I get invited to many cool events, but when an invitation to the Clarion West dinner with George R.R. Martin arrived in my inbox a couple of months ago, there was nearly no pause to my quick R.S.V.P.
This is the man who wrote the books behind the “Game of Thrones” on HBO. The series that brings my house to a stop, with chairs circled around the big screen as we wait to see what will happen next to the good, the bad and the really strange characters.
And I love the books, with complex plotting, a nearly endless cast of characters, (over a thousand now, George tells us at the dinner). How does he keep track of them all? “Mostly in my head,” he says. As a writer, it took all my self-control not to jump up and scream, “How do you do that?”
George is pretty low key guy. He was interviewed by Connie Willis, who is a long-time friend. She knew George before he was famous, and apparently knows where a lot of the skeletons are buried. She teased him about his suspenders. “What’s with the suspenders”? Connie asked.
“They hold up my pants,” he responded deadpan. “I used to wear a belt, but when security started making me remove it at the airport, I switched to suspenders.” Recently he discovered with the new machines, he needs to remove his suspenders too. His solution, suspenders made with plastic grips.
It takes George a pretty long time to write a book. Well, have you seen these books? The paperbacks are over 1000 pages. So his publisher decided to create a book of maps for his created lands. It wasn’t supposed to involve any of George’s time. He’d just review the mapa, approve them and get back to writing the next book in the series.
Then the editor asked “What’s beyond the border to the east?” George replied, “It doesn’t matter, no one goes there.”
His editor wasn’t satisfied with this answer, and George then had to create lands in the east. Lands that he still insists…”No one goes to. Ever.”
I discovered things about one of my favorite authors that evening. Not only is he funny, in a no nonsense, tell it like it is way. He’s also still fascinated with the process of writing and creating imaginary worlds. He writes because people interest him, and putting his characters in unique situations teaches him, and us as readers, about the complexity of human nature.
I think that’s what drives us as storytellers. We want to explore inner worlds just as much as the places where we set our books. Westeros, the surface of Mars or Victorian England, we put our characters there to test their wills and watch them survive.
And we cheer for them, cry for them and sometimes, our hearts even break for them. For me, that’s the true magic of telling their stories.