George R.R. Martin: “I’m not a fan of fanfiction.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 03: George R. R. Martin attends the "Game Of Thrones" Season 8 Premiere on April 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 03: George R. R. Martin attends the "Game Of Thrones" Season 8 Premiere on April 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images) /

Back in October, George R.R. Martin visited Chicago — where he went to school at Northwestern — to, among other things, receive the Carl Sandburg Literary Award at an annual gala sponsored by the Chicago Public Library Foundation. The full video of his speech and subsequent question-and-answer session is embedded below. If you have about 40 minutes, it’s pretty interesting! If not, we’ll hit the highlights.

First up, because I know it’s the first thing on many people’s minds they see that Martin gave an interview, we can skip to the bit where he talks about completing his books. “It’s very important to me to finish A Song of Ice and Fire,” he said, saying that he doesn’t want it to become his The Mystery of Edwin Drood, an unfinished novel by Charles Dickens. “and I want to finish it strong, so people look at it and say, ‘This entire thing is an important work, not a half-finished or broken work.’ I know some of the more cynical people out there don’t believe that, but it is true.”

As regards why it’s taking so long, he says things he’s said before: Martin is not the kind of writer who can write in passing. He’s 71 years old, people; he knows himself. To write effectively, he needs a big open chunk of time, with no distractions. Then he’ll fall into writing completely and forego everything else. “When I’m really in a writing groove, my real life falls to pieces.” Thank goodness he’s successful enough to have people working for him now who can do boring stuff like get groceries.

He’s also the kind of writer who gets a little uncomfortable with the idea of millions of people eagerly awaiting his next book, “[e]specially because a certain portion of them are really impatient and snarky about it.” As he notes, this issue is amplified by social media, where the most impatient and snarky tend to make themselves known.

I honestly think that if Game of Thrones hadn’t been made and A Song of Ice and Fire hadn’t exploded in popularity, we might at least have The Winds of Winter in our hands by now, and maybe A Dream of Spring, too. As Martin admits, the popularity of Thrones changed his life, but given the kind of writer he is, it also made it harder to actually complete his work, which in turn makes fans pressure him all the more, which makes it even harder. What a fun cycle.

I like expansive interviews like this because they give you a chance to see Martin as something other than a Winds of Winter-writing machine. From his stories about inhaling all the science fiction books at his local library as a kid to how the Wall was partially inspired by a Chicago blizzard in ’67 to how he got in trouble with the nuns at the Catholic girls’ school where he taught because he refused to censor the student newspaper, you realize he’s lived a full life. He has more to talk about than just A Song of Ice and Fire, although obviously that’s what most of the people who know him focus on, and understandably so.

Okay, that’s enough nuance. Back to controversy!

Martin also weighed on why there’s so much violence in his epic, sexual and otherwise, another topic he’s covered before. “If you’re gonna write about violence and killing, I think you should present it honestly,” he said, noting that his story is, like many fantasy epics before it, a war story. Wars throughout history, Martin, are full of atrocity, committed by “good” and “bad” guys alike. “Just because you include dragons doesn’t mean that the whole thing should be removed from our human experience that we know about.”

Finally, Martin was asked about fanfiction, something else he’s talked about before. “I’m not a fan of fanfiction,” he said, first delineating that, in his day, fanfiction was something you called fiction written by fans, rather than what it’s come to mean now, which is fiction that uses characters and worlds invented by other authors.

Anyway, Martin had two main objections: first, while he acknowledged that most people who write fanfiction aren’t trying to write professionally, for those who are, he doesn’t think fanfiction is a good way to go about it.

"I don’t think it’s a good way to train to be a professional writer when you’re borrowing everybody else’s world and characters. That’s like riding a bike with training wheels. And then when I took the training wheels off, I fell over a lot, but at some point you have to take the training wheels off here. You have to invent your own characters, you have to do your own world-building, you can’t just borrow from Gene Roddenberry or George Lucas or me or whoever."

His other objection is legal:

"The other thing is there are all sorts of copyright issues when you’re using other people’s work…My understanding of the law is that if I knew about I would have to try to stop it, so just don’t tell me about it and do what you want there."

“It’s not for me,” he concluded. “I don’t wanna read it and I would not encourage people to write it.”

A few other stray bits:

  • Martin is happy to talk about all the awards he hasn’t won in his life. “I haven’t lost an Oscar yet, I wanna work on that.”
  • He recalls having to read the Dick and Jane books as a kid and being stupefied by how boring they were. Superhero comics, according to Child George, were way more interesting.
  • How does Martin keep track of his incredibly large cast of characters? “With increasing difficulty.”

Thanks to the Chicago Public Library Foundation for uploading this video!

Next. Why do Starks wear blue? Game of Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton explains. dark

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Watch Game of Thrones for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels