Waiting on Patrick Rothfuss

I don’t like to read book series that aren’t finished yet. My husband knows this about me. It’s too stressful for me to wait until the next book comes out. The anticipation kills me. I was late to the Dark Tower waiting game but it was still tough – especially when Stephen King was struck by a van. What if he had died?! It took him 22 years to finish that series of seven books. And no, that doesn’t come out to a book every three years because the last three books all came out in a little over a year span. Readers were waiting five or six years between books.

Speaking of authors dying before finishing their masterpieces, I found my way to The Wheel of Time before the series was completed and not long before the author, Robert Jordan, died, work unfinished. That fourteen book series took 23 years and two authors and introduced me to Brandon Sanderson, the author brought in to interpret Jordan’s notes and finish the series.

Betwen Harry Potter and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (another not-finished series I’m engrossed in) and Wheel of Time, I had been caught up in a small circle of authors for a number of years. When I came up for air, my first instinct was to read some more Sanderson. So I did.

I read a great novella called Legion. I read his Mistborn trilogy. I read the Rithmatist and Steelheart, accidentally stumbling into two more incomplete trilogies. And then I paused to consider what to read next. My husband suggested I try another author besides Sanderson.

He suggested The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. A friend of ours had met Mr. Rothfuss and even had him sign a copy of the book for my husband. The note the author wrote to my husband made it clear he was of a similar personality to the friend, which is, to say the least, a bit off-kilter.

I was blown away my Pat’s writing. The fantasy world he created was impressive, as was the characters, the magic system, the storytelling. But it was the writing that really stood out to me. It was like reading poetry in novel form. In the epilogue of the book, he described silence. Specifically a silence of three parts. I could feel that silence. My ears pulsed with the absence of sound. I was mesmerized.

I’ve read many fine authors who have told gripping stories. Many deliver great dialogue. Gabaldon, in particular, tells a story with such an impressive vocabulary that I’m in search of a dictionary. But I cannot recall another author that created such vivid imagery, who described what I should see and hear so beautifully. I quickly started the second book.

And then my husband dropped the bombshell. The series wasn’t finished. That’s right. It wasn’t finished. I was furious – not with Patrick Rothfuss, whose third book I was now dying to read. But with my husband, who had led me into this trap.

As is the case with most readers, though – well, as it should be with most readers – I eventually fell into a comfortable state of waiting. The burn for the next book died down as I went on with my life and other books. I’m now in a state where I’ll need to re-read the books to regain that eager, give-it-to-me-now state of anticipation.

And then I followed Patrick Rothfuss on Facebook. He tells really cute stories about his kids and posts some funny stuff. That’s why I followed him. Then I learned that not everyone is capable of falling into that comfortable state of waiting. Some people get downright irate if authors don’t publish within a window that these readers think is appropriate. And they tell the authors about it every chance they get. And they get pretty ugly about it. And then other people defend the authors.

The arguments don’t change much and it doesn’t seem to matter what post is there. They’ll complain on any post, whether it’s about his books or not. I found it laughable. And sad. But it also got me to thinking.

Do authors owe anything to their readers? The complainers say yes. They say that the authors are getting paid to do a job and they need to get off Facebook and quit operating charities and do their job. Dammit. The supporters say the authors are sharing their creative talent with us and they don’t owe us anything. They can share or not share, their choice. The complainers turn red in the face at that and remind the supporters that these authors are getting paid! They aren’t sharing – they are selling a product.

I basically fall on the side of the supporters. I mean, of course, if an author is on contract, he or she needs to finish the book(s) on whatever schedule he or she agreed to. But otherwise?  Are movie makers required to make more movies after a big success? Are artists required to draw more or paint more? Does Annie Leibovitz have to keep taking pictures even if she’d rather operate a charity or become an accountant?

