Tower of the Hand

Not a Q&A

Ever since George R. R. Martin announced the release date of Fire & Blood a couple of weeks ago, reactions to the news have ranged from supportive to... very much not supportive. On Not a Blog especially, readers have taken to the comments section to voice their opinions. Surprisingly, GRRM has responded to some of these comments directly. While he is unlikely to satisfy those who are most upset by the wait for The Winds of Winter, GRRM does his best to sell Fire & Blood, clarify what he believes to be misconceptions about his works and obligations, and even answer some speculative questions about A Song of Ice and Fire. All in all, it amounts to a fairly effective Q&A session, almost as good as one we might get were we to attend an actual convention with GRRM himself.

Of course, scouring through the comments section on Not a Blog -- any comments section really -- can be hazardous to one's health, so I've attempted to collect and collate most of GRRM's comments for you below, alongside paraphrased versions of the questions that prompted GRRM's responses. (I've also referenced the original questions, too, so feel free to read those to see the full context and color of the commenters.)

Priorities and Process

Shouldn't you prioritize The Winds of Winter over things like more history stories and the Game of Thrones spinoffs? (ref)

I am not sure HBO would agree that the spinoffs (I prefer the term "successor shows" myself) could have waited. With GOT set to end in 2019, they put five of them in the works, so as to have a new show... or more than one... to take up the mantle in 2020. (Development takes time). The successor shows were going to happen regardless. I prefer that they happen with my participation and guidance, rather than without it.

We want to know about Jon Snow, not Targaryen history. (ref)

Lots of people want Targaryen history. And Dunk & Egg stories. And Wild Cards books. Some even want more Haviland Tuf stories, or a sequel to FEVRE DREAM, or that 1890s journalism novel I never finished.

You don't happen to be one of them, I get it. But you don't speak for everyone. Far from it.

Have you given any thought to what happens if you cannot finished the series, for whatever reason? (ref)

I don't plan to die any time soon.

Can you partner up with Stephen King who is an unstoppable writing machine? (ref)

He is indeed. I envy his productivity, and I love his books... but we are very different people, and I could never work the way he does.

Do you ever get frustrated at all the criticism and expectations? (ref)

Do I ever get frustrated at all the criticisms? Certainly. Though I'd be more inclined to say "annoyed" and "pissed off" rather than frustrated.

I do try to keep it in proportion, and I realize that there are way way more positive comments than negative.

The frustrations I feel are aimed mostly at myself and that stubborn, contrary, balky 'moose' (muse) of mine.

"I say: while you're in front of your DOS computer, shut us out and do your best! Trust yourself, your standards, and your process: it's what got us looking over your shoulder to begin with!" (ref)

"Shutting out" is hitting the nail right on the head.

When my work is going well - and no, it does not always go well, there are times of trouble - nothing exists for me but the scene I am writing. Publishers, editors, deadlines, readers, fans, none of that matters in the least, all of that is gone. Only the characters exist.

Sometimes this is difficult to explain to readers. And even to other writers, whose approach and temperaments are different. But it has always been the way I've worked.

When the real world intrudes... well, that's it... one has to do what one can so the real world does not intrude.

"WordStar 4.0 on a DOS computer is nearly as archaic as quill and ink." (ref)

You probably don't approve of my 1985 Mazda RX-7 either.

Fire & Blood

Isn't it presumptuous to compare Fire & Blood to Tolkien's Simarillion when A Song of Ice and Fire is unfinished? (ref)

You are aware that Tolkien never finished the SIMARILLION, I trust? The book published under that title in the 70s was compiled by his son Christopher and Guy Gavriel Kay.

I loved the SIMARILLION fwiw, almost as much as LOTR itself.

My point was that LOTR, the main story, was still finished and published first. (ref)

Understood, Mel... but here's the thing. You call LOTR "the main story," but if you had asked Tolkien, he would have said the SIMARILLION was his main story, his life's work. Yet he was never able to complete it during his lifetime. Not because he did not care, however.

(Tolkien was an Oxford don, and may actually have considered his teaching to be his life's work, rather than his writing).

Just for the sake of argument, let me point out that many many people invest their time into works without endings. F. Scott Fitzgerald never finished THE LAST TYCOON, Charles Dickens never finished EDWIN DROOD, Mervyn Peake never finished TITUS ALONE, yet those works are still read.

I do intend to finish A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, of course... but doubtless Peake, Dickens, Fitzgerald, and Tolkien would have said the same.

