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Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Author Lora Senf discusses how one chilling text message led her to writing her new middle grade horror novel, The Clackity.

Lora Senf is a writer of dark and twisty stories for all ages. She credits her love of words to her parents and to the public library that was walking distance from her childhood home. Lora finds inspiration for her writing in her children’s retellings of their dreams, on road trips through Montana, and most recently in an abandoned abattoir.

She is a member of SCBWI, Horror Writers Association, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She lives in Washington State with her husband, their twins, and two remarkably lazy cats. The Clackity is her first novel. Visit her at lorasenf.com, and find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Lora Senf

In this post, Lora discusses how one chilling text message led her to writing her new middle grade horror novel, The Clackity, the kind of child she’s writing for, and more!

Name: Lora Senf
Literary agent: Ali Herring (Spencerhill Associates)
Book title: The Clackity
Publisher: Atheneum/Simon & Schuster
Release date: June 28, 2022
Genre/category: Middle Grade Horror
Future titles: The Nighthouse Keeper and The Loneliest Place, books 2 and 3 of the Blight Harbor Novels, coming fall 2023 and fall 2024
Elevator pitch for the book: Nearly-13-year-old Evie Von Rathe has one family member left, and her aunt has just been stolen by the ghost of a serial killer, aided by The Clackity, a creature that lives in an abandoned slaughterhouse. Evie and The Clackity strike a deal: She has one day to get through an impossible neighborhood to save her aunt and overcome her anxiety in the process.

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

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What prompted you to write this book?

The Clackity started as a random text from my sister that just said, “Haunts from Heloise.” Those three words left me gleefully envisioning a sort of otherworldly Dear Abby who would solve paranormal problems in outlandish ways and who had a column in a small-town newspaper. Not long after, I was on a road trip with my family and we stopped in my husband’s hometown of Butte, Montana. There was a building he just had to show me. It turned out to be a rather cool (and most certainly haunted) abandoned abattoir, and it was love at first sight. By the time I finished trespassing and got back in the car, a story was coming together. But it needed a hero.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been deeply anxious. I know now what anxiety is and how to deal with it, but growing up in the ‘80s no one talked about anxiety, so I was just a weird kid. I thought I was broken. On the outside I was brave, and willing to do stupid things to prove it. But truth was, I was afraid of everything except scary books and movies and TV. Those were the places I practiced being brave. I wrote Evie, the main character of The Clackity for scared but brave kids (and those of us who used to be those kids) who should get to see themselves as heroes.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

My agent, Ali Herring, signed me in 2019 for a truly weird manuscript that is now sitting in the proverbial trunk waiting for me to get back to it. Ali was working on edits for that one when I said, “Wait! I think I have something here.” I sent her an early draft of The Clackity and before I knew it, we were both committed to seeing Evie’s story become a real book. We went on submission in early 2020 and, fortunately, we found a wonderful editor, Julia McCarthy, who saw what we saw in The Clackity. The book will be published June 28 of this year so, all told, it was about three and a half years from idea to publication. In that time, the book hasn’t substantially changed. It is cleaner and brighter, and Julia helped me bring emotion to the fore, but the story is the same.

The best moment to date might have been when I saw my cover for the first time. I’m so, so grateful to have worked with the incredibly talented Alfredo Cáceres. He’s a brilliant artist and his cover art and interior illustrations for The Clackity perfectly capture the heart and darkness and whimsy of the story. Proof it was meant to be: Alfredo illustrated covers for a number of Spanish editions of books by John Bellairs, and John Bellairs was my first favorite author when I was a kid. It really felt like coming full circle.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I’ve been reading voraciously (perhaps obsessively?) about the publishing process since I began writing in earnest. If there’s an upside to all that obsessing, it’s that there have been relatively few surprises. But I’ve certainly learned a lot. One of the most important things I’ve learned is how many people truly and meaningfully contribute to a book and its success. The number of talented people who have offered their time and effort and gifts to The Clackity is humbling. Editors, artists, graphic designers, publicists, reviewers, booksellers, librarians … the list is incredible.

And patience. I’ve learned a lot about patience.

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

The biggest surprise while writing The Clackity is that my best work comes when I write from my heart and not my head. That sounds trite, I know, but it’s true. This book is my love letter to stories, and to readers who love stories as much as I do. When you write from that place, the work becomes a joy.

Another surprise came when I realized how much I’d been holding back in my writing. I suppose I was thinking too much about “the market” and not enough about the kind of stories I really wanted to tell. That led to me trusting my instincts and trusting the story to help guide me—I let The Clackity get as strange and surreal as it wanted to. I was able to do that because I trust readers, particularly kids.

Children are smarter than us and better than us and they don’t need adults to talk—or write—down to them. Kids handle scary and surreal better than most grownups, and they are wonderfully open to the possibility that magic is real. Taken together, this makes them the best possible audience to write for.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Sometimes a monster is just a monster, and a story is just a story. For readers who aren’t interested in subtext, I hope they are able to take The Clackity at face value and enjoy it for the spooky adventure it is.

For readers looking for more, they’ll find a lot there about what it means to live, and thrive, with mental health issues. There’s also plenty about bravery and friendship and family and trusting ourselves to do more than we believe possible. I spent a lot of time on the question, How far are we willing to go for the people we love? All of this was done with middle grade readers in mind; that said, I believe middle grade is truly the one age category that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

I have a love-hate relationship with writing advice. There is more well-intentioned advice for authors out there out there than there are authors. Some of it’s good, some is garbage, and it’s almost all subjective. There’s no one right way to do this writing thing and so much of the traditional publishing process is entirely outside the author’s purview. The best advice I can give anyone is to write your story, your way, in your time. That’s really all a writer can control.

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