And the complainers seem to forget this is a creative process. If the writer gets writer’s block, he can’t just churn it out anyway. It’s not like building a house. He’s creating a world and immersing us in it. The complainers will remind us all that Rothfuss said the books were all finished – he was just editing. Ok, so he has since said he regrets making the comment and for him, the bulk of the work is in the editing. He’s kind of obsessive about it. So get over it. He’s not ready to share the story.

Ironically, the complainers have often presented one of my other favorite authors for contrast: Brandon Sanderson. They talk about how many books he publishes and how good they are. I like Sanderson. I enjoy his books. A lot. He’s a great story teller. But his books are not Rothfuss quality. They don’t have the same artistic imagery. He’s pulp fiction in comparison. So of course his books don’t take as much time.

But even if they were as good… who the bleep cares? I know a lot of computer programmers. Some of them code really, really fast. Others take longer. Some have more bugs in their code or it’s not structured well or not easy to read. Whatever. Fact is, you can’t ask the slow coders to code faster. You either accept their pace or you don’t. As a supervisor of computer programmers, a person can decide the person’s pace is good or fire them. That’s it. Readers have the same choice. Accept the author as he or she is… or move along.

So if I could, I’d tell all the complainers this: grow up. No one owes you anything. You are just being ugly and childish. There are so many good books by good authors out there that there is absolutely no way you could get through them all before Pat finished the final book in his Kingkiller Chronicles – even if it took him twenty years. So go read some of those. Read Sanderson. He’ll keep you busy. I get it. I know what it’s like to want the rest of the story. But yelling at the author won’t do any good. Get a life. Please. Let the rest of us enjoy the person without your vitriol.

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2Cellos!! Live!

My husband and I finally celebrated our anniversary Thursday night. Just about a month and a half late. But see, we take turns planning what to do and 2015 was my turn and by early November I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.

And then… and then… my mother-in-law complained on Facebook that 2Cellos would not be visiting Denver on the American leg of their tour. But guess what? They would be coming to Dallas…

Score!

I scrambled onto the website and tried to buy tickets. Seats were literally getting gobbled up as I tried to learn the layout of the facility and figure out which tickets we could afford and where we’d want to sit and holler to my husband in the other room about our choices. I finally got the “best” two adjacent seats still available, which ended up being the row above the box seats but all the way over near the front such that we couldn’t see unless we leaned way over or stood up. More on that in a minute.

We paid extra ahead of time for the good parking and got there an hour early. We waited in line to buy souvenirs. I bought a glass of wine. Speaking of the wine, like my sippie cup?

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The only way you can take your drink into the show is in one of these costs-two-dollars-extra cups. Cute, dontcha think?

Anyway, when we were finally allowed to go find our seats, we came to realize just how bad they were. Reasonably close to the stage but couldn’t see squat. Fortunately, a few people to our right never showed up and the entire row shifted to give everyone the best possible view. Most of us stood the whole time, which was just fine, because…

IT WAS A ROCKIN’ GREAT CONCERT!!

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Luka and Stjepan are very talented. Not just in playing their electric cellos, but in entertaining. After playing a couple of songs, Luka announced, “This is not a classical concert. You don’t have to sit still and be quiet. You can cheer. You can hoot and scream. You can stand. You can sing along. You can dance. You can even flirt with Stjepan… {pause}… but just the guys.”

Stjepan, apparently having a reputation with the ladies, crossed his legs and played up the part as everyone laughed. He would later talk about loving the next song because “It is so beautiful. And it’s nice because it’s just… so beautiful.” Which setup nicely for later when he announced, “This next song… It is not beautiful… It is not a very good song… {turning to Luka}…why are we even playing it?”

And when the song was over, he said, “Nice, wasn’t it? It’s nice to be so talented.” (This might sound arrogant but it was affected in such a way that it came across as a joke. In fact, it sounded as if he was talking about Luka since Luka had had the more difficult part.) But then he pointed to Luka and said, “He played pretty well too, don’t you think?”

Continuing over the laughter, “You saw how hard he had to work?” He mimicked the rapid back and forth movement Luka had made with his right hand on the bow. “That’s hard work,” he said. “But he has had lots of practice. Since he was twelve in fact, he’s been practicing that.” The naughty insinuation was clear.

