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'Eragon' author comes to Miami Beach

All Christopher Paolini, 24, did last weekend was sell half a million books. 

The wunderkind author of the Eragon series broke all records for his publisher with the release of the third volume, Brisingr (Knopf, $27.50, ages 10-up) which sold 550,000 copies the day it went on sale. This week, Paolini will be in Miami Beach, part of a monthlong, 10-city tour. Not bad for somebody who started writing because he was bored after earning his high school diploma as a homeschooler at age 15.

"I had read most of the fantasy in my local library and had a lot of free time on my hands. I thought if I finished something manuscript-length, it would be something I could give to my parents to read," Paolini said. "I never even imagined it would be published. Every day I shake my head in amazement at how lucky I am."

Paolini was living a fairly hardscrabble existence in small-town Montana when in 2002, with the considerable help of his parents, he put off college to self-publish 10,000 copies of Eragon. The coming-of-age story follows the life of a farm boy (Eragon) who finds a dragon egg. When a magnificent blue dragon, Saphira, emerges, Eragon becomes its rider and Public Enemy No. 1 of an evil tyrant named King Galbatorix, who wants both rider and dragon dead.

Paolini's parents helped him promote the book, spending most of a year driving him to

appearances at bookstores, schools, libraries, and fairs -- a project that nearly bankrupted them. Paolini has been quoted as saying there were days that, if they didn't sell books, they didn't eat.

Their break came when a teenager on vacation in Montana bought a copy in Livingston, Paolini's hometown, read it and gave a glowing review to his dad: Carl Hiaasen, novelist and Miami Herald columnist.

Hiaasen passed the book on to his editor at Knopf, Michelle Frey, who bought the rights to the original, which she repackaged in spiffier bindings, and commissioned sequels. The three books published so far have sold more than 16 million copies.

"If it weren't for him, none of this would have happened," Paolini says of Hiaasen. "I owe him a huge debt of gratitude."

A Hollywood film based on the first book bombed with just about everybody but the author, who found himself on the red carpet outside London's Odeon theatre for the premiere.

"The movie represents the filmmaker's vision of the story. My version is in the books," Paolini said diplomatically. "But going to the premiere? Meeting all the stars? That was a real blast."

Each book is getting longer than the previous installment -- Brisingr is 734 pages -- and the series itself has grown from a trilogy to a quartet.

"The reason there's going to be a fourth book is because Brisingr got so long I realized I had to split it in two. As a writer and a reader, I like a big book, but I draw he line at about 1,000 pages."