FLR: Bailey, with its effective use of humorous thought bubbles, brings to mind your Luke on the Loose from Toon Books. Do you find much difference between creating graphic novels for children and creating picture books? Do you think picture books and early readers incorporating design elements from cartooning and graphic novels as hybrids is a growing trend? Why do you think these types of titles resonate so well with today’s children? Do you have any plans to create more books like Luke on the Loose?
HB: Yes, graphic novels or comics as I refer to them, are considered differently than picture books. Essentially, comics have more visual devices available for storytelling - thought balloons, narrative boxes, panels, graphic icons, etc. Generally, picture books move a bit quicker than comics.
Not sure if there is a trend incorporating comic language into traditional picture books. I only fuse comic sensibilities into my books if it feels necessary to move the story along or develop the characters. I really don’t pay attention to trends. That said – I do feel comics are a terrific way to aid early readers – it worked for me as a kid.
Comic devices in picture books work well because kids enjoy comics. I feel it’s a visceral thing when kids spot a comic from across the room; they’re drawn to the look of the form, to the way the story is broken down, or paced according to the panel time. It’s actually very sophisticated and I’ve often thought of how ridiculous critics of the form sound when they speak disparagingly about, say Tintin, which is a marvelous example of just how complex popular comics can be.
FLR: Are there any authors (classic or contemporary) who have had an influence on you and your writing?
CP: My work combines elements gathered from research and from my imagination. I read a huge amount of folklore while growing up, ranging from the Brothers Grimm to Beowulf, Nordic sagas, and the Aeneid, along with contemporary fantasy and science fiction. In addition, I learned about weaponry, food, clothing and customs from the Middle Ages, which is roughly the era I envision Eragon in. Armed with that information, I daydreamed the scenes with my characters. Then I took pen to paper and tried to recreate those images with words.
FLR: Who are some contemporary writers you admire?
CP: I love Magician, by Raymond E. Feist; The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, by Ursula K. Le Guin; the Dragonriders of Pern series, by Anne McCaffrey; and Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon trilogy. More recently I’ve enjoyed the Fablehaven series, by Brandon Mull, and The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. I’m also fond of works by David Eddings, Brian Jacques, Neil Stephenson, Tad Williams, and Terry Brooks.
FLR: How do you think we can motivate our students to become better writers?
CP: Writers need to read. So first we need to encourage students to read, and read widely. When I was little, I didn’t see the point of learning to read. It wasn’t until I discovered a mystery story at the library that I fell in love with stories. Soon I was hauling home armfuls of books.
In similar fashion, many young people have told me that Eragon was the first book that they enjoyed reading, and that it sparked their interest in reading other books. Many of these same students were also inspired to write stories of their own.
Finding what interests each student and encouraging him or her to explore that subject through independent reading is an important first step. Then having them write, even a little, every day will help them become more comfortable with putting their thoughts into words. Being forced to write about something you care nothing about is boring, yet that is often what students are forced to do. How much better to have them write about something they care about, fact or fiction.
Finally, students must have someone who cares enough to take the time to edit their work and explain how to improve their writing. Of course it goes both ways, the students, in turn, must care enough to want to improve their work.
FLR: Do you think technology has a positive or negative effect on our students when you focus on their creative writing and reading?
CP: Technology itself is neither good nor bad. It depends how it’s used. If games and social networking fill all a student’s spare time, then he will have no time to think, to ponder and to create. On the other hand, the amount of information available at our fingertips is a resource of great usefulness that can spark creative ideas.
FLR: Where do you find the most conducive setting to write? What does your writing process look like?
CP: I have the ideal situation for writing. From my office window I can see the soaring Beartooth Mountains that pierce the sky and the winding Yellowstone River below. This natural beauty helps me envision my fantasy world. Sometimes I listen to uplifting classical music, movie scores, or contemporary music while I write. I often have a cup of tea at hand.
I'm a slow and steady writer, so it's necessary for me to put in long hours daily to complete a novel. It helps to have a routine. I get up, eat breakfast, write until late afternoon – with a short break for lunch – exercise, then eat dinner and relax with a movie. I often revisit the manuscript in the evening.
