My attention has been drawn to George RR Martin’s recent posting on his LiveJournal, in which he notes that some of his fans have begun to get testy that Dance With Dragons, the next installment of his fantasy series, is not already on their table to be read, and that they think he’s spending too much time doing other projects, or traveling to various places, or watching football, or sleeping, or whatever. His response was to quote Ricky Nelson at them, which, aside from probably confusing the substantial chunk of his fans whose only aquaintance with Nelson might be a vague recollection of the musical twin terrors his sons turned out to be, is also ironic because Nelson died relatively young, leaving fans who were hoping for a comeback well in the lurch.
But that wasn’t GRRM’s point; the Nelson song GRRM was pointing to was “Garden Party,” which was Nelson’s reaction to pissy fans who were upset that he was doing things he was interested in, not things they were interested in. The relevant quote in the song is this one: “you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” There is irony in that the song, in which Nelson basically told his fans to piss off, became one of his biggest hits. But never mind that.
What you should mind is the fact Nelson was right, and GRRM was right to quote him. Some fans do have a tendency to forget that the creative folks they love are not simply black boxes, who produce desired product at regular intervals. They’re actually real people who do other things than just what the fans want them to do, because humans from time to time want to do the things they want to do, not the things other people want them to do. Yes, some fans don’t like that, but you know what, screw the type of fan who thinks a writer (or musician, or actor, or whatever) exists only to provide them with the entertainment of their choosing.
I’ll go personal here and talk about my own experience. As most of you know, the books in my Old Man’s War series are my most popular ones; each of the four novels have done very well and even the shorter works are pretty popular. There are people who would be delighted if all I did was write OMW universe books from now until the hopefully long-future date at which I drop. But thing is, at the moment, I have no plans to write any more OMW books. It’s not to say I never will, if I figure out what I want to do with that universe from here. I expect I may. But at the moment: Nope. I’ve got other things I’m working on which at the moment interest me more.
Now, I know this annoys some people — my matrix of ego-surfing search engines alerts me to many incidents of fan entitlement, particularly as regards the OMW universe — but I don’t think they understand what they’re asking for. Yes, I could write OMW #5 at the moment, but I guarantee it would suck, because at the moment I don’t know what I would write about, and thus OMW #5 would simply be a bit of commercial hackery, and it would show. And these same fans would say “Yeah, the series used to be good, but then he started phoning it in around book five.” You know, if I’m going to annoy a fan, I’d prefer to annoy a fan by not writing a book that sucks, than by writing one that does.
Bear in mind that my success, in terms of sales and notoriety, is a notch or two down from GRRM’s; I have fans who are annoyed that I have no OMW books in the pipeline, but he has legions of fans enraged that he’s not finished with his book. And I guess my question for them is: Well, do you want the book now, or do you want the book that GRRM is happy with? I suppose we could shove GRRM into a room with a word processor and put him on the Brian Wilson diet, in which we all give him a cheeseburger only after he’s completed a new chapter, but the book you’d get isn’t the book those fans would want.
I don’t want to hazard guessing how GRRM does his creative thing, but I’ll say this: The reason GRRM’s series is so damn popular is because he’s created this immense, complex world strewn with characters readers love to follow. When you do this, it doesn’t get easier building on it, it gets harder, especially if you’re trying to maintain quality control. This isn’t like a television series (or their literary spinoffs), where you have several writers working in the universe sharing the load; it all comes down to this single guy, pulling it all out of a single brain.
Seriously, people, WTF? Give the man a friggin’ break. Yes, it’s taking a while. Yes, he’s doing other things. But I assume it’s taking time because GRRM believes it’s worth getting right, and I assume he’s doing other things because he wants to stay sane. Let the guy do what he needs to do to make himself happy, and happy with the writing. You’ll benefit from a book that you’ll actually want to read, as opposed to a book that is simply there to have.
All of this comes around again to the question of what authors owe their readers. My opinion on this is that what authors owe their readers is that when their book comes out, it is, in the estimation of the author, as good as the author can make it. Everything else — how much time it takes, what else the author is doing with his time, so on and so forth — is neither here nor there. Now, certainly some fans may think differently about that. But they’re not writing the book. It’s a subtle yet telling difference, there.