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The Mess That the Editor Fixes: What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher

Stories About Stories
The Mess That the Editor Fixes: What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher has been one of my favorite horror authors since I read The Twisted Ones, one of the only novels that has ever made me scream out loud with genuine terror. In 2022, Kingfisher released the Locus Award-winning novella What Moves the Dead, an early entry into the now-thriving world of Fungal Gothic Literature. It’s a tale of declining wealth and reanimation (sort of), and it includes some fascinating worldbuilding conversations about social constructions of gender. I got to connect with Kingfisher and the production team at Tor to discuss the upcoming sequel to What Moves the Dead. What follows is a deep dive into the process behind What Feasts at Night.

After their terrifying ordeal at the Usher manor, Alex Easton feels as if they just survived another war. All they crave is rest, routine, and sunshine, but instead, as a favor to Angus and Miss Potter, they find themself heading to their family hunting lodge, deep in the cold, damp forests of their home country, Gallacia.

In theory, one can find relaxation in even the coldest and dampest of Gallacian autumns, but when Easton arrives, they find the caretaker dead, the lodge in disarray, and the grounds troubled by a strange, uncanny silence. The villagers whisper that a breath-stealing monster from folklore has taken up residence in Easton’s home. Easton knows better than to put too much stock in local superstitions, but they can tell that something is not quite right in their home. . . or in their dreams.

Ed. note: This interview has been edited for clarity and flow.

Gailey: Okay, T. Kingfisher, tell us what you do.

T. Kingfisher, Author, What Feasts at Night: I write the mess that the editor fixes. I always say that my dream is to sit in a room and write and have people shove food and checks under the door, and Tor is like “Here is a sandwich and a check and we wrote a list of all the advertisements the book has appeared in on the napkin.” It’s basically the perfect relationship, so far as I’m concerned. Lindsey Hall, my editor, is an absolute champ!

Lindsey Hall, Executive Editor, Tor Publishing Group: I get to watch Kingfisher’s ideas come alive on the page! She sends me a draft and allows me to send her my thoughts and questions about the manuscript in return.

Gailey: How does it feel to work on a T. Kingfisher project? 

Hall: I am a long-time fan of Ursula's, and when we started working together in 2018, I knew I wanted each of her books to look and feel as special as the stories inside them.

Jordan Hanley, Senior Marketing Manager, Tor Publishing Group: T. Kingfisher is a magical woman and getting to work with her is simply a pleasure. I'm so glad to be a part of the place that publishes her.

Gailey: What Feasts At Night is a sequel, so of course the genesis of the project is connected to What Moves the Dead – but what was it like to dive back into this story?

Kingfisher: I actually started writing a different book first. Then I got about halfway into it, realized I was somehow writing a THIRD book, and that I needed to write a second book first, dealing with Easton's PTSD and what was waiting for kan back home. What Feasts at Night is that second book.

Gailey: Was it fun getting sidetracked from what became book three?

Kingfisher: It's really fun to be Easton when I write. There's a scene or two that I'm quite proud of, mostly the ones where my editor's comments were just yelling "FUCK!" in the sidebar. That's always a good sign that you're on the right track.

Hall: My first impression [of What Feasts at Night] was how wonderful it feels to be back in Easton's head in this second book in the Sworn Soldier series. Getting to spend time with them and see the world through their eyes is such a joy and a comfort amid the dark settings and happenings unfolding around them.

Gailey: Are there specific challenges involved in editing a sequel?

Hall: Finding the right balance between re-establishing the character and world for the reader as we dive into the story–since it might have been a while since someone has read the first book!–without overloading on backstory.

Hanley: I was thrilled to hear Alex Easton would be returning. I loved their dry, wry humor in What Moves the Dead.

Laura Etzkorn, Senior Publicist, Tor Publishing Group: I got to fall in love with Alex Easton in What Moves the Dead, so being able to follow them through another story was such an exciting prospect! It was helpful that this one already had a fanbase, so it was mostly a matter of reaching out to them and figuring out how we could go even further.

Hall: Laura is a great captain for me and Kingfisher, juggling so many events, interviews, deadlines, conferences, and all sorts of things. She makes sure we're all where we need to be when we're supposed to be! She's an eternally upbeat publicity wizard and a delight to have on the team.

Gailey: What does being a publicity wizard involve?

Etzkorn: I like to tell my friends who don't work in publishing that my job is, boiled down, to shout about great books to anyone and everyone who will listen to me. And that isn't far off! It's like when you read a really great book and you're like "wow, I truly need everyone to know that this book exists"–except I actually get to make sure people know it exists, AND get to chat with the author along the way. Of course, there are less romantic aspects too–sooo many meetings–but that's my favorite part and the one I like to focus on. I'm truly lucky that I get to do something that I love every day.

Gailey: You and Jordan Hanley work closely on promotion, including for this title, right?

