One of my favorite books of 2012. A fascinating premise — the rotation of the planet begins to slow, causing at first minor inconveniences and then, increasingly, more dire environmental and psychological damage as the days grow longer and longer — is the backdrop for a classic coming-of-age story about a young girl named Julia whose world is literally and figuratively changing. You don’t often see “end of days” stories told from the POV of an eleven-year-old girl in suburbia. It’s even rarer to see such a story told with such grace, skill, and subtlety. A nearly perfect book. I didn’t want to put it down.
George R.R. Martin on ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 2, Real-World Influences, and Book 6 (‘The Winds of Winter’)
I recently had the chance to interview one of my favorite authors, George R.R. Martin, about his amaziing A Song of Ice and Fire books. We spoke on the phone for about 45 minutes in January, and I was able to pick his brain about the real-world inspirations behind his novels as well as what to expect in season two of HBO’s Game of Thrones series and the upcoming sixth book, The Winds of Winter.
Click here to read the full George R.R. Martin interview.
Below are a few excerpts from our conversation:
George R.R. Martin on what to expect in Book 6, The Winds of Winter:
“What lies really north in my books [The Land of Always Winter]—we haven’t explored that yet, but we will in the last two books.”
“There were a lot of cliffhangers at the end of A Dance with Dragons. Those will be resolved very early. I’m going to open with the two big battles that I was building up to, the battle in the ice and the battle at Mereen—the battle of Slaver’s Bay. And then take it from there.”
On how long he’s known who lives and who dies:
“I knew almost right from the beginning. I know the major beats of the story and who’s going to live and who’s going to die—the ultimate end of all the major characters … For some minor characters I may make it up as I’m writing. So, if a major character is going to battle with his six friends, I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen to all six friends … But the major players and the major lives or deaths or life-changing events have all been planned from the beginning.”
On finishing the series:
“I’m starting to see [the light at the end of the tunnel], but that’s still a very long tunnel. The last book was 1,500 pages in manuscript … Each of the next two will be at least as long, so that’s 3,000 more pages that I still have to write, and that’s a considerable amount of writing … I write one chapter at a time, once scene at a time, one sentence at a time, and don’t worry about the rest. Step by step, sooner or later, the journey will get me there.”
On Hadrian’s Wall in England as an influence for The Wall:
“I stared off to the north as dusk was settling and tried to imagine what it was like to be a Roman stationed on the wall when the wall was an active protection—when it was end of the Roman world, and you didn’t really know what was going to come over those hills or what was going to come out of the woods beyond that … That was a profound experience that stayed with me. It was over a decade later when I first began Ice and Fire, and I still had that vision and that sense of, ‘I’d like to write a story about the people guarding the end of the world.’”
On Iceland and its similarity to Beyond the Wall:
“Beyond the Wall is considerably larger than Iceland—probably larger than Greenland. The area closest to my Wall is densely forested, so in that sense it’s more like Canada—Hudson’s Bay or the Canadian forests just north of Michigan. And then as you get further and further north, it changes. You get into tundra and ice fields and it becomes more of an arctic environment. You have plains on one side and a very high range of mountains on the other … like the Himalayas.”
On his inspiration for the Doom of Valyria:
“A particular real-world influence on the Doom of Valyria [was] the volcanic eruptions that destroyed the Pink and White Terraces [in New Zealand]. They were … these beautiful stone terraces where volcanic hot springs water would flow out from the top … and as the water flowed from one pool to another down the side of this mountain, it would cool so the terraces at the top had really hot pools, and at the bottom had warm pools … The whole area was volcanic. One day it just all exploded—the entire area went up … So I took [that] and came up with Valyria—with magic thrown in.”
On the inspiration for Tyrion’s chain boom, employed in season 2, episode 9, the Battle of the Blackwater, for which Martin wrote the screenplay:
“[Constantinople] was one of the inspirations. Chain booms have been used a number of times in history and in battles for various purposes. So, that was part of the inspiration. Of course, there’s different ways you can use a boom like that. You can raise it early on to close off the harbor—or the river in this case—so ships actually can’t get in. But that wasn’t Tyrion’s plan. (Minor Spoiler) What Tyrion wanted to do was to lure in as much of Stannis’ fleet as he could, and then raise the chain so they couldn’t get back out when he unleashed the wildfire on them.”
On his inspiration for wildfire, also employed in the Battle of the Blackwater:
“Wildfire is my magical version of Greek fire—to go back to the Constantinople reference. Wildfire is Greek fire times ten. It’s Greek fire but it’s worse than Greek fire, and it’s got a little magical element to it. It’s really nasty stuff, and it burns with green flames, which is a nice pyrotechnical effect. Not sure we’ll get that into the show, but I’ll look forward to seeing it. I hope they do. “
The full George R.R. Martin interview is much longer. Click the link to read it!
Much like we experienced with Ethan a few years earlier, Madeleine’s language skills are finally developing to the point where she’s starting to string words together into complete thoughts… except sometimes they’re not exactly coherent thoughts unless you have a Madeleine-to-English dictionary handy. Fortunately, as her parents, we do.
