Back when this was one long long long post, before Live Journal sent it to the cornfield, I mentioned opening with Dickens' line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." So it was for me in 2015. I've spent much of the day recreating (in Cliff's Note summaries) my own personal "best of times" from the previous year, all the wonderful things that went down for me in 2015, the awards and the publications and the bestseller lists, the cons and the parties, the travel, all the exciting new projects underway at HBO and right here down the street in Santa Fe. But inevitably that brings me to my own personal "worst of times," and that is considerably less fun to blog about, so do forgive my reluctance to do so.
You wanted an update. Here's the update. You won't like it.
THE WINDS OF WINTER is not finished.
Believe me, it gave me no pleasure to type those words. You're disappointed, and you're not alone. My editors and publishers are disappointed, HBO is disappointed, my agents and foreign publishers and translators are disappointed... but no one could possibly be more disappointed than me. For months now I have wanted nothing so much as to be able to say, "I have completed and delivered THE WINDS OF WINTER" on or before the last day of 2015.
But the book's not done.
Nor is it likely to be finished tomorrow, or next week. Yes, there's a lot written. Hundreds of pages. Dozens of chapters. (Those 'no pages done' reports were insane, the usual garbage internet journalism that I have learned to despise). But there's also a lot still left to write. I am months away still... and that's if the writing goes well. (Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't.) Chapters still to write, of course... but also rewriting. I always do a lot of rewriting, sometimes just polishing, sometimes pretty major restructures.
I suppose I could just say, "Sorry, boys and girls, still writing," and leave it at that. "It will be done when it's done." Which is what I have been doing, more or less, since... well, forever. But with season 6 of GAME OF THRONES approaching, and so many requests for information boiling up, I am going to break my own rules and say a little more, since it would appear that hundreds of my readers, maybe thousands or tens of thousands, are very concerned about this question of 'spoilers" and the show catching up, revealing things not yet revealed in the books, etc.
My publishers and I have been cognizant of these concerns, of course. We discussed some of them last spring, as the fifth season of the HBO series was winding down, and came up with a plan. We all wanted book six of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE to come out before season six of the HBO show aired. Assuming the show would return in early April, that meant THE WINDS OF WINTER had to be published before the end of March, at the latest. For that to happen, my publishers told me, they would need the completed manuscript before the end of October. That seemed very do-able to me... in May. So there was the first deadline: Halloween.
Unfortunately, the writing did not go as fast or as well as I would have liked. You can blame my travels or my blog posts or the distractions of other projects and the Cocteau and whatever, but maybe all that had an impact... you can blame my age, and maybe that had an impact too...but if truth be told, sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn't, and that was true for me even when I was in my 20s. And as spring turned to summer, I was having more bad days than good ones. Around about August, I had to face facts: I was not going to be done by Halloween. I cannot tell you how deeply that realization depressed me.
Early August saw me back east for my nephew's wedding and an appearance with the Staten Island Direwolves. I took advantage of the visit to have another sit down with my editors and publishers and told them that I didn't think I could deliver by Halloween. I thought they'd be sick about it... but I have to say, my editors and publishers are great, and they took it with surprising equanimity. (Maybe they knew it before I did). They already had contigencies in place. They had made plans to speed up production. If I could deliver WINDS OF WINTER by the end of the year, they told me, they could still get it our before the end of March.
I was immensely relieved. I had two whole extra months! I could make that, certainly. August was an insane month, too much travel, too many other obligations... but I'd have September, October, and now November and December as well. Once again I was confident I could do it.
Here it is, the first of January. The book is not done, not delivered. No words can change that. I tried, I promise you. I failed. I blew the Halloween deadline, and I've now blown the end of the year deadline. And that almost certainly means that no, THE WINDS OF WINTER will not be published before the sixth season of GAME OF THRONES premieres in April (mid April, we are now told, not early April, but those two weeks will not save me). Even as late as my birthday and our big Emmy win, I still thought I could do it... but the days and weeks flew by faster than the pile of pages grew, and (as I often do) I grew unhappy with some of the choices I'd made and began to revise... and suddenly it was October, and then November... and as the suspicion grew that I would not make it after all, a gloom set in, and I found myself struggling even more. The fewer the days, the greater the stress, and the slower the pace of my writing became.
Look, I have always had problems with deadlines. For whatever reason, I don't respond well to them. Back in November, when I returned to Northwestern to accept my Alumni Award, I told the Medill students that was why I started writing fiction instead of getting a job on a newspaper. I knew even then that daily deadlines would kill me. That was a joke, of course... but there was truth in it too. I wrote my first novel, DYING OF THE LIGHT, without a contract and without a deadline. No one even knew I was writing a novel until I sent the completed book to Kirby to sell. I wrote FEVRE DREAM the same way. I wrote THE ARMAGEDDON RAG the same way. No contracts, no deadlines, no one waiting. Write at my own pace and deliver when I'm done. That's really how I am most comfortable, even now.
