I love that your book is set at the Biltmore Estate, which is a place that really exists. Did the idea for the novel grow out of your explorations of the Estate or did it simply end up being the perfect setting?
Thank you. The novel definitely grew out of my personal explorations of Biltmore Estate. My daughters and wife and I have been going to Biltmore for many years. We love it there. Every time I go, my imagination runs wild envisioning the people who might have lived there and all the mysteries, both dark and bright, they might have encountered. Serafina grew out of my desire to give my daughters a story about a very unusual, but very heroic, girl who lives at Biltmore.
Tell a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning?
Normally, when I set out to write a novel, I take a few weeks or months to envision all the main characters, setting, plot, conflict, and final resolution in my head before I start writing. On Serafina and the Black Cloak, I went to bed one night, had an idea, dreamed about it, tossed and turned, scratched notes on a pad of paper beside my bed, dreamed some more, and tumbled through the night experiencing an intense creative epiphany. When I woke up, I had the entire story in my head—the Serafina character and unusual identity, the setting, the villain, the Black Cloak and what it does, the historical and fantasy elements, the tone and feeling of it. The entire story felt like it was glowing in my head. I ran to my computer and typed as fast as I could for the next four days and wrote a rough draft sketch of the book. I then spent a year fleshing it out, refining it, working with my wife and daughters to improve the story and character, writing and rewriting, tweaking and tuning, to bring it to a completed state.What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author?
I started writing novels when I was 11 and I’ve been passionate about writing them ever since. Each time I write a novel, I study what I did right and what I did wrong and try to make the next one far better than the previous. I wrote for many years before eventually writing Serafina and the Black Cloak, which became my first published novel.Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing or provided inspiration?
When I was 11, I also started programming. I’ve always loved computers, technology, and engineering. One of my first jobs, when I was 15, I was a mechanical draftsman on a drafting board in the engineering department of a factory. I eventually earned a degree in engineering and computer aided design (along with studying literature at the same time). After leaving university, I entered the corporate world and then went on to form my own company. I was the founder, CEO, and chief architect of an Internet software company (www.plex.com) that was one of the pioneers of cloud computing. I’ve been a tech entrepreneur for many years, and totally loved it, but deep down, writing has always been my passion, the thing I most wanted to do with my life.
It has sort of been the other way around. I love stories about strong, heroic characters, leaders, fighters, people who were brave enough to do things differently. When I worked in the business world, I often found myself privately and unconsciously doing what I thought the heroic main character of a book would do. For example, when I was the CEO of my company, I always tried to work hard, and to be fair and honorable and good, and treat people with respect. I think a lot of this came from the fact that I saw myself as the main character of my own story, and I wanted to be worthy of that story.If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?
This is a great question! I love words with a deep passion. In fact, when I developed the Teacher’s Guide for Serafina and the Black Cloak I created a Vocabulary supplement, which provides vocabulary lists, definitions, and quizzes for some of the more interesting words in the book. http://robert-beatty.com/education/My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Name a notable book that provided you with a hiding spot.
Serafina and the Black Cloak is a Southern book, so its full of colorful Southern words and phrases, including many words that I love, like “catawampus" (crooked) and “haint" (ghost). In Serafina, I also loved using short, powerful verbs like rend, wrest, and staunch. And who doesn’t love “beset” and “asunder”?
Here’s a secret: One of my favorite things about Serafina and the Black Cloak is that the Serafina character is associated with a particular thing (which I won’t spoil here), but I never use the name of that thing to describe her. The story provides many clues about Serafina’s identity, who and what she is, but never uses that word explicitly even though it is an extremely common word. I wanted each reader to draw his or her own conclusion in his or her own time, even as you would if you met Serafina in real life, and even as you would if you were Serafina herself. For some people, especially kids, the word pops into their head within a page or two. Kids normally “get it” very quickly. It’s really quite obvious. But for others, especially adults, it often takes a chapter or two, or even much longer, and that’s OK, too. But I never use the word itself in association with Serafina. I love words. But my feeling is that sometimes it’s much more powerful to let the reader see and experience and comprehend something on their own, rather than just telling the reader outright.
When I was a kid, I often hid in the pages of The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which was the story of Merlin and King Arthur, and of course I loved The Hobbit and other fantasy stories.What can readers look forward to next?
Serafina and the Black Cloak is a complete book and can stand on its own. But hopefully, if this first book does well, I’ll have the opportunity to share much more of her story.
About the Author
Robert Beatty lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina with his wife and three daughters, who help create and refine his stories. He loves to explore the grand Biltmore Estate and the darkened forest trails where his novels take place. Robert’s Disney Hyperion novel Serafina and the Black Cloak will go on sale July 14, 2015. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives, Robert was one of the early pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the chairman/CTO of Narrative Magazine. In 2007, he was named an Entrepreneur of the Year. Answering a question about the inspiration for his book, Robert said, “Serafina’s journey grew out of my desire to write a story about an unusual and heroic young girl for my three daughters.” Robert can be found on twitter @BeattyAuthor and online at http://robert-beatty.com/.
1 Winner. Open to US addresses only. Ends July 30, 2015.