Frankenstein is an obvious source of inspiration here, but I love that you approached it from the monstrous motherhood angle—which is, when you think about Mary Shelley’s life, possibly the richest and most immediate!—rather than the more common science and rationality interpretations. What were some of the other inspirations for this story?
Thank you! Frankenstein was certainly a rich starting place—there are so many resonances to be found in the idea of a body that carries the scars and fragmentation of its larger society (I’m thinking here of works like Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad). I was also interested in how anger and grief might give birth to a magic beyond the reach of scientific instruments. While these were my intellectual interests, the animating force behind this piece was something simpler—rage. I was angry about how existing in a female-identified body in this world brings with it such an ever-present calculus around negotiating danger. The what ifs we carry as we walk down the street, go to work, exist in nature, exist in our homes, exist. The violence inflicted, in particular, upon the bodies of poor women, black and indigenous women, trans women and nonbinary folks. I was angry about seeing the same old stories play out again and again and again—at having to carry the burden of these stories, those already told and those not yet manifested.
The premise of this story is that a mother creates an avenging monster not from a place of scientific inquiry, but because her daughter was murdered and nobody cares. And so there’s this animating impulse having to do with, how do we fight and struggle and make our voices heard in the midst of an uncaring world, the forces of which so often feel amassed against us?
I’m also fascinated by the use of a conglomerate point of view—fractured voices welded into one. Would you tell us a bit more about why you chose to write the story with this POV, and in this structure?
You know, I’d always been vaguely suspicious of writers who talk about the voice of a character just sort of appearing in their head . . . until it happened to me. This story arrived in the form of the girls speaking in unison. The voice is very specific—it’s probably not how these teenage girls would speak in the everyday world—yet it had a mythic quality that I found really compelling. The unity of this voice also echoed the commonality of their experience. Any woman, anywhere, could become part of that “we.”
I wrote in this voice for a while without a firm structure in mind, but the story really came together when I alighted on the idea of dividing the sections by body parts. It helped me provide a counterpoint to the plural POV—reflecting the internal tension of the narrators’ body coming apart even as the mother attempts to make them a single entity. It also enabled me to build the inherent horror of the premise into the story’s scaffolding. I didn’t want to replicate the naked and defiled bodies we see on so many detective shows, violence displayed for the sake of titillation. We know that the mother hunted through graves to find different body parts—doesn’t that give us all the awful information we need?
Speaking of disparate pieces, was there a section of the story that was harder to write than the others, or that you’re more proud of? Something that got left behind on the cutting room floor in edits, maybe?
Normally, it takes me forever to align the vision I have in my head with what comes out on paper. My stories go through rafts of revisions—whole drafts, characters, plotlines left on the cutting room floor. But this was one of those miracle stories that appeared in my head and then consented to come out on paper in pretty close alignment with the vision I’d had. The one thing that I did cut was the original title—“Frankenbitch.” I was so attached to that title, but I also had to do a lot of work to shoehorn a justification for it into the text, and ultimately it didn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the story. But the narrator will always be Frankenbitch in my heart.
The anger in this piece is so real, and that ending so cathartic. How did you thread the needle of acknowledging the anger while also making space for hope?
It’s tempting to answer this solely from the level of narrative structure; to say that, in very broad and reductive terms, good stories often have arcs, and that two common arcs that work well are (1) circumstances that start well and go downhill (the classic tragedy structure, and also what we see in many horror stories), or (2) stories where a character struggles and ultimately triumphs. I knew that, if I were grounding the story in so much horror from the beginning—like, not only have these girls been murdered, but they’ve just been brought back to life by this uncaring woman and shut in a freezer, yikes!—then I would need some element of hope. It’s hard to read stories that are just badness from end to end because that’s kind of already the world we live in, right? So, from the beginning, I knew that the brutality would need to cohabitate with something else—in this case, a finding of oneself, one’s community, a homecoming of sorts.
But it was also more than that. This story is about anger that corrodes. It came from a place of being angry for years and years, and asking myself, What do I do in this terrible world? How do I go on? And what good does it do to harden myself to the world—who does that serve? All of these questions feel more urgent today than ever. I’d like to think that this story presents one possible remedy, one option. For me, the ending is not about a retreat from the world but rather a reckoning with how the mother has replicated some of the same evil the girls have already faced. And there is a hopeful note at the end, because they have finally seen each other, have chosen to turn toward each other. But beyond that, there is the reality that the daughter’s killer walks free, that the world is still full of evil. Where does that leave the girls and their mother? Where does that leave us? I don’t know. But for the moment, we are holding one another, and that is enough.
What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects we should know about?
I have another story, called “Flight,” coming out at Tor.com this month. I am also tinkering away at other story drafts—stay tuned!
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