Writing Tips from Robert Beatty, Bestselling Author of Serafina and the Black Cloak

Recently I had the honor of interviewing local author Robert Beatty to discuss his debut novel, Serafina and the Black Cloak. Myself and my children have enjoyed the novel immensely and I was thrilled when he agreed to give us a glimpse behind the scenes.
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Recently I had the honor of interviewing local author Robert Beatty to discuss his debut novel, Serafina and the Black Cloak. Myself and my children have enjoyed the novel immensely and I was thrilled when he agreed to give us a glimpse behind the scenes.

This guest post is by S.K. Lamont. Lamont, originally from Scotland now resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She uses her longing for her homeland to write exciting adventures in wild Scottish landscapes. She is also passionate about dancing, working in clay and has an unhealthy obsession with tea.

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She lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, five children and her crazy Jack Russell.

Connect with her on Twitter @sk_lamont

Q: Serafina and the Black Cloak is such a unique story. Where did you get your idea for the book?

A: The idea came from my daughters. I wanted to write a story that would engage them and keep them on the edge of their seats. Serafina is an unusual and heroic girl who faces many dangers over the course of the story, as well as the mystery of who she is and where she came from. She possesses many traits that young people, my daughters included, can relate to.

I’ve always loved reading historical stories and stories that let me escape into the past. The setting for the book was inspired by the rugged beauty and mystery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where my family and I live, and the nearby Biltmore Estate, the historic home of George Vanderbilt built in the late 1800s.

Q: Serafina and the Black Cloak definitely has some very interesting and fun dialogue. I loved reading it out loud with my children at bedtime. Knowing that the book is set in the late 1800s, how did you acquaint yourself with the language of the time?

A: The book is filled with dialect, idioms and words that were common to the era and the Southern Appalachia region that is the book’s setting -- rich and colorful words like “haint,” “catamount” and “pudden-headed.” The authenticity of the language is very important to me, and to make sure I’m getting it right, I do quite a bit of research and I consult with linguists, historians and folklorists familiar with Southern Appalachia and the North Carolina mountains toward the end of the 19th century. Having said that, I also use my imagination and artistic license where I need to for the sake of the story.

For me, there’s an oral storytelling element to writing a novel. When I write, I often speak out loud and type at the same time, as if I’m telling the story to someone. The result is that my words, sentences and cadence are all chosen not only for their meaning, but for the way they sound when spoken out loud.

Q: The Biltmore Estate is a wonderful setting. Living in Asheville and having visited Biltmore House with my family, it all felt very real. What kind of research did you do for accuracy?

A: I live very close to Biltmore Estate and visit it often with my family and on my own. It is a beautiful and fascinating place filled with history and a sense of mystery. I researched the house and the time period extensively, read everything I could about Biltmore and the Vanderbilt family, and had Biltmore curators verify the accuracy of many of the details. Even though the story has fantasy elements, it was very important to me to set the book in a real place and time.

Q: Your characters are rich and detailed, are they influenced by anyone in real life, especially Serafina, and did you see yourself in any of your characters?

A: My middle daughter, Genevieve, is the inspiration for the Serafina character. When she was a little younger, between the ages of 9 and 11, she used to like to sneak around the house without being seen. She always tried to sneak up on me when I was working in my office. She also loved hidden doors and secret passages.

I put parts of myself and my fantasies into all my characters, including Serafina and Braeden. I also feel a special kinship to Mr. George Vanderbilt because of his love for books. On other days I feel like Serafina’s pa working in his workshop, a bit gruff of spirit, but always protective of his daughter (or in my case daughters).

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Q: I know that this is your first published novel, but have read that you have been writing stories since you were 11 years old. When you were in the midst of Serafina and the Black Cloak, did you have any doubts as a writer about its possible success?

A: Like my mother, I was an avid reader. When I was 11, she gave me a typewriter to tinker with, and I’ve been writing ever since. There were many unpublished manuscripts and struggles along the way, but I never gave up on writing because I loved writing. In particular, I loved telling stories. As I was writing through all those years, my main goal was to keep improving my craft, keep learning how to tell a story a little bit better. Based on the feedback I was getting from my circle of readers, I sensed that my skills were improving bit by bit, and that was the most important thing to me. As my family and I were working together on Serafina and the Black Cloak, I was really hoping that it might be my breakthrough novel, but I was by no means certain.

Q: Knowing now that Serafina is going to be part of a multi-book series, did you have your series planned out in advance or did the idea for further adventures come after the success of Serafina and the Black Cloak?

A: Yes, when I first wrote Serafina and the Black Cloak, I intended it to be the first book of a series. I did not outline all the details of the future books, but I had envisioned the general arc of how Serafina and her story would evolve.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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