So here's my report from the CBC Book club event in Vancouver (for our international friends, the CBC is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - public radio and tv and I cannot live without it!)
The event was not all that well attended....I was shocked! I arrived quite early, so got a front row seat. The event was moderated by Sheryl McKay (a local radio host - most excellent) and John Burns (book editor for a local paper)
George came in, and joked about the weather...its been raining here for a month solid, bad even for the Wet Coast. It went well with the first chapter - the Cersei one, on the way to the funeral, with all the rain. After, Sheryl and John made some comments and posed some questions.
J commented on how G's reading aloud conveyed the gamesmanship and paranoia on every page and asked G if he found imagining and writing all that intrigue exhausting. G said no, not that part of writing, he actually enjoys that part quite a bit. He writes books that he would want to read and finds alot of fantasy deficient because everyone is as they seem-called it lazy writing; said we all wear masks and people are complex--they have heroism and monstrosity. The exploration of character is the most interesting aspect of people and he tries to celebrate it in his books.
S - commented on how he offs his main characters.
G - fiction is too predictable, esp in fantasy, where you know a main character will survive, no matter how many orcs are chasing him. G is not interested in this fiction of comfort- wants to shake up readers, make the danger feel real.
S - wanted to know how readers felt about it
G - most love it
J - commented on sex in the books
G -says there should be more sex in fantasy, more sex in life; gets more letters of complaint about sex than about death, G marvelled that "the penis obscene while the ax is just cool fun"; said that anything gratuitous is that which does not advance the plot directely, but big deal - plot alone makes a 20 page book; he wants you to smell the smoke and food at a feast, see the fools - trying to do complex characters...you need to show it--cant just say "this character here is complex, you know"
Then he talked a bit about oaths, and how they are lost in modern life. the books grapple with this
After a few more questions/comments, the floor was opened, and the first question, I kid you not, was "who are Jon's parents"
In response to another question about why this book took so bloody long, G admitted to mistakes in structure. he talked about Tolkein, and how he did something great in LotR by starting with the Shire, which is the whole world at the beginning, and when the story grew, so did the world. He is trying to do this, and from the beginning had planned to introduce new parts of this world, and new characters - found himself with too many balls in the air but he needed to keep them there, otherwise they would fall on his head
Next question was on POV's and whether G was worried about creeping Jordanism
G - Only one new one in DwD - see above for juggling analogy; he's gonna kill some off too. He wants all POV's to have a story arc even A VERY SHORT ARC (a significant statment, I thought); some readers were displeased with all the new ones in Feast....wanted old familiars, but the new ones were neccessary geographically. With Dorne and the Iron Islands he had originally tried each with one single POV, but it wasnt working, hence more delay.
Then he read a second chapter, the Captain of the Guards. Afterward, talked about Dorne a bit....separated physically and culturally, but joined due to a dynastic marriage.
Question from John:
what was the hardest thing in writing about such an alien world
G - the vast majority of fantasy is middle agey time wise, and he himself finds the period fascinating; glad to adopt it for novel writing - likes knights and castles and such. He objects to bad fantasy practice which adopts a time setting without accepting the culture - imposing 20th century values like the cheeky stableboy telling off the princess (in reality cheeky stableboy would lose his tongue - look what happend to Micah); the class system was not just and ornament and these people truly belived in blood, and the rank and priviledge that came with "good" blood. He discussed the role of women - in bad fantasy where the princess refuses to marry the old ugly fart - women were raised to accept this as their fate (ie Sansa and Tyrion); he castigated the warrior princess in a chainmail bikini, who in that reality would get chopped in two with a longsword. You needed brute strength to fight a la middle ages (voila Brienne); but women could fight with other weapons (sand snakes), it was just very very rare.
Question from Sheryl:
Heard that the series came from an image of direwolves and winterfell
G - yes, and the growth of the story from there was very exciting....he sees his writing style as being more like a gardener...planted a seed and watered it and let it grow, as opposed to writers who are like archtects, who plan everything out before they write the first word.
Audience questions on maps and size and population- we've heard it before.
Question on characters - very similar to characters from classical literature - is it intentional?
G- everything he experiences goes into the hopper, gets ground up and comes out in the books; but he tries not to draw direct analogues.
Question - have the mechanics of scriptwriting affected his fiction writing?
G - improved strength of structure and dialogue; his practice of repeated cliffhangers is directly from tv writing - act breaks - but- he is anti hollywood in many ways- his work is too long, too extravegant and has too many battlescenes for film/tv...fiction allows him to indulge his love of scale and detail.
Question (from yours truly) what the hell is with Biter? Is he just a bad guy or is he something more....
George treated us to a never before heard back story of Rorge and Biter.....Rorge ran a dog and bear fighting place in Flea Bottom. Biter was an orphan whom Rorge grabbed up and raised ferally to fight in the pits. ( I was most pleased to actually elicit something totally unknown)
DwD? Hoping for early 2007. Going home to write now.
As regards oaths, he seemed to lean toward the loss of the oath as bad, but said that first, he was grappling with the issue himself, and the second, he didnt want to get all didactic about it, and wanted readers to draw their own conclusions about the value of an oath.