Posted on February 23, 2009 Posted by John Scalzi 308 Comments
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.
Glad another pro writer is weighing in on this. I couldn’t agree with you more.
How enjoying GRRM’s brilliant fantasy series somehow morphs into this venomous rage of entitlement completely baffles me.
I want the next book yesterday too, but I also want it to be as great as all the others.
Leave the man be, I say. It will be done when its done.
I won’t rush you for quality.
I only think maybe only a few of them are afraid of a Robert Jordan type senario. That they are left with out that final novel and forbid anything happens to Mr. Martin.
But only just a few of them, the rest..Lay the F off.
What you said, John. As a cast of thousands including myself have conveyed to George, we don’t want it Thursday, we want it right. We’ll wait.
You’re asking people to be reasonable and think. On the net. Come on now, you’ve been around long enough to remember Usenet, hell, you worked for the company that spawned the Endless September…you should know better.
How dare that scribe monkey not work eighteen hours a day over a hot keyboard to provide us with entertainment! Don’t my $24.95 buy me the right to tell the author what, when, and how to write their books?
Good grief. I love the “Knights Who Say ‘Fuck'” books, but there’s a part of me that would clap in delight if GRRM were to deliver Dance With Dragons, turn around, and tell those whiners that he’s so annoyed with being hounded thusly that he’s not going to write shit anymore, and play in his Olympic-sized swimming pool of cash instead, kthxbye.
And to make these fans even more annoyingly whiny and selfish, “pulling a Robert Jordan,” as if Jim purposely died just to spite them.
As an author just starting to make her splash, I’m hoping to one day have pissy fans. I agree with you–the book need to be right, not fast–but it’d be kind of nice to know there are folks out there howling for the next DragonEye, PI novel.
And if they come after me with pitchforks, I’ll sic Vern after them. :)
Ah, Endless September…
I will admit to saying a few not-so-choice words when I finished the previous volume, but come ON people. Everything I do takes longer than expected (even though I’ve been doing most of it for decades), and it’s only going to be a zillion times worse with a project that complicated.
Last paragraph: Word. Freaking word.
I want to preface my remarks with the admission that GRRM is perfectly within his rights to release his books whenever he pleases, and we fans will certainly take what he gives us and devour it with gusto.
But, I must quibble with parts of your argument.
1) Comparing the OMW series with A Song of Fire and Ice is a little ridiculous. You can leave your OMW stuff where it is because you don’t have a dozen or more loose ends hanging about everywhere. Part of what makes GRRM’s series so engrossing is that every time he resolves one subplot, he starts three more. At this point, I can’t even count the number of unresolved subplots he’s juggling (yes, that makes it hard to write, but it also makes it imperative that he not stop here!).
2) In the afterword of Feast for Crows, he all but admitted that he had the next novel done, because he’d originally written it all at once and lopped it up Tolkein-style so that Dance with Dragons is supposed to follow all the characters that he’d ignored in FFC. Surely there was significant revision involved in separating the two books, but it’s been a few years now, so one can hardly blame the fans for getting twitchy when they’ve known the next one has been “almost” done for a few years.
That said, I’ve not been harassing him, and just hope he finishes the series. I just wanted to express a little sympathy for the needy fans.
As guest of honor at Boskone last week, Jo Walton mentioned a similar phenomenon — specifically replying to my question concerning people who think she spends too much time on LiveJournal instead of writing novels. Her response went something like this:
“When you see your surgeon at the supermarket, do you say, ‘Why aren’t you off cutting somebody up?'”
My only concern with him taking 4+ years between books is that he’ll end up dying before he finishes the series (a la Robert Jordan). He’s not getting any younger, after all. Regardless, though, I’ve never understood the entitlement that many of my nerd bretheren feel… just because you’re a fan doesn’t mean you get to dictate to the creator. I’ve got a comic I like to read where the artist updates 4 times in a month and then takes 9 months to slack off for a while… it’s his perrogative to do it. He’ll never build up a solid fan base, but if he doesn’t care, that’s not my problem.
It’s true, we forget so often that there is a world beyond our narrow sets of interests and our desire to feed our own wants. I would so rather have people enjoy a book as the piece of art that it is, savor it, then look around for something else, rather than the glutteny of ‘more, more…’. It’s one of the reasons I’ve avoided those “60s scifi TV show” conventions for so long, after one or two exposures to people who were rather too ‘engaged’ for my comfort.
Authors are a treasured resource. Access and response like we have here is rare and we should feel privileged. I heartily agree with JS and GRRM’s sentiments.
If you don’t want it so hard, then you will be happier discovering it when it appears.
It being I have absolutely no clue what work(s) of George R.R. Martin are being discussed, I shall comment upon the OMW books. In regards to the third book, there is closure to the series. I presume that Zoe’s Tale dovetails back into that closure point as well. The points have been made, the epic journey has been completed. I’m glad for being able to hitch a ride along with the main characters and see the wonderful sights, and even more glad that I, as a reader, wasn’t left hanging as others have– what comes to mind is Rick Cook’s Wizardry books, wherein the author had problems in life that precluded putting closure into his books, or Robert Asprin’s untimely death, at which point the Myth books had a form of closure, but he’d just started a new series.
I suppose, in a roundabout way, that I am agreeing with Scalzi’s point. A part of me also wonders when fans might rile up an author enough to discover that said author is a bit contrary– push and gripe too much, and they might decide whatever money isn’t worth it to give that sort of fan what they want.
It is a compliment to a writer when the readers want more. As Bob (#12) points out, people don’t clamor for surgery. I hardly ever meet a student who is impatient with me for not reading his paper yet. Of course, few college students have a fully developed writer ego.
Fan being short for “fanatic”, I think any effort to reason with a fan, whether GRRM’s, Scalzie’s or Nelson’s, is just so much air. They want what they want, and like the Terminator, they’ll keep coming until they get it.
And in GRRM’s case, which is not Scalzi’s, the fans are not completely in left field. GRRM marketed his book as part of a 6 book series (now possibily expanded to 7). Fans became fans, in part, because they were going to be treated to a mulit-volume fantasy epic. If fans are irritable that they aren’t getting what they were promised, that should be understandable to GRRM and his publishers. Scalzi had the good sense to write stand alone novels, unlike GRRM who is essentially writing one massive novel in 6-7 parts.
Anyway, I hope GRRM does whatever makes him happy. If he publishes his work, I’ll read it. If he doesn’t, I’ll read something else. Maybe Scalzi will write a fantasy epic someday. Will we be so lucky?
Right on, John. I love it when content producers say stuff like this–because it’s true. The fans aren’t “owed” anything. Sure, I’m on pins and needles waiting for the last WoT book, but that’s my problem, not the author(‘)s(‘).
On a tangent (hey, I’m good at that), have a listen to Tool’s song about the same thing. I don’t think I can post the name of it here, being polite company, but you could probably do a google search on the lyric: “Sold my soul to make a record” and you’ll find it pretty fast.
I don’t mind if a WIP needs to be delayed for quality.
What bothers me is when a work is finished, but not released because the studio wants to hype it up and release it later, after fans have been languishing for it for half a year longer than expected. (And yes, I’m talking about Harry Potter.)
What, you mean I don’t get what I want by whining for it?
For my part, I hope GRRM takes his time. I’m going to have to read all 3000 pages over again to get the storylines straight before starting Dance With Dragons.
One of my favorite writers has a new book coming out in the spring, and I just saw the first advance review. The book concludes with the words, “To be continued.”
Now that’s just mean! I haven’t even read it and I’m jonesing for the sequel!
“as good as the author can make it”
I want a book I enjoyed reading, not something that I want to chuck across the room because it’s a piece of crap, and I’m not going to get my time and money wasted on it back.
Fans continually asking when Martin will finish is counter productive.
Also, according to my LiveJournal icon, every time you ask when book 5 is going to come out, GRRM kills a Stark. So I bet they’re all dead now.
THAT’S RIGHT, WHINERS. YOU KILLED ALL THOSE KIDS. I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY.
I agree that too many people get invested a particular “world” then if probably healthy and that they become enraged when an author does not do enough to feed that addiction. That last thing I want is someone to rush a product out before he/she feels it is ready. I don’t buy books to pass the time, I read them to share a particular viewpoint or wonder about a particular set of ideas.
But I also want to 2nd randomscrub’s point.
I have 2 small kids, a job, and wife who all prefer that I at least acknowledge their existence. I only have so much time to read, that it is getting harder to justify keeping this particular series on my “must have” list. GRRM has created an amazing series, but with so many subplots, I am sure I have forgotten more of it than I remember. If he waits much longer I am not sure I can justify the time to a) read this book and b) spend a bit of time reviewing his previous books to figure out what the hell happened so that I can really enjoy the next one.
But he seems to understand the consequence of this and he has every right to make the decision and not be harassed about it.
John, I mostly agree with you, except on one point. If you as a writer are going to start telling a story, you do owe it to your readers to finish it.
That’s not to say that you have to work 18 hours a day until it’s done, but being stuck in the middle of a 6-volume series that is a single story is a very different thing from Old Man’s War, where you would be talking about a new story to follow the ones that are already finished.
I think some of these fan’s reactions are over the top, but there is a kernel of reasonable truth to what they are saying.
@11 sums up where the upset comes from, and why OMW and Song of Ice and Fire are apples and oranges.
i am giving GRRM a break; i won’t complain at him, and i have been studiously ignoring his blog so that the next book can be a welcome surprise.
the side effect is that i have stopped recommending A Song of Ice and Fire to anyone that asks. (i’m not trying to punish GRRM, i know the effect is negligable.) i don’t want to make any of my friends into one of those angry fans.
I’m no longer a fantasy reader, but I checked this guy out because my SO was reading them, and she wanted to know if the “late 2008” date had actually been meaningful. She needed some dense door-stoppers to maintain her reading habits during an extended stay in West Africa.
As some have mentioned, we are really talking about one big book here, and the volumes published do end with a certain amount of unresolved tension. I recall reading Kay’s “Shanara” works when they first came out, and the break between two of the volumes was quite sudden in terms of the narrative — and quite long.
My understanding is that is that this particular tale is orders of magnitude more unresolved since the last volume.
So, I can see where he’s coming from. He’s tired of fielding this question of “when’s the next one where all the unresolved issues are resolved?”
But he must recognize that fandom has its own ways, and that fans, when given a series of vague release dates that are passed nearly w/o comment, will naturally fill that void. The chatter, comment and annoying queries will *not* be ended by a “this is the way it is” manifesto, no matter how it is delivered, or how right it is. This is not have fandom works.
Now, this is not internet snark, but it does not help that his website is a confusing mess of mystery meat links (many stale), outdated information and worn-out “coming soons.”
Since his web site is the first place people will come for news about the next volume in this series, he should find someone to help him put the site on a diet, lose the framesets and have a clear statement regarding the state of his works.
If there is no fixed date for the next volume, then say it (the last I looked, there was nothing much but a vague date that had long been missed). Have a front-page link that says, basically, “gone fishing” and direct them to a fan site with a forum so the fans can raise their freak flags high over there. It’s ok to be out of ideas, or to be sick of the story. From what I understand, he’s written himself into a real corner, and I can understand if he needs time to let the story deconvolute itself a little.
Really, while I agree that he is technically in the right, people will be fans to a fault. The fans and the author are not speaking the same language here, and I think a little blame can be placed on the author for protesting a little too much.
I’m telling myself not to have a paranoia fit, because my “what have you done for us recently” quip was obviously a joke, and the “No book this year? That’s depressing” was’t pissy No, I’m being paranoid. I’m pretty sure. If I’ve seemed pissy, it came out wrong.
I’m not panicking, either.
The “Pulling a Jordan” thing that the delays in GRRM’s work makes me worry about is not him dying, but losing control of the story. The last published book was disturbingly reminiscent of the middle books in Jordan’s giant epic (books 6, 7, and 8, say), in which nothing much happened, and took forever to do it.
In that light, Martin’s delay seems troubling. There’s also the fact that the last published book was supposedly half of what he had been working on (the half without any of the good POV characters), with the other half supposed to come out Real Soon.
The worry, at least for me, is not so much that he’s not producing the book quickly enough, but rather that the delay might indicate that the book is becoming one of those ten-thousand-page monsters that gets totally out of control, and ruins the story. Because, again, I’ve been through this once already with Jordan.
I hope that he’s taking his time, and getting it right. And I would absolutely prefer to get something good slowly than something bad quickly. I’m just afraid of the options other than those two.
I’m going to have to both agree with you and disagree with you on this one, John. I agree that GRRM should do whatever makes himself happy, but he does have to realize that there are consequences to it, and he shouldn’t complain about those consequences.
I have a friend of mine who I used to talk about this particular series at great length (he actually introduced me to it originally), who now is basically saying “don’t talk to me about it until the last book in the series is finished. I’m through with it until then, and I don’t expect him to ever finish it”.
As a comparison to your own stuff, imagine that you’d intended Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale to be one book (which, in retrospect would have been fairly reasonable, if bigger than you normally write). Now, imagine that after this combined book was a couple of years late the first half was published, with an afterward that says “sorry about this, but the second half is basically finished, and should come out soon”. Then imagine that it not only doesn’t come soon, but takes longer than any previous version, but in the interim, you pop up all the time with more items for sale than a late night infomercial host.
Of course this annoys the fans. It annoys them because they care. In the olden days, we didn’t know about these delays, so we couldn’t care so much.
Now about his post – I read it when he posted it, and saw it as a slightly more polite version of Laurell K. Hamilton’s telling her fan base to go to Hell. Sure, you can do that, but I can’t say that I think it’s a particularly good idea…
I am not one of the legions begging for another A Song of Ice and Fire book (I haven’t even finished the last book yet). I also understand completely what you mean and and what he is saying about fan entitlement. Everyone needs to have a life outside their profession.
But, given the situation poor GRRM seems to be in, it feels like there must have been a massive failure in Public Relations somewhere along the way.
I said something similar in one of my recent blog posts. So, I agree whole-heartedly with you here :). Give the man a break.
And I’ll admit I’m a bit more interested to figure out what non-OMW stuff you’ll come up with in the near future. Love OMW, but, you know, it’s nice to see authors doing others stuff (you’ve got a few other things already).
This is why I didn’t bitch when you said you were putting the next Androids Dream book on the shelf for awhile. You told us that you were having problems getting it to work and had to wait untill it came together. Heck, I was thinking Harry and Robin were pretty much good to go and wondered, if a sequel came out, if they would even be in it.
I’m cool with that. I’m not feeling owed a damn thing, just lucky I have great stuff to read. Besides, since you’ve introduced me to so many other great authors through the Big Idea pieces, it’s not like I don’t have enough to read these days.
I just finished Toby’s “Sly Mongoose” and am moving on to some new to me Elizabeth Bear. Reading material is not a problem right now.
That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be happy with some new output, but I can happily wait untill my favorite authors have it right.
Stanley Weinbaum, IMOH a genius of the early golden age of SF writing, died at the age of 29. While he didn’t write multibook extravaganza’s, he did write some connected stories. “A Martian Odyssey” and it’s sequel come to mind.
I’ve always wondered what great stories we lost when he died. But that is what happened, he died.
People die, creative people die, and all of us little readers will eventually die. I have a serious problem with people even using “pulling a Jordan” in a sentence. As if he had a choice about having a terminal disease which limited his output and ability to work on WoT. Would you feel better if he had gotten hit by a bus and there was no chance of the book being finished?
I’m going to stop now as I feel a serious rant coming on with the snarkiness crossing over into LMOC levels, and I don’t want to do that.
see ya later kids. 8D
I’m probably an outlier in liking Fevre Dream more, and The Armageddon Rag heaps and heaps more, than Ice and Fire, but I can understand frustration from the fan side.
Here’s what GRRM wrote at the beginning of 2008, “My last formal update on A DANCE WITH DRAGONS was dated February 15, 2007. … This summer I am scheduled to travel to Spain … I want to have A DANCE WITH DRAGONS done and delivered before I leave. I am pleased with the way the writing is going at the moment, and I think these projections are realistic ones…” Raising peoples’ expectations only to dash them later is likely to leave some share of them aggravated and liable to complain.
As problems go (and of course it is one), GRRM’s is a nice problem to have: People are *howling* to read his books. We should all have it so rough.
I wonder id Axl had to put up with the same sort of rubbish over Chinese Democracy. Not that i’d expect it to upset him.
In the author’s note in Zoe’s Tale, John mentions the complaints from fans that certain plot points in Last Colony were unexplained or at best skipped over too lightly, and he found it appropriate to revisit these episodes in ZT. 1. I couldn’t believe that anyone would have anything negative to say about a book as fantastic is LC, let alone have the temerity say it to the author. 2. Including these bits in ZT made it triply excellent, in my opinion. 3. Because they fit in so well, I — in my innocence — thought John had *planned* it that way.
Seconding (or Nthing) randomscrub @11, and ironymaiden @5.
Of course it is Martin’s right (and duty) to take his time to deliver the best book possible. He answers only to himself (and possibly his publisher), not his fans. As it should be.
But I do understand the frustration. As randomscrub mentioned, the afterword to AFFC gave the impression the next book was all but complete, and that was June 2005. For many months I would visit Martin’s webpage to check for updates on A Dance With Dragons, first every few days, then every few weeks… Both the length of time between updates, and the estimated time to completion, seemed to get larger as time went on. the last update was over a year ago, and said basically “It’ll be done when it’s done.” A statement that would probably get me fired from my job, but I’m no novelist, and *do* answer to many levels of management. Self employment has its perks (and agonies).
It sounds like the book is still far from complete. At this point it is unlikely I will pick it up when it comes out. The plot is much too complex to jump back into the middle, after a 4-plus year break, and I’m unlikely to reread the entire series again. Not out of any frustration or animosity – the series is excellent, and I’m sure it will continue to be. But there are too many great books in the world I have not yet read for the first time. Maybe once the entire (6 book? 7?) series is complete, I will start over from the beginning with the knowledge that I will not be left hanging indefinitely. In the meantime, I wish Martin well, and believe he should write (or not) whatever makes him happy, and more power to him.
There was a great moment during a Tori Amos concert many years ago when, in response to an insistently screaming fan who kept shouting for particular songs (often while she was playing another one), she turned and drew her hands down her body and said:
“This . . . is not a jukebox.”
And then went on with her set.
Novels are not blogs. That’s why we pay for them. Ergo, they take time.
(I hope the above made sense – I’m just back from texas and still a little woozy)
This is totally relate to the anxiety I feel every time there is a change in my artwork.
For anyone here who hasn’t read her yet and yearns for complex, multi-book epic, you could do far worse than Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond (six books, starting with The Game of Kings) and Niccolo (eight, starting with Niccolo Rising) series. Admittedly, they’re set in our world and a low-magic version of it at that, but many of the things people say they like about Fire and Ice are present in vast quantities in those two tales. Plus they’re both complete.
No. You work for me. I pay your salary. Or a fraction of it. Justify your movements and choices to me, for I am part of your hive-patron and your toil is vassal’s rent to Us.
This reminds me of the (apocryphal?) story about Harlan Ellison being locked in Robert Justman’s office overnight to force him to complete the teleplay for Trek’s “City on the Edge of Forever.” Granted, that’s contract work, which is different.
Still. Some readers imagine themselves to have Justman’s authority over their favorite Ellisons. Twitter and blogs are traitors revealing our diversions from the work we were locked in to do.
Just piping in to second randomscrub’s comment. When you tell fans at the end of one book in a series that the next installment’s practically written already you’ve kind of set yourself up for bitchy fans if more than 3 years go by without even a soft date in sight.
That said, I’ve seen a sliver of some of the comments he’s talking about and I imagine I haven’t seen a tenth of it and the emails are probably even worse. I don’t see where people get the idea that it’s at all productive to jog his elbow while he’s trying to make a piece of art and the “pulling a Jordan” bitching is tasteless as hell.
The dude’s doing well enough at his craft that he’s turned someone like me who dislikes most fantasy and hated Jordan’s series into a huge Martin fan so I ain’t about to second guess his creative process. I hope he takes all the time he needs to tell a story he’s happy with.
First and foremost, an author should take as long as he or she needs to write a book.
I have stopped reading epic fantasy in part because most of the authors have an inability to finish a story arc within a decade.
My spending has shifted almost entirely to fantasy and fantasy series where a story arc is told in a single book. I’m not saying I mind story elements carrying from book to book in a series, I’m saying that I got extremely tired of reading books that were little more than a setup for the next half dozen or so books in the series.
It is within an author’s rights to take as long as they need to tell a story, and I would NEVER complain to an author about how slow they are writing (NOTE: That doesn’t mean I’m not sad that Steven Brust (or any other author I love) doesn’t write faster, because I do wish he wrote faster. But I’m not mad at him taking his time for writing a story or for having a life).
However, I lost any desire to spend my money on books where the series goes on and on and on and you never get any resolution at all.
So the slow rate of writing is not just affecting the authors of those long on-going series, but all authors who write in the epic fantasy genre, because I’m pretty much not buying anything in that genre anymore, unless the series is actually finished.
Whose fault is this? Beats me. Perhaps the publisher’s for not making it more clear when a book is a stand alone book or part of a series. Perhaps it’s no one’s fault. But I have a hard time believing I’m the only one who has changed their reading habits because of this.
I tend to agree with those who have said this is more an expectations problem than anything else. It’s perhaps a symptom of the Internet allowing creators and fans more direct communication than in the past and also more immediate communication. Some authors, witness our host, seem to be very comfortable with this. Others tend to get more frustrated. I see something similar in the music world between Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails), who is excellent at communicating directly with his fans and Adam Duritz (of Counting Crows), who seems to be more pained by the experience.
I think differing perspectives also lead to the exacerbation. GRRM is an industry veteran. He probably knows that delays like this happen all the time to even the most diligent writers. To him, it’s inside baseball; it’s old hat. For a young, burgeoning reader, who might be experiencing this for the first time, there’s no time-worn experience to cushion the blow. It tends to feel personal because it’s never happened to the reader before.
I’m getting so used to it that I often won’t start reading a series until the entire thing is published. Which also means I’m probably buying it in paperback (or used) which isn’t as good for the author or publishers. I’m on the verge of being too jaded to ever pick up the first run of any book in a series if I don’t feel like I know the authors work habits well enough to trust the rest of the series will follow at a pace of one book every year or two.
Yes! Which is why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes. Fans (including his mother) dragged him back to that series. But he wanted to be remembered for his serious novels. Which are damned good! I think that The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle, historical adventure set during the Hundred Years’ War, was his personal favorite.
I will freely admit to being annoyed that it’s taking so long for A Dance with Dragons to come out, and I don’t apologize for that. At some point you want the author to get his or her act together and finish what’s been promised to fans; however, the reaction I’ve seen by some fans when Martin announces another project has been mind boggling to me. It’s just way over the top and inappropriate. God forbid these types of fans had been given access to J R R Tolkien; they would have put the man in an early grave for not writing an endless stream of Middle Earth novels.