But I won't make excuses. There are no excuses. No one else is to blame. Not my editors and publishers, not HBO, not David & Dan. It's on me. I tried, and I am still trying. I worked on the book a couple of days ago, revising a Theon chapter and adding some new material, and I will writing on it again tomorrow. But no, I can't tell you when it will be done, or when it will be published. Best guess, based on our previous conversations, is that Bantam (and presumably my British publisher as well) can have the hardcover out within three months of delivery, if their schedules permit. But when delivery will be, I can't say. I am not going to set another deadline for myself to trip over. The deadlines just stress me out.
I am going back to my stance from last March, before all this. It will be done when it's done. And it will be as good as I can possibly make it.
Having said all that, I know what the next question will be, because hundreds of you have already asked it of me. Will the show 'spoil' the novels?
Maybe. Yes and no. Look, I never thought the series could possibly catch up with the books, but it has. The show moved faster than I anticipated and I moved more slowly. There were other factors too, but that was the main one. Given where we are, inevitably, there will be certain plot twists and reveals in season six of GAME OF THRONES that have not yet happened in the books. For years my readers have been ahead of the viewers. This year, for some things, the reverse will be true. How you want to handle that... hey, that's up to you. Look, I read Andy Weir's novel THE MARTIAN before I saw the movie. But I saw the BBC production of JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL before I finally got around to reading Susanna Clarke's novel. In both cases, I loved the book and I loved the adaptation. It does not need to be one or the other. You might prefer one over the other, but you can still enjoy the hell out of both.
Of course, there's an aspect to our situation that did not apply to either the Weir or Clarke cases. Those novels were finished before they were optioned, adapted, and filmed. The case of GAME OF THRONES and A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is perhaps unique. I can't think of any other instance where the movie or TV show came out as the source material was still being written. So when you ask me, "will the show spoil the books," all I can do is say, "yes and no," and mumble once again about the butterfly effect. Those pretty little butterflies have grown into mighty dragons. Some of the 'spoilers' you may encounter in season six may not be spoilers at all... because the show and the books have diverged, and will continue to do so.
IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN ALL FIVE SEASONS AND READ ALL FIVE BOOKS, STOP HERE!
Just consider. Mago, Irri, Rakharo, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, Pyat Pree, Pyp, Grenn, Ser Barristan Selmy, Queen Selyse, Princess Shireen, Princess Myrcella, Mance Rayder, and King Stannis are all dead in the show, alive in the books. Some of them will die in the books as well, yes... but not all of them, and some may die at different times in different ways. Balon Greyjoy, on the flip side, is dead in the books, alive on the show. His brothers Euron Crow's Eye and Victarion have not yet been introduced (will they appear? I ain't saying). Meanwhile Jhiqui, Aggo, Jhogo, Jeyne Poole, Dalla (and her child) and her sister Val, Princess Arianne Martell, Prince Quentyn Martell, Willas Tyrell, Ser Garlan the Gallant, Lord Wyman Manderly, the Shavepate, the Green Grace, Brown Ben Plumm, the Tattered Prince, Pretty Meris, Bloodbeard, Griff and Young Griff, and many more have never been part of the show, yet remain characters in the books. Several are viewpoint characters, and even those who are not may have significant roles in the story to come in THE WINDS OF WINTER and A DREAM OF SPRING.
GAME OF THRONES is the most popular television series in the world right now. The most pirated as well. It just won a record number of Emmy Awards, including the ultimate prize, for the best drama on television. It's an incredible production with an incredible cast and crew.
WINDS OF WINTER should be pretty good too, when it comes out. As good as I can make it, anyway.
Which is a long way of saying, "How may children did Scarlett O'Hara have?"
Enjoy the show. Enjoy the books.
Meanwhile, I'll keep writing. Chapter at a time. Page at a time. Word at a time. That's all I know how to do.
((And yes, this is my final Cliff's Note for the day. You can all go to bed now)).
The latest trailer for The Martian isn’t entirely new, but it builds on everything we’ve seen before… not unlike Mark Watney (Matt Damon) struggling to coax water and crops out of the unforgiving surface of Mars. (See what we did there?) Yet while the new trailer focus on Watney’s ordeal, we also get to learn more about the people on Earth who unwittingly left him behind and must decide if he’s worth the risk of going back for.
