Best-Selling Author Sees Value in Libraries

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Eragon author Christopher Paolini discusses how librarians helped his career.

Originally appeared in the Summer/Fall 2008 edition of the Wyoming Library Roundup.

New York Times Bestselling Author Christopher Paolini dreamed of the day he could place one of his books on the shelf in his local library.

“When I was able to do that, it was a memorable day,” he says.

“As an author, it’s one of the true pleasures for me to think that I’ve been able to contribute at least a few entries into the library system.”

Paolini views libraries as shrines to other authors.

“Whenever I step into a library, I start to get a tingle down my spine as I look at those shelves thinking about the thousands of hours of work that went into every single one of those books.”

Growing up in Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park, the library played an important role in Paolini’s education. He and his sister were homeschooled. When they learned about something new, they would go to the library and check out a stack of books that corresponded with their studies.

Paolini’s newest book, Brisingr, released on
September 20, 2008.

“It was a fairly small library, but the librarians were wonderful and they had a great selection of fantasy authors and books.”

This is where Paolini began his love for fantasy.

“I was addicted to the genre. I was picking up six, seven, eight books at a time and going back the next week to pick up another pile of books.”

The addiction ultimately lead to the creation of his best-selling book, Eragon—the first of his four-part Inheritance Series.

“There I was, 14 or 15 years old, and I felt like I had read all the fantasy out there. I wasn’t going to bookstores much, so I didn’t realize there was a whole lot more fantasy I hadn’t read,” he says.

He says out of near desperation, he decided to write a book—the kind similar to those he’d been reading.

“The only reason I did it was because I loved reading books so much and wanted to give back to the genre. I wanted to contribute a bit to the same stories I had enjoyed so much, and, hopefully, share that enjoyment with other readers.”

It was at 15—now 10 years ago—that Paolini began working on his first book, Eragon. From there, he and his family worked to self-publish that book. Little did he know this would lead to him spending more and more time in libraries. When Paolini was beginning to promote Eragon, librarians allowed him to sell his book and give presentations in their libraries, he says.

“I was dressed in a medieval costume and the kids in the school and people who came to the presentations were looking at me as if they were thinking, ‘What is this kid doing?’”

The first two presentations he gave were in two libraries in Livingston, Montana, near his hometown.

“The librarians here and across the country were wonderful. Without their help and support, we never would have been able to keep Eragon going long enough to catch the eye of Random House,” he says.

Paolini says he doesn’t think he would have written Eragon or received the quality education he did growing up if it weren’t for the librarians who influenced him as a child.

“That combined with my experience traveling to different libraries across the country, both public and school—it’s one of the things that is indelibly printed on my mind—the dedication of librarians,” he says.

After all, librarians are the ones who tell the kids what to read, or recommend one author over another.

“I started saying that people don’t realize it, but librarians actually rule the world,” he jokes.

“They are definitely a force of good in this country. This country needs people like that.”

Paolini went from the walls of those libraries to the best sellers list once author Carl Hiaasen gave a copy of Eragon to Random House. Hiassen was vacationing with his family in Montana when his stepson picked up a copy of Paolini’s book. The stepson loved the book and passed it on to Hiassen, who then passed it onto Random house.

Becoming a bestselling author gave Paolini some notoriety, not only in the literary world, but also in Hollywood. Eragon was made into a major motion picture in 2006 and that followed with the development of a video game.

But that was just the beginning. Eldest followed Eragon in the series and proved to be just as successful. Together Eragon and Eldest have sold 12.5 million copies worldwide. He says he’s hoping his readers will enjoy his third book just as much as the first two.

“I put an awful lot of work into this last book and tried to do some things I didn’t try in the first two with the complexity of the story, depth of character and excitement of the battles,” he says.

His third book in the four-part series, Brisingr, was released in September 2008. Brising is an Old Norse word for fire.

Brisingr is one of the first words I thought of for this title, and it’s always felt right to me,” Paolini has said.

“As the first ancient-language word that Eragon learns, it has held particular significance for his legacy as Dragon Rider. In this new book, it will be revealed to be even more meaningful than even Eragon could have known.”

He may be topping the best seller lists and touring from city to city, but several things remain the same for Paolini, including his love for his Western home in Paradise Valley, Montana.

“The landscape here is so fantastic. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The experience of hiking and coming into contact with wildlife, the trees, the plants, these are the very things that have helped make me a better writer.”

People are often surprised at the number of writers or artists who live in areas like Montana and Wyoming with their low population densities, he says.

Christopher Paolini drew this map for a more visual explanation of the area where the
Inheritance Series takes place.

“One of the most important things for an artist is having the space to think, be quiet and concentrate on your work. That’s something this area offers you. It’s hard to concentrate when someone is blaring a car horn outside your house.”

Paolini says if he’d grown up somewhere else he would still be a fantasy writer, but maybe wouldn’t have done quite the same kind of writing.

“If you’re trying to write something, it certainly helps if you have some actual experience with it,” he says.

That doesn’t mean you have to experience everything you write, Paolini says that’s obviously impractical. But his home resembles the settings in his books, which occur during a different time period.

“If you did have neighbors, they might be miles away, and your livelihood really depended upon your skills as a farmer or rancher. Not to say that’s how I live myself, but just being around the landscape and people who work with the land have certainly helped my writing.”

Even as a successful author, Paolini has no intentions of moving to the big city. He sees no reason why he would live anywhere else.

“I can’t think of a better place to live. I grew up here. My family is here. The landscape is beautiful and the people are friendly and wonderful. I can’t imagine being happy living in the middle of the city,” Paolini says.

He does enjoy the city, but gets plenty of chances to visit those places in his travels promoting his work.

“I like coming back home and settling down and just being who I am here, instead of having to put on a performance out in the city.”

In his career, Paolini has learned he doesn’t have to live in a metropolitan area to be successful. Although he must venture away from Montana to sell books, he doesn’t need to move out of the West.

“I’ve learned to be a writer you really don’t have to be, for example, in New York City. To be a writer you need to write a book that people are going to be interested in. If you do that, it eventually finds the audience it deserves,” he says.

One of the things that made Paolini such an avid reader was simply reading the books he liked. He says one of the most important things you can do to get kids reading is to let them read the books they enjoy.

“If someone had told me when I was 14 or 15 to read the ‘classics,’ I would have done it, but I would have resented being told to do so and probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much.”

But on his own he started reading fantasy, and eventually began branching out into other genres including those books considered the ‘classics.’

“It’s important for young people to have the chance to read the books they’ll enjoy reading and that will gradually expose them to other genres and ideas.”

His genre of fantasy and young adult fiction has grown in popularity in the past few years—becoming more popular than that of the adult genre.

“There is always going to be a demand for stories that talk to young people about the process of growing up and that’s what most young adult literature is about. That’s what the Harry Potter Series is about. That’s what my series is about. The demand will always be there,” he says.

To him, this is a wonderful indicator for the future, because if there are people who are reading young adult literature at a younger age, it is more likely those people will grow up to be life-long readers.

So much can happen in a span of 10 years, and in that time Paolini says he has really grown up. He had the story of Eragon in his head as a young age and still enjoys writing the series he started so long ago. He has a few ideas as to what he wants to do after the series, but right now he’s focusing on finishing it.

“I have a couple of stories I’d like to tackle, but at this point I just want to finish the series. These books have been a very intense and challenging experience. I have difficulty thinking too much beyond the fourth book.”