I remember when the Wheel of Time books first started getting really popular, some friends of mine tried desparately to get me to read them. I declined, on the grounds that I was afraid he’d “pull a Frank Herbert,” and said I’d read them when the series was finished.
I guess it’s funny now, in a sad crying laughter sort of way.
Anyway, great article, and I couldn’t agree more. Writers should write what they want, if only because when they don’t the results tend to be really, really awful.
I’m with #29 here, didn’t he break Feast for Crows into two books in order to get SOMETHING out the door during the break between Storm (pub date 9/00) and Feast (pub date 9/05)? I mean we haven’t seen Jon Snow in nine years! I know complaining won’t make him write any faster. It is the nonstop up-and-down expectations stuff he’s been doing.
“I’m sorry I’m making you guys wait so long, I’ll cut Feast in half and get Dance out for you quickly as it is almost done.”
“I hate what I have of Dance, and I’ve decided to completely rewrite it.”
“I’m about done with Dance, thanks for bearing with me”
“I’m rewriting Dance completely again, screw you if you are getting frustrated.”
*That* is not a jukebox. Well great. *This* is not a checkbook. When your entire series is done and published in cheap portable trade paperbacks then I’ll buy it. I’m not sitting around for nine dang years then lining up on release date to buy the hardcover. Sorry.
Personally I let the author take all the time he/she needs. Although when the Author posts goals of having the book done by a certain time he should not be surprised that people get miffed when it doesn’t happen.
Heck the last update on his Song of Fire and Ice update page: http://www.georgerrmartin.com/if-update.html talks about the book being released in 2008.
Nope, didn’t happen. And the one before that said late 2007. Now I do not blame him for taking the time to do it right. I do kinda blame him for setting expectations and then not meeting them. And not just once for multiple times. Don’t set Expectations with your readers.
Don’t say when it should be done. Say it is a WIP.
I haven’t even read books 3 & 4 yet (but at my desk) because I know it will be awhile so just waiting for the mood to strike me. Discovered this series late.
But I will tell you something that does get my goat. An author that starts a “series” not a single book but a true “series” where the book ends but the story sure in the hell hasn’t finished. Then the author goes off and writes a bunch of other different “series” And over 5 years later the next book will come out in the 1st series.
Not to knock the author, because I am reading most of the other work but because I now have the expectation that I will not see the end. I expect the author to keep writing even more new series so the next novel in the 1st series will not be released until 2015 next time. (If I am lucky)
Now that one gets me. I can understand wanting to write something new because you can get sick of one series (/universe) but cumon. There comes a point where you need to end something. Do NOT create a series of novels, end the book w/o ending the story and then abandon it for years because you want to do other stuff. If you want to do other stuff then end the current stuff or limit yourself so only a few different series. Not keep creating new ones each time that require books for that series.
Of this Author’s series I can think of one of them that actually completed the story. Yes it is open for more but doesn’t end mid story. The others are multi book stories. To my count we have:
Series #1 just survived a vicious attack but not ended. Series #2 War pretty much just declared.
Series #3 Book #2 setup for long term war but now going to war.
Series #4 Colaborating w/ another Author and book #3 ends in the middle of the war.
Series #5 Another Colab where the first trilogy done but setup to continue. Essentially survived round 1 but you know there is another round in the whole story.
And if I want to get anal. Series 1 has 2 other series tied with the 1st so in reality there are 3 in that one.
And I can only expect it to get worse.
The next book in Series One (Subseries 2) comes out next month. Then Series 3 has a book middle of the year then back to series one (subseries 3) then series 1 (main) then back to #3 I believe.
I know I will pick up the next book but at this point I am getting irate with the author. I can expect at least 1 or 2 more new series to be released before the next release of #1 and I kinda expect that around 2015 ( my guess when the next cycle will start again) I will have lost my zeal. Right now I am happy to have the book but do not have the zeal I used to have. And I expect it to get worse.
So part of me wants to give an Author all the time in the world but other parts of me just decide to give up.
I want GRRM to take as long as he wants to write/finish the book – I know of some of the other projetcs he is working/has worked on and they are gems in and of themselves (see Songs of the Dying Earth) http://www.subterraneanpress.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=martin07&Category_Code=PRE&Product_Count=23)
hey GRRM fans– count your blessings – I know to publishers/ bookstores this is ‘product’ but (hopefully) to the author this is ART-if GRRM’s work is SO GOOD that his publisher’s deadline is ‘whenever’ y’all can wait until it’s good and done!
the consensus I’m seeing is that fans expected the book to be out late in 2008 and here it is halfway into Q1 of 2009..and no book and no ETA.
is that right?
here’s a little perspective:
Jack Vance started the Demon Princes series in 1964 and took a 13 year break between book 3 and book 4 (he did other work- some of his best) and I think it is a safe bet that books 4 and 5 are different books for that break. Since I think those books are great – I’m glad no one jiggled his elbow!
@Adele, #34: yeah, but the thing is that Chinese Democracy sucked ass through a moving lawnmower blade, and Axl Rose’s control freak routine was what made it that way.
I’m not saying that GRRM runs the risk of having book five suck ass through machine parts, however. I just think it’s unfair to compare the two.
GRRM works in a solo environment and produces consistently good work.
Axl, on the other hand, spent 14 years and millions of dollars of other people’s money to produce and hype a CD that isn’t fit to use as a platter to serve steaming fresh dog shit as a meal to a convicted pedophile.
jramboz @ 46:
“pull a Frank Herbert”
you just made my day, in a sad crying laughter sort of way.
I really think that Doug (33) hit the nail on this particular subject. I myself posted a slightly rude and poorly written bit last week in which I vented my frustration at not having that book yet in my hands. As a fan, I can’t expect (and wouldn’t dare ask) GRRM to stop doing anything other than work on DwD, but let us not forget that the book is more than two years overdue, so having fans getting really impatient is the least to be expected. After all, Winter is coming….
What’s all this fantasy stuff? We want Tuf back! Or else.
GRRM probably wishes sometimes that he was back in the college dorms playing chess with his (later Strong Master and Tournament Director) friend Ben Nethercot. He happens to have a wonderful marriage and a real life. Earth to obsessed fans: writers are (usually) human beings with real lives.
To respond to various points made in comments:
1. Re: OMW universe not being GRRM’s universe: Indeed not, since as a reader I hate blatant “to be continued” loose ends, I try not to put any in the books I read. That said, people still do find loose ends, and pester me about them. But even if there are “to be continueds,” I think it’s better that they are concluded on the author’s schedule, not the reader’s, because it’s then likely the reader will ultimately be happier.
2. Re: “But he said he was done with DwD!”: Well, and maybe he was, mostly, but then decided what he had was not good enough — or alternately, maybe it was suggested to him that there was some fixin’ to be done. Point is, an author does have a right (and in the case of editorial comment, often a contractual obligation), prior to release, to go back to his work and fix it. If in doing so he contradicts something he said before about the completeness of the work, well, these things happen.
3. Re: Not blaming fans for being antsy about a new book: Well, of course not. I want new work from the writers I really like, too. But I propose there’s a fine line between being antsy, and even griping about an author taking his time with a work, and being angry about it and running down the author because of it. The first of these is a sign of being a fan; the second of these is a sign of being an asshole.
Obligatory pointing out of grammar error, plus additional entirely gratuitous LOTR reference: “because we wants to stay sane”, my preciousssss.
Or, Scalzi is really GRRM in disguise, an alter-ego?
I’m in the position now of having to pull a third complete from-the-ground-up rewrite on contracted work. Luckily, nobody’s waiting on tenterhooks for the finished book.
But the thing is, when I spend the afternoon playing Rock Band or roaming around the city or knitting a sock, that’s not siphoning away time I should be using to write my novel. That’s charging my batteries so that when I come back to the novel, I can bear to get to work. It’s putting myself in touch with family and friendship and pleasure so that I can return to my writing with some element of emotional investment, rather than the thin existence of working, commuting, and typing. And I dare anyone who doesn’t get that to try writing fiction for eight hours a day, five days a week.
I totally thought this was going to be a post about “Fans of Pissy.” I thought Pissy was some cool new thing I was missing out on. Now, I just feel ashamed and stupid.
The really weird thing is I addressed the same thing on my blog today. (The sequel thing, not the Pissy thing) Not nearly as clever, and I’m dealing with it on a much smaller level than you and GRRM. Still I am feeling guilty for letting people down.
Julian M. Bucknall:
<snark>Am I the only person here who is impatiently awaiting the sequel to DYING OF THE LIGHT?</snark>
Seriously, though, John hit the nail on the head. And to those of you who think GRRM is writing too slowly: speaking as someone else who’s up to his elbows in a multi-book novel (or series, depending how you look at it) these things are hard. Keeping track of a cast of dozens of major characters in your head, and a whole bundle of plot threads that run through multiple books written over a span of decades, is much more difficult than writing a single long novel or a loosely-linked series (where each book is intended to stand on its own). Chad’s comment at #28 is absolutely on the mark — the biggest danger isn’t writing slowly, but losing the plot.
I feel like I have to weigh in here, John. If you were up to date on GRRM’s series, you wouldn’t be so quick to defend him. The man published half a book more than two years ago, with an abject apology in an afterword, promising the second half of the book Real Soon Now. In fact, I believe the publisher had it in the catalog for some six months later. It was a Really Big Deal. And what I mean by half a book is that he literally took the character storylines and split them, and gave us half the characters’ stories…and left half of them hanging. It was really weird. Much weirder than the typical cliff hanger ending.
So the fact that he not only never delivered the book, but has written and published many other books, looks pretty bad, and he really should be ashamed. The “my genius needs time to work” defense is monumentally lame. As someone who has invested over a hundred dollars now in new hardcovers by GRRM, I think you have to admit that it’s my perogative to feel a bit cheesed off, and also to decide that, now that my memory of what the heck is going on in the series has dimmed, I might as well not bother reading it anymore.
By the way, I’d like to know how many of these writers who are jumping in to defend GRRM have actually read the series up to the latest book. If not, are you sure you are commenting, or are you just identifying?
I’ve been somewhat sensitized to this issue through my wife and many friends turning pro in the 1980s, and then making many more friends among the pro community. So I certainly accept that the books will be done when they are done, and that the writer’s ability to force his creative energies one direction is limited, and that a writer needs to have a life to remain sane and usefully creative, and as a human being deserves to have on in any case.
I do feel that, unlike many writers, one who embarks on a long and complex multi-volume story with long story arcs and many loose ends floating around actually DOES owe his fans something until the series is brought to a conclusion. It’s not a sharp-edged well-defined kind of obligation, but when one creates that situation, one owes at least some sort of “good efforts” to resolve it reasonably promptly. GRRM acknowledges that, it seems to me, and is making good efforts, and this is not intended as criticism of him, or of you; I just see too many arguments (from fans as often as not) that writers don’t actually owe readers anything ever; I think that may be overstating the case.
Thanks for writing this. As a writer of completely nonexistent fame or recognition, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have people literally PO’d that I hadn’t finished something on their schedule. Hell, I can barely get a story done on my own arbitrary, self-imposed schedule. Shit happens. And it dovetails nicely into the whole “book/album X was their best. every book/album after X sucks. why can’t they write another book/album like X?” ridiculousness. I mean, does everyone want to eat boxed mac & cheese every night FOREVER? Seriously, people.
As noted, I think it’s fine to be cheesed off. But your being cheesed off does not oblige him to write the book any faster, nor compromise the quality of the book just because people want the book now rather than later, and being genuinely angry at him for either of these things seems a bit silly.
Re: the book being in catalogs, etc: That doesn’t mean a thing; that’s just marketing readying itself. For a long time, the Web site of Chapters had listed two books of mine that I had signed contracts for but never wrote.
I do agree that when one embarks on a multi-volume epic quest tale thingy, it behooves the author as much as possible to see it all the way through. But I suppose my question here is simply whether fans want it now or if they want it good (in the estimation of that writer). In the case of GRRM, it doesn’t appear he’s not working on the thing, so his obligations in that regard seem fulfilled to me.
To be clear, I personally believe writers can crawl into their own butts in terms of editing and fiddling; i.e., at some point you just have to declare something good enough and let it go. But as has been noted here, GRRM has been a pro for a long time; I assume he knows when something he’s doing is “good enough.” If it’s not there, it’s not there.
Since some pros have turned up, is it reasonable to expect someone who has been a pro for 35 years to know the difference between a one-year project and a four-year-plus project? Or is blurring that difference what makes it possible to tackle a such a big one in the first place?
I have to second John’s point about their being a line between being annoyed and actively harassing the author.
I definitely get annoyed when a book I’ve been looking forward to gets delayed, but its the author’s work, its his reputation at stake. I would much rather a good book that takes 3 years than a mediocre book which took 6 months.
I don’t mind waiting. In fact, I was kind of thrown for a loop by the end of A Storm of Swords and thus didn’t read Crows until about 2007 – long after it had come out in paperback. That one did the trick of getting me excited about the series again. I might have been impatient immediately after I was done with it – but that fades pretty quickly. There are plenty of other books out there in the meantime.
I’m hoping the next book is the final book in the series and he doesn’t release it for at least 5 years. That way I will have forgotten much of the other books and can read them again without the plots being fresh in my mind.
It could be worse. Tony Daniel put out the first two books in a trilogy that I loved (Metaplanetary and Superluminal), but wasn’t making enough money so the third was never written. (and as far as I know never will be).
Some people just never learn that there is not instant gratification. I think I had my nose rubbed in it back when I was looking for the last three (?) books in The War Against the Chtorr and was fuming about the middle books of Dune. Write good books, I’ll read them when — and if — I can.
Indeed, which brings up a good point that sometimes an author can plan anything he or she wants and have outside circumstances change everything.
Thank you, John. I’ve been feeling guilty lately, having been enjoying other parts of my life so much, to the detriment of folks patiently awaiting the completion of overdue next release of my software.
I successfully prevented myself from accosting him at Denvention even though I kept ending up a table over from his party at the restaurant and was very sorely tempted. I doubt jumping up and down while yelling ‘What the frakking frak, man!’ over and over would have really helped the situation anyway.
And yeah, he’ll finish the series when he finishes it (or he won’t, which is where my money is at this point)… but this is part of the reason I had gotten out of epic fantasy in the first place. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson. I’m definitely waiting until it’s all completed before looking at the series again.
I started to reply, but it ran long and is topical for my own blog, so I posted it here instead.
Short version – this is a simple failure to set expectations, as many people above have pointed out. Explaining product slips has been one of the least-fun tasks in my last couple of jobs, and it’s probably even worse when you’re talking about the beloved creation of your own hands. Authors’ blogs are awesome, but Mr. Martin unfortunately set himself up for a fall.
Now, I will say that I tend to take the position that human behavior on the internet can be predicted and usually managed, but not actually improved. So yeah, people were behaving like asses, but… you just have to take that into account.
John wrote: “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.”
I believe that you owe yourself that as an artist, and you owe your family that because writing is your gig, but I am not sure you guys owe us squat.
It is not like you have some fiduciary relationship with us, this is an act of commerce. Brian Eno had a cool response regarding dealing with his fan’s wishes. The short of it was that if he listens to us, we will hold him back! I support him for that. I also have to admit I like the earlier records where he sang, and I honestly prefer the early, funnier movies that Woody Allen made. 8)
Frank Zappa alternated commercial with more esoteric stuff to take care of bills and his muse. I say keep doing what you are doing man, my wife and I are catching up with everything of yours we can find. You are doing it right following your own interests and timing.
I agree with you and GRRM that it’s nuts that the fans are attacking him about this. Those people need to get a life. But I think it also needs to be clear that this is not just about him not working fast enough. A lot of people (including me) were hugely disappointed in the LAST book, having eagerly paid full price, and the promised fix was never delivered. In fact, I myself was enticed to buy Feast of Crows in spite of it’s uniquely incomplete state, because the bookstores already had the next book in the computer and were telling me it would be available later that year. This is a bad bit of business and I think the take home lesson is not that GRRM needs more time to write the current book, but that it was a huge mistake to deliver the last one, when obviously it was not ready. Really, John, this is nothing like anything you have, would, or could do with your series. In fact, GRRM has made authorial history with this particular series of events. Who can blame him for eloping to other projects when he must now somehow finish telling the stories of half of the characters in the book without changing the stories of the first half of characters…because they’ve already been effing published and he killed some of them!
Now, it would be folly to compound that mistake by rushing the next one, but at the same time he did screw up, and it’s hard to imagine that he’s not getting a lot of flak from his editor and publisher, so I think the kiss-off message to fans is also a mistake. How can you argue with dissatisfied customers? If I was him, I would have posted a “Yes I suck” note in my livejournal, told them how unbelievably awesome the next book would be, and how they were not going to be disappointed, etc., etc. I myself have taken four years do do editor-requested revisions on my novel, so I really can relate. (My editor and I are a match made in heaven, thank God.) And my only defense is that I suck.
I will add my voice to the chorus asking people to stop picking on him. There’s no need to get mean, and as a writer I will say I will probably never write anything as good as Fire and Ice.
Hasn’t he missed multiple DEADLINES for actually delivering this book?
Doesn’t he have a contract, with you know a time line for the series?
Would you miss deadlines to do “things he was interested in, not things they were interested in.”
The man is a “professional”
When it comes to series, I appreciate it when the author doesn’t waste our time. There is so much great stuff out there that it’s impossible to read it all.
I don’t need substandard sequels taking up reading space just because the author needs a new toaster.
Hey, shouldn’t the GRRM fans be glad of the delay? Now they have the time to go and discover some other books by other writers! And hopefully, they have the money too, if there’s no hot, new, must-by, Song of Ice and Fire sequel out this month!
@ John: “Re: the book being in catalogs, etc: That doesn’t mean a thing; that’s just marketing readying itself.”
And sometimes, it’s marketing jumping the gun, prob’ly. It has nothing to do with the author, but that doesn’t stop the fans howling after him or her for an explanation…
Utterly off the GRRM thread (haven’t read the series, will happily wait until it’s complete unless I trip over the earlier stuff) … I observe that the “Old Man’s War” universe (or universes, given the perverse nature of interstellar travel cheating) still has a number of interesting plot twists and places to examine, and I suspect that if I wanted to search, I could probably find fan-fic exploring them, and if I wanted to search really really hard, I could find fan-fic that doesn’t wallow in Rule 34.
I have my own thoughts about some of the directions it COULD go (especially given the three biggest unresolved what-happens-next and the one unexplained cosmological OMGWTFBBQ) but my hubris (not to mention spare time) is too limited to consider writing them.
SO if you do happen to decide to write more in the OMW context, that would be cool and I will likely buy it.
If not, well, I’ll wait for your next novel.
Meanwhile, over in comics land, the third anniversary of the non-publication of the third issue of Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk was celebrated on Progressive Ruin. At least with novels you don’t have the disappointment of a set publication date turning out to be hopelessly optimistic…
Just don’t get too annoyed at fans being frustrated at long running series running even longer. They’ve invested time, money and love (ewww) in Martin’s series as well
Unless he’s signed the contract with you, why is any of that any concern of yours? Evidently his publisher is fine with him taking his time on the book; inasmuch as they are, your harumphing about “professionalism” is neither here nor there.
And as it happens, why yes, I’ve missed deadlines, when the deadline interfered with me turning in a good book. I just did that with The High Castle, in fact. Indeed, The High Castle was delayed before then as well, because I decided to write Zoe’s Tale first.
“A lot of people (including me) were hugely disappointed in the LAST book, having eagerly paid full price, and the promised fix was never delivered.”
Well, inasmuch as GRRM is not dead, it’s too early to say the promised fix was never delivered, isn’t it? It’s just not been delivered yet.
As toward whether it was wise to release what was essentially half a book, I would be inclined it’s best to release a whole book. On the other hand, I suspect if you went back to 2005 and asked folks “would you like to have 800 pages now, or wait?” the majority of GRRM fans would have said “Oh, 800 pages now, please.” In which case many of the same fans being angry that the second half is taking so long has an extra heaping of irony to it.
I for one am glad to hear the the OMW universe is complete. I hope the Android universe will be done soon.
What I really want – and have to wait for – is John’s next big idea. As much as I love Russian novel-length SF adventures, I also want new.
In fact, I’ve been thinking of something new. BWA HA HA HA HAH HA!
Can’t wait to read the end first again. Now, don’t hint that it’s almost done, I’m feeling very prideful that I haven’t nagged and I’d hate to ruin it.
Eh, it’s only been three years. We waited five for A Feast For Crows. And yeah, it sucks to wait, but I’ve got shelves full of other things to read while I’m waiting.
Better late than crap. I’m sure he could crank out a shitty version in a few weeks.
And last I heard, there are no pre-orders, so no one here has actually “paid his salary”, for this book at least. It might put this in perspective to consider that since he only gets paid for what he delivers, these delays are costing him money. See “…could crank out a shitty version…” above.
I will say that this sort of thing is why I usually avoid series until they are done. (Not this one, alas.) And I have to try not to be annoyed every time the latest Escape Pod is not there.
@Tom #48: David Weber at least keeps publishing new books regularly :)
That said, I discovered ‘A song of ice and fire’ just a few days after the release of ‘A feast for crows’ MMPB, so I read all the four books in a week and went cold turkey.
But I survived and it’s not like there’s nothing else to read… when the book will be done, it will be done.
I’ve read George’s note, and I’ve read John’s rejoinder, and I just can’t imagine why an author’s fans think sending whining email to that author can be at all productive.
How would these readers feel to receive email that called them lazy and shiftless and cruel for having the temerity to have a life? I just can’t picture George opening the email, reading it, thinking, “Aha! FanDango sez I’m a jackass for not writing! I must do better!” and then hunkering over a hot laptop.
George is an awfully nice guy. He’s not an automaton who gets plugged in and who pumps out books without feeling anything. And since he *is* awfully nice and very fannish sort, he’s made himself pretty accessible to his fans. Each nasty, snarky communiqué must take its toll on his energy and attention…and make it that much harder to go back to work.
John, I’ll pretty much read anything you want to write, ‘cuz you have a quirky mind and its products are really cool. You don’t owe me a particular book, nor anything else. If you wish to consider your work’s quality as a commitment to your fans, fine. As one of your fans, I don’t really owe you anything, either. But as a human being, I owe you courtesy and consideration.
And if you’re going to have the energy to write new books, it’s really stupid for me to be mean to you and get you all distracted.
I certainly agree, Deb. Of course, you’ve never been anything less than delightful, as far as I can tell.
