My Chick Bad: Unlikeable Heroines in Crime Fiction
By Rachel Howzell HallApril 8, 2019
When I started writing They All Fall Down, my intent wasn’t to write an unlikeable character. Miriam, in my mind, was simply a mother… who may have gone too far. What woman, hell, what parent, can’t relate to that?
Yelling at the ref during Soccer Saturdays.
Sending the kid to the liquor store to buy two soft packs of Newports.
Going up to the school to talk to a teacher, crowbar in hand.
We all have come short of the glory of the Lord.
As I wrote Miriam, I thought of all the women I knew, either personally or whose journeys I had watched from afar. Women who had been tossed aside for younger, prettier substitutes. Women who had finally pushed out a child just in time and would do anything to protect her baby. Women who were told to speak softer, smile more, wear longer dresses. Women who were asked, why is your lipstick so red, why do you want to control your own body so bad, who gave you the right to—?
I thought of all the women I knew who were quickly offended, who quickly offended, who quickly offended and didn’t care because somehow, you offended them first. I thought of women who embellished the truth, using it like an extra slick of lip-gloss, like that third hole in an earlobe; who wore the truth like a rhinestone belt cinched to the second-to-last hole. The women who should’ve heeded the advice of Coco Chanel and taken off one piece of flair before leaving the house.
As I wrote Miriam, I thought of the tropes of unlikeable heroines in suspense and thrillers. The woman who chain-smoked, popped Adderall like they were Lemonheads. The ones who drank from a flask filled with vodka right before conducting critical interviews after grandma’s funeral. The ones who had affairs with strangers in bus terminals and used that same mouth to kiss her husband good-luck on his way into surgery. You know, unlikeable heroines.
To me, Miriam Macy is just a woman. A woman who refuses to be shut up or be run over. Some perceive her as a bully, some consider her a loudmouth.
Miriam is also a black woman, and we are perceived differently than other women.
Protective = Bully
Romantic = Slut
Assertive = Aggressive
I didn’t want Miriam to be unlikeable for the sake of the word or as a plot device. No, I just wanted to show how the scales were stacked against her as they are stacked against me. I wanted to show how men (Not All Men) don’t know what to do with a woman like Miriam. So, they banish her. Ambush her. Divorce her. Kill her.
There is truth in Miriam. While she can make you grit your teeth, she is highly likeable because she is us.
In They All Fall Down, Miriam is accused of bullying the teenage girl who had bullied her daughter Morgan. School officials didn’t do anything to quell the situation. The bully wasn’t punished. Since no one acted, Miriam acted. A bit overboard. Oh, yeah. Harshly? Sure. For love? Definitely.
Even now, I’m not sure if Miriam Macy deserved to be on Mictlan Island.
In more ways that I want to admit, I am Miriam. I’m not someone who will seek out physical confrontations with people, but I’ve been known to black out a few times and wake up to discover friends pulling me off people. Not many times. Okay, three times.
Yes, I’ve been unlikeable. And I don’t mind that. Maybe I even embrace that. The world doesn’t change for women who won’t speak up, who won’t dare wear red lipstick. Who…
Miriam belonged on Mictlan Island.
Just the way we like ‘em.
About They All Fall Down:
It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime.
Delighted by a surprise invitation, Miriam Macy sails off to a luxurious private island off the coast of Mexico with six other strangers. Surrounded by miles of open water in the gloriously green Sea of Cortez, Miriam is soon shocked to discover that she and the rest of her companions have been brought to the remote island under false pretenses—and all seven strangers harbor a secret.
Danger lurks in the lush forest and in the halls and bedrooms of the lonely mansion. Sporadic cell-phone coverage and miles of ocean keeps the group trapped in paradise. And strange accidents stir suspicions, as one by one . . .
They all fall down.
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