Crissa-Jean Chappell received her undergraduate degree in film in 1997, her master’s in 1999 in screen writing, and her Ph.D. in film theory in 2003. It was her intention to go into the film industry. Turns out those plans went astray -- in a good way.
Since receiving her degrees, Chappell has published three novels and is working on her fourth. She is a Florida Book Award medalist, has won a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and is a VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) Perfect Ten recipient, which means she received a perfect score of 5Q (Quality) and 5P (Popularity) for her first novel, Total Constant Order.
“I always wanted to be a novelist,” Chappell said. “I tried to make my own books when I was a little girl, through notebook paper stapled together, with little crayon drawings about horses and stuff.”
Chappell’s way with words broke through to the young adult community when she started writing novels they could relate to. Total Constant Order was published in 2007 and is about a teenage girl who struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder. She followed with a second, Narc, in 2012, about a boy who works as an informant for the cops at his high school. Chappell’s third work, Flip the Switch, to be released in the winter of 2014, is a romance that contains alternating chapters between the voices of the teenage boy and girl who are taking a film class together in high school. She is working on a fourth novel, which she says is “top secret.”
Chappell’s books are set in Miami and targeted to the young adult audience.
“They’re the most interesting people on the planet,” she said.
Chappell said that most people who have lived in Miami for a while would recognize most of the places in her novels.
“There’s always something from real life that leaks into my imaginary world, and a lot of it has to do with growing up in South Florida,” Chappell said.
Chappell, a Miami native, described her childhood as climbing trees and looking for animals in her backyard. The “real Miami,” she called it, which is different than what you see on the TV shows because “it’s not all the glitz and glam, neon and flamingos.”
“I like to think that there’s a secret side to the city, and that’s the side I grew up in as a kid,” Chappell said.
Chappell now lives in New York.
Her college classmates recall her as an “artsy student.”
“I always knew she was going to successful at whatever she ended up doing,” said David Wallach, a 1998 graduate of the motion picture program and a good friend. He described Chappell as creative and perceptive of her surroundings and the people around her.
Another classmate, Michelle Romero, who graduated in 1999 from the motion picture program, remembers Chappell as one of those women who “you would always learn something new when you were with her.”
Romero read Chappell’s first novel and recognized her friend.
“It’s Crissa, I can hear her in her writing, she’s so special the way that she takes things in and describes things, her characters… I see her in her writing… This is her world.”