Re #83: “… Russian novel-length SF adventures…”
I recommend the Harry Potter of the USSR:
Monday Begins on Saturday
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Monday Begins on Saturday (Russian: Понедельник начинается в субботу) a 1964 science fiction / science fantasy novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. Set in a fictional town in northern Russia, where highly classified research in magic occurs, the novel is a satire of Soviet
scientific research institutes, complete with an inept administration, a dishonest, show-horse professor, and numerous equipment failures. It offers an idealistic view of the scientific work ethic, as reflected in the title which suggests that the scientists’ weekends are nonexistent.
The “Scientific Research Institute of Sorcery and Wizardry,” located in the fictional Northern Russian town of Solovets, is portrayed as a place where everyone must work hard willingly, or else their loss of honesty is symbolized by hair growing from their ears. These
hairy-eared people are viewed with disdain, but, in a turn symbolic of Soviet times, many of them stay in the institute because it provides them with a comfortable living no matter what.
Tale of the Troika, which describes Soviet bureaucracy at its worst, is a sequel, featuring many of the same characters.
I bet the new idea’s about a time-travelling armadillo detective. Who can fly.
It is now!
I feel simultaneously like I’ve done a good thing, and a very, very bad one. Damn, I’m good.
First, I have not written to GRRM or any other writer expressing anger at his or her failure to write a book I want them to write. That’s ridiculous and impertinent.
I agree with and understand your and GRRM’s point. The problem for those of us who followed “Robert Jordan’s” Wheel of Time is that occasionally, time runs out. After experiencing that, many of us worry.
“Song of Ice and Fire” is far superior to WoT in both imagination and execution. And, GRRM is perfectly entitled to do whatever he wants.
But, we all really want the next book.
Jonathan at 44: Doyle’s “White Company” was very good. I still take it off the shelf from time to time.
MarkHB @# 92. And here I thought it was going to be something about zombies.
Fan troubles? In the sarcastic hero universe….
Oh, no. You want to hear what’s really ironic? That I had a good 90 minutes free and clear to work on aforementioned four-years-late novel, and instead I did THIS. Damn you, Scalzi, for zeroing in on a topic guaranteed to turn me into a frothy fan. :-)
Specifically, the comparison between GRRM and yourself is very faulty for one major reason: you produce self contained works that have a beginning middle and end, and GRRM has not.
Imagine that you had produced the first three fourths of OMW, published it, done fairly well, and then decided to go off to work on other projects.
(And, for further amusement, pretend that you offered the same excuse that you do above for not writing OMW #5; that you don’t have an idea for how it will go.)
I’ve read all the books in the OMW universe, and I’ve read all of the SOIAF that’s published and they attempt different things. Each of your books with the possible exception of ZT can stand on it’s own whereas GRRM is attempting an epic fantasy where each volume is simply a continuation of the last, and there is no central resolution of each book.
And then, when he’s become popular and lots of people are invested in the story, he’s decided to take a break. SOIAF doesn’t interest him any more, even though there is no resolution. He’s edited some Wild Card books. He’s continued to do this and that and the other thing, but Dance With Dragons is still out there. He chose to start the books, but now you are suggesting that his fans should be okay with the fact that he doesn’t feel like finishing it.
Which is his right, but it’s also right for his fans to be upset with the lack of him ‘doing his job.’ After all, they’re the ones that pay for his salary, in a sense. I stopped buying the Wheel of Time novels when it became obvious that Jordan had zero interest in bringing things to a resolution and was just milking the series for all it was worth. This is obviously a similar situation.
In a way, the big difference is that people aren’t waiting for the next SOIAF novel, they’re waiting for the continuation of the volume. They’re looking for a resolution.
So, I have to say, that if you continue on in the style in which you’ve previously written, you’ll never encounter the kind of pissy fans that GRRM has because you’ll never screw them emotionally like GRRM has. As I keep repeating; your books have endings.
The strange thing about this post? I’m not even that much of a GRRM fan.
(Considering SOIAF as a single work offers more perspective precisely because those are the sorts of things that are supposed to be released . Lord of the Rings was released over the course of 2 years in a day when the production chain was more difficult. Tolkien knew the LOTR was a single work, and to an extent it was published like one. GRRM knew that too, but didn’t care.)
Yes, I am EVIL that way.
Addressed earlier in the thread.
I feel his pain. All five of my fans are constantly hounding me about when the sequel is going to be finished. I keep telling them: “When there’s ten of you I’ll do it.” Besides, the trout are biting.
Spherical Time @ 100
Screw readers emotionally? Come on.
They are good books. They are exciting books. Sometimes, they are even excellent books. I would contend, however, that anyone who gets screwed emotionally by either reading or not reading a book has bigger problems that have nothing to do with an author.
Leave the guy alone. Clearly, he doesn’t need money badly enough just to pander to audiences.
Keep in mind that some of these decisions were actually made by GRRM’s editor.
A lot of fans are angry about the delay not because they’re self-entitled jerks, but because they loved the first few books so much and thought this would be perhaps the greatest epic fantasy ever, with the possible exception of Tolkien. And now they’ve come to realize that the series is never, ever going to be finished. And they are grieving.
Anger is the second stage of grief.
That doesn’t excuse being a jerk to an author about it. But it’s understandable; they aren’t ready to accept that Martin has lost control of his story and has shown no signs of being able to get it back, and so they are lashing out because they can’t accept it yet.
If everyone would admit that A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is done for we’d all be better off. Stick a fork in it. It’s pining for the fjords. It. Will. Never. Be. Finished.
Accept it and move on.
You know what this reminds me of, a bit? The end of the Johnny Dep version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory… where Wonka can only make terrible candy because he makes whatever candy he feels like, and now, he feels terrible.
It’s a good metaphor for art.
Point the first: I think very few of the complainants really understand what it takes to write even a bad novel.
I do understand waiting – I read the Anthony Villiers books.
Personally I take GRRM’s delay as a sign he’s not doing the thing that drove me away from Robert Jordan (losing control of the story.) Once the book’s done it will be done.
There’s only one kind of delay that annoys me; and that’s when the book is delayed even though it’s finished and ready to go. I like David Weber, and read everything except his series with Linda Evans (Hell’s Gate) because I don’t like those particular books. I’d like to see a new Honor Harrington sooner rather than later, but understand he will write it when he can do it justice and as long as he writes good books in the meantime I don’t mind.
The one that bothers me is “By Heresies Distressed.” Just like in “Song of Ice and Fire” we ended up getting half a book and having to wait for the rest. The difference is that in this case both halves were apparently turned in simultaneously, and the second half delayed to avoid cannibalizing sales of his other books (Tor and Baen).
I can even see the principle, but a full year is too long – at least in my opinion.
There is an obvious problem here: GRRM turned a much-publicized trilogy into a six book series; then split book 4 into two books. As has been pointed out here, he essentially delivered half a book that left out many main characters, and led fans to believe that the other half, simply “chopped out,” was close to being publishable. I certainly have no sympathy for anyone harassing GRRM or any other artist to produce for them, but given the circumstances fans can be forgiven for at least thinking that he’s jumped the shark on them and at this point seems to be profiting to hell and back with this ever-growing trilogy.
All of the comments have been great. However, if David Gerrold does not get his ass in gear and finish The War Against the Chtorr and stop releasing entire trilogies in the meantime I swear to whatever higher power(s) there may be that I will piss on that mans grave. That is all…
Eh.. Must disagree with the professionals here, because of my profession. I’m a bookseller. I’ve proudly handsold GRRM’s books since he started SOIAF. For the last three years, my customers have been eagerly asking me when the next book is coming out. I check GRRM’s updates at least once per week, so that I can give them the happy news. However, there is no happy news. Hasn’t been for three years. People aren’t asking much anymore.
There’s a window of relevance, and he’s in danger of losing it. Think the second X-Files movie. Think the last four Star Wars movies. Think the last Indiana Jones. Maybe some of those movies did okay, but they did NOT live up to the hype and I’m pretty sure it was hurtful to those who created them. This is a marketing issue, not just a creative one.
For myself, I don’t want to reread all 4000+ pages of GRRM’s previous books just to remind myself of what the hell is going on when the next one does finally come out. Yes, I’ll buy the thing, but it will not be with the pure unadulterated joy with which I bought the first three books (Yes, I know there are four-I was worried about the “half-book” when it appeared.)
I fear that GRRM has unleashed a beast which even a writer of his power cannot control. He is getting more and more involved in details when in fact what he needs is for TIME TO PASS in-story. Even the great ones need some editing help. From his posts, all he has had to do on this book for the last three years is edit. Please, dude, get an objective eye to help you with your task! The book won’t be perfect, but nothing is. Whatever it is, it will still be damn good, because I know who you are as a writer. Just let it go and move on.
Sorry for the spew- I’ve been holding that in for about 3 years- NOT bitching at the master on his own website.
Well I for one am still fairly pissed off at that Chaucer dude. Bastard.
Oh, did I mention I have been waiting fifteen damn years for Gerrold to finish The War Against the Chtorr? Neither of us is getting younger…
I’m not even reading that series (yet), but George is such a kind, awesome guy (and, hello, he created the wonderfulness that is “Fevre Dream” and even inscribed a copy for me) that I’d find much joy in crushing the heads of any fools who took it upon themselves to pester him. Point me to their heads, please. Seriously. Crushing needs to happen right now…to the heads. And also, I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday to be put on that Brian Wilson diet today.
Dave Robinson: I don’t think there is a reasonable argument to be made that Martin is still in control of the story. A FEAST FOR CROWS rather clearly showed that he wasn’t, and the delay for DANCE simply confirms that he hasn’t managed to wrangle it back.
I once met George at a convention and in our brief conversation asked him about the next installment and his deameanor changed markedly at that point, kind of terminated it in fact. I guess that this explains why. Please let it be noted, that I wasn’t trying in any way to spur him on, I was just curious how it was going, and in fact was looking forward to its release, still am. I should have preceded the question with something like this, didn’t think of it. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have no concern for the author’s interests, etc but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I suspect that most of us when we ask, are just curious, maybe even eager, but intend nothing ill mannered or pushy in our questioning. The conditions are tough on both parties too; the author is usually very time constrained so the other party (us) have limited time while on the other side of the coin I suppose answering the same question over and over again must get trying. Please remember George (and John) that when we ask something like this, that most of us have nothing hidden behind it. We’re just curious how things look. For my part I’ll avoid questions like this for all artists in the future. There’s plenty of other stuff to talk about.
on the nature of creating art on demand I’ve always liked the line Joni Mitchell once used. She commented on how people would demand certain songs and become irate when she didn’t perform them (something like that anyway) and she likened it to someone yelling to Van Gogh to paint another Starry Night. Point well made.
“All of this comes around again to the question of what authors owe their readers.”
“I was born–
I was born to sing for you.
I didn’t have a choice
To lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to you.
I give you back my voice;
From the womb, my first cry–
It was a joyful noise.”
U2, “Magnificent,” from No Line on the Horizon
Which is to say, in shorter:
And of course the creative process sometimes means going away for a while and doing other creative things so the brain stays fresh and inspired. Sometimes a painter writes or sculpts or gardens. Or a writer, paints or reads or travels. Or all of them do all of the above. Or they take a long nap. Even the most creative work becomes a job if not refreshed with new life.
The fans should use this time to discover new authors. Or learn to cook. Or find a hobby outside. heh.
I wrote an extensive reply to your blog post here.
Scalzi: Addressed earlier in the thread.
Yeah. I read it on the feed and then typed out a reply quick as I could then posted it, so I wasn’t too conversant with what was in the feed.
Todd Still: I would contend, however, that anyone who gets screwed emotionally by either reading or not reading a book has bigger problems that have nothing to do with an author.
Your premise that people, especially large groups of people, have severe problems seems reasonable to me. In fact, I’m absolutely sure that lots and lots of people have those kinds of massive problems. So why pretend that they don’t?
steve: I once met George at a convention and in our brief conversation asked him about the next installment and his deameanor changed markedly at that point, kind of terminated it in fact.
If it makes you feel better, I once did something similar although I’d been reading his lj and thought that I was making a joke. Yeah, that was a mistake. There was some suggestion that his wife stab me with her fork at that point. Granted, that was more than a year ago now and I’m sure that it’s only gotten worse.
Over the span of more years than I like to think about, I’ve seen lots of series die.
One book was implied to be a series, but the publisher mucked around with it pre-publication, and the author ended up with a self-contained book with lots of foreshadowing. (Hint: raccoons.) Too many people involved soured on the whole thing, so that was it.
One author published a couple of books in a series, and then posted a detailed timeline, and promised to get right on writing. Only being a DBA turned out to pay significantly more than being a F/SF writer.
From observation, it looked like another author (whom I won’t name) got bored with his most-popular series, and tried to do other things. Only those didn’t sell so well, and then financial needs meant he had to go back to writing the books that sold.
The aforementioned Tony Daniels — a few fervent fans (myself included) didn’t translate into enough sales. (And this is one of the reasons I try to buy in hardcover whenever I can. Even though it didn’t help in this case.)
Certain authors, who shall also remain nameless, either became so successful that they no longer needed to continue writing as quickly, or they let their fame get to their heads, and started writing long opinion pieces rather than good stories. (I could name some, but honestly… the list is huge. Just go to rasfw and ask about brain eater victims.)
Now, in each of those cases, I, as a fan, was quite upset. I never thought, however, that the author in question owed me anything — but in some of those cases, I bought less, or ceased buying entirely, after the author and I parted ways. But, remember, the converse is true: just as the author doesn’t owe me anything, I don’t owe the author anything. He needs to write something I want to buy, and I need to buy something he has written. That’s the extent of “owing.”
(Now, in one of those cases above, the author repeatedly made promises, and even I, trusting soul that I am, have given up on them being fulfilled in anything approaching a timely manner.)
It’s an interesting question. Assuming (yes, we all know what that does) that George has lost control/interest of the series, what does he do?
(What other series have authors lost either control of or interest in and how were those resolved?)
If you want summarize here what you wrote there, that’s fine; otherwise I’ll stick to the conversation that’s going on here.
Leaving aside you’re quoting from the U2 album that the band should have kept from releasing because it’s bad, just because Bono says something fatuous in rhyme, doesn’t make it true. I certainly don’t owe my fiction readers everything, if for no other reason than I made quite a nice living before I wrote fiction.
As far as I know, all you owe me is a cake and ponies in convenient gift basket form.
Actually, I’m glad Martin is doing something different. I really didn’t care for his gigantic, all consuming fantasy series. I still have very fond memories of “With Morning Comes Mistfall”, for example. I’d love to see him go back to his roots and do some off the beaten path sf.
Katie: It’s true, Mr. Scalzi did promise his loyal Twitter followers cake and ponies, and he did fully intend to deliver in a timely fashion… but, well, the construction of the gift baskets was more time consuming than anticipated. In fact, he’s scrapping the whole lot and reweaving them from scratch. But rest assured, the gift baskets will be ready. As soon as their ready. Please check back for updates every few years.
Actually, I totally lied about the gift baskets. Sorry.
Oh noes! You mean, the cake was a LIE?!?
Well, I had some cake. So, no. The pony was a lie, though.
My solution to the problem – just read slower.
Man, I totally had my hopes up for ponies and cake. Now I’ll just have to cry myself to sleep, listening futilely for a distant whinny that will never come….
I think that if you are a professional writer, part of your job is to only start a series that you can finish within a reasonable time-frame. Particularly if it’s a “tight” series, as opposed to a set of stand-alone books in the same setting with the same characters.
Now, we all screw up at our jobs from time to time. That’s life. It doesn’t make Martin a terrible person if he has bitten off more than he could chew. But when I screw up at my job, I expect a certain amount of anger from my bosses, my coworkers, and my customers. It’s life, but it’s a sucky part of life, and sucky parts of life invite anger.
Martin has doubtless been the target of many multiples of the amount of anger that he deserves. Which is a shame. But I don’t think that he’s entirely blameless.
I don’t think that A Game of Thrones would have sold as well if it had said on the cover, “The plots and character arcs started in this book will not be resolved 12 years from now. In fact, the smart money is that they won’t be resolved 20 years from now. This series will span a generation.”
“I propose there’s a fine line between being antsy, and even griping about an author taking his time with a work, and being angry about it and running down the author because of it. The first of these is a sign of being a fan; the second of these is a sign of being an asshole.” Amen!
Even if GRRM weren’t working on the book anymore (which he is), there would be no excuse for asshat messages like “Hey, you’re old and fat and we’re afraid you’re going to die before you give us what we want.” I can’t believe some people. Maybe he made a mistake trying to give his readers an honest sense of when he hoped to be finished, since so many took his hopes as promises. He is very generous about communicating with his fans, which I’m sure he regrets sometimes. Back in the day, we had no way of asking an author when the next book would be complete, and even today, not all authors will give as generously of their time and insight as he does.
Of course people have the right not to buy the books, to stop and not continue the series (or to never start it), to stop recommending the books because the series isn’t “on schedule” (Melanie Rawn, anyone?), and to wish things were different. But being a jerk doesn’t help, and it really isn’t warranted.
Charlie Stross @ 60 Am I the only person here who is impatiently awaiting the sequel to DYING OF THE LIGHT?
I would kill for that book. Hell, I’d kill for any new story set in GRRM’s Federal Empire ‘verse, but it would never occur to me to complain to him about it.
Hmmm. For the most part, I just don’t bother to start reading any series until it’s completely done. Then I pick up the whole thing at once so I can read it all the way through without stopping, as a single long story. This strategy comes with the added bonus that other people have already figured out which ones are worth picking up and which ones aren’t.
The above doesn’t apply to the kind of series where each book is an individual standalone story, of course. Those I don’t mind doing one at a time. It probably isn’t a coincidence that I follow more of this latter kind of series than the former.
Michael B. Sullivan:
“I think that if you are a professional writer, part of your job is to only start a series that you can finish within a reasonable time-frame.”
This is the sort of thing that seems to make perfect sense until you really think about it. And when you really think about it, what you’re saying is “I think that if you’re a professional writer, part of your job is to have the ability to unerringly know the future so you’ll know whether you’ll be able to finish a series in the time and manner that best suits the pushiest of your potential fans.” Because, in effect, that’s what you’re asking: You’re asking someone to assure that nothing in their life gets in the way of your being able to get your fiction fix on a schedule convenient to you.
To which the only rationale response is, well, tough shit. I imagine when someone sits down to write a series of books they do have the expectation of writing them on a reasonable schedule. And sometimes that even happens. But sometimes it doesn’t, and there are myriad reasons why, some of which you might find “reasonable” and some of which you might not — but none of which you get a vote on, because you’re not the writer and it’s not your life.
Writers are not fucking machines, people. We get sick. We get bored. We get confused inside our own plots and stories. We have lives and families who have a perfect right — and a better right — to our time and attention than fans do. There are a lot of really excellent reasons why a very good writer might not shoot out prose like a performing monkey on anyone’s schedule but his or her own.
Standing around huffing that “part of being a pro writer is only starting a series you can finish in a reasonable time frame” is first incorrect, since in fact there’s no stricture that says such a thing, and is second vaguely inhumane, since the implicit addition to the end of that sentence is no matter what. It doesn’t always work that way, particularly in fiction. We’re not making donuts, here.
I have to agree with # randomscrub @ 11, that this is different because . . well . .it’s kinda like buying a book, reading through it and finding out at the very end that the last chapter was not included. It’s a series, not a stand-alone.
And GRRM has been saying “it’ll be out shortly” for a long time. Of course we’re beginning to feel he’s stringing us along. At this point, I’m not sure I’m going to buy it when it does come out. Had it been out 1-2 years after the previous book, it would have been a hardcover sale.
So I feel for the whiney fans. i won’t be joining the fans because, as John et al have been pointing out – creative process…takes time. . . it’s GRRM’s world. . . – but I’m also not recommending Fire & Ice to anyone.
Michael B. Sullivan:
“I think that if you are a professional writer, part of your job is to only start a series that you can finish within a reasonable time-frame.”
By the same logic:
“I think that if you are an adult human, part of your job is to only start a love affair that you can finish within a reasonable time-frame.”
“I think that if you are a President and Commander-in-Chief, part of your job is to only start a war that you can finish within a reasonable time-frame.”
Writing a novel is, it seems to me, a combination of a love affair with the characters and background, and a war with the limitations of language and your own skill.
I don’t want to get involved in all the vitriol here, I’ve got plenty of it on the westeros and facebook boards for the series, but in short, all I have to say is that I agree 100% with Mr. Scalzi.
And I still completely recommend A Song of Ice and Fire to everyone I meet because, even if GRRM were to die tomorrow, his four books are still a head and shoulders above *any* other fantasy work out there, bar none.
If you can’t appreciate what you have, it’s time to move the fuck on.
We’re not making donuts, here.
Goddamn you, Scalzi, I nearly choked to death on my cranberry juice, you bastard. It’s in my nose, and it burns…
To all the pissers and moaners, get over yourselves! Why should an author be beholden to us? If we lay our money down on a book, and it’s good, we got our money’s worth. If his book sucks, try to return it or sell it to a used bookstore and never buy that author again. If you don’t like the wait between books in a series, wait until the series is done to read it. If the wait is too long for you to bear once you are in the middle of a series, stop reading the stupid thing. I am an avid reader, but I would never let something as idiotic as an author not keeping a deadline make me start frothing and harassing in the authors direction.
But I forgot this is all about you. What you want, what you think you deserve.
So let’s just imagine you are in the middle of a big project at work, when you suddenly get a better job offer. Are you beholden to your current employer to finish the project? No. You give them two weeks notice an GTFO. Same thing with an author. If they find something better in the middle of a series and decide to do it, you have no right to be demanding they FINISH THEIR WORK before they live their life the way they want.
The thing to keep in mind is that Fan is short for fanatic. The other thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of jerks out there. Why waste life worrying about what jerks think or say?
Bleh. What a turn off.
Some of the people rushing to defend Martin here strike me as nauseatingly disingenuous. As in: “Look, I am cool, and love and respect me some authors, and not an internerd AT ALL, and would never get annoyed or worked up about something as trivial as a BOOK fergodsakes.”
As a fan of the Fire and Ice series, I find Martin’s endless supply of side projects annoying and insulting. Not the least because at this point he’s being glib about it: “Okay, I’ve got the message. You don’t want me doing anything except A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. Ever (Well, maybe it’s okay if I take a leak once in a while?).”
One new book in a decade. George, take as many leaks as you want, but could you maybe take a look at the series “once in a while”?
I’d like to point out that we are talking about a professional writer, not a delicate artiste subject to the whims of a fickle muse. Martin needs to shit or get off the pot. He should either buckle down and get the “almost completely finished I swear” book out into the world for the rest of us to read, or throw in the towel.
But this give me an opportunity to expand on a point, which is people are saying “well, if I missed a deadline at my job, I get fired/chewed out/laid off, etc.” Yes, but very likely your job isn’t like this job. The performance metrics for a novelist aren’t equivalent to the performance metrics for, say, a dentist or a regional sales manager or a donut maker, especially when the novelist is working on original fiction, rather than doing a work for hire on an extensive outline (or from a script), and in the specific case of GRRM, when you have a couple million people waiting for your next book to be great. Let’s have a sense of perspective.
