Creative inspiration can seemingly come from the most random places.

You can never really tell when the lightning will strike — and sometimes, it’s so deep-seated that it takes root long before you’re even aware of it — way, way back in your childhood years. That certainly appears to have been the case with Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, whose reaction when one of his childhood pets died should have been an early clue that a career as a storyteller likely lay in his future.

In an interview this week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, as part of promotion for his new book Fire & Blood, Martin gave us a glimpse into how the seeds of his work as a fantasy writer were planted back when he was a kid growing up in New Jersey.

You can watch the interview above, but in it, Martin at one point talks about the death of his fragile-sounding pet turtles.

“I lived in Bayou, New Jersey, in a federal housing project,” he says, by way of setting the scene. “We were not allowed to have dogs. We were not allowed to have cats. So the only pets I was allowed to have were turtles — little dime store turtles. I had a toy castle. I could fit two turtle bowls in the castle. But the thing is about those little dime store turtles is they die very soon.”

The young Martin thought he was caring for them correctly and doing everything right. “I fed them the turtle food … I couldn’t figure out why they would die. It certainly wasn’t my fault. I decided they were competing for the turtle throne. They were competing for who would be the turtle king. That was my first fantasy. Turtle Castle. It preceded ‘Game of Thrones’ by many years.”

Food for thought — could his early interactions with turtles be the reason Martin is so slow with his releases in the A Song of Ice and Fire series? We kid, of course. But it’s interesting to see where it all began. Even with something as simple as a childhood pet, Martin was already spinning fantasies and stories out of the mundane.  It wouldn’t be long, relatively speaking, before he would go on to spin a blockbuster fantasy story out of a much richer, bloodier, sexier and epic human saga. Now if he would only hurry up and release The Winds of Winter.

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