George R.R. Martin at Comic-Con 2014: A YouTube Comment
As many of you may know, more often than not, I am compelled to write some long, drawn out comment reacting or commentating on one thing or another: take a look at my rants on BuzzFeed or Yahoo. I’m a long winded fellow (some have even suggested that I could finish George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire simply because of my adhesion to epic lengths, which you can see throughout my blog’s brief history (of time; I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself)) and because of that, often times my comments can become to burdensome and arduous for the host website that I’m commenting on, so I like to post them here as blog posts because I feel like at least some of you want to read it…right? Anyways, about a week ago I made some comments on George R.R. Martin at Comic-Con, and I have to say that it was a pretty awakening experience. George is a great guy, a good writer, and I think that despite his incredible pace to finish Ice and Fire, he has some good things to say about writing. And eventually, I might even start reading comic books more often, maybe I’ll get more reading done that way at least.
I totally agree with GRRM when he talks about how ‘diverse’ the publishing and literary world has become, restricting authors to a single genre instead of allowing them to simply be writers. Books can no longer simply be books, they have to be a [insert any genre here] book, and that’s that. Sure, a book can be defined as a science fiction just so that the publishers can make it easier on themselves to market it (the book industry has become very much like Hollywood in that it has slowly become less the quality of the novel sells the novel and much more the quantity that the novel can sell makes the novel, which is a very sad thing in my opinion as it has made for a saturated market in many respects, not to mention in the realm of the ‘YA Revolution’, which don’t even get me started on, because I’ll go on for days), but that science fiction book could just as easily be a horror novel, a romance, or a mystery. That’s one of the things that always made the great books great (including George’s), is because they don’t confine themselves to a genre, they are there own genre and they exist as they exist with no restrictions, those are the best stories because they have all the stories. One of my favorite examples of this has been To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I think is as much a fantasy as it is an autobiography, a thriller and a mystery, a coming of age novel and one of a special kind of magical realism; it has all the elements of a good story and that’s what makes it so great, one of the reasons it has stuck around for so long.
One of the best things that I have learned from Martin as a writer, along with other things (in combination with other authors, most prominently Fyodor Dostoevsky), is the ambiguity of characters, that no character is wholly good or wholly evil; as real people, we all have the capacity to save a person from falling, at the same time we have the capacity to watch that person fall and break theri neck; we all have the capacity to stop a school shooter, and we all have the capacity to be one, and because of that, no character can be good (even in those moments of ‘good’, there is something that is not noble about what they have done, something that goes against their morals) all the time, and if they do, they end up doing more bad than good. The colors black and white are simply colors; no matter what banner or color of robe you wear, those colors do not define you, only you define you and because of that no one can walk a single path without stepping on a stone from the other path and reach the end of the journey successfully, for even the yellow brick road was not completely easy in it’s going. Characters that are only good or only evil are the worst characters, because they are not believable, and while they might be fun to read about, they’re not the characters that stick with you. People will remember the epic saga of Walter White because he was not a hero, he was an antihero, and while he had good intentions, those good intentions resulted in his killing of many people, sometimes for a reason, other times based on suspension, and it lead to his inevitable downfall and his family rejecting him, the death of his brother-in-law, and even in the end, he still died (and it wasn’t even from the original threat!).