“I’d like to point out that we are talking about a professional writer, not a delicate artiste subject to the whims of a fickle muse.”
Dude, I’d like to point out as an actual professional writer, you clearly have not a single clue as to what you’re talking about.
Robert Lee @ 109 & 112,
I was going to mention the Gerrold situation! It’s been such a long time, and I’m still waiting for the next book in the series … yet even though I visit Mr. Gerrold’s site from time to time, I’ve managed to refrain from emailing him or otherwise bugging him.
But I feel the need to point out that I don’t want another Gordon Dickson situation. Where is the conclusion to the Dorsai! series?? How will Bleys be defeated? *Sigh* I guess I’ll never know ….
That may be the worst analogy I’ve ever seen. It fails on every level. First of all, it’s not anyone’s job to start love affairs, to my knowledge. Second, speaking broadly, people don’t want their love affairs to tend, they want them to go on eternally. Third, when we take away the horrible non-parallelism, if we’re reduced to “Adults should behave responsibly in their love affairs and try not to hurt others,” then, uh… yeah.
This, on the other hand, is quite reasonable. I’m not going to get into politics in this thread, but if your goal was to set up a parallel that is ridiculous, I think you failed.
Addressing John Scalzi’s point in 144, which is I think at least partly a response to me, yes, writing a novel is artistic and to some extent less time-frame-able than other jobs. However, it’s not like anyone is trying to hold Martin to an hour-by-hour timeframe, here. We’re talking more than twice the initial budgeted number of books and, seriously, assuming it gets completed at all, probably literally a generation.
Writing a novel is art, sure, but in the case of George R. R. Martin, it’s also his job. The artistic nature of it gets him a certain amount of leeway. It’s not a blank check.
I can’t believe I’m still following this thread. I need professional help. Here’s is what I am thinking, 147 comments later. People are suggesting what is the “right” way to write a massive fantasy series. Maybe there is no way. May I posit that the massive 8-10 book fantasy series is a misguided concept altogether? Have we ever seen this turn out well? Years ago, a college friend insisted that I read this awesome book called Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. I did, and about five books later I was ready to slit my wrists from a) reading fifty page chapters that advanced the plot for a single character by one half hour and b) ever increasing wait times for the next book. I finally gave up, figuring I could catch up and finish the series when it was really complete. Obviously, it was never complete, although that is far from the most tragic thing about the too-early passing of Jordan. Other series (and I will not name names) have started out well, and then turned to crap. The first few books become bestsellers, and then SOMEbody decides he/she no longer needs editing for his/her great thoughts and the later books in the series are nowhere near as great as the first one or two.
Frankly, when I think of the fantasy genre consisting of five or more doorstop-sized books telling a continuous story without “resolution breaks” I can’t think of a single one that has real literary merit or which has NOT disappointed by the end. Moreover, in no other genre does such a thing happen. Has anyone ever heard of a ten-book mystery series? Or thriller? Or Romance? Or even science fiction? No, it’s only in the fantasy genre that this is somehow considered GOOD, and I happen to know for a fact that publishers solicit pitches for these kinds of series, and ask for them and demand them from authors, and then when an author has written himself into a corner, he gets BLAMED for the mess that’s been created. That’s not right. I would really love it if the publishing houses could get their heads right and start publishing some fantasy books that are not obvious openers for the next Great Fantasy Series.
The trick is to read something equally good while you’re waiting. For me, I picked up The First Law trilogy from Joe Abercrombie and then came up blinking out of a daze weeks later thinking “uh, we’re still waiting on Dance with Dragons? Sweet, more goodness to look forward to when I run out of good books to read.” That point still hasn’t been reached, months later. Anticipation is half the fun, I swear.
Really, pacing is the best solution for readers, and whiners should look into it. Erickson’s Malazan books keep coming out like clockwork for some awesome but still slightly scary reason. I can keep myself occupied with them as I wait, along with so much other really excellent fiction, genre or otherwise.
Oh, I can still ‘fess up and say that I’m waiting on the next Scalzi work impatiently, but it’s all good because I know you’ll make it good. While I’m on the topic though, I’d like to whine a little and say I’m waiting for Day 2 of The Kingkiller Chronicle with a lot of anticipation and anticipation. Hypocrite, that’s me.
Nick @ 145 Thank you for noticing that. I consider myself a very patient man. I stuck with Clarke through the 2001 series (’68 – ’87) and the Rama books (’72 – ’93) and many other authors long lived series. With The War Against the Chtorr we had a book roughly every three years then a dead stop in ’93. First it was going to be one more book, then he said he had written so much the book would span two books, then back in ’98 I believe it was said there would be three more books. The book(s) have been slated for release dates by Mr. Gerrold more times than I changed socks last week… the most recent update stated that it would absolutely be released in October of ’08. No updates since then. In the meantime he’s added two books to a series (Starwolf), started and finished a complete trilogy (The Dingilliad), released two collections, adopted a child, wrote a book about said child, helped make a movie about said book about said child. My only point really is that he has been proliferate but has let that series sit.
John Scalzi at #136
Oh, hey, I was reading up from the bottom and didn’t see this. So, cool.
I think it makes perfect sense, and I think that you’re trying to make my position sound very extreme in order to make it not make sense.
There’s a very wide excluded middle between “the ability to unerringly know the future” and “any criticism of authors for starting series they can’t finish is verboten.” Nobody is criticizing Martin because his schedule slipped a little. Nobody is criticizing him because some totally unforseeable circumstance derailed his series. People are criticizing him (doubtless too harshly) for having totally, abjectly flubbed his predictions, and for having totally, abjectly flubbed them over and over again.
And, look, it’s not like we don’t have skin in this game. The value of the books that people have already paid money for are predicated on the notion that they’re part of a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Which, right now, they aren’t. I’d like to repeat what I said earlier: I don’t think that A Game of Thrones would have sold nearly as well as it did if it had had a disclaimer on the front suggesting that the series would not wrap up for decades.
As to the comment about writers not being machines, yeah, well, neither are any other people. I get sick, depressed, uncreative, and distracted with personal stuff, too. And sometimes, my job performance suffers for it (and other stuff: I neglect my friends or family, whatever). And the people who count on me for whatever — job, friends, family, etc. eventually get angry with me about it.
And, look, that does happen, and it’s doubtless true that Martin has had far, far, far more vitriol directed at him than is warranted by the amount of blame he has for the situation. But it is his job, and it’s not like it would have taken “unerring knowledge of the future” back in 1996 to say, “Hey, I bet that if I start this series and lots of people really like it and then I find out that I can’t finish in 13 years, people will be upset.”
re #146: “it’s not anyone’s job to start love affairs” — then why do some people get paid for them?
” ‘ … only start a war that you can finish within a reasonable time-frame.’ This, on the other hand, is quite reasonable.”
And how does one know how long a war will take?
And how does one know how long a chess game (without clock) will take? How long should it take to finish The Unfinished Symphony? And how does one know how long a law suit will take, including appeals and supreme court review, and remanding back to appellate court, and retrial, and re-appeal? I’ve been continuously in litigation since before my 20-year-old son was born. He drew a reasonable conclusion, and is now more than halfway through law school.
And how does one know how long a novel series will take? Jean Auel thought that she was writing a short story, and was surprised when it turned into Clan of the Cave Bear and sequelae.
I think that you have NO CLUE what we professional authors do. By the way, how long should it take to solve a previously unsolved mathematical equation? Fermat’s Last Theorem was posed in 1637. It looks so simple. No correct proof was found for 357 years, until one was finally published by Andrew Wiles in 1995.
Scalzi: This is the sort of thing that seems to make perfect sense until you really think about it. And when you really think about it, what you’re saying is “I think that if you’re a professional writer, part of your job is to have the ability to unerringly know the future so you’ll know whether you’ll be able to finish a series in the time and manner that best suits the pushiest of your potential fans.” Because, in effect, that’s what you’re asking: You’re asking someone to assure that nothing in their life gets in the way of your being able to get your fiction fix on a schedule convenient to you.
Whoa now. I think what us readers are saying is that “We think that if you’re a professional writer, part of your job is to be a professional and at least attempt to keep to deadlines. We understand that sometimes stuff happens but that isn’t what happened here. Are you saying that deadlines don’t matter? Because, in effect, that’s what you’re suggesting. You’re suggesting that authors are blameless for simply deciding to blow off the endings because they don’t feel like doing them.
For someone that writes nonfiction for various publications that (presumably) have deadlines, this seems like a very strange position.
Incidentally, you have an awesomely hard-to-disagree-with writing style. :)
Scalzi: Writers are not fucking machines, people. We get sick. We get bored. We get confused inside our own plots and stories. We have lives and families who have a perfect right — and a better right — to our time and attention than fans do. There are a lot of really excellent reasons why a very good writer might not shoot out prose like a performing monkey on anyone’s schedule but his or her own.
Well, Martin is of the “sit down and write everyday” school of writing. So, writers may not explicitly be machines but if you want to be considered a professional writer shouldn’t you be able to complete something that you’ve, you know, sold and contracted for? I think the real professionals in all of this are probably the people at Bantam Spectra whose head’s haven’t exploded. And, if you’ve sold seven books at 1000+ pages each and you don’t like them any more, shouldn’t the rational response be tough shit?
Oh, except wait. I guess I’m just a reader (or, was a reader of his before he decided that he didn’t want to write for me any more) so I guess I can’t have an opinion. Sorry. My bad.
Adam: If you can’t appreciate what you have, it’s time to move the fuck on.
Yeah. Like all the other fantasy writers who you’ve just slurred. Fuck them. They can’t write as good as Martin, I hope they all just go die.
Scalzi: The performance metrics for a novelist aren’t equivalent to the performance metrics for, say, a dentist or a regional sales manager, especially when the novelist is working on original fiction, rather than doing a work for hire on an extensive outline (or from a script), and in the specific case of GRRM, when you have a couple million people waiting for your next book to be great. Let’s have a sense of perspective.
Yeah. Because it’s not like having more people care about something means that more of them will care later. Let’s have a sense of perspective people.
Uh, that would be “impatience and anticipation” of course. Two words that go well together when you’re a fan of pretty much anything.
Oh, and he released another book in ’05 (Child of Earth) that is apparently the start of another trilogy…
I have no idea what you’re talking about. Prostitution? At any rate, I very much doubt that it’s topical to this subject.
This question is weird and in some sense ineffable. One makes predictions based on one’s mental model of the world. Stephenson just wrote a book on the subject; read that. At any rate, this reads like an attempt to divert into politics. All I really am going to say on the subject is that if you appear to be writing with the assumption that “It is totally unreasonable to ask a President to predict the length and cost of a war” is uncontroversial. I think that you’re very wrong about that, and that makes it a poor way to communicate what I assume to be your point on the subject of Martin’s series.
Michael B. Sullivan:
“Writing a novel is art, sure, but in the case of George R. R. Martin, it’s also his job. The artistic nature of it gets him a certain amount of leeway. It’s not a blank check.”
Novel writing is my job too, and a good job it is; however, I can assure you that there’s no way either you or my publisher would get a novel out of me any faster than I would choose to write it. To be sure, I very actively try to hit my deadline marks, and generally I’ve been good at it, but on the other hand I just not too long ago told my publisher to take one of my books of the schedule because it wasn’t ready. I’m notably resistant to pressure on this matter, first because I’ve done well enough that I don’t have to follow a schedule other than the one I choose to set, and second because I prefer to write novels I’m satisfied with than novels that go out on a particular schedule.
Now, if I can say that, with a fraction of the sales GRRM has, what makes you think he couldn’t say or do the same thing? I strongly suspect you vastly underestimate the leeway he has, nor do you know much of what, if anything, is written on his checks.
I think you and others here are also vastly underestimating the importance of doing a book well as opposed to doing a book to an artificially-imposed schedule. If I or GRRM or anyone turns in a book late and readers are happy with it, no one gives a crap how late it is. If we turn in a half-baked book “on time,” no one gives a crap that it hit a deadline. In the end, people care about the book.
“Are you saying that deadlines don’t matter? Because, in effect, that’s what you’re suggesting.”
See the above paragraph. Deadlines matter because they matter to production, marketing and distribution, and because one’s publisher has a schedule of books. But if a book isn’t working, then it saying “well, at least it was in on deadline!” actually doesn’t mean much, no. When I told Tor my book needed more time, I did it well enough in advance that they slotted me out of the schedule and will slot me back in when it’s ready. If I do this enough it will certainly have an effect on my relationship with my publisher, but none of that is here nor there to the finished product. In the case of GRRM, I rather strongly suspect his publisher is happy to get his book whenever they get it; that being the case, any other bitch and moan about “deadlines” is utterly immaterial.
Which is to say the kvetching about deadlines here is being done by people who have no idea what the real deadlines are, on this particular project or, in truth of fact, any other.
I’m sorry, I apparently wasn’t clear: I mean, he gets a certain amount of leeway in terms of the social contract he has with the world, not his specific relationship with his bosses. I don’t know what Martin’s relationship with his publisher is, and it’s none of my business, and I don’t care to know.
You seem to be very wrapped up in the idea of what legal obligations may or may not have been violated. I presume, and certainly am willing to stipulate for the purposes of this thread, that Martin has violated no legal contracts or the like. What I’m saying is, he’s behaving in a way that justifiably makes people angry.
Here’s a strained analogy: if I go into a nice, sit-down restaurant, and have a nice meal that’s well-made and served to me pleasantly, then I have no legal obligation to leave a tip at the end of my meal. But there is a social obligation, and I shouldn’t be surprised if my server is pretty pissed off if I don’t leave a tip.
I’m not trying to create a one-to-one allegory, there: I’m not a server who’s been stiffed with a tip, and Martin is not a customer who’s stiffed anyone. I’m just trying to move the conversation away from a discussion of “what is written on his checks” to “what is the conduct that we can reasonably expect from someone in Martin’s position.”
Michael B. Sullivan:
“What I’m saying is, he’s behaving in a way that justifiably makes people angry.”
Oh, bullshit. He’s been upfront about having delays, and aside from that he’s been prudently mum about any personal/business reasons he may have had for delays, because his personal life isn’t anyone else’s damn business. Can expectant readers be legitimately frustrated their favorite writer is taking more time than expected to finish a book? Sure. But “justifiably angry”? That’s a big fat load of egregiously entitled bullshit, there, Michael, no matter how you try to rationalize it. Dude’s a writer, for Christ’s sake. You can be “justifiably angry” at someone who defrauds you out of your retirement funds. You can’t be “justifiably angry” at someone who doesn’t write the further adventures of imaginary people fast enough for your tastes. Again, let’s have some perspective, please.
As for the “social contract,” give me a break. As noted before, his “duty” — what you can “reasonably expect” from him — is to write a good book that’s worth the money you put down for it. Anything else anyone else feels is part of his “social contract” gets dumped into the category of him (or any other writer) not being responsible for the fantasy version of him other people have in their own mind.
Sounds like a man could make a nice buck or two selling little ‘What has Gone Before’ mini-books to people picking up the next book so they remember what’s going on. :)
John, speaking of justifiably angry, you sound pretty angry with me, and I think you’re taking this more personally than is warranted.
You just throw that out there like it’s self-evident, or like you get to have the final say in things, and I don’t think that it is or that you do. Reasonable people can disagree as to what the social contract is in certain situations, and you may feel that in the most ideal of all possible worlds, the social contract would be something, but what it actually is is determined by society.
So, I’m not sure what you’re arguing, here: are you saying, “There absolutely is no such social contract?” or “Mike, I do not think that there should be such a social contract?”
Briefly, to the two points: I think that empirically, the level of dissatisfaction indicates that a lot of people think that there is such a contract. I also think that my thought experiment about applying a disclaimer to the first book in the series — and I don’t think anyone has made any claim that such a disclaimer wouldn’t have hurt sales — also indicates that such a contract exists.
Is that entitlement? Well, sure, I guess so. I mean, speaking broadly, we all feel entitled to a lot of things. The waiter feels entitled to a tip. People feel entitled to courteous, fair treatment from strangers. You feel entitled to address me in a way that I think I could not address you, because this is your blog and not mine. I don’t think that something is bad just because we can broadly label it entitlement.
Should it exist? I think that all of these things are fairly arbitrary. There are societies in which you don’t tip. There are places where the rules about when you give gifts to family and friends are very different from here. I’m not prepared to say that those places are better or worse.
If such a contract does exist, it may drag books towards the center: fewer spectacular successes, fewer horrid failures. I guess that my feeling is that the place for experimentation, for trying something that may work out great or may crash and burn, is better in the single-novel format than the epic series format. Admittedly, we could imagine an experiment that needs to be in series format to succeed.
Oh, sorry, one last thing: I think that in a world where there was no expectation that a writer would start a series believing that he was very likely to be able to finish it, more people would adhere to the philosophy of “only buy a tight series once the whole thing is out,” and that that would harm the sales of tight series.
Michael B. Sullivan:
“John, speaking of justifiably angry, you sound pretty angry with me, and I think you’re taking this more personally than is warranted.”
I’m not in the least bit angry with you, actually, nor am I taking this personally, since it’s not about me other than a very general “I’m a writer” sense. I just think your argument so far is completely bad and wrong and needs to be strongly refuted, and per my comment policy I feel just fine about strongly refuting bad and wrong arguments.
Re: Social contract, I think it is indeed obvious that some folks feel there’s some sort of contract between them and GRRM (or whichever writer one chooses to substitute here), but a contract is something both parties agree to. If you come in a posit a “social contract” with me I don’t agree with or to, I’m very likely to tell you to cram your social contract up your ass. Just because someone feels there is a social contract between him and a writer neither means it actually exists, nor that the writer is obliged to fulfill that contract, which he never agreed to.
I think you just have to go into a book now days and expect it to end there. That way you set your expectations low enough so if an Author does continue the series you are surprised and happy.. But if the series doesn’t end in that book you need to reset you expectations back down again.
Yes most authors will exceed your expectations but for those that do meet your expectations you are not put out.
So everyone needs to take the Anti-Pissy Fan Mantra.
-I will not expect another book from the author.
-I will not take what is on his/her website to be anything more than wishful thinking.
-I will not ask an author about new books in series but instead only ask about their current project.
-I will never ask for a release date so that I might be pleasantly surprised.
-I will mock Pissy fans for having any kind of expectations.
Everyone can add some more.
And a personal one for me:
-I will not hunt high and low for hardcover versions of the series I love until AFTER the series is complete so not waste my time and money.
Okay, what do you call the expectation that you tip a waiter? Or that you give a gift when invited to someone’s birthday party or wedding? Or that you give the seat to a pregnant woman or elderly person, even if you aren’t in the section that’s specifically for that? Or a million other aspects of our lives?
I’m pretty sure that nobody consulted you or me on those subjects; and that I didn’t sign any contract; and I’m pretty sure that we’re both on board with the idea that if I buy a $100 meal, get good service, and leave no tip, I’m being a douche.
Are you really arguing that we should all get to ignore those kinds of social contracts if we never “agreed” to them?
Am I abnormal in that if I read a book and like it I just wait until the next one comes out?
I finish book, I say “That was great. I’ll check the next one out when it’s released.” and then my life continues.
John, before the web gave easier access to people such as yourself, was this type of “hassling” an issue, or is it more prevalent now that someone just has to hit Submit and doesn’t have to put pen to paper, buy a stamp and post something?
Re #155: Michael B Sullivan “ ‘it’s not anyone’s job to start love affairs’ — then why do some people get paid for them?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Prostitution? At any rate, I very much doubt that it’s topical to this subject.”
Gigolo is a job. Sex worker is a job. The case can be made that spouse is a job.
” ‘… only start a war that you can finish within a reasonable time-frame.’ This, on the other hand, is quite reasonable.’ And how does one know how long a war will take?’
“This question is weird and in some sense ineffable.”
I’ll tell you what. You go get elected Town Councilman in even one munipciaility(I’ve done in in two). You write white papers and speeches for a major presidential candidate (as I’ve done). Then tell me something about politics. And Social Contracts.
And publish a refereed paper on counterterrorism (mine’s in arXiv as a reprint). Then tell me about how long a war will take.
Oh. And get something published on deadline, and be paid for it.
Until then, I’ll choose to treat you as I treat the teenagers from impoverished urban neighborhoods whom I’ve taught. You’re willing to converse, but so sadly ignorant of the curriculum that you need to patiently be told the basics, on the hope that you work your way up to grade level.
There is no way you can honestly believe that this is a good argument for your ostensible point, or even on topic to this discussion.
Ditto the political stuff, which I’m still not going to engage you on.
For whatever it’s worth, I have been paid for writing on a deadline.
You know what you get when you hold creative people to some arbitrary social contract?
Star War Prequels.
GRRM’s only duty and social contract are the same as any other writer – i.e. don’t waste my money. For thirty years he’s managed to live up to his end of that bargain splendidly.
I’ve been guilty of busting a novel contract following a divorce. That wasn’t the worst part. Picking up the threads of the novel to do the big rewrite took a lot longer than I expected when I did pick up the effort again. I don’t want to make excuses for GRRM, just suggesting that writing giant novels is hard and he should be encouraged, not harassed. At least by the “fans.”
Personally, I would love it if fans who had to email GRRM would send notes of support and encouragement. Cheerleading.
I would also love it if we had the technology to keep the next book out of the hands of anyone who was such a dick to send nasty mail to the creator of something they love.
Michael B. Sullivan:
“I’m pretty sure that nobody consulted you or me on those subjects”
You mean to say that just because you decide not to question something that everybody does, I’m also obliged not to question it? Curious. And since you’re talking to a person who specifically tells people not to give him presents, you can imagine what I feel about many other aspects of the assumed “social contract.” This is not to say that I don’t tip, or give up my seat. But I don’t do it because it’s expected of me by some diffuse “social contract.” I do it (or don’t) after consideration of whether I think it makes sense. So, no, in fact, your “social contract” argument goes nowhere with me.
Even if it did, just because I tip my waiter does not suggest that your notion of what an author owes to a reader is also included in the general “social contract.” Just because you rather airily and without any supporting evidence declare it part of the “social contract,” it does not mean it is, it just means you are trying to bootstrap a preference you have into respectability with an argument to authority — and an authority, in point of fact, that is unnervingly nebulous to begin with.
This is all more of the “your argument is really bad” thing.
People (including me) used to bitch and moan about when Stephen King would hurry up and publish the next “Dark Tower” book already! I think I recall him describing a letter from a woman who was dying who just wished she could know how it all turned out before she went. After his own brush with mortality King buckled down and pumped out several 600 page hard-covers and got it done. The last of those exhibited such a terrible sense of exhaustion it was painful to read.