I find that it helps to have a touchstone within my life, something that I can relate to, in order to lend my writing authenticity. Doing some of the same things as my characters allows me to better understand their world, as well as to think of descriptions that would not otherwise occur to me. To this end I’ve forged my own knives and swords, made chain mail, spun wool, camped in the Beartooth Mountains, made my own bows, built survival shelters, learned to track game, fletched arrows, felled trees, hiked and camped. In short, the books embody a great deal of my experience of living in Montana.
FLR: How has being home schooled helped to shape and inspire your writing?
CP: Homeschooling was a wonderful and rewarding experience. Every week my parents took me to the library, and I staggered out the door with a towering armload of books. Because I had an unquenchable thirst for stories and information, I read from all genres, and all those stories and information formed the foundation for the Inheritance cycle.
More importantly, my parents allowed me to grow in my own way, without having peers pressuring me to conform to certain ways of thinking and behaving. They taught me how to think, how to ask questions, gather information and make choices for myself.
FLR: What were the advantages and disadvantages to homeschooling for you?
CP: My home school education gave me the freedom to explore subjects that caught my interest – subjects such as dinosaurs, Icelandic sagas and Egyptian pyramids. It allowed me to work at my own pace and graduate early, so I had a couple of years free to write before I had to make a decision about college. And it gave me time to think, to daydream about adventures, to create the world of Alagaësia.
FLR: Are there things that you do differently as a writer today compared with a being a writer at the age of 16?
CP: I have more confidence in my ability to find the words I need to get the images in my head onto the page. I’ve learned a lot from both the process of writing my books and the process of editing them. So, in one way, I’d say writing them is easier. At the same time, however, I’ve challenged myself to write from different points of view and complicate the story arc in various ways. I always keep trying new things and improving my skills.
FLR: What book did you read as a teen that influenced your writing?
CP: I was inspired by the book Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, by Bruce Coville, the tale of a boy who buys a “stone” from which a dragon hatches. I liked the idea so much; I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I asked three questions: what land would a dragon egg come from, who would find it, and – since dragon eggs can’t be common – who else would be looking for it? My quest to answer those questions led me to envision the story that became Eragon.
FLR: What book did you read as a teen that spoke to you the most?
CP: One of my favorite books was, and still is, Dune, by Frank Herbert: In an ancient galactic empire, people warp space and time with the help of “spice”. Battles, prophecy, giant sand worms and fearsome villains clash between its covers. It’s one of the greatest adventure/hero/coming-of-age epics, and the only book that I’ve read more than five times.
FLR: What was your favorite children's book growing up?
CP: A couple favorites were The Hobbit, by Tolkien, and Mossflower, by Brian Jacques.
FLR: What advice can you give future young writers?
CP: The best advice I can offer is to write every chance you get. Read widely and study how authors compose their sentences, dialogues and plots. Improve your grammar and vocabulary; they are the tools of the trade. And find a mentor (an author, teacher, or journalist) who can help you grow in the craft, so your creative vision can sparkle.
FLR: Do you have another series in the works?
CP: I’ve spent 12 years working on this series. I think I’ll write stand-alone books for a while.
FLR: Who is your favorite character from your books?
CP: My favorite character is the dragon Saphira, the best friend anyone could have. She is loyal, funny, brave, intelligent, and noble. And she’ll eat your enemies. Endowed with the innate wisdom of her race, over the course of the story she matures into a fiercely independent personality.
FLR: Your fans get really into your books and have even been known to dress up and show up for signings and events. What are your thoughts and how does it make you feel to see such enthusiasm for your books?
CP: It makes me smile! I spend so much time living the life of my characters in my mind, it is quite a shock to come out of my office and see people dressed like them. It’s really quite an honor to see that people think enough of my books to want to emulate the characters.
FLR: Inheritance is out in November – as the conclusion to the Inheritance cycle – what are your future plans for writings and personally?
CP: First I’ll be traveling on book tour around the United States and Canada. After the holidays I’ll probably do some touring overseas. Once I return home, I plan to take a break and catch up on my reading. I have many other tales to tell, in fantasy and other genres. When I’m ready, I’ll choose the one that inspires me most and dive into it.