The Citadel: SSM

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US Signing Tour (Albuquerque, NM)

My husband went with a few of his buddies to the Albuquerque signing last night, got a few of our books signed, and managed to get most of the talk and QA recorded on his PDA for me, which came out pretty well in spite of ~75 people being in attendance; it was standing-room only. I suppose I should have posted a note ahead of time to see if anyone would be there, but since I knew I wouldn't be going myself, I didn't think of it!

The Talk

- George gave his usual humorous talk about his signings - the story about having his signing in Dallas ages back being trumped by Clifford the Big Red Dog, and also the one about driving four people out of the feminist bookstore in St Louis. Good stuff!

- He discussed his tour and seemed pleased as punch that his British edition made the Times bestseller list in England, and the American edition debuted on the NY Times list at #1. Big applause for that! He thanked his editors, agents, publicists, publishers, bookstores, readers, and Parris (who was present) at length, attributing his success to them. The part about 'word of mouth advertising' and people forcing their friends and relatives to read the books, really hit home with me... I've addicted at least fifteen people to the series by myself hehe, and I hound the newer ones to finish!

- He told the story about how the series got started, how he was writing something else and the scene with the direwolves in the snow just came to him and demanded to be written.

- He talked about the 5-year-gap, and that he trashed it primarily because he just couldn't skip all that time for the adults and write everything in flashbacks; what might have worked for the children didn't work for the adults. Also, he mentioned the problem with a gap meaning he'd have to recreate all the tension and foreboding, especially on the Wall, which felt false.

- He discussed the reasons he took so long for this book, that it just kept getting bigger and bigger, got to 1600-1700 pages long and still not done, and also why he divided it up - largely because he didn't want to cut anything out - he couldn't do that by just 'deleting all the adjectives', he would have had to cut intertwining character arcs and plotlines, and he was unwilling to do that, and moreover leery of the delay that a massive revision like that would cause. (As a side note, he made the point that he doesn't include chapters or characters on a whim, they all have a very good reason for being there.) He also rejected the idea of just cutting it down the middle, because that would have left the first part without any sort of a climactic end. His analogy is that the series is a symphony and each book is a movement, and explained that he likes each character arc to have some sort of finale in each book, whether it's on a cliffhanger, or a completion of some phase of the character's story arc (or death hehe). Ultimately, he decided to divide it geographically as you all know, since Dany's story is taking place in Martinland's China, and the rest is taking place in Martinland's England.

- He said he's getting back to work writing now that his tour is done. He said he has 500-600 of it done and a strong idea of where he's going, and hopes he's back a year from now with the next book.

Question Answer Session

- Someone asked about whether the next book was going to explode and be four books, whether the series would start getting out of control. George said he hoped not; he admitted that it started as a trilogy, and that ADWD is the book that 'has always receded away from him.' He quoted Tolkien: "A story makes its own demands." He said he's still aiming for 7 books, which he thinks has nice thematic symmetry (7 kingdoms, 7 gods) but that he's not promising anything in blood, it might take more.

- One guest asked how much of the "ending" of the story Martin knows before he sits down to write the beginning; George answered that he's not an architect who must know where everything goes before building, but rather he's a gardener who throws out seeds and tries to shape the plants as they come up, as best he can. He mentioned again the scene with the direwolves sparking the series, that he really didn't have any of it planned in the very beginning. He did say that in Hollywood, he was expected to be an architect because they want to approve of your plans ahead of time, and that maybe because of that, his Hollywood work wasn't as good.

- George was asked about his method for writing; he answered that he commutes to his second house across the street to work and write every day, starts out with his coffee and email, rereads and revises yesterday's work, and then sets to writing new stuff - on the good days. (He must be deadly sick of answering these same questions millions of times!)

- He was also asked about advice for new writers, and he gave the usual answer: write short stories not novels and trilogies. The good thing about writing short stories being that if you write a bad one, you've only wasted three weeks rather than years, and while the money isn't huge, there's always room for new authors, because established folks move on to novels. Of course he also suggested reading voraciously, in all fields, not just fantasy - 'the best writers are sponges'.

- Someone asked how, as a 'gardener' style of writer, George manages to set and stick to the "rules" of his fantasy world without contradicting what has gone before. George answered that he doesn't have to worry about contradicting his magical system because he's deliberately limited the magic and intentionally tries to keep it magical and mysterious, that the essence of magic is that it must be "wondrous and unexplainable". He doesn't like what other authors have done, which is to treat magic like a different kind of science with its own set rules. He does admit keeping some details straight is hard, since he keeps a lot of it in his head, though that's supplemented with charts and computer files. He joked that he thinks the brain synapses normal people use for real life, he uses for living and remembering things in Westeros; he forgets the real people he meets, but can remember the names of the guardsmen of third-rate lordlings several books ago. He did note with some amusement that his readers catch his mistakes for him (Renly's eyes being green once, then blue, and then calling them 'blue-green eyes that changed color depending on what he wears' as an out). Ditto with various horse gender oopses.

