Like many, local author Lora Senf's love for writing came from an intense enjoyment of reading in her childhood. Through the words of John Bellairs and Stephen King, Senf found her passion and admiration for a specific genre: horror.
"As early as I realized an author was a thing you could be, I wanted to be one," Senf says.
The Clackity, her new novel for middle-grade readers, takes place in Blight Harbor, the seventh-most haunted town in America, and follows Evie Von Rathe. Evie isn't your regular horror protagonist. She outwardly shows her anxieties and doesn't exactly see herself as the hero of Blight Harbor.
During an upcoming book talk at Auntie's, Senf plans to discuss her creative process, Evie, and the ghosts that inhabit Blight Harbor.
"When I first started imagining Evie, I imagined her as a kid like myself," Senf says. "She's scared, but brave. I wanted her to be an authentic main character that kids could relate to."
After Evie's parents mysteriously disappear, she moves to Blight Harbor to live with her grandmother Desdemona, the local expert on all things spooky and paranormal. Desdemona's recent interest is staked in a local abandoned slaughterhouse, or abattoir, that sits on the edge of town. Then one day, Aunt Des mysteriously disappears, and Evie has a strong hunch of where her missing aunt might be.
Despite Aunt Des' wishes, Evie traverses the slaughterhouse, and it's there that she meets The Clackity, a creature slinking in the shadows who talks exclusively in riddles. Our protagonist and the mysterious Clackity make a deal: Bring back the ghost of infamous serial killer John Jeffrey Pope and Evie can have her aunt back.
The idea for The Clackity started with a text from Senf's sister, an idea for an "otherworldly advice column." The two joked back and forth for a day, but the idea never left Senf's mind.
Senf wrote the novel in between working her day job with Washington state's Employment Securities Department and her duties as a wife and mother of twins. Her heart has always been in writing, and she often finds inspiration through her kids retelling stories from their dreams.
Senf first came up with Aunt Desdemona's character, and the rest followed shortly thereafter. While creating Blight Harbor in her mind, she took inspiration from Ray Bradbury's characterization of small-town America and Stephen King's fictional town, Castle Rock. Senf plans to create more books that take place in Blight Harbor, The Nighthouse Keeper and another, untitled work coming out in fall 2023 and fall 2024, respectively.
"The abattoir is based on a building in Butte, Montana," says Senf. "I saw it, fell in love with it and trespassed immediately. I'm absolutely convinced it's haunted."
"At this time I already had the seeds of The Clackity in my brain, so when I found that building I took that as my cue."
Accompanying Senf's suspenseful writing, The Clackity also features moody illustrations by Chilean artist Alfredo Cáceres. Pages throughout the book are stamped with images of the ghoulish creatures that Evie encounters in the abattoir.
The cover, also illustrated by Cáceres, features a Halloween color scheme of orange and black, and a haunted house, signaling to readers that they're in for a scare.
"When I saw his work, I was so moved by it," says Senf. "It has this eerie whimsy about it that I loved. I also came to find out that he illustrated some of the Spanish editions of John Bellairs' books. It felt right, such a full-circle moment."
For some parents, handing their child a horror book may be daunting, but Senf explains that age-appropriate horror is essential reading material for early readers and that many middle-grade authors would agree that when writing a book, they enter into a contract with the kids and their parents.
"It's basically me saying that I'm going to take them on a scary journey," she says. "But, in the end, it'll be OK. Not perfect, but OK. I promise that to my readers and to their grownups."
With the recent rise of banned book discourse, Senf stresses that the only people who should tell kids what they can and cannot read are the kids and their adults.
"It's not the place of a school board or a politician to police what kids are reading," she says. "We need to trust librarians and teachers to know what is age-appropriate for kids. Of course, kids need guidance. But I trust kids to stop when they feel it's right."
Horror as a genre has been around since ancient times, and it's not going anywhere soon. Writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz keep the genre alive for an adult audience, but Senf is hell-bent on starting them young and creating the next generation of thrill seekers.
"Let kids explore by reading," she says. "Scary books are a place for them to practice being brave." ♦
Lora Senf: The Clackity • Sat, Sept. 24 at 5:30 pm • Free; reservations requested • Auntie's Bookstore • 402 W. Main Ave • auntiesbooks.com • 509-838-0206