We heart our frenemies, or we kill them, or both – Michele Campbell

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By Michele Campbell

“The most delicious (and dangerous) drama stems from the bonds of female friendship.”♥

I must admit, I didn’t write that line – it comes from a review of my new book that appeared in Redbook Magazine – but I love it. Some of the most compelling books I’ve read lately have been about intense female friendships gone very, very wrong. In a Dark, Dark Wood. Big Little Lies. The dynamics of the friendships in those fabulous reads are as or more gripping than the murder mysteries at the heart of the story. So, how does one write such a friendship – a “frenemy” relationship in which the women involved simultaneously love and hate one another passionately – and make it feel authentic enough to lead, believably, to murder?

Step one involves finding a proper setting. In what context might women who really shouldn’t be friends, become friends? The answer for me was to look back to my university days, when I was on my own for the first time, away from home, insecure, and in a pressure-cooker environment. The women I met seemed smarter than me, prettier, wealthier. I wanted to know them, and at the same time I felt intimidated by them. It was a moment in my life when I felt vulnerable, but also ready to throw myself into new relationships. This, I realized, was an ideal setting for three fictional young women to meet and form an intense bond, despite being quite obviously wrong for one another.

And wrong they were, from the start. Next, I had to create disparate but believable characters. Kate is wealthy, privileged, blonde and gorgeous, but with a wild side powerful enough to drag down everyone around her. Aubrey comes from a poor family and is a misfit, very out of her element at this prestigious, sophisticated college. She would follow Kate anywhere – to parties, to nightclubs, perhaps even to her death. Jenny is the practical one, the striver, who’d rather study and get ahead than party. She wants to save her roommates from themselves, but risks getting pulled down with them. These three extremely different young women meet in a context that allows them to become fast friends, when, really, they ought to run screaming in the opposite direction.

With the characters in place, I had to give them something compelling to fight over. Making the conflict be over a man seemed a bit cliched. Instead, I started from that point, but had the proverbial love triangle quickly devolve into a tragedy that left the three frenemies with a terrible secret to keep. If anybody talked, all three might go to prison, and these are women who don’t trust one another on the best of days.

Finally, I added in the passage of twenty years. The narrative skips ahead to a moment when the women reunite, having kept their terrible secret for two long decades. But the cracks in their friendship inevitably reappear. They’re older but none the wiser, with families and careers to protect, and much more at stake if their secret comes out. When one of them turns up dead, the dynamics of the friendship make the two other roommates obvious suspects. Yet, readers know that they also, through it all, loved one another. Did love triumph over hate in this friendship? Where does the truth lie? Exploring those questions is what makes the frenemy relationship so compelling to write about.


Michele Campbell is a graduate of Harvard College and Stanford Law School and a former federal prosecutor in New York City. A while back, she said goodbye to her big-city legal career and moved with her husband and two children to an idyllic New England college town. Since then, she has spent her time teaching criminal and constitutional law and writing novels. She has had many close female friends, a few frenemies, and only one husband, who – to the best of her knowledge – has never tried to kill her. It’s Always the Husband is out now.

michelecampbellbooks.com

 

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