Serafina and the Black Cloak author coming to Greensboro

by Jeff Sykes | @jeffreysykes

It took Robert Beatty more than 30 years to become an overnight success, but he’s made the most of it since the release of his debut novel last month. Beatty released a children’s mystery-thriller, “Serafina and the Black Cloak”, on July 14. The book has since been a New York Times bestseller and currently ranks as the top selling book in its genre on Amazon.

Beatty has lived in Asheville with his wife and three daughters for about a decade. The family fell in love with the mountain surroundings, and Biltmore Estate in particular, and Beatty felt the former Vanderbilt home would make the perfect setting for a children’s mystery.

Betty will appear at a special booksigning event from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday at Barnes & Noble at Friendly Center in Greensboro. The event will include a question and answer time with the author, and free food and drink.

“Serafina and the Black Cloak” tells the story of an intriguing 12-year-old girl who lives secretly in the basement of the Biltmore mansion in the 1890s. Beatty said the idea grew out of his love of writing stories for his daughters. Although written for middle grade students, Serafina’s mix of historical fiction, fantasy and mystery makes it popular with adult readers as well.

Biltmore House and its opulent furnishings, as well as the gardens and grounds of the estate, play a big role in the book. Because the story takes place in 1899, Beatty researched the early history of the house and visited the estate more than 50 times to ensure he was depicting accurately the 250-room chateau and its period in history.

Beatty said he’s been writing for many years, since he was 10 or 11, and after building a career as a software developer and entrepreneur, life took a turn that allowed him to focus on fiction full-time. His wife faced a battle with cancer while the family still lived in Michigan. Beatty said the news came as a wake-up call to focus more on his family and less on the business, which he eventually sold. Given the luxury of choosing to move anywhere they wanted, the family chose the Asheville area. Beatty’s wife beat back the cancer after undergoing treatments, and now the family serves as a brain trust developing characters and plot twists for Robert’s fiction.

“They would read each chapter as I was writing them. It’s really been a family project since the very beginning,” Beatty said.

Beatty has written more than a dozen books, but Serafina is the first he’s been able to publish. He credits friends, family and mentors with giving him feedback over the years and says that learning how to give his work more immediacy led to the breakthrough.

“I just got better and better as a writer over the years,” Beatty said. “In this particular case, I think one of the keys was I learned how to write closer to the character.”

After years of writing adult fiction, it was prodding by one of his children that gave Beatty the idea to write stories for young teens. Beatty said that one of the daughters would come to his office asking to read what he was working on. He would send her away disappointed, claiming the work was for adults, until one day she dug up an old manuscript he’d stored in the basement. It was a story about a young girl in medieval England who went on to become a night. His daughter said she liked it very much.

“That made me think I might enjoy writing that way, writing for a younger audience,” Beatty said.

Serafina and the Black Cloak“ is the story of a mysterious girl who secretly wanders among the Vanderbilt family in their Biltmore home. She begins to witness strange events involving disappearing children, and eventually has to decide whether to help the family or not. Beatty said he got the idea from his oldest daughter, who used to sneak up on him in his office, or hide under his desk to surprise him.

“I noticed that young people, when they reach a certain age, they like the idea of sneaking around and not being seen. I t hought that would be a neat basis for a character,” he said.

Beatty said he’s been blown away by the reception of the book, with hundreds of people coming to author events since its release. The book won early praise from industry critics, and glowing reviews from readers. Beatty said the “explosion of interest” has helped him secure a deal for two more books, but that’s also required him to scale back appearances in order to get working on the next release.

Beatty said that up until the book’s launch in July he was struggling daily to figure out how to get attention for the work. That’s switched overnight, he said, and now fans and press alike are busy trying to get him on the phone. After almost 40 years of writing, Beatty said the response to his work is rewarding.

“I kept writing and writing and persevering,” Beatty said. “It took literally 30 or 40 years of practice to get to this point. It makes it all the better when the dream finally comes true.” !


The author is holding a special book-signing event from 7 to 9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 14, at Barnes & Noble, Friendly Center, 3102 Northline Ave., Greensboro, NC 27408. The event will include Q&A time with the author, and free food and drink.