Local Author Robert Beatty Pens New Book, ‘Willa of the Wood’

Robert Beatty wrote some of the most important lines of WILLA OF THE WOOD while sitting beside a river in the Great Smoky Mountains, the setting for the new book. / Photo by Camille Beatty

Robert Beatty, author of the Serafina Series of middle school mystery books, has written the first in a new series, “Willa of the Wood.” Published by Disney/Hyperion, it will be released July 8 in Asheville and nationally July 10.

The title character, Willa, is a young orphaned forest girl with magical powers who lives in the Great Smoky Mountains in 1900. She is descended from the ancient Faeran people who spoke a language understood by the forest animals and trees. Over time, as the ancient Faeran people died out, only Willa and her grandmother are left. She is forced to 

speak English and become part of a new Faeran clan controlled by an evil leader called the padaran. Her nights are spent scavenging from the woods and homes of the ‘day-folk,’ to support her clan.

Willa finds herself alone in the “day world,” her name for humans who have come into the mountains.  Her beliefs are challenged, and the foundations that have guarded the Faeran for eons are under attack. Through a series of encounters and unexpected kindness, Willa finds that both the “day folk” and her own people are not what she had been told, setting in motion a quest for a new home and a sense of belonging in a changing world.

“The book is close to my heart because of my love of the forest and natural world, and writing about concepts like prejudice and belonging,” Beatty said. “Willa desperately seeks a society where her love and compassion will be welcome, in her words, ‘looking for a place for my heart to live.’”

Midway through the book, Willa has an encounter with a black panther. At this point in the story, readers of the Serafina series will find the characters of Willa and Serafina intertwined. While the heroines of the books are about the same age, and events take place around the same time, they are very different personalities. Serafina is a fighter, while Willa is very kind and gentle with all living things.

Beatty said that much of the plot and character development of Willa came from hikes in the Smokies with his 18 year old daughter, Camille. “It was very much a father-daughter project.” He described a conversation where Camille spoke about something she was learning in school – the concept of linguistic determinism, or the idea that language can

limit knowledge or thought. Beatty brought the concept into the book in a scene where Willa says there is no single word in the Faeran language for the color green. Instead, the Faeran had a different word for each shade of green in the forest. 

Willa of the Wood has been approved for sale by the National Park Service. Descriptions of the history, geography, and nature in the area near Clingmans Dome are accurate.“Even though the story is fantasy, the foundation of the book is accurate to the point of describing what Willa ate in the forest at a particular time of year and at a specific elevation,” Beatty said. 

Beatty’s first book, Serafina and the Black Cloak, was published in 2015. It is an historical mystery about an unusual girl who lives with her ‘pa’ secretly in the basement of the Biltmo

re House in 1899. “Serafina and the Black Cloak grew out of my love of writing stories about unusual and heroic young girls for my own daughters,” he said.

“Serafina is an historical fantasy thriller filled with mystery and dark magic, but rooted in our experience living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, exploring the nearby Biltmore Estate, walking through old Southern graveyards, and hiking the forest trails.”  The book was a New York Times #1 best seller and also won the 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book prize representing “the best in Southern literature.”

He followed Serafina and the Black Cloak with two more in the series, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, and Serafina and the Splintered Heart. The Serafina series has been taught in over a thousand classrooms nationwide.

Robert Beatty lives in Fletcher with his wife and three daughters, who help create and refine his stories.  He says that his missile daughter, Genevieve, provided some inspiration for the character of Serafina. “She would often appear out of nowhere,” he said.

Beatty is a full-time writer now, but in the past he was one of the early pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and chairman/CTO of Narrative Magazine.  In 2007 he was named an Entrepreneur of the Year.

Outside of writing, Beatty says he enjoys exploring the historic Biltmore Estate and forest trails where his novels take place. He is interested in history, nature, birds, horseback riding, wildlife rehabilitation (he and his family are state-licensed wildlife rehabilitators), science, technology, computers, and books of all kinds.

Come meet Robert Beatty

Two Asheville events are scheduled in July to launch Willa of the Wood. The first will be held Sunday, July 8 at Barnes & Noble-Asheville Mall. It will be the first opportunity to get a copy of the new book. The party is a free, open house-style event with a book signing and a variety of ‘Willa’ themed activities planned throughout the afternoon. No ticket or purchase is necessary to attend. The event will run from noon to 6 p.m.

The second Asheville event will be held on Saturday, July 28, at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café. There will be a book signing and reception from 2-4 p.m.This event and is free and open to the public.