George RR Martin: A Game of Writing

A month has passed since I attended ConCarolinas in Charlotte this year. I’ve had a lot of life changing decisions, paperwork to mail and illnesses to recover from in the interim, but it’s allowed me time to reflect and get my thoughts together about meeting this year’s special guest: George RR Martin.

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When I arrived to the panel room, I noticed a few in the audience members dressed as Game of Thrones characters: Danaerys, Jeoffrey,……that’s about all I know. George RR Martin was at the other end of the room, a moderator at his side. As one would expect, he did discuss things related to Game of Thrones, but expanded on his other works and collaborations like Fevre Dream, the Wild Cards series, Hunter’s Run and his time working on television projects such as Beauty and the Beast, Max Headroom and the 1980s Twilight Zone.

Martin discussed his life as a writer, such as his writing routine, and his well known usage of a 40 year old DOS system. Around this time a microphone was being passed around to audience members with questions, the first inquiring whether it was better for novice writers to find their niche with short stories or a novel. “Short stories are better to take a risk on.” He recommended. Martin wrote a few before he began A Song of Fire and Ice. The short stories earned him three nominations and one award which provided excellent PR by the time he released his first novel. His career has given him many opportunities to work on projects outside of literature, including an invitation from Neil Gaiman for his Sandman project, which Martin admitted to stupidly turning down.

As he further discussed his experience with comics, Martin provided a perspective similar to what I briefly touched upon in an earlier posting: that which one had when Marvel comics first came about. Like television, the telephone and even internet, those who grew up with the innovation develop the idea that life has always functioned with said innovation integrated. What my generation sees as “old hat” comic tropes was revolutionary for Martin’s generation—in his words, the world of DC Comics was “static”—once Batman and Superman saved the day, they returned to their homes, jobs and loved ones. He was right, it took 60 years for superman to marry Lois Lane, and 50 for Dick Grayson to move out of the bat cave and on with his life. The Marvel universe changed all that—Spiderman lost Gwen Stacy, went off and on with Mary Jane, graduated college, and life changed for Peter Parker—all in the first 40 years. All I can say is thank god for trade publications, or us new gens would never be able to keep up with any prime marvel story.
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Editor’s notes can only catch you up so far.

Others may differ on this issue, but I’d rather have a story I’d need to keep up with than see the characters and settings remain in arrested development after a decade. The portion of people who get agitated by the emotional swerves and sudden deaths of characters forget one thing—the same things happens in real life. The creators of Sesame Street and Guiding Light, and Gasoline Alley understood this as much George RR Martin. Yes, the media scale is that wide in terms of understanding this fact.

In this age of trade paperbacks and Netflix, we more access than we know to catch up on episodic stories. If soap operas managed to gain new viewers with an ongoing storyline and long established characters long before the digital age, why must the rest of television have to stick to the 20th century sitcom formula in it? The only reason left for a person to complain about changes in a story is if they themselves cannot come to terms with change in real life. Of course Mr. Martin had a story for that, to which he explained the difference between “escape fiction” and “comfort fiction”. He reminded the audience that his books are not for everyone. In my opinion, the woman who wrote to complain about his book probably should’ve picked up the latter at her local bookstore.

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“Nobody Lies. Nobody Dies. All is well in the land of Westeros”

After all that, you couldn’t call me too surprised when he admitted hating comic reboots like Marvel’s “Ultimate” series and DC’s “New 52”. In response he decided to write Who the Fuck was Jetboy? For the Wild Cards series, in which newer generations could revisit older heroes. By now it was pretty clear how much his perspective on comics ( especially Marvel) influenced the way he wrote as much as history.

I was not the only one to expect mostly Game of Thrones topics, because many of the cosplayers suddenly had to leave the room. It gave me the opportunity to take one of their closer vacant seats. My writer’s mind was still on, so I stayed and listened. After all this was a writer who got to work in other media and had his own series adapted into a runaway hit TV show. I wanted to learn what he did to get to that point, so I listened.

Another issue Martin brought up was the tension that often came when two writers collaborated on a shared fictional world. What is that? Readers of any medium would notice when a new writer comes in and changes things the previous writer established, the former will react to this change by killing off as many of their characters so that no other writers can use them. I think TV Tropes calls this “Torch the Franchise and Run.” Martin explained a compromise he set up (which I keep secret out of respect for the guy), so that both parties could benefit from a shared world. This is a part of the writing world I never even considered, and to hear about this was information is well valued.

The last question raised regarded his notorious habit of killing off characters. Close followers of his career would notice this trademark extends beyond Game of Thrones. For example, not long after being hired as writer for Beauty and the Beast, he kills off the eponymous “Beauty”. All he could say was this: his books were about human nature. Again, I agree.

People do die without warning, in car accidents or unforeseen heart attacks. It’s why we have life insurance. Friendships end, lives are upended, and people make decisions that make sense to them yet boggle others’ minds. We begin the day in one place and condition and end it in another. As Martin insisted with comics, humans and the world they live in are not static.

