Today we’re putting some art into the ‘Writers on Writing’ column by chatting with artsy author Crissa Jean Chappell, author of ‘Total Constant Order.’ Thanks again for joining me today, Crissa! Let’s get started.
What is your brainstorming process for a new book?
It all begins with a character. I prep myself by asking questions. First thing you need to know: What’s their worst nightmare? Then dish it out.
While writing a scene, I feel like a courtroom reporter, jotting everything down. I talk to the imaginary people in my head. I spend a lot of time with them before typing, “Chapter One.” Sometimes I sketch my characters and listen to music as I draw. They are always with me, even when I’m not plunked in front of a computer.
Can you explain your typical work weekday?
I roll out of bed and stumble towards my desk. In my half-awake state, I type little bursts of new ideas (sometimes I dream a scene before I write it). I’m super obsessive, so I’ll clean up the old pages before plunging ahead (rearranging sentences, juggling nouns, searching for just the right verbs, etc.) I guzzle coffee and zone out to my iPod. Then I jump in my car, drive to the Art Institute, and teach creative writing and film classes. My students keep me fresh. They won’t let me get away with B.S. When I step into the classroom, I know I’m going to learn something from them, every single day.
Tell us about when you made the decision to write.
Growing up, I was the weird kid who made “novels” out of notebook paper and staples. I used to tape-record my epic narratives, complete with a soundtrack cut-and-pasted from the radio, layered with homemade sound effects (crackling Mylar balloons for rain, etc.) I always knew that I wanted to tell stories.
What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?
Don’t be afraid to mess up. Your first draft is just the beginning. Revision is where the real writing begins.
Tell us about what you’re working on right now and what we can expect from you in the near future.
More stories about marginal kids who hover on the social fringes (in other words, outsiders looking in). They’re my kind of people.
We look forward to more stories from you, Crissa! Thanks for joining me! You can grab a copy of Crissa’s book at your local bookstore or here.
Crissa-Jean Chappell holds an MFA in screenwriting and an interdisciplinary PhD in film theory, philosophy, and literature. She teaches creative writing and cinema studies at Miami International University of Art and Design. For eight years, she wrote a weekly film column for the Miami Sun Post. Her reviews of art and culture have appeared in magazines such as Film Comment, Tate (London), New Times, Urb, Script, and others. Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Confrontation and the Southwest Review. Her debut YA novel, Total Constant Order, was recently published by HarperCollins. It is a Florida Book Award medalist, a VOYA “Perfect Ten,” and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. Bio image courtesy of Crissa’s website.