An article in last week’s New Yorker presented fantasy writer George R.R. Martin’s fan problem. He writes long, intricate novels in the Tolkien tradition, but apparently he doesn’t write them fast enough to satisfy his die-hard fans. They complain. Some get nasty. They accuse him of slacking off now that HBO has turned his Game of Thrones into a mini-series, making the assumption that he doesn’t need the money anymore. (Writers always need money. Except for a few, we never get paid what we’re worth.)
To be honest I wish I had his fan base, but I don’t envy his fan problem. I do see their point. They’ve spent a lot of time with his fiction. They feel invested. How dare he shut off the spigot when they want more? I know what they’re thinking: Stop hanging out with movie stars, George, and freakin’ get to work!
But I also sympathize with him. The kind of books he writes can’t be tossed off in a couple of months. They take time. An every new book is always a boulder to be pushed up a mountain. It takes time to gather the mental and creative strength just to get the project rolling.
I’ve had demanding fans of a different sort over the years, and now that it’s spring time, I know they’re coming. Students writing end-of-year term papers, usually about Richard “the Iceman” Kuklinski. For some reason most of them come from European countries. They want the inside scoop on things I’ve written about as if I was holding back the good stuff. They also want information about me, not satisfied with the bio on my website. They want e-mail interviews. They want to get As and see me as the key. They’ve read my books and now feel entitled to direct access to the author. I don’t mind these young readers (except for the few who get really pushy), and I help them as much as I can.
But I sometimes have the other kind of fan problem, the readers who want to give me info. The gun enthusiast who tells me at great length in childish pencil scrawl how to customize a pistol and bullets for maximum killing effectiveness. (This guy seemed a little too knowledgeable so I passed the letter on to a friend at the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.) The self-confessed killer (usually serving time) who wants to tell me about all the dirty deeds he’s committed. Despite their vaunted self-image, they never stack up to the Iceman. Then there are the school chums of known criminals who think their memories of recess shakedowns merit book-length treatment. And once or twice a year I get tips on where Jimmy Hoffa is “really” buried.
So while I sympathize with Mr. Martin who has to contend with his legion of fans, I’ve got my own problems. Of course if I had as many fans as he does, I wouldn’t call it a problem. I’d call it a dream come true.