Hundreds of young fans of the children’s mystery-thriller novel “Serafina and the Black Cloak” packed an Arboretum bookstore last week to meet Robert Beatty and celebrate the release of the second book in the Serafina trilogy.
Beatty’s latest tome, “Serafina and the Twisted Staff” (Disney-Hyperion), debuted July 12; the author will swing back to the Charlotte area July 20 for another signing, at the Birkdale Village Barnes & Noble. “Serafina and the Black Cloak” was released last summer and spent 22 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list for children’s middle-grade books.
The books hold special appeal for Carolinas children because they are set in Asheville’s Biltmore Estate. (Beatty lives in Asheville with his wife and three daughters.) They center on an unusual young girl who grows up hidden in the estate at the turn of the 20th century.
Beatty spoke with The Observer about his writing journey and what he hopes young readers will take away from the books.
On being urged by daughter Camille, now 16, to write his first book for kids:
“Here I was struggling to find my voice and my audience as a writer (of adult novels). And I thought, ‘Here’s my audience, standing right in front of me.’ I wondered, ‘What would it be like to write one of those novels I used to write (as a boy) a long time ago?’ The next day I put away the novel I was working on and thought, ‘I’ll spend a day and see what it’s like just to try it out.’ And I immediately fell in love with it. It was like falling into a hole of joy.”
On how writing is a family project: (When he started penning the books), “I thought I’m going to write this for Camille and Genevieve (now 14) and Elizabeth (5). I’d write a chapter and read it to them, and they’d tell me what they liked and what wasn’t realistic. They’d say, ‘Serafina wouldn’t go down that dark corridor, she’d run the other way.’ Now we’ve built the rapport where we create the stories together.”
On whether “Serafina” will make it to the big screen: “We’ve had quite a bit of interest from producers. There’s a lot of people watching to see what happens with book two. I own the movie rights. The book is published by Disney-Hyperion, so Disney Studios has first right of refusal. But other producers are waiting in the wings to see if Disney gives it a pass... I loved producing the (online) book trailers.” (Beatty used an Asheville-based production company to craft elaborate video trailers for books 1 and 2; you can watch them at robert-beatty.com/serafina-book-trailer. The trailer for the first book has gotten more than 5 million views, he says.)
On a message he hopes children will glean from the book: “Kids are making decisions – or should be making decisions – about their lives, even when they’re 12 years old. I’m not saying they’re adults and should be making all their own decisions, but I’m saying that their life has started and what they learn about and pursue as hobbies and interests and friends are critically important. I don’t want to see kids that just say, ‘I’m just a little kid so I have to wait until I grow up to be a doctor or an astronaut or whatever.’ I want them in their mind to be exploring and studying. Be an astronaut now. Go after it. I love this idea of little kids choosing their own destiny.”
On getting to go behind the scenes at the Biltmore Estate to do research for the books: “After the success of the first book I was approached by the descendants of the Vanderbilts (who built Biltmore) and have become friends with them, and they provide me access to the house and have shown me a lot of fantastic things: tunnels underneath the house and up in the attic and all sorts of awesome rooms and places in the house, much of which I’ve put into book two. Book one is very accurate, from what I observed on various tours.”