This is about the session at Corte Ingles in Lisbon on July 1st 2008. Moderator was Safaa Dib, and the topic was A Song of Ice and Fire followed by a signing session, and along with a pre-release of the portuguese translation of the first half of A Storm of Swords ( I think.)
Room was filled, it was standing room only before the beginning of the session, perhaps some 200 people in all, I was impressed by how diverse, ages, gender the audience was.
First thing is, the book is not finished. Probably another 6 months, the hope is by the end of the year, so it comes out sometime in 2009.
GRRM was asked the typical question, of where the idea for ASOIAF had come from. He replied that in the summer of 1991, when he was working as a Hollywood screenwriter, in a gap between assignments he began work on a new novel, a sf novel called Avalon ( personal note, no I would not swap it for ASOIAF, but I would have loved to have read it), set in his future history universe. And somehow, he found himself writing the first chapter of AGOT, about the direwolf pups un the snow. And after that came a second chapter and pretty soon he spent the whole summer writing AGOT.
From there he started to plan a trilogy, since there were 3 main conflicts ( Starks/Lannisters; Dany; and the Others) it felt it would neatly fit into a trilogy (ah!), but like Tolkien said, the tale grew in the telling. He ended up putting the project aside after being asked to write a tv pilot, he had about a 100 pages written of both Avalon and AGOT. With his projects he has a problem that when somethings goes cold he can not pick it up again. Avalon has gone cold, but with a ASOIAF it has never happened, he kept thinking about it. Some time after, driving through Britanny once he was thinking of Tyrion and what would he think or do, despite having been years since he wrote about Tyrion and being a couple years till he wrote again about him. He summarized it all in that he has no idea where the idea for ASOIAF did come from.
Another question was about the sucess of ASOIAF and if he ever expected it. He said he hoped but not expected sucess and that Armageddon Rag was supposed to be his breakout novel but it tanked instead. It got great reviews but nobody bought it. So he is always anxious when a book comes out. And sucess for ASOIAF was slow, it only picked momentum when the 2nd book came out in hardcover and AGOT was released in paperback, around 1997/1998. The Legends anthology did a lot to help popularize ASOIAF, he hears frequently from fans that they bought the anthology to read the story of this or that other author, but ended up loving Dunk´s story and from there finding out about ASOIAF.
On being asked if he feels comfortable getting called the American Tolkien, GRRM considers it a great compliment, since he loved Tolkien when he was a kid, that his were some of the books he never wanted to end reading. But he is very different from Tolkien and writes very different type of books. The moderator somehow blurts out sex, general laughter, GRRM´s replies he does not know where little hobbits come from. But that he thinks Tolkien has darkness,that the end of TLOTR is crucial, the Scouring of the Shire, that the Tolkien immitators always end with triumph but never cover the cost of triumph.
From then the questions moved to historical fiction, there being similarities between ASOIAF and the War of the Roses, if he had ever thought about building a story about them. GRRM replied he liked historical fiction very much, mentioned Cornwell and Pressfield as infusing history with the tropes of fantasy ( I think) but that his problem with history is that he knows too much history, that he can not read about the war of the roses without knowing who won the battle of Bosworth Field. With history, a lot of readers will know who wins and what happens and he likes to readers to not know what is going to happen (ah!!)
He used an interesting analogy to his use of magic in fantasy fiction, he compared it to, on a college dormitory take out, him being used to plain style New Jersey pizzas, first trying anchovies in a garbage pizza (that was the expression used, really). He loved those anchovies, but when he next ordered an anchovy pizza he thought it was awfull, overwhelming. Magic and fantasy can be like anchovy in pizza, too much unbalanced can ruin everything . Tolkien did it right, on his opinion, that his magic is often knowledge and the sense of magic is very low key, that we are often not sure, are the fireworks real magic or just fireworks? Magic should be mysterious, unnatural. In a Song of Ice and Fire (or ADWD) we have two sources of magic descending on Westeros from opposing directions.
He mentioned he created history and dynasties as he goes along and that it was Tolkien which created the truly serious worldbuilding expect in fantasy. Before Tolkien a lot of fantasy writers did not bother, Robert E Howard had perhaps the name of 3 kings, Lord Dunsany did even less ( paraphrasing "there was a king who had a daughter"). But with Tolkien it was like an iceberg, 3/4 are under the waterline. All other authors ("us") are just pretending, ice on a raft floating giving the impression it is an iceberg. Some fans get furious at that admission. Once a fan wrote asking him for word lists in high valyrian so the fan could start to work out learning the language on his own. GRRM says he knows 8 words of high valyrian, and when he needs a 9th, he will just make it up. ( despite this very funny impressive anecdote which was very well received, in the question session, yes somebody started to make complicated questions about language).
