Sunday, May 10, 2009

Does GRRM Owe Us?

For those of you who are wondering what a GRRM is, it is the hairy fellow in the photo. GRRM is fan shorthand for George R.R. Martin, easily the best writer of epic adult fantasy since J.R.R. Tolkien. I use the adverb “easily” with confidence if the 3,734 reviews on alone are any indication of his popularity.

So why do I ask the question, “Does GRRM owe us?” A bit of back-story is necessary before I answer it.

In 1996, Martin published the first book in a projected series of seven under the umbrella name, A Song of Fire and Ice. Titled A Game of Thrones, I was intrigued from the first paragraph: here was a whole new world called Westeros, much more medieval than fantastical, with believable characters, profanity, sex, plots, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots, and a large dose of murder and mayhem. No one, absolutely no character big or small, was exempt from Martin’s inked axe. The unpredictability of the story was one of its major strengths.

In 1999, the second book, A Clash of Kings, came along, followed closely by the third, A Storm of Swords, in 2000. Martin was on a roll and so was I, a faithful reader. Or addict, if you must know.

But the roll hit a rock and I waited for the fourth installment. All of us did, thousands upon thousands of fans, waiting for our Martin fix. We waited for five years when, in 2005, A Feast for Crows (AFFC) was published. In a different format, and with cliffhangers galore.

In the three previous books, each chapter was named for a character and it followed that character’s thread. "Cersai,” for example, followed the goings-on of the evil Queen, while the next chapter, “Arya,” concerned the exploits of a desperate ten-year-old girl. In AFFC, however, only half of the major characters were included; the other half has not been “heard from” since 2000—including the best character of all (in my opinion), Tyrion.

Martin has every right to write what he wants and in whatever format he chooses. In addition, through excerpts on his website, the next book, A Dance with Dragons (ADWD), will be the stories of the missing half. Hopefully, and with speculation on my part, they will all come together again in books six and seven (both of which have names).

The problem is, it is May 2009, and no ADWD. The release date has been changed two or three times on Amazon, with the current date set for the end of September. Porcupine poop: don’t believe it. Martin promises on his site that he will announce ADWD the minute it’s completed—a promise that is dated January 1, 2008.

Does GRRM owe us? I say yes. I have a lot of time invested in an imaginary world I care about, not to mention flipping pages of appendices to keep the characters, their alliances, and their sigils (crests) straight in my crooked mind. At the very least, I believe Martin should be upfront and tell us he’s burned out if he’s burned out. Don’t just leave the thousands of worldwide fans hanging, the fans that have fattened his purse with gold coin.

* * * * *

Boy, I do carry on sometimes, don't I. But I'm an emotional guy, and you can see the cloud of powder from my powdered wig fill the air when I'm all worked up.

For those of you who say you don't read fantasy and could care less about my excellent rant, think again. How many of you have read Rowling's Harry Potter series, and how would you feel if she'd strung you along for ten years and counting to finish her seven volumes? Yes, I thought so.


Mel said...

That's how I felt about Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I hung in right up until I think it was book... six?, and then got fed up and quit reading. And what's this? He kept stringing the series out and out and out and then died before he could finish. I call that a shame.

Charlie said...

MEL: I made it through about book four before I quit. The same with Goodkind. Martin spoiled me for fantasy, so I've slid over to historical fiction.

Wandering Coyote said...

OMG - don't get me started. This whole ADWD is so ridiculous, especially as it was supposed to have been the 2nd half of AFFC, but since AFFC was too long they split it in two. WTF? If it really was the 2nd half of AFFC, it should have followed very closely on its heels.

Mel brings up Robert Jordan's series, which I loved until about book 6, which is when things started to get ridiculous. I read up until book 9 I believe - then the guy croaks. I'd been reading that series faithfully since 1991. Same deal as with GRRM: books would go by without seeing main characters, then a 100-page prologue would appear in the newest book just to catch the reader up on characters we hadn't seen in like 8 years. It was awful!

I know you can't rush these things and I know writing takes time, planning, inspiration, attention to detail etc. etc., but this is getting ridiculous!

And AFFC wasn't even that good, IMO! I thought it was all over the place and hard to follow and bland in comparison to the first three books.


Wandering Coyote said...

You should actually email GRRM, tell him about your emphysema, that time is of the essence to you, etc. and maybe that'll light a fire under him!

Attila The Mom said...

That's how I felt about Stephen King's gunslinger series. Then at the end I felt so pissed off I wanted to kick him in the ass, literally. LOL

Charlie said...