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After playing almost an hour just the two of them, they reached their signature songs and the audience started going wild as they played Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal followed immediately by Guns N’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle. Then their drummer joined them in Thunderstruck and it was a full blown rock n’ roll concert.

Everyone cheered relentlessly when they finally left the stage. Just as I thought they wouldn’t return for an encore, Stjepan walked out and took a seat. He looked up at the crowd and nodded his understanding of what we wanted. And then he proceeded to very slowly play scales. But soon Luka joined him and we were treated to several more hard-hitting songs. Stjepan rolled around on the floor while playing, as if he were some heavy metal guitarist. When a group of kids started clapping, they actually started working it into the music, pausing and pointing to the crowd when it was time to clap. I loved it.

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One of the most fun moments for me, however, came later. We quickly ran downstairs when the concert ended so we could be near the front of the autograph line. We were actually fairly successful and got through within twenty minutes of them sitting down.

Quick side note here… I don’t know if it was the size of the venue (and thus the size of the crowd) or if book worms are just bigger on autographs than music lovers. I waited well over an hour, maybe two, to get Diana Gabaldon’s autograph and there were twice as many people behind me as there had been in front. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law experienced about the same for Neil Gaiman. This line was definitely long, but still nothing compared to those authors.

Back to the concert… It took them about a half hour to come out to the table, but when they did, the line moved quickly. The young, well-dressed women in tall spiky heels and short dresses in front of us quickly took off their coats and fluffed their hair. I put mine on so I’d have less to carry and stuffed my wine sippie in my husband’s pocket.

Before I knew it, we were at the table. I placed my tote bag in front of Luka, who signed it and passed it on to their drummer, Dusan. I followed the bag as my husband snuck some pictures and got our CDs signed. Dusan passed the bag to Stjepan, who signed it while continuing to flirt with the young, well-dressed women in tall spiky heels and short dresses in front of us.

“Why don’t you give me your number? I’ll call you tonight,” he purred.

“Are you serious?” the hopeful young lady asked.

“Sure,” he crooned. “Here.” He slid a piece of paper toward her.

“He’s probably just joking,” she said nervously. “But, ok, I will.”

She scribbled her name on the paper. I wondered if she noticed the stash of paper strips in his pocket. Luka jokingly apologized to all the people in the line for Stjepan’s holding up our progress. Then Stjepan glanced up at me, totally uninterested in what he saw, and mumbled a perfunctory (and nonsensical, since I hadn’t spoken to him) “Thank You” before… and here’s the best part… he looked down to find a tote bag in front of him.

So he signed it.

Again.

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And I gotta say, I know the girl who wrote her name and number down for him feels like she had the time of her life. She probably thinks she had the best experience of anyone there. I’m sure she was giddy and floating on cloud nine as she left. I sincerely hope her friend was driving.

But, being the 40+ year-old dismissed woman after her who got a double signature out of the guy too busy flirting to notice what he was doing? Hah! I got the last laugh and enjoyed every minute of it. I’m too old to catch a rock star’s attention. But I’ve got all of that attention I need from the guy I cuddle up with every night. I wonder if anyone else got quite as unique a souvenir as I did.

 

Worth the Waiting

Tuesday night was a really special night for me and a friend of mine. For my 40th birthday, my husband purchased two tickets to Art and Letters Live’s Diana Gabaldon talk in Dallas. I was thrilled! He was willing to accompany me even though he has not read any of her books (having instead listened to me prattle on for years), but he knew that the occasion would be even more special if I went with someone as equal in nuttiness over this author as me.

And so it was that I left work about 3:30 in the afternoon and picked up my friend. In exchange for the blessed ticket, she offered to drive us and buy my dinner. We stopped at Wal-Mart to each pick up an extra copy of the latest book to get signed for friends.

