George R.R. Martin's Dreamsongs

1amartin_2 New York Times Bestseller George R.R. Martin's Dreamsongs, consisting of collected fiction with copious story notes, is being published by Bantam in two volumes, the first now and the second in late November. Well before the success of his current heroic fantasy series, Martin was known for classic tales like "Sandkings," "Night Flyers," and "The Pear-Shaped Man." Having a selection of his stories in this two-volume set is an over-abundance of treasures. Fans and new readers alike should enjoy these sometimes horrific, sometimes moving, and always intelligent fictions. Recently, Martin took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about Dreamsongs. How do you think you’ve changed as a short story writer over the years?

George R.R. Martin: Like any writer, I'd like to think I've gotten better. I know I've gotten longer.  In the early part of my career, I wrote nothing but short stories.  A novella like "A Song for Lya" seemed like an immensely long work to me, and I was so intimidated by novels that I did not complete one until six years into my career.  The me of 1972 would be astonished by these massive tomes that the me of 2007 is writing. Longer stories allow for more complex plots, deeper characterization, more nuanced examinations of the themes you're wrestling with, etc.  But there is something to be said for the clean, sweet simplicity of a good short story.  I wish I had the time to do more. Is this all of your published short fiction or did you leave some pieces out?

George R.R. Martin: This collection was intended as a retrospective of my career, so I wanted to include samples of all the different sorts of things I've written--SF, fantasy, horror, various hybrids of same, my Tuf series and my Wild Cards series, some teleplays from my Hollywood years, even some juvenilia from my days as a high school kid writing superhero "text stories" for the fanzines.  And of course it has all my award winners, and most of my award losers.  All of which makes it a huge collection, which is why Bantam is publishing it in two volumes.  Even so, we had to leave lots of stuff out. “Sand Kings” was a huge influence on me as a young writer voraciously wolfing down story collections and fiction anthologies. It’s also clearly a classic story by this point. Did you have a sense when writing it that it was going to be something special?

George R.R. Martin: Heh.  Actually, no, not at all.  I talk about this in the commentary in Dreamsongs.  At the time I wrote "Sandkings" I was teaching at a small Catholic girl's college in Dubuque, Iowa. I did most of my writing over summer vacations, and during the Christmas and spring breaks.  The winter break in 1978-79 was especially productive for me, and I finished three stories in three weeks--"The Ice Dragon," "The Way of Cross and Dragon," and "Sandkings." If you had visited me the week after I completed the last of those, I would have told you that "Sandkings" was the weakest of the three.  I mean, I thought it was okay, mind you... but it was "The Ice Dragon" that I felt was really special. All three stories have done very well for me over the years, mind you, but "Sandkings" has become far and away the most successful short story I ever wrote.  It has earned me more than several of my novels, and until A Song of Fire and Ice it was the single thing that I was best known for.  So maybe it's true that an author is the worst judge of his work. Do you have a personal favorite or favorites in the collection?

George R.R. Martin: A bunch of them, for different reasons.  "Second Kind of Loneliness" was a breakthrough story for me, both personally and commercially.  "A Song for Lya" was my first novella, my first Hugo winner, the most ambitious story I had attempted to that point.  The aforementioned "Ice Dragon," which I still feel is one of my best crafted stories.  "The Hedge Knight," which introduced Dunk & Egg.  And "Portraits of His Children," which comes last in the book for good reason. Are you currently working on any short fiction?

George R.R. Martin: The third Dunk & Egg novella... although I've had to put that aside for the moment while I try to finish A Dance With Dragons.  I do intent to contribute a Dying Earth story to the Vance anthology [I'm co-editing], of course, and I have been noodling a few ideas for that one.


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