- One woman remarked that George does a remarkable job making each viewpoint character drastically different in the way the speak and act, and wondered how he pulled it off. He said that was the fun part and the challenge. He gets into a groove with characters, and will write one character for awhile, multiple chapters with that character in a row until he gets stumped, then he switches, and when he does, he steps back and has to consciously take a deep breath and remind himself he's writing someone else. He mentioned he borrowed the interweaving viewpoint style ("mosaic novels") from the Wild Cards series, which worked best and gained strength when different characters lent their own world views and eyes to the same events. He joked that the best part of having so many characters is that he can kill some of them off and still have plenty left over to tell the story (big laugh there hehe), and that makes it more suspensful.

- Favorite character question - Tyrion, he answered (yes you've heard this before), because he's a smartass, he's an active character who drives the narrative, he's always up to something, always has plans, and his voice comes to Martin easily, being the character most like himself. Although, he notes, he is taller and has an entire nose (more laughs). Then he said, your next question will be, who's the hardest character to write, and that's Bran, because he has to recheck every sentence to make sure it's really what an 8-year-old would think and say, and that it's even harder when he has to write about Bran morphing into Summer, because he finds it hard to put himself in the place of a wolf.

- Next he was asked whether he finds it difficult to kill off viewpoint characters. He said yes, definitely; they're not just characters he's writing about, but rather he feels like he's been inside the heads of these people (he was really trying to avoid spoilers here). He did say that the Red Wedding was the hardest chapter for him to write, and that he put it off til the very end, even though he knew it had to be done. He explained though, that even though it's hard, he writes with the goal of making his readers experience, and live, the books, not just read them, to see and feel what the characters see and feel. He brought up the idea of fear, of fun 'roller-coaster' fear versus 'real' fear, that in some books you can be confident the hero will never die so you never truly feel their fear. He prefers instead to create the idea of uncertainty, of 'mortal peril', to make you afraid to turn the next page. He did mention he gets letters from people upset that characters die, that they weren't reading his books and getting emotionally attached to see them die - 'they wanted roller-coaster fear, and I chucked them out of the roller-coaster' (laughs). He noted he wasn't trying to put them down, that even he enjoys that from time to time (he used Indiana Jones as an example).

- One man asked whether George ever learns of people naming their kids after his characters. He pointed the guy to his website, where he even has baby pictures of Sansas, Aryas, even a Daenarys, Nymeria, Eddard, Bran, Chataya, and several Cerseis. He won't take credit for the Jons, though (hehe). It was great; someone in the audience made a crack about Cersei, and someone else said "as long as they aren't twins"). He mentioned meeting a little girl whose parents had named her Daenarys and he made a joke about how she was really going to hate spelling that when she gets to first grade. He also once got a letter from a 23-year-old girl named Lya whose mother said she was named after a character in one of his stories (A Song for Lya) and wanted to know who the heck Lya was. George sent her a copy! Hehe. He said he finds it flattering overall, but thinks it's a bad idea when the story isn't done yet and some of the characters will come to a bad end, and then those parents will be pissed with him!

- A woman asked if he woke up one day and decided to become a writer; he answered nah he'd always known, was always a writer, even selling his stories as a kid in the projects, for a nickel (the price of a milky way bar). He mentioned that all little kids have dreams of becoming an astronaut or a superhero, but as he got older he realized that it was kinda hard to become a playboy crimefighter, and not a lot of job opportunities for it (laughs!) and that writing about it was easier to break into.

- Another woman mentioned that Martin is very intuitive when writing women; Martin responded with the idea that everyone always says to "write what you know", and that he hated that when he was young, because he wanted to do science fiction, he wanted to write about space pirates, and how could he ever know space pirates? But that now he realizes there is truth to that, and what he knows best is himself. So he'd learn about space, and he'd learn about pirates, and then put himself into the character, no matter how different, and figure out how he'd feel in those shoes, and then write it. He pointed out he does women, young girls, old men, warriors, dwarfs, and that he's never been any of those things; 'it's all a question of empathy'. Yes, he noted, there are differences between men and women, but there are also a great deal of similarities, we're all people, and when he's stumped, he just talks to women and asks them.