The night involved a lot of standing in line. About a half hour waiting in line for our books. Another half hour waiting for food at the museum’s cafe. Almost that much again waiting to get in to the church sanctuary for the talk. And then a staggering two hours waiting to get the books signed. Standing up past my bedtime with about 15 pounds of books in my arms was exhausting! And the crazy part was that when we left the museum after 11:00 that night, the line still stretched back farther than the point where we had managed to start. I am very curious what time the last person got her (or his, but likely her) book signed. I wonder if she got anything special for her determination.

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It would have been hard for me to have been this cheerful at this point if I were her.

The best part of the night, though, was without a doubt the talk. After about 20 minutes of waiting in our pew in the balcony of the church (at least we were sitting), we were regaled with the sounds of bagpipes and drums coming up the aisle below us. I was terribly amused when the five gentlemen in full Highland regalia turned to face us because one – the drummer, front and center – was actually not in “full” regalia. While the others were wearing the traditional tall socks and matching shoes to go with their kilts, he was wearing sneakers and ankle socks! I’m guessing someone had forgotten part of his costume.

After a lively and entertaining introduction from a very funny reporter from the Dallas Morning News, Diana Gabaldon took the stage to a standing ovation. She is a dynamic and outgoing person and I couldn’t help but wonder how hard something like this might be for a shy author. When she began to speak, I noted just how raspy her voice was. Of course. She had been in Ontario the night before and had been doing this nearly nightly for two weeks! I almost felt bad requiring her to talk that night. Almost.

Some of you may not know who this author is so let me save you the trip to Wikipedia. Diana Gabaldon is the author of the Outlander series of books, which is slated as a new mini-series premiering on the Starz network on August 9th. There are 8 books in the main series, published over the last 25 years, and numerous books, novellas, and short stories about various side characters.

The basic premise is that a British Army nurse from World War II named Claire accidentally falls through time, landing herself among some Scotsmen of the 1740s. Her modern sensibilities and dress make them and others instantly suspicious and launch a series of events making it impossible for her to make it back to the stones that would return her to her time.

The books track her, her 1740s husband Jamie, and a number of other engaging characters through time and space, encountering historical figures, danger, magic, and more. It’s full of adventure, intrigue, romance, war, betrayal, and questions of loyalty. It’s also full of really big words that I’m always looking up, which I love… especially since I read on my Kindle, which will open up the dictionary entry with the touch of my finger on the word in question!

Her talk mostly concerned how she came to be a writer and how the first book formed. I knew that she had been a biology professor, holding a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. What I didn’t know was that she had programmed in Fortran to support a colleague’s research (on the contents of bird gizzards).

That programming experience, coupled with some comic book design work for Disney and a need to earn some extra income while her husband built his new business, caused her to contact Byte magazine and another early computer periodical about creating software programs for them. As part of that gig, she was given some access to CompuServe, one of the forerunners to the internet. On CompuServe, she joined a literary discussion group composed of readers and writers.

When she decided to try her hand at writing a novel, she didn’t tell any of her CompuServe friends because she had seen how the professional writers in the group seemed to react to the wanna-bes. She also didn’t tell her husband out of fear he’d try to get her to stop.

This wildly popular series around the world started like this:

Hmmm. I don’t know if I have adequate imagination to make up my own plot so I think I’ll go with historical fiction so if my mind isn’t up to the task, I’ll have existing stuff to work with. Ok, now what? Or… when?

She saw a Doctor Who rerun where the doctor picked up a companion in the 1740s – a young Scotsman in a kilt – and she thought Ooh! Man in a kilt – I like that! Ok, so 1740s Scotland. Fiction requires conflict and she quickly found Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion.

She wanted a woman with this group of Scottish men, to add some sexual conflict, and thought that making her English would add even more conflict, so she threw the men into a cottage and had the woman walk in. (This is how she writes – no outline, no planning, just throw the characters together and see what happens).

One of the men looked up and said, “Who are you?”

To which the woman replied, “I am Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Who the hell are you?”

Hmmm. That’s a problem, she thought. Eighteenth century women wouldn’t talk like that.