WC: That idea about AFFC being too long and split in two was a bullshit rumor; otherwise, he still wouldn't be writing ADWD. Bantam books is in business to make money: there's no way they would hold ADWD for four years.

People did email Stephen King about time being of the essence, which he mentioned somewhere.

MOM: As far as I know, King never promised a series called The Dark Tower, but I could be wrong. And he DID finish it.

A lot of people thought the ending was crap, but I thought it was totally brilliant--how else could it have ended, since it was not a story of good vs. evil?

And I forgot to wish you Happy Mother's Day of the Century.

Mel said...

Which reminds me - I read the first three of the GRRM books, but got pissed when my favorite character turned into a semi-drowned zombie. But that's just me. I liked the style of the writing, but not enough to want to keep going. And now you tell me he changed up his style and pulled a Jordan, that's enough of a reason for me to leave the series well alone.

LauraR said...

A writer does indeed owe the reader! A writer owes the reader the very best book(s) s/he can write.

If GRRM is doing his very best on the next book (and, knowing his commitment to his work, I feel certain he is), then he -is- giving his readers what he owes them.

Also, keep in mind, if it were just a question of TYPING faster, of COURSE he could deliver his massive novels as promptly and predictably as readers would like. He's probably a very good typist. Most professional writers are. (I am, in fact, such a fast typist that a plumber recently mistook the sound of my typing for running water.)

But writing a good novel is more complicated than typing. It's also a lot more complicated than just having good ideas. (I've recently returned from speaking at a convention where I realized once again what a common misconception it is that "ideas" are what makes a novel. Ideas are 1% of the mix; plain old hard work is the other 99%.)

It's also not just a question of writing page 1, then 2, then 3. It's a question of how many times you have to REwrite those pages (which, for some of us, is many, many, many times) to get a good book out of the material. And we rewrite and rewrite and rewrite precisely because we're abiding by what we owe readers: to deliver the very best work of which we're capable.

And in terms of scheduling and delays and years between books, etc... Well, writing a good book, and particularly a good MASSIVE book, takes as long as it takes. And sometimes (actually, OFTEN, if you know the business) writers are wrong--i.e. tragically optmistic--about how long that's going to take.

Laura Resnick

Mary Witzl said...

(Yes, but you carry on so well!)

I don't read fantasy, but you make a good case for these books. Just reading your review makes me want to get caught up in this world.

Charlie said...

LauraR: Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post.

I agree with everything you say about the vagaries of writing and publishing, but I do question GRRM's commitment to finishing A Dance with Dragons.

I did not mention in my post that, since the publication of A Feast for Crows in 2005, Martin has written one collaborative novel (Hunter's Run), a children's book (The Ice Dragon), and edited 3 volumes of the ongoing Wildcards series.

Prolific as GRRM is, I believe that these "side" projects are giving A Dance with Dragons short shrift and unnecessarily prolonging its release.

Charlie said...

MEL: Martin changed his format by including only half of the characters—his style is unchanged. And as far as "pulling a Jordan," GRRM is alive and well and living in New Mexico.

Sorry about your favorite character, though.

MARY: Despite my grousing, there are hours and hours of wonderful escapism in GRRM's series. And dare I say that he is a much better writer of English than your students?

LauraR said...

"" since the publication of A Feast for Crows in 2005, Martin has written one collaborative novel (Hunter's Run), a children's book (The Ice Dragon), and edited 3 volumes of the ongoing Wildcards series. ""

Of course he has! And far from evincing a lack of commitment to his mega-series, these side projects are a very, VERY common way that writers stay sane and productive and keep filling the well--a well which a massive book of 250,000 (or 350,000) tends to drain multiple times before it's finished, let alone a whole SET of books that size.

Take a look as just how MANY writers of "treekillers" (as well as how many writers of regular size novels) do OTHERS things! Shorter books, novellas, short stories, editing, YA fiction, children's fiction, nonfiction, columns, etc. More of us -do- this than do -not- do it. And with good reason! We're avoiding the soul-sucking burn-out that many of us are prone to if ALL we do is one sole thing for 2, 3, 4, 5 solids years.

Laura Resnick

LauraR said...

P.S. The excessive exclamation points in my post should be attributed to good cheer, not trying to pick a fight.

Laura Resnick

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Maybe he is not certain yet if he is burned out, maybe he is trying to write his way through it.

I sure hope he comes through for you soon!

Charlie said...

LauraR: I was surprised when I found that you returned to comment again and I wondered, "Where the hell did this woman find me in the first place?"

