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!
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.
So 2011 is finally here, but before I put 2010 completely behind me, I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass to take a few minutes to reflect on the year that was. In a nutshell: Last year began badly but ended well, and in-between there were many little trials and triumphs.
The story of 2010 really begins with the end of 2009. I’ll never forget that Christmas Eve, alone in my living room watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” after Penny and the kids had gone to sleep. The mysterious back and abdominal pain that had plagued me all through 2006 and 2007 had returned, and it was joined by a new and even more disabling pain in my arms and wrists. I had to take an extended leave from work, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to return, let alone live a normal life. The doctors I saw seemed to have no clue. Things felt very bleak, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (cheesy though it is) stirred up all kinds of emotions in me about my life, my personal goals, and what would happen to my family if I didn’t get better. So it was a difficult time for me.
I muddled through the early part of the year at home and work, just tryintg to “get by,” and I bounced from doctor to doctor at Lahey Clinic and Tufts Medical Center without any relief. They threw all kinds of potential diagnoses at me, a couple of them pretty scary, and I rang up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. But there was nothing definitive and no real prescriptive course for how I could get better.
But then I went for another opinion, this time at Massachusetts General Hospital, and things quickly and thankfully began to turn around.
Within weeks, MGH had gotten to the bottom of many of the problems I’ve had for years. Two badly misaligned joints—the sacrum and the pubic symphysis, if you’re at all interested—were the original cause of my lower body pain, and could be easily fixed. (Somehow a legion of doctors, including orthopedists and osteopaths who really should have known better, had missed this over the years.) The other half of the equation was Thoracic Outlet Syndrome—basically some nerve compression around my shoulders—which accounted for much of the arm and wrist pain. It was brought on by my body overcompensating in other areas for years and years.
Since September of 2010 I’ve been going to physical therapy twice a week and doing stretching and strengthening exercises at home, and I’m already feeling much better. But because I was compensating for pain all over my body caused by the misaligned joints, it’s now a longer slog toward getting completely better than it would have been if this had all been discovered years ago, as it should have been. It’s a great start, though, and for the first time in a while I’m actually hopeful. It feels good.
Meanwhile, the world turns, the kids keep growing, and life goes on. Here are some of the highlights of 2010:
I guess you could call 2010 the “Year of the Tornado” for Ethan. My three-year-old has fallen in love with wild weather. Tornados, specifically, but lightning storms and hurricanes, too—any kind of extreme natural phenomenon, really.
It took me three weekends and two failed attempts, but I somehow built a 144-square-foot outdoor movie screen for the back yard and my third annual Outdoor Movie Night. This year we screened “The Princess Bride” with about 30 friends. It was awesome, but I have even bigger plans for 2011.
Shortly after I got into the physical therapy program at MGH, I was able to start working, slowly, on the second draft of my novel. It still needs a lot of work, but that’s another area where I have bigger plans in 2011.
Ethan started pre-school three days a week, and he loves it.
I took the kids to the family cabin in Maine, by myself, for the first time while Penny was at a conference in Texas. I love it up there. Happy to say the kids do, too.
We vacationed at a rental house near Balch Lake, New Hampshire, over the Fourth of July, with Penny’s parents. Great time. Ethan learned to fish.
I made it to two Patriots game this year, both wins. My first Monday Night Football game: Patriots 45, Jets 3.
We took the kids to their first hockey game, a victory by my beloved Merrimack Warriors!
We totally gutted our basement and added 500 square feet of finished living space: a TV room, play room, laundry room, bathroom, and office.
On the career front, I didn’t do much writing, but one article that I co-authored was picked up for syndication by several national media outlets, including Yahoo, which put it on its homepage for a day. It was a fun story to write, too.
The year ended with a trip to upstate New York to visit family and see Niagara Falls. Ethan’s excitement alone was worth the nine-hour drive.
A few other odds and ends:
The best book I read this year was “In the Woods” by Tana French (followed closely by French’s “The Likeness” and “Faithful Place”). Other enjoyable books: “The Passage” by Justin Cronin; “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann; “The Monster of Florence” by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi; “World Made by Hand” by James Howard Kunstler; “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss; and “Hotel Pastis” and “A Good Year” by Peter Mayle. I also finished re-reading Tad Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn,” which has to be one of the top five epic fantasy series ever written.
It’s hard to believe, but I only got the movie theater twice in 2010, and that was to see “Avatar” and the Disney movie “Tangled” with Ethan and his cousins. Best movie I saw on DVD was “The Kids Are All Right.”
Favorite TV show: “The Walking Dead” on AMC. Also good: “Fringe,” “Castle,” “Life Unexpected,” and “Modern Family.”
And I think that’s a wrap on 2010! Here’s to a healthy, happy, and productive 2011.
Every year around this time I like to make a list of the things—movies, TV shows, books, events, et cetera—that I’m most looking forward to in the year ahead. It’s then fun to look back a year later and see if those things were worthy of my anticipation.
In no particular order, this year’s list includes:
New TV shows: Or more specifically one new TV show from Joss “Buffy/Angel/Firefly” Whedon! Premiering February 13, Whedon’s Dollhouse stars Eliza Dushku (from Buffy), Amy Acker (from Angel), and that guy from BSG who plays Helo. Production squabbles with Fox aside, the concept is a cool one and I have the utmost faith in Joss. So this is something I’m cautiously optimistic about.
