Fletcher Tech Exec Brings Disney Magic to the Mountains

With his young-adult fantasy novel Serafina and the Black Cloak, published by Disney Hyperion, robotics expert Robert Beatty scored a superhuman triumph.

With his young-adult fantasy novel Serafina and the Black Cloak, published by Disney Hyperion, robotics expert Robert Beatty scored a superhuman triumph.

Watch out, Elsa of Frozen: Disney has a new heroine. Serafina is a bold girl who lives in the basement of the Biltmore Estate. She catches a glimpse of a furtive man in a black cloak and risks everything to unravel his mystery.

Serafina and the Black Cloak will be published by Disney Hyperion this month. The fantasy novel is the brainchild of robotics engineer Robert Beatty of Fletcher, who spun the tale with the help of his two older daughters, Genevieve and Camille, and their collective imaginations.

Each night, Beatty and his family would unravel Serafina’s story over dinner. He would furiously record her adventures the next morning until his daughters demanded to see the new pages after school.

“It was like having my own little personal focus group right there,” says Beatty with a chuckle.

The collaborative process staved off procrastination, Beatty explains. It also helped him prepare for the story’s biggest test — finding a publisher in the enormously competitive young-adult (“YA”) market.

A top-tier entrepreneur who founded and led Plex Systems — a tech company involved in aerospace and defense — Beatty went to a pitch session in New York, along with 1,000 aspiring writers. (Always interested in fiction, the engineer, when not helping to pioneer cloud computing, sat on the board of Narrative Magazine.)

Only 20 agents were present at the meeting, all of them searching for the next YA bestseller. Beatty beat the odds and found one who connected him with several publishers, including Disney Hyperion — which put out the blockbuster books Frozen and Maleficent.

Will Serafina be the next Disney princess? An animated feature is unlikely, says Beatty, but he hints at a possible live-action movie. Meanwhile, his daughter Genevieve enjoyed a taste of stardom when she acted in the book’s elaborate trailer, filmed at the Biltmore this spring.

Something like music videos for songs, book trailers — usually under three minutes long — are a trendy way to market YA stories. Serafina was produced by local studio Bonesteel Films. It was a family affair on the grandest scale, complete with stunning gowns made by Beatty’s wife and a cameo from the family dog.

Beatty’s daughters have pushed his creative boundaries for years. Together they make up Beatty Robotics, a homegrown company that was inspired by his oldest daughter’s desire to tear apart electronics to see how they work.
“She kept bringing me things taken apart and I said, ‘You know, maybe we should try building something instead.’”

Beatty’s middle-school-aged daughters — who do everything from soldering to machining — went on to craft a functional replica of the Mars Rover for the New York Hall of Science. The family was invited to the White House last year, where President Obama cited them as an example of the American entrepreneurial spirit.

Whether it’s a robotics collaboration or a Disney book, Beatty says the best way to get kids involved is to encourage them to drive the creativity process.
“Let them lead the effort,” Beatty says. “That’s the key to keeping them engaged.”

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