As a former tech entrepreneur turned award-winning author, Robert Beatty’s resume is definitely one for the books, literally! After retiring from a successful career in the cloud computing industry, Robert decided to pursue his lifelong goal of improving his writing craft and began working at Narrative magazine where he helped redesign the publication’s website, set up its database-driven publication management system, formed the company’s programming team and eventually became the magazine’s chief technology officer. In 2013, Robert retired from the magazine to focus more on his writing. Inspired by his new “home” of Asheville, N.C. – where he relocated to from Michigan just 10 years prior – Robert decided to transcribe his passion for the Blue Ridge Mountains by creating a story about a young girl living in the basement of Asheville’s famous Biltmore Estate. Launched in July 2015, Robert’s first book, “Serafina and the Black Cloak,” hit the Western North Carolina community – and nation – by storm. The Disney Hyperion novel was placed on the New York Times Best Seller list the first week of its launch and remained there for 20 weeks. Robert’s second book, “Serafina and the Twisted Staff,” is set to hit shelves in July 2016, and the natural wonders and history of Western North Carolina will continue to take shape in this highly-anticipated sequel.
Recently, I had a chance to connect with Robert and learn more about his books, his inspirations and some of the sequel’s new characters, including Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture.
1.) Both Serafina and the Black Cloak and Serafina and the Twisted Staff have a strong focus on nature. What led you to this? Do you feel that incorporating the natural world into fictional stories has any influence on your readers?
I love forests, mountains, rivers, and birds and other wildlife, so I’ve included all these things in my novels. This is the world Serafina lives in. Forest conservation is one of the things I feel most passionate about. I’ve been a birdwatcher all my life. And, I’m also a state licensed wildlife rehabilitator. My main goal in writing the Serafina series is to create an engaging story that people will enjoy, but I’ve also tried to infuse it with a reverence for nature to remind people, especially children, what a rare and beautiful place we live in here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
2.) Why did you decide to base the books in Western North Carolina?
Because I live here and I love it here. Although I have lived other places in my life, this is my true home and there is nowhere on earth I would rather be.
3.) There are a lot of historical references included in the new book, including Frederick Law Olmsted. What made you decide to incorporate history into a fictional book?
Frederick Law Olmsted has always been one of my heroes, so I thought it would be fun to have him be one of the main historical characters in my novel, along with George and Edith Vanderbilt, the housekeeper Mrs. King, and others. I loved the idea of Serafina meeting Mr. Olmsted, hearing his voice, understanding his vision. I thought people, especially children, should be even more aware of Olmsted’s legacy than they already are.
4.) Why did you decide to choose the Arboretum as the location to debut the Serafina and the Twisted Staff book video trailer?
To me, the Arboretum, in addition to being a beautiful location, captures the essence of understanding, enjoying and protecting nature. It seemed a perfect setting. I love all the ways it ties in with the new novel.
5.) Can you share any sneak peeks for the new sequel? What will readers be excited about?
I think readers will be excited about some of the new characters in the story, especially Frederick Law Olmsted, a young girl named Lady Rowena who is visiting the Biltmore Estate from England, and a young maid named Essie from Madison County. I think readers will also enjoy the barn owls, peregrines, red wolves and other animals depicted in the story.
6.) What do you wish readers will walk away with after reading your books?
A sense that the beautiful natural world in which we live here in the Blue Ridge Mountains is filled with a primordial magic.