'Game Of Thrones' Author George R. R. Martin Answers Fans' Questions Live
Though he's just birthed the mammoth thousand-page tome "A Dance With Dragons," fantasy author George R. R. Martin isn't slowing down. With another two volumes promised before the epic "A Song of Ice and Fire" concludes, and a second season of Emmy-nominated show Game of Thrones (named after the first book) on the way, fans are still clamoring for more blood, sex, violence and dragons.
For those who want more Martin now, Google has planned an event that will whet appetites. The Authors@Google program, which brings writers to the Googleplex to chat informally with Googlers, will broadcast their conversation with Martin live, as he answers questions submitted by fans all over the world.
Watch the talk here at 12 p.m. PST, or follow along for our liveblog, so you can catch every last word about what's happening in Westeros.
And we're done.
"You should bring some of these strange machines of yours to Westeros," Martin tells the Googlers. "You could probably replace the entire thing of tying messages to ravens."
Martin, asked about whether he has any insight into women in power -- since he writes so many of them -- ends up talking about the demands of power in general.
"I don't know if I have any particular views about women in positions of power, though I do think it's more difficult for women, particularly in a Medieval setting," he says. "They have the additional problem that they're a woman and people don't want them in a position of power in an essentially patriarchal society."
But what seems to be closer to his heart, is the notion that anyone who must wield power will face enormous challenges.
You have to "show that this stuff is hard," he says. "An awful lot of fantasy, and even some great fantasy, falls into the mistake of assuming that a good man will be a good king, that all that is necessary is to be a decent human being and when you're king everything will go swimmingly."
Even Tolkien, who he respects greatly ("All modern fantasy flows from Tolkien, he says), has this problem.
"Aragorn is king now and the land will propser and the crops will be good and justice for all and the enemies will all be defeated," he says of the ending of The Return of the King. "You never get into the nitty gritty of Aragorn ruling and what is his tax policy and what are his views on crop rotation -- these are the hard parts of ruling, be it the middle ages or now."
And that dilemma holds true even today, he adds.
"Of course it's not enough to be a good man to be an effective ruler and it never has been," he says, pointing to Jimmy Carter, who he calls the "best human to be a president in my life time." Despite Carter's "intelligence" and "humanity," Martin says, "He was not an effective president."
On the flip side, "there are some examples of medieval kings who were terrible human beings but were nevertheless good kings."
Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, in other words. "We can all read these books or look at history and say, so and so was stupid, but these mistakes are much more apparent in hindsight," he says.
"There's something to be said for being an honorable Stark but you're sort of cold .. and you have a lot of land but not much on it," Martin says of what house he'd choose to be in.
"There's a lot to be said for being a Lannister. I could probably see being a Lannister. And I would always pay my debts," Martin says.
The world of Westeros is full of multiple religions that will never get fleshed out, according to Martin.
Roger Zelazny and H.P. Lovecraft both get a tip of the hat when Arya passes through the Isle of the Gods, he says.
"I do that shit all the time," he says. "The Three Stooges are in Book 1 if you're sharp enough to find them."
For example, he says, the Old Guards of the North is based on animism and pagan beliefs, along with other Celtic and Norse religions, with the weirwood trees added as a fantasy element. The Faith of the Seven was modeled off of Catholicism (Martin no longer practices), taking the idea of the Trinity and expanding it. The Red God takes elements from Zoroastrianism and the Cathar heresy.
Basing these faiths in real religion helps make them plausible, he says.
Which character was the toughest to kill off?
Without mentioning names, he says the Red Wedding was the hardest thing he's ever written, which he had to put off until the rest of the book was finished to complete.
"I wrote the other wedding where someone else dies and that one was easy and fun to write, because you know, everyone wanted to see that little shit die," he says. "Even at the moment that particular little shit does die, I tried to write it so that you would feel empathy for him in that moment of dying and bring home too that this is a human being who is scared, and terrified, and then dead."
"It's a little like killing a part of yourself or smothering one of your children, but sometimes it has to be done for the almighty god of the story," he says. "The story always comes first."
There is no one, however, Martin feels would have been more expedient not to kill. "There was a reason for all of the major character deaths," he says. "A lot of minor character dies too and sometimes I don't even remember they're dead."
"I would take the little one page thing at the end of Feast for Crows where I say the next book will be out in a year," he says. "That one has gotten me into no end of trouble."
"I can write 500 pages in a year, I've done it before, of course the book ended up needing another 1000 pages, not 500," he says, though 500 pages is for a "good year," not every year.
"I am unfortunately a slow writer... under delusions I can be a faster writer under certain circumstances."
"I try to give each of my POV characters a story," he says, though he mentions that at least one character has had only one POV chapter and then died. "I try to resist a POV character just being a pair of eyes."
He adds, though, that "One criteria is, do they have a story? Another thing, is the pair of eyes. Is it important to present this on stage, to dramatize it and see the reader view it, or can you summarize it?"
"I do need to kill a lot more of my POV characters because there have gotten to be an awful lot of them," he says. Someone in the audience calls out "Nooooo," making Martin laugh.
How does Martin get HBO to stay so faithful to his books?
"Candy and chocolates," he says. "You know, it's David and Dan, really [The show's creators] I don't have any veto power."
"They seem committed to telling my story in a different medium," he added.
When his books became best-sellers, he was approached by other people who wanted to adapt the books, often for movies. Those people suggested strategies like "We'll make it about Jon Snow and drop all these other characters, or we'll make it all about Dany and drop all these other characters."
