Jaycie Middleton clutched her mint edition of Serafina and the Splintered Heart and lost herself in its pages as she inched closer to the signing table where the legendary author Robert Beatty was closing in on his 1000th autographed copy of the day.
“I’ve read both the first and second book, and I am actually reading the third book right now,” said Middleton, an Asheville fifth-grader, pausing only briefly between pages.
More than 3,500 flocked to the book launch event for the third and latest installment of the wildly-popular Serafina series held at Barnes & Noble at the Asheville Mall Sunday.
Author Robert Beatty, who lives in the Biltmore area, has catapulted to the national bestseller list with his mystrey-thriller series set at the Biltmore Estate in the late 1800s. He has churned out the Serafina series with just a year between each book: the first came out in summer of 2015, the sequel in the summer of 2016, and now the third in the summer of 2017.
The large crowds and long lines snaking through the two-story Barnes & Noble last weekend could have devolved into chaos if not for the savvy planning that went into the well-orchestrated event, with a series of check points designed to keep the masses moving.
The first stop was the arm-band line, a pre-requisite for anyone angling for Beatty’s autograph, then onward to the book buying line to scoop up a copy — or two or three or four — of the just-released book. It was then a waiting game until your arm-band number was up (think deli counter on steroids).
A pilgrimage to meet the acclaimed author was an all-day outing for Tabby Cable. She kept her 8- and 10-year-old daughters in the dark until they hit the road bright and early Sunday morning to make the drive over the mountain from Johnson City, Tennessee.
“It was a surprise for them,” Cable said.
They lined up outside the door an hour before the bookstore opened, and two hours before the event officially started. But their fortitude paid off.
With their early-issue wrist bands, they landed one of the first spots in the autograph line. Cable had wisely convinced her husband to come along. He came in handy as a dutiful place-holder in the many lines of the day.
There was a line for photo-ops with characters from the book trailer. There was a line to see lives wolves and birds of prey, plus a line for a tea party and a line for a book reading.
After finally arriving at the home stretch in the coveted book signing line, there was still another 30 minutes of waiting to go. Spirits remained undampend, however.
“It’s just a great thing to be able to meet the author that wrote these great books that I absolutely love,” said Makayla Truett, a 7th-grader from Rutherford County.
Camaraderie among fellow Serafina fans during the event was half the fun. Line neighbors swapped stories about how they became a groupie, surmised what might become of characters in the latest installment, and subtly tested each other with Serafina and Biltmore trivia.
Many bided their time by plowing into their new purchase of highly-anticipated third installment. The second Serafina book ended with a cliff-hanger that had been taunting and tormenting fans for a year now. Eager readers dove right in, including Debbie Waugh of Asheville, who holed up in a corner of the store to get a head start on the book during the wait, hoping to plow through it quickly so she could pass it along to her mom.
“My mother is 74 years old and she has to read all these after I’m done. She had never been to the Biltmore House, and I took her after she read the first book, and she was just totally amazed,” said Waugh, a teacher Valley Springs Middle School.
Amy Surrett, a stay-at-home mom in Leicester, just got an annual Biltmore pass in honor of the Serafina series. Her plan this week: go to Biltmore with her daughter and their new books, find a comfy spot in the gardens, and read in situ.
Surrett worked at the Biltmore Estate in college, and she remembers getting lost on her way out of the 250-room mansion one night after closing time. She came off the servant’s stairwell onto the wrong floor and couldn’t figure out where she was.
“Thank God the security guys were sweeping the house to make sure no one was in there before closing and they found me,” Surrett said. “They said it happens to new staff all the time.
The series’ setting at the Biltmore Estate was the hook that got Cecelia Miller, a grandmother from Swannanoa, to read the first Serafina book, but she has now gotten a signed copies of all three. She, too, is a pass holder.
“I have been threatening to give guided tours because I go over there so much. I got the first book because it was set at Biltmore, but I now I’m hooked,” Miller said.
The Serafina series is a go-to favorite of Nikki Collin, who teaches English at Rutherford-Spindale Middle School.
“Serafina is a good book to push with my reluctant readers because it is set right in our backyard with the Biltmore House,” Collin said.
To Collin, it was well-worth the time investment to score signed copies by the legendary Beatty.
“My students love to see a signed book in the classroom. They love thinking their teacher has met the author. Plus, we love book swag,” Collin said, holding up her Serafina freebies of a bookmark, sticker and button.
Another perk of the launch event was free scoops of The Hop’s signature Serafina Dark Forest ice cream, a flavor developed in collaboration with author Robert Beatty. It’s purportedly Serafina’s favorite ice cream flavor.
“Obviously he knows her mental state very, very well and knows her tastes very, very well and felt like he knew what she would really, really love,” said Gretchen Ledford, the general manager of The Hop local ice cream brand.
The magic of the series came to life during the signing event with costumed characters from the book trailers — including Beatty’s own daughters Genevieve, who plays Serafina, and Camille, who plays Lady Rowena.
“I loved filming the book trailer. I got to ride my horse and hold falcons, and that was so much fun. It was honestly the coolest thing,” said Camille.
As a handler navigated Camille through the crowds, she reflected on the fame her father has landed in.
“It is an odd feeling because when I wake up in the morning it is not like there’s the paparazzi or anything,” she said. “So I don’t feel famous.”
But for this day anyway, the throngs of eager young readers waiting hours for her autograph proved otherwise.
Want to go? (BOX)
What: Book signing event for Serafina and the Splintered Heart, the highly-anticipated third installment of the Serafina series. Author presentation, costumed characters from the book trailers, free food, book signing, face painters, magician, caricature artist and more.
When: 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 8
Where: Barnes & Noble in Biltmore Park
Who: Author Robert Beatty, a Biltmore local, whose best-selling series is set at the Biltmore Estate during the 1890s, with a thrilling and suspenseful plot that mixes history, mystery, and magic.