George RR Martin, author of the bestselling series A Song of Ice and Fire, appeared at this year's Boskone science fiction convention in Boston. Martin read from A Dance with Dragons, the series' upcoming fifth installment, participated in several panel discussions on writing, and partied with one of his fan clubs, the Brotherhood without Banners. Boskone's special guest, author Cory Doctorow, also read from a forthcoming book and discussed both his past work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and current developments in technology. Doctorow presented a list of style tips he hopes bloggers will adopt that include writing a descriptive headline and presenting a brief AP-style summary for people with no previous background in subject at the start of each entry. Cory, this paragraph is dedicated to you. ;)
Friday: I headed over to the Con on foot from the Med school and arrived a bit before George Martin's appearence in a panel on "Non-traditional Structures for the Multi-volume Novel". I was waiting outside the room for the previous panel when George arrived, so I welcomed him back to Boston after such a short absence, and he chuckled about how it seemed he'd hardly left. The panel topic might seem to be something he would be well suited to comment on, but the discussion got side-tracked into the mechanics the back end of publishing and distributing books. There was some interesting stuff in there: For example, apparently any book that's going to be much over 400 pages requires special high capacity binding presses that are less common and therefore more expensive to book time on, driving up the cost of the book. The upshot being, unless you have either a track record or something your publisher thinks is going to be the next Harry Potter, expect to have to keep your book around that length by the time it's finished with editing. We also learned that the way the Evil Barnes and Noble empire allocates shelf space is dependent on the number of copies of the book they order, which is generally going to be capped at whatever number of copies your last book sold, so expect less and less prominent display space unless your book makes it big and sells out at launch.
I asked the panel a question about how an author deals with no longer being able to revise portions of a multi-volume epic because they're already out in print. It was clear from their faces that this issue is the bane of their collective existence. George expressed envy for Tolkein having the luxury to finish all of LotR before taking it to be published. One of the other panelists lamented that he'd have to go back and re-read all of his old stuff one of these days because his tale has gone from being 90% one point of view character to over half of the book told from various other viewpoints. He said that he was now having to weave an arc where the protagonist discovers that people have been lying to her in order to justify changes to plot points from several books back. George snickered a "Been there." George also remarked that, however much it makes sense to do so, Stephen King going back and revising older installements of the Dark Tower series now that it is finally complete strikes him as slightly cheating.
stegoking stopped by this journal after my three Vericon reports (Note: reports discuss what info we were able to drag out of George about the fifth book at the Con) to mention that the Brotherhood without Banners, one of George's fanclubs, would be at Boskone. (Apparently one of his fellow posters has a Mr. Universe setup from whence he trawls the web for any and all tales of George Martin. Hi Stego's friend, if you're reading this.:)) So I wandered up to the party, where I promptly obtained a pretzel, figuring that it counts as a bread-like product and has salt, thus making me safe for the evening as a guest by the customs of Westeros. :)
That matter out of the way, I was served a drink called "drowned man" by a girl answering to the callsign "Goat of Nymeria", and I met Stego, Stego's wife, and a number of other people who were good company and whose names I have no chance in heck of remembering. (I'm terrible with names in general and large rooms of people none of whom I know in particular, so I did my best to socialize. :)) Stego wanted to know whether I had recorded the Westeros Celebrity Jeopardy skit (Book 1-4 spoilers) from Vericon, because he found it hard to imagine that anyone would remember the dialog that well without a recording. (My girlfriend refers to my memory as freakish that way. It probably won't help my defense to point out that I didn't actually write everything I remembered down, just the funnier stuff, or that I still remember a decent portion of it even though I only saw the thing once approximately three weeks ago.) George himself arrived shortly clad in the Squid Sigil of House Greyjoy. We subsequently had to explain to a random con-goer who came in how this did not mark us a cult of Cthulhu. Anyways, I was a bit tired and planned to be up early the next morning, so I headed homewards.
After that, it was off to George's next panel on the use of death and sad events in stories, which the moderator described as being about "Why George Does Such Awful Things To His Characters". George was chuckling maniacally through a fair portion of this panel, and joked in his introduction that his worst nightmares envision being on the Jerry Springer show and having a bunch of his dead characters show up to air their grievances, head literally in hand. He did draw a distinction between killing a character early on to "establish that you're playing for keeps" (i.e. so that the reader will feel suspense in future dangerous situations) versus killing a character towards the end of an arc towards more of a bittersweet/tragic ending. There was some discussion amongst the other end of the table about how sometimes one doesn't WANT to kill off a character and/or is prodded in that direction by an editor, but it was agreed that George needs no such encouragement. Asked at the end whether he regretted offing a character, George thought for a minute. His eyes narrowed, he stroked his beard thoughtfully, and he replied confidently - "No." If he and Joss ever get together, the world may end.
Next up was George's reading. I was speculating on what character we were going to get. George had commented at Vericon that he was having trouble with the Jon chapters, he'd read the first Davos chapter there, and the first Dany chapter appears as a preview at the end of book 4, so I guessed that we were going to get Tyrion. The day was mine, but I won't spoil it here unless people want more details. George took questions afterwards, and revealed some interesting tidbits. Tyrion is his favorite character and, despite the "no regrets" sentiments he expressed at the previous panel, he admitted that he feels hesitation over how to write him - George feels conflict between not wanting to make the guy seem like a dick because he likes Tyrion and portraying someone who has been through what Tyrion has been through, along with all the hurt, confusion, and betrayal that comes along with. George also admitted that he had a hard time writing the "Red Wedding" scene in the third book - indeed, he had to skip it, write the rest of the book, and force himself to come back and do the deed. He claimed it was perhaps harder on him than on us because for him all of the minor characters who perished in the massacre were also people he created and plotted and now they too are gone. Could it be that George Martin, like Veronica Mars, is a Marshmellow? .... Probably not. ;)
After the reading, I tried to offer the Brotherhood some local expertise on restaurants, but we quickly determined that it's hard to seat a party of 15 on Saturday night on short notice in Boston. Given that no progress would be made on this until the group re-convened at 6...
With the con events that I was after wrapped up, it was back to the Brotherhood, who'd settled on Jasper White's Summer Shack primarily because it was prepared to seat all of us. It had the added advantage of being across the street, since it was bleeping cold out. After dinner, it was back upstairs to an impressively full bar (George and Stego donated various prizes to be raffled off in order to fund the refreshments) and a bathtub full of ice, soda, and beer. A lot of fun was had.
... But the BWB were good company in general. George wandered by again to chat, have drinks, etc. I learned how the process of bidding for the right to host WorldCon is not unlike the Olympics (bribery in the form of parties apparently both welcome and expected), and in turn had to explain the old "Jesus Saves, everone else takes full damage" gaming gag because people didn't get it and were staring at an ICon poster wondering if it was some sort of weird Christian Con. (Good work, vampedvixen. ;))
Overall, both the party(-ies) and the Con were a lot of fun. I hope stuff like this lands in my neighborhood more often. :)