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Sunday, 8 December 2013

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN AND NECROPHILIA.

By necrophilia, or what the Americans quaintly call necro-feel-ya, I mean the unfortunate exploitation of an artist's work beyond that artist's lifetime.
   Those of you interested in fucking corpses will have to look elsewhere. I have no evidence that George R.R. Martin fucked corpses - though he created plenty in his fiction. So, again, for those of you misconstruing the meaning behind this blog post, seek help in other places.
   I stopped reading A Song of Ice and Fire - Martin's saga inspired by the Wars of the Roses. I'll summarise and say imagine Lancaster versus York, transplanted to a world of Martin's creation. The bloody rose of Lancaster became the golden lion of Lannister. And so on.
   Why stop reading? I'm waiting for one of three things to happen. One. My death. Two. George R.R. Martin's death. Three. The completion of his series during his lifetime.
   I decided to hold fire. Not a hard decision. I'll wait for the whole series to come out before I pick up another of those books. When George isn't off spending time hunting a great white whale, he's planning deep in the labyrinths of his mind - for his brain contains more than one labyrinth.
   Putting the books out there is taking a lot of thinking and doing. Einstein gave us an equation for turning energy into published volumes. The effort is tremendous.
   If Mr Martin dies, whole worlds die with him. And then what? Necrophilia? What are the lures allowing another to finish what the creator started? There are two major lures which spring to mind. The first is monetary.
   Copyright law allows for the financial exploitation of material after a creator's death. At the time of writing, that period is 70 years. Or for as long as the Great Ormond Street Hospital exists, in the case of receiving certain royalties delivered by young Peter Pan.
   Why does the right exist beyond death? If you want to boil the notion to its essence, the literary estate is there to care for the deceased author's destitute spouse and child. That's your story nutshell.
   The other lure is the lure of unfinished business - finishing something for the fans.
   Both lures are of interest. They may be weak or strong. I don't happen to have a term for what happens to an estate that is managed well after death. (Lucky?) When the thing's done badly, why don't we call that necrophilia...
   There are a lot of people out there who foam at the mouth when it comes to George R.R. Martin and the time it takes that man to finish writing a book. Well, a book takes as long as it takes to write. That loose description is multiplied, not added to, when tackling a saga.
   Here's a quote from Mr Martin.
   "It never would have dawned on me to write to Professor Tolkien and say, 'You better hurry up with The Silmarillion before you die, old man.' What kind of cretin does that?"
   When I read that comment, I was reminded of the things that were said of Tolkien. His readers - and those were certainly not the fans he'd pick up later - went around frowning, muttering...
   "But what if he dies before he finishes it?"
   In Professor Tolkien's case, his son Christopher would have stepped, nervously, into that gap. Christopher ended up as a Gandalf-like literary steward for the printed side of the Tolkien estate. He had far less say over movie rights, which his father parcelled off.
   "They gutted the book, making an action film for 15- to 25-year-olds."
   You'll have to read The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and sit through Peter Jackson's movies, to determine whether those films might stray under my heading of necrophilia. No one is saying you have to. I'm just saying.
   Inside knowledge. Is that a good thing? Christopher Tolkien's taste for scholarship and his insider's view of his father's work helped keep necrophilia at bay as far as the written word was concerned. He has his detractors, of course. Christopher happens to be one of them.
   I've heard wretched things said of Frank Herbert's son. Doesn't mean they are true. Frank Herbert created a story about giant worms in the sand. Or something. I'm not quite sure. Having not read the books, I thought I'd give the movie a go when it popped up on television.
   The movie is a brave effort to tell some kind of story about giant worms in the sand. Or something. The movie has its fans. One of those was Frank Herbert. I didn't take an interest in the books. Except to note that, after his death, the dunes of Dune seemed to stretch endlessly.
   Raiders of Dune. Henry and Dune. The Dune Cookbook. I may have made that last one up. Along with the first two.
   It's a dirty game, shooting at an unread target. I considered reading some Dune books to give this blog entry a veneer of respectability. But having a veneer of respectability would destroy the last shred of respectability I possess.
   When is necrophilia not necrophilia? Franz Kafka didn't want his work to see the light of day. Max Brod was meant to throw the pages on the fire. Was Max thinking of the money? Or of unfinished business?
   Brian Herbert was undoubtedly thinking of his dear old dead dad Frank when he raked around in the garage and uncovered notes for all those things of a sandy nature.
   An author dies and a movie goes into production. Unfinished business with the fans? Or the lure of cash for the destitute spouse and child?
   On a side-note, necrophilia conducted while the subject is alive is...I don't know. Cannibalism? When an author disappears up his or her own fundament.
   Accusations have been aimed at George R.R. Martin. He's lost the plot. It's very easy to say that if you've never had to plot. Martin is taking time to reach the end of his tale.
   We can only hope he reaches the story's end before his own. Then we'll see how much of the plot he lost. Or how much of a corner he managed to paint himself out of. His world is a large place, with a long history...
   I suspect one structural element to his saga bugs readers more than anything else does. Some of his characters die for no reason. Well, you see that in the news on a daily basis.
   People die for no reason. I think Mr Martin is attempting to hold a broad broad tale together without committing the ultimate crime...
   If you tie off every single loose end in a saga, you are doing something wrong.
   Why did I read the first few books? As entertainment. On the authorial side of things, I saw, immediately, that I didn't write that way myself. So it was good to have a bit of variety. Something different. Deep in my archive, I found early notes for Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords.
   And I was shocked to see I'd dated the ancient paperwork. Yes, 1991. So, old George and I set down ideas for a fantasy series in the same year. He spent half a decade getting to publication. A quarter of the time it took me to put my first volume out there.
   Why, Mr Martin. You are starting to seem speedy by comparison.
   I had many detours with which to contend. So how goes my own fantasy saga? I still see the series as ten isolated books, readable in isolation. Missed one? Not to worry. In that vein.
   Other stories claim more of my attention. But I return to Neon Gods from time to time. Book two bleeds into book three, and book three haemorrhages into book four.
   Some people sketch their worlds in coloured chalk. Others go for the bronze statue based on the oil-painting - that approach takes longer. I'm working my way up to coloured chalk, by mining it.
   Advice for writers? Try not to disappear up your own fundament - or someone else's, for they may press charges. What do writers owe readers?
   A sense of professionalism. Speed is another matter entirely. From Missy Biozarre came the worrying comment, "I rather like having credibility as a writer."
   She wasn't hinting that I have none, I hope. My head is in the clouds - and it's difficult to disappear up your own backside when the other end is far below. Yes, yes, in the gutter looking at the stars. As for death, I'm reminded of a recommendation from Kacey Vanderkarr. "Please don't die!"
   I'm not creating a broad tapestry. More a fishing-net. Yes, that was a reference to my own work. Hit that free audio on the blog for more details.
   Technique. I have a few corners I don't want to paint myself into. But looking across at George R.R. Martin, I don't have his trouble. I created a non-saga of a saga with Neon Gods - and that generates other problems on a different approach.
   Necrophilia? Mr Martin doesn't need the cash. If he makes it to his own end before finishing the story, cash will serve as the least of his worries.
   At that point, it's up to his wife - if she's still around - to say what's what. The other lure, of unfinished business, may prove contrary to George's wishes. Max Brod ignored Kafka so that Kafka would not be ignored.
   Was that a fancy way of hoping Mr Martin finishes writing the story so that we needn't worry over the literary legacy, body-snatchery, and necrophilia? Maybe. When the series is finished, I'll pick the books up again. Or more likely, I'll read the books from the start.
   Until then, other tales occupy my mind. Some of those are ones I'll have to start writing. And finish writing. Though clearly a fantasist, I am under no illusions when it comes to the heady notion of legacy...
   I can't shake the sensation that my work has no lasting merit. And I don't write with the intention of creating a legacy. So I should be spared necrophilia. In every fucking sense.

