Robert Beatty shares what goes through his mind when creating characters for his books

Robert Beatty is the author of Willa Of Dark Hollow. He is also the author of the #1 New York Times best-selling Serafina Series. Robert lives in Asheville, North Carolina with his wife and three daughters. Willa Of Dark Hollow follows Willa and her clan and has history, mystery, and magic. It explores family and friendship and has a strong heroine at the center. YEM was able to speak with Robert about what inspired him to write Willa of Dark Hollow, his typical writing day, and who he goes to for feedback on his work.

Young Entertainment Mag: What made you want to become a writer?

Robert Beatty: I have always loved stories, whether they were books or movies or told by my father around a campfire. One day, when I was 11, I ran out of books to read in the house. My mom suggested I “play with” the IBM Selectric typewriter in the closet. I pulled it out, plugged it in, loaded a blank piece of paper, and typed CHAPTER 1. I’ve been writing novels ever since. 

I’ve pursued many other things in my life (became a software programmer and mechanical engineer, worked in a manufacturing plant, was the founder and CEO of an Internet software company, co-founded a robotics company with my daughters, etc.), but writing novels has always been the thing I most love to do.

YEM: What inspired you to write WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW?

Robert: I wrote WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW and my other books for my three daughters. When I set out, my goal was to write a story about a strange and unusual young girl who has a heroic heart. Both of my characters, Willa and Serafina, have those characteristics, although they are very different in other ways. My goal was to show girls in action, facing dangers and challenges, making decisions, choosing their own course, and fighting for what was right. 

Within that context, WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW in particular was inspired by my love for wild animals, mysterious forests, and the awesome interconnectedness of life. DARK HOLLOW is a story about seeing the invisible magic in the world and taking a stand to protect it. It’s also a story of friendship, family, and sisterhood, in whatever form and color those bonds might take.

YEM: What do you hope that people learn from reading your books?

Robert: Primarily, I want my readers to be pulled into the story and have fun reading it, to care for and root for the main character. The story is all. But to answer your question about what readers might learn along the way, I hope that the book makes them feel and see the amazingness of the world around them and what the human spirit can do.

YEM: Who are some authors who have inspired you?

Robert: Among today’s writers/creators, there are two in particular who showed me that it’s kind of cool that your characters and stories can be a bit weird and even frightening, and that there could be beauty in that darkness: Neil Gaiman (Graveyard Book, Neverwhere, etc.) and Guillermo del Toro (Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth).

When I was young, I loved reading medieval fantasies like J.R.R. Tolkien and T.H. White (The Once and Future King, The Book of Merlin, Sword in the Stone, etc.). I also loved Rudyard Kipling (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi), Jack London (White Fang, The Call of the Wild), and many others.

As I became an adult, I started reading and studying Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and other classics. 

YEM: How long does the writing process take for you?

Robert: It takes me about a year to write a novel, writing nearly every day, many hours a day, which is how I like to do it.

YEM: What is something you have learned from writing previous books that you are always mindful of now?

Oh my gosh! So much. Writing did not come naturally and quickly to me. I wrote and wrote and wrote, trying to improve my storytelling ability every time I wrote a new novel. I wrote many bad novels (that will never be published) before being able to write a novel that was publishable. I’ve been writing for many decades, so I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I try to remember what I’ve learned each time I start a new story. I would say one of the most important things I’ve learned, for my style of writing, is to stay close to the character’s point of view. If I don’t remember this, I tend to take on a more arms-length, objective, informative, descriptive style, rather than one that follows the mind and action from within the main character.

YEM: What are some of your favorite books?

Robert: In addition to the books I’ve mentioned above, I love The Man Who Planted Trees, by the French writer Jean Giono. I’m also a major devotee of certain parts of A Farewell To Arms. Some of that book is not to my liking, but there are a few scenes/lines in A Farewell To Arms that transported me into a different world for a few moments. When I read those lines, I thought, This is how I want to write, this is the kind of experience I want to give to the reader, to plunge their mind into the world of the story.

YEM: What goes through your mind when you are creating characters for your books?

Robert: First and foremost, I have to create a character that I think is really cool and that I fall in love with. Otherwise, I just can’t find the energy to work on the book and complete it.

YEM: Can you describe a typical writing day?

Robert: It’s difficult to write when I’m tired, so I sleep in as long as I can in the morning, then stumble out of bed and start writing right away before the troubles of the real world creep into my mind and pull me out of the world of the book. I write all day and into the night. I take breaks to talk with and go on walks with my wife and daughters, and we always eat dinner together no matter what. Sometimes I take breaks to work on other author-related stuff, like working on the graphic novel of one of my previous books or reviewing the script for the upcoming Willa of the Wood / Willa of Dark Hollow life-action television series. I usually work late into the night, stopping typically at about 9 or 10 p.m., but if I’m still going strong, I’ll write until to 2 a.m. It’s important for me to become obsessed with the book I’m working on, otherwise I will never finish it.

YEM: Is there anyone you go to for feedback on your work while you are writing?

Robert: My first readers are my three daughters and my wife. They are critical to my writing process. They help me develop story ideas and character ideas. They listen to and help me refine my plots. They read my chapters and provide detailed feedback at every step. I think it is fair to say, without the advice and inspiration from my wife and daughters, I would never have become a published author.

My second batch of feedback comes from a group of independent professional editors that I use as beta readers. I’ve been working with them, getting their feedback, and learning from them for years. 

Once I think the book is the best I can make it, I give it to my editor at Disney. She then provides a whole new level of feedback and recommendations that I implement in order to improve the story. 

As the writer, I’m the one who has to come up with the story, write the sentences, solve the story’s problems, and make the story the best it can be. But I get a lot of thoughts and feedback along the way.

YEM: How does it make you feel to know so many people read your books?

Robert: It is truly a dream come true. It took me many, many years of practice and rejections to get to the point where I could write stories that a lot of people enjoy and want to read. So, I am an author who is highly, highly appreciative of each and every one of his fans. I truly love my readers. They are my lifeblood. 

YEM: What is the key theme and message in your book?

Robert: One of the key themes in Willa of Dark Hollow is that the decisions you make in your life lead to consequences for you, the people around you, and the world. Even though the world can seem so large and indifferent, the individual decisions you make are important. Don’t feel powerless or apathetic. Don’t just float along. Don’t just wait for things to happen to you. Take action. See the magic in the world around you, decide what’s right, figure out what you want to do, and follow the path of your heart.

Find Robert Beatty’s Willa of Dark Hollow online and in book stores