- He was asked about his story The Sandkings and how he felt about its adaptation into an Outer Limits episode. He answered that a healthy attitude is to realize the story exists separately from any secondary product. He told the story of how someone involved with said TV production had called him, excited to let him know that they had cast three members of the Bridges family of actors to play the three generations of the Sandkings. He answered, well, that's great... but in my story, there weren't three generations!

- A guy asked about the Dunk and Egg stories, and asked whether the next DE story would be at the Wall. Answer: nope. He did say he was working on another DE story but it's only half done and he hopes to finish it soon but he wasn't sure where it would be published (he mumbled something about the Legends anthology being defunct? I'm out of the loop on that).

- The same guy asked about the Daynes and the Sword of the Morning, asking how that title is decided. George said the Sword of the Morning is always a member of House Dayne, someone who is deemed worthy of wielding Dawn as decided within the House, that whoever it is would have to earn the right to wield it.

- Question about the comic book version of one of his stories that he mentioned at Bubonicon... Martin said the Hedge Knight comic and graphic novel was done and there'd be a sequel (Sworn Sword) that was also being adapted by the same people, but that the Fevre Dream comic was still being worked on, with illustrations by a Spanish artist, so he doesn't have an ETA on that one.

- Some poor lout asked about about all the bad luck House Stark has had (laughs) and whether they'd all get back together by the end. Of course George wouldn't answer (big laughs), saying that was akin to asking Orson Welles what "rosebud" is. Ie - keep reading! Then he was asked if Rickon would ever get a chapter, and Martin said that the only thing worse than writing an 8-year-old (Bran) would be writing a rabid 4-year-old. He did say that "perhaps" Rickon will have "days in the sun" when he grows up a little, but that we shouldn't expect viewpoint chapters from a 4-year-old. He also said that if he'd stuck with the 5 year gap, Rickon might have been more feasible in that role.

- My husband asked about the maesters and their science being destructive of magic in AFFC, a subject I've ranted on here on the boards before, and a subject he finds personally important, being a scientist himself. He was specifically talking about a story in A Song For Lya, and Martin was quick - he mentioned the exact story my husband was thinking of, "With Morning Comes Mistfall". He admitted that it's a recurring theme in his work, and that "Misfall" came about when he was reading a newspaper article in the early 70s about a scientist who'd been given a grant to study Loch Ness and determine, once and for all, whether or not there was really a Nessie lurking in its depths, and ultimately proving there was no monster. Martin says he didn't like that; he prefers a world in which we can continue to hope there is a Loch Ness monster, that the world is poorer without that mystery. But he went on to say that doesn't truly "epitophize" (great new word!) his views on science, that they're much more complex than that, that he's not a believer in simple black and white, in characters or in anything else.

- The next questioner said, in reference to the question about how Martin writes women, that Jack Nicholson had once said to write a woman, "just take a man and remove all reason and accountability." Martin said "Oh you're in trouble now!" Then he asked about name pronunciation. JAY-mee. Deh-NAIR-is. Tar-GAIR-ee-ehn. Ser like Sir. MAY-ster. Then he said, but you can say MY-ster if you want, that he's from New Jersey and he's probably saying it wrong anyway. He did laugh about the audio books (read by Roy Dotrice from Beauty and the Beast), that they questioned him on the hard ones and got them right, but then went and got all the easy ones wrong (like Peh-TEER instad of PEE-ter.) Then the same guy asked whether Valyrian steel had anything to do with Conan, and Martin said no. (No idea what that means!)

- Martin was asked a bit more about Wild Cards; he said they're pitching their publishers a new three book deal, since the current series has wound down, and that they're going to be adding a new cast of characters, since a lot of the current characters are old, and also to give an 'in' for new readers.

- He discussed the HBO series "Rome"; he said he hadn't watched the finale, but he had a feeling Caesar may die (lots of laughs). He demands that everyone get HBO because of the quality of their shows. He compared 'Rome' to ABC's 'Empire' which he said sucked ("The same story, but done really stupid.")

- The last person told Martin to take as much time as he needed with the books; that they were worth the wait. George seemed to really appreciate that, and told everyone to keep reading because he "has a lot of good stuff planned."

The Signing

When it was my husband's turn to get our books signed, he told him he wanted the Stark words in two books, and the Tarth words (whatever they were) in the third. George said that he hadn't ever come up with words for the Tarths (maybe he will, now!) He laughed and said if we really wanted something about Tarth, he could just write "sapphires" - naturally, my hubby said, "no, sapphireth!" But ultimately he just put "Winter is Coming" in all of them.

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