New movies: My three most anticipated movies of 2009 are Terminator: Salvation, Harry Potter 6, and the new JJ Abrams’ re-imagining of Star Trek. Normally I couldn’t care less about Trek (I’m more of Galaxy Quest kind of guy), but JJ is just a notch behind Joss Whedon on my must-see list, and that trailer looks incredible.
New Fiction: Three of my favorite genre authors have new work coming out in 2009: David Anthony Durham’s The Other Lands (a follow-up to his beautiful fantasy debut, Acacia); George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons (book five in the Song of Ice and Fire series); and Tad Williams’s Shadowrise (the final volume in the Shadowmarch trilogy). I’m also somewhat guiltily anticipating the arrival of Indiana Jones and the Army of the Dead, the first new Indy novel in a decade.
New Arrivals: Have I mentioned we’re having another baby? We’re currently calling him/her “Sprout” and he/she is due in August. Our little family is growing!
Family Milestones: Ethan’s 2nd birthday rolls around in March, and my 10-year wedding anniversary comes this September. Monumental events, all.
Year of the Rattlesnake: I make no promises, but things are looking good toward getting a playable demo—and maybe even the entire first chapter—for my always-in-progress adventure game Rise of the Hidden Sun: A ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake Dawson Adventure out the door before the end of the year.
And last but not least…
The Second Annual Outdoor Movie Night: Last summer’s first annual Outdoor Movie Night featured Raiders of the Lost Ark on a 20-foot screen in our back yard, and it was awesome. This year I’m aiming to make it bigger and better! More people, more food, and more cheesy ’80s movie goodness. I’m thinking either The Princess Bride, Back to the Future, or Ghostbusters on the big screen on a warm July night.
Yes, I’ve been a little grumpy lately. (What’s that? You noticed? Really?) I’m stressed, I’m tired, and I’m irritated. All the more reason to remind myself of things that make me happy, though.
Obviously, my family is at the top of the list. Penny and Ethan make me happy in ways too numerous to count. I love them every day, but lately I’ve been less demonstrative about it than I should be. My goal starting right now is to change that.
Writing makes me happy. I like the way it feels to build a story from scratch, to put characters into action and watch as they do things that surprise even me. I like the sense of fulfillment I get on the days when I actually accomplish my word count goals. I like that I’m creating something from my imagination.
Not surprisingly, reading makes me happy, too. That’s the biggest plus to taking the train to work every day: It’s like I’ve been given an extra hour or two per day just to read. I love it.
My TV shows make me happy. Yes, I’m shallow, but so what? I love good TV. Hurray for the DVR!
The fact that my friend Eric recently sold his first story makes me happy.
Spider-Man comic books make me happy.
Entertainment Weekly makes me happy. It really does. Good magazine.
The fact that I have a job that I actually like, with coworkers that I actually like, makes me happy.
Cool, cloudy, windy days in October make me happy.
The fact that the word truthiness is in the dictionary makes me happy.
Getting an email out of the blue from a friend I haven’t talked to in ages made me pretty happy.
The Red Sox being in the playoffs again makes me happy. (For now, anyway.)
Last but not least, the fact that Ethan likes to run around the house yelling “HAPPY! HAPPY! HAPPY!” makes me happy, happy, happy, too.
From time to time I like to use this space to write about books I’ve just finished reading. Not every book, just ones that are noteworthy for one reason or another, if only to me. This time, the book is Careless in Red by Elizabeth George. Though I don’t read a lot of “crime fiction,” I do enjoy a good mystery every now and then, and that’s what this one is: a good mystery.
About 10 years ago I discovered Elizabeth George’s first Inspector Lynley novel, A Great Deliverence, while stocking the Mystery & Suspense aisle at the bookstore where I worked the summer after college. Careless in Red is the 14th and most recent in that series.
The actual murder investigation that drives the plot here takes a back seat to the development and reinvention of Lynley as a character after the life-changing events of the previous novel, With No One As Witness. That’s what I enjoy most about these novels: There’s a lot more to them than your average mystery. They are, for lack of a better term, “literary.”
The Lynley novels are best read in sequence. If you’re looking for a good British mystery, start with A Great Deliverence and settle in for a great ride.
From time to time I’ll be writing about books I’ve just finished reading in a new series of blogs I’m calling, uh, “Just finished reading.” Catchy, no? It won’t be every book I’ve just read—just the ones that are noteworthy for being either exceptionally good or bad.
I’m kicking things off with The Terror by Dan Simmons, a monster of a book that clocks in at 769 pages and focuses on the real-life disappearance of an arctic expedition led by Sir John Franklin in 1845. It follows the voyage from its early days to its bitter end, imaging along the way a “what if” scenario of human tragedy and supernatural events that attempts to explain the fate of the missing sailors. Terror is both the name of one of the ships and the name given to a mysterious predator that seems to be stalking the British sailors—and picking them off one by one.
The story unfolds through a mixture of flashbacks, letters, journal entries, and multiple viewpoints that reads like a literary version of LOST. It’s an incredible achievement of the imagination. What could have been ponderous in the hands of a less skilled writer becomes both a heartbreaking and thought-provoking page turner under the direction of Simmons. Not many thrillers take the time to explore the human condition with such depth and subtlety.
As for the ending… it left me pleasantly puzzled. I won’t spoil anything by saying that there are several ways you could interpret the revelation at the end, and a quick glance at Amazon’s discussion boards reveals that each one has its backers. It’s a fitting ending to one of the best novels I’ve read in years.