I am so excited to share with you today an interview with one of my favorite writers, George R.R. Martin. For those of you who don’t know him, Martin is an author perhaps best known for the best-selling “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, which was adapted last year by HBO for the show, Game of Thrones. He was one of Time’s 2011 Most Influential People in the World, and an all around cool dude who was kind enough to spend some time chatting with me a few weeks ago.
There’s an amazing feeling you get when you finish reading a truly fantastic book – a mixture of satisfaction, happiness, envy, and a little sadness that you’ll never get to read it for the first time ever again. Books that leave you with that feeling are a relatively rare thing, and Martin is one of the few authors who continually delivers them. As someone who loves reading, I admire Martin greatly, and I hope you will like meeting him as much as I did:
Name a favorite book you enjoy that’s from a genre most people wouldn’t associate you with.
Well, I do like historical fiction which some people don’t realize. I like Bernard Cornwell’s latest historical novel, Death of Kings. I just read the Hunger Games because the movie’s coming out and I wanted to read it before it was released. Right now I’m in the middle of reading a sci fi book called Ready Player One which is kind of about virtual reality and video gaming, that’s getting a lot of buzz.
What’d you think of Hunger Games?
I enjoyed it. It was a real page turner, and I’m going to read the next two books.
What about Twilight – have you read that series?
I have not read Twilight, no. I have my own take on vampires as I did a book called Fevre Dream in the early 80’s about that topic. And so, sparkly vampires in high school…are not up my alley (laughing). My vampires don’t sparkle.
Are there any authors or books that drive you crazy? Or that just don’t interest you?
Drive me crazy? In a bad way? That I’m not so sure of. Authors that aren’t interesting…yeah, there’ve been a few over the years. There’s a lot of books I read that just don’t grab me. Because of the success I’ve had, a lot of people now ask me to blurb their books. To do an endorsement…you know, that they can use on their cover. As a result I get a tremendous amount of free books, ARC (advance release copies), and they come in every week. I do take a look at them, I like the idea of helping new writers.
But you’d be surprised at how many books that just don’t hook me. I get them in the mail, pick them up and read the first few pages or chapters. They may be good, but when they’re less good, I put them down and don’t get the urge to put it up again. Then the next time I want to read something, I end up grabbing a new book instead.
So I wouldn’t say that there are any books or authors that drive me crazy – but there’s a lot of books that leave me indifferent. Life is short. When I was younger, I had an almost religious determination to finish every book I started. Even if I really hated the book, I would still slog doggedly through. Thankfully in recent years I don’t do that any longer. If a book isn’t working for me, I stop.
Martin for the Time 100 Most Influential Issue, image via Time
If you weren’t writing…what would you be doing?
I did teach college in the 70’s and I enjoyed doing that. I loved working with students. In some way I had to get out of it though, because it was too satisfying. I didn’t write enough when I was teaching. And I thought, if I want to be writer I need to get out of this job, otherwise I’m going to lose myself in teaching. I value teachers and think what they do is very important, but I knew I wanted to write.
I still do some teaching. Next year I’m teaching a seminar at Clarion West in Seattle. But that’s only for a few weeks. I do workshops and writer’s conferences every of couple years and get to work with some writers there.
What are some of your favorite TV shows?
One of the things that has been really cool for me is having a series on HBO, because I really admire what they’ve been doing, and a lot of their dramas that have been on in the last ten years or so have been some of the best out there. I’m talking about Deadwood, Rome which unfortunately ended way too soon (but the fact that they did it, meant they could do my show too). Sopranos is always a favorite. I used to love NYPD Blue with Sipowicz and all of that. NYPD Bluewas my favorite cop show.
In the 80’s I loved Lou Grant with Ed Asner – it was a newspaper show, which appealed to me since my background and degree are in journalism. There are shows I watched when I was a kid, that I have a sneaking affection for. The old Westerns of the 50’s – Maverick, Have Gun – Will Travel. Rocky Jones Space Ranger was awesome.
HBO ad for the first season of the amazing “Game of Thrones”
Tell me the best piece of advice you’ve ever received.
The best advice I ever received was a long time ago – to find a job you love. People have to find their happiness in life. I see and have met in my life so many people who don’t like their work. They do their work for money and they do it to support their family or something like that, which of course is understandable. But so many of them are miserable. And it’s weird to me because we work for so much of our lives, we do it for five days a week, we spend a majority of our lives at work. And money aside, you need to do what makes you happy. You have to find something you love.
What’s the biggest misconception about you?
Oh boy. I’m having a tough time thinking about something here.
So does that mean that everything out there is true then?
Oh, well all right. Here’s a misconception. There’s some weird theories out there, about my books. The books (A Song of Ice and Fire series) take a lot time to write as you know – and the last one was seriously late. I’ve read some crazy theories on the internet about the delay. Lunatic fans who think I finished writing four years earlier and was just sitting on the finished book to drive the price up. Or that I was just hiding it away. Clearly some people know nothing about publishing.
Who do you really admire in the world?
Politically I’m a liberal Democrat, so I have some of the expected heroes. I admire Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy. Eugene McCarthy was a hero of mine back in college. I was part of the “Get Clean for Gene” movement, was one of the kids trying to end the Vietnam War through the electoral process.
Some of Martin’s figures, via his website
What’s been your biggest splurge in the last year for you?
I collect toy soldiers and toy knights in particular. So I’ve bought a lot of those. I’m looking for a big splurge right now, I’m shopping for a car. I haven’t actually bought one yet. I haven’t found a really hot car I can’t resist.
For those of you who (like me) have no idea what the Morgan SuperSports is…here it is
What are some finalists in the car race?
The Morgan Aero SuperSports looks cool. I also like the the new Mercedes Benz two seater Gullwing.
What are some of your vices?
Hmm. I don’t really have any bad vices. I don’t drink to excess or do drugs or anything. My biggest vice is food. I do enjoy a good meal, as my waistline testifies unfortunately. But, hey – what’s life for if you can’t indulge?
Martin speaking with Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) on the set of Game of Thrones, via HBO
What are your three favorite movies of all time?
For sci-fi, it’s Forbidden Planet – a 1954 MGM film with Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon and more. It’s actually a sci-fi version of The Tempest (Shakespeare). The special effects are a little outdated at this moment of course, but the writing and acting still hold up at the heart of it.
I love all the classics. Citizen Kane, Casablanca, etc. Bonnie and Clyde is a film that I loved when I saw it way back when.
Any movies released in the last decade or so?
The Lord of the RingsTrilogy. They did a superb job.
As someone whose dream was once to become a writer, having the chance to speak with George R. R. Martin was such a wonderful experience – and it speaks volumes about Martin’s character and kindness that he took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to chat with me and answer my questions.
I have to stop here and just do a plug for the entire sci-fi/fantasty/graphic novel genre – the three are very distinct but so often grouped together as on the “fringes” of conventional literature. And yet I believe that some of the most exciting writing is happening in these areas. I believe it with a passion and I hope that at the very least, this interview encourages some of you to go try one of these books (I’d highly recommend Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series) for the first time. They are imaginative, they are exciting, they are incredibly well written – and George R. R. Martin is at the forefront as one of the very best authors in the group. Thank you again George, for taking the time to do this interview – and I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I truly enjoyed putting it all together.