A quote from a very prolific but very high quality writer:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
and it must follow, as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man”
Coming in here a little late, but when will JRR -freaking- Tolkien write another dang book? _The Children of Hurin_ came out a couple of years ago and there hasn’t been anything since!
He wasn’t also ways high quality, though. See: Titus Andronicus, the crowd-pleasing slasher film of its day.
In fact, there’s another Tolkien book coming.
One of my friends likes to joke that ASoIaF has become a fractal series – the closer GRRM looks at something, the more detail he finds he has to write about. It started out as a trilogy, then became two trilogies, set 5 years apart, then he added a book to cover the 5 year gap. That book became to big so he split it in two…
I personally am not even annoyed at the delay. Sure, I’d really like to read the rest of the story, but I don’t see any reason to get angry with an author for being slow.
On the other hand, Steven Erikson has been publishing his “Malazan Book of the Fallen” series at a rate of about 1 book per year, and is now up to book 8 of 10, and I am enjoying them a lot. Also, his work has been getting better and better with each book (IMHO), which is quite impressive with such prodigious output.
No, John, I’m pretty sure that’s not at all what I said. Question away. But whether you question it or not doesn’t change it.
I’d like a straight-up answer: suppose that I believe that the social contract of tipping is a bad, destructive form of behavior. I point out that other countries get by fine without tipping. I have thought about the subject and come to the conclusion that I would like to opt out of tipping.
Is it okay for me not to tip? Is it unjustified for servers to be pissed off at me when I don’t tip?
(I tell people not to get me gifts, too, by the way. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get people gifts when I go to their parties.)
Granted! That’s what I’d like to discuss, but you’re the one pushing back on the notion that a social contract must be somehow assented to individually.
However, I didn’t just “airily and without any supporting evidence declare it part of the ‘social contract.'” I pointed out a couple of pieces of evidence that it was part of the social contract, and you in fact agreed that it seemed like a lot of people felt that it was.
What is a social contract if not “the way a large number of people in your society expect you to behave”?
Given that GRRM is one of those “write something everyday” writers, and that he’s got some writing chops under his belt already (or wherever you store chops), I think we can take it that he is already trying to make his deadlines with a decent book, which is all anyone can reasonably ask.
And I don’t think that it’s too surprising that readers are disappointed that the book hasn’t emerged yet, either. Trouble is, with the internet amplification effect of a million souls crying out in torment (or mild annoyance), all being beamed directly into Martin’s head, I can’t even blame him for being a bit peevish. Especially when some of it may well be projection of the peevishness he feels towards himself for not getting it done already.
So, yeah, grumps all around. Can we move on to the next stage where everyone warily stays out of each others’ way for a while?
Quoth our host:
New mantra adopted, cross-stitch display to follow. Even if I have to do the stitchin’. Because I can, you know.
(And I’m hoping to work in Adam’s comment @139 somewhere along the border in teeny, tiny substitichlets… well, small enough that my mom won’t be able to see ’em.)
Not me — I hate standing in line. ;^)
Brian Aldiss in his SF history Trillion Year Spree wrote, referring to the present (1986): “It was never easier to sell a trilogy, never harder to sell a single, difficult but well-crafted novel.” Setting aside, of course, the unusual way our host began to get his SF published, to what extent is this still true (if it ever was)? That is, how much of the situation with regard to G.R.R. Martin (whose work I’ve never read) is a matter of the publisher’s expectations and marketing plans, rather than the desires of the author or his readers? As has been said, evidently in this case the publisher is not putting much pressure on Martin to finish, but would he have gotten into this situation in the first place if not for the publisher’s wishes?
Heinlein, Dick, and others whose most prolific periods were during the 1950s and 1960s were lucky in that evidently no such pressure was placed on them (although Dick in the 1970s did toy with a sequel to The Man in the High Castle, a fragment of which has been published) (and no, I don’t count the last few Heinlein novels as a “series”).
A comment from Mr. Nielsen Hayden (or someone else with inside knowledge of publishing practices) would be welcome at this point.
Michael B. Sullivan:
“I pointed out a couple of pieces of evidence that it was part of the social contract, and you in fact agreed that it seemed like a lot of people felt that it was.”
After which I immediately said that just because they thought it, didn’t mean it was. And your other piece of “evidence” in this matter is a hypothetical that a) requires an impossibly prescient disclaimer on a book and b) is followed by a claim that itself has no evidence other than your own assertion. In short, your claim to a “social contract” in this matter is largely confined to things you are pulling out of your own ass. Pulling things out of your own ass doesn’t count as “evidence.”
When you have an argument that relies on more than self-fulfilling hypothetical and conveniently ignoring what I’ve actually said, come back to me. Until then, I don’t really have an interest in pursuing this line of discussion any further with you. The social contract I have here requires better arguments than these.
I’ve gone from frustrated to bemused and a little worried about ASOIAF.
And they’ve optioned this puppy for an HBO series? They better have John Millius’ genetically engineered superclone on board because it’ll have to be better than Rome and Conan combined – and waaay more accurate to the source material – if GRRM doesn’t want rabid fanboy dorks hunting him down.
Moreover, in no other genre does such a thing happen. Has anyone ever heard of a ten-book mystery series? Or thriller? Or Romance?
It isn’t “epic” in the sense that many of the series named here have been, but JD Robb has 27 books plus 4 novellas in the In Death series, and she has no plans to stop writing them. They are a combination of romance, mystery & science fiction. While it is possible to pick up almost any book in the series and read it as a stand-alone, just the cast of characters that have been created (one fan site lists almost 200 main, secondary & recurring characters, not including any non-recurring villain) are making it more difficult with later books.
I think all this talk about social contracts is beside the point. The real issue is that repeatedly, dates were posted in a public place, presumably by Mr. Martin. (I keep wanting to call him George, but that’s terribly inappropriate, really.) The dates – again, repeatedly – proved to be incorrect. Customers’ expectations got set, and then got broken. Repeatedly.
This isn’t a writing problem; this is a PR problem. As most authors aren’t PR professionals, it’s perfectly understandable, if regrettable, that they sometimes make this kind of mistake. Unfortunately, it’s the fastest way I know of to turn loyal fans into rabid, screaming, entitled jerks. This just happens to be a particularly obvious and visible case, but I watched, on a much smaller scale, the exact same thing happen to the authors of Erfworld. (One of them had the nerve to get married! On a comic-posting day, even!) And, other than either not making guesses as to dates, or letting your fanbase know of every single cough, twitch, and sneeze in your life, I don’t know a way to avoid the issue.
Catherine Shaffer @ #147
Frankly, when I think of the fantasy genre consisting of five or more doorstop-sized books telling a continuous story without “resolution breaks” I can’t think of a single one that has real literary merit or which has NOT disappointed by the end. Moreover, in no other genre does such a thing happen. Has anyone ever heard of a ten-book mystery series? Or thriller? Or Romance? Or even science fiction? No […]
Doorstop sized? No. But I can name several authors in mystery, thriller, romance, and EVEN science fiction who’ve done just what you describe, and made damn good money at it. Money. You know, that stuff that writers write for. Pays the bills.
Actually, if someone can write a interesting epic fantasy that’d appeal to Jordan or Martin’s audience, they’d probably have a contract right now. Jordan dying hit Tor pretty hard. They’d love a replacement with that sort of audience. It may not be something that Scalzi wants to write, but if he could punch out a Miles Vorkosigan type saga, he’d probably sell it quickly, and for a good price. Lois McMaster Bujold’s fans are plentiful, and they’ll snap up any new book in that universe. That sort of fan loyalty is a sure bet for a publisher.
Right on, John.
I have never at any time read anything by George or heard him say anything that suggests he’s happy with the delays that have afflicted his series. Everything I’ve seen and heard leads me to believe he wishes he’d been able to keep what looked like viable goals at the time, and that he’ll be glad when the remaining volumes are done as well as they can be.
Which is to say, duh.
Will I be all over the remaining volumes, when they appear? You betcha. And in the meantime, I have plenty of other pleasures old and new to enjoy, some of which have been waiting years for me to get to them.
Am I the only person who appreciates the series for what it has already achieved, as it stands now? If he never wrote another word of Ice and Fire, I’d still love the books. We still read Keats’s unfinished poems, Dickens’s unfinished novel. The Iliad and the Odyssey don’t really begin or wrap up in coherent ways.
In a word, it’s not the whole story, it’s the telling. And so far, Martin’s telling has been rich and wonderful, and I’m thankful for it whatever happens.
Seriously people! Any book that entertains you and moves you is like this amazing, rare gift. If you think about how much effort a book represents and how durable it is, they seem like the most underpriced items on the planet. A paperback is what, $8-9? What is that, like a burrito and a coke? I would gladly exchange a burrito and a coke for the entire Kingdom of Westeros …
I can’t believe we’ve made it this far into the discussion without the words The Last Dangerous Visions being typed.
But, y’know, this whole “he OWES us the rest of the story!” idea is, frankly, nonsense. Readers have every right to be disappointed in an unfinished series, and to wish for some way that the poor thing can be made whole, but to go from that to “the author screwed us by working on the projects that inspired him at that moment” is a leap of entitlement that I’m not prepared to make. And I say that as someone whose fondest wish is to know just where the hell JMS was going with Crusade. I would seriously give up a LOT of my dubious pleasures to have a peek inside his head at that unfinished story. But do I think he owes it to me? Not a bit.
Life is full of unfinished stories. Why should fiction be any different?
I think the difference between something like Old Man’s War, with each book of the series being self-contained, and something like Song of Ice and Fire, which isn’t, is that what GRRM’s fans are waiting on is closure.
While it’s not fair of the fans, at the same time GRRM has written half a story, not a handful of tomes. If he’s structured it differently all those years ago, maybe the fans wouldn’t be as upset.
Evan: “Am I the only person who appreciates the series for what it has already achieved, as it stands now?” No, not at all. I love what I’ve got in the Song of Ice and Fire.
Andrew: “Life is full of unfinished stories. Why should fiction be any different?” Bingo. I want completion. But everything ends, seldom on the terms I’d choose, and if I can’t appreciate the journey, I’m hosed.
As a reader I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything I’ve seen by GRRM, I’m sure that will continue. There is good stuff from others. I’m sure *that* will continue.
I’ve noted in plenty of author bios, words explicitly or in effect, “I started writing what I wanted to read and couldn’t find enough of”. The irony nagging at me is the question of if/whether in 5 to 10 years this whole issue turns out to have sparked a couple of solid new talents into action. If so, coolski.
The social contract argument got a bit weird, and dare I say- angry?
However, I can say that people who are disappointed (like me) have a right to their feelings. They don’t have the right to be dickhe@ds about it, though. GRRM seems to be open in his blog about his feelings, health and writing process- maybe what fans want is reassurance, or an update that is newer than two years old.
For those who wonder if GRRM is getting encouragement, he is. Visit his blog and you will see tons of posts expressing the same sorts of sentiments I’ve seen here along the lines of “take all the time you need- we just want it done right”.
Dickhe@d fans or not, I can tell you that interest in the series seems to be on the wane, and I’m sure that is not what the author wants (or is it?!) or what he intended. Whatever the reason for the delays, and I do not know them, it’s getting to the point that there will be monetary fallout. Most people have only so long an attention span, y’know. And only so large of a pocketbook these days. Instead of the hardback doorstopper that may one day appear, maybe other choices will be made- people will try those new authors that posters here have suggested and feel better about continuing with their new series. Or buy three paperbacks instead of a hardback that they had to wait so long for that they can’t remember the storyline anyway. They’ve had to wait so long for any version, what’s one more year for the paperback?
So I am sorry for whatever reason the book isn’t finished- I’m sure GRRM would rather have finished it than not. I don’t know the circumstance surrounding this frustrating situation. The “I can do whatever I want- it’s my life” card is fine to play. But it’s not the best marketing policy in the world. And realistically, no one gets to do whatever they want without repercussion. This is his.
Sorry to leave the conversation dangling, I had a real life social engagement.
And right after the bit that you quoted, I asked you what you thought a social contract was besides a lot of people’s expectations. I still don’t know what you think it is. In fact, I think that you’re deliberately avoiding the subject because it’s a really fatal weakness in your argument.
So, look, this is my last post, but I thought that I’d wrap up where I was going. The question I asked John to answer, which he didn’t, was “Is it okay to opt out of tipping?”
I think the answer is “no.” I’m pretty okay with saying that anyone who does think that it’s okay to opt out of tipping is a douchebag.
Why? Because you get benefits from the tipping convention. Servers are paid very low wages in the expectation that they will get a certain level of tipping. If you don’t pay into that, you’re freeloading off others’ tipping and/or causing real harm to the servers. So, even if you think that tipping is ultimately harmful, even if you’re right, you still don’t get to opt out (though of course you can and perhaps should try to change the social norm to more resemble that of one of the non-tipping countries).
So. I think that there is a social contract that says that if you start a series that’s really a single story, that you only do so if you feel very confident that you can bring that story to an end in a reasonable amount of time. I think that George R. R. Martin has benefited from such a social contract, because I think that his sales are way, way higher than they would have been if the expectation from the readers was “hey, the author has no idea where he’s going here, and it may turn out or it may not.”
Now, there are a lot of mitigating factors, here. Obviously, this social contract is way less formalized and ingrained than is the tipping one. Further, we all know when we start a series that there’s a very real possibility that the series may never end for any variety of reasons. Finally, it’s not like Martin’s books aren’t good. They are! If the remaining books never come out, the existing books may not be as valuable as we were thinking they would be, but they aren’t valueless. And, of course, John and others are right that it’s just inherently harder to schedule and plan out a series of novels than it is some other things.
And, crucially, from what little I know, it seems to me like Martin absolutely did feel very confident that he could bring that story to an end in a reasonable amount of time. I haven’t followed any of this very closely, but from what comments I’ve seen out of Martin, it never struck me that he had no idea how it was going. I think he just ended up being wrong.
And, look, that happens. It happens to everyone. Anyone who has never been wrong about something they’re supposed to be professionally competent in, and whose work hasn’t suffered for it, is lying or has been in the workforce for about two weeks. But part of that occasional failure that we all experience is that we get chewed out by someone.
Let’s be clear, here: we’re talking about people making nasty comments in email or on Martin’s blog. If anyone’s moving on to full-blown harassment or worse — sadly, I’m sure someone has — they should suffer the legal consequences of their action. It’s not like Martin’s being lynched. He’s not suffering legal sanction. He’s not suffering economic sanction. Customers of his who are upset that he didn’t do a part of his job well are making nasty comments about him.
That’s a cross that a whole hell of a lot of people have to bear. I’ve been chewed out by customers before. I suspect that most of you have. And a lot of the times that I’ve been chewed out, there was some behind the scenes stuff that the customer didn’t know about that’s relevant to the subject at hand. You know what? The customers get to chew you out even though they don’t know you’ve had a bad day, or it wasn’t all your fault. That’s part of the social contract between customers and vendors.
All that said, because of Martin’s fame, he’s had a particularly lot of customers chewing him out, and I’m sure it’s far more than he deserves. But I suppose that somehow, this is because I feel “entitled.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that talk of “rights” is just about bound to be unhelpful. The very question “Do I have a right to…?” presumes that there are in fact real, worth-acknowledging claims we have beyond things like “…to buy what claims to be a GRRM novel and not find out that it’s actually volume 3 of Liberace’s memoirs?”. This is a bad thing to presume – it’s part of what’s at issue, whether such things exist at all.
I find it more useful to talk about the consequences of acting a particular way. Readers will usually want to know that writers succumb to despair and fatigue, for instance, and therefore to choose their responses in ways that make it less likely that the people they want to produce more neat stuff will find it worthwhile to give up. But they don’t have to care about that, if they don’t care about whether they’re doing anything to help or hinder the arrival of stories they want. And so on.
Robert Lee @ 154,
In light of Mike Brotherton’s comment @ 169, I wonder if it’s not too much of a stretch to ask whether a certain author can write another book in a series after too much time has passed, say 15 years or so? By “can write” I mean find the same voice, the same rhythm, the same intensity of purpose.
I know that my world view is significantly different in 2009 (at age 48) than it was in 1994. My outlook is different, I’ve done some things & seen some things & experienced a few more presidents … so it would be fair to say that, in some respects, I’m a different person now than I was in the mid-nineties. I’m pretty sure that what I would write about, and how I would write it, is different as well.
As Gerrold’s Chtorr novels purposely emulate (or pay homage to, if you prefer) Heinlein it’s got to be difficult for him to keep his eyes on the prize. I hope (as I’m sure you do) that he gets it together and publishes another wonderful Chtorr novel sooner rather than later.
Mr. Scalzi is making the point that the author will write the book when he/she is ready to write the book and not before. The fans’ collective angst doesn’t make the day of publication come any faster. I don’t disagree. But surely there is some balancing involved, because it seems to me that too long a delay between books in a series might be as problematic as putting out a shoddy product right now this instant!–if the author’s voice gets lost during the interim.
re: “whether a certain author can write another book in a series after too much time has passed, say 15 years or so? By ‘can write’ I mean find the same voice, the same rhythm, the same intensity of purpose”
Isaac Asimov. Knitting together Foundation Empire, and Robot novels!
Not-writing recharges me for writing. The more I do of the latter, the more I need of the former. Case closed.
From Jaq at 110: “I’m a bookseller. I’ve proudly handsold GRRM’s books since he started SOIAF. For the last three years, my customers have been eagerly asking me when the next book is coming out. I check GRRM’s updates at least once per week, so that I can give them the happy news. However, there is no happy news. Hasn’t been for three years. People aren’t asking much anymore.”
Even (especially?) in the age of Amazon, handselling booksellers are authors’ friends.
Readers (IMOSHO, YMMV) have a right to a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Writers have a right to a personal life. And, yanno, to keep it personal, should they so choose.
Sometimes writers want to continue series and can’t. RL interferes, or their publisher doesn’t want to continue with the books, or for many other reasons.
Sometimes writers are going to continue series, but the schedule slips (personal reasons, creative reasons, publisher’s reasons). They may or may not wish to make a complete explanation of the delay public.
The internet makes an intimacy and immediacy of communication between writers and readers possible that wasn’t previously possible. It is incumbent upon readers writing to writers, no matter their passionate investment in a work, to retain the awareness that they are in communication with a human being, not a machine which exists to serve their desires. It is incumbent upon writers reading communications from readers to remain aware that the passion with which readers express themselves is an index of how deeply they have been affected by what the writer has written.
That’s very well put, Rosemary. You should be a cheeble writer! :)
The series is not going to be finished. I’m not the first, even in this thread, to say so, but the more I think about it, the more that seems the likely outcome.
A Game of Thrones: copyright 1996, published 1996
A Clash of Kings: copyright 1996, published 1999
A Storm of Swords: copyright 2000, published 2000
A Feast for Crows: copyright 2005, published 2005
If the copyright in my copy of Clash of Kings is correct, I’ll hang a theory on it: It takes GRRM about five years to bring a book for Ice and Fire to completion. (For whatever reasons; I won’t speculate.) He had the first two more or less in the bag when he sold the series. Then, presuming the sale took place in ’95, he polished up the first two and wrote the third. Five years also passed between the third and fourth (Martin himself said “at long last” about the delivery of the fourth), and now more than four have passed between the fourth and fifth.
The way to bet seems to be The Winds of Winter, 2015 and A Dream of Spring 2020. In 2020, Martin will turn 72. Numerous people write splendid books at that age, but many more people prefer to retire.
So we’ll get to end the saga ourselves; there won’t be a canonical finish from the author.
I’m coming into this conversation very late and admittedly I haven’t read every comment in the thread, so I apologize if this point of view has already been expressed.
First point: I read the first four A Song of Ice and Fire books. I loved the first two was luke-warm on the third and didn’t care for the fourth. This obviously colors my judgment.
Second point: I completely and totally agree with Mr. Scalzi on this. GRRM can write the book he wants to write and take the time he needs to make it the book he is comfortable releasing. He is the writer and he ought not be pressured or hounded for it.
But there is a Third Point, and that’s the point of the reader:
I tend not to start single-story multi-volume series because of the amount of time that it takes to read and the energy expended keeping track of dozens of characters and myriad subplots, some of which pop up every five hundred pages or so. I don’t start these series (usually) because of the annoyance they cause me. But I respect those readers who really enjoy these massive undertakings.
As a reader, I have the right to buy any books I want and read as far into them as I care to. If I decide to put the book down at page 50, that’s my business. Just as it is the writer’s prerogative to leave a dozen stories “to be continued.”
It’s also my prerogative to stop reading a series when I’ve been annoyed by it. I don’t have to send off a letter to Mr. Martin telling him that I’m not going to buy the 5th book. In fact that would be in poor taste. I also didn’t have to say so in your comment thread, John, but since you’re already on this subject I will. I think some readers get so wrapped up in these novels that they forget their own market influence.
I appreciate well-written stories and GRRM is certainly a man who can craft fine quality fiction. But he’s not the only one out there. In fact, I’ll make a recommendation: Acacia by David Anthony Durham. It’s a well written high fantasy every bit as engaging as ASoI&F, but it has the benefit of being a well-crafted story with a beginning, middle, and ending all in the same volume while leaving room for a second book in a “series.”
One of the things I appreciate about your books, John, is that you’ve made a rich universe to hold many tales, but the main plot of each of your stories concludes within the cover of a single volume. Because I like that in a novel, I search out single volume stories, even if they are part of series tied together by characters or setting.
No more OMW books, oh misery! I’m off to buy a sledgehammer (snigger).
The cleft between “I Create Stuff” and “I Consume Stuff” seems to be kinda sharp-edged here at the moment.
I’m gonna take a shot at Michael B. Sullivan’s point from a practical point of view, as that seems to be the overweening one: Unless you are his publisher, you don’t have a contract with GRRM. You just don’t. Societal, implied, implicit or otherwise he is in no way, shape or form beholden to provide you with anything – including product to purchase. If he decides to go farm rutabagas for a living this afternoon, he’s not even obliged to inform you of the matter.
Would it be polite? Yes. Is that a contract? No. Sometimes I think it’s a shame that politeness isn’t covered by some form of contract, but other times I’m glad to have the liberty of optional rudeness.
Let’s take the “I’ve spent $100 on this series” argument. Aside from the cost/benefit ratio of a good book outweighing just about any other form of entertainment on the planet, how many of your, personal, work-hours would $100 buy? Four? Eight? Sixteen? More?
How many hours does it take to write a book? A lot more than that.
And if you start in with the “Yes, but we’ve *ALL* paid so he owes us *ALL*” then you’re into the foul pit of “Collective Rights” pitted against “Individual Responsibilities”. That’s a really good way to get people to quit and farm rutabagas.
