What's Fresh About Crissa-Jean Chappell's Total Constant Order
Fin can't stop counting. She's always heard a voice inside her head, ordering her to listen, but ever since she's moved to the Sunshine State and her parents split up, numbers thump like a metronome, rhythmically keeping things in control. When a new doctor introduces terms such as "clinical depression" and "OCD" and offers a prescription for medication, the chemical effects make Fin feel even more messed up. Until she meets Thayer, a doodling, rule-bending skater who buzzes to his own beat—and who might just understand Fin's hunger to belong, and her struggle for total constant order.
Crissa-Jean Chappell's candid and vividly told debut novel shares the story of a young teen's experience with obsessive compulsive disorder and her remarkable resolve to find her own inner strength.
Hi Crissa, it's great to have you on YA Fresh. Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale?
Crissa: As a kid, I’d steal pens from my dad’s pocket and “draw” stories on notebook paper. I stapled the pages together: tales of talking lobsters and identical twins who lived in a treehouse.
I traded stories on cassette tapes with my cousin, Jonathan. Every month, we’d mail fat envelopes decorated with treasure maps. Together we developed epic stories in our own fantastical universe.
After writing and publishing short stories in college, I wasn’t sure if I could tackle a novel. It took nine months to write Total Constant Order (HarperCollins) and a year to find my agent. (read my 21 steps here. )
I met my agent in cyberspace. (To this day, we correspond primarily through email). A few months later, she sold my novel at auction.
Readers and writers often like to get a behind the scenes peek of an author's writing routine. It would be great if you could please share your typical writing day schedule.
Crissa: I wake up and crawl to my computer, just a foot away from my bed, and begin dreaming with my eyes open. I spend a few hours eavesdropping on the people in my head (or plucking notes from one of the many Moleskines in my purse). Then it’s off to work at the Art Institute, where I teach creative writing and film studies.
While writing, I listen to music. It becomes the soundtrack to the movie in my mind. (my TCO music picks )
My friend, Adrian Michna (aka DJ Egg Foo Young of the band, Secret Frequency Crew) composed a mini-soundtrack for Total Constant Order (it’s the dreamy music that plays in the background of the book’s animated promo, designed by Marlon Morina).
I love the animation, it's very unique. Please tell us about your novel Total Constant Order (HarperCollins, Oct. 23, 2007) and what we can expect from your characters.
Crissa: In Total Constant Order, we meet Fin (short for Frances Isabelle Nash). Fin loves numbers more than most kids. She counts her breaths, the cars on the highway, the boys with unlaced shoes in the classroom. The clean order of numbers keeps her worries away.
When Fin meets a fellow outcast, Thayer Pinsky, an asthmatic, cartoon-quoting skateboarder with Attention Deficit Disorder, she must spill her secret. Both kids struggle with therapy, prescription medicine, and painful side effects. In a society that offers a pill for everything (including happiness), Fin worries that Paxil will destroy her personality or worse: transform her into an artificially joyful drone.
This is a story about swallowing the fear of insanity that we all share, and escaping the judgment of others. It’s a story about sawgrass and graffiti and palm trees strung with Christmas lights.
For the past two years, I wrote stories, drew pictures, and took photographs as Fin for a blog called Sunshine State). The experience reminded me of the interactive stories on tape that I created as a kid. Instead of sharing it with one person, I was able to share it with many different readers, all around the world.
Wow, TCO sounds awesome. I can't wait to pick up a copy. What's up next? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.
Crissa: At the moment, I am editing my second novel and finishing the rough draft of a third. (That’s all I can say for now!) I love writing about teenagers: especially those who feel like they’re on the outside, looking in.
Thanks so much for sharing with us, Crissa. Would you like to close with a writing tip?
Crissa: I’m sure you’ve heard the “show, don’t tell” rule before. What’s the best way to learn it? Write in active voice. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Let verbs do the work for you. Verbs are your secret weapon!
Also: The publishing world can seem otherworldly at times (much like the Wizard of Oz, hiding behind a curtain). If you get a chance to attend one of the big SCBWI conferences, you can learn a lot about the business. And you never know who you’ll meet…just hanging by the hotel pool.
Crissa-Jean Chappell was born in Miami, Florida. She received her interdisciplinary PhD in literature, film theory, and philosophy from the University of Miami, as well as an MFA in screenwriting. For eight years she wrote a weekly film column for the Miami Sun Post. Her reviews, short stories, and poems have appeared in many magazines, including Confrontation, and the Southwest Review. She teaches creative writing and film studies at Miami International University of Art and Design. Visit her website, crissajeanchappell.com