Having interviewed probably hundreds of writers and other public figures over the years, one of the questions that I most often get from their fans is “What is he (or she) like in person?”
There’s an unspoken need that many of us have for our idols to not only be talented and entertaining, but also agreeable, friendly people as well. I understand it, because I’m the same way. I think that we build up these one-sided relationships with our “stars” in our heads. They seem like friends, and when we meet them it can be hurtful when they don’t return the affection we’ve felt toward them for so many years.
I’ve had one or two bad experiences with interview subjects; Most of the time I retreat to my training and try to remain distant. Only once have I actually discontinued an interview because of a subject’s unpleasant behavior – although there may have been a few other occasions when I should have. (I’m looking at you, Saliva.)
However, the good experiences far outweigh the bad: I remember Peter Beagle’s kindness and outspoken commitment to civil rights, Michael Moorcock’s unassuming humility, Joe Abercrombie’s infectious good cheer, and Christopher Paolini’s intensity and dedication to his craft.
I interviewed Christopher Paolini and George R.R. Martin this year at San Diego Comic Con, although honestly, there wasn’t much interviewing for me to do. I asked a question or two and stood back, content to watch these two great writers do their thing without my interference. After it was all over, I had a moment or two to speak with Paolini and he left a great impression on me.
You’re probably going to want to know what he’s like “in real life”. I can answer this.
To address the first question many people have: Yes, Christopher Paolini is a nice guy. Actually, he’s a great guy, and he is really dedicated to his fans. He was never too far from the Unbound Worlds booth and was always available to talk with his readers. Further, he never made a big fuss about who he was or why he was at the con. Young readers would come by looking for him, not realizing that he was sitting just a few feet away quietly doodling or taking notes in his notebook. He was happy to talk, sign autographs and pose for pictures. If you’re looking for a hyper-inflated ego, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Paolini is a fan, like most of us. He collected autographs from other writers in a little black book. He was eager and involved, and very interested in learning anything he could from his peers.
He’s also a voracious reader. Although still a young man, Paolini is probably one of the most well-read people I’ve ever met. He has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the canon of fantasy literature, from E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros to the latest from Patrick Rothfuss and the rest of the new superstars o f the SF/F scene. When he’s not writing (or riding bulls – I saw the man ride a mechanical bull at a bar in San Diego. He’s a champ) he’s reading. He really cares about his art. This isn’t just a career for him, it’s a vocation.
Finally, he’s a polymath. Not only is he a very talented writer still at the beginning of a hopefully long and fruitful career, he’s also an artist of great skill.
Do you like the dragon on the cover of Eragon? He drew it. The map on the inside of the book? Yeah, that too. (I stand corrected: he drew the original artwork. Thanks to sharp-eyed reader Joel for the clarification.) If there should ever come the time when he grows tired of writing, he could easily transition to a professional art career. He’s that good.
I hope that you now have a good sense of what Paolini is like. If you were hoping that he was generous, intelligent and kind, then your hope is well placed. It is only equaled by his intelligence and drive. The final volume of his Inheritance Cycle is hitting bookshelves today, but rest assured you’ll be hearing more from Paolini for many years to come.