…was very brief, though so was the second. But the time that I was certain would be the point at which I came physically closest to the man was during one of his scheduled signings (the first of seven, in fact), when I placed a slightly worn copy of Card Sharks, upside down to me and opened to the title page in front of him.
He looked at it in what I interpreted as mild confusion turning to what I interpreted as mild surprise and delight. “Oh, Card Sharks!” he muttered, then signed his autograph over where his name appeared as the editor for the volume. I had thought about bringing one of the books in the series to which he contributed a story, but the New Cycle has personal significance to me as it was my introduction to the series and his work, and given the limit of one book per person per scheduled event, that’s what I went with.
I had looked around to see if I could spot any other Wild Cards fans in the room, but had only spotted epic fantasy tomes. I know there was a separate Wild Cards mass signing for the new book, but I was a little surprised that no one around me had brought any of them. I wouldn’t swear I was the only person in the room with one, but I was definitely one of a small number.
I suspect there may have been some mild grumbling about how the event was run, but I have to say, I was impressed and pleased. At all points during the program, wranglers were on hand to communicate clearly what was expected of us and what was allowed of us. As someone who frequently worries that I’m being too familiar or taking too many liberties, being told things like yes, we can take pictures with George in them, but don’t stop the line to try to pose one is great. Armed with explicit permission, Jack and I each got a very nice, spontaneous-looking, completely candid picture of the other interacting with the author. The event runner also quietly encouraged us in the line to, you know, say a few words to Mr. Martin like he’s a human being, which helped me find my voice to thank him.
I think it’s very much a case of “not their first rodeo” mixed with a need to get as many human beings through a line as efficiently as possible, but it all went very smoothly. The best part aside from the clear messaging was that we didn’t even really have to stand in line much. The “line” was the rows of chairs in the event hall; we lined up a bit before it began to make sure we got a good place, and we stood up with our row when the row ahead of us was through, but most of the time spent waiting was seated.
Oh, and let me take this moment to say that the chairs provided by the convention center were worlds better than the banquet hall style chairs we get at WisCon. If you say a word against the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governors Club in my hearing, I may ask you to step outside, but just between you and me, the seating at panels could be better. They’re a bit too narrow, a bit too straight. The ones at the convention center in Kansas City were still obviously the sort of chair you buy by the hundreds or thousands, but they were a nice quality modern example of such chairs.
The chairs were enough of a “casual accessibility” accommodation for us with our levels of physical disability, which I suspect means a lot of people who would otherwise have had to ask for accommodation could just show up. There were visibly accommodations being made for people with limited mobility or more support requirements; I can’t speak to their efficacy. This is a statement of neutral ignorance, not a judgment. I really don’t know. They seemed to work, though.
I heard a few questions about the set-up from people around me, a few mild complaints, but I have to say in terms of getting everybody who shows up an autograph, the arrangement could not be beat. Sure, it would be nice if we could all have a more organic interaction with the author, but how many people can you do that with in an hour? Everybody wants to sit down and talk with him for a good ten, fifteen minutes about their theory that Hot Pie is the prince that was promised, but no one would put up with the set-up that allowed it, least of all the man himself.
He donated seven hours of his time (and it is a donation) to the convention to give as many fans as possible a fleeting interaction and a keepsake that can last a lifetime and longer. The set-up lets the most people get the most out of it.
Every convention I go to, I wind up having incredibly deep, meaningful, and long-lasting conversations with authors at every level of their career. I lost track of how many Hugo winners I’ve shared a lunch or dinner with. I can think of several who won this year alone. You can do it. It can be done. But you can’t get that on demand. You can’t manufacture it. Attempts to force or finagle or finesse encounters are likely to blow up very badly.
Anyway, that was my first interaction with George (“We’re seriously just calling him George now?” Jack asks me, but honestly, there comes a point past which “Mr. Martin” sounds like sucking up, even as “George” feels too familiar), though obviously not the most significant one. Still, it had its own significance. He didn’t talk much at the signing, but by that token, everything he said was very conversational, even if most of it was quiet and too himself.
I have long been aware, or at least suspected, that most authors are human beings. I know too many of them to doubt this. Even J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and George R.R. Martin are human beings. But there’s something that changes when you’ve heard the cadence of a person’s speech in its own rhythm, when you’ve heard their own peculiar personal accent.
I heard Rose Lemberg and Bogi Takács read aloud from their respective works for the first time at this convention, and even though I’ve been reading it for a couple years now, it deepened my appreciation. I will always read their works in their rhythms now. Mary Anne Mohanraj, who I have met many times and heard read many times, read aloud from a story I had read many times, but from which I had never heard her read. It changed it, too.
I still have not heard George reading his own work in his own voice. We are skittish, somewhat introverted creatures, Jack and I, and so we limited the number of big events with which we chose to tangle, focusing mainly instead on more intimate events headed by friends. The Wild Cards Deathmatch was basically what we spent our emotional budget on when it came to performances by George. Some of what he said there may have been prepared, but it was improvisational theater so a lot of it was spontaneous.
I will admit that I have been critical (more in the proper sense of analytical, though with a certain amount of urine-absconding) about some of the writing in his Song of Ice and Fire series. I probably will be in the future, too. But hearing him speak, listening to him ramble a bit on stage or talk to himself, provides a simple and oddly satisfying answer to a lot of my “why” questions, regarding the writing and syntax and sentence structure in A Game of Thrones and its sequels: it’s a book written by a human being.
And I feel kind of silly that I needed to meet him to get to this point, especially as I’m usually the first one to fend off prescriptivism and to argue against the idea that authors need to be mechanically perfect and following some predefined standard of language. Without meaning to, though, I had been putting Martin on another level, looking at his work as though it were not written by a man but some distant, unknowable force.
Suffice it to say, I don’t think I’m going to be able to look at his work the same way again. That’s not to say I won’t look at it. I’m actually probably going to re-read it. The Wild Cards Deathmatch event was pretty close to a GMed LARP session, which means I’ve now come that close to seeing Mr. Martin (okay, maybe I can’t keep calling him George) acting as a GM. His two signature serieses both have strong ties to roleplaying games. I think it would be interesting to revisit them with that lens in place, if nothing else.