Twenty years ago, writer George R.R. Martin left the television industry because TV executives kept telling him his ideas were too expensive to shoot. So he went home and wrote A Game of Thrones. It was the first novel in an epic fantasy series that's now sold millions of copies and has been made into a hit TV series by HBO ... where executives keep telling him his ideas are too expensive to shoot.
We've invited Martin to take a quiz called Game of Trombones. Three questions about things that rhyme with thrones.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where a lifetime of work results in ten minutes of awkwardness, it's called Not My Job. About 20 years ago, the writer George R. R. Martin left the television industry because they kept telling him his ideas were too expensive to shoot.
So he went home and wrote "A Game of Thrones," the first novel in an epic fantasy series that has sold millions of copies, and now, it's been made into a hit TV series by HBO. And they keep telling him his ideas are too expensive to shoot.
SAGAL: George R. R. Martin, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! It's a pleasure to have you with us.
GEORGE R. R. MARTIN: I'm glad to be here. I'm looking forward to it. It should be fun.
SAGAL: Is that story true? I've heard that you were a successful writer working in TV and you just got fed up because they just wouldn't let you do what you wanted to do.
MARTIN: Well, I was a novelist first. But in the mid 80s, I did work in television for ten years. And yes, that was frequently the reaction to my scripts. People would say, you know, George, this is great. We love it, a terrific script, but it would cost five times our budget to shoot this.
So, could you please, you know, make this big battle a duel between the hero and villain, and eliminate 12 of your characters and all that? And I did that because, you know, that was what the job was.
And after ten years of it I was just tired of always cutting things and making things smaller, so I decided to go back to my roots and prose and novels and to write some books that were limited only by the size of my imagination. I had all the characters and all the battles and all the castles and the scenery that I could possibly imagine, and not worry because, after all, it would never be made into a television or...
SAGAL: Ha, ha, ha.
SAGAL: I want to describe it for those - at this point - few people who don't know it. The series is about, well it's about this mythical land which is sort of like medieval Europe, except there's magic; there are dragons. But it's a little bit, maybe the shorthand, see if you are, it's like J. R. R. Tolkien with a lot fewer elves and more sex.
MARTIN: Yes, I think David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the showrunners, when they were pitching it to HBO described is as "The Sopranos" in Middle-earth.
SAGAL: And I want to tell you, George that we put out on twitter, we were like, oh, George R. R. Martin is going to be on our show. What questions would you like us to ask him? And the number one question by a mile was "when are you going to finish the next book.
MARTIN: Yeah, I hate that question.
SAGAL: I know you do.
SAGAL: And the second question was: don't ask him anything, he should be writing.
SAGAL: I mean I don't know how to describe this to people who aren't into the books, but basically you're the only crack dealer in the world and we're all addicts.
CHARLIE PIERCE: Are you concerned that your fans might be getting good with things like broadswords and axes and things?
MARTIN: Well, you know, there's an outfit called Valyrian Steel that makes replicas of the weapons in my books. So if they do broadswords and axes, I get a piece of the proceeds.
SAGAL: There you go.
P. J. O'ROURKE: George, this is P. J. I have a question. Did this proceed from a personal fantasy of your own?
MARTIN: Well, you know, if you go back to my childhood again...
O'ROURKE: Yeah, that's what I actually meant, from a childhood fantasy.
MARTIN: The only pets that I could have were turtles. And I had this castle, this toy castle made of tin. And it was just big enough for two of those turtle bowls that you bought in...
O'ROURKE: Yeah, in the five and dime, yeah.
MARTIN: ...Woolworth's store. And so I kept all my turtles inside the castle. And since they lived in a castle, I decided they were all knights and kings and I started making up stories where they betrayed each other.
MARTIN: And they would die.
MARTIN: You know, these knights were turtles, like die if you looked if you look at them crooked.
O'ROURKE: Right, yeah, I remember.
SAGAL: Wait a minute. Are you telling me that the original model for the warring houses of Stark and Lannister were two turtles?
MARTIN: So Turtle Castle, that was the root of the whole thing, yes.
ROXANNE ROBERTS: Well let me ask one question here, because what I'm hearing is that there's a lot of sex in this and I'm not sure...
PIERCE: How did you get there from turtles?
MARTIN: Yeah, the turtles didn't have sex.
ROBERTS: No, no, no, but...
MARTIN: I was not into turtle sex.
ROBERTS: But is there more sex in your world than in other fantasies? I'm the impression that there's this whole...
PIERCE: It is a fantasy, Roxanne.
SAGAL: Actually, I did want to ask that because it is different. Because I grew up reading J. R. R. Tolkien and there is...
PIERCE: Where nobody has sex.
SAGAL: ...where nobody has sex, and that's really standard for the genre. So when you set out to do this, were you like, I'm going to sex this up? I'm going to...
MARTIN: You know, I've always said that, you know, real people do have sex and sex has played an important role in human history and it plays an important role in all of our lives. I wanted to include that in my books and really didn't think it was that revolutionary, but it seems to have been. Of course, the HBO show came along too and...
SAGAL: Oh really?
MARTIN: The HBO show has a certain amount of sex in it, being on HBO.
SAGAL: Let me ask you about that, because you know what I'm going to ask you. One of the problems they had creating your show for TV is there's so much back story which you can handle easily as exposition in the novels.
