Asheville-based author Robert Beatty wrote his first novel as an 11-year old. He’s been pursuing literature, in some form, ever since.
Sure, he’s delved into other things, like founding his own internet software company, starting a family and rehabilitating wild animals. But through it all, he never stopped writing, even as rejection letters from publishers poured in by the hundreds.
“I almost lost hope many times,” he said. “But the one thing that kept me going was that each book I completed was better than the last. I felt that, if I lived long enough, I’d develop my skills and be able to publish a book someday.”
Beatty’s resilience is the literary world’s gain.
His breakthrough as an author came in 2015 with “Serafina and the Black Cloak,” the debut novel in the “Serafina” series, which became a New York Times bestseller. The fourth book, “Serafina and the Seven Stars,” will be released July 9. A pre-release launch party will be held at the Asheville Mall Barnes & Noble July 7, complete with a portable planetarium, living statues, roving magicians and more.
The Serafina series has raked in the honors since its genesis. It won the Southern Book Prize in 2016, and was included on Barnes & Noble’s Best Books for Young Readers list (2016) and Amazon’s Best Books list (2017).
“Some people have described it as Stephen King meets Downton Abbey,” Beatty said. “There’s a blend of history and mystery, as well as an element of magic.”
The intriguing part about Beatty’s nascent success as a young adult author is that, for many years, he had no interest in writing literature for adolescents. Indeed, his previous unpublished works are geared toward adults. But as he recalled, his three young daughters were “literally pounding on the door and asking me to write something they’d like.”
In a true act of familial communion, he incorporated (and still incorporates) his girls in the writing process. He reads chapters out loud to them, inviting their feedback. From time-to-time, the family also strolls through the Biltmore Estate — where the Serafina books are set — brainstorming fresh scenes and plot ideas.
“They’re my built in focus group and writing collaborators,” he said of his girls.
The series, which follows the adventures of Serafina, an “unusual girl who lives secretly in the basement of the grand Biltmore Estate,” according to Beatty’s website, has a cross-generational appeal. He’s met daughters, mothers and grandmothers who read his books together.
Kids, particularly girls, are perhaps drawn to the Serafina books for its magical elements and strong, young female protagonist. Adults, meanwhile, can appreciate the local setting and the dramatic narrative. But there’s much overlap between which aspects each generation finds appealing, Beatty said.
“We like to say it’s for everybody from 8 to 108,” he added.
Beatty can’t say for sure where the series will go from here. The first three books are a trilogy, of sorts, with a distinct narrative arc. The fourth book stands alone, but also leaves the door open for future installments.
Said Beatty: “There’s no cliffhanger [in the fourth book], but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the last one.”
It’s been a long — and ultimately rewarding — journey for Beatty, from unpublished author to renowned literary figure. That mountain of rejection letters built character, he said, and taught him a valuable lesson: just keep working.
“Writing is a skill set,” he said. “It’s similar to being a mechanic or a software programmer. Do it everyday, and you’ll get better over time.”