Just so everyone knows where on the page I am, I've read the first two books and have the third sitting in the "to read" pile although I'm re-reading the second. The fourth I have to wait to come out in paper, until/unless I get a job. The names of the books, as I told [info]electorprince play tag with each other in my head so it's just easier to call them "first book", "second book" etc. Or I'll have to make up a little mnemonic sentence.
He started by answering everyone's number one question, that he doesn't know when the new book will be out. He's aiming to hand them to the publishers by the end of the year, and after that it's out of his hands. The British publishers manage to consistently put the book out a month before the Yanks though.
The concoction of this book involved splitting the fourth book into two because he'd gone so long, revising and expanding it.
He said that if you want to know all he knows about publication dates and the like, go to his web site (http://www.georgerrmartin.com). Don't believe Amazon, your local bookseller, the rumour mill etc, go to his website and that's the truth right there.
He then proceded to read for about 45 minutes. The scene ended with Melisendre talking to Jon Snow. She observes that it's cold today and he says it's always cold on the Wall. "Do you think it?" she asks. "I know it," he answers. "Then you know nothing, Jon Snow," she whispers.
At the Q&A session, the first question asked was how he'd come up with the idea for this monstrous series. GRRM said that the first chapter of the first book "just came to him" with all the characters and situations involved. He was actually writing another book, Avalon, which of course ended up never being written. His Hollywood work slowed him down with "Game of Thrones" but when he finally got back to it it was still fresh and vivid in his mind, unlike other works he'd had to take hiatuses from in the past.
He was asked about how he balanced killing off characters with keeping readers involved with the surviving ones. GRRM admitted that he likes outraging readers. "Writing is all about emotion," he said, as reading is for vicarious intense situations. He likes to read books that engage his emotions and so likes to write them. He wants the reader to be almost afraid to turn the page, in order to establish that he plays for keeps and no character is safe. He started doing this in the Wild Cards series.
He was asked about viewpoint characters, of which there are many. He said that even for minor viewpoint characters he gives them a few chapters so that he is telling a story about that character and not just using them for point of view.
GRRM warned that we should expect a sizable body count soon, as he's been introducing characters without killing any of them off.
One of the people asking questions was Army, and has just gotten back from Iraq. He thanked GRRM for all he'd written and GRRM thanked *him*. The question was on how GRRM came up with the characters, and GRRM said ultimately, he is all of them. At this point some wag in the audience chimed up with "Cersei?" GRRM said that of course he's never been a woman, or a dwarf, or an 11 year old girl, although he has been a fat guy. He said it was necessary to try to see the world through their eyes although ultimately as humans the only person we ever really know is ourselves. This character development is why the books don't come out once a month.
On being asked about "the casting game" (picking actors to play the characters), he said the only one who he would definitely choose was Ron Perlman to play Sandor "The Hound" Clegane because of Perlman's aptitude for acting through prosthetics. Child actors are hard to find, good ones at least, and Tyrion would be the most difficult adult to cast because of the very small pool of talent who are dwarves.
He said Arya may appear at the end of book 5.
As for his writing process, he starts every day with his morning coffee, sits down, and tweaks what he wrote the day before. That usually gives him the momentum to keep going. Some days he "falls in through the computer screen" and next thing he knows it's dark and the coffee is still there and cold. On the other hand, some days he just checks his e-mail over and over.
He assured us that we will someday find out how seasons work in his world, and that it will not be a scientific explanation because hello, it's a fantasy novel. He said that some fans have written him with fantastic explanations involving two suns, one of which is a black dwarf but that they will be disappointed.
Finally, he said he'd love to see, say, an HBO mini-series, but would HBO love to see it?