At long last, George RR Martin’s Fire and Blood, Volume One is here. And, though some fans were disappointed that it wasn’t The Winds of Winter, others rejoiced at having new material to read and talk about. New theories and ideas arose, while others saw parallels to the main series.
But how that material came to us is full of surprising turns and twists. And fans wonder whether Fire and Blood will help Martin in completing his long-awaited
Wild C … The Winds of Winter. In that light, I reached out reached to Elio Garcia Jr and Linda Antonsson, George RR Martin’s co-authors of 2014’s The World of Ice and Fire, for an exclusive interview and peek behind the curtain.
And … I also learned some new things and rumors about Winds from others in the process.
Background to Fire and Blood: 2006-2011
In 2004, Elio Garcia Jr, founder of westeros.org, traveled across the United States to visit George RR Martin in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, George RR Martin proposed that he and his partner, Linda Antonsson, write an encyclopedia of ASOIAF history. This made sense given that Elio and Linda created and continue to maintain the So Spake Martin archive and had first gotten in touch with George RR Martin in 1998 to gain his permission to start their Blood of the Dragon MUSH game.
Two years later, Martin announced The World of Ice and Fire, saying:
With the ink not quite dry on the contracts yet, I can’t tell you much about the contents of The World of Ice and Fire, but we do know that it will include a lengthy section on the history of the Seven Kingdoms, and a “who’s who” of characters past and present, living, dead, and legendary. Heraldry and genealogy will also be included. Oh, and maps. Lots of maps.
Martin went on to say in the post that he expected that The World of Ice and Fire would be published after A Dance with Dragons was released but before Winds came out, estimating that The World of Ice and Fire would be published in late 2007 or early 2008. Make your japes.
The original concept was that Elio and Linda would write the vast majority of the history and submit questions to Martin to fill in any gaps. It was planned to only be 50,000 words. But as Elio and Linda recounted to me, when they finished a first draft in 2009, the word count was already higher than planned:
We would write up character biographies for any characters of note, some longer than others, with the idea that it’d be a part of the 50,000 contracted words. But there’s a lot of characters! By 2009, we had done much of the work, and had outlined and done an initial draft on the rest of the text, but first off we had over 100,000 words just in the Who’s Who, and then we had, I think, another 70,000 for the rest, and that with massive gaps where we had too little information to write anything cohesive.
The initial solution was the remove the “Who’s Who” section and place that information in the A Wiki of Ice and Fire mobile app. But George RR Martin hadn’t given input yet on the worldbook and wouldn’t until after he finished A Dance with Dragons in 2011.
The Tale Grows in the Telling: 2011-2014
In April 2011, George RR Martin completed his final draft of long-await novel A Dance with Dragons. With the conclusion of his long-awaited fifth A Song of Ice and Fire novel, Martin turned his attention to the worldbook that Elio and Linda had been working on since 2006. Accordingly, the word-count of The World of Ice and Fire grew as George RR Martin began writing sidebar stories on the reigns of various Targaryen kings, queens, heirs and conflicts. Here’s Elio and Linda again:
2012 is when George weighed into things fully, starting with our draft, fleshing out the material. And then the gaps, the places where we didn’t have a lot of information, where George happened to have a lot of ideas which he’d never actually presented to us or to fans in the novels. The typical day then was waking up at 5 AM or 6 AM to see what new “sidebar” material George sent us, the “supposed to be a paragraph or two” notes that would help us flesh out the gaps, but ended up becoming these 7,000, 15,000, 20,000, all the way up to 60,000 word behemoths in and of themselves. They always came as Wordstar files, which we’d convert to Word documents. We would turn around corrections, commentary, and continuity notes to George and Anne [Anne Groell: George’s long-time editor at Random House, Bantam Books], Anne would mark them further, at some point George would send a corrected version.
The first sidebar story that Elio and Linda received from George RR Martin was a detailed account of Aegon I Targaryen’s Conquest in May 2012. But by late 2012, Martin’s output was increasing every upwards to the point where he thought that his sidebars had the potential to become novellas themselves. He was right as George RR Martin published a condensed version of two of his sidebars in 2013’s The Princess and the Queen and 2014’s The Rogue Prince.
But while the Targaryens dominated much of Martin’s writing output for The World of Ice and Fire, he was working on other sections of the worldbook too as Elio and Linda told me:
Most of [the regional histories and histories of far-away Essos] was written by George because we simply had no information to go on to write about places like Kayakayanaya, Yi Ti, Ib, etc. We just made sure he had all the information that he had revealed in the books and in conversations, emails, etc. at hand so he could make use of that.
