Tuesday, February 2, 2010

George Martin & A Dance With Dragons

Despite being a huge fan of George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and being none too happy about the delay with getting the 5th book of this fantastic series out I've refrained from making comment on it here. This is mainly due to the fact that just mentioning George Martin's name on the internet seems to provoke a storm of controversy.

Last year Suvudu blogger Shawn Speakman wrote an article In Defense of George R R Martin. I wanted to give him my take on it at the time, but for one reason or another never got around to it. The other day he posted a series of questions along the same lines and asked for comment. I've decided to take him up on it. So here's how I view the situation and have answered Shawn's questions. I've included both Shawn's questions and his answers along with mine:

1. Don't George's other pursuits--watching football, editing anthologies, traveling to other countries and conventions, blogging about his merchandise--hamper his completion of the new book?
I happen to think that vast majority of those who are angry that George has not completed A Dance of Dragons pin it on the other pursuits that the man has in his life.

While his hobbies do take up a certain amount of time in his life, they cannot be used against the man for not finishing his book. An example: I write five or six hours a day when I am working on a book. Anything I write after those hours is trash and not worth the time spent writing it. My day lasts about sixteen hours. What do I do with the other ten hours? The hobbies I pursue, of course. Watching sports. Going to the gym. Writing emails. Maintaining the websites I must. Shipping out signed books. These other pursuits help reinvigorate my writing batteries for the next day.
Every writer has those batteries. Every writer has the need to recharge them in order to get the best out of their craft. If those hobbies are taken away, the craft suffers dramatically.
The question is: Do his angry fans just want a book, even if the quality is low due to writing 15 hours a day and foregoing watching his Jets, or do those fans actually want George's best effort?
Sadly, that question will come up later in the interview too.
It simply speaks to the idea that most readers have no comprehension what it means to write, or write a book, or write a book at the quality that George gives us.

I’m partially in agreeance with Shawn, here. I think it’s great that George has interests outside of his writing. He would be a rather scary individual if he didn’t. His football is obviously some sort of outlet and contributing and editing other work I believe assists his creative process. Even blogging about the merchandise probably doesn’t take that long, although I’ll comment on that further in another point. Where I disagree is on the issue of travelling and convention going. I believe those two activities do impact the book. George has repeatedly said that he does not write away from home. Some writers do, some writers don’t, they all work differently. Largely George’s reason for not writing ASoIaF away from home is due to the fact that he uses an old word processing program (I believe it’s DOS based) on an equally ancient machine, it’s not like a laptop he can carry around with him wherever he goes (I have occasionally wondered what happens if he gets hit with a great idea and he’s not at home). The conclusion to that is that any time spent away from his house in Santa Fe means that none of Dance gets done. It’d be interesting to see how long he did spend away from home last year. It may not actually hamper the production of the book that much, but it does impact it to some degree.

2. Are readers of A Song of Ice & Fire entitled to be angry that George has missed his own created deadlines?
Most definitely yes! They can most certainly be angry with George. I believe he has missed his own deadlines several times over the last ten years and every time one of the deadlines comes and goes people get angry about it—to the point of obscene name calling.

Three things about this point though that people need to remember:
1. 1) No one is angrier about missing deadlines than George.
2. 2) Some of those missed deadlines have legitimate reasons behind them.
3. 3) After George missed the first two deadlines, why did the fans keep trusting him?
Point #1 is self-explanatory. George share your grief. He mentions it all of the time on his blog. For Point #2, I'm not going to go into the details of it but you are more than welcome to read my article, In Defense of George R. R. Martin. As an example: So many fans believe that George took five years to write A Feast For Crows. He didn't. It only took him 3 1/2 years to write the book they read. Point #3 is also self-explanatory. I feel one of the worst things about all of this is the lack of responsibility most fans are taking on.
That too, will come up later in the interview, I believe.

Short answer is no. They’re not set in stone deadlines, at best they’re guesstimates.

I do believe Shawn's points need addressing, though.
1) This is an opinion. Shawn's is that George is upset and angry about missing those ‘deadlines’. That’s how he reads the posts. My opinion is different. Those posts often come across as insincere and empty words with very little meaning or feeling behind them. The only person who can really address that definitively is George himself and he’s shown in the past that he doesn’t respond well to being questioned in relation to the writing time on Dance.
2) Define legitimate.
3) That’s really up to the fans. A number of people I’ve seen commenting about this have ceased to believe that the ‘deadlines’ are going to be met and shrug their shoulders at each new one. I doubt George will give another one before the book is finished, of course that does depend on exactly when the book is finished.