Try as she might, she couldn’t keep Claire from behaving like a modern woman. She finally caved to her character and decided Claire had to come from the future and thus added time travel. Claire also took over the story – she’s the first person perspective in the novels.

And so it began.

She eventually put pieces of the story on CompuServe and asked around about literary agents. She then had a series of experiences that is every starting author’s dream. She got an introduction to the (highly successful and very selective) literary agent she wanted. He agreed to look at excerpts of her manuscript (which was incomplete). He found her to be a great storyteller and agreed to take her on. He then sent her manuscript to five publishers, telling them they had 30 days to respond. FOUR days later, he called her to say that 3 of the 5 had already responded that they wanted the book. And just like that, she was a fiction author.

To her chagrin, the first book was marketed as Romance. It has been shelved under many different sections in bookstores including Romance, Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror (have no idea why), and… History! She found that one at a little bookstore in Britain. When she pointed out to the young man that the books didn’t belong there, he explained that there was a little old lady that determined where all the books should be shelved and she insisted that’s where it belonged. “Apparently, she believes in time travel,” he quipped.

The romance reputation turns a lot of people away before they even break open the book. That’s a mistake. I’m not going to lie – there is considerably more sex than in most novels I’ve read. She’s known for writing very good sex scenes. But the books do not follow the usual rules for romance novels and the sex is not the point of the stories.

(A quick aside: As her main characters aged from their twenties to their forties about twenty years ago, she was asked if she thought people really wanted to read about people in their forties having sex. She responded, “Well, I’m 42 and my husband is 43. I don’t plan on stopping having sex any time soon and if he knows what’s good for him, he won’t either.”)

I’m sure that many of her fans – admittedly mostly women – are in it for the sex… or for Jamie. But I’m not. I genuinely enjoy the writing, the dry wit, the complex story lines, the dialogue, all the (very accurate) detail, the conflict, the history… all of it.

After waiting for two hours to get my books signed, I finally got to stand next to her. The museum staff were very efficient. Someone had already stuck a post-it note with my name on the appropriate page and had me mark it with the book flap. As I approached the front of the line, one woman took my phone so she could take a picture of me with Diana. Another took my purse so I’d be unencumbered. Another took my books and, glancing at the two post-it notes, asked which person I was so she could introduce me.

Before I knew it, I was standing next to Diana as the lady slid the book in front of her and introduced me. Diana said hello, addressing me by name, as she signed the book. I said hello and commented that we were happy to see she had a glass of wine to help her get through this.

“Actually, it’s Diet Coke. I wish it was wine.”

I mumbled something in response and then my friend approached her and commented on the wine. “She probably thinks we are such lushes!” she remarked later.

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That’s Diet Coke, not wine, as it turns out!

I enjoyed hearing the history of the novels and picking up some writing tips and meeting her, however briefly. Mostly, it was just nice to get a glimpse into the mind and face of the person responsible for one of my favorite series of books.

Dangerous Women

I hope you will humor me with an unusual blog post… for me, at least.  I’d like to give a book review.  One that morphs into a bit of an author review.  I am a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series.  I mean, huge.  So huge that for my birthday, my husband bought two very expensive tickets for me and a fellow-fan friend to go watch her talk about her upcoming book this summer.  We can hardly wait.

Since I (of course) follow her on Facebook, I had also been looking forward to her short story “Virgins” in the Dangerous Women anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, released December of last year.  I pre-ordered the anthology months ahead of time and eagerly anticipated its download to my Kindle.  When it arrived, I used the Table of Contents to navigate to her story first.

Now, I was coming off of a bit of a Brandon Sanderson binge.  I remarked to my husband when it showed up, that 6 of the 7 most recent books on my Kindle had Sanderson in them.  I had downloaded a different anthology that he was in (haven’t read it yet) and then read all four of his wonderful, magical, delightful, unpredictable Mistborn books and his also wonderful, magical, delightful, maybe slightly-more-predictable children’s book, The Rithmatist.

