09/08/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
HOMETOWN: Paradise Valley, Mont.
FIRST NOVEL: Eragon, a swprd-and-sorcery epic complete with dragons, elves, an evil king and a valiant hero.
•The Writer as a Young Pup: At 15, after being homeschooled by his mother, Talita, and getting his high school equivalency, Paolini sketched out the plot for his Inheritance trilogy, then spent a year writing Eragon, the first volume. "Once I read it," says Talita, 43, who runs a small publishing company with her husband, Kenneth, 46, "my jaw dropped." It was so good, they published it.
•On the Road: Paolini, with his dad as chauffeur, traveled the country dressed in medieval garb selling Eragon at schools, bookstores and book fairs. "Medieval boots," he gripes, "don't have arch support."
•Estimated sales: 10,000 copies.
•The Breakthrough: Author Carl Hiassen saw a copy and alerted Knopf, his publisher, which bought the trilogy, touting it as "a major acquisition."
•First Knopf Printing: 125,000 copies.
•A Taste of Eragon: "A deafening scream tore out of Eragon as he charged the Urgal, headfirst. The Urgal paused in astonishment, then faced him contemptuously, swinging his ax."
•The Fruits of His Labor: Paolini has squirreled away his advance (he won't divulge how much). "The only thing I would consider buying," he says, "is a nice carbon-steel sword."
•And Now: Deferring college, he's completing the trilogy. "I have no personal life," he says. "Eragon has eaten my entire family's life."