Fans of best-selling fantasy series don’t often get to live out their real-life fantasy: meeting the creator of the books, TV shows, or movies that they are obsessed with. Fans of Game of Thrones (the show) and A Song of Ice and Fire (the books), however, do. When he’s not writing like the wind, George R.R. Martin can be one of the most accessible best-selling authors, and not just in the usual autograph/photograph session way. Martin has had drinks, meals, and partied with fans, even invited them over for dinner. He even fact-checks the books with fans. We talked to four fans who have shared meals and partied with Martin, and through their experiences we have pieced together what it might like to spend the whole day with him.
In 2010, Phil Bicking, the 31-year-old editor of a fansite for Martin’s book series, Winter Is Coming, was invited by HBO to the TCA (Television Critics Association) winter press tour, where the network would be introducing the show. When he heard that GRRM was going to be attending, he asked HBO if they could set up a meeting; turns out that Martin “had seen my site and he liked what I was doing!” says Bicking, who goes by “Winter” on his site (the GOT username equivalent of “First!”), so a breakfast was arranged, and he flew in from New Jersey, on his own dime. And lo, Bicking found himself chowing down on “bacon burnt black” (Tyrion’s pork preference) with Martin and another Winter Is Coming contributor (whose moniker is “Fire and Blood”) at Beverly Hills’s Four Seasons.
Over the two-hour meal, the two sitemasters asked for spoilers on A Dance With Dragons, the as-yet-unpublished fifth book in the series, and for the secret of Jon Snow’s parentage (“That was one of the ones I was hoping he would reveal”), but Martin wasn’t giving them up. He did, however, happily share his medieval history inspirations for the series, chatting about how he didn’t like the overused fantasy trope of peasant boys rescuing princesses only to have a happily ever after. “That never would have happened!” Martin said at the time. “He would have his head chopped off for addressing her without being spoken to first!”
Conversation turned to matters outside of Westeros, discussing football (Martin is a Giants fan; Bicking loves the Eagles), and at the end of the meal, while Bicking did ask Martin to sign his copy of A Game of Thrones, he neglected to snap a picture. “My wife to this day yells at me about it,” he laughed. “It was a fail.” But even though he missed out on photographic evidence of their time together, Bicking got something better: one of the dedications in A Dance With Dragons. “That was cool,” Bicking said. “He remembered me.”
Kyle Maddock, a 29-year-old marketing rep who runs A Podcast of Ice and Fire on the side, has met GRRM four times now. One time he ran into the author in Venice Beach, California, when Tom Colicchio was offering dishes inspired by the show from an HBO food truck. Spotting Martin feasting on head cheese, Maddock went up to say hello, and mentioned that they had met briefly before. “He said he remembered me and my mind exploded!” Maddock said. “He asked me a couple of podcast-specific questions, so not only did he remember, but he had obviously been to our site and taken a look around, which scared me a little, because it’s not PG-rated. But mostly, it just put a stupid grin on my face.” Emboldened, Maddock decided to ask Martin to tape a shout-out for the podcast, and was ecstatic that Martin agreed to do one. So Maddock suggested what he thought would be a funny line for Martin to say: “This is George R.R. Martin and you’re listening to A Podcast of Ice and Fire. I don’t know why. I’m not even sure these guys have read my books.” But GRRM thought this was too cheesy — he looked Maddock right in the eye and shot him down: “I’m not saying that.” And never try to force a man who has just scarfed down head cheese.
Martin isn’t that hard to find; he posts his schedule on his LiveJournal blog, and at fan conventions, he’s known to attend Brotherhood Without Banners parties. But should you encounter GRRM outside of an autograph session, he does have some ground rules. “At parties, or in the bar, by all means, come up, say hi, introduce yourself, start a conversation, offer to buy me a drink … flirt with me,” he says on his blog, “[but] asking me about my favorite character or telling me who YOUR favorite character is will likely just send me slouching off to find someone who wants to talk about Jack Vance, sing old TV theme songs, or argue whether Sanchez or Tebow should QB the Jets.” In other words, while you may be thrilled to meet the Game of Thrones creator, don’t ask him about Game of Thrones.
