I actually, quite randomly, ended up following George RR Martin to the building, and I held the door as he entered. I picked up my registration at 5pm (yay for preregistering and not having to wait in line) and killed time people watching as I waited for his first panel to start.
The first panel was at 5:30 and was about "Magical Realism"--more or less, how one should or shouldn't write magic in fiction. Nothing too interesting, and Martin didn't really talk much about his own work, just cited historical precedent and other authors who have done well or poorly. There were a couple of very strange and babbly women on the panel who I found endlessly irritating. Although Martin did call one of them out on her inanity. Someone wrote it up here on the asoiaf board, which I'll quote:
Ms Gilman was asked some sort of question about inherent mythology in her world, and she stated that her world's inhabitants know that if they do not perform certain rites, then the sun wil not come up.
George then said, and I am paraphrasing, "Well, they don't know that for sure, do they? They've never tested it."
Greer: "They just know. If certain things aren't done, the sun will not come up."
George: "Has the sun ever not come up before?"
George: "So how do they know? They only suspect."
A flustered Greer: "They know, just as they know that if they drop a pot it will shatter."
A jovial George: "They know that because they've dropped pots before."
Sarah Smith: "Well in my books, the magic is very subtle."
At 7:30, Martin read a chapter from the upcoming book A Dance with Dragons (which the kid introducing him incorrectly called Dances with Dragons, giving me hideous visions of Kevin Costner as Ned Stark....). It was a Davos chapter, and I find Davos to be one of the most painfully dull characters in the series, so I haven't much to say about it. Hearing George read it the way he means it was cool though--you pick up more from having the author himself read it, I think.
Next morning we were up for a quick bagel and coffee breakfast (there are approximately 700 million coffee places in the Harvard Square area, and I wanted to try as many as possible) and a panel called "All You Need Is Love", about love and sex in fiction. It was okay, though it's not like Martin is a master of romance fiction, y'know? He did say he prefers tragic love stories (a la Romeo and Juliet) which gave me even less hope for Jaime and Brienne. He also ridiculed the concept of "gratuitous" and defended his inclusion of sex scenes (as he is trying to create an immersive experience, and sex is a huge part of peoples' lives and is necessary for his development of characters).
Afterward we got some books signed at the nearby bookstore. I asked Martin "Did you intend for Jaime Lannister to be such a complex character from the beginning, or is that one of the things that grew in the telling?" He said that he likes exploring grey characters and always intended for Jaime to be complex, but some details grew in the telling. 10zlaine told him she likes his blog.
After lunch we headed over to Martin's 5pm guest of honor speech, which was in another fascinating Harvard building. Fascinating and complex, as no one in the crowd or on the concomm could figure out how to turn on the lights, so Martin gave the speech in the dark (with a small light behind him lighting his notes).
The speech was quite good, and was about why we read fiction. He suggested a variety of answers, some of which rang more true than others, and finally settled upon "vicarious experience." Then he went into a fascinating sort of existential thing about the nature of memory, how we live only in the present moment and how we are defined and created by our memories, and so if we remember, say, Lord of the Rings more vividly than we remember the street we grew up on, isn't Lord of the Rings at least as big a part of who we are?
It was really interesting, and got me to thinking about how that applies to other forms of art, and whether the music I love means so much because it evokes the memory of who I was when I loved it most, or because it's a form of vicarious emotional experience, or whether love of music is more closely related to one of the other reasons he suggested which is the beauty of the words themselves (you could also apply that to the sound and rhythm of music).
I hope he posts the speech somewhere; I haven't really done it justice in summary.
He also answered some questions, and had some interesting things to say. He repeatedly emphasized that he prefers to write grey characters, because in real life people are complex; no one is pure evil or pure good. Fiction tends to divide people into heroes who do no wrong and villains who go home and kick their dogs and beat their wives, but that reality is much different. He cited a soldier who heroically saves his friends' lives, but then goes home and beats his wife. Which is he, hero or villain? Martin said both and that neither act cancels out the other.
He also said that he's suspicious of creators who try to answer questions with their work, and emphasized that he prefers to ask questions. He explained that those who try to answer usually end up with the wrong answers (and cited L. Ron Hubbard as an example) but that those who ask are getting people to think and figure things out for themselves. (Oh, Joss Whedon and Rob Thomas, if only you were as wise as George R. R. Martin!!!!)
He didn't offer much in the way of spoilers, but did say that we'd see Arya and Asha in this book, that there would be one new POV but hopefully no more after that (and that they'll continue to keep dropping off), that the timeline of the new book may continue past AFFC but that it depends on the length, and that we'll definitely see Casterly Rock and may see Highgarden.
Someone asked why he writes so much about outcasts and misfits, and he said on one level he relates to that, and that on another level everyone is weird or a misfit in some way. He said aside from the obvious (Brienne, Tyrion), Davos is a misfit because of his low birth (he always feels uncomfortable with his high status) and Ned is a misfit because he feels like he's living his brother's life (marrying Cat, being Lord of Winterfell) which isn't necessarily what he wanted or would have chosen.
I kept trying to formulate a question, but all I really came up with was "Why are the Lannisters the only people in Westeros who have a sense of humor (aside from the QoT, of course)?" and something about the way he seems to be consciously creating as many diverse and interesting female characters as male characters, but I never even formulated that as a proper question. I suppose it's a good thing that I get pretty much everything I need from his books, understand most of what he's doing, and really have no burning questions or things I don't "get." This may be different once the series is actually over, however.
We returned at 9pm to yet another Harvard building for "Once More, With Dragons," which was kind of musical/comedy collection of ASOIAF-related sketches. Mr. Martin was in the front row, [info]10zlaine and I in the second. It was very funny. You can read a summary here.
It was amusing to see, for example, Jaime Lannister as Darth Vader, announcing to Joffrey that he's his father (Joffrey's reaction--horrific disgust, of course).
The best part was the Westeros version of celebrity jeopardy, with Robert Baratheon, Hodor, and Arya Stark as contestants. And there was a "Lannister and Stark" song sung to the "Beauty and the Beast" tune with the characters fighting in the background.
At 1pm was Martin's final appearance, an "interview," in which he elaborated on his speech and answered more questions. It went a bit over time, because they didn't need the room yet and he agreed to keep answering as long as we kept asking. I was getting so sick of questions about like, gaming and RPGs and other such boring stuff, so I finally forced myself to raise my hand and ask a question (you have no idea how hard this was), which was something like "Jaime Lannister is one of the most complex characters I've read, and the growth he goes through is so interesting. Can you talk more about that or what inspired that?" (Yeah, I know, as far as I'm concerned it's "the Jaime Lannister series.")
So he said that he likes to paint characters in shades of grey (recurring theme of the weekend, yay! so refreshing from these damn didactic TV show runners... anyway....). And that even what seem like the most horrific people have other sides, aren't pure caricatures of evil, that even Hitler had his nice moments. And he wanted to explore what might cause that kind of villainy, because no one just wakes up and says "I want to be evil today," and that Jaime didn't start out evil--that he actually was a very idealistic young man who was disillusioned by life, and that there was always much more to his killing of Arys than just "evil."
Since he was going on so much about Jaime as "exploration of evil" (and I certainly don't think Jaime is evil anymore!) I kind of tried to ask "Do you think he's changed?" to get him to talk about Jaime's redemption arc, so he said something like he wanted to explore the concept of forgiveness and whether it's ever possible to be forgiven for doing such horrible things, and that his goal was to ask the question, not give an answer.
Um, so that was neat. (Well, except for the fact that Hitler came to his mind when talking about Jaime!)