Then children start disappearing. And Serafina sees the horrible spectre of a man in a black cloak, who is taking them away. Though she finds him frightening, being a reasonable person, she is determined to track him down before more children vanish. Her hunt leads her to a spooky old cemetery, where there are supposedly fewer bodies than there should be, and it also leads her to answers about just who she herself is. And it's that story of her own heritage will allow her, with help from the Vanderbilt's orphaned nephew who's become her first friend (and who seems to be the next target), to defeat the man in the black cloak and strip him of the cloak's powers....
So basically this is a mystery/horror story, where the mystery is solved not by sleuthing but by confrontations with evil, and everything is very tidily resolved. The horror elements are creepy, but not overpoweringly the stuff of nightmares, partly because each confrontation has a beginning and an end--there's not an all pervasive sense of horror, though the menace is real and constant. Serafina, so very unusual, but so relatable with her loneliness and her questions about just who she is, is a charming heroine. And the Biltmore estate and the spooky woods around it make a great setting! (Indecently, though this story is set in a huge old house, the house itself is simply the setting, not a key part of the story in its own right. So if you are a fan of stories exploring big old houses, you'll get some of that, but not tons and tons).
Try this one on kids who loved the Goosebumps series, who may be ready for a change of pace. And it's also an obvious one for introspective introverted girls (especially those who like cats!) wondering what their own lives will turn out to be and hoping to find a good friend like Serafina does.
Did you get to do lots of wandering through the secret places of the Biltmore estate in preparation for the book?
Yes. I studied Biltmore Estate extensively, in person, as I was writing Serafina and the Black Cloak. I went through all the different areas of Biltmore House, including all the various rooms and secret places Serafina sneaks through in the book. I studied all the public areas, but I also delved into the deepest reaches of the basement and sub-basement. It’s very cool down there. I’ve also explored the organ loft and other non-public areas she prowls through. The technical and architectural details I describe in the house actually exist, including the secret doors in the Billiard Room, the pipes of the organ loft, the various furniture items and art works, the drying rack machines where Serafina hides, and the electric dynamo generator that her pa is struggling to fix.
Is the mysterious cemetery based on a real place?
Yes. It’s actually based on two real places. First, it’s based on Riverside Cemetery here in Asheville, which is a beautiful old Southern cemetery that’s said to be haunted. Sometimes they give haunted nighttime tours there. It’s the burial place of the great writers O. Henry and Thomas Wolfe. The winged stone angel depicted in the story is a homage to Thomas Wolfe’s angel statue in “Look Homeward Angel” (which is actually in a different nearby cemetery). Thomas Wolfe is one of Asheville's wonderful literary heroes. The haunted cemetery in the book is also based on a small private cemetery on the grounds of Biltmore Estate. At the end of the video book trailer we depicted Serafina’s cemetery using a combination of these locations.
Is the story of the black cloak based on a real legend?
The black cloak itself is from my imagination. But there are other elements of the story that are indeed based on the folklore in this area, especially the element related to Serafina’s ancestry (trying to avoid spoilers here). Around here, the state government insists those creatures do not exist here. But many people here believe they do and sometimes see them. There are many older folk who say these mountains were once filled with them. Part of the inspiration for Serafina and the Black Cloak was this idea that even to this day, officials will say one thing, but the people of the mountains will believe another. I think that’s cool. I’ve always been drawn to the lost creatures of our past.
And finally, will we get to read more about Serafina?Yes, I hope so. There is much more to Serafina’s story.
I hope so too!
If you are intrigued by Serafina's story, please leave a comment (by midnight next Wednesday, the 22nd) to be entered to win this great prize pack including the book, and notebook, and a pen!