Another classical question, on what writers had an influence on him. GRRM replied the authors he read and enjoyed when he was young, Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Heinlein was his favorite sf author, Zelazny, Jack Vance. Apropos of Jack Vance, GRRM mentioned he is editing an anthology, where 20 top fantastic writers are writing each a Dying Earth story ( or so I understood it. Dont quote me if it contradicts other reports). He mentioned also other non genre authors, Goldmann, F Scott Fitzgerald, Lawrence Block, McDonald, Raymond Chandler.
When asked what he considered to be his greatest strength as an author, he replied characters, that he thought characters to be the most important part of any story. And on what was his favorite PoV characters, he likes all of them, that it is important to consider that a hero is a villain from the other side, that Theon, Cersei and Jaime all think they are doing the right thing. perhaps Tyrion is his favorite character, his chapters are the easiest to write and he is the most like GRRM himself. He can think of no good definition of good and evil and that struggle to define it is a common theme in his work. That is one difference between him and Tolkien, that there is nothing redeeming in a orc or Sauron. It´s fine in Tolkien, but it´s a problem on his less subtle immitators.
On if no character ever being safe if it was part of a writing strategy , he said he he tries to write with honesty about war, it´s not about who is going to win a soccer match ( personal note - well, there actually have been real wars about that. And he probably has not hear of a *few* matches I can think of. And the Maracanazo probably caused deeper social trauma than any brazillian border war of the 20th century. sorry, can´t help myself) and that death and grief can happen to all characters not just extras. He brought up a anecdocte about the tv show Beauty and Beast and network concerns ( network speak violence is bad, action is the euphemism for it). The series lasted 3 years, at the end of series 2, the main character (the beauty, Catherine) was killed because Linda Hamilton, the actress wanted to leave. The writers, against the network´s opinion ("get on with it, don´t mention the name again"), had some episodes written which dealt with the grief of remaining characters. The ratings plummeted - so while they made the right artistic decision, commercially they had failed. GRRM thinks authors can not worry about commercial sucess when writing.
The moderator praised ASOS has being his masterpiece, he said with the proviso that AFFC was not a complete book but half of a whole he agreed "so far". When she asked if If the pressure of being considered the "best fantasy writer" ( there were probably a couple adjective there like american or living) affected his work, he says he does not enjoy the pressure but is still enjoying the writing. Most days, some days don´t go well!
About the famous 5 year gap and the delay of ADWD he sais the problem was precisely the idea of the 5 year gap, which would give the kids time to grow old. he spent over a year writing the book that way, but ended up writing endless flashback scenes so he had to scrape that.
If he knows how the series will end, yes, he does in broad strokes, compared it to a drive from Lisbon to Moscow, you know where you are going, but not seeing all the steps of the way.
There was some talk also of HBO optioning AGOT, that two scripts have been written and the BBC is now a partner and budgets are being drawn ( if that is the word). Possible locations mentioned were Ireland, the Czech Republic and New Zealand, but of course they are looking at any possible cheaper options. He thinks a pilot might get filmed. After that a possibility is maybe that each book will be a season, 12 hours but is not really sure if ASOS would fit that.
Then GRRM himself very kindly asked if fans wanted to make some questions. And yes, somebody did ask if Ned was really killed ( to be fair, only AGOT and ACOK have been translated into portuguese yet, so I am sure lots still had some hopes for Ned to do a Gandalf act by the end of ACOK).
When the manuscript for ADWD is finished it will be rushed over in 3 months, which is amazingly fast for the book industry.
He does find hard to keep track of all characters and keeps flipping back and forth through his notes to find out the color of this character´s eyes or the name of this cousin. Elio and Linda are great help, so sometimes he writes to them asking them this or that. He is very good at changing the sex of horses between books, he calls those his transexual horses.
An interesting comment about the focus and pace of LOTR and ASOIAF. TLOTR starts slow and very focused, on a small part of a very large world, with things unfolding and the world getting bigger. He wanted to do something like that in ASOIAF, starting with a very tight focus on Winterfell drawing bigger and broader. The action is now at its broadest point, and it´s going to start narrowing again.
We were read a prologue chapter for ADWD. The reading was very good, somewhat spoiled by some noise with the audience, I think something to do with the selling of those pre-release translations of part of ASOS. I did not get any notes on that, just enjoyed it.
And that is about it. Any misquotings or misinterpretation (nevermind missspellings and assassinations of grammar) are all my own, for which I apologize.