The only responsibility a fan has is paying for the book when they buy it or returning it to the library on time if they borrowed it from one when they finish reading it. That doesn’t just go for ASoIaF, that’s the same for any book.

3. Is it unethical for George to write on his blog about his other merchandise opportunities when the majority of people visiting his website are only interested in A Dance With Dragons?
Not. At. All.

This is one of those hot points for me. I have read so many fans write that they are only interested in updates to A Song of Ice & Fire and, in their opinion, there is no reason for George to waste time writing about anything else on his blog. That sounds all fine and dandy, except these people forget two points:
1. Many of George's fans actually do love his other work and want to keep informed about it just as they want to be informed about Ice & Fire.
2. George has a duty to notify his fans of his merchandising and other endeavors. Those companies go into business with him knowing that he draws a large group of readers to his blog every day. It is part of their marketing strategies.
As for the people who are only interested in A Dance With Dragons news, I often wonder if these people read other fantasy writers out there too?

Yes. It. Is.

No problem with George informing fans that there’s some new non Ice & Fire work out there. I do have an issue with selling water damaged stock, stock which you previously advised fans not to buy due to the level of damage, just because you want to clear space.

I read a number of author blogs. George’s is the only one that puts the hard sell on the readers. If Shawn can direct me to others who do this I’ll concede the point. If he really wants to George can keep up his end of the bargain with his business associates and satisfy the disinterested fans at the same time. There are sections on his website where he can advertise these things and put links to the relevant companies. I may be mistaken, but I can remember a time when he used to direct interested parties to those sections. They haven’t been updated for a long time. I’m no website expert, but I don’t think in this day and age it would be difficult to combine and update these areas or create a new section for the selling of merchandise. All George needs to do is put a link in his blog to that section, he can talk in glowing terms about the merchandise to his heart’s content and preach to those that are interested. No it’s Not a Blog, it’s become an online clearing house.

I’m only interested in news about A Song of Ice and Fire from George, but yes I do read other fantasy authors. I can’t speak for every person who is only interested in George's ASoIaF work, but I personally find that comment somewhat offensive. We’re not troglodytes who camp out in our parents basements lovingly caressing the first for ASoIaF books muttering ‘My precioussss.’ (apologies to JRR Tolkien).

4. Is it legitimate for a fan who has bought his previous books to criticize George since their money has helped his success?
A resounding NO!

And here's why.
The purchase of a book gives the buyer one thing—access to the book and the story inside of it. It does not give them entitlement to anything other than that book. It does not give them entitlement over the author. It does not mean the author suddenly becomes the slave of the reader. As Neil Gaiman so eloquently put it, "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch."
The purchase of the book merely means you get to read the contents between the two covers. That's it. Nothing else.
I can hear people thinking out there. "But Shawn, I bought this book with the understanding I will get to read the conclusion to the series!"
Yeah, and you still might. George is still writing, at least as of two or three days ago. Here is where my comment about personal responsibility comes in. Most people who argue since they bought a book they are owed something seem to forget that they knew when they purchased the book that the series wasn't done yet. Every person out there from the very beginning has known this. At the beginning, the series was to be a trilogy, so no one can say it was originally a stand alone that grew and those people who bought the first book back then got screwed. No, no, and no.
Instead, none of those people take responsibility for reading George early. I stopped at A Clash of Kings because I knew at that point it was going to take George three years to complete a book and there was no reason for me to become wrapped up in it. I made that choice. It is a choice I make with many of today's authors.
I suggest to those readers who feel they are owed something for buying a book to look at themselves and take some responsibility for their own actions. They are at fault just as much as George is for not publishing books quicker.

Have to agree with Shawn there. You see the book, you pick up the book, you pay for the book, end of story. Can we please find another comment to back all this up other than Neil Gaiman’s somewhat vulgarly expressed opinion?

I do have questions for Shawn, though, . He has not read A Storm of Swords or A Feast For Crows. Does that mean he's going to wait until George completes the entire series before reading the rest of the books in it? If George never finishes it will Shawn offload the books he's already read and not bother with reading the rest of it, because hey it's never going to be completed? Shawn intimates that he also does this with other authors and yet in another part of this article advises to explore and read other work, would these also be unfinished series? Fans of ASoIaF tend to like multi volume epics and most of those are works in progress. Does Shawn buy the first books of new series and then leave them unread on his shelf until the author completes the series? If he does that I have to congratulate him for having great will power.