Etzkorn: Jordan Hanley is the lead marketer on this title, and she did such a stellar job with this campaign. I'm so lucky to get the opportunity to work closely with someone who is such a champion for the books and authors that they work with.

Hanley: My job is a lot of Wizard-Behind-the-Curtain stuff. I facilitate mailings, giveaways, email marketing, advertising campaigns, and many types of communication both within and outside of the company. As a marketer, I’m cross-referencing physical locations with sales numbers and interest from actual, living humans to make sure I'm getting our first round of copies into the correct hands. I'm requesting letters from authors to booksellers. I'm writing the advertising copy you see and making sure everyone on the team is in the loop, especially the author & agent. But my FAVORITE part of the job is not even marketing: it's reading and considering early manuscripts from my editorial colleagues, projects they haven't bought yet, but there's interest in. I also get to work with Valeria Castorena, the wizard behind the curtain of both Nightfire social and Tor Publishing Group’s TikTok!

Gailey: What I’m hearing is that there are a lot of wizards involved in marketing this book.

Kingfisher: I like the people I work with a lot, and have no doubts that the book is so much better because of them. But I think what really gets me is what happens after the book is done. Left to my own devices, I’d write it, have it edited, and then tell the internet “Hey, wrote a thing,” and that would be the end of it. All that marketing and advertising stuff that other people do is a foreign country to me. And it just keeps going! Years after I’d written What Moves the Dead and had half forgotten it, I get these notes that say hey, Barnes & Noble picked it as their cafe book, so for two months, you can go into a B&N and find a stack in front of the coffee shop. I understand the writing and editing, it’s the long tail that all these other people create that really blows my mind.

Etzkorn: I’m proud of so many things with this book, and almost all of them directly relate to the insanely talented team [ed. note: of wizards?] behind it. Like, have you SEEN the COVER? It’s so creepy and perfect. We worked so hard on making sure this one got in front of the right audience, and we did just that.

Gailey: How do you know you’re getting the audience response you’re looking for?

Valeria Castorena, Marketing Assistant, Tor Publishing Group: The people love Kingfisher, there's always so much excitement whenever we post new works and this sequel especially, from the moment it was announced, to the cover moment, ARC giveaways/sweepstakes, etc., there’s been just such great buzz. It’s so lovely to see people losing their minds at another Alex Easton novella. 

Gailey: Where do you get to see that buzz building?

Castorena: I manage all social media for Tor Nightfire. This involves creating and scheduling content, media hits, monitoring comments, reposting what we’re tagged in, and answering questions via dm. [I love] being involved directly with readers and seeing their excitement grow with each part of the puzzle we reveal.   

Gailey: Are there more reveals coming?

Castorena:  My favorite is the animated cover graphic. The cover is so terrifyingly epic and motion adds such an incredible level of theatrics. I can’t wait to see how people respond to it, hopefully it incentivizes them to pick up a copy!

Hanley: Art director Peter Lutjen [and] cover artist Chris Mrozik [worked on] these covers. All the covers they’ve created together are just gorgeous and I feel like they really resonate.

Hall: We wanted something beautiful yet dark and unsettling, which can be a hard combo! Christina Mrozik gave us the most perfect haunting imagery for What Moves the Dead & What Feasts at Night (and will again for our third Easton story ahead, I'm sure!), and we are so lucky to work with her.

Gailey: What else can you share about the package design?

Hall: Each of [Kingfisher’s] Tor and Nightfire books has an exclusive foil stamp on the hardcover and special endpapers that Kingfisher illustrates herself. Reading a Kingfisher story is an enchanting experience, and it's a real joy getting to work on these enchanting details for physical books too!    

What Moves the Dead endpapers.
What Feasts at Night exclusive foil stamp.

Gailey: Could you share a little about your design and illustration process?

Kingfisher: Oh god, I wish I had a suitably impressive answer for this, some mystic connection to the book or whatever, but truth is, I was a commercial illustrator for nearly two decades, and there is absolutely no mysticism left. (Honestly, that’s why I mostly got out of it.) My process is basically “Okay, what’s a nicely iconic image from the book that won’t drive me nuts to draw?” Usually I wind up with an animal, because most of my books end up featuring animals in some fashion. For Feasts, I sat down and said “Time to draw some moths!”

What Feasts at Night endpapers.

Having said that, I want to draw attention to the cover art by Christina Mrozik, who clearly has NOT burned out as an illustrator because her art is extraordinary. I’m convinced that the fungus rabbit cover is what sold Moves. It’s so striking! (I bought the original.)

Gailey:  What can you tell us about the future of the series?

Hall: There is going to be a third book in the Sworn Soldier series, in which Easton will be traveling to America to reunite with Dr. James Denton from What Moves the Dead.

Kingfisher: I have researched so much about coal mining in the late 1800s [for book 3]. So much. You would not believe how many different ways there are to die in a historical coal mine. Just…so many ways.

Hall: There is something horrifying and inexplicable happening to Denton, and Easton is his only hope... I CAN'T WAIT.

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