Christopher Paolini was 15 when he began writing Eragon, Book One of the Inheritance Cycle. Now, nearing 30, he enjoys a success that is as magical as the fantasy novels he writes. His Inheritance Cycle (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr and Inheritance) has sold over 35 million copies worldwide and is available in 125 countries in 49 languages. His journey has been extraordinary.
While most kids were playing baseball and soccer, Christopher, who was homeschooled, taught himself how to fence, weave, paint, and read ancient languages, and became expert at woodworking. He built a forge and created his own medieval armor. He read 3,000 books.
After graduating from the accredited distance-learning high school, American School, Christopher put pen to paper on his first novel. Inspired by the fantastic view of the jagged Beartooth Mountains from his bedroom window in Paradise Valley, Montana, he created a vibrant, compelling fantasy world. Helped by his family, Christopher self-published Eragon in February 2002. They sold nearly 10,000 copies through diligent self-promotion (including sales from the family car and Paolini visiting schools to address students his own age, in medieval costume).
In a few short months, everything changed. A Montana bookseller gave author Carl Hiaasen’s 12-year-old stepson—on vacation with his family—a copy of Paolini’s Eragon. The boy devoured it, declaring it better than Harry Potter. Hiaasen called his editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers in New York. Quickly acquiring the series, Knopf (an imprint of Random House Children’s Books) edited the self-published Eragon and released it in August 2003, when Christopher was 19. It was an instant bestseller. Six months after publication, Eragon had already sold 1 million copies.
Knopf recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of this worldwide phenomenon with the release of a collector’s edition of ERAGON on October 22, 2013. This faux-leather bound edition features gold-foil line art on the cover and six glossy, full-color original illustrations on the interior by award-winning artists who inspired Paolini—John Jude Palancar (the Inheritance Cycle cover artist), Michael Hague, Donato Giancola, Ciurelo, and Raoule Vitale—as well as Paolini himself.
We had the opportunity to chat with Christopher Paolini…
SF Signal: Thanks so much for the interview! We’re so glad to finally have a chance to speak with you. First things first, tell us about this new edition of your book, Eragon.
Christopher Paolini: This is the 10th anniversary edition of Eragon. It’s faux leather bound, has marbled end papers, is illustrated throughout by six different fantasy artists (including myself), and has a foreword where I talk about what it was like to actually write the book. Also, the text of the book contains a number of small tweaks that have been in various other editions throughout the years, now all collected into a single place.
Overall, this is my favorite edition of Eragon. The new cover is beautiful. It’s how I’ve always wanted the book to look. In fact, if I hadn’t written it and I saw this version of Eragon in a bookstore, I’d buy it on the spot, without even knowing what it was about. The book just looks cool.
SFS: I noticed in the bio on your site that your plans after finishing the Inheritance Cycle chiefly involved taking a long vacation, but is any part of you missing the daily routine that publishing deadlines imposed on your life? Are you still spending any substantial amount of time writing in order to maintain your skills / discipline?
CP: I’m still writing just as much as before (perhaps even more); I’m just not doing it under a deadline. I spent ten some years writing to deadlines, and I’m relishing not working under that pressure. Personally and professionally I don’t do very well when people tell me I have to do something. I tend to be much more productive when I’m self-motivated. Productive and happy.
SFS: In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned that you had accrued a pretty massive reading back log thanks to the time-consuming nature of writing an epic fantasy series. How are you progressing on that front? Discovered any new favorite authors recently?
CP: Heh. I’m making my way through my reading pile slowly but surely. The problem is, people keep giving me more books!…Recently I’ve been reading the unabridged Penguin edition of The Count of Monte Cristo, a few unpublished manuscripts, and quite a bit of physics-related nonfiction.
SFS: Has the experience of writing your own series effected how you experience other authors’ work? Do you ever find yourself critiquing other fantasy authors as you read their books or stopping to kick yourself for not including some plot element in your own books?
CP: I find it difficult to read fantasy stories that are about a young hero coming of age. Those used to be my favorite kind of fantasy books, but after writing my own version of that story (and after growing up), I really don’t have any interest in that subject material any more. Not unless the author manages to do something unique with it. Fantasy as a whole has become harder for me to read. It has to be really, really good to keep my attention these days.
Some interesting books in the genre I’ve read over the past year or so: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson and The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin Jr. And on the sci-fi end of things, the collected works of Iain M. Banks.
SFS: It’s been two years since the release of the fourth and final book in the Inheritance Cycle. Now that you’ve had some time to live with your completed project, is there anything you wish you could go back and change?
CP: Of course! But thinking about it won’t do any good. I’m not about to rewrite the series; my time is better spent telling new stories. I did the best job I could with the Inheritance Cycle, and I’m proud of it. Is it perfect? Of course not. But I wrote it, it’s done, and I’m happy that people can now view the story as a whole, as I have ever since the beginning.
SFS: Do you think that your future books will be young adult titles, or will you be writing for an older audience the next time around?
CP: Some of my future books will be YA, but many of them won’t be. It just depends on the nature of the story. I never intended to write a YA book with Eragon; I was just trying to tell the best story I could, and that’s what I plan on continuing to do, regardless of subject matter.
CP: Read: Good writers read. The more you read, the broader your base of knowledge. Read the things you enjoy to read, but also read things outside your comfort zone.
Write: Writers write. That’s what we do. Write every single day, even if you’re not feeling inspired. It’s like playing a musical instrument; you have to practice as often as possible if you want to be any good.
Learn: Learn everything you can about the language you’re writing in. It’s your biggest tool, and the better you understand it, the better you can get what’s in your head onto the page and into someone else’s head. I know diagramming sentences isn’t fun, but understanding the mechanics of your language makes everything else easier.
Edit: Find someone in your life who enjoys reading the sort of stuff you’re writing and who has a good foundation in English (or whatever language you’re writing in), and have them edit your work. As painful as it is, I guarantee you’ll learn more from editing than you ever will from writing alone. Unexamined art is lazy art.
Write about what you love the most. Writing a book is often hard, but if you truly care about the subject material, that passion will help you get through the hundreds of pages that lie between you and the end. It doesn’t matter what you want to write about; there are so many people in the world, you will always find readers who love the same things you do…even if all you want to do is write about singing toasters that also fly.
SFS: What were the best and the most difficult parts of being a successful writer at such a young age?
CP: The hardest parts were the pressure to perform and the knowledge that any time I was in public, everything I did would be remembered and/or recorded. It’s difficult enough to take a hobby and make it into a job, but when you have millions of people all around the world hanging on your next move…it can get a bit nerve-wracking.
The best parts are getting to accumulate writing experience sooner than you would otherwise, getting to travel the world, and getting to talk with interesting people in all walks of life.
SFS: Finally, if you could “play” (write) in another author’s universe, which author and which series would you choose?
CP: That’s a hard question to answer! Hmm….The Culture series by Iain Banks, the Wizard of Earthsea series by Ursula Le Guin, and The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Any and/or all of those would be immense fun to explore.