Ladies, raise your hand if you were a good girl as a child. Keep your hand up if you craved your parent’s approval as they smiled while you were good. Keep your hand up if you struggled to understand why things started to go poorly when you were old enough to make your own decisions ...
If your hand is still up, A.K. Hudson’s “The Life & Death of Mia Fremont: An Interview with a Killer” may hit a little too close to home. Everything you’ve internalized will itch and then be scratched with a loud declaration of your independence. Therapy in 2400 words, who knew?
Hudson articulates perfectly what it’s like to be a good girl: be helpful, be selfless, be respectful, be quiet, smile. These are instructions, but they are also the things that keep us from seeing ourselves as individuals who are worthy of care. When you aren’t helpful, when you are selfish, when you aren’t quiet, when you don’t smile on command, these missteps slowly become a permanent branding that you’re not respectful. Or quiet. Or good. One too many missteps and you are perceived as manipulative, selfish, ungrateful, a betrayer to those who love you and only want the best for you. Every time you assert your own freedom, you risk another step on the slippery slope towards being villainous.
But there’s a way to tell the villain’s story, to make it a story of freedom and empowerment. It becomes a story of self-care and of seeing yourself as worthy of care. Even so, you’ll still be someone’s villain.
This story triggered anxiety for me. Not in a bad or dangerous way, just in a “I’ve finally grown past that, but I know it’s there” kind of way. Reading Hudson’s responses to my interview questions helped me feel better. If the story triggered anxieties that you thought you’d put away years ago, I hope reading this interview will help calm you.
I wish “The Life & Death of Mia Fremont: An Interview with a Killer” was a TV promo for a miniseries, because I want to see the episode where we find out how long ago that photo was taken. I want to hear Mia’s internal monologue, see her in high school with her friends, see what her parents talked about after dinner was over and the kids were sleeping. I can’t wait to see the episode where Mia lands a part-time job at a retail store, and it’s explained to her that women make the best customer service representatives because we’ve already had a lifetime of practice when it comes to smiling and apologizing. I’m imagining the first episode, where Mia’s parents accuse Ms. Fremont of murdering their daughter, and Ms. Fremont calmly confessing to the crime.Some people see Ms. Fremont as an empowering force, others see her as a murderer.
I’d watch the hell out of that on Netflix, wouldn’t you? I’m already team #ShesAnEmpowerer, in case you were wondering.
Hudson lives in the Pacific Northwest with her editor cat. When not reading just about everything under the sun, she writes fantasy, horror, and paranormal romance. Her short stories have appeared in the anthologies Murder Park after Dark 2, Heroes and Hellions, and Holiday Magic. If you’re looking for book recommendations for readers of all ages, be sure to check out Hudson’s blog, where she posts every few months on fantasy, romance, kid’s books, and nonfiction that she’s recently enjoyed. If visual is more your thing follow her on Twitter at @TheAKHudson for gorgeous cover art posts, the editor cat at work, and all the Schitt’s Creek memes.
APEX MAGAZINE: Oh, this story kicked me in the teeth in the best possible way, especially that ending! How did you get the idea for this story?
A.K. HUDSON: The idea came about over several months. I noticed a trend of fairy tale retellings in the last several years with a few told from the perspective of the villain. In examining what makes someone a villain, I kept coming back to that idea that we might be the villain in someone else’s story. From there I wound up thinking about the classical philosophical debate of who and what defines good versus bad. Is there an absolute? This philosophical rabbit hole frequently comes down to a question of perspective, and what is reality.
While trying to break down villainy in 2020, I was also trying to adjust to living in a very tormented and broken United States after having lived abroad for two and a half years. It’s an understatement to say there was a lot going on last year. As a result, I was doing a ton of work on myself in an attempt to keep from spiraling into something more than just my usual generalized anxiety. I sat down primed with this question of good and bad, seeking to examine societal pressures and perceptions turned into expectation and the weight of those expectations on women. And I began to write.
AM: Before the events of the story took place, how do you think Mia’s parents would have described her?
A.K.H.: A good girl with potential. I think her parents would have thought Mia was happiest when she was putting others first because she was kind and caring like that.
AM: The story is formatted in an interesting way as well—we’re listening to Ms. Fremont’s verbal confession, and we hear the narrator’s internal monologue. You’ve stripped out everything but those two voices, you’ve removed all distractions. Did this story go through a lot of drafts before it was just the two voices? Your early versions and ideas for this story, what were they like?
A.K.H.: This story had surprisingly few drafts. I enjoy writing dialogue, but wanted to play with form. Initially I started with the line “There are no villainous men,” but I quickly realized I was writing a monologue, and I needed to have a lens through which to view our so-called villain. Before I finished the first draft, I went back and added the detective, who had been there the whole time in my mind, because who else would Ms. Fremont have been talking to? Herself, naturally, but I like detective stories. I thought having a detective or police officer would prime the reader to believe that Ms. Fremont was wrong and should stand judgment. The first draft was close to the final story, just a little more verbose. The editing process came down to stripping away tangents and creating an ending that felt right.