“Too bad he’s not in this anthology too,” I remarked.

“I don’t think he’s quite the same type of author as Gabaldon and Martin,” he replied, referring to their propensity for violence and sex.  (Because of the scenes I choose to tell him about, I think he has a less-than-accurate view of Outlander if he takes the same disdainful view of it that he does A Game of Thrones.)

To my great amusement, when I concluded my reading of Virgins (it was ok – I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t enough on its own to redeem the price I paid for the entire anthology.  Too much anticipation, perhaps.), I noticed that Sanderson actually did have a story in the book: “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell”.

I fell in love.  It tells the story of an aging woman who runs an inn in some alternate dangerous world.  It had all the right short story twists and surprises and it exposed me to yet another Sanderson world that I sincerely hope I get to read more about some day.  There are 21 stories in this book and I read them over the course of 2 1/2 months, so I can’t remember them all clearly, but this one was easily one of my top 3-5 stories.

I then returned to the start of the book to see what these other authors had in store for me.

First up, Joe Abercrombie’s “Some Desperado.”  I will be searching for more books by this author.  The writing was excellent, the plot twists were great, character development wonderful.  Unlike with Sanderson’s tale, it didn’t leave me begging for more; it just left me satisfied.  And eager to read more of his works.

From there (no, I’m not going to review all 21 stories – just hitting the highlights!), I moved to Megan Abbott’s “My Heart is Either Broken,” the tale of a man whose wife is suspected of killing their daughter and he simply can’t come to terms with it.  In my mind, the perfect short story makes you think you know what’s going on, delivers a twist, and then another one, and you are left stunned.  This story delivered full force.  At this point, I was in love with the anthology because three consecutive stories had blown my socks off.

I yawned through the next one, not exactly sure which woman was supposed to be the dangerous one.  The next (“The Hands That Are Not There” by Melinda Snodgrass) intrigued me with the fantasy world it depicted and expertly pulled off one of those “so what’s real?” questions.

Then I got to Jim Butcher’s “Bombshells.”  Like Gabaldon’s “Virgins,” this story came out of his existing body of work, The Dresden Files, which sounded vaguely familiar to me.  I expected to perhaps not connect with the story since I wasn’t familiar with his series (neither the book nor TV series).  Nope.  Fell in love.  Asked for and received Dresden Files books for Christmas.

The next three (“Raisa Stepanova” by Carrie Vaughn, “Wrestling Jesus” by Joe R. Lansdale, and “Neighbors” by Megan Lindholm) were excellent reads.  The first is about an uber-competetive female Russian fighter pilot in WWII.  The next, about an old “professional” wrestler bewitched by a beautiful and seductive (to him, at least) woman.  The last, a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s and her warped view of her neighborhood around her.  I thoroughly enjoyed them all.

So far, I was feeling pretty good.  Then I read “I Know How to Pick ’Em” by Lawrence Block and it ticked me off.  Not the story, but its inclusion in this particular anthology.  Don’t get me wrong, the story was still brutal: a crime thriller with a really sadistic character graphically described.  Still, the slow nature of the reveal was good and the writing was solid.

*** Small Spoiler Alert – skip the next paragraph if you want ***

However, the anthology is described as “showcas[ing] the supposedly weaker sex’s capacity for magic, violence, and mayhem.”  And… slight spoiler alert here… this story appears, at first, to be describing a dangerous woman, but when it’s all said and done, you realize it’s just a depraved and dangerous man.  One that preys on unsuspecting women that he convinces himself are dangerous, but who actually aren’t.

*** End Spoiler Alert ***

So, while the story was good, I felt very strongly that the editors should not have included it.  It didn’t fit my (highly legalistic) interpretation of the intent of the collection.

“The Girl in the Mirror” by Lev Grossman, from the Magicians series, left me rolling my eyes.  I found the allegedly “dangerous” girl to be frivolous and full of herself and it left me feeling the entire story was frivolous.  I mean, I think it was the writer’s intent: it’s a teenage girl that thinks all the wrong things are important and she’s so much better and more important than she is.  But it annoyed me way too much.  And the ending fell flat for me. (Ironically, I just looked at a review of all the stories I found online, complete with grades, and this one was one of that reviewer’s favorites.  Different strokes, I guess.)

