With a Good Book, Who Needs Anything Else?

By Dame Toni

I haven’t been as productive as I should have been lately.  I blame George R.R. Martin.

A little background–A month or so ago, the basic cable channels were running ads for a new HBO series called Game of Thrones.  I don’t have HBO, but a friend of mine recorded the first few episodes for me.  

I was enthralled.

I learned that the series was based on a book of the same name, the first in a series called A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.  I found myself sitting next to the editor of the book series at a recent writers’ conference, and asked her how she liked the HBO series.  She told me that both she and the author were very pleased with it, especially the casting. 

A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE book covers

Book Five is coming out next month!

The next day I put the entire series on hold at my library.  I was able to download the books as pdf files, which meant I could read them on my iPad. 

The books are long, complicated, have a ridiculous number of character, title and place names to learn. They constantly refer to backstory that goes back thousands of years, and have so many simultaneous plot lines that you might think that I, a critical and impatient reader, would end up throwing them across the room.  (Not that I would risk damaging my iPad.)

Instead I found myself more caught up than and I have been in any book for years. I stayed up late. I read at the dinner table. I neglected my yard work. I neglected EVERYTHING until I finished Book One. 

I went back to the library website and make sure that I got the audio version of the next book so that I could listen while I mowed the lawn, cleaned the house, ran errands and exercised.  Otherwise I probably would NOT have mowed the lawn, cleaned the house, run errands or exercised until I finished the rest of the series!

Experiences like this are why I was always a reader, and what made me want to be a writer. As some of you have heard me say, I want to write the book that makes you NOT notice when the phone rings. I want you to the skip class, overstay your lunch hour, and neglect your laundry to finish my book.

What is it about George Martin’s series that makes me feel this way? Well, the story is exciting, with lots of intrigue and adventure. The scary stuff is terrifying, and the battle scenes are easy to picture. The point of view is extremely strong–even when I am in the head of the villain, I am totally invested in him or her. When a character I like dies, I am seriously upset.

Books that make me feel these things are a gift, and not just because of the pleasure they provide. They make me want to stretch as a writer, and to capture someone else way I have. They make me aspire to be better.

The power at my house has been out for a day, due to a big storm. Last night, I sat in a rocking chair on my darkened porch and looked out at the few lights twinkling from the few houses on the other side of the lake that had generators running, listening to my book. I didn’t care a fig that I had no television or internet or lights.  In fact, it helped me feel more in touch with a world where light came from candles and oil lamps, entertainment came from jesters and storytellers, and messages were carried by ravens.  

The power company has advised us that we may be in for a multi-day outage.  I have a borrowed generator, just big enough to power my refrigerator and a power strip that I’m using to charge up an assortment of electronic devices.

Like my iPod.  

You see, I’m halfway through Book Three in the series, and there’s no way I’m letting a little thing like lack of electricity slow me down.

I don’t have running water, but I can buy bottled to drink. I can use paper plates, plastic cups and utensils to eat food that I cook on the barbecue.  Once my refrigerator is cold enough, I can temporarily unplug it to run the coffee maker.  I can bathe in the lake, as I often do in the summer (although I usually wait until the water has warmed up a bit more before I start).  I can haul water in a bucket to flush the toilet.  

I can wear my hair unstyled.

As long as I have my books, I’m good.

What are some of the books that have inspired you, as a writer and in other ways?

ANNOUNCEMENT – I know I have a couple of contest winners to announce, but it’s tricky going back through old posts to find them from my iPad.  As soon as I get power, I’ll get my regular computer up and running, and update this message.  Check back!


  1. says

    I love the show and I’ve had book one for years. It was given away free at a conference I attended and so I have this huge, silver hardback sitting here waiting. Think I’ll pick it up.

    Only…I’m a little afraid I’ll let everything else go too.

    Love this post. 😉

  2. Vanya D. says

    I’m sorry, but I can’t believe you hadn’t heard of this series until the HBO started firing episodes!!! It’s a MAJOR fantasy saga, and in my opinion much much better than Lord of the Rings. One more like it, and a real favorite of mine, is Robin Hobb’s Farseer and the subsequent 3 trilogies. I recommend it to all readers out there who love real fantasy with real characters.
    These two series got me going in the writing department more than anything I’ve read so far.
    Good luck with your power (not that you will need it any time soon *wink*).

  3. Derid says

    That is awesome that you discovered GRRM and the Ice & Fire series. I think it also serves as a poignant reminder as to how fragmented the overall audience for fiction/fantasy literature in general is. N.K. Jemisin had not read GRRM either, according to a tweet she made some time ago in regards to a NYT book review of the series. I bet many other fantasy authors and readers have not either, which I think should remind us all – published and aspiring authors both: there is more of a potential audience out there than we might always realize. Great books have appeal across genre and sub-genre and target marketing demographic.

    As for inspirational reading… the first thing that comes to mind is the story that interested me in Urban Fantasy. Oddly enough, the story in question is not even a novel in the traditional sense, but rather a PC based Visual Novel ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_novel ) called Fate/Stay Night.

    I was glued to my PC for three days straight, completely enthralled at the incredibly deep storytelling and unique ( to me) format. I was familiar with the “choose your own adventure” concept, having enjoyed those books as a young child but had never yet encountered a serious story that utilized the concept in a meaningful way. Being able to see what happens as you pick and follow a different storyline really added a depth to the events and characters that was hard to comprehend before encountering it.

    It also reminded me that modern witches and wizards are actually a pretty cool subject, spurring my interest in locating yet more UF stories – somehow resulting in me being one of the (apparently) few male fans of the genre in general.