S. M. Senden, author of “Clara’s Wish”

claraswishWhat inspired you to write this particular story?

I like to troll the newspapers for stories, and this story appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1925. It was a story that wouldn’t let me forget about a young woman, who like all of us at some point, trusts the wrong person.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

I didn’t try to hide myself at all in Clara’s Wish. I think I expressed some of what every young girl goes through. I always put a lot of myself and my experiences into anything I write. Sometimes I read other pieces I have written, and laugh, remembering what was going on at the time I wrote something. I believe that in writing, like acting, we must bring a piece of ourselves to the characters, or they will not come alive for the reader.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Clara’s Wish was written in a few months. I write fast when I have an idea, and the story just kept unfolding, taking on a life off its own and the characters began to tell me what will happen. I would spend eight hours a day at the computer, writing and another three to four hours a day researching the era and details.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (Searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

The research is the key to any historical piece. The most important piece for me is how people acted, how they spoke and their moral code of the day. It is all different from what we know today. If we pay attention, every decade has a special aura to it. That is the part that must be captured for the story to feel real. I had an advantage about researching this era, because I asked people about that time when I was a little kid. I asked about their lives, their hopes and dreams, their fears and all. I have their memories and recollections and of course I read. I read period books, magazine articles and watch period films too. Then I go for the historical accounts of events. In a book written in 1939 I got the information on starting the old car. I had seen it in a silent film, but it didn’t make sense to me until I read about how to start some early cars!

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

My goal for this book is to have people look at how they treat one another. The problems we face in our lives are the same our parents, grandparents and generations of people faced. That is the question of love. Of being loved, of loving and what it can bring with it, the greatest joy and deepest heartache.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

I will try to write a minimum of ten pages a day when I am developing a story. Then I will push to rework 25-50 pages in rewrite. I want to be sure there are many layers to any given chapter. I like to be sure the reader can sense things too. Smells, sights, sounds and even taste and touch are all important. Weather can play a part in a scene, it can set mood, or be a contrast to the events unfolding.

What are you working on right now?

Currently, I am working on the hardest story for me to write because it is the story of my own family skeleton. It happened about 78 years ago, and no one ever spoke about it. Then, when other events offered, it came to light, but only in a vague way. Later, my father, curious to know more, found the newspaper articles about the incident when he was on a business trip. He gave them to me for safekeeping. For years it was something I thought should be written, but I wasn’t ready. Now I am, for I am the one who carries these family memories collected over the span of my lifetime. There is only one person still alive who lived through what happened, and they are reluctant to speak of it, and with good reason. The secret was murder, my grandfather’s murder. It made headlines across the nation.

What was the first story you remember writing?

I always made up elaborate stories as a child when playing. The first story I wrote down was much like anyone writes, terrible. At age eleven I wanted to emulate the authors I loved reading. I adored E. A. Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. I wrote a gothic horror, murder mystery story. I allowed my older brother to read it; he wrote wonderful poetry. He was honest with me too! He told me it was dreadful. I bet he was right. I do not know where that story is anymore. It disappeared, like so many things back then. The second piece I wrote was about a trying teenage experience I’d had, and my mother found it and destroyed it.

Does writing come easy for you? What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process? What is the easiest part of the writing process?

When I have a good idea, writing is easy for me, the story flows and I have written up to thirty pages in one day. That was an amazing thing to do, but the story was ready to be ‘born.’ The most difficult part is making sure the facts are correct. I check them, recheck them and check again. Sometimes it takes a long time to get answers. But it is worth it. The easiest part is the idea. I have no shortage of ideas. If I get to write them all, I will live to be very old!

Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?

I always have paper and a writing implement near by so I can jot down an idea, dialogue, or a scene as it comes to me. I have notes in pencil, pen, crayon and even paint. None in blood, thank goodness! Some ideas come from observing a situation, some can come from the news, some come from dreams, but every story has some nugget of truth to them. I have a huge file of notes, ideas and outlines just waiting for their turn!

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. It is one of those stories that is so well crafted, it is a story that will not let you forget. Also it crosses many genre lines. I believe a really good story never fits cleanly into a box. Rebecca is a love story, a ghost story and a murder mystery. It is a story of jealousy, of secrets and of lives intertwined in such a way that it brings them to a tragic intersection where so much is lost. It has an amazing twist to the plot line when we learn the truth about Rebecca. The survivors manage to go on, rebuilding their lives as best they can.

Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?

The best writing advice was from author, Charlotte MacLeod, she suggested that in any situation, play the “What If” game. As one asks “what if this or that,” a story begins to take shape. It is an amazingly simple yet powerful tool.

In another book written and ready to get published, there was a newspaper clipping, again with the newspaper for inspiration! The clipping mentioned that the old opera house, built in 1876, had been closed in 1909 and they never bothered to clear it out until the late 1930’s. When they went up there, the opera house and offices were on the second floor, everything was just as if they had left the day before.

That got my “What If” game going, because the first question was: What if they found a body up in the abandoned opera house complex? To research this, I got permission to go up into the unused second floor where the opera house and offices had been. I read about the history of the building and fell in love with the old place.

Then I thought about, if there was a body to be found, what would be the condition of the body? Again, important research here! I’d seen decimated mummy-like birds in other buildings with unused second floors that I had been given permission to explore. (Always get permission!) I once read an article in Old House Journal, again READ, about someone rehabbing an 1870’s New York town home. In the attics, sealed off behind a partition, they found the preserved, mummified body of a fully dressed woman in clothing of the 1880’s. And the rest is another story, soon to be published!

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Read, read some more, read even more, and write every day, even if it is only a line of an idea on a story. When you sit down to write, treat it like you are going to work, and dedicate a block of time to your writing. If you expect to be a writer, act like one: write.

Always be learning, reading, researching and most of all, pay attention to people. Listen to their stories; hear about their lives, they are offering you a rare look into a whole different world from yours. They have a great deal to teach you.

Write from a place of knowing. Bring your experiences to what you write; be willing to invest a piece of yourself in your writing so it will be real to the reader.

Click here to buy: Clara’s Wish

3 Responses to “S. M. Senden, author of “Clara’s Wish””

  1. doris Says:

    Wonderful and informative post. Thank you so much for sharing this and your process.

  2. Eunice Boeve Says:

    Enjoyed reading this Q & A. I especially like your answer to what is your goal and that life is the same in our day as it was for those in our past and that is the need to love and be loved. How True. If we could capture the LOVEBUG and have it bite everyone, this would indeed be a wonderful world. Your books sound interesting, I’ll have to check them out.

  3. What advice you would give to an aspiring author? | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] From an interview with S. M. Senden, author of “Clara’s Wish” […]

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