The Next Chapter

Kristi Charish on the unattainable "perfect female protagonist"

The author of The Voodoo Killings explains why she purposely made her lead character unlikable.
Fantasy writer Kristi Charish's novel The Voodoo Killings is the first title in a new series.

It's not every day you meet a heroine whose job includes summoning ghosts and tracking down zombies that have gone AWOL, but that's exactly what you get in Kristi Charish's new book The Voodoo Killings. The novel is a combination of urban fantasy and whodunit set in contemporary Seattle. Charish herself has a background in science — she has a PhD in zoology from the University of British Columbia, which she says is actually very helpful in her writing.

Kristi Charish spoke to Shelagh Rogers from Vancouver to talk about the new book.

The rise of — and backlash against — unlikable female protagonists

There's a discussion happening right now in fiction about female protagonists — strong women and female role models. There's this subtle undertone about unlikable female protagonists. And you know, the guys get to be unlikable! That's standard. You can have a real antihero — I mean, look at Indiana Jones and Han Solo and James Bond. They're jerks! And they're allowed to be, we're okay with that. So more people are writing female protagonists who follow that kind of antihero route, and there's a bit of a backlash. There's this thing of people saying she's unlikable, she's not the kind of girl you want to hang out with. She's not the nice girl, she doesn't always exude feminine qualities like empathy and trying to mediate or mitigate conflicts. And I love writing that. 

Two popular types of unrealistic female character

There's this preconceived notion in society about how a "nice" woman is supposed to behave. And when you veer from that, it makes people uncomfortable, I think almost on a subconscious level. There's also this larger conversation going on about the typical "Mary Sue" character, which is someone who is sort of a chosen one. The girl who everything great happens to, but she doesn't necessarily have a lot of influence over her life or the story around her. On the other hand we have this "strong female protagonist" type that's been introduced who is supposed to be likable and strong and able to fight and nice and she's got a job and she's got everything together. She's the ideal of everything the modern woman feminist protagonist is supposed to be, and what you end up left with are two completely unattainable, unrealistic options. Because no woman is really like that. And I think these characters who are coming out now, who have unlikable characteristics, I think they're real and I think readers, men and women alike, are identifying with them.

Why fantasy is the perfect genre for examining difficult or controversial topics

One of the things that I find fascinating about the genre of fantasy in general is that you can talk about things in a world that isn't quite real. You can talk about things that in some cases are very trigger warning-type topics, or things that are controversial, and nobody really notices because it's a fantastical world. I'm not really [writing social justice fiction]. At the end of the day, I'm writing a story. I like mystery, and my other series is more of an action-adventure. But it's kind of fun to slide stuff in. 

Kristi Charish's comments have been edited and condensed.