Some of her more unusual words:
- Yowie = cat (a sort of derivation on “meow-ee”)
- Nay-nay = horse
- Ruffy = dog (which is, in fact, how we came to name our dog “Ruffy”)
- Blee-oo = Blue
The funny thing about that last one, ”blee-oo,” is that to Madeleine all colors are blue. It gets pretty confusing. For a while we weren’t entirely sure she could actually distinguish colors, but now we’re pretty confident she can. Just don’t ask her to name them!
The kids got a few books for Christmas that they already had, so I took them to Barnes & Noble yesterday to exchange them for some new ones. I was home with them on a weekday because Penny was picking up some extra hours at work, and really I don’t need much excuse to visit a bookstore under any circumstances anyway—even if all I’m doing is swapping one kids’ book for another.
I started reading chapter books to Ethan at bedtime earlier this year, typically one chapter a night. We began with some of my favorite children’s books: James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ethan enjoyed them, but I’m not quite sure he (or I) was ready for how graphic they get in terms of death and suffering. We moved on to Stewart Little (honestly, a little boring) and The Mouse and the Motorcycle (even more boring) before trying the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborn. They didn’t have these when I was a kid. I wish they did—they’re pretty entertaining for books aimed at pre-schoolers and elementaty school kids.
I actually had this vague impression that the Magic Treehouse and Magic Schoolbus universes were somehow connected, and having read more than my share of ponderous Magic Schoolbus stories I wasn’t too excited to dip into the Treehouse series; but it turns out they’re not at all related, which was a great relief to me. Nothing against the Schoolbus in theory—apparently they’re a great introduction to science, and Ethan does enjoy them—but to me they’re among the most boring things I’ve ever read.
Back to the Magic Treehouse books: They tell the adventures of a brother and sister named Jack and Annie who discover a (you guessed it) magic treehouse and go on all kinds of adventures in time and space. Ethan loves them because Jack is very much like him: a little bit cautious and really into science. Jack’s kid sister Annie is the risk-taker and seems to love animals—a lot like Ethan’s little sister Madeleine. So he readily identifies with the two leads, and I love the idea of getting my kids excited about dinosaurs and castles and mummies and pirates (which are the central adventures of books one through four). I also like that the series sets up a central mystery—who does the treehouse really belong to, and how does it work?—and carries that mystery from book to book, adding a new clue or discovery with each adventure. Narratively, it’s a good way to introduce Ethan to the idea that the story continues from book to book, sequentially.
So anyway, yesterday at Barnes & Noble we picked up the box set of the next four books in the series. At checkout, the clerk observed, “Someone likes the Magic Treehouse!” To which Ethan responded, “Oh, that’s me. I’m a four-year-old who just loves chapter books!”
The English major in me swells with pride.
Our 2011 Christmas letter sent to friends and family:
As 2011 comes to a close, we reflect on what an exciting and eventful year it was for all of us: We welcomed a new baby (*) in September, Ethan and Madeleine continued to grow and make us proud with all their various milestones and misadventures, and we enjoyed two family vacations (one with Nana and Grumpa in Maine and the other with Nana and Papa in upstate New York) as well as one gloriously kid-free midweek getaway in Nantucket.
(*) – Our new baby, Ruffian “Ruffy” Roberts:
Four-year-old Ethan completed his first year of preschool, and has become a budding young scientist with a particular interest in wild weather, volcanoes, dinosaurs, and outer space. He began taking soccer lessons on Sunday mornings, and spent summer Saturdays playing T-Ball. His visit to Niagara Falls spurred a passion for “waterfall hiking,” which we did quite a bit of on our summer vacation in Maine.
Madeleine, who turned two in August, has fallen head-over-heels in love with our new puppy. She’s also begun to string words together into sentences and now talks up a storm. Animals are her passion. It’s not uncommon hear a hearty meow, moo, bark, or roar in everyday conversation at the Roberts home. Madeleine’s favorite activity is visiting our local farms to see the chickens.
Penny turned the heartbreaking loss of our backyard maple tree (due to storm damage) into an opportunity to expand her gardening empire. Her new fenced-in garden (built where the tree once stood) was completed in the spring, and her first crop included beans, broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumbers, potatoes, pumpkins, melons, and tomatoes. She also learned to sew this year, and just in the nick of time: For Halloween, Ethan asked to be a tornado—and Penny made it happen!
As for me, 2011 was the year I took up hiking again, culminating with a climb of two 4,000-foot peaks (Mounts Lincoln and Lafayette) on my 36th birthday. This year I also rediscovered my passion for Merrimack Hockey—something made even better by being able to share it with Ethan and my dad. It was a difficult year at work, but after some upheaval in the spring and summer, the year is ending on happy note professionally as well.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas—and may 2012 be your happiest New Year yet!
—Josh, Penny, Ethan, Madeleine, and Ruffy Roberts
The other day, Ethan asked me if I wanted to hear a poem he’d made up. I beamed. My boy, the future English major! We were just settling in for the nightly ritual of stories before bedtime.
“Sure,” I say. “I’d love to hear your poem.”
“OK, daddy,” he says. He plops onto my lap in his reading chair. “Are you ready?”
“When lightning and thunder tear the night in two—”
So far so good, I’m thinking. Very vivid. Truly poetic, even.
“—I will come downstairs and lick you!”
Annnnnnd then I remembered he’s just four years old.
Funny kid, that Ethan. Perhaps not a future Poet Laureate, but still—funny.