George R.R. Martin's latest entry in his A Song of Ice and Fire saga, upon which HBO's Game of Thrones is based, has been a long time coming.
It's not as long as some of the previous entries, mind you — at least not yet. For his first three entries in the series, things seemed to be going along swell. Game of Thrones released in 1996. A Clash of Kings followed two years later in 1998. Then came A Storm of Swords in 2000.
Then, things started to go downhill. It took five years for the next installment, A Feast for Crows, a book that didn't even include the majority of characters fans had come to love. That wouldn't have been so bad if it meant the next installment would release sooner as a result, but it took an agonizing six years for A Dance with Dragons to finally see publication.
That was in 2011. Now, fans are still waiting for the sixth book in the saga, The Winds of Winter, and given Martin's track record, most aren't optimistic that the book will release anytime soon.
Why? What's the hold-up? How does a writer go from writing three massive books in four years to writing two (which was originally supposed to be one) in more than a decade?
Martin has offered various explanations over the years, but it always comes back to distractions. He's a man set in his ways. He only writes from home. He writes using a DOS computer, using an obsolete word processor from a bygone era. He's a perfectionist, and he isn't about to release a book that isn't as good as it should be.
This would all be fine if it weren't for the fact that Martin is one of the most famous authors on the face of the Earth thanks to the huge success of HBO's Game of Thrones. Here is what Martin said recently during a film festival at an independent movie theater in his hometown of Santa Fe (a theater he recently bought and restored, by the way):
"Writer's block isn't to blame here, it's distraction," Martin said in response to a question on why it's taking him so long to finish The Winds of Winter. "In recent years, all of the work I've been doing creates problems because it creates distraction. Because the books and the show are so popular, I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It's like suddenly, I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who's passing up a free trip to Dubai?"
Because he doesn't write while he's on the road, that means little work gets done while he is on one of his various trips (though he has cut down on attending gatherings like San Diego Comic-Con in favor of getting more work done on the book).
It's not just distractions, either. One of the reasons the book is taking so long is because of work, albeit on other projects. In 2014, he released (along with the help of Elio M. García Jr. and Linda Antonsson) The World of Ice and Fire, a history book of sorts revealing all kinds of new details about the world of Westeros and beyond. He edits various collections of science fiction and fantasy, and serves as an editor for the Wild Cards book series he helped create in the late 1980s.
Martin is a busy man, but progress is being made. Various chapters from The Winds of Winter have been released over the last few years, though most of them were chapters originally written and set to be included in A Dance with Dragons. In April of 2013, Martin estimated he had roughly a quarter of the book finished. However, the author has been hesitant to give out more recent updates about how close he is to having the book done. His signature "it will be finished when it's finished" is the only thing fans have had to go on for the past several years, aside from Martin's statements that he would like to have the book released before April 2016, when the sixth season of Game of Thrones airs.
Unless Martin has a major surprise in store for fans (which doesn't seem likely, as he's repeatedly stated that he will post to his blog the instant the book is finished), it doesn't look like he will meet that April deadline.
It sucks for longtime readers. HBO's show is set to pass Martin's books and spoil what are likely to be major plot points in The Winds of Winter. While many readers watch Game of Thrones, many do so from the standpoint of being a book fan first, a show fan second. Those who have read Martin's novels obsess over every change made in the television series, both big and small, with the show being substantially different from the books at this point.
As Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss know how Martin's saga ends, they aren't going to pull any punches when it comes to revealing the big plot points of future books, even if the route taken to arrive at those plot points may be different from how things will (eventually) play out in Martin's novels. Fans will then be torn between choosing to watch the show or waiting for the books (and somehow avoiding show spoilers before then). Benioff and Weiss, not Martin, are in control of the saga's conclusion. The show will wrap long before the book series does, as even if The Winds of Winter does arrive in 2016, how long will it be until the seventh book, A Dream of Spring? Martin can't win.
It's a situation that few fandoms have ever had to endure. Who would have thought that, given Martin's five-year head-start, the show would pass the books? Adaptations of popular books or comics almost always pull from finished source material, or at least material that will be available to fans before the movie or show releases. Think about it: in 2011, both Game of Thrones aired and A Dance with Dragons was published. In the five years since, HBO has brought to life the entirety of Martin's saga, while Martin has failed to write one (albeit, very large) book.
So, will 2016 be the year? Maybe. It certainly seems possible, but it hardly matters. In some form or another, Martin's story will be told. The cliffhangers fans have waited for years to have resolved finally will be, whether on television or on paper.
Martin once said in an interview, "When I finish this saga I will be judged for the quality of the books, not for the speed of my writing." That may be true, but when The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring do finally arrive, after HBO has already told the remainder of Martin's story in captivating, action-packed, big budget, live-action form, will anybody still care?
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