Do you consider A Song of Ice and Fire to be your life's work? (ref)

I really don't think in those terms. There are times when I am very pleased with my own work... usually just after a story is done, or just after it is published... but often, when I go back and reread my older works, I am all too conscious of their imperfections. I always want to do better.

Has writing Fire & Blood been more enjoyable to you than writing The Winds of Winter? (ref)

I am not sure it's accurate to say that I have ever "enjoyed" writing. What I enjoy is having written, the sense of accomplishment I get when a story is done, and has turned out well. The actual process of writing is hard work, and there are days and times when it is not going as well as I'd like when it feels like pulling teeth.

Isn't the background of the Targaryen arms on the Fire & Blood cover supposed to be black? (ref)

That's cover art, not an actual Targaryen banner. We know what the Targaryen arms look like.

"Can't wait to find out the origins of Dany's babies." (ref)

Uh... I never said anything about Dany, that was added by Bantam. Please disregard.

"Was the part about finding out why travellers can't go to Valyria accurate or was that an addition by them as well?" (ref)

Hmmmm... well, I think some of the hype is overblown but that is the nature of advertising.

There are a few bits and scenes and suggestions in the text from which one can extrapolate certain things and concoct theories... but in the case of things like Valyria and the dragon eggs, it is all possible answers, not meant to be definitive.

The Winds of Winter

Can we get more updates on when we can expect The Winds of Winter? (ref)

My past experience has proved to me that progress reports do more harm than good. Some people dislike the answer and that triggers a fresh wave of nonsense. Or they do like the answer, but having answered one question just guarantees I will get a hundred more the next day. Also, since no one ever seems to go back to old posts, I get asked the same questions over and over and over again, even if I have already answered them a dozen times.

Sadly, that seems to be just what is happening here on this new blog. Replying to comments just brings in more comments that people want replies to. And the commenters will not stay on topic, no matter how often I ask. This post, for example, was about FIRE & BLOOD, but I am getting tons of comments about WINDS OF WINTER and the GAME OF THRONES series, including some very specific questions about specific characters... questions of the sort that I have never replied to, and will never reply to. Character reveals belong in books, not blogs.

I do like to engage with my readers, but this does get frustrating.

Did you need to do a lot of re-writing since your last update on TWOW? Did you stop working on the book more or less completely in favor of other projects? Have you started working on A Dream of Spring? (ref)

I have done some rewriting, yes. But there have been distractions as well.

No, I have not started working on A DREAM OF SPRING.

Have you considered splitting up TWOW to publish it faster? (ref)

Some of my publishers have suggested breaking up WINDS as we did with FEAST and DANCE. I am resisting that notion.

What is the current maximum publishable length of TWOW in a single volume? (ref)

I think you need someone who knows more than I do about current printing and binding technologies to answer the question.

You can always go with smaller print and thinner paper to get a long book into fewer pages, but there are drawbacks.

And it is possible to publish tremendously long volumes if you don't care about size, weight, or price points. Look at something like the OED.

That is not really feasible for a novel, however.

Any thoughts on whether it's still possible to complete the series in 7 books, or is an eighth book inevitable? (ref)

My thought is I want to finish book 6.

Can you release more sample chapters from The Winds of Winter? (ref)

I don't know... I think I have probably released too many sample chapters already. Put them all together, and what, there are probably more than a hundred pages (I honestly don't know, I have never tried the exercise).

In the past, I have always been happy to release sample chapters, and to read other chapters at cons. But in this age of the internet, no good deed goes unpunished. That was brought home to me when the Dozois anthology BOOK OF SWORDS was released, and I found myself reading reviews that slammed "Sons of the Dragon" as 'old, retread' material because I'd read the story at a couple cons... for the entertainment of the few hundred people in the audience, but of course summaries went up all over the web, and somehow in the minds of some what should have been a brand new reading experience became old and familiar. It's not worth it putting up sample chapters and giving readings if it means it will come back and bite me in the ass when the book is finally published.

What about releasing chapters you've already read at conventions? (ref, ref)

Thanks for the interest, but no, I am not going to do that... for reasons stated in the reply I gave to that comment down below. Sorry.

There are too many samples available. When the book does come it, it may not feel like a new novel. (ref)

I am inclined to agree. Look, there is always an immediate positive feedback when you read a new chapter at a con or post a new sample on line, but these days the internet is so omnipresent that I am not sure these sorts of things don't do more harm than good.

I take both good reviews and bad in stride, I've been doing this since 1971, so I have long since become accustomed to the fact that some readers will not like a particular book or story. But reading that the never-before-published "Sons of the Dragon" was 'old, recycled' material did irritate me. Yes, the section was old in that it was originally written for the worldbook, but since it had never before been published, it should have been perceived as brand new material. In essence, by reading it at a con I had spoiled my own twists and revelations.

