In The Clackity, 12-year-old Evie Von Rathe journeys into a terrifying supernatural world populated by ghosts and witches. There, she faces off against a serial killer’s spirit in order to rescue her Aunt Desdemona, who was kidnapped by the mysterious entity known as the Clackity. PW spoke with debut author Lora Senf about the origins of this tale and her favorite authors.

What was the genesis for The Clackity?

The seed for The Clackity was planted in October 2019. I got a text message from my sister, and all it said was “haunts for Halloween.” She [added], “I’ve got this idea. I’m never going to do anything with it. It’s yours.” I loved the idea of an otherworldly advice columnist who had a column in a local paper, and maybe her advice was kind of absurd. That character became Aunt Desdemona. A few months later, I was with my family in my husband’s hometown of Butte, Montana. He took me to an abandoned abattoir, and I fell in love with the building. It was old and kind of beautiful in a really upsetting sort of way. It felt incredibly haunted, whether you believe in that kind of thing of not. I thought, “This building is something.”

I had the pieces, and I needed a main character. I started thinking about the books I’d have loved to have read as a kid, the main characters I’d have fallen in love with. I grew up in the ’80s as a kid with anxiety, but there wasn’t really a name for it. It was just, you were a weird kid. I wanted to take a main character with anxiety and throw her into a horror story and see how she dealt with it. It was one of the first things I knew about Evie. How does anxiety affect her as the protagonist of a horror story? I wanted to show to myself and kids out there that you can be brave and strong despite being afraid, and you can be a hero.

What drew you to dark fantasy and horror stories?

I fell in love with horror when I was very young—maybe too young, some would say. I was afraid of everything as a kid, but I wasn’t afraid of scary books, and movies, and television, because that felt like a safe space in which to be frightened. It was a place you could practice being brave without consequences. I never outgrew horror. It’s still my go-to genre, and my beach read.

What would you say your influences as an author are?

First and foremost, the books by John Bellairs. He wrote children’s Gothic horror before anyone else was really doing that kind of thing. The book most people are familiar with is The House with a Clock in Its Walls, which was turned into a movie a few years ago. But he had a whole series of books featuring these very real, imperfect young characters. He was my first influence as a reader and a writer, especially for The Clackity. From there, I got into Stephen King.

I also have to acknowledge that Neil Gaiman’s Coraline was really important for this book. It’s hard to believe Coraline turns 20 this year. That book showed me that you can truly write a frightening book for children. You don’t have to sugarcoat and soften things for them. I think kids actually handle that better than adults. They still have a capacity for believing magic is real, and they can process those scary things in a way adults sometimes don’t. And not to say that the world of The Clackity feels like Pan’s Labyrinth, but I was moved by that world and how singular, how beautiful and frightening it was. I often think of that film when I’m writing, not to replicate it, but to take its mood of beauty and fear and turn it into something unique.

You also bring fairy tale and folkloric elements into your story. What led you to incorporate these themes?

I wasn’t aiming for a fairy tale retelling, but I was probably remiss in not mentioning fairy tales as an influence. When I was young, I also read the original Hans Christian Andersen and Grimm stories. Again, these were tales that were truly frightening. But we find them comforting in a strange way. I really wanted to include some of that, give at least a nod to it in the book. So you see Evie refer to reading the Grimm books, and later she has a lengthy discussion with a character about different fairy tales. I definitely wanted to acknowledge them.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I have two different answers for this. Some readers don’t need a message or a moral. They’re not looking to learn anything. I hope they can take The Clackity at face value, where a monster is just a monster, a witch is just a witch, a story is just a story, and I hope they enjoy it on that level. But I also hope that kids like I was, kids who don’t necessarily see themselves as heroes, perhaps because they deal with something like anxiety or depression, will relate to Evie, and see that yes, absolutely, they can be heroes. It just might not look like heroes they’ve seen before.

What’s next for you?

Evie’s story doesn’t end here. There will be two more books after this. I’m currently working on the second, tentatively called The Nighthouse Keeper, which should be out next fall. The third book, which is still in the brewing stage, should be out in fall 2024. I’m excited to work on the setting. I sort of envision Blight Harbor as my Castle Rock, a town I can return to even outside of Evie’s story. It has so much potential for more stories, because it’s a place where anything is possible.

The Clackity by Lora Senf. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 June ISBN 978-1-66590-267-0