I totally agree with GRRM on the whole thing about death mattering. When my brother died last year, it was a sudden thing that happened the day before Easter, and believe it or not, it was raining, pouring. My mom woke me up at about 4 o’clock in the morning telling me that there was something wrong, asking me if I wanted to go to the hospital with them. In a sleepy haze, I denied them (mind you, I was horribly conflicted, but in the end, sleep won out) and they came back later telling me he had passed. I cried then, but for the next 4 months, I held it within me, not believing it, even as the funeral happened, even as I watched them close the casket for the last time, even as I watched them shoveling dirt, I held it in. In July of that year, it was the middle of the night and I began to think about how I would never get to talk to him again, and a rush of memories came over me, and before long I was sobbing into my pillow, and for the next week or so, I couldn’t do much because the death finally hit me so hard. Death is hard. Death is not fun. Death is not something that anyone can really smile about in the end; when Joffrey died in the show, many people may have rejoiced, but you still couldn’t deny that he was a brilliant character. Every character’s death should matter, and it’s not something that you shrug off, it hurts and no one wants to go through it, but it’s a part of life; you’ll always be wanting to hear that it was all a hoax, but you never get that call and that’s what makes it so painful, which is what I think that all writers should strive for in their stories, there should be a mourning and a deep sorrow for the death of characters that you love, and even a small something for those that you hate (I felt a little sad when Gustavo died, because he was the villain and he was just as much a part of Walter Whites story as any other character, and then he was gone). Death is real, even in fiction. While I have gotten over my brother’s death (to some small degree at least), there is a picture that I have of him and every time I look at it, I cannot help but feel overcome by a sense of grief; death lingers. Even as far as A Dance With Dragons people still echo on about Ned Stark’s death, years after it happened. Death is real, death lingers, death matters.
“Even I can do better than that,” George echoes Stephen (King) in this matter, and while it may have worked for them, I am sad to say that such an echo did not hold up for me to well with my first book. I decided that when I was 12 (I’m 14 now and realize the error of my ways, and I’ve mature din my writing quite considerably if I say myself) that I could do better thanThe Maze Runner, because King once said that, “Have you ever read a book, and thought, ‘This really sucks?’ and said, ‘I could do better?'” and so I took that to heart after reading five chapters of The Maze Runner disliking it with a passion (more so these days than ever for other reasons that have little to do with the work itself) and began working on what inevitably became The Maze Games (the title wasn’t a jab at The Maze Runner, rather it was the only phrase that I could think of at the time that defined exactly what was going on in the book). It was a monumental flop, of course at the time I thought it was a glorious piece of fiction, when in fact it was a culmination of about every action movie I’d see up to that point (Michael Bay comes to mind, if that gives you any indication of the books plotting and pacing) along with every book I’d read up to that point with action, not to mention it was infused (at the very last minute) with every boys fascination with Greek Mythology (thanks very much to Rick Riordan, I might add). I sent it out to the publisher and it went off to print with a light edit (a very, very light edit) and formatting, and there it was (and still is) on Amazon. I regret having published it in the format that it was in (and I’m even making an effort to ‘reboot’ it with a rewrite), but in the end, what can you do but move on, right? Better to learn from that mistake instead of crying over it; maybe if I win my statewide contest and get my more recent work out there, it won’t haunt me so bad anymore.
On writing itself, one thing that I have learned that is the most important about writing anything is that, you have to dedicate yourself to finish it. There may come a time when you will write a story that you just cannot finish, but so long as you have all the parts of a story, there is no reason not to finish it. Not finishing things can become a terrible habit, and it can be your downfall if you end up not finishing all the things that you write; you will most often try to finish everything you start, movies, TV shows, books (even the bad ones), because you don’t want to be surrounded by a court of things that you didn’t finish. You can start a billion fires, but can you put them all out?
On another note, just as George said, if you still have to write even if you’re not going to be published, then it’s for you. I could have stopped after The Maze Games, because a) the book was fucking terrible (comparably, I suppose it’s my Armageddon Rag or The Tommyknockers), b) my royalty checks have rarely exceeded 11 bucks, and c) I’ve gotten a lot of shit for it, but you know what, I still go onto my desktop every day and I wrote something. I may not have written a story that day, but I’d probably written some comment or blog post that required me to put some kind of technique and effort into what I was trying to convey. The life of a writer is a lonely and unsteady one, it is choppy and uneven, a constant storm and war with yourself to decide ‘Can I keep doing this?’. Just yesterday I hit an epic low, and I wanted to just quit, I wanted to fuck it all, and just stop, but today I got up and I still sat down and I wrote because I had to, not even really because I wanted to, but because if I didn’t write, I’d pretty much be another kid who does nothing with his summer (and arguably, I’m still that, but my writing is what I believe makes me special by my own respects). You have to be strong, iron skinned, to be a writer and you have to be prepared to live in a very unfruitful garden.