This trailer gives us a better sense of the politics at this fictionalized NASA from Andy Weir’s novel: NASA administrator Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) isn’t sure that the high chance of losing the rest of the Ares 3 crew to send them back after him, while Ares 3 flight director Mitch Henderson argues for the value of even one human life—ironic, seeing as he’s played by Sean Bean.
Also, good use of “All Along the Watchtower,” probably as good as/maybe better than the last time it was used in a sci-fi context on Battlestar Galactica. Watch the trailer for yourself:
Bestselling fantasy author Steven Erikson just wrote an essay on The Malazan Book of the Fallen's most divisive character among readers, Karsa Orlong. It's a very interesting read that should appeal to all Malazan fans out there! Here's a teaser:
Consider this an essay, then. The problem posed by Karsa and how readers perceive him will, for me, find its answers from a range of angles; from the Fantasy genre itself, to anthropology, history, cultural identity and its features, to the structure of the series (and the novel in question) and, eventually, to the expectations that fantasy readers bring to a fantasy novel. You may note something of an ellipse in that list, but that’s how I think so bear with me.
Historically within the genre the role of the ‘barbarians’ has roughly split into two morally laden strains. On the one hand they are the ‘dark horde’ threatening civilization; while on the other they are the savage made noble by the absence of civilization. In the matter of Karsa Orlong, we can for the moment disregard the former and concentrate instead on the noble savage trope—such barbarians are purer of spirit, unsullied and uncorrupt; while their justice may be rough, it is still just. One could call it the ‘play-ground wish-fulfillment’ motif, where prowess is bound to fairness and punishment is always righteous. The obvious, almost definitive example of this is R.E.Howard’s Conan, but we can take a more fundamental approach and consider this ‘barbarian’ trope as representing the ‘other,’ but a cleaned-up version intended to invite sympathy. In this invitation there must be a subtle compact between creator and reader, and to list its details can be rather enlightening, so here goes.
We are not the ‘other,’ and this barbarian’s world is therefore exotic, even as it harkens back to a pre-civilized, Edenic proximity. The barbarian’s world is a harsh one, a true struggle for existence, but this struggle is what hones proper virtues (‘proper’ in the sense of readily agreeable virtues, such as loyalty, courage, integrity, and the value of honest labour). Against this we need an opposing force; in this case ‘civilization,’ characterized by deceit, decadence, conspiracy, and consort with evil forces including tyranny: civilization represents, therefore, the loss of freedom (with slavery the most direct manifestation of that, brutally represented in chains and other forms of imprisonment). In essence, then, we as readers are invited to the side of the ‘other,’ the one standing in opposition to civilization. Yet… we readers are ‘civilized.’ We are, in fact, the decadent products of a culture that has not only accepted the loss of freedom, but in fact codifies that loss to ease our discomfort (taxes, wage-slavery, etc). In this manner, we are offered the ‘escapist’ gift of Fantasy; but implicit in this is the notion that a) we need to escape; and b) that civilization is, at its core, evil.
So, how does all this relate to Karsa Orlong? Well, as has been noted, there was something of the need to prove that I could sustain a single narrative going on (or so I recall, the sense of being pissed off about something is always short-lived and usually ephemeral, although the answer to it can prove far-reaching, as is certainly the case with Karsa); but obviously more was going on. I wanted to address the fantasy trope of the ‘barbarian’ (from the north, no less, and isn’t it curious how so many heroic barbarians come down from the north?), but do so in recognition of demonstrable truths about warrior-based societies, as expressed in that intractable sense of superiority and its arrogant expression; and in recognizing the implicit ‘invitation’ to the reader (into a civilization-rejecting, civilization-hating barbarian ‘hero’), I wanted to, via a very close and therefore truncated point of view, make it damned uncomfortable in its ‘reality,’ and thereby comment on what I saw (and see) as a fundamentally nihilistic fantasy trope: the pure and noble barbarian. Because, whether recognized or not, that fantasy barbarian hero constitutes a rather backhanded attack on the very civilization that produces people with the leisure time to read (and read escapist literature at that).
Within the scope of Karsa’s culture, he holds to his code of integrity and honour, even if they are initially friable in their assumptions (but then, so are all of our assumptions about ‘us’ and about the ‘other’). We observe the details of that culture, revealed bit by bit—with plenty of hints as to its flawed beliefs—and with each detail, we as readers are pushed further away from our own civilized sensibilities.
Escapism is seductive, and what it might reveal about us is not always pleasant on reflection: it comes down to the flavours we prefer, the paths we find most inviting to our more fundamental belief systems—whether self-articulated or not, and that alone is enough to make any thinking person shiver.