“He has to lay down the law, otherwise he would get mobbed,” explains fan Alicia Godwin, a 32-year-old administrative assistant, who ran into GRRM last Memorial Day at a Worldcon afterparty in Chicago. The party was standing-room only, with Martin the only one sitting, so attendees joked that he was “on his throne.” “People wanted to take pictures, and he wasn’t having it,” Godwin said.
Because she knew Martin preferred talking to female fans (“It’s kind of a sausagefest at the Con”), Godwin played up her assets to get GRRM’s attention. “I was dressed a little skanky, I’m not going to lie,” she laughed. “It doesn’t hurt to show a little cleavage.” And because she knew the rules, she thought better of “begging him about some of the lives of the characters who are in the balance.” Instead, they talked food and football.
Over a beer, Godwin learned that despite Martin’s penchant for Southwestern food, he doesn’t like Tex Mex. “He said he’s snobby, and I was like, ‘Whatever, George,’ because I’m from San Antonio,” she said. “He did approve of our barbecue, though.” And she offered to take him on a road trip to “pee on the stadium” of the Dallas Cowboys, “because he hates them with a passion”; next time she sees him, she plans to gift him with a Dallas Cowboys voodoo doll. “It was just really chill,” Godwin said. “We just shot the shit for fifteen minutes.”
Elio Garcia, the 34-year-old webmaster of Westeros.org, has probably spent more one-on-one time with GRRM than any one fan. Since first approaching Martin online in 1997 — before the book series had much traction — Garcia developed an online relationship with the author. Then, seven years after first contact, he got an invitation to meet up for dinner, since he was passing through New Mexico on a road trip with his family in 2004. Garcia had his parents drop him off at Martin’s homes in Santa Fe — “homes” plural because he has two houses across from each other on the same street, and possibly even a third house now for storage. “He had a mailbox shaped like a castle,” Garcia told Vulture. “I’ve never seen a mailbox that big.”
Garcia got a quick tour of the house, whereupon he noticed a big box sitting on a desk containing the manuscript for the then-unpublished book four, A Feast for Crows. “I wanted to go and touch the box,” Garcia laughed. “And I kicked myself afterwards. Why didn’t I take a look?” The two of them headed to a local steakhouse for dinner, and then went back to Martin’s house afterwards, where the two chatted about comic books, medieval military strategies, and obscure characters in the series. “It’s sort of sad that I have all this room for trivia in my head, and I can’t remember what I had for dinner yesterday!” Garcia laughed. Keeping it on the obscure side, however, worked to his advantage. Martin later sent him the Manuscript in the Box, asking him to fact-check it for him — because a slip like a change in eye color will make fans salivate with imposter theories, when sometimes it’s just a mistake. Garcia now performs this function for all the books, but it’s completely unofficial: “It’s not like I’m paid or anything.” And yes, that means he’s read parts of book six, The Winds of Winter — including a Sansa chapter that is sure to be controversial.
Martin also paved the way for Garcia to visit Belfast, Ireland, in 2010, when the show was in production for season one, and the two toured the set together. And to end the evening, Martin took Garcia to a “moot,” a gathering at a local pub with some of the actors from the show, including Kit Harington, Gethin Anthony, Finn Jones, Kristian Nairn, and James Cosmo. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Garcia said. “Everybody knows them now, but people didn’t know them at the time, so that was pretty cool.”
Garcia and his fellow webmaster (and fiancée) Linda Antonsson now have a “standing invitation” to stay at Casa Martin, should he ever travel through New Mexico again. “We’re not just fans, we’re friends,” Garcia said. “I don’t think he invites random fans to stay with them for a week. But it’s just so completely random how we got here.”