On teaching and writing his first novel:
"I actually completed my first novel, Dying of the Light, right before I moved to Dubuque, then sent it off to my agent. That was when the science fiction world went crazy, and the whole thing changed. I was in exactly the right place at the right time. Until 1977 or so, for a first novel in science fiction you'd get a $3000 advance. Now, though, it was the summer of Star Wars, and science fiction was suddenly hot and I just sold my first novel for I'd make in three years teaching job."
"I kept teaching, though, and I discovered that I was writing very little. I wasn't writing any more novels, and that was bothering in some sense, but fuck, I'm young, I figure. I'm still in my 20s, I've got all the time in the world. Then, in 1977, a friend of mine, Tom Reamy, won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He was about 10 years older than me. He'd finished his first novel, and then, early in 1978, Tom died of a massive heart attack, at his typewriter. He was writing and was seven pages into a new story, and they found him slumped over, with his head on his typewriter — gone, just like that. It hadn't even been a year since he'd been proclaimed the best new writer in the field. Tom's death had a profound influence on me. I thought I have all the time in the world; how much time do I really have? I gave my notice at the college, and then I went fulltime in 1979. That same year my marriage broke up, and I decided to leave Iowa. I moved down here to Santa Fe. Fortunately it went pretty well, though not without bumps."
On HBO breaking the 'likable hero' mold:
"I credit HBO with smashing the damn trope that everybody had to be likable on television. The Sopranos turned it around. When you meet Tony Soprano, he's in the psychiatrist office, he's talking about the ducks, his depression and that stuff, and you like this guy. Then he gets in his car and he's driving away and he sees someone who owes him money, and he jumps out and he starts stomping him. Now how likable was he? Well you didn't care, because they already had you. A character like Walter White on Breaking Bad could never have existed before HBO."
On his initial idea for the Fire and Ice "trilogy":
"When we signed that initial contract, they asked what kind of deadline should we put in? Oh, a year, I said—a year for each novel. Of course, I wasn't at the point that these Ice and Fire novels would be four times the size of any of those earlier novels of mine, so they can't be written in the same amount of time. The first thing I did was blow the deadline on what would be Game of Thrones, and then even as I approached that first book's end I realized I had way too much: I was on page 1400 here, with no end in sight. That's when I decided it would be four books, not three. I managed to finish and deliver Game of Thrones in 1995, then it came out in 1996. It took me three years to get A Clash of Kings, which came out in 1999, and then A Storm of Swords, in 2000."
On why the Queen of Thorns may have wanted Joffrey dead:
"Everything she'd heard about him, he was wildly unstable, and he was about to marry her beloved granddaughter. The Queen of Thorns had studied Joffrey well enough that she knew that at some point he would get bored with Margaery, and Margaery would be maltreated, the same way that Sansa had been. Whereas if she removed him then her granddaughter might still get the crown but without all of the danger."
"Taking human life should always be a very serious thing. I always loved Unforgiven, the Clint Eastwood western. A kid who was all braggadocio kills a man and Morgan Freeman says, 'It's a big thing to kill a man. You're taking away all he has, and all he ever would have, and all those possibilities. It's a big thing to kill a man.' And it should be a big thing to kill a man—in a book, in a movie, in real life, everywhere."
On why he killed Ned Stark:
"For one thing, many of the stars are [Ned's] children, and you'd have to remove daddy for them to come into their own. That was part of it: I wanted to remove the certainty. There are moments in motion pictures or in books where the death of a character has enormous impact, not only because you miss the character and you identified with the character, but also because the remaining characters are now in serious trouble."
On the show's ambiguious line between good and evil:
"I don't necessarily want to tell you what I'm thinking but to return to what I pointed at earlier, I like people that ask these questions, not necessarily provide them with the answers. So as the books unfold, there will be more and more to think about in these regards.
Again, there's always the question, in politics and in the fiction that I'm writing — which has a political basis to it — of whether the ends ever justify the means? And are the means a worthy means? We see a moral evolution, perhaps, on the part of the human race. But there are collapses and detours, and strange periods of aberration. Remember, we had democracy in ancient Greece. We had a republic in ancient Rome, and yet then somehow for the better part of 2000 years, we forget about those forms of government in most of the world and went to dictatorship, despotism, monarchy, of various forms. Only slowly did those form of government that we now look at and say are better kind of creep back in. So it's not a straight-line kind of thing. Human beings are too interesting for that. [Laughs]"
On losing readers:
"You hate to lose any reader, but it is going to happen, regardless. In a long series, readers who loved the early books may envision the story going in certain directions. Often those directions are wildly divergent. When the later books actually come out, some of those readers are inevitably going to be upset, because the story on the page does not correspond with the one in their heads. Others may be delighted. I have lost readers with every book, I am sure... but I've gained a lot more. The fifth volume, A Dance with Dragons, was far and away the most popular in the series. In any case, no, it's not something I worry about. When this question came up on my Not A Blog a few years ago, I embedded a clip from Rick Nelson singing "Garden Party. "You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself. Truer words were seldom sung."
On the parentage of Jon Snow:
Benioff and Weiss later said that during that meeting you asked them who they think Jon Snow's mother was, which is one of the earliest — and seemingly one of the central — mysteries in A Song of Ice and Fire.
I did ask that at one point, just to see how closely they'd read the text.
Did they get it right?
They answered correctly.
Some readers, I think, would also ask who Jon Snow's father truly is, even though Jon was always claimed to be Ned Stark's bastard son.
[Martin smiles] On this I shall not speak. I shall maintain my enigmatic silence, until I get to it in the books.
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