AM: Ms. Fremont mentions that “women don’t need men, to be villains.” Can you unpack that a little more?
A.K.H.: There’s a lot to unpack here because the meaning of this line, for me, changes when taken in isolation versus where it lands in the story. It’s about taking back power. Villains are dangerous because of their power. This line is a response to the various media and lore depicting female villains as women spurned by a man. To give their origin stories away to men, to say that she’s become what she is because of her relationship to a man, diminishes that woman’s power. But this story isn’t about a man at all. It’s about a woman doing something for herself. A woman learning who she is independent of others and her parents. So many women are vilified for the supposedly egregious misstep of putting themselves first.
Women don’t need men to be villains is also a broader commentary on how society vilifies women. It’s easy to blame it all on the patriarchy and the societal norms shaped by the patriarchy. But I don’t know if it’s that simple. Women turn on each other for various reasons, and I think that should be acknowledged. But that’s a whole other tangent. Underlying this is an examination of what we do to ourselves. Women don’t need men to be villains because we are so hard on ourselves and put so much pressure on ourselves that we create our own monsters, all on our own. Much of my writing touches upon mental health, and this line speaks to my experience with generalized anxiety. When my anxiety spikes, I don’t need anyone else to make me feel evil, or bad, or different in ways that aren’t good. My anxiety does that for me.
AM: Everything Ms. Fremont says about the expectations that are put on young women, to act and react a certain way, to be a certain way, to meet expectations, you articulate perfectly the ideas that have been in my head for years and couldn’t figure out how to express. So that no one should have to go through what Mia went through, what should we be saying to our daughters? This isn’t about raising better daughters, this is about being better parents to those daughters. How can we be less awful parents?
A.K.H.: I’m not a parent, so I’ll speak from my experience as a daughter. I look at the younger generations and wonder if parents are already doing a better job of honoring their children with healthy emotions and expectations. Parents need to give their daughters space to learn who they are without fear of disappointing their parents and without fear of getting it wrong. Parents should acknowledge for their daughters that life is a bit of a crap shoot. None of us know what we’re doing, and that’s okay. I think raw honesty and providing a safe place to screw up and try again is vital. Be cautious with words. Young girls internalize so much. We receive messaging from a very early age of what’s good and right, and what it means to be a woman. Parents can’t control all of those incoming messages, but they can control what they say, and how they respond, especially how they respond to uncomfortable situations. Give daughters the same room provided to sons to be messy, confused, and children.
AM: You have a ton of book recommendations on your blog! What were some of your favorite reads of the last year or so? Who are some of your favorite authors, and why do you love their work?
A.K.H.: Great question. I love talking about books and picking favorites is so hard! I could write at length on this, but I’ll try to be brief. A few of my favorite reads in the last year include All Systems Red by Martha Wells, From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks, The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune, Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston, Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man, and Brittney Morris’s Slay.
Some of my favorite authors are Nikita Gill, Anna-Marie McLemore, Justina Ireland, Nnedi Okorafor, N. K. Jemisin, and Roshani Chokshi. Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, and Octavia Butler also hold special places in my heart. These authors are masters of prose whose language reaches deep inside me as a reader and forces me upon an emotional journey. I leave their books, short stories, and poetry wishing I could dive back in, and days, months, even years later, I’m still thinking of their words.
Most of my favorites fall into the speculative genre. I love that speculative fiction gives writers and readers a way to break down complicated systemic issues and wrongs into digestible nuggets that feel actionable. There is so much nuance that isn’t found in headlines and most other forms of media. But in storytelling, we can explore and extrapolate far more nuance.
AM: You mention on your blog that you have a love affair with food. What are some of your favorite dishes? What’s your most memorable meal?
A.K.H.: My favorite dishes have long been the ones where I’ve looked at the ingredient list and thought, “well okay, sure, let’s see what this is like.” I didn’t fall in love with food until high school, when I started eating at my best friend’s house more and more, having new dishes and flavors I’d never experienced before.
Food, for me, is tied to experiences and emotions, so my favorites shift and change. Right now, I’m on a lemon kick and craving sweets like my local ice cream shop’s Molly Moon’s honey lavender with lemon curd on top. My most memorable meal is probably eating gallo pinto con plantanos fritos after a long morning of surf lessons. I’ve since become allergic to legumes, and yet I still crave those delicious black beans with the fried plantains on the side. Sitting down to eat a simple meal after physical exertion really makes the flavors pop. Plus, the next time you eat the dish, you have this fantastic memory associated with the scents and tastes.