Nom de Plume: none
Location: Santa Fe
Key Book Titles: Fevre Dream, The Armageddon Rag, the Wild Cards series, In A Song of Ice and Fire series: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons (forthcoming)
Years in New Mexico: 28
What made you decide to bring back the Wild Cards series?
I’m editing for that. I’m not writing for that. We’ve always loved the world and the characters. We started doing Wild Cards in the ’80s, and it was very popular for a while. For one reason or another, sales fell off and we had a long hiatus. We always wanted to get back to it. There are a lot more stories there to be told. The world’s a fun one to work in. It’s also nice to do a project with other people. When you’re doing your own work, as I am with A Dance with Dragons, it’s very solitary work. It’s just you and your computer facing the blank page each day. Working on a project like Wild Cards where you have many other writers involved is much more of a group effort—a bunch of different writers working off each other, throwing ideas back and forth. That’s kind of fun. It’s like jamming for a musician.
You were a journalist at some point, right?
That’s what my degrees are in. I have a master’s in journalism from Northwestern. I worked in it back in the ’70s a little bit as a sports writer, public relations, other little things like that.
Do you ever miss working in that field?
No. Not really. I think I found what I enjoy doing most, which is telling stories.
How much research do you typically do for a book?
It depends on the book. On something like [the] Ice and Fire [series], which has a quasi-Medieval setting, quite a bit. I have to read a lot of history to try to get the feel of the worlds right. I have absorbed an enormous amount about the Middle Ages at this point. Obviously, if you’re doing a contemporary setting, something like Wild Cards, you don’t have to research as much.
In Ice and Fire, you’ve abandoned the traditional Tolkien-esque characters, like orcs, elves and ogres. Was it an intentional departure?
I wanted to do a more realistic type of fantasy—fantasy that, in some ways, was more like historical fiction. It’s a fantasy world. It’s not set in England or France or anything. It’s set in a kingdom I created. But it’s not a high-magic world like Tolkien’s. Magic is very rare, and you don't see it very often. Mostly I’m concerned with writing about human beings. Tolkien was great, and I love Tolkien. I love what he did. I wanted to find my own tone and voice there, something that melded fantasy with historical fiction.
Your characters are often neither completely good nor bad. Do you avoid the white-hat, black-hat characters?
I do. It’s a part of the realism. When I look around the world, I don’t see many people who are purely good or purely evil. All human beings are a combination of both and have the capacity within them to be heroic and to be villainous, to be selfless and to be selfish. Frankly, I find those characters more interesting than the pure white hats or the pure black hats. It’s our common humanity that fascinates me. Why do people make the choices they make? What drives them? That’s what I love to explore.
Science fiction writers seem to put out a whole lot of work. Are you able to write at your own pace?
[Laughs.] I am not one of those science fiction writers who puts out a tremendous amount of work. I’m very slow. This book [A Dance with Dragons] is years late, unfortunately. That’s one of the reasons I got out of journalism. The daily deadlines you face at a newspaper would have killed me at age 35. I’ve never been very good with deadlines. I have them now because these books are under contract. Earlier in my career, I actually worked completely at my own pace, and no one would even know what I was working on. I would not offer a book for sale until it was completely finished. I would just send a finished book to my agent and say, “Sell this,” which is not the way most people work.
How does it usually happen?
Most people write a couple chapters and an outline to get a contract and then have a deadline by which to finish the rest of the book. I kind of liked the way I did it in the early days of my career. You had no one expecting a book by a certain date. You could always work at your own pace. Of course there’s always the financial pressure if you’re a full-time writer. You have to finish material or nobody pays you any money and you can't pay the mortgage or buy more groceries. So there’s that sort of deadline.
You have a lot of really devoted fans. Does that add another kind of pressure?
Definitely, yeah. Ice and Fire, since it’s an ongoing series, there’s a lot of people waiting for the next installment. So even if my publisher's deadline isn’t a factor, I get all this e-mail from my fans wanting to know when the next book is coming out. It creates a certain amount of psychological pressure.
Why do you live in New Mexico and not, say, Hollywood or New York or something?
I hate L.A. It’s a terrible place to live. New Mexico’s great. Santa Fe, I first saw it as a tourist in 1978 and fell in love with it. When I worked in Hollywood, I had to live in L.A., but I can’t say I ever liked it. I’m from the New York area originally, from New Jersey, and I love to go back there for visits once or twice a year and see family and friends and enjoy all the nice things New York has to offer. But I don't think I could live there anymore. New Mexico has spoiled me. Besides, I’m addicted to green chile and you can’t get it anywhere else.