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I assure you they’ll be dressed as another character next year. That’s life.

Writing this reminds me why I like attending panels like this—you get to learn about the person behind the pop cultural phenomenon and a little a bit about yourself as your take in what you hear. If only one thing has proven static is that Martin’s experience has reminded me that literary works are always the springboard for writing projects in other media. Dorothy Parker and F. Scott Fitzgerald had their own experiences as hollywood scriptwriters. Unlike the latter two writers, Martin was being part of that generation who grew up with television and comics; he could transition himself between the different media. Now he’s in Parker and Fitzgerald’s shoes, adjusting late to the new medium of Twitter. My generation has the digital world now and the one growing up now will think of it as “old hat”, so let’s see what we can do with that and whatever comes later.

 

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Skydeck Follies (Part Two)

     When I arrived to the top of Sears Tower Skydeck, an elementary school class was in the middle of their field trip. I can surely say children are fearless when it comes to dangerous situations.Their excitement with the surroundings had them literally running in all directions, even mowing down someone’s toddling baby in the process. Even the adults had to watch for any children running up behind them. I had to wait a while until the glass casings where cleared of children. When I finally had a chance to step out on the glass casing I began to look down. 
     Maybe is was too many viewings of “Engineering Disasters” on the History Channel. Or that teenage girl who stomped on the glass casing earlier as a joke ( yeah, real funny). Or perhaps I’m just at that age where your amigdala finally matures and tells you what can get you killed. All I know is, I wasn’t convinced all that thick plexiglass and steel bolting could hold my weight (even with my backpack removed.) This survival instinct didn’t keep me from doing what I initially wanted to do, so here’s the pic:
A better compromise

     Now remember that old science fact from middle school that heat rises? well, it reminds you with a vengeance. I don’t know how the photographer and gift shop workers put up with it. The only reason anyone wants to return below is the cooler temperatures. I think it’s the greenhouse effect that the sun and windows have on the place, considering that according to the tour video, the atmosphere at that height is much colder than at ground level. Anyway, once I began to sweat, I knew it was time to go.

Hidden Pleasures of B&Bs

House of Two Urns, Chicago
     I never thought about the profound distinction of  Bed & Breakfasts from hotels/inns until I stayed in one for the first time. When given the chance, the first thing a person wants to do after a long trip is sleep. Whenever I’m in a hotel, I question the purpose of the “Do Not disturb” door hangers they give you. I swear some housekeepers ignore them and barge in anyway. If not, they’ll still wake you up with a loud rap on the door and the familiar call “Housekeeping!” If the housekeepers’ runs are limited to certain days of the week,  you’re obligated to leave your room. Otherwise you’ll never get any fresh towels or clean drinking glasses for two days.  The Bed and breakfast provides you with enough toiletries to last you until their housekeeping day. 
     If you’re staying for a week or longer, you need a place that feels like a temporary apartment. Hotels beyond three days can get really expensive, and God forbid if it doesn’t have a mini fridge. 
     Sometimes you just need a place to stay, and the rest is under your control. That what is good about bed and breakfasts: they respect that mentality. 

SkyDeck Follies (Part One)

My writing residency in Wicker Park is officially at its end and I needed to kill 3 hours before I go on my train out of chicago, which I did by catching up on an old self-promise: visiting the top of the Sears Willis Tower. My first trip to chicago with my mother was just a little too close after September 11, so mother was dead set against me going to the top of any high rise. 
Best view , 2001

However, this was 2011 now and Mom was not longer there to stop me.
     I should point out, that the sears tower was not my first visit to the top of a high-rise. Some time in 05, I did join the ranks of the empire state building, so I noticed a similar routine when other tourists and I had to journey to the top. The first stage involves rounding us up like cattle. The employees ask how many are in each respective group, in order to determine where to cut off the line. You find yourself waiting for a while because only so may people can fit in their cargo-sized elevator. Once you get onto the first elevator (yes, the first),  it flies up so many floors ( from 3 to 99) you feel like you’re on the world’s cheapest amusement park ride. Have chewing gum on you. Once your off that, your roped in again like groupies as you watch the elevator let off the next set of exiting visitors before your group can board.  By the time you’re wondering how many more elevators you have to take, an employee is there to welcome you to the top. 
     More times that not, the view is similar to what the “traffic cam” on your local news sees, but through your own eyes. It was the early afternoon, so the skyline had an orange tinge to it. 
Leave it to my 11 year old camera to filter it blue.
     Because the sun was on it’s way to setting, the clearest part of the skyline was overlooking the lake shore. As an east coaster, I was so used to the vastness of the ocean, so I found it hard to grasp the concept of any lake as “great”. When seeing lake Michigan out on the east side of the building, and no end to the coastlines at either direction, I began to understand what gave these lakes their collective name.