How George R.R. Martin Owes His Writing Career To Chess Player Bobby Fischer

I feel like I have a pretty good handle on who George R.R. Martin is these days. He’s a fierce protector of wolves and very generous to fans, he’s a guy who feels a lot of pressure to complete the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and he can get very defensive about it, especially when fans suggest that he’s going to die before he finishes the series. And like Maisie Williams, he’s kind of sick of the book snobs. But I admit, I don’t know that much about George R.R. Martin before Game of Thrones.

I did know that he was heavily involved in the CBS series Beauty and the Beast (with Ron Perlman), but I didn’t know he also worked on the Twilight Zone revival or Max Headroom in the 1980s (and I loved Max Headroom). What I also didn’t know is that chess — and Bobby Fischer — basically provided the turning point in Martin’s career as a writer, as he tells UK’s The Guardian.

Martin himself was an “expert” chess player (one rank below “master”), and in the early 1970s, chess allowed him the time he needed to emerge as a writer.

“The importance of chess to me was not as a player but as a tournament director. In my early 20s, I was writing. I sold a few short stories. My big dream was to be a full-time writer and support myself with my fiction but I wasn’t making enough money to pay my rent and pay the phone bill – so I had to have a day job.”

In 1972, Bobby Fischer did Martin a huge favour by winning the world chess championship. “Bobby Fischer played Boris Spassky in Reykjavík and won – and the entire American chess community went nuts!”

On the back of Fischer’s success, the game became hugely popular. Martin was hired to direct the Midwestern circuit for a national organisation that ran chess tournaments. “For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday – but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills.”

After a year or two, the American chess bubble burst. All those enthusiasts who had taken up the game after Fischer’s victory over Spassky stopped playing. There was no longer much money in setting up tournaments. “But, by then, I was much better established as a writer,” he reflects. “The chess really did mark a crucial turning point in my career.”

And so, we basically have Bobby Fischer to thank for the success of Martin’s career, A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones, and the Red Wedding. Thanks for sucking Boris Spassky!

Incidentally, Martin also noted that part of the reason he may be slowing down in his writing is because there’s so much in the book series he has to review to ensure continuity.

I have assembled all four of the published books into one gigantic document. If I am about to write about a character, Bill, I do a search and see every previous time I mentioned Bill and what I said about him. Even then, I still make mistakes because it is large. That is maybe one reason why I’ve slowed down a little, as I get deeper into it and it gets more and more complex, it is harder to remember. Maybe I take a little more time in reviewing what I did last week or last year or three years ago.”

As to that slowing down, Martin also claimed to have 500 great fans to every one annoying fan who won’t leave him alone about finishing the series. (No offense, George, but I really don’t think that’s the great fan/annoying fan split. It’s probably closer to 5 to 1).

Source: The Guardian