Author Blows Deadline, Disappoints World

You would not think that an author missing a deadline would be news, but it was, and in several of the world’s newspapers. There are quite a few interesting things to observe about this. One is that George R. R. Martin is notorious for blowing deadlines, has done it previously, has had a whole lot of crazy controversy over it, and this latest deadline blown and aftermath reflects a kind of progress. Apparently, there is an outpouring of sympathy this time (he had over 1000 comments on the post last time I looked). In the past, his readers have been angry and abusive, and so much so that there has been a lot of public shaming of the attitude, even with the help of other writers (most notoriously Neil Gaiman). Now, being angry at your favorite author for missing another deadline is not only stupid, it is not even cool.

Cool is what George R. R. Martin at the moment is, which explains why his missing a deadline (two actually, in the recent configuration of things) gets into the news. Martin is a writer who comes straight from the fanzine Fantasy/SF ghetto, wrote for TV for a while, then finally settled to write the book he wanted after being frustrated by the demands of the chaps doing TV and movies. He set out to write something on such a scale it would never be filmed. He got to the fourth massive tome of his increasingly successful dream and HBO decided to turn it into TV. Today, that show is the single top show in all of TV.

Here’s what Martin did. The show ate up his books faster than he could keep up—his series is apparently seven books long. He’s produced one more tome since the show started, but the next season, coming in April, is already doing stuff from book six, which he has not published. He was hoping to, but that was the deadline he just blew. Think about it: a huge compendious fantasy—yes, fantasy—series written by an old fat guy with decidedly stodgy glasses and who is often seen in public wearing a ridiculous hat misses a deadline and the world is duly informed.

Apparently, the most perplexing problem this raises is the one of spoilers. I’m curious about what will come of that. I think it could change people’s attitude toward that whole bogus phenomenon, just because it is so big. Maybe not, but I think it could. It also demonstrates that fantasy is mainstream, which is interesting to me also. It is interesting because while mainstream is not respectable, and popular is not what is best, still it is not what it used to be. Remember when computers were something of an exclusive hobby and now they’re not? Similarly with fantasy, which Tolkien hath wrought. And, lastly, it also has something about writing.

The thing about writing is why I bring it up at all. Martin posted his explanation on his blog (called not-a-blog). The reason he blew his deadlines (something he had sworn off previously, deadlines) is that the writing did not go as he expected it. He wrote stuff he did not like, he had to go back and revise, the trajectories he undertook did not satisfy him. In other words, he was forced to acknowledge, even under immense pressure not to, that his work was not up to his own standards and that he could not quit working on it.

I don’t know what exactly Martin adds up to as a writer; I haven’t been able to make it through the first tome with any enthusiasm and have not figured out a way to excuse watching the show, though I know what happens because, believe me, I read about it. Obviously, he has an appeal, but that is opaque to me. But what I do notice is that he has criteria and he has an idea of what his stuff needs to be and he’s paying a price to keep up his standards; and that is instructive, at least if you have lived some of the hard work of writing, which I think I have.

He’s got experience, and he’s got time, and he’s living off of it, and yet he is struggling with it and recognizing that it will take a lot more than he anticipated. If I have learned anything, I think I have learned that what he is doing is right: you have to be willing to rewrite, to throw away, to re-do, to face the problems and resolve them and all the rest of the problems those resolutions engender. And I’m impressed that Martin hasn’t been ruined by success—which seems to me very easy to do in his position—when it comes to realizing that just anything will not do.

And maybe now—this is the throw-away line—I’ll even be able to read him; who knows.

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