2 comments:

  1. I'm reminded of Robert Jordan dying before Wheel of Time finished. Brandon Sanderson finished the series after being hand-picked and reading the notes. I wonder if there's a precedence for choosing an apprentice or literary heir. Makes me consider what I should do to give my ideas a chance to survive if I die before I finish.

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  2. What do we do? Keep all our stories in our heads, so that they are gone if we go? Harsh. Deliberately leave notes for people who may not act on them. Accidentally leave notes that wouldn't reflect finished stories. Each situation gives those who follow an unenviable task.

    As for a literary heir. A married writer leaves a legacy to his or her spouse. (Incidentally, Charles, I think your wife has right of reply on your blog after THAT SPOUSAL POST you made. Writers giving handy advice to spouses. Neat. Let's hear what spouses have to say about writers. What's this? Can of worms.)

    An heir is usually clear-cut. But a literary heir? Who gets a say? Family. Another author. By that I mean one who inspired the deceased. Contemporary. Yet another author who owed his or her career to the deceased. A super-fan who became a writer. Can I keep going? Should I?

    Because we may start dredging. Literary agent. Holding company. Publisher. Disinterested eighth party who somehow attained the rights. There are great stories out there. Should those tales be finished by other hands? I'm not an out-and-out Chandler fan, preferring Dash Hammett...

    Even so. Chandler managed a few pages of the story that became Poodle Springs. The fragmentary material was published. Then Chandler's centenary year came along, and, no disrespect to Robert B. Parker, but the literary estate could smell cash-in on the breeze and Parker was hired to flesh out a whole book.

    There is care. Close to death, in the bed itself, Adam Hall dictated his last novel to his son. Tears were shed. How could they not be...

    The only worthwhile thought I've given to it is the point I made about placing snow on my blog. If I die now in winter, the snow stays on my blog to mark my passing. Perhaps it should cover any notes I leave behind.

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