Would you be willing to share what POV you've worked on most recently in TWOW? (ref)


Is it true that some chapters from A Dance with Dragons were held back to be published in TWOW instead? (ref)

My original intent was to end DANCE with the two big battles, yes... intercutting between the two of them, each told through several different points of view. And both battles were partially written. But NOT COMPLETE, which became the issue. Also, maybe even more to the point, not yet good enough in my estimation. Battles are bloody hard, and I wanted these to be great.

The book had already been scheduled for publication, I had blown through several previous deadlines, and we simply ran out of time. Initially I decided to push one battle back to WINDS to focus on the other, but that did not work either, and neither of the sequences came together the way I wanted them to, so ultimately the choice came down to moving both of the battles to WINDS or cancelling the planned publication and pushing back DANCE. And given how far ahead publishers schedule their releases, the pushback would not have been a few days or a few weeks, but at least half a year, and maybe longer.

Also, DANCE was already very long, and the battles would have made it substantially longer. That could also have affected the pricing.

Did we make the right decision? I don't know, even to this day. I understand your frustration, and some days I do feel the same way. But back then I had the fans howling after DANCE the same way they are howling after WINDS now, and my publishers really really did not want to push back again. And DANCE, even without the battles, was extremely well received - yes, there were dissenters, I know that, readers who did not like the book as well as the earlier volumes, but out in the wider world, DANCE had extremely strong sales, rode the bestseller lists for a long long time. It was a Hugo finalist, won the Locus Award for best fantasy of the year, and was named by TIME magazine as the book of the year. So even without the battles, it worked pretty well... but part of me still wonders if we made the right choice.

These things are not easy. Those who think they are have obviously never written anything, or had to deal with the realities of publishing,

Assorted Ice and Fire

What about releasing a new Dunk and Egg story? The last one came out 8 years ago. (ref, ref)

Eight years ago? Really?


I will certainly do more Dunk & Egg at some point. The question is when and how I fit it into my schedule.

So much to do...

If you had the time, would you write about other unexplored parts about the world of Ice of Fire? (ref)

Alas, I don't have the time, that's the point.

IF I had all the time in the world, I would finish THE WINDS OF WINTER and A DREAM OF SPRING, write another six or eight or ten Dunk & Egg novellas, complete the second volume of FIRE & BLOOD... then I might go back my unfinished historical BLACK AND WHITE AND RED ALL OVER, do some Wild Cards stories and maybe a Wild Cards novel, write some new Haviland Tuf stories, spec a few pilot scripts for my own GAME OF THRONES successor shows, do a sequel to FEVRE DREAM, return to the Thousand Worlds for a huge space opera... and then do something completely different, like a murder mystery or a western.

Time is always the issue.

Any possibility of releasing the deleted Tyrion chapter from A Dance with Dragons? (ref)

I will need to do something with that chapter one of these days... but just what, I don't know.

Did you always have specific plot points in mind which you anticipated happening as you began writing ASOIAF? Has it changed over the years? (ref)

Yes, I had certain reveals and twists and scenes in mind all the way back to the early 90s. And none of those have changed.

However, in the process of writing, new ideas are always coming to me. That's one of the things that separates the gardener from the architect.

Did Robb love Jon more than Theon? (ref)

Almost certainly.

Can you tell me if Jon and Sansa will be romantically linked and king and queen of the Seven Kingdoms in TWOW? (ref)

Not going to tell any more than I already have.

Can you answer some questions for us Sandor-Sansa fans? (ref)

Issues like these should be resolved in the books, not on my blog. Sorry.

Is Danny Flint a character of consequence? Has Daenerys become a villain after burning children at the Water Gardens? (ref, ref, ref; editor's note: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Danny Flint is a minor character who lived hundreds of years ago.

The Water Gardens bit... uh, no.

How do you feel about crazy fan theories? (ref)

I am not really familiar with most crazy fans theories. Well, at least not the new ones. I stopped looking at fan boards many years ago. There are too many of them, and while I loved the enthusiasms, I did not want to take the chance that any of it could influence the work.

There are a lot of issues with "Sons of the Dragon," in terms of both plot and consistency. (ref; editor's note: I suggest reading the whole comment because abridging it here doesn't do the questions justice)

A lot of issues here.

The bit about Quicksilver was definitely an oversight, and one that I have addressed in FIRE & BLOOD. Sometimes the fans have a sharper eye for this sort of detail than I do... not to mention my editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, and publishers all over the world.

