I enjoyed the way that we had multiple sources conflicting, and so on. George really liked the maester conceit as it allowed him to obscure things he wanted to obscure, and also it was just terrific fun to play around with conflicting accounts. In particular, the Dance of the Dragons material was the longest he wrote, and it was in part because he really enjoyed the conflicting accounts of Septon Eustace, Mushroom, and the third source ... which he expanded on (and this is a bit I'll share in particular because it features details never before published).
So, the third source is Munkun's True Telling, but as we're told in WoIaF, Munkun is based on Grand Maester Orwyle and George noted that his account was written up while he sat in a prison cell uncertain if he was going to end up executed or not and wanting to lay down "his side" of the story to try and paint himself in the best possible light. (Yep, Orwyle actually has quite an interesting little story that unfortunately we really had trim almost entirely out of the world book. Definitely will be one of the many highlights of Fire and Blood, IMO.)
I also then made the point about the various pressures in which Maester Yandel, the actual "writer" of most of the text, was working under, and how he had his biases as well. I noted to the audience that in particular Yandel starts to get quite careful when he writes about events in which various important, influential, powerful, and (most of all) still living people had a role. He has an interest in keeping his head on his neck. Ned and Stannis practically disappear from the account of the rebellion because Yandel has cut out his original account of the rebellion after Robert's death, Eddard's execution for treason, and Stannis and Renly proclaiming for the throne, and hastily did a revised and more politically acceptable one. At that, George asked us where we imagined Yandel was at the time of the novels, and if maybe he's getting beheaded (with a bit of a laugh and a wicked glint in his eye, I'll add.) I explained that in my own head, Yandel is in King's Landing, clutching his book, showing up each day for an audience with the king... and each day being told perhaps the next day. Except on those occasions where, you know, they tell him the king's getting married today, and then whoops, Joffrey is dead, etc.
I also noted that of course, given how he wrote about the reign of Aerys and and the rebellion, that if Aegon or Daenerys take King's Landing he may indeed end up having his head chopped off... George seemed interested in the idea, I think. :P
Also a lot of discussion about Summerhall and the idea of the inkblot spilled all over the page to obscure it, but that Anne told him that they'd get thousands of returns because people would think it was a printing error.
I asked him about the dangers of world-building, if it could just become too fun to just expand the world, and look beyond the next horizon. George admitted it could in fact be really fun, that the urge to explore and see beyond the next hill drove him a lot, especially in the other lands section, but obviously that can be dangerous too. He mused that had he lived in the Middle Ages, he might have wanted to become the Lomas Longstrider (or the Marco Polo) of his day, wanting to know what was beyond the next village, and what was beyond that, and so on. It was quite affecting, I thought, he had a genuine passion for that.
Anyone else who was there is welcome to add any additional details I didn't remember!
[Note: This link is to a lengthy forum thread in which various reports are made of Martin's reading and follow-up Q&A.]
[Note: There's a couple of small errors in this report, but on the whole it's a thorough recounting of Martin's reading from his original Westerlands material for The World of Ice and Fire.]
I thought I would share some of my experiences from ConQuest 44 this past weekend in Kansas City. All in all it was a fun conference with lots of quality writer workshops and wonderful presentations. There were lots of enthusiastic fans – some in some pretty nice costumes! But it was a small enough gathering making for easy access to the dealers’ tables. I was fortunate enough to get to meet and talk with Both GRRM and the fabulous John Picacio!
On Friday, I was looking at some of the art in the exhibit room and John walked up to me, hand held out, and introduced himself. He had most of the prints from his famous Song of Ice and Fire Calendar, and even the original pencil drawing of my favorite, Arya. My wife and I ended up buying the print, which we took to get properly framed yesterday. To show you just how incredibly nice John is, he said if I got a mailing tube he would pack it for me for the plane trip back. On Sunday, while the other panelists are waiting to start their program, John is carefully rolling my Arya print while explaining how to care for it. I got to see one of his other presentations on cover art for sci fi and fantasy books. He lamented the state of the art, where generic packaging aimed at the masses is taking the place of work done by true artists. He encouraged us to use our dollars and our voices to encourage quality art on books to be able to continue. John is up for a Hugo award; all of you who are eligible, please vote for him. When I said good bye to him on Sunday I told him that it was great when the most talented people are also the nicest. Do yourself a favor and check out his art at http://www.lone-boy.com.
Late Friday Afternoon, I first saw GRRM just standing by the conference registration table. I walked up to him and said hello and he shook my hand. I said “You know, we were on the same Sword and Laser podcast last summer.” He looked at my name tag and said “Oh we were, we were.” I asked him if he knew of my book and he said that he did and that he had it. Then he called his lovely wife Paris over and introduced her to me and my wife saying “This is the fellow who wrote Game of Thrones and Philosophy.” He also introduced us to his “minion” Jo, who was really nice (I later got to talk to her and she told me the whole story of how she met and became great friends with Paris). Then he reached into his pocket and gave me a Westeros coin! He then posed for pictures. Later that evening, at one of the many parties, I found him seated on a couch and knelt beside him. We talked for probably a half hour – about football, the tv series, and he even asked me questions about my book. I told him I had read his vampire novel Fevre Dream long before I started the SOIAF series, and he said they were working on turning it into a movie. Let’s hope that happens! I asked if he was going to read us something from The Winds of Winter and he said “Oh, I have several things in mind “ wanting to keep it a surprise.He was so gracious; it’s truly wonderful when you get to meet your heroes and not only don’t they disappoint you, but they actually exceed your expectations.
We went to all of GRRM’s presentations (of course!). The first, on Friday, with some other authors and with John, was the aforementioned “State of the Art.” John showed various book covers and George and the other fine writers commented on them. On Saturday morning there was the autograph session and we got him to sign several of our favorite books. Later that afternoon, he read (for nearly an hour!) from the forthcoming World of Ice and Fire. The book contains a history of the Seven Kingdoms written by various maesters. He read us the account of Aegon’s conquest and it was fantastic. The dragons burning Harrenhal, the gathering of the swords of the conquered used to make the Iron Throne, and many many other significant moments. By the way, he said that he was planning on writing more Dunk and Egg stories (this came up in the Q&A), but that his main concern was first finishing ASOIAF. I know all the fans were glad to hear this. Lastly, on Sunday morning there was “90 minutes with GRRM.” I had no idea what this was going to be. It turned out to be a showing of the “Blackwater” episode that he wrote for the show from season 2. He frequently stopped it to tell funny and informative background stories about the episode and the actors. One example was that he said that he didn’t write the scene with Bronn and The Hound – it was added by the show front runners -- but that he really liked that scene. During the Q&A someone asked “So what did Pod do?” In “Blackwater Pod saves Tyrion by stabbing the fellow who had slashed his face, and since we had just seen that, George said “He stabbed him with his sword.” Everyone laughed, because the crowd knew that the person was asking about what Pod had done with the (ahem) ladies in season 3that pleased them so. Finally George said, “Well he stabbed them with his sword!”
Finally, if I may, I’d like to mention two authors who I enjoyed meeting – John Horner Jacobs and David J. Pederson. And I’ve attached a picture of me with John and one with George. I look at them often to remind myself that this was not a dream.