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George Raymond Richard Martin was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, on September 20, 1948. His father was a longshoreman. The family, including Martin’s two younger sisters, lived in a federal housing project across the street from docks built by his mother’s grandfather. Martin grew up looking at the ships and imagining where they might be going and what kind of adventures they might have along the way.
As a child, Martin wrote stories about monsters for kids in the neighborhood, holding dramatic readings and selling the stories for a penny a page. He had to stop, however, when another child developed nightmares. An avid comic book reader and collector, Martin’s first published piece of writing was actually a letter to the editor published in Fantastic Four. Largely as a result of the letter, Martin began writing for various comic fanzines while still in high school. Eventually he transitioned from short stories about superheroes to horror to what he calls “sword and sorcery.” Of these amateur fan magazines, Martin has said, “They gave me a place to publish, a place to be bad. My stories there got the criticism I needed to improve, but also the encouragement I needed to continue.”
Martin earned a bachelor of science in journalism in 1970 and a masters of science in journalism in 1971 from Northwestern University. After graduation, Martin returned to his New Jersey hometown but could not find work as a journalist. He wrote prolifically, however, finishing one short story every two weeks. Martin obtained conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War, choosing to do service work as a VISTA volunteer in Illinois for two years.
In the early 1970s, Martin began publishing science fiction short stories and attending science fiction conferences. He worked as a teacher and director of chess tournaments, among other jobs, and became a full-time writer in 1979. He has published many short stories and novels, and has edited many collections of fiction. In 1986, he moved to Hollywood, where he worked as a story editor and producer for such shows as Twilight Zone, Beauty and the Beast, and Doorways. He also wrote novels, including Fevre Dream (1982) and Dead Man’s Hand (1990). Participating in conferences introduced Martin to a huge community of like-minded readers and writers, and he continues to appear at many, such as ConQuesT and MystiCon. In fact, Martin and his wife chose to hold a second wedding reception at Renovation, the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention.
After a decade in television, Martin began writing the multi-volume epic A Song of Ice and Fire in 1991. He turned to fiction in part for its freedom and expansiveness: unlike television, he would not be confined by time or budget, so he could make the books as large and detailed as he wanted. Thus far, five novels in the series have been published, each one about 1,000 pages long: Game of Thrones (1996), A Clash of Kings (1999), A Storm of Swords (2000), A Feast for Crows (2005), and A Dance with Dragons (2011). Two more novels, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, are forthcoming. Although Martin originally intended to conclude the epic fantasy at six novels, he has since increased the total to seven and has even occasionally hinted at the possibility of an eighth book. To date, the novels have been translated into more than 20 languages and sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.
Largely set in the fictional medieval world of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the novels that comprise A Song of Ice and Fire combine elements of horror, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and even realism. Exploring a range of human emotion and motivation interests Martin more than staying within a certain genre. Each novel uses the third-person point of view of several major characters. Major characters are neither wholly good nor wholly evil, but complex. Furthermore, Martin has demonstrated a willingness to kill off major characters that has surprised—and disappointed—some fans. He has cited J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings as a major influence. Martin’s novels similarly attempt to create a fantastical world with a unique cultures, religions, history, and geography. Yet A Song of Ice and Fire demonstrates a vision all its own.
Many fans have complained about the amount of time it takes Martin to complete the novels. In answer to such criticism, Martin admits to being “unfortunately a slow writer” and explains that he works on many different types of projects at one time. Recently these projects have included serving as co-executive producer and writing some episodes for the HBO series based on his epic fantasy, Game of Thrones. Debuting in 2011, this television series has proven popular with critics and viewers alike. Martin lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife, Parris.