As to when and how various Targaryens have become dragonriders... well, it varies. And I think that is realistic, based on what I have seen and learned from my real world friends who ride horses. Some begin to ride when they are very young, some as teenagers, some not until adulthood. There are even cases of riders who don't get on a horse till retirement. Horses vary, people vary, and so do dragons and their riders.

The rebels at the end of Maegor's reign had three dragons, not two: Vermithor, Dreamfyre, and Silverwing. And a much larger and more powerful army besides.

In any case, I am glad you enjoyed "Sons of the Dragon."

On the map of Essos in The Lands of Ice and Fire, there is a city just east of Volantis without a name. Does it have a name? (ref)

All cities have names,

How do the sales compare, with respect to ASOIAF's physical editions, ebooks, and audiobooks? (ref)

Paper still crushes. Ebooks are second, audiobooks a distant third.

Outside ASOIAF

Is there any chance anyone will ever finish the unfinished chapters of "Avalon"? Will there ever be a book that collects all of your early works? (ref)

Nice to hear from a reader who remembers the old stuff.

No, I don't think anyone is ever going to do anything with AVALON. I had a few chapters, yes, but the book was still largely unformed, and I don't think I could return to it at this point. On the other hand, if I live long enough, one day I do hope to return to BLACK AND WHITE AND RED ALL OVER, my unfinished fifth novel. I had almost 200 pages of that one written, some great characters, and a good grasp of where the book was going.

I don't know how I feel about the idea of a COMPLETE WORKS book. Some of my early stuff was... well... not so great.

Will you be writing new stories for the Wild Cards series? (ref)

I love Wild Cards and I would love to write more Wild Cards stories... and one day, I hope I will. As with so much else, it is a matter of fitting it into my schedule. So many things I want to write, produce, do... and so few hours in the day.

But I have Wild Cards characters I have neglected far too long. Popinjay, the Turtle, Lohengrin... hell, I've never even written about Hoodoo Mama once, and she's my own creation. Caroline Spector has been doing an incredible job with her in her Bubbles stories, but I'd love to write her myself one day. She is a desperately wounded character, and those are always challenging to write about.

As for the quality of the stories varying... well, of course, that is inevitable whenever you do an anthology. You are never going to assemble any group of writers who all sound the same and write at the same level. Ideally, though, the story you like best might be the one some other reader likes least, and vice versa. By and large, I think we've assembled some amazing talents in Wild Cards, and I am very proud of the work they've done, and continue to do.

And of course, I edit the hell out of them. ((Just kidding)).

Is "Mistfall" set in the Thousand Worlds? (ref)

Yes, "Mistfall" is a Thousand Worlds story. Very early in the sequence.

What can viewers expect of Nightflyers, which is now being adapted for television on Syfy? (ref)

I haven't seen it myself, but I hear the shoot is going well.

One thing they can expect is Melantha Jhirl the way I envisioned her way back when.

What are your thoughts on Disney's Beauty and the Beast animated film? (ref)

I enjoyed Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST... I like almost all Disney animated films... but I liked THE LITTLE MERMAID more.

What are your thoughts on the NFL draft? (ref)

I thought the Giants and the Jets did well.

I just hope Sam Darnold is the new Joe Namath and not the new Mark Sanchez.

Actually, I'd settle for him being the new Chad Pennington, if he can only avoid the injuries that wrecked Pennington's career.

Are you a Giants or a Jets fans? (ref)

Both. See all my past football posts.

How do you feel about Westworld? (ref)

Love WESTWORLD. It deserves more awards recognition - Emmy and Hugo nominations both.

Who are your current minions? Can I apply? (ref)

Ty Franck was my first assistant, and he has gone to become half of James S.A. Corey, author of the EXPANSE books.

Raya Golden, one of my current minions, is a gifted artist and illustrator, presently working on a huge graphic novel.

Lenore Gallegos, who runs my office at present, is also a director of live theater.

Elias Gallegos, another minion, is a square-jawed actor who is filming a movie at this very moment.

No, you can't apply. I'm full up. Sorry.

Will you be attending WorldCon 2019 in Dublin? (ref)

I attend worldcon every year. Though no longer the largest SF con by any means, it remains the most important, far and away.

Yes, I will be at Dublin in 2019... and at San Jose this year... and (I hope) at New Zealand in 2020.

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Warning: Discussions are not subject to scope. That is, commenters can and often do discuss events from the most recent A Song of Ice and Fire book and/or Game of Thrones episode.

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