If you haven't heard of George R.R. Martin's five-book-and-counting fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire, odds are you've been living with wildlings up beyond the Wall. That or you're just more familiar with the acclaimed television adaptation "A Game of Thrones," currently wrapping its second season on HBO. Either way, you can understand why the creator of Westeros is commonly referred to as America's Tolkien. Dragons, swords, crowns, mystical dreamswhat's not to love?
When I heard Martin was going to be in Missoula for this weekend's MisCon 26, I nearly lost my head. His schedule these days is chaotic, his con appearances scarce. Martin is actively writing for and promoting the HBO series. He's also hard at work on the sixth and supposedly second-to-last installment of his books, The Winds of Winter. Still, Martin agreed to take some time to chat about his fictional land of Westeros, the challenges of bringing it to television and why he chose Missoula as one of his few Con stops for 2012.
Indy: First off, I have to say, I've been a huge fan of the books for years. Where on earth did you come up with such an expansive and detailed world?
George R.R. Martin: It didn't all come in a bolt of lightning. It's sort of grown. There are some writers who create their worlds first. [J.R.R.] Tolkien was famous for that. He began work on the world we now call Middle Earth with the Silmarillion when he was in the trenches of World War I, and continued to deepen and enrich it and create more aspects of it throughout his lifetime. He didn't actually write a story in the worldThe Hobbit being the firstuntil he'd been working on it for more than 20 years. That's not how I do it. For me, the story comes first and the world's grown with the story. When I first started writing this in 1991, I had the characters and a scene that had come to me very vividly, the first chapter where they find the direwolf pups. But I didn't really know what the world was, who the people were, what were around them. ... I'm still adding things. I'm still hopefully making the world deeper and wider and richer on all levels.
Indy: I have a hard enough time myself keeping track of the characters and allegiances and such. How do you keep it all straight while plotting the course forward?
GM: With increasing difficulty. The books are large, and they've gotten very complex. There are times when I question my sanity and say, "Why did I ever get into this? Why did I toss all these balls in the air?" [Laughs] Having tossed them in the air, though, I feel compelled to keep on juggling as fast as I can. For the most part, I think it works. But I have files on my computer. I have genealogies, I have maps, I have timelines with major events in Westerosi historyall these things I've developed over the years. But I have less of all of that than you might actually imagine. Most of this stuff is still in my head.
Indy: What brings you to the Missoula Convention? Do you have a sizeable fan base here that was screaming out for you to come visit?
GM: I'll find out. I've never been to Montana before. I get a lot of these convention invitations. ... I've been going to science fiction/fantasy conventions since 1971, when I sold my first story. Of course, these days I get a lot more invitations than I ever had before, given the popularity of the show and the books. I can only do about six a year; any more than that and I wouldn't get any work done at all. MisCon invited me about three years ago. I was glad to accept. I like to go to different parts of the country and give my readers a chance to meet me and me to meet them. The three years have gone by in the wink of an eye, and we're about to fly in.
Indy: You've been participating as a writer on the show as well. In fact, you wrote this weekend's battle-heavy episode "Blackwater," which airs while you're here at MisCon. Is it tricky adapting your own material for the screen?
GM: It's one of the hardest things to do. The process of adaptation inevitably means that you have to cut things, you have to change things. When you're writing it in prose form, you can just let it all hang out and write something as big as the imagination. That's certainly true for the Battle of Blackwater, which is gigantic. But when you're doing a TV show, you have certain hard realities: the budget that you have to work with, the shooting schedule, the run time. You don't get to have an hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half because you want it. I can add extra pages to a book or a chapter. I can't add extra pages to a script. ... I can't say it's a fun process, but I think it's worthwhile when the final product turns out good, and I think "Blackwater" has turned out very well.
Indy: Is there any character on the show who you've felt closely resembles the original creation from the books?
GM: Certainly Peter Dinklage as Tyrion. He's the perfect Tyrion. We didn't even look at anyone else for that role. We did not do any auditions, we did not have any readings, we did not explore anyone else. We knew we wanted Peter Dinklage. He was really the only one who could play the role.
Indy: Has your involvement with the show helped you at all with the creative process on the books, or are you trying to keep those two things separate, the books and the show?
GM: Well, they are separate things. But it's all taking place in the same world and it's about largely the same characters, so as long as I sort of keep my head in Westeros, it all helps.
Author George R.R. Martin will be appearing this weekend at MisCon 26, at Ruby's Inn and Convention Center, with book signings the mornings of Saturday, May 26, and Monday, May 28, and a reading at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 27. Don't miss the latter, as it could be a new excerpt from the next book, The Winds of Winter. Go to miscon.org for more info.