As a working artist (3D variety), I know in my bones the trials of Creativity On Demand. The majority of my work is closely similar to John writing ad copy, magazine articles or his AMC blog. Bit of money in the kitty for a short effort of creativity with a signature style that people seem to like. Short-form, and therefore generally you can carry it over the line with one blast of creative thinking followed by a day or so of workmanlike slogging.
That’s one kind of payment model, and it’s a good one to be able to address in that it keeps the roof present and the lights on. It’s not easy, but it’s repeatable and can be done on demand. It’s not, however, the payment model that gets books written – not even remotely. Hell, I’ve never even thought of doing any long-form creativity because my brain slides off that cliff-face of fractally ramifying interconnections of happenstance, knit too close to get a foothold.
And that’s why the contract is with a publisher and an editor, who know these things, and also presumably know how to nudge an author (who is, gh0d help us an artist, with an ego a muse and quite often shivering paranoia that they’re a hack who’s going to get found out ANY DAY NOW!!!!) without reducing them to catatonia, or inciting them to down scribblesticks and farm rutabagas.
You know, as much as Scalzi is right here in saying that GRRM’s fans should back off, so what!
GRRM’s Song of Fire and Ice is a well-realized, beautifully complex collection of sadism porn. I used to sell this stuff in my store, and basically everyone who bought them (except for this one _really strange_ girl) had this whiff about them that said to me, ‘If I have a daughter, I’m not leaving her alone with you for any length of time.’
a) GRRM should quit writing his latest blood manifesto, and go into gardening or something.
b) GRRM’s fans should quit whining that the latest book isn’t out yet, and get into therapy.
Complaining about the lack of Dancing with Dragons is as sane as complaining about the lack of more new Left Behind books.
I sometimes marvel at the power of the internet. If Mr. Martin didn’t give people access to him in any venue (if, all we knew about him was on the “about the author” flap) people wouldn’t be upset about the book not being done. It just wouldn’t exist until it was advertised. But since Mr. Martin is an internet-present human being, we remember that he, and the possible future books, exist.
Regarding contracts, anybody who thinks they have a contract/right/claim on the end of a story needs to sit around a campfire and hear me tell the story of the boy with the golf balls.
You’re not entitled to stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. In fact, I’ve bought and read tons of books filled with stories that don’t. Because, those writers were incompetent. If Mr. Martin fails to conclude his series (or you fail to continue caring when he does) I’m sure it will diminish your opinion of his authorial prowess. “Dude wrote thousands of pages, and couldn’t even get to a stopping point, he’s worse than Stephenson!”
If he does finish, he’ll have the esteem he has then.
If you want to say “If he doesn’t finish in a timely manner, I’ll think much less of his authorial prowess,” you’re facing reality.
I’m a former bookseller (from a store that got an ARC of Eye of the World) and I know how long delays can hurt sequel sales.
But you know what, that’s all right.
See when I was selling books for a living, my goal wasn’t to sell the next book of series ‘x;’ it was to sell the book the customer would like most that was on my shelves.
The person who suffers most from a long delay is the author. Not only financially because they lose sales, but also emotionally from slogging through a book that seems to be taking forever to write. That’s not to downplay reader frustration: I’ve been waiting for some sequels for a very long time and have gone through all the stages of grief.
Of course I’ve largely stopped reading epic fantasy, especially those massive sprawling interminable epics of the kind we’re discussing. The stories just take too long for me, and I drop out part way through even if I start them. Robert Jordan had already lost me by the turn of the century because the story was just moving too slowly.
Frustration about not knowing what happens next is understandable; anger is not appropriate and doesn’t help. Being stuck on a novel is not a good place to be. I try to write every day, but on my first novel some days that was only one word. It takes a very long time to finish a novel at that rate.
Anger and entitlement seem to go hand in hand, and I think it’s that combination that is bothering me. Still when it comes right down to it, I’d rather read an unfinished series and enjoy every book than drop a series without finishing it because I couldn’t stand slogging through another volume.
“And if you start in with the ‘Yes, but we’ve *ALL* paid so he owes us *ALL*’ then you’re into the foul pit of ‘Collective Rights’ pitted against ‘Individual Responsibilities’. That’s a really good way to get people to quit and farm rutabagas.”
Not to mention that in point of fact, in this case, no one but the publisher has paid a penny for the next book in the series. There’s no “owe” involved here, either implicit or explicit, and any argument toward the same is founded poorly. You paid for what you’ve gotten so far; if you’ve been unsatisfied with what you’ve gotten so far, for whatever reason, the solution is not to buy any more. Simple and done.
“The dates – again, repeatedly – proved to be incorrect. Customers’ expectations got set, and then got broken. Repeatedly.”
Well, but life is like that, isn’t it. Once again, and whether you accept it or not, you’re falling back on the idea that an author is a machine that spits out text at regular and predictable intervals. They aren’t.
This is a valuable lesson, however, on what dates you can trust when it comes to the release of a book. The ones you can trust are the ones that come from a publisher after the final manuscript comes in.
Re: the general notation of “interest in the series is waning”: Well, this is indeed the risk one takes in spacing the books out as much as they are. But again it’s difficult to see why this is anyone’s problem but the author’s and publisher’s.
Why am I bothering to comment on this at all?
I paid good money for the first of GRRM’s series when it first came out, read about 50 pages then threw it away and I’ve never read another word he’s written since.
I agree with everything Scalzi says in his post but then – then I think of David Gerrold and “Chtorr” – arghhhhh!
When they publish the last Wheel of Time novel there I’ll be, lining up to pay out my hard earned – I’ve gotta know how it all pans out in the end, even if somebody else is writing the bloody thing.
It’s good to be a fan.
Re: 185 “Doorstop sized? No. But I can name several authors in mystery, thriller, romance, and EVEN science fiction who’ve done just what you describe, and made damn good money at it.”
Well, geez, specifically rule out some of my criteria and you can think of plenty of examples. Why, heck, the Encylopedia Britanica has, what, thirty volumes? And it’s a wonderful series, indeed.
I have not so far seen what I consider a successful series consisting of more than three (YES) doorstop-sized books which are not self contained, but which are volumes in one continuous story. I have seen a number of very successful beginnings, launching series’ which then sell a lot of books to increasingly frustrated fans. But I’ve never seen one end well.
Someone said that GRRM is at fault because he should have known the timeline and scope of his book before he started. As a writer myself, I know what is reasonable and realistic and what is not. Knowing the scope and timeline on a project like SOIAF or Wheel of Time at the very beginning is simply not possible. At the most, the authors have some sort of vague idea of an ending they’re driving at, and a sketchy outline, but no one can plot 10,000 pages of fiction in advance. And that’s my point. We shouldn’t be surprised when this kind of opus fizzles out, or disappoints in some way. Like I said, I can’t think of any that have not become disappointing. The quality in Wheel of Time went downhill long before the last book was published. As I said, the lack of completion of the series is far from the most tragic thing about Jordan’s death. What may be more tragic, I suspect, is that ultimately Wheel of Time consumed all of the talent of a really brilliant writer, and that he never got a chance to go on to the next thing because he was feeding millions of hungry fans the next 48 hours of each character’s life. I agree with the book seller above. Martin needs to hit the fast-forward button on this story and get to the end already. In Feast of Crows we saw a lot of detail of the lives of minor characters which would have been summarized in a single scene. “But where is your faithful companion, Patsy?” “Alas, Patsy was killed by a stray arrow.” Moving on…
Catherine, after writing four books in the series, would you expect to know whether book five would be a six-month project or a four-year project?
While I would like another OMW book I’m not demanding it. Really, anything with the Scalzi name on it works. I don’t mean introductions for other people’s books. There’s just a few authors who get grabbed based exclusively on the author and you’re one of them.
I read my girlfriend the first chapter of “The Android’s Dream” while we were driving somewhere the other day. When we got there she insisted sit in the car for an extra 5 minutes so I could finish. “Old Man’s War” is on the queue just as soon as I finish reading her “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.
Doug @211 I refer you back to “This isn’t making donuts”. The answer to your question is still “no”, because having Really Good Ideas that also work within the framework of existing canon does not happen to a timetable. The idea machine keeps on pooping out new notions if you keep it fuelled, but there’s no guarantee that the Spontaneous Creation Engine will give material appropriate to that universe. Creativity just doesn’t work that way.
I can see it getting worse and worse as a series lengthens – how Weber managed to keep the Honorverse going as long as he did is amazing. The longer a series is, the fewer ideas you have will fit in that increasingly-restrictive canon, even if you did know that one night’s bowling, two nights with pals, one dinner out with the missus + a marmite sandwich = New Idea. The new ideas may well not be appropos for use in his existing series, hence him popping out new IP in the interim.
It is not, as the man said, making donuts.
John, I actually agree – authors can’t spit out text reliably and predictably. *Looks mournfully at chapter 3 of the latest rewrite of the perpetually-unfinished novel* My point is that, in general, authors should know that already, and not try to behave as if it weren’t true, because it just makes people cranky.
The only reason we can talk about the ASoIaF books being “late” at all is that we were quoted dates. If we hadn’t been, some people would still be cranky, but I would bet they wouldn’t be this particular flavor of cranky.
(My bona fides: I work in the online video game industry, as one of the people that has to explain to the howling masses why their Leet Sword of Leetness won’t be fixed this week. Production schedules suck all the way around.)
Thanks MarkHB; I’m still interested in Catherine’s opinion. And Catherine, if it helps, imagine the question being asked in a very open, interested tone.
#211 Doug: writing a 700 page book is never a six month project. We all thought it was already written or it would have been crazy to expect the next book six months later. Any author that thinks they can write a 500+ page book in six months is deluded. Most writers will have a feel for how long a project will take, but a lot of things can derail your plans. As others have pointed out, blowing a deadline is somewhere between a minor and major sin for a writer, but that’s between him and his publisher.
If Martin explained exactly what the problem was and why it was taking so long, we would all probably have a lot more sympathy. I think it would also suck the magic out of the story for me. Don’t you agree?
I do think GRRM should take comfort in the fact that the frustration and anger expressed reflects real love of the books and characters.
“My point is that, in general, authors should know that already, and not try to behave as if it weren’t true, because it just makes people cranky.”
I think authors like everyone live in hope. That said, I agree that the best thing to do is simply to tell people that it’ll be done when it’s done, and leave it at that.
Catherine Shaffer #146
I think several of us in this thread have noted that we’ve either stopped reading epic fantasy or wait until a series has finished.
And I do think that is being noted by publishers, in that we’re getting a lot more stand alone books within an ongoing series: Simon R Green, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Charles de Lint, Steven Brust. All create a world and each book continues in the world, but with one or two exceptions, every book in the series can stand on its own.
Someone said that once you get into a series like that it’s better to have read everything, and that’s true. But you don’t HAVE to. I started reading Robert B Parker many years into his Spenser series, and I started in the middle, and then went back and started from the beginning, because even though I picked up a good in the middle, it was a self contained story that made me want to read more about those characters.
Yeah, it’s better when you have the backstory of the characters because you pick up on the extra meaning of some events, but it’s not mandatory in most of the series you and I are discussing.
And that’s what makes them so strong.
It seems to me that allowing readers to enter at any point in a series is going to be more profitable than having tens of thousands of pages to read before you pick up on the current story.
Which is why we have so many epic fantasy series that my husband has read by I won’t touch, at least until the series is done. I want to be able to sit down and read a book and close that book with a sense of satisfaction of having enjoyed a complete story.
This doesn’t mean I want or need a HEA in my stories, it just means I hate being strung along. I like picking up books because I love spending time with the characters, not because I was left hanging at the end of the last book.
That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with epic fantasy, but I think there are more of us who are completely disenchanted with the idea of waiting decades to finish a story.
And a comment to the person who said SF didn’t string you along? Sure it does, just in a different genre: ie Heroes, BSG, Farscape… I may love those shows, but I won’t watch a season till it’s out on DVD, because it’s the same principle.
Does GRRM run the risk of loosing his audience? Sure he does. Am I frustrated that there hasn’t been a entry in the series in years? Naturally. Does it bother me that he was doing readings at Worldcon in 2001 for the book that sounded almost exactly like what I would read in print 4 years later? Eh. Some. Does it frustrate (just a little) when I see ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ board games, RPGs and TV series being worked on while no progress appears to be made on the actual core material. More than a little, yes.
Here’s the thing. Some folks here are posting that “A Feast for Crows” was poorly received. By whom? Rabid SoIaF fans? The book was nominated for a Hugo, Quill and British Fantasy Award. It was the first book in the series to reach #1 on the NYT best-seller list. I googled just now to find a review that gave it a 6/10 rating…then proceeded to say that he was grading on a curve for the series (since even a weak GRRM book was very good) and then saying that this 6/10 book should have won the Hugo. I suspect most authors would give their eye-teeth for such a “poor” reception.
If the last book left me somewhat unfulfilled, I still consumed it with a hunger and was left eager for more. Clearly, lots of folks maintained their emotional investment in the franchise. Did GRRM effectively create a social contract with me (the reader) promising that, in effect, he would finish the story? I think that he did…or rather, that he intended to and would give it the old college try. And it’s not a terribly binding contract, either. But he ALSO made a contract to the readers about the collective quality of his work…and THAT CONTRACT TRUMPS ANY OTHER. And again, this contract is about as binding as a friend saying “Maybe I’ll drop by after dinner and we’ll go see a movie.” I know that if GRRM delivers a crap book, THAT will have far more negative implications than failing to deliver it to an arbitrary schedule. If the quality hadn’t been that good up until this point, NO ONE WOULD CARE about his work speed.
I want to see the end of “War against the Chtorr”, but if I don’t….c’est la vie. I enjoyed the books I got. I LOVED “Wheel of Time” when it began, but by later books, I stopped caring. Sure, RJ was putting the books out at a slowing pace….but as the quality began to worsen (IMHO), my investment in the series evaporated. 20 years down the road, the work has to stand on it’s own…and I think GRRM is viewing it in those terms.
Marmite? Did you perchance mean marmot?
“If Martin explained exactly what the problem was and why it was taking so long, we would all probably have a lot more sympathy. I think it would also suck the magic out of the story for me. Don’t you agree?”
I think the reasons we’re imagining are all more interesting than whatever (hey! great word! maybe it would work as a blog title?) the real ones are.
I’m remembering the spaceship in the H2G2 radio series that was centuries late because it was still awaiting the lemon-soaked paper napkins required for the flight.
“We all thought it was already written…” Without that note at the end of Feast for Crows, there probably would have been a lot less Sturm und Drang.
Is a publisher living in hope or being cynical to keep saying “Any season now” for four years or so? A bit of both would be this former bookseller’s initial reaction.
Jonathon vos Post @ 196 —
“Isaac Asimov. Knitting together Foundation Empire, and Robot novels!”
Big Asimov fan here. Read the Foundation trilogy more times than I can count. Not so much a fan of the later novels. I thought the creation of a unified Asimov universe was forced and served to marginalize the world-building efforts of each individual universe … but won’t argue with you on the subject.
Counterpoint example: Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast. Knitting together … well, everything. But not so well, in comparison to his other (earlier) works.
Good point. Well made. I’d go one step further and point out that the torrent of bile over GRRM’s schedule and the non-arrival of the latest installment of his beloved saga isn’t going to exactly motivate him to finish it any faster. In fact, were I in his position, I’d be quite tempted to simply say “fuck ’em, they’re only going to bitch about it anyway. Let ’em wait.”
My only thought on this (well, the only thought that hasn’t been stated 15 different ways already, and usually more eloquently than I could have) is that hopefully this situation will inspire some fans of the series to say “This is bullshit. I could do a better job of writing a fantasy series.” And then they do. And it’s awesome. I guess I’m just looking for the silver lining that being frustrated about waiting for someone else to provide good fantasy will inspire someone to try who really does a great job.
I guess I’m a “glass-half-full” kind of guy (maybe “book-half-written”?).
Just to take the other side here. GRRM indicated that the next book would be out by a certain time. He also indicated to fans that it was mostly done when he shot out the last book, because the last book was half of the story.
It is the “promises” to fans that have not been fulfilled that get people up in arms.
Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. And if you make such statements that can not be delivered, do not be surprised that your fan base gets angry or “pissy”.
On another note, it is the fan base and the purchase of his writings that enables GRRM to do all of the other activities he enjoys. It is a balance.
Just my $.02
Coming in waaaaaaaaaaaay late here, Scalzi, but did I just read upthread that you heard the new U2 album? And hated it?
Um, mind saying more? Please?
P.C. Hodgell’s fans waited nine years for book 3 and twelve for book 4. GRRM fans have it easy.
Fortunately, they were worth the wait, and she hadn’t lost the characters’ voices either … and book 5 should be out in about a year or so, since she’s finished it.
What’s to say? It’s sounds like U2 making fun of U2 and not bothering to write any songs to boot.
You can hear it for youself; they’re streaming it off their MySpace page.
Believe me, sometimes the time between books and ultimate lack of completion is not the author’s choice.
Hmmm. Seems like some people–perhaps even Mr. Martin–ate some bait left by trolls. If only it didn’t taste so damned good sometimes…
The Internet: it vexes us, it does.
@210: Thing is, George tried that when he originally started book 4 (before he split it). Everyone was a-twitter with the news that he had said at cons and interviews that the 4th book would have this five year gap. Basically, it’d pick up five years after the events of the third book.
Unfortunately, he tried that for more than a year, and it wasn’t working for him. It was awkward and infodumpy and just not pushing the buttons he wanted. So he scrapped it all and started fresh. But now he had to deal with the structural problems that this caused. As you’ll note in #4, for example, some of the events in AFfC are taking place before climactic events of ASoS. In other words, he packed the third book with so many big events because he basically took the dramatic shortcut of not leading up to them or worrying about aftermath and consequences which he figured that a jump 5 years forward would let him scant.
And… not right. At least, he didn’t feel he could pull it off. Maybe someone else could, but he couldn’t. Maybe his reach was beyond his grasp. In any case, that seems to be one reason for the difficulties: he’s still trying to sort out the structural issues that losing the five year gap has caused.
@219: Well said. I actually think the 4th book is up there with the rest of the series, although in a different way (it’s thematically very strong, in a way more remiscent of GRRM’s short fiction work than the previous three novels had been — for many, this is no substitute for big battles, political events, etc., but for me it means it’s an engrossing read; his craft is all there on display).
The fact is that Bantam Spectra is planning a larger first printing of ADwD than they did of AFfC, according to Publisher’s Weekly, so they certainly do not seem to think that they’re losing readership.
Scalzi @144: “Dude, I’d like to point out as an actual professional writer, you clearly have not a single clue as to what you’re talking about.”
Well, maybe you’re right. The fact that I expressed an opinion about what a writer might or might not be doing while not being a professional writer myself is obviously ludicrous. It’s almost as silly as if I were to offer up opinions about politics without being a career politician, or if I were to opine about music, while not being a musician.
I just think that given Martin’s creative output on other projects since the last Fire and Ice book, it’s unlikely that he’s sitting at home, tearing his hair out in despair because of writer’s block. And I feel like you’re trying to have it both ways: “Writers are PEOPLE. We get sick, bored, want to work on other stuff, get sideswiped by real life, etc.” so it’s understandable that an author can’t churn out work like a photocopier, versus “Yeah, but he’s a WRITER and there are different performance metrics involved,” so there should no reasonable expectation that a writer’s work would be held to any kind of timetable, unlike people in “normal” professions.
The thing is, I (along with millions of others) have invested a good amount of my very finite time on this planet to reading this excellent series, I care about the characters, and I want to know what happens. That’s the contract – time and attention. Martin asked (oh, yes he did, and you do, too! Or is it effortless to get something published, and readership meaningless?) for my time and attention, I gave it gladly, and now it feels like the time and attention I’ve offered to that series have been used and ultimately ignored in favor of other things.
Back in — god, I think 1996 or something, I started reading the “Wheel of Time” series. Everyone knows what happened to that series. I stopped after book five, still during the late 90s, because I didn’t really want to get to any more cliffhanging endings and have to wait a year to read the next installment. I promised myself that I would start from the top and finish them all when the series was finished. (This is not necessarily my “policy,” merely what I chose to do in this case.)
Unfortunately, now, seeing from others’ reviews the direction the WoT series has gone in, I won’t be finishing it. But does that mean that the time I spent reading, anticipating, and enjoying the first five was wasted? Absolutely not. I have no regrets. I think it’s a substandard series, but this isn’t outright animosity. It’s a shrug and a selection of other books.
I waited a good 15 years in between installments of OSC’s “Alvin Maker” series. (I regret some things about that — mainly finding out more about Card’s thought process, which I wish I didn’t know — but not the books themselves.) Same with the Mistwraith series (begun in 1993, still not done, latest book not even released Stateside!).
I personally think it would be a tragedy if ASoIaF did not get finished. But…the thing is, this is a person we’re discussing here. A person whom I would guess is not exactly happy over the delay. Writer’s block is fucking hellish, if that’s what he has. And missing a deadline you’ve promised isn’t exactly a mood-lifter, unless you’re some kind of amoral loony, which Martin has given no indication of being.
Sure, people have a right to feel what they feel with impunity, whatever it is that they feel, and stifling that sort of thing tends to wind up ugly (see percentage of weird sexual repression in serial killers — but responsibility must be taken for feelings that translate into negative ACTIONS (see again serial killing. ;-D) Even if there are those of us who are disappointed — and even annoyed — at being “strung along” so to speak; even if the people attacking him are RIGHT (which I don’t think they fully are) — this method is NOT going to get them what they want. Sometimes efficacy of method matters more than being “right.” Bitching the guy out online in public forums is an excellent way of making him never want to look at Ice and Fire again. It doesn’t MATTER if he’d be “wrong” to throw the project away, whether out of spite or frustration or burnout or what have you — that is what will happen. It costs us nothing to chill the fuck out.
@ 169 Mike Brotherton
Yes! ENCOURAGEMENT. What a revolutionary idea. :-) And how sad that it should be so.
@184 “This isn’t a writing problem; this is a PR problem.”
Actually, I agree with this. But I kinda think that Martin owes it to HIMSELF and his own health to do better PR, to avoid stuff like this — he doesn’t owe it to ME.
“The fact that I expressed an opinion about what a writer might or might not be doing while not being a professional writer myself is obviously ludicrous.”
Nope; however, when you express an opinion that shows a certain ignorance about that which you are expressing an opinion, in front of someone whose livelihood that thing is, you can expect a response like the one I gave you.
As for the rest of it, as noted before, you may not think it’s fair that GRRM (or any other writer) chooses to pursue projects other than the ones you want him to, but life isn’t fair, and aside from that it’s not actually up to you; it’s up to him, because it’s his life and his brain, and if you want access to the products of his brain, you’re just going to have to wait for him to provide them when he’s damn good and ready and not a minute before. As to his process, in fact you don’t know if his process at this point requires a lot of time — and time away from a project to get the next part right. Perhaps it does.