5. Does a reader have the right to critique an author's professional conduct simply because they have purchased a book by them?
Eh, this is a grey area one for me.

That George has been unprofessional, I agree. But not for what you think. Most people feel they are owed something by him. The fact of the matter is this: George has only been unprofessional to his publisher. The publisher assuredly had him under contract for finishing A Dance With Dragons earlier than February 1, 2010. George has broken that contract with the publisher.
Therefore, in my opinion, the only people who can bust George's chops about professionalism are his editor, Anne Groell, and the president of Random House.
Everyone else? Nope.

A reader has every right to critique an author’s professional conduct and they don’t have to have bought the book to do so. It’s just like film goers can criticise an actor’s professional conduct or sports fans can criticise a sports star's professional conduct. George has made himself a public figure and if he doesn’t like what people say about his professional conduct then that’s his problem. His best option there is to become a hermit and never publish another written word. In terms of George’s lack of professionalism I refer people to the now infamous February update in his blog. I’m sure you remember it, it was the one where he used Rick Nelson to tell a section of his readership off. His recent temper tantrum about his post being misinterpreted is another example. He should really expect it by now, after all these are the same people who have fallen for his April Fool gags and believed that he really was including 38 POV’s in Dance when he made an off the cuff comment and pulled a number out of thin air.

6. Doesn't George have an obligation to finish books in a timely manner so his fans don't have to keep re-reading his previous books over and over again?
See the last part of my answer for question #4. It gets at personal responsibility for reading a series that is not yet finished.

No, the only obligation George has is to himself to finish what he started and give himself a sense of accomplishment….oh and to his publisher for the faith and patience shown. Why would he care how often the fans read the books? That’s a fans choice. Nothing to do with the author.

7. Does George have writer's block?
The comment about George having writer's block comes up all of the time on the internet(s).

It is usually brought up by people who have no understanding of what writer's block truly is.
I think Terry Brooks best described it. He says writer's block is the inability of a writer to have thought their story through far enough to not get caught writing into a corner.
I go in depth about this in In Defense of George R. R. Martin. In short, George is a freewriter. When he sits down at his keyboard, he never knows where the story is going to take him. He doesn't outline every character's path to the conclusion. When a character goes down the wrong path, he usually doesn't know it until weeks or even months of work have been put it. By that time it is too late. He has lost that time and he must start over. Starting over takes time too. This is why it takes George on average 3 1/2 years per book.
With A Dance With Dragons, he has written himself into a knot that he is trying to unravel in a way that works for what will come next. He has spoken of this knot several times on his blog. Last week he even shared that one of the chapters he had "finished" four or five times before is perhaps correctly written now.
The point I wish to make is this: George writes the same way he did 19 years ago when he began writing A Game of Thrones. He had a type of writer's black back then. It isn't going to change now. It is the same craft of writing that has given fans such enjoyment during the first four books. To decry that which has given such pleasure is hypocrisy.

I don’t believe George has writer’s block. It depends on how you define writer’s block. I see it is a complete and total inability to create. George does not have that, he’s finished a number of written projects this year and he is working on Dance, a few recent updates have said as much. Is he struggling? Yes, but that’s not block.

8. Isn't the best way to show our displeasure with George is to not buy A Dance With Dragons when it is published?
Yup. Exactly. That is your power as the consumer. If you are truly upset with him at taking five years to write Dragons—which is longer than it normally takes him—then your only recourse is to boycott his books.

Of course, I doubt those fans who are angriest at George will be able to stay away from buying the forthcoming book on the day it is published. Still, it comes down to personal responsibility again. Ironically, the people who are angriest are also their own worst enemies.

Yes, it is. That again is a fan choice. You could get the book from your local library and that way you can have your cake and eat it too.

9. If it has taken George ten years to write the last two books, how long will it take him to write The Winds of Winter?
As I said in my previous article, it really only took George 3 1/2 years to write the book you all know as A Feast For Crows. It has taken him 5 years to write Dance.

That said, pegging how long it will take him to write Winds is difficult. Here is what I know. George is in the middle of his story, arguably the most difficult part of the tale to write. He has created the characters, set them in motion, and now they are being set up in a correct way to march toward the series conclusion. Like a chess match, it takes many of the right moves in the middle of the game to get the checkmate at its end. In Dragons, George is having to set up every character just the right way. The pivotal point of the series is now. It is why it is taking George longer than usual.
Once set into motion, those characters march to their destinies. I think George will have an easier time of writing The Winds of Winter than the last two books. I will say 3-4 years after Dragons is delivered, published, and its resultant tour finished.
I base this simply on the math of how long it took him to write the previous four books, which I talk about in the In Defense article.

