While she was growing up in Miami, one of Chappell's favorite pastimes was climbing the oak trees in her back yard, where she'd let herself "enter a Tolkien, fantasy world,'' she said. Chappell was one of those Florida kids who loved becoming one with the gators and the iguanas in her neighborhood. Although the University of Miami graduate now lives in Brooklyn, she still keeps her South Florida roots front and center. As we discussed current reads on her nightstand, Chappell listed the other items next to her bed. They include "an air plant from my family's back yard in Florida, a petrified clam and a gator tooth,'' said Chappell, 37. Her most recent book, Narc, is a young adult novel about a brother and sister who get involved with drugs and drug dealers at their high school in Miami. We talked to Chappell by phone on July 18.
What's on your nightstand?
Gladesmen: Gator Hunters, Moonshiners, and Skiffers by Glen Simmons. To me, it's the real Florida.
Are you reading this for pleasure?
I love this book, but I'm working on an Everglades story so my work is why I'm reading it now.
Is there one person that stands out for you?
It would have to be Glen Simmons. He's the one that builds the boats, but it's all great. It's on the adventures they had in the Everglades. When I get homesick, I think of the Everglades and the beauty of that place, so close to the city. It's a different kind of quiet beauty. It doesn't get in your face like, say, a mountain range could, but it is a place that invites you to be in the moment, and then when you look around, you realize there's so much going on and it rewards you for paying attention.
When you were young, was there an author who motivated you to become a writer?
It was a teacher I had, Evelyn Wilde Mayerson. She wrote Miami: A Saga. It was a portrait on the city and how it grew and evolved. She was actually the teacher that meant the most to me. I remember she used to write on my papers, "Be brave. Be honest,'' meaning she wanted me to stay true to my voice.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.