In any event, life is full of disappointments and things that are utterly out of your control, and guess what? This is one of them. The timetable GRRM (or any writer’s) has to hold to is his own, or his publishers’, each depending on specific circumstance. What your timetable is does not enter into this at all, save to the very limited extent of whether you choose to buy the next book or not. Any suggestion otherwise is, to be blunt, an erroneous sense of entitlement.
It’s almost as silly as if I were to offer up opinions about politics without being a career politician, or if I were to opine about music, while not being a musician.
You want to ally yourself with the deeply insightful political and musical commentary on the intertubes? Really?
Your books all tell complete story arcs. You’ve said many times that you intentionally write them such that someone could pick up any book and it have merit as a separate story. This isn’t Martin’s path and while I don’t think he owes it to anyone to finish up he also can’t complain that the people he got all worked up over an unfinished storyline are still worked up.
David – sure:
From what I can see he’s not worked up that people are complaining about the story arcs being incomplete. He’s somewhat miffed that there are people who appear to believe their love of his work privileges them to demand he do nothing else with his time and life but what they think he should do. He’s being rather more polite about it, frankly, than I would be.
David – sure:
Do you do everything that Scalzi does?
I’ve jumped off a bridge!
Well, I’m losing my hair. Does that count for anything?
And just for the record, I never have, nor would I, actually demand anything directly from Martin himself. It would be mean-spirited and counterproductive to hassle the man, either via e-mail, on his website, or elsewhere personally. I commented here because I like this blog, and this particular topic is one I have an (apparently ill-informed) opinion about.
I don’t actually sit up nights plotting revenge on George R.R. Martin because he doesn’t release books quickly enough for my taste. I understand that his work is entirely under his control, and my wishes have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
And I certainly wasn’t trying to toss off some irrational screed about it, or to be disrespectful or dismissive toward Martin or his talents. I just feel kind of annoyed and insulted by the whole thing.
Wait! Is it too late to mention Christopher Stasheff’s amazing and wonderful and unique trilogy-by-default-because-he-hasn’t-written-another-book-in-the-series-since-1994, Starship Troupers?
Damn, how I would relish another novel in that series. So much fun to read (especially for those with any backstage theatre experience). So many plotlines left unresolved …
Forget those magic books. We must “encourage” him to write more actors-in-space books, yes indeed.
The sucky thing is that creative work isn’t entirely under the control of the creator, either. Inspiration and art aren’t such tractable things. I agree with many of the posters above in that I’m sure GRRM himself is far from happy about the state of affairs.
Delurking, and acknowledging that I’ve never read GRRM myself — though, like many others, he’s on My List to Read, One of These Years.
As a reader, following is my Sum Total of Expectations That I Have of A Book And Its Author.
If I purchase a book by, to pull a name completely out of the air, John Scalzi, I expect that:
A) The book will contain words, a reasonable number of them, and that these words will have been written by John Scalzi; and
B) Said John Scalzi will have done his best to make those words into a well-written, compelling story.
That’s it. The end. No further expectations. That is all the author “owes” me for my 20 or 30 bucks (or less if I’m waiting for the softcover). I don’t care when the next book comes, or if it comes at all. I’m happy to have the *current* book. And when I’ve finished it, y’know, I move on with my life. I read something *else.* And it doesn’t bother me if the author ends the story by throwing all its characters off a cliff and concludes “TO BE CONTINUED IF AND WHEN I FEEL LIKE IT.” Because, y’know, that’s fine with me. I understand what people say about developing an emotional connection to the characters in a book — I do it too. But the difference with me is, I have that connection *only while in the process of reading the book.* When I close the cover when I’ve finished, that connection is closed. Would I be happy if the author chooses to open it again? Sure. Does it annoy, disappoint or anger me if he/she doesn’t? Nope, not especially. There’s plenty of other things to read.
Maybe instead of griping about unfinished books … people could maybe be thankful for the *finished* ones. There’s plenty of ’em out there. Whole libraries and bookstores of ’em.
#229 – …Rick Cook? That Rick Cook? *looks at bookshelf* *Googles* I suppose you might know what you’re talking about, at that :P
People are… strange. They get hooked on one writer or series and it’s like there aren’t thousands of other good books they could be reading while they wait.
It hurts my heart to see someone being punished for, essentially, the sin of writing something brilliant and then being easily and readily available to his fans. It appears that someone actually said TO HIM something to the effect of “you’re sixty years old and fat, don’t pull a Robert Jordan.” The callousness gags me. Fandom, once again, needs to put on some goddamn pants.
I’d hate to see him go the route Lynn Viehl did a few years ago and exit the internet. Or, god forbid, walk away from the whole series because he’s tired of being excoriated.
I wonder if he’s getting most of this stuff via email and LJ? As Warren Ellis once remarked, sometimes we forget there’s PEOPLE on the other end of the internet. That sometimes leads to behaving in ways we never would in person.
So, my question is: for those of us in the non-douchebag contingent of GRRM fans do you think it’s important to let him know that we exist, or should we just leave the man in peace to finish the book?
Authors always like to know you appreciate their work.
I appreciate you, John.
My jar of green ink does, too.
When one is both an writer and a fan, the view is… interesting. On the one hand, I can’t help feeling bummed about delays in a beloved series. I can even feel bitter about it and say so on my blog, to my friends. (Though I draw the line at ranting about it in the author’s face. I thank my mother for teaching me some manners.) Is that entitlement? Or simple, human feelings?
On the other hand, I know, in a very personal way, what it’s like to have problems finishing a story. Because it’s what happened to me between novels #1 and #2 of my fantasy series. And, boy, did the readers made their feelings clear! In person and by e-mail, too.
Did I rant about it? No.
But I did adress it publicly, as soon at it became evident that I couldn’t keep the deadline. And I found that the readers could be more patient if I kept them posted about the work in progress. Not too detailed updates, but enough to let them know that I was revisiting stuff already written, or doing research, or at last finding a way at last to thread together two unfinished storylines in a satisfactory manner. And why it was important to do it right.
Now, I admit I have nowhere near the amount of fans and built up expectation than GRRM. (How I wish!) But at least, I think I managed to find a win-win solution for me and the modest cadre of readers who follow my work, and to keep the online conversation going while I was finishing the book.
Just my two eurocents, here.
“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.”
Back in the day I used to love Robert Lynn Asprin’s “Thieves’ World” series, in which they did have several writers working in the universe, sharing the load.
Of course, we’ve all been to the (oft-shrinking) Science Fiction section of our local bookstore and seen the dozens of Star Trek and Star Wars novels available from the dozens of authors who manage to co-exist in those universes.
It is a viable model for keeping fans happy (and money/product flowing). Why don’t more authors work this way?
@ DoubleFuzzy: It’s the 1632 model. In addition to the novels, written by Eric Flint and several associates, there’s the ongoing Grantville Gazette project and the Ring of Fire anthologies. But then, Flint says he likes to write with other writers, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Re #222: Jonathon Vos Post @ 196 –
“Isaac Asimov. Knitting together Foundation Empire, and Robot novels!”
“Big Asimov fan here. Read the Foundation trilogy more times than I can count.”
Part of my point: he set aside his Foundation universe for THIRTY YEARS! Picking it up at all was amazing. The way that he undercut the premise of Psychohistory with Chaos Theory was an intellectual coda of magnificent proportions, resolving his university crisis of whether to major in Chemistry or History.
I chanced on him while he was talking to Judy Lynn Del Rey, just outside a Manhattan restaurant when he’d shaken hands (written contract later) to do another Foundation novel. He was ecstatic.
A little heat here.
Michael at #153 and others:
There is one specific reason the tipping analogy fails. To wit, in the US waitpeople’s minimum wage is lower than other people’s because, by law, their tips are part of their wages. And, their taxes reflect this.
To all the extraordinary writers who have made pithy – and not so pithy – arguments: Thank you for your work and for caring enough about this issue to contribute.
By the way, WOT really ticked me off with the “I don’t really want to write this but I have to” attitude of most of the middle books The last two, and the first two, were pretty good. Of course, I bought them all making me an enabler in the frustrating process.
I love SOIAF. I want to read the next volume, and I will whenever it comes out. To GRRM: “Live long and prosper”.
Scalzi: Have a nice stiff drink, play with Athena, give Kristine a big kiss for all of us (she deserves it) and enjoy the critters.
Oh, and by the way; Write WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT!! (I’ll buy it.)
I think some folks don’t get that when a writers muse is not kept happy, there’s no creative juju going on. We’re not machines, we’re artists. Art is not an exact science, it’s a process and even the writer doesn’t always know what they’ll end up with. If a story is picking at our brain, we can’t just ignore it and plug away at whatever series the fan want more of. We got to scratch the creative itch and trust when that next book in the series is ready to be written the juju will be there for that, too.
For those who say that GRRM hasn’t promised anything that is incorrect. GRRM is being more than a little hypocritical about his agnst. He did sell to the public the concept of a multi-volume series. People bought in expectation of that product. To date, he seems to have taken his sweet time (12 years and counting!) to finish the deal. In short, GRRM is behaving like a whiny b!@#h.
Then again, so are the angst ridden fans. Take my advice, read the Dresden series. Not only is it excellent, but Jim Butcher is a writing machine.
@219: Wizardru, the RPG, board game, and such call for very little of George’s time. I’ve worked on license tie-ins myself and know how this goes. There’s some initial discussion, and then essentially everything is done by other people, and finally submitted for his review and approval or rejection. In the particular cases of Fantasy Flight Games (doing the board game) and my friends at Green Ronin (doing the RPG), we’re talking about companies with long, very successful histories of licensed game creation, who know what to streamline, what makes the approval process productive and satisfying for the people involved, and so on.
It does take some of George’s time, yeah, but reading and commenting on someone else’s work is nothing like writing his own.
He did sell to the public the concept of a multi-volume series.
Actually, no. He sold it to his publishers, as thoroughly noted above. And it almost didn’t happen. GAME was quickly remaindered after (initially) disappointing sales, and there was a good chance the publishers would back out.
In short, GRRM is behaving like a whiny b!@#h.
Opinions differ. But the big point is, he’s not YOUR bitch. Get it?
If you want to talk about pissy fans, my hackles really got up at people carrying on as if Robert Jordan gave himself a fatal heart condition, widowed his beloved wife, and left his last book unfinished just to piss off his faithful fans. There’s self-importance on ‘roids, and people who need to be forced to write “I must not be an arsehole over an open grave” several million times.
Anyway, I’m not a fan of Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’, but have to grant that it’s well-written and obviously considerable thought and effort has gone into the exercise. Not so sure a number of big-name authors who have their ‘product’ on the shelves like clockwork can honestly say the same. Some folks really should stop bitching and count their blessings that when ‘Dance with Dragons’ (or our host’s ‘The High Castle’) does hit the shelves, they’re more than likely to repay the wait.
In this same theme of fan entitlement:
Brian Green, an online game developer, gave a great speech on a panel a couple years ago at the Austin Game Conference on fan entitlement, especially when it comes to offering ‘advice’ on how to improve their favorite online game. He did it by having a ‘fan’ write an imaginary ‘advice’ email to Stephen King:
While it is a little sideways to what is being discussed, I’d have to say that the fan rage over Mr. Martin’s latest book is adequately covered here, :-).
Authors always like to know you appreciate their work.
My grandmother loves your books. :) So you’re rockin’ the 91 year old grandmother contingent.
@257, Bruce Baugh: “Wizardru, the RPG, board game, and such call for very little of George’s time.”
Oh, I appreciate that. I think many fans don’t, for good or ill. Personally, I think it’s great that there are RPGs and Board Games for the franchise…better still that they are of such high quality. But it does act as a reminder that no new book is here, each time such news or items appear, and I’m not so saint-like that I’d claim that it doesn’t rankle, just a bit, regardless.
That’s my problem, though, not GRRM’s. I’m not calling him on it or saying “Why aren’t you working on the books?” Heck, I’d plum forgotten all about it. I’m a fan of GRRM, but I’m not so hardcore a fan as to be following his updates and details. It’s even possible the new book will come out and I won’t hear about, because I’m just not following it any longer. Which may be to his detriment or it might not, as I’ll get it whenever I hear about it. Whenever that is. :)
Just want to point out that, as far as fan bitching goes, it takes two to tango. Pissing and moaning from readers because you aren’t providing gratification on schedule is obnoxious — but I don’t see it as a whole lot less obnoxious for authors to get miffed over fan responses. Just as nobody is forcing someone to fork over cash for a book, nobody is holding a gun to authors’ heads, forcing them to read people’s comments on their work (or lack thereof).
Whether you’re publishing a book or a weblog, if you make yourself available for feedback and engage personally with your readers, you don’t have any more of a right to demand a particular kind of response from the fans than they have to demand a particular kind of writing from you. There may not be a contract between reader and author, but there certainly is a relationship, and while both sides would prefer to dictate the terms of that relationship, it’s just not possible for everyone to get what they want all the time.
Fans shouldn’t gripe and bitch when they don’t get their way. Authors shouldn’t get miffed and resentful when they don’t like what they’re hearing from fans. But they do, because it’s human nature to want something for nothing.
The thing is, Martin hasn’t complained about fans complaining-what he, and some of us, took issue with is that some of the complainers are abusive, tasteless, cruel douchebags. That, I think, is the real issue. Impatient fans who want the work are one thing, even a certain amount of grumpiness is tolerable and expected. But when a “fan” says to you “you’re sixty years old and fat, you need to get work so you don’t die before I can read the end of the book,” that’s a different kettle of fish entirely.
Yes, Martin has blown his deadline horribly, and yes, the “almost done!…or not” has been a source for, I think, warranted annoyance. But the way a certain contingent of fans is expressing that annoyance is just wrong.
Of course, expecting people to not be douchebags is, in some ways, setting yourself up for disappointment. But some of us can’t help but hope.
Right on. GRRM’s issue seem to be clearly with those who are being pretty abusive with their e-mails and their remarks.
I don’t believe he has any issues with people eager for the next book, or who express frustration that they don’t have it in their hands in ways that aren’t abusive towards him as a person, who imply it’s because he’s old or overweight or who think they know enough about him or his work habits to know what’s “wasting” time.
FWIW, I’ve been waiting 25 years for “Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League.” Peter Weller ain’t getting any younger.
I’m a little uncomfortable with the tone I’m hearing as if writers weren’t allowed to be human like anyone else. If a had a bunch of strangers pissing off at me cause they wanted something from me, not because they really cared what was going on in my life, you bet I’d be ticked. The people his comment seemed directed to weren’t fans as a whole, but fans that seemed to think they owned his time and could tell him what to do with it. That’s ridiculous. The more whiners like these push an artist to perform for their amusement, the less likely his muse is going to be in the mood to create. They’re defeating their own purpose.
The best critique of Jordan’s (God rest his soul) work I heard was this:
“Robert Jordan needs an editor like a bukkake girl needs a Wet Nap.”
I think Martin’s problem is he’s bitten off more than he can chew (well not really, but up to his quality standards). Remember when A Song of Ice and Fire was going to be only 6 books? Giggle giggle snort snort. I think the reason these epics get out of control is because of one simple thing, and I’ve seen it happen with Jordan, Martin, and Stephen Erikson. STOP BRINGING PEOPLE BACK FROM THE DEAD. It’s that simple. You get a logical plot trap because while bringing the dead back to life sounds REALLY COOL, you then come to the conclusion that the character would likely be pissed at being put down for a dirt nap and go looking for some sweet undeady revenge. (There’s also the whole practice of introducing some whole new Aes Sedai/Lord Bumblesnort of Clownshrire/Ancient Ascendant Hero-GodBeast that we don’t care about, but that would ruin my neat little theory…)
Also, people are pressuring Martin because of Jordan’s recent death I think…Martin isn’t a spring chicken himself and some fans I think would welcome a sort of Faustian deal where Martin just finishes his work even if it is a steaming pile of stegosaurus shit. Of course, the longer his delay is, the sooner I can finish my epic A Song of Ice and Fire Fanfic! Mwa ha ha ha ha! Lord Snow rides again!
Oh and also, I love the irony of people being mad at an artist for not producing work at a pace of a commercial hack. Martin is like Alan Moore, and follows his own little drummer boy. You can’t praise a series for artistic quality then condemn the pace of the art (b-b-but Michaelangelo! You need to poop out another masterpiece by tomorrow, please!) I mean hell, Tolkien took 30 years with all of his work, and never finished it. Go read King or Salvatore or Goodkind or Weis and Hickman if you want pure pulp fantasy. (Not pulp in a demeaning way, but just regularly produced works…there’s a tradeoff in everything).
After this thread, I’m REALLY looking forward to THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS.
I can’t believe I just read this whole thread. It shows that I lack all self control and that I shouldn’t fall behind reading Scalzi’s blog.
I admit to some frustration over the next book not being out. That frustration is due entirely to my love of the series. Despite that I feel that the book is done when the book is done. It’s a book. I have lots of books to read.
I think the thing that I truly find most disturbing in this thread, and Martin’s blog, is that people are actually using Robert Jordan’s death as an argument. He needs to hurry up, look what happened with Jordan.
I find this morally repugnant. It is selfishness beyond measure. It was awful when Jordan died but not because I didn’t get the next book. It was awful because of his family’s loss. It was awful because his friends will never be able to talk to him again. It was awful because he fought so hard to beat it.
To suggest that I have some sort of entitlement or social contract with an author is ridiculous. To suggest that his life is only worth something because he has a book in his head that I want to read is ridiculous. To write said author with that virulent statement is to step over a line that I feel is socially unacceptable.
I want to read the next book, really bad. I am willing to wait. I hope that George Martin is healthy but only because I hope that everyone is healthy, I have had far to many of my family taken early from me. People need to chill out.
Please do not bring up Last Dangerous Visions. I have heard the mere mention of it’s title increases the probability that a black hole will swallow us tomorrow.
@Christopher Daley re: Jordan.
Yeah, what you said. Srsly.
Christopher Daley: You’ve got a kind of concern that the writers I know (including me, as I resume a project that’s been hold for several years) like to hear about. It feels like goodness-enhancing to know “Yeah, someone wants this as much as I want them to have it, and hopes for it, but in the meantime isn’t about to add to my woe.”
For what it’s worth. :)
Tully at 258:
You are right. GRRM sold the concept of a multi-volume series to his publishers, not the reading public. His publishers then sold it to the reading public. Same result. The reading public, to date, has been sold a bill of goods.
And I agree that GRRM is not my b!@#h. Which does not change the fact that is exactly the way he’s been acting. As have his more critical fans. But I expect that self-righteous behavior from a computer addicted sci-fi fan, not a professional, award winning writer.
If GRRM writes another ASOIAF, I’ll buy it. If he doesn’t, I won’t lose any sleep over it. There are lots of excellent writers out there. The more GRRM delays, the more his reading public loses interest, in my opinion. Fans do move on, eventually.
John, did I say something wrong, or did my comment the other day get lost in the ether?
Justifiable anger; unjustified? Reasonable; unreasonable? Entitlement; pissy?
I can say as a lawyer (who knows a thing or two about the subject of bullshit), that when you are analyzing whether someone is entitled to an emotional or visceral response, you are going to end up knee deep in bullshit. Every time.
There are no rules for this. There is no “fan referee” manual out there that tells us when someone has a “right” to be angry.
Anger is not a mathematical product. It is not the consequence of any logical process. It’s not something one is entitled to or not entitled to. It’s not a reasoned judgment. It is an emotion; it is visceral. It is a process which occurs. And when it happens to be shared by enough people who are fans – more or less at the same time – there’s probably some series of events that lead to that shared emotional state.
But in the end, it’s still an emotion; it is not the product of an accounting. There was no magical moment where legions of fans examined the withdrawals and deposits on the GRRM Author Love Bank Account to deduce that the guy was in overdraft and that it was time to start feeling “justifiably angry”.
There’s no science; no ethical mathematics. It’s about one thing and one thing only: he’s taken too god damned long to finish the next novel.
That’s it; that’s all.
You make a vast pile of money becoming a NY Times #1 best-selling author of fantasy fiction by engaging your readers’ emotions. And engage them he did. And the fans emotionally invested in his work to the tune of millions of dollars. That investment brought him fame. It brought him fortune. It brought him acclaim as Time hailed him as “the American Tolkien”. It brought him a big-time HBO mini-series deal for the series, too.
We are talking a level of success which is vastly beyond the level of any other author mentioned in this thread to date held up in comparison – excepting Tolkien and maybe Frank Herbert. (And I do mean only maybe).
That is rarefied air indeed. That success did all kinds of wonderful, life-changing things for the author. J.K. Rowling aside, it brought him to the pinnacle of success within his genre of writing.
But that success comes at a price. It is not for free. And it is not simply earned on a one-off deal, either. It comes with fan expectations. You meet ‘em, or you don’t. And if the author can’t meet ‘em in nine years or take steps to manage those fans’ expectations properly? Then the author fucked up. Period.
How long do you have to write your next book? From the author’s point of view, maybe you think you have all the time in the world. From the publisher’s point of view, maybe the author thinks he has deadlines but “all sorts of leeway”.
But we’re not talking about that, remember? We’re talking about the customers’ point of view. From the customers’ point of view (remember, this is commercial art) it’s just taken too-god-damned-long. So yes, there are a lot of fans who are angry.
Whether an emotion is “justified” or not is the wrong question to ask.
The reasonable question to ask is whether this was a foreseeable reaction from the “legions of fans” or not. And if it was foreseeable, then how the hell did he let this happen?
Because after nine years and the death of Robert Jordan, you’d have to be a damned fool not to see this coming.
Another Damned Medievalist:
I didn’t delete anything of yours, so yeah, it probably got lost. Post it again.
Since you’re a lawyer, you’ll be familiar with this: Overruled.
As for: “So yes, there are a lot of fans who are angry.” So what? Despite your blatherations on the argument, they are stupid to be angry about something as ultimately inconsequential as whether a piece of entertainment is produced on a schedule such as meets their approval. And despite your attempt at dismissal, yes, actually, it does matter whether these people’s sense of anger is justifiable or not. These people are not children. They should have a sense of perspective.
I definitely do feel sorry for GRRM that in too-optimistically posting status updates, but it doesn’t mean he messed up; it means he was over-optimistic. The people who are fucking up are the people who send him e-mail telling he’s fat and he’s going to die before he finishes his series. Because, yes, that’s going to motivate him.
As for “He’s taking too god damned long to finish a novel,” bullshit. Some novels take weeks, others decades, because, once again, humans aren’t machines. The creative process is variable and imprecise, and past results are no guarantee of future performance. In this as in any case, the novel is done when the author says it’s done. Neither you nor anyone else gets a vote on that one, and whether you think you do or not is immaterial, stupid and wrong.