This post is getting long so I’ll try to wrap it up so I can get to my major discovery at the end of the book.  The last story in the anthology was Martin’s “The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens” from his A Song of Ice and Fire series (often referred to by the name of the first book: A Game of Thrones).

Now, that series has been on my reading list for awhile now.  In fact, when I finished (finally!) reading The Wheel of Time, I put out a poll among my friends on what I should read next.  The choices were Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, or A Song of Ice and Fire.

My husband strongly recommended Kingkiller, stating that I had been steeped in Sanderson long enough, and so that’s what I read.  (Rothfuss’s writing is simply amazing, by the way.  The only thing that upset me was that my husband tricked me into starting a series that was still in progress.)  I’ve since read Mistborn too so Martin’s epic tale was rising toward the top of my reading list.  I had imagined that I would read the Divergent series, then a couple of Sanderson books my family loves, then the new Outlander book, and by mid summer, get started on A Game of Thrones.

But now it’s slipped down around “if I can’t think of something else to read, maybe I’ll give it a try, just to see.”  I had just read 20 (for the most part) excellent examples of short fiction.  Those authors made me laugh and cry and swoon.  They made my heart race.  They made me care about the characters.  They surprised me.  Elated me.

Here’s how I would summarize Martin’s story: In grand historic tones, with sweeping brush strokes, he describes an epic battle for the throne between two tyrannical, unlikeable characters in which he introduces you to 50 characters with long titles and then kills 40 of them in horrifyingly awful ways, maims the other 10, and leaves one of them nominally on the throne by the end.  There is tremendous betrayal and backstabbing and turns of fate as the war rages on.

The problem was, I didn’t care about any of them.  None of them at all.  I picked a side early on – the throne seeker who the previous King had said was to be his heir, but she turned out to be just as awful as the other guy so I didn’t like her at all.  I had trouble keeping track of whose side people were on so I’d be reading about a battle between two lords and be unable to remember which side was which, so I had no sense of hope and anticipation on who I wanted to win.  Then he’d say stuff like “and 200 people died that day, including so-and-so, lord of thus-and-such.”  That was the first mention of so-and-so, so pray tell me, why do I care that he (in particular) died?  He’d also make strange statements (like “the Iron Throne cut her so astute observers knew her reign would be brief”) without explaining what any of that meant.

I found it tedious and uninteresting.  I read it just to be able to say I had finished them all.  I can only assume that if I was a Game of Thrones fan, I likely would have better understood what was happening and thus (hopefully) enjoyed it more.  But now I will likely never be a Game of Thrones fan.  I didn’t like the style of writing.  As one friend put it, I don’t want to have to take notes while I’m reading.  If he’s going to throw a whole bunch of people at me and kill off most of them, I’m not going to bother.

Maybe he gives more character development in his main stories.  Maybe I’d care about the characters and thus keep track better.  But here’s the thing.  I think it’s telling that two of the stories that I found kind of flat – this one and Gabaldon’s – were taken from existing universes.  I must assume, especially after reading the reviewer’s dislike of Virgins in the link above, that both authors wrote for their existing audiences instead of trying to pull more people in.  Contrast that to the Dresden Files tale (and, as it turns out, Joe Abercrombie’s tale, which I didn’t even know came from something larger), and I think these two big name authors failed the new readers.  I loved the latter two stories.  They were pulled off in a way that didn’t force readers to rely on their existing knowledge of the characters or the world.

I can vouch for Gabaldon.  Her stories are excellent, her writing superb.  She just didn’t quite pull off her usual success here in my mind.  Martin?  You can try to vouch for him if you want – I’ll listen, but there’s just too many great authors out there that, at this point, I know I would love to read.  I fear his stories will never again come so close to the front of my queue.