Here Be Dragons!
Christopher Paolini’s dragons at Barnes & Noble, to be exact.
Barnes & Noble is hosting an Author Residency Book Tour with Christopher Paolini over the coming months. And from what I’ve seen of it, it’s a lot of fun! The staff at the B&N bookstore I went to made it a great, smooth-running event. Kudos to them.
Now I confess I haven’t read the books (so many books, so little time! I’m a slow reader, and thick books can be daunting). But a dear friend who is an avid and discerning reader has enjoyed them, and that was good enough for me to think about getting the latest book, The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm, for my great-nephew who likes mythology and fantasy.
The Residency Tour is in only about a dozen cities, so I’m quite pleased that the only mid-Atlantic location was in my state! And dragons, like most mythical beasts, are dear to my heart. So I decided to go. My friend Aud Supplee also came, bringing another friend. And Aud has also written a blog about her perspective of the event, so check that out!
My first impression of Christopher Paolini was how warm and unassuming he was, and genuinely delighted to be there. (A friend who works at the store and helped organize the event says he was great to talk to and super-nice behind the scenes, too.) He was content to blend in with the crowd while we were playing trivia with the B&N booksellers. One of the questions was something like, “What did Eragon get from his sister?” Christopher jovially called from the crowd, “More questions!” (Please forgive me, fans – you’ll probably know exactly what that question was, and if it wasn’t about his sister, I apologize! I can only plead ignorance and faulty memory; I wasn’t taking notes.)
Then Christopher took the mike to talk to us. He honestly seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience did.
With self-deprecating humor, he said, “Some of you may have noticed that it’s been awhile since my last book.” We all laughed. He explained how he started Eragon when he was 15, (1998), and he was still touring with the fourth book in 2012 – a huge chunk of his young life. When he was done he wanted nothing to do with dragons for awhile! Meanwhile, he’s been writing a big sci-fi book “with tentacles.” But he would wonder at odd moments, “What are Eragon and Saphira doing now?” Then he wondered what it would be like to write about a very old, angry, hungry dragon. “Like Smaug,” I think someone in the audience said. “Or like the dragon in Beowulf,” Christopher said. That formed the basis of the “Worm” story in his new book.
A fan once tweeted him, “What’s Murtagh doing?” Because Christopher was awake at 1:00 a.m. from too much coffee and feeling kind of snarky, he answered, “Fighting off foes with a magic fork named Mr. Stabby.” But then he wondered, Could I write a story like that? That, of course, became “The Fork” in the new collection.
His sister Angela had an idea for a story, and he told her to go for it. That became “On the Nature of Stars,” part of “The Witch.” As Christopher sat down to write the story that weaves together all these tales, he felt like he was returning home after a long journey. “Why did I wait so long?” The audience cheered.
Speaking more about inspiration, he talked about how a certain disappointing blockbuster movie made him think – how could I fix that? Human beings are born storytellers, he says – we know when a story doesn’t work. He talked at length at how flawed writing can inspire a writer more than perfect writing does – as you think about how you could fix things.
As a young boy, he was inspired by a book he loved, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville, about a boy who finds a dragon egg. It made him think about what kind of world a dragon would come from, which led to more questions. That’s how we write stories and build worlds, he said – asking questions and answering them as honestly as we can.
Then Christopher engaged briefly in a bit of what he called “shameless self-promotion.” His mother is a homeschooler, and she has published books to help others; he hoped any home-schoolers in the audience would check them out. Also, he mentioned the recent Barnes & Noble Exclusive Collector’s Edition of Eragon. It has a full-color map, (I love book maps), and under the dustcover is the insignia of Brom’s ring, designed by Christopher himself. Pretty cool! Though of course that’s promoting his first book, it’s also supporting Barnes & Noble, his hosts, and like all bricks-and-mortar bookstores they can use all such support. Pretty gracious “self-promotion” if you ask me!
He confirmed (to much audience excitement) that there is a fifth Inheritance book in the works, which will answer a lot of questions. Then the audience asked fun questions, like what fantasy would he like to insert Eragon into. “Does Hunger Games count as fantasy?” His favorite movies? He has so many, including “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Terminator” and “The Little Princess (1995)”. Yep, an odd juxtaposition, that! Some of his many favorite books include The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison, pre-Tolkien fantasy of Tolkien caliber, and Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peak, the gothiest book ever, according to Christopher.
When someone asked what he wished he’d known about publishing at the start, he answered: mistakes are part of the process. A bad sentence, paragraph, even a bad draft doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. When something makes you uncomfortable, the things you know you’re not good at, push into them. That’s what will make you grow as a writer, and a person.
He read a little from all four books, including an Elven blessing, (he claims he has an awful Elven accent) and something from a very angry Dwarf (he says he has an excellent dwarf accent, because he trills his rrrs with his uvula!) When he read from “The Worm,” (in normal English), it struck me it had a fine, old-epic tone.
If you check out Aud’s blog, you can hear a bit of Christopher speaking, even in the Dwarf language!
Then it was time for the book signing. Even waiting and standing in line was fun – we got to talk to very friendly fans (who didn’t seem to mind my ignorance). Christopher took time to talk to everyone who came up. He was as warm and friendly up close as he was from a distance. And early-comers got a cool Inheritance pin, compliments of Barnes & Noble.
Thank you, Barnes & Noble, for hosting such a fun event. Readers, if you’ve enjoyed the books, check out his tour and see if he’s coming anywhere near you.
And thank you, Christopher Paolini. You’ve made me a fan! Even though I bought the book as a gift, and I really shouldn’t, I might just have to peek inside for a read…
What a fun piece, Gemma! I loved the reminder of how cool it was to see Christopher Paolini in person. And it was gratifying to hear such a well-known author remind current and future authors that flawed writing is part of the process! I also heartily agree with him that a lot can be learned from reading less-than-perfect books. It’s kind of like being in Oz and pulling back the curtain to see which levers the man is pulling. 🙂 Thanks for bringing the experience of an author signing to life!
Ah, thanks, Aud! I agree, Christopher’s words were very heartening. I have to remind myself all the time that a flawed draft is ok, and it was very encouraging to hear it from him. Another piece of his advice that really stuck with me is to push into those very things you find hard.
And as for bringing the author signing to life — I love how your blog did that! 😀
Thanks! And thanks for adding Christopher’s other reminder about pushing into the hard things. Those are words to live by, for sure!
Thank you for the wonderful write up, Gemma. Such terrific memories of the event!
Thanks for hosting such a fun event! You and all your helpers did a great job.
I am impressed by Christopher’s thought that mistakes inspire more than perfection does. This applies to more than writing — I’ve seen it in handicrafts, for sure!
Sue — isn’t that an insightful comment by Christopher? And it is great to hear it applies to handicrafts as well — I suspected it applied to other arts. (Your handcrafted creations are most certainly art!)
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