And no one, not even GRRM, is disputing this. The distinction here is between the people who are saying, “He’s taken too god damned long to finish the next novel, and that’s a shame, because I really want to read it,” and the people who are saying, “He’s taken too god damned long to finish the next novel, and he’d better get around to it right now, because he OWES us.” (I do not count those who finish that sentence “…because he might end up like Robert Jordan” among the class of “people.”)
Having worked in an industry where we know a little something about missed deadlines and promised releases that have not yet (and, in some cases, will never) materialize, I think I can speak with some authority when I say that these announcements are made in good faith, based on the information available at the time. But things do come up — I’ve seen projects delayed or killed for reasons ranging from major medical crises to a simple choice between competing priorities. The obvious solution is not to say anything about work until you’re sure it is actually done, and I suspect that’s a lesson GRRM will be taking to heart. But when you have thousands of loyal fans asking about the next book in a series, the temptation to say something more positive than “I can’t even think about writing that right now; I need to work on some other stuff and let that particular muse get over her burnout” becomes overwhelming.
Even though he apparently thought the book was basically done when the last book was published, it’s very possible that he reread it and found a major flaw that required significant revision. That’s part of being a good writer — recognizing when you suck and doing what’s necessary to not suck anymore. I don’t know that this is what happened; perhaps he’s totally blocked on the book and is writing other things while the block works itself out. Perhaps he just needs time away from the book because whatever creative spark fires this series has petered out, and he has to wait for it to reignite. Perhaps he’s been interrupted by a gentleman from Porlock.
No force on Earth can compel an author to write a story that isn’t in his soul, straining to come out. If GRRM doesn’t have the next book bursting at the seams of his brain, then he doesn’t. It’s unfortunate that the many fans of that series are waiting for the continuation of the story, and I don’t think GRRM himself would dispute that. But for fans to criticize him for writing the books that ARE firing his mental boilers, because they aren’t the books that the fans want to read, rather badly misses the point.
“And no one, not even GRRM, is disputing this.
Since our esteemed host did just dispute that, in a message posted while I was writing mine, I do want to clarify my meaning. I meant to say that it’s a shame that there’s a delay for the next book in the series, not that GRRM is off some schedule he should be held to. I was thinking in the sense of “It’s been too god damned long since we’ve seen each other!” — a statement of interest, not condemnation.
Apologies for failing to make that clear above.
My objection is neither here not there to your point, Andrew, which I think is a good point. My point is there is no way to tell how long a novel is going to take; your point is how people manage their expectations waiting for said novel.
With respect, Mr. Scalzi, I think you’re playing a dangerous game with the “stupid” argument. Again, if you check out GRRM’s blog, the overwhelming amount of posts to him (I’m not sure if he deletes, but assume he probably does) are positive and supportive. I do not think it’s cool to threaten a writer to produce because you don’t think he’s working fast enough, without any idea about what’s going on in his life, plus the fact that it’s _his_ life to begin with.
But if you’re saying that fans are stupid to get upset with him because they want his book and can’t have it, then one could also make the argument that it’s stupid for fans to get excited about your books when they get them. One is a negative emotion, one is a positive emotion, but they are both about being able to read their entertainment of choice. Is your or GRRM’s writing going to cure cancer? Should it be the most important thing in your fans’ lives? No, but you yourself are going for an emotional response (pleasure) in your fans’ reading experience. Otherwise, why would they purchase your books again? Anticipated pleasure is sweet, but eventually thwarted anticipated pleasure leads to less positive emotions. This is part of the nasty past of being a popular writer.
Once again, that doesn’t mean that fans should not be grown-ups or not be polite. But to imply that everyone who misses GRRM’s writing is a loser and has no life and is stupid, that goes a bit far. ‘Cause I sure wish he’d finish the damn book. I have a full time job, a part time job, two community boards that I sit on, a husband, hockey, and a myriad of other authors that I enjoy. I don’t pester GRRM. But I still wish he’d finish the damn book! I’m not as young as I used to be, my memory is going, and I’m afraid I won’t catch all the cool subtleties that he uses because I won’t be able to remember the previous events to which he refers. My problem? Yes. But I’m afraid that more and more fans have my problem.
Oh, and I also have two cats. They love me and require my attention.
They’re not stupid when they miss his writing and want more. They are stupid when they are angry at him because of it.
As noted previously, the dude’s one guy creating an entire world, one that gets more complex as it goes along, and he obviously feels an obligation to get it right. To respond to that with anger is indeed stupid. And obviously, I feel fine saying it, over and over again. That clear loss of perspective needs to be pointed out as entirely unreasonable.
Thanks. Maybe I was overidentifying. I was afraid that I’d turned into a loser and didn’t know it. :)
JS @285: I agree with you to a point, John. I don’t think it’s stupid for fans to feel angry (or frustrated, which is probably more to the point) about the delays; it’s when one expresses that anger in inappropriate ways (ie, emailing GRRM with comments about his age, weight, football viewing habits, etc.) that it becomes stupid, not to mention rude beyond comprehension.
At this point, I’m not worried that GRRM will “pull a Robert Jordan”; I’d be more concerned that these assholes pestering him might cause him to pull a J.D. Salinger. I don’t think anyone wants that.
Disclaimer: Like Charlie Stross, I’ve only read about a third of the first book, A Game of Thrones, so I’m not really emotionally invested in the series myself.
#43, Adam: “I think differing perspectives also lead to the exacerbation. GRRM is an industry veteran. He probably knows that delays like this happen all the time to even the most diligent writers. To him, it’s inside baseball; it’s old hat. For a young, burgeoning reader, who might be experiencing this for the first time, there’s no time-worn experience to cushion the blow.”
Not to mention that the young reader might have read part one at, say, the age of twelve in 1996, and now is twentyfive and still may (at best) occasionally wonder what happened to that old series. Skipping “A Pile of Outtakes”, the last good part was actually published way back in 2000.
Not that I’m bitter.
In the words of Alfred Bester “The book’s the boss”.
Dave Robinson wrote, in comment #107:
“The one that bothers me is ‘By Heresies Distressed.’ Just like in ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ we ended up getting half a book and having to wait for the rest. The difference is that in this case both halves were apparently turned in simultaneously, and the second half delayed to avoid cannibalizing sales of his other books (Tor and Baen).”
I think this is a little confused. First, if David Weber’s By Heresies Distressed can be considered half a book, it’s because it’s the second half of what was originally conceived as the second volume of the Safehold series. The first half was published in 2008 as By Schism Rent Asunder and I’ve think it’s got to be the book Dave Robinson is actually complaining about, particularly since By Heresies Distressed hasn’t actually been published yet. (It’s slated for July 2009.)
Second, I don’t know how the idea got out that the book was cut in two “to avoid cannibalizing sales of his other books”, because to the best of my recollection, we (David Weber and Tor) actually decided to do it because otherwise we were looking at the prospect of publishing a 1300-page book. IIRC, when we had those discussions, David had a complete or near-complete draft of the uberbook, and after we talked it over, he settled on a breakpoint and revised the first half to create a more satisfying sense of closure in the single volume. Then he set the second half aside for a while, turning it in a little while later after he’d revised it as well.
We do try to coordinate our David Weber publication dates with Baen’s, just as we generally do when we share any author with other houses, but the reason for splitting this book was simply that it had become hugely too long.
FWIW, I’ve been waiting 25 years for “Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League.” Peter Weller ain’t getting any younger.
Buckaroo Banzai, best damned movie, ever.
Word on the street though is that BBvtWCL got remade into “Big Trouble in Little China”. I think. If it isn’t true, it’s a nice urban legend, and I’ll take credit for starting it.
@pnh @ 290.
For me I would of rather had the 1300 page book. Because the ending of #2 was a horrible one to me as a reader.
“Ok lets go to war!”
Yeah I can see why you did it. But damn….
I am just glad he has this series coming out one per year (knocks on wood)
Well I hope it still comes out once per year. (pounds whole body on wood)
Ack ate the part after “Ok lets go to war!”
Was ~~end of book~~
Just an evil ending. Evil!
As an (ahem) older reader of science fiction, I was distressed at the slow pace of Gordon Dickson’s “Dorsai” series’ release, especially when several essays written about them seemed to indicate that Mr. Dickson had plotted out the whole series, at least loosely. And although his novels were self-contained, they had an underlying theme that he hinted at throughout. He completed “Chantry Guild” and it appeared that the epic theme he had been unfolding for decades would be finally resolved. The next two novels were backstory, telling the antihero’s history, then nothing. Mr. Dickson started his Dragon Knight series and left the Dorsai saga lie. Then he died.
I don’t feel angry or anything silly like that, but there is some disappointment. The fact that the story was never finished has diminished the excellent work that was done. I’ve only read the first of Mr. Martin’s fantasy novels, so I have no great emotional investment in them and no expectations for them, but I would expect the fans who are invested would feel the same way if he doesn’t finish the series, and it would diminish the series’ importance and value to them. Imagine if JRR Tolkien had given up and not written “Return of the King”. Would LOTR be hailed as the classic epic that it is? I rather doubt it. I expect that it wouldn’t find a publisher, or if it did it would be an obscure series no one had ever heard of or cared. I think Mr. Martin runs that risk.
Of course I don’t have a clue whether he cares about being regarded as an equal with Tolkien, or just another fantasy writer. Nor do I have an opinion on whether he should be. I am certain that if he doesn’t finish the series it will be a moot point.
I recently ran across an old interview (from around 1998) with GRRM, in which he indicated that he sees this series as, in a sense, his magnum opus. I would guess his view in light of this is that, if it’s so important to him, he would rather it not be completed and be remembered as a great might-have-been, rather than complete it and have it called a has-been.
I’m sure a lot of authors stuck in rewriting and polishing and tightening dream of just hacking off a random chunk of text and putting it between two covers and shoving it out to clamoring fans. But professional pride prevents them (or at least, the vast majority of them) from doing any such thing.
Elio, that’s interesting because it underscores the problem of completeness. If it is to be his magnum opus, is it better to have a finished work that isn’t quite what he envisioned, or an incomplete work whose parts don’t jell? Tolkien had the same problem. According to some articles I’ve read, he regarded “The Silmarillion as his magnum opus, not LOTR. He spent his whole life writing and rewriting “The Silmarillion” and associated stories, but couldn’t ever finish it. It took his son to finish it after his death, and the work suffered for it. It never engaged like LOTR did and read like a history rather than a story. Would it have been better if he had written it rather than Christopher Tolkien even if not of the quality of LOTR? I don’t know but suspect that it would be. Clearly vastly more people have read and re-read LOTR than “The Silmarillion” and have enjoyed it more. In fact “The Silmarillion” is little more than a sidenote targetted at Middle Earth junies.
I hope that those who say the series will never be finished are wrong. I have enjoyed many of Mr. Martin’s other works, and when/if this one is finished, I will take a swing at it. However, if it doesn’t get finished, I won’t invest my time in something I know will let me down.
I think you’ll find many who disagree with you regarding the merits of the Silmarillion as published by CT (such as myself).
That aside, would it have been better if Tolkien finished it to his satisfaction and released it? Assuredly.
But if he had released it just to get his fans off his back, would it have been better then as well? Not to Tolkien, I suspect, and in the end whose opinion matters most to a creator than their own?
Rereading my post “junies” should be “junkies”. Sorry. As to whether “Silmarillion” would have been better if JRRT had been able to let of of it, and push it out the door, who knows? I suspect that, looking at other works of JRRT that CT has edited, even a less than perfect “Silmarillion” written by the author would have been better than what we have. The question of whether it would have been more satisfying to JRRT I leave to the psychic or medium of your choice. Maybe Shirley Maclaine could answer.
Shame, shame, John. You, of all authors, should know better.
For all that GRRM may be kiteboarding with naked supermodels (effing Richard Branson – google it) or drinking tea or doing whatever thing it is that he enjoys, that doesn’t matter. At all.
As a professional author, he writes books and gets paid for their sales. Anything that he does that isn’t writing books or increasing the sales of his existing books just doesn’t count, in economic terms.
Sure, there are things like “sharpening the saw” that he might be doing. I don’t know, and you don’t seem to know, exactly how much of that is necessary FOR HIM. It’s not clear if HE knows – has there been an interval of rapid production with low quality that cost him reputation points?
Regardless, Baen & Tor, and eBay, and now Amazon, have demonstrated that there are idiots out there (like me!) who will pay a significant premium for early access to the works of their favorite writers. To wit, 20 smackers for an unedited electronic copy of a book I’ll have to buy later in paperback. (I have no idea of the author’s cut of that – I just know what it costs me.)
I once worked for a CEO who said, “You never get a second chance to make [today’s] money. Tomorrow’s money is different money, and whatever you left on the table today is gone.”
And he was right. The $20 that all the GRRM fans didn’t spend buying an e-arc of whatever comes next might go to buy food, or pay their mortgage, or it might go into JK Rowling’s pocket. But he didn’t get it, and now he can’t get it. All he can hope for is tomorrow’s money.
Maybe he’s okay with that. But there are authors out there that produce, with a quality level that satisfies their audience. Maybe that means writing bodice-rippers, maybe it’s that freak out in California with a computer program that generates economic predictions, maybe it’s Johnny Ringo (“I really don’t understand what all these so-called professional authors are bitching about. You’re an author, you get paid to write, so sit down and write the book. How hard can it be?” “You don’t understand what you’re talking about. It’s harder than you think. You should try it sometime.” “Finished. Here.” “What is it?” “It’s a book. It wasn’t hard.”).
If GRRM can’t carry the freight, that’s okay. It sort of pushes him down into 2nd tier status behind the economic rock stars that can churn 3 or 4 books a year. There are trade-offs there. A lot of the new audience is used to (addicted to) “internet speed” authoring. A series moving that slowly just won’t get them hooked, which means lower growth in his readership.
You can argue that he is writing better prose. Or that his world is more complete, or somehow better. But other brands that take that approach charge a premium. Unless GRRM starts charging Ghirardelli prices, he’s stuck competing with Hershey’s, and he’ll be judged accordingly.
The problem “old skool” authors face is the same problem faced by fat, ugly musicians. The industry is changing under them, and laying on a requirement that they be able to support this new business model. For musicians, that was video. For authors, it’s web-hype, long-running series, and frequent updates.
As much as I hate to jump on a buzz-word, “mediocre prose, quickly produced” is a (ugh) disruptive innovation that has historically been held at bay by editors. I don’t see that happening any more. The mediocre authors have gotten a lot more productive in the last 20 years, and editors have learned how to “rock star” their authors.
Maybe when GRRM runs out of money for supermodels and crumpets he’ll get back in front of the typewriter.
“If GRRM can’t carry the freight, that’s okay. It sort of pushes him down into 2nd tier status behind the economic rock stars that can churn 3 or 4 books a year.”
You know, your whole post would be a lot more interesting if the books sales in question supported anything you’re saying. But they don’t. I just had a friend check BookScan, and it turns out that this week (just as an example), George Martin has sold a third more books than John Ringo, they’re about even in sales for the year, and (not surprisingly) in aggregate Martin’s far ahead. And more to the point, Martin’s work is selling as well as (or better than) the work of quite a number of writers you might care to name who produce books on a more regular basis, and even more to the point the books he has sell consistently, week in and week out.
So before you go declaring the new era in publishing, etc, make sure the facts support your assertions. And the facts are George Martin is a top-tier seller, has been for years and is very likely to continue to be for some time.
Isn’t authors complaining about their fans not being good/rational/awesome enough just as idiotic as fans complaining their idols aren’t writing fast enough? Is pissy authors better than pissy fans?
“Isn’t authors complaining about their fans not being good/rational/awesome enough just as idiotic as fans complaining their idols aren’t writing fast enough?”
Of course, I agree that Martin can do whatever he wants. By the same token, so can I. I haven’t complained too much about the delay in getting out the second half of the fourth book. All I can say is that Martin and Jordan have made me resolve never to buy any volume of a series until the series is finished. (I make exceptions for series where each book also works as a stand-alone product.) So Martin will no longer be seeing any of my money until he finishes ASoIaF.
I also think the best hope for the series being finished is if it takes off as a hit on cable TV. Fans not be able to force him to finish up, but the TV producers will have a bit more leverage.
I’ve just read several (sorry not all 303) but several and so many people still don’t seem to “get it” except for the other writers/artist among the comments. Like Romans at the coliseum, entertain me with your talent, whatever the price.
God forbid you live your life for the living of your life. You do not exist but to entertain me. It makes me think of Frank Herbert It’s not saddening that the man died before he finished the Dune series. I just hope he didn’t die before finishing his life.
Thank you Sir for your stories they enrich us and entertain us.
Please have a great day.
I only read the first few comments off the top, and I see quite a few people being sympathetic with the author of this piece and with the creative process as a whole. While I think most sane fans want their favorite author to be “in the zone” when they write, there is such a thing as “too long a wait.”
The sad situation of Robert Jordan (who I heard joking around at a signing a few years before his death about not wanting “Wheel of Time” filed alongside “The Canterburry Tales” in the great unfinished works section of the library, btw, talk about irony!) is just one unfortunate example of what happens when authors decide they have a 20+ year window to finish their tale. I think the better example is Stephen King’s near death encounter with a mini-van: he got right down to work on finishing The Dark Tower, and in the introduction to those books even speaks of his obligation to finish the tale. I think that is something that authors of extended series tend to forget. When they start publishing something as epic and well received as RJ, SK, or GRRM’s works have become people buy the later volumes with the expectation that the story will reach *A* conclusion in something that resembles a timely fashion– maybe not the ending fans will like, but a definite end to the tale.
GRRM is pushing the envelope on that, and he may wind up finding his base of readers has shrunk a bit. I’ve had people ask me if HE died too, or if he just gave up… not something his publisher would want to hear, no? To be fair, and to continue with the Robert Jordan example, in the time since the last GRRM book was released in 2005, a Wheel of Time book was released, Robert Jordan died, a replacement author was found, and another book has been released under the new author. After Steven King’s accident, he spat out three volumes in about as many years, one of them a genuine shelf-cracker. Still think GRRM fans are being “pissy?”
What GRRM needs to do is realize that its the fans who are being “pissy” who have given him enough comfort in life that he can afford side projects, creature comforts, etc. Going into the fifth year of keeping his fans waiting I would hope he can’t even look at his television without feeling like a slacker. When he released book number one he made a promise to his fans. If he doesn’t want to keep that promise because now he’s more comfortable in his life or he’s just lost interest in the story then he should just say so, call the promise broken, and take the hit to his reputation… which he has already damaged with the interminable delays.
I’ll finish with this: I’ve loved reading GRRM’s stuff, but his lazy pen keeps me from encouraging friends to pick up his work. In contrast, I never stopped pushing Robert Jordan’s for a second, not when he was sick, not after he died: Jordan understood the value of giving your word (his flap-bio said he intended to write until they nailed shut his coffin and he delivered, God bless!). Martin doesn’t seem to value the business relationship he entered into with his fans as soon as he decided his story was going to be put on the market as a multi-part epic.
Do professional artists really have so little regard for their audience? My strictly amateur attempts at creation engendered feelings of responsibility towards my work, myself, and my audience, however small.
I can’t help but feel that if your magnum opus goes unfinished, than it cannot help but be regarded as one of the greatest failures in your life to that selfsame work, audience, and indeed, yourself.
I have never written as a prospective career, but I cannot help but suspect that like any long-term project, the biggest barricade to finishing it is simply sitting down and starting on it, and continuing to sit down and start on it every day until it is done.
I also strongly suspect professional writing falls well within the realms of human endeavor such that a large percentage of the population can accurately assess what it’s like.
For example, some professions involve routinely assaulting what may be, in fact, theoretically impossible. Now that’s a tough project to work on. Hell, in writing at least when you scrap something, you can usually salvage some of the effort that went into it, which is a damned sight more than I can say for some other failures.
I’ve enjoyed his books and anticipate the rest of the series. He owes me nothing and I owe him nothing. His figurines, comic books, calenders, ASoIaF “artwork”, lithographs, card games, etc. that seem to occupy so much of his time do not interest me.
He’s entitled to write about them but his opinions on the NFL draft, the wait to get through airport security, how tired he is from getting back from whatever crapCon he just attended, or his adolescent political views do not interest me. I cannot venture a guess at how many of his fans actually enjoy watching him carry on like a college student that just discovered Facebook but I would wager they would rather just read the next installment of the series instead; despite the fact that AFFC was not as good as the first four.
His public whining, ranting and other emotional outbursts unbecoming a man of his age make me less interested in his work. It’s sort of like a favorite aria in a language that I don’t understand getting translated into english and it turns out to be simplistic and/or frivolous to the point of distraction. I end up wishing I had never pulled back the curtain.
I agree with the 305. When an author starts a series he makes a promise that there will be an ending. If he’s not going to finish, then man up and just say so.
Moreover, fans have a legitimate concern and worry here. This is a recurring theme in the both the science fiction and fantasy genres. It’s not just Robert Jordan who died prematurely. Fans constantly get the shaft.
Roger Zelazny – Died before the 3rd Amber series was begun, after publishing several sort stories to build up to it and claiming that the last series would tie everything up.
Frank Herbert – Died before completing the Dune series (especially when at any nearly time he could have said “The story’s done”). And you know what fans got? They got the mediocre atrocities that were perpetuated by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson – which, instead of honoring the creator and uplifting the reader, were written to appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator.
Isaac Asimov – Gave in to the fans in the 80’s and restarted the Foundation series, got stuck, went back to write prequels, and then died before finishing.
Mervyn Peak – died before finishing Gormenghast.
Robert Asprin – started an new series and then died two books in (Although he’s really the exception rather than the rule. Once he started writing again, he was releasing about 2 books a year and pretty much concluded all his other stuff, then handed it off to Jody Lynn Nye)
David Gemmel – Before he died he wrote a LOT of great stuff and but he skipped the story of the defining historical moment in his Drenai Saga. It took me years before I figured out he was never going to write it and I have to admit, I felt a little bit cheated. I still bought all his stuff because it was worth it and at least each book told it’s own story.
There are many more, these are just the first few that come to mind. I’m not saying it’s their fault they died. I’m just saying there’s an implied contract when you sit down to read a series – I’ll read your series; I’ll pay my money; I’ll invest my time and, most importantly, I’ll invest my emotions in your story and your characters and you finish it – somehow, someway, whether it’s via “deus ex machina” or “rocks fall, everyone dies”. By initiating a series you promise me, the reader, a way to release the emotions I’m going to invest in your work – a catharsis, even if it’s a crappy catharsis.
I mean, hell, Terry Pratchett has early onset Alzheimer’s and, while it has slowed him down from roughly 1 a year to roughly 1 every 2 years, he’s still writing new Discworld books and new series too. If anybody has a legitimate reason to say I’m done or I need a break, it’s him. I mean can you imagine being a professional writer with Alzheimer’s? That would drive me up a wall.
Yes, you have the right to live your life however you want. But you also have an obligation to fulfill your promises, whether you realized you were making one or not.