Monstress co-creators Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda have teamed up for a new graphic novel trilogy, The Night Eaters, which kicks off with She Eats the Night in October. The story follows Chinese American twins, Milly and Billy, who are attempting to keep their new restaurant in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, their parents, Ipo and Keon, are in town for their annual visit, and the twins want to pursue their dreams without disappointing their mom or dad. Then Ipo enlists Milly and Billy to help her clean up the haunted house across the street, revealing dark family secrets that neither twin is prepared to discover.
Before The Night Eaters: She Eats the Night hits shelves on October 11, Newsarama spoke with writer Liu via e-mail about the book, her definition of 'goodness,' and cultivating hope in the face of repeat horrors.
Samantha Puc for Newsarama: Marjorie, how did you conceive of the idea for The Night Eaters, and how has the story changed (if it has)?
Marjorie Liu: The Night Eaters was born out of a very spontaneous eruption of creativity during the pandemic. I'd been watching a lot of horror movies — I guess given the real horror of those months I found fictional horror cathartic — and I was scrolling through real estate sites a little too much, and also obsessively gardening — and one weekend I sat down with a vision in my head of a woman like my grandmothers, my aunts, and asked myself: What would happen if they lived across from a haunted house, and decided to do something about it?
And then I thought: Wow, I'd feel really sorry for the ghosts.
Nrama: What is the importance of incorporating the COVID-19 pandemic into The Night Eaters?
Liu: Whatever your personal or political views are about COVID-19, I suspect we can all agree that this was a disruptive event that touched pretty much everyone on the planet — and I wrote The Night Eaters when restaurants were only just beginning to open again, when masks were still being required indoors in certain states. That was "normal life" for that time and place, and it felt very natural to incorporate it into the story, even as just a backdrop.
Nrama: Self-love, romantic love, and familial love are all key drivers in She Eats the Night. Can you speak a bit about why these elements are so important in what is otherwise a very bloody, very creepy horror story?
Liu: Life is already a horror show that’s made tolerable only because of love — romantic love, familial love, love of the world, love for a hobby, work, a dream — and self-love, of course — all the endless expressions of love, even the ones we overlook as small and insignificant.
It’s a rope we can tie around ourselves to keep from drowning, and that I believe can be a powerfully transformative force over time — especially, in this case, for the supernatural.
Nrama: What does 'goodness' mean to you?
Liu: I wish I knew. I try to keep it simple. Stay compassionate, stay curious, help others. And keep your question of "what is goodness" alive within myself so that my ethics can continue to evolve.
Certainly, the ethics of a character like Ipo have evolved over time. She might not be called "good" by some who know her, but her actions reveal a desire to do no harm, to make the world a safer, better place.
Was that always the case? Nope. But she's developed a compassion for the world around her, and that compels her to take action when she thinks there's a problem. But her own children definitely don’t think of her as "nice."
Nrama: Why do monster stories appeal to you as a writer?
Liu: Monster stories allow me to connect with greater clarity and emotion to what it means to be human. I'm not a writer who can, as of yet, tell stories about the endless flaws and contradictions of humanity without the estrangement afforded by the fantastic.
To speak of the monster is to speak of the human — our monsters express us most intimately. We are, and always have been, the boogieman in the closet. We are the haunted house, we're the possessed, we're the demonic.
Nrama: What do you consider the greatest success of this book?
Liu: I wanted to write about a family somewhat at odds with itself, but still hanging tight because they love each other — even when they're angry. And I think The Night Eaters keeps that familial love front and center — and because of that, this is a horror story that ends on a note of hope.
Nrama: What do you consider the greatest failure of this book?
Liu: Oh, I always find myself wishing that I could have done more character work, spent more time exploring the parts of the characters that have nothing to do with the plot — their dreams, hobbies, fears.
What does Milly do in her spare time? What's she passionate about? When I was writing The Night Eaters, my strong sense of her was that she was going through a depressive spell, a bit of a crisis in her life around the choices she's made — but there wasn't space to fully explore that in the script.
Nrama: What do you hope readers take away from She Eats the Night?
Liu: That family can be a source of great strength — whether it's biological family in the case of the Tings, or chosen family for many of us. Monsters often prey on families, I've always suspected, because they know that in the strength of families lies their greatest peril.
I also hope readers come away with a feeling of hopefulness — a feeling of warmth — that the world isn't only its horrors. There are possibilities larger than ourselves, even when we can't see them, even when we feel scared and alone.
The Night Eaters: She Eats the Night will be available October 11.
The Night Eaters: She Eats the Night makes Newsarama's list of 20 graphic novels that can help keep you warm throughout the fall.