In the end, Martin wrote hundreds of thousands of words for The World of Ice and Fire, and that presented a major problem for the book. The word count had far exceeded what the publisher was looking for and couldn’t reasonably be bound in a single volume. So, it had to be condensed. But how would all the material be condensed? Here’s Elio and Linda talking about the issue and the different ways they attempted to address it before settling on a solution:
The decision to condense it all came when there was a moment where the book had grown so enormous by early 2013 that George considered the rather radical solution of simply pulling all the Targaryen material entirely. The problem we saw with this was that suddenly we’d have to scramble to write histories for some of these kings which we had previously known nothing about, and suddenly we had information we couldn’t use. The solution we struck up was to treat George’s material to be the basis of a source that our maester, Yandel, would use in putting together his text, with snippets of direct quotes sprinkled here and there.
In the end, George RR Martin cut 200,000 total words from The World of Ice and Fire as he reported in May 2014.
At the end of his comment, George stated that fans would have to “wait” for a future history volume (a book he tongue-in-cheek referred to as The GRRMarillion) Wait fans did, but not as long as Martin originally intended.
The In-Between Years: 2014-2017
George RR Martin submitted the final piece of writing for The World of Ice and Fire in April 2014 and ended his post saying that he was returning to work on Wild Cards and The Winds of Winter. All of the leftover material that was cut from The World of Ice and Fire would become the bulk of a book that was years down the road: Fire and Blood, Volume One.
The World of Ice and Fire was published in October 2014, but the wait for The Winds of Winter continued. In 2015, George RR Martin told Entertainment Weekly that he planned to publish Winds by year’s end to beat Game of Thrones, Season 6. However, by early 2016, Martin admitted that the book still wasn’t finished and that Game of Thrones, Season 6 would air before The Winds of Winter was published.
Still, Martin continued to work on Winds even after Game of Thrones Season 6 aired, but the book remained unfinished through 2016. In early 2017, Martin stated that he had made progress on The Winds of Winter and hoped to publish the book that year. Alas, this hope proved forlorn. But there were other developments in the Song of Ice and Fire world.
News broke in May 2017 that HBO was considering five Game of Thrones spinoff shows that would cover historical events written about (or at least mentioned) in The World of Ice and Fire. George RR Martin further revealed that he was working alongside of all of the writers for the successor shows. But there was a curious note at the end of the blog entry: he was juggling multiple projects: Winds, the successor shows, Wild Cards and … another project.
George RR Martin Reverses Course on Fire and Blood
Even as late as January 2017, George RR Martin was still saying that Fire and Blood was “years away.” However, just five months later, Martin stated that he was working on Fire and Blood. And only two months after that, George dropped a bombshell.
In July 2017, George RR Martin revealed that he planned to published Fire and Blood, Volume One in either late 2018 or early 2019. The question on some people’s minds was why. Why was George publishing Fire and Blood before concluding the main series (as he had been indicating since 2014?)?
The answer is several-fold:
- George had hinted at it previously but explicitly revealed to Entertainment Weekly that his publishers at Random House Bantam Books wanted Fire and Blood, Volume One before The Winds of Winter. Why they wanted the book “first” is a more complex question, but it’s likely that his publishers thought that Fire and Blood was the more sure thing tie-in to the final season of Game of Thrones than Winds.
- Another major reason why Fire and Blood came out first was that Martin has repeatedly stated that he does not want material to be spoiled on TV before he could publish it again. At a convention in San Jose, California, George RR Martin confirmed that one of the driving motivations to release Fire and Blood now was to ensure that none of the forthcoming Game of Thrones successor shows would spoil future reveals planned for his novels and imaginary history. To crystalize this point, Martin revealed in a recent Guardian interview, that two of the potential successor shows were based “solidly” on material from Fire and Blood, Volume One.
- Lastly and most importantly, Martin believed that he had the book almost entirely written. Most of the material had been written for 2014’s The World of Ice and Fire. There were certain sections that Martin needed to edit and expand upon of course. And Martin needed to write a complete accounting of one Targaryen king and queen. But 90% of the book was already done.
So, George began writing new material and editing older material for Fire and Blood, Volume One, believing he only had a small amount of work to accomplish to get the book ready for publication.
This belief turned out to be only partially-correct.
Atop Lonely Mountain Cold: 2017-2018
George RR Martin spent much of the latter part of 2017 writing Fire and Blood, Volume One while working on The Winds of Winter and his other projects. But the new writing that George RR Martin seemed to be writing the most was, surprisingly, Fire and Blood.