As Shawn has argued in the past, writing is an inexact science, it cannot be based on how long George took to write the previous four books. It’s also a shifting measure, at least until Dance is completed. No one, including George, can answer that question. If you asked George 4 ½ years ago how long it would take to write Dance, he wouldn’t have answered: I’ll still be working on it in 2010. If Shawn has not read the 3rd & 4th books how does he know that the pivotal point in the series is now?

10. Isn't it insulting that George thinks he doesn't owe his readers anything? Doesn't he owe us, at the very least, the conclusion of the series since he is living off of the money that we paid him?
I spoke about this earlier. Two things: A book purchased gives the fan a right to said book, and said book only. Personal responsibility.

This question has already been asked at least twice in the article and the answer is still no. I will repeat myself: beyond paying for the book or returning it in a timely manner the fan has no responsibility. That’s how it works. The author writes the book, the publisher publishes it, the consumer buys it. It’s that simple.

11. Has George ever apologized for the lateness of his last two books?
Repeatedly. If people think he hasn't, they should probably go back and read his blog. No one is more upset about him and he says as much often.

Last two books? Was A Storm of Swords late? I thought that one was written in record time. I don’t remember there being an apology for A Feast for Crows as such, he did admit that it was hard to write at the back of the book, though and acknowledged his fans in general for their patience and support, he then said he hoped that Dance would be completed in about a year. That was dated June 2005.

12. Don't readers have an obligation to be patient with a man who is arguably writing one of the best fantasy series of all time and wants it done right, one that will be read long after his grandchildren are gone?
George has been called the American Tolkien. The label is more fitting than most people even know. The Lord of the Rings is considered the masterwork of the fantasy genre. Look up how long it took Tolkien to write it, to get it right. Look up how many drafts it went through. This should give some kind of scale about why it is taking George so long to write Ice & Fire—and why its completion in the right way is so important to him and should be to the fans.

No! The fan has no obligation other than paying for the book. The Tolkien comparison is irrelevant in a number of ways and has been addressed by other people so I won’t even bother to comment on it. Until the series is completed and been assessed and stood the test of time then no one can argue that it is one of the best fantasy series of all time. In fact given that Shawn has not read anything past A Clash of Kings I find it staggering that he can even write that with a straight face.

13. Do his other activities and hobbies like conventions, traveling, editing anthologies, and watching football actually help his writing?

Right back to the beginning of the interview. Read question #1 and its answer for the answer to this one.

As I said in my first answer, mostly yes. With the exception of the cons, which from an outsider's point of view (that's me) appear to be backslapping sessions and an opportunity for George to catch up with some old friends and have adoring fans boost his ego, I think the other things are excellent outlets and do ultimately assist in the creation of quality work.

Now I've done and said all that I'm nervous. I fully expect my points to be torn apart and I guess I asked for that by doing this. It's just how I feel and how I see things. I think in all of this people from both camps should remember that when all is said and done it is just a book. It will come out when it comes out and that is all there is to it.


  1. Hear, hear!
    And why I'm anonymous? You're much braver man than I am.

  2. Regarding conventions, some cons are more vacation than work. Others are more work than vacation.

    As anyone who's tried to schedule a sit down with a bestselling author like Gaim or GRRM at Worldcon knows, it's an incredibly busy time for them with numerous meetings with publishers, editors, collaborators, and so on. It's definitely (mostly) work, and underscores how much the publishing business still depends on networking and the personal touch.

  3. Probably one of the most intelligent responses I've seen so far and I'm quite a fierce Martin detractor.

    Well done Cerebus. You have my full respect for this blog.

    Mr Mysterious

  4. Thankyou all for taking the time to read and comment on my thoughts on this matter.
    Anonymous 1, please don't be afraid here. Hopefully people will read my post, think about it and not become abusive.
    Anonymous 2, I was being flippant when I wrote those comments, and I do know that authors and others in the publishing industry often view the conventions as a place or business. George Martin seems to enjoy the social side of the conventions, it certainly comes across that way in his posts about them on his Not a Blog. He seems to use them as a place to enjoy himself and relax, I'm all for that. Mr Martin needs a proper work life balance, as we all do. The point that I was referring to was do George's interests, including travelling and attending conventions affect the work on ADwD, as George cannot write on the road, yes those two particular activities do affect his progress on the book.
    Mr Mysterious, thank you very much for your kind words. I don't think becoming abusive and resorting to personal insults really adds much to any proper adult discussion.