So I did what any good snoop does: I went snooping. I found your website and, even though it doesn't answer my question, I learned that you are passionate about your craft and have dealt with opinions like mine many times. I also noted that, like you said, you do many other things while you're in the process of writing and jumping through agent/editor/publisher hoops.

I concede the debate because GRRM must have a massive amount of charts, family trees, plot lines, and research materials to plod through.

But reader that I am, I suffer from Nora Roberts Syndrome: when she publishes several volumes a year under her two names (and excluding reprints), then four years seems (seemed)excessive to me.

Finally, a word on your use of the word "treekillers" for thick books. A friend of mine in Canada calls them "thumpers" because that's the sound they make when you quickly close them.

Charlie said...

BARBARA: I believe the matter has been resolved, but thanks for the "I hope he comes through for you soon." Yes, just me and absolutely no one else.

Now, if I could only scare up an ARC copy like the prima donnas on Amazon . . .

Laura Resnick said...

"Thumpers?" I love it!

I found you because the subject came up this weekend that there are negative internet commentaries about some thumper writers who don't deliver fast enough to suit readers. And I said, "Really?" And someone said, "Enter George's name in Google's blog search. You'll see." (Writers get pressured all the time by agents and editors to deliver faster, for fiscal reasons. But I'd never heard of readers getting angry at us for not dancing faster.) This is the first blog that popped up when I did as told, probably because it was so recent. And now I realize it makes sense: Most people don't know how writing works, because it's something we do alone in a room and don't talk about much (because it's deadly dull to explain); and even people who live with us are pretty puzzled about what we're DOING all day (or night) in that room for days, weeks, and years on end.

Anyhow, done blathering now!

Best wishes
Laura Resnick

Laura Resnick said...

Oh, P.S. (and you thought I was DONE now):

Nora is a remarkable phenomenon. (And, yes, she does write every word that's published under her names. No man behind the mirror or anything like that.) In her early career, publishers didn't want books as fast as she was delivering them, it didn't suit the established business model. Her tremendous (and well-deserved) success as a VERY prolific authors is one of a number of factors that puts pressure on many romance writers to deliver faste; and it's a phenomenon which is being felt in mysery and fantasy now, too. I'd been told by a remarkable number of people in recent months that their publishers are INSISTING on 3 books/year--even though most writers can't deliver good work at that pace.

Laura Resnick,
TRULY done now

Kim Ayres said...

Yes. Or no. Depends on your viewpoint. Looks like the matter's been debated before I got here :)

Charlie said...

LaurA: Thank you, both for the debate and using me as a lab critter.

KIM: Thank you, too, for your stunningly astute input.

Meg said...

All this talk about serieses has me itching to finish The Dark Tower series. Going by your your and ATM's comments I guess I'll either love it or hate it.

Oh and I discovered that we have a yellow rose bush in our front yard. The roses are just beginning to bud. Still not as cool as cacti, though. =)

Charlie said...

MEG: I don't know how far along you are with the Tower, but DO finish it. The ending isn't way until the end.

And I'll trade you your rose bush for our cactus because it just sits there and has no fragrance.

I pulled the other post thanks to your comment--I consulted my trusty dictionary and yes, it can be a noun. Boy, would I have looked and sounded like a horse's ass, not to mention the grief . . .

Meg said...

Oh really? I didn't even know that. I thought I had just been corrected. Haha. Oh well. It does sound kind of silly, though, to say "a good read".

And, OMG. You totally got a comment from Laura Resnick. I didn't even notice that last time I was here. I just finished her Rejection Romance & Royalties book. I had to google her cuz I thought the name sounded familiar. I just LOLd because she spelled "fast" wrong. I guess even real writers make mistakes sometimes.

Meg said...

Her book was good, by the way. I haven't read her romances, though.

happykat said...

My husband reads this series and likes it a lot. I'm afraid to pick them up as I might not be able to put them down.

Didn't HBO want to pick this up as a series?

Charlie said...

MEG: Yes, Laura was here a couple times, and I understand that the book you read is popular.

She has branched out from romances and is writing fantasy for TOR--the big name in SF/fantasy.

And yes, she may have misspelled a word--that was her point, that writers are human too.

HAPPY It is REALLY good to hear from you.

It's easy to get hooked on this series because it's so excellent. But if your schedule is the same as it was, you don't have time to pick it up anyway.

As far as the HBO thing, I don't know. It would cost a bundle because they'd need a cast of 10,000 with horses, costumes, etc.