"No is the sexiest word you can say in Hollywood," he says. "I guess it was true because they kept coming and eventually David and Dan came."
"If you're JK Rowling you can go into a situation where every studio wants you and you can set very stringent terms...if you're not JK Rowling and no one is but JK Rowling, you can't do that, and you have to find people that you trust and put your trust in them and their understanding of the story."
Martin credits his experience in Hollywood for helping him hold out, saying that many of his fellow novelists end up in a situation where their books are changed dramatically.
"Some of them come out of the premieres looking like their children have been gassed...but I can't think of anyone other than Alan Moore who's returned a check," he says.
Martin doesn't have plans for a prequel, though he doesn't rule the possibility out.
"One of the things that I've been trying to do with the series is to tell these stories ... in successive revelations and flashbacks," he says. "At the same time the story is moving forward, it's also moving backwards...I hope by the time it's all finished many of the gaps will be filled in."
"I still have two more gigantic books to write though," he adds. "I don't know what I'm going to write after that. Whatever seizes me... This has been a huge project, certainly the biggest thing I've ever done in my life or career, but I've done other things and want to continue to do other things."
Martin says he'd like to write more science fiction and short stories, as well as to return to Wild Cards, his 'shared world' series.
The good thing about HBO, Martin says, is that all the sex and violence was not prohibited by the same restrictions as cable networks.
The show did have to change the ages of some characters, however. Daenerys is 13 in the book, since Martin wrote out of the conventions of Medieval times, when people are considered to be either children or adults. But in a contemporary show, Daenerys could not be a 13-year-old actress, or even an older actress playing a 13-year-old. Instead, they went with a 22-year-old actress playing 17, so that they could include the sexual material.
"The novels are novels, the TV series is the TV series," he says. "They're two different beasts."
Martin writes one episode per season, and is an executive producer, but says that "ultimately that's their baby and the books are my baby."
But, it's possible that a "butterfly effect" could occur, he says. "Small change can produce larger changes later on."
Already there are two big departures he says -- on the show, one character, whose tongue is torn out with pincers (which doesn't happen in the books) becomes a big character by book 3. The scene in the show where Drogo confronts Mhago and rips out his tongue, also doesn't happen in the books -- he's still alive in the books, and hasn't been dealt with.
"What am I going to do, go back and retroactively write Book 1?" he asks. "Maybe I should." The crowd laughs.
Martin's favorite and least favorite scenes? He calls Ned's execution "moving and evocative," praising the "wonderful grace note" when Ned sets in motion Arya's rescue on the way to his death. He also talks about the show's ending scene, with Daenerys and the dragons, noting the quality of the dragons themselves.
"We always have to run the risk, if we do CGI, with people saying it's not as good as Lord of the Rings," he says, pointing out that TV is unfairly compared to movies, which have far more time and money to achieve their effects.
Martin's least favorite scene that "actually appeared on camera," he says, is Robert's boar hunt.
"There should be a hundred other guys and horses and tents ... when the king goes hunting it's not like, I'm walking through the woods with a spear, here."
But the show is constrained by time and money -- "Our horse budget was exhausted for the season," he says.
"My budget is unlimited, and I'm limited only by the size of my imagination," he says of writing the books.
Martin says he loves most of the new scenes that were added to the show.
"If I have any quibbles with the show, it's the missing scenes," he says, noting that some of those scenes were actually used for the actors in their auditions.
A lot of people were also apparently upset by the fact that Dany's eyes were not purple.
"Try wearing purple contacts and see how you like it," Martin says.
Martin is asked whether he goes on fan boards.
"What if they're guessing the things I haven't revealed yet? What if they're guessing correctly?" he says, "What if they come up with better ideas than the ones I have, do I steal them?"
As a result, he stays away -- though apparently fans come up and whisper their theories in his ear at signings.
"It's one of the drawbacks of the whole Internet culture .. that you guys have created," he says, pointing at Googlers. "Something that previously one reader in 1000 would have guessed, and the other 999 would have no inkling... now that one person in a thousand puts it on an Internet message board ... and pretty soon half the readership, or at least the Internet savvy portion knows it."
Martin says he will not publish the unused Arya chapters that he cut from Dance of Dragons on his site. "Maybe I'll find a place for that, but I have a feeling that much of that and more will still be in my files when the first series is done," he says.
Martin begins to speak!
He mentions his belief that fantasy and science-fiction (which wrote earlier in his career) are two "flavors of the same thing."
But being at Google, surrounded by fantasy fans with computers (which he says makes him nervous), makes him believe they are "one big thing."
Googlers give Martin one of the Android-Dragon t-shirts.
They will now begin to ask Martin the most popular questions asked by fans -- but no questions about content beyond the material in A Game of Thrones, they say, in deference to TV fans.
According to Google, this is the first livestream of an Authors@Google event. Martin is sitting in a brown cap and flowered shirt as he's introduced.
The introducer is wearing a shirt with the Android logo -- modified by dragon wings.
"One thing we can all agree on, no matter how we got here is that Game of Thrones is certainly not the Sword of Shannara," he says, calling Tyrion Lannister "our favorite dwarf" before pointing to Martin and saying "George, that doesn't mean you can kill him off now."
"The really cool thing about these books ... is that they're truly a worldwide phenomenon," he continues. "In India, it seems they censor HBO and they censor quite heavily. They don't like movies where the hero dies. This leads me to believe that in India, Game of Thrones will be 23 minutes long, and it'll be the most unpopular 23 minutes in history."