In the TV show, there's limited time, it's all in dialogue. And one of the things they seem to have come up with is the understanding that viewers will sit still for a lot of back story as delivered in dialogue if the characters are naked.
SAGAL: And this has become known - this became known during the first season of "Game of Thrones" on HBO as "sexposition."
MARTIN: It has, it has, yes.
MARTIN: Well, you know that's an interesting theory.
SAGAL: I want you to set the record straight. Was there ever a conversation in the production of "The Game of Thrones" TV show where they were like, oh my god, this character has got two pages of incredibly important back story. We need the audience to understand. Let's get him or her naked so that they'll sit with us while we do it. Was that ever a concern?
MARTIN: If it was, I was not part of any such conversation.
SAGAL: Right. So...
MARTIN: But, you know, there have been many conversations that take place without me being present.
MARTIN: So you'd have to ask David Benioff...
SAGAL: So the conversation was like, look, we got to get the characters naked to get this stuff across. Don't tell George.
SAGAL: Isn't it true that there's a character in your latest book that's there because you lost a bet about a football game?
MARTIN: Yes, in a way, yes, it is. That's true.
SAGAL: Well what happened?
MARTIN: Well there's this guy named Patrick St. Denis, who runs a fantasy website called Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. And Pat is a big Dallas Cowboys fan. So we would have a standing bet for a number of years about whether the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants would do better.
And I won the bet the first two years. But finally, in the third year the Cowboys finished ahead of the Giants. And what I had to do if he won the bet was to kill him horribly within the books.
MARTIN: So I invented a character called Ser Patrek of King's Mountain and described his heraldry as looking somewhat like the heraldry of the Dallas Cowboys with the silver star on a white field. And then I had him ripped apart by a giant.
SAGAL: Which he found very enjoyable.
MARTIN: Yeah, he seemed to get a kick out of that.
SAGAL: I understand. All right, George R. R. Martin, we've invited you here to play a game we're calling?
BILL KURTIS: Game of Trombones.
MARTIN: Oh dear.
SAGAL: You know your "Game of Thrones," but do you know these Games of Things that Rhyme with Thrones? Answer two of our three questions correctly; you win a prize for one of our listeners. Lose, and you die.
MARTIN: Oh dear. Well, all men must die.
SAGAL: It's true. Bill, who is George R. R. Martin playing for?
KURTIS: Drew Sewell of New Haven, Connecticut.
SAGAL: Here's your first question. A trombone is a simple instrument, but one inventive musician created a trombone which is also a what? A: A remote control for his TV? B: A delicious lunch? Or C: A flamethrower?
MARTIN: A flamethrower.
SAGAL: Yes, you're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: I knew you'd pick that.
SAGAL: A horn player named Jonathan Crawford attached a fuel tank and piping to his trombone, so it's a functional flamethrower, but you can also play it. So there you go.
MARTIN: That's pretty cool. I'd like to see someone play a trombone like that.
SAGAL: Next up?
KURTIS: Game of Clones.
SAGAL: Clones are a big part of popular culture now, including which of these movies, now in development? A: Drones, Clones and Pheromones? B: Clones Schmones? Or C: Transformers, Clone of the Robot Truck?
MARTIN: The second one, Clones Schmones.
SAGAL: You like that?
SAGAL: Oh, George R. R. Martin, you know nothing.
MARTIN: Oh, damn.
SAGAL: No, it's Drones, Clones and Pheromones. According to the movie's website, when the movie gets made it will be, quote, "The first buddy movie between a member of our species and a member of our successor species, homoperfectus," unquote.
But this is exciting. You know more about plot than anybody I know, so you know that we've made this a cliffhanger. You get this right or wrong, here we go.
MARTIN: That's right. I'm just right on the edge here for this guy in New Haven.
SAGAL: Next up?
KURTIS: Game of Stallones.
MARTIN: Oh dear.
SAGAL: Sylvester and Frank Stallone aren't the only famous people in that celebrated family. What other Stallone has a claim to fame? Was it A: Their younger sister, Adriana, who's a champion competitive eater? B: Their mother, Jackie, who invented rumpology, the art of divining a person's future by feeling their behind? Or C: Their uncle, Fidelio, who portrays a Bearded Lady in many rural carnivals?
MARTIN: Oh boy.
MARTIN: I'll go with the competitive eater.
SAGAL: You're going to go with Adriana, the competitive eater?
SAGAL: I did mention how much I like the books, didn't I?
MARTIN: Competitive eater just seems better to me.
SAGAL: You're going to stick with it?
MARTIN: I am.
SAGAL: All right, I admire your stubbornness. But I'm afraid it was Jackie. She is a professional psychic, and once said she could tell people's future by feeling their behinds.
MARTIN: Oh, damn.
MARTIN: Oh well.
SAGAL: Oh well. Bill, how did George R. R. Martin do on our quiz?
KURTIS: George got just one right, so sorry, Drew Sewell.
SAGAL: George R. R. Martin is the man behind the wildly popular "Game of Thrones" novels, known as "A Song in Ice and Fire," the HBO TV series as well as the "Wildcard" series and many other great works of science fiction and fantasy. George Martin, a pleasure to talk to you and thank you so much for playing with us.
MARTIN: Great to talk to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.