Karsa is all of that stripped bare; and in turn he infuriates, shocks, and on occasion makes the jaw drop in disbelief. But he is also the reality of the ‘barbaric’ and so represents an overt rejection of the romanticized, fantasized barbarian trope. Some people don’t like that. Fair enough.
The Malazan Book does not offer readers the escapism into any romantic notions of barbarism, or into a world of pure, white knight Good, and pure, black tyrant Evil. In fact, probably the boldest claim to escapist fantasy my series makes, is in offering up a world where we all have power, no matter our station, no matter our flaws and weaknesses—we all have power.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll escape into that world every chance I can.
Follow this link to read the entire essay.
It'll take less than eight minutes to watch this movie, but you'll be thinking about it far longer than that. This is ABE, a video short that is taking the web by storm. Watch it and see why.
Mashable has a few new superhero infographics for us to gobble up, and these have a real jaw-dropping quality about them. They compare how much it would cost to be various superheroes now versus when they were created, and the difference in some cases is staggering. (Like Batman, to the right. Real estate is the kicker—which we really should have expected.)
Take a look-see at the whole group! We were particularly amused to find that Wolverine is worth oodles purely due to his skeleton, and the cost of dating gouges the pockets of poor Peter Parker a lot more than it used to. Also, Bruce Banner’s degrees have made a delirious jump in cost. Ah, education.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following an oilfield fire sparked by a Giant out of Norse Mythology, Ted Callan finds himself forged into a weapon and pawn caught between the scheming Norse mythos survivors of Ragnarok.
PROS: Zelazny-esque dive into post-Ragnarok mythology from a blue collar perspective.
CONS: Typical first novel writing weaknesses.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid entry into the Modern Mythology subgenre of contemporary fantasy.
Druids living in Arizona? Egyptian Gods hanging out in funeral parlors in a town on the Mississippi River? A summer camp on Long Island for children of deities? Post-Singularity beings putting on a live action version of the Iliad? Authors seem to enjoy bringing mythology into our present or even into our future. It’s practically a sub-genre of Urban Fantasy. (A recent Mind Meld on SF Signal explored the phenomenon.)
Ted Callan, protagonist of Chadwick Ginther’s debut novel Thunder Road, wishes he wasn’t dropped into a modern myth story, though. Seeing a Fire Giant in its pyrotechnic fury, and the trauma of subsequently seeing it destroy his oilfield, his job, and his marriage, is bad enough. Getting turned into a mythological weapon and caught between mythological Ragnarok survivor factions is even worse. Between Fates, Loki, and Dwarves, it’s not at all clear who Callan can trust, if anyone. Or even just how to get back his normal life.
Readers sympathize with Ted’s plight because the story is written from his point of view, which gives the reading audience a good entry point into the mythological world that Ted himself is unwillingly being pulled into. Having a relatively ordinary, blue-collar guy as a protagonist was absolutely refreshing. It grounds the novel and at the same time, as Ted gets used to the changes in and around himself, so too does the audience. The worldbuilding emerges organically, especially as Ted starts to meet various mythological characters.
The book’s approach to mythology was nicely done. Many novels and stories that borrow from Norse Mythology use Ragnarok as a threat, or as a future calamity that is destined to happen, at best always on the horizon, if not being actively rushed toward. In Thunder Road, we see the world after Ragnarok has happened and devastated the Norse Pantheon. There are survivors of course, some surprising ones, and at least one that, given his nature and his instinct for survival, should surprise absolutely no one. And while he, Loki, is as about as far as you can get from the Avengers interpretation, this is a very good (and fun) version of the trickster God. Ginther uses some rather underutilized abilities and aspects of Loki in Thunder Road, all to good effect. The setting of the novel is also extremely well done. The author uses the Canadian setting, urban and back-country, to his advantage, bringing Manitoba and all of its aspects to vivid life. There are also location-based bits of humor as well, such as what is really lurking in Lake Winnipeg.
Thunder Road is a first novel, though, and does suffer from some of the common problems of first novels. There are some significant pacing problems where we are told quotidian things to a level of detail that often drags down the story. The author has a tendency to over-explain things that really could have been hand-waved or glossed over to get to the meat of the story. When the novel gets into conflict (both interpersonal and more physical ones) this problem abates, but the material between can be a slog to get through.
Overall, though, the novel is strong, and has been shortlisted as a nominee for the 2013 Prix Aurora Award for best Canadian novel. Sure, Modern Myth books are as common these days as lies off of Loki’s tongue. Thunder Road manages to distinguish itself and demand attention. I am extremely curious where Ginther goes with Callan’s wyrd, now that the origin story, as it were, is out of the way.