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I was born in Miami, Florida: a place that looked nothing like that 1980s cop show. We didn't wear pastel suits or hula shirts (though I often wore shoes without socks). I never met a flamingo and palm trees made me sneeze.

As a kid, I climbed the oak trees in my backyard near the bay and imagined that their branches were the scaly skins of flying dragons. I was the last of five kids (boy, girl, boy, girl, girl) and raised like an only child. I spent a lot of time talking to invisible creatures. I tried to warn my mom and dad about the tentacles lurking in the deep end of the swimming pool (which me and Luke Skywalker, along with a gang of space pirates, would slash with our lightsabers). The hall closet was a time machine that could zap back to the days of brontos and T-Rex. My playmates were raccoons and foxes, opossums and burrowing owls, bats and land crabs that scuttled up into the trees with me.

Our house was a wooden cottage (moved on a truck from the jungles of Coconut Grove) with a wraparound deck, a fireplace and an attic. At night, I'd fall asleep to whippoorwills and Santeria drums. During Hurricane Andrew, we rode out the winds, crouched under a table in the hallway with our Siamese cat, soaked with salty rain, our bare hands pressed against the bedroom doors. The next morning, the windows were gone but the roof was still standing. And so were we.

 

In high school, my city started taking cues from those neon-soaked television shows. The beach--no longer thronged with old people and seagulls–began to build swanky cafes and velvet-roped clubs. The same presto change-o trick turned the downtown warehouses into million dollar condos with minimal, one-word names reminiscent of martinis. Miami was no longer a home for wharf rats. It was the treeless land of cinderblock malls and sun-baked parking lots.

I watched from a distance. I put it down on paper, as I'd done since I could pick up a Crayola (starting with hand-stapled "horse books" on notepaper, which forced my unfortunate readers to turn pages backwards). I studied fiction of all forms in college: from black-and-white monster movies to ultra-serious plays by people with unpronounceable names. I became known as the chick-who-writes-about-teenagers. It took me a while to figure this out. Teachers said: write what you know. I wrote about elves and other dimensions. They said: write something that you'd actually want to read. I wrote feature-length screenplays about Florida girls who didn't want to grow up.

 

Crissa-Jean Chappell was born in Miami and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her debut young adult novel, TOTAL CONSTANT ORDER (HarperTeen) is a NYPL Book For The Teen Age and a VOYA Perfect Ten. Chappell’s second novel, NARC (Flux Books) is currently optioned for film. MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH (Flux Books) is a Florida Book Awards medalist, which Kirkus calls, "compelling and emotionally nuanced." Chappell's newest YA novel is SNOWBIRDS (Merit Press, Simon and Schuster, 2017). She holds a PhD and MFA from the University of Miami and has taught creative writing and cinema studies for over ten years. When she misses South Florida, she talks to the parrots in Prospect Park.