In his only appearance for Fire and Blood, George RR Martin revealed that he wrote something like 100,000 words of new material for Fire and Blood detailing the reign of Jaehaerys I Targaryen and his sister-wife Queen Alysanne Targaryen.
While this development was surprising, it wasn’t completely unexpected. For the author who sold A Song of ice and Fire as a trilogy before later realizing that it would take seven books to complete the saga, and that same author who wrote 300,000 more words than what he was originally going to write for The World of Ice and Fire, it’s easy to see how Fire and Blood grew in the telling. As Elio and Linda told me:
We weren’t terribly surprised that a king and queen with such a long reign and so many children, coming off [the reign of Maegor the Cruel] a pretty monstrous king before them, would have quite a lot of history.
In the end, GRRM completed and delivered Fire and Blood, Volume One to his publishers at Random House in early April 2018. And the book itself was published on November 20, 2018.
Next-Up: The Winds of Winter
Last week on George RR Martin’s popular notablog … blog, Martin expressed happiness and excitement over his imaginary history book Fire and Blood, Volume One reaching #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. But then, he talked about that other book that fans have waited for: The Winds of Winter:
“I know you want WINDS, and I am going to give it to you… but I am delighted that you stayed with me for this one as well. Your patience and unflagging support means the world to me.
Enjoy the read. Me, I am back in my fortress of solitude, and back in Westeros. It won’t be tomorrow, and it won’t be next week, but you will get the end of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.”
This has ignited hype and hope among fans of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones. Is the end to the long wait for winter close at hand? Perhaps.
At the end of his Fire and Blood announcement, Martin stated that he was returning to work on The Winds of Winter. What was left unsaid was that seemingly publishers received Fire and Blood, Volume One sooner than they expected this. Corroborating this: in an interview with Spanish A Song of Ice and Fire podcast Podcast de Hielo y Fuego, George RR Martin’s Spanish translator Natalia Cervera stated that she received the book in May 2018 and had two full months to translate the book prior to editing, binding and then publication of the book in Spain.
Meanwhile, as Fire and Blood, Volume One was edited, translated and prepared for publication, Martin was hard at work on The Winds of Winter. In a November Wall Street Journal interview, with Martin, the author was in a cabin in the mountains outside of Santa Fe attempting to finish The Winds of Winter.
This cabin has an interesting history. When George RR Martin was less than a month away from finishing “A Dance with Dragons” in 2011, he reported his location as “in the bunker.” More recently, in early 2018, Martin reported his location as being in “the hidden fortress” and “the lonely mountain”, hard at finishing “Fire and Blood, Volume One.” And this cabin proved instrumental in the completion of “Fire and Blood, Volume One” as Elio and Linda told me:
“George did use the cabin while completing [Fire and Blood], and he seemed to feel at the time that that had been helpful to his work process.”
Spanish A Song of Ice and Fire fan-site Los Siente Reinos, citing unnamed sources close to Martin, reported that the cabin has had a “positive effect” on his progress in writing The Winds of Winter. Furthermore, Martin was “trying to finish” The Winds of Winter in that same cabin when he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal (And yes, Martin did say he was trying to finish the book in that cabin). Coupled with persistent rumors that Martin wants to publish The Winds of Winter in close proximity to Game of Thrones, Season 8, fans wonder whether 2019 might finally be the year. And early indications are that hopeful.
Since April 2018, Martin’s major project has been The Winds of Winter with the author stressing in recent public appearances and interviews that The Winds of Winter is the next book to be released. For their part, fans hope that the long gestation process and significant expansion of the lore and backstory of A Song of Ice and Fire found in Fire and Blood will result in the completion of The Winds of Winter.
George RR Martin’s faster-than-anticipated progress on Fire and Blood has fueled hope that perhaps finally, (The Winds of) Winter is coming. Beyond two convention appearances this past summer and a recent visit to his hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey, Martin has now had eight months of solid work on The Winds of Winter — work, which sources indicate has had a positive impact on his progress in the book.
So, will The Winds of Winter come out in 2019? And will we get the end to A Song of Ice and Fire as Martin promised? We and millions of George RR Martin’s fans hope so. But in the meantime, they have Fire and Blood, Volume One to enjoy while they wait.
I invite you to follow me on twitter at @BryndenBFish. Additionally, PoorQuentyn and I have an ASOIAF Re-Read Podcast called NotACast where we analyze every chapter in ASOIAF one chapter a week. Come listen to us on itunes, podbay, soundcloud, google play, everywhere you get your podcasts!