Alex Chappell Talks About Writing
In the summer of 2016, I knew that I needed a change. I had been working in the fast food industry for 4 years and was ready for a change. Even more than that, I was ready to work somewhere that understood that I was a student and that my life revolved around my schoolwork. So I applied for the work-study program at Western. This is where I found the job as an Editorial Assistant at the Canadian Poetry Press (CPP).
In my first few weeks at CPP, I was very unsure of myself. I was nervous. My work was completely individual so I didn’t have anything that I had to talk about with my fellow workers. But I wanted to get to know them. Luckily, the people at CPP felt the same way. Without realizing, I was accepted into their little family. I felt immediately loved and appreciated. One of these people was Alex Chappell.
After working together at CPP, we ended up in the same advanced short fiction writing class in our last year. In this class, I got to know Alex more as a person and as a fellow writer. Her stories are typically scary or suspenseful; they’re always interesting read, sometimes even a little disturbing.
Like me, Alex was studying English and Creative Writing at Western. She has finished her Honours Specialization (the one that I dropped out of) and is now set to continue her studies at the University of Windsor. Although I have known these facts about Alex for a while, I never really knew the reason behind her decisions. Today, I did an interview with Alex to learn more about her creative writing path.
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BRIANNA BENTON: What made you decide to study English and Creative Writing?
ALEX CHAPPELL: I started telling stories to people when I was a little kid. My grandma had this story about how I was telling her something (she thinks it was a story, but it was all in baby talk), and when she tried to leave, I actually pushed her back on the couch. I couldn't really imagine doing anything but creative writing.
BB: That's hilarious! I can imagine you doing that. Why did you choose Western for your BA?
AC: It was between Western University, University of Windsor, U of T, and U of BC. They were the only places at the time with creative writing majors/minors. I got a pretty bad vibe from U of T; they were really slow with emails and not helpful. And I didn't love the Windsor campus. But, as soon as I toured UWO, it clicked. It was like falling in love.
BB: I had the same feeling when I stepped onto the Western campus. It just felt right! Despite not loving the University of Windsor campus, what made you decide to pursue your Creative Writing Masters there in the fall?
AC: It’s the only place I got accepted but now that I can live off-campus, I'm not tied to a certain area. Windsor also does a lot of cross-border work with the American literary scene, which is a great market. And the administration have been lovely; they've really reached out to me to make sure I have the best possible start there
BB: That's great that the staff has already done everything they can to have the best possible start. So back to Western, what was the most rewarding part of the program?
AC: It was definitely the community of people I got to meet. I've gotten to meet a ton of people with interest in writing that I can brainstorm with and edit with, and that's wonderful. I also had some really great professor mentorship, but it was something I had to go looking for.
BB: Was the professor mentorship during your Creative Writing thesis?
AC: Partly—but in my fifth year (this year), I put together an independent study project with Dr. Schneider, and he was fantastic. He even helped me with my grad school application. Professor Fox was my thesis advisor though. He was really great at bolstering my confidence and working with me. We didn't have a ton of in-person meetings, which I really preferred.
BB: Which project are you the most proud of: your creative writing thesis or your independent study project?
AC: That's a tough question. I definitely enjoy the works from my thesis project that was called Selfish: The (In)human Condition. But the independent project was the most challenging and built my abilities in new ways. So they both have different merits.
BB: What was the hardest thing about your creative writing thesis?
AC: diting. Some of the stories I had to make 6 or 7 passes at. It's really hard for me not to be perfect the first time, so that was difficult. But I think it led to the best stories possible, so it was worthwhile in the end.
BB: What about your independent study?
C: The independent study project was the start of a full-length novel. I had only really written short stories before and had struggled even getting past a thousand words on those projects. So for this project I found that pacing was extremely difficult.
BB: Yeah I've been struggling trying to write a full-length novel as well. I give props to the people who can write them with ease. What's your favourite genre to write in?
AC: My favourite genre is horror, mostly psychological. But monsters and ghosts are fun to write, too. Usually I'll just start writing and the idea will kind of develop as I go. But some of my stories are based on nightmares. I have very narrative-structured dreams, and they're often horrifically violent or unsettling.
BB: That's really interesting. I've always wondered how you come up with these dark and intriguing stories. Do you have a dream journal to keep track of your nightmares?
AC: Sometimes I'll jot the idea down on my phone. Mostly I just go over the details in my head over and over until I can essentially relive the dream. That's not always on purpose; sometimes they're so scary I can't stop obsessing over them.
BB: I’ve learned that obsession is a great tool to drive your writing. What’s your 5-year plan?
AC: I'm hoping by the time I'm finished my masters, I'll have gotten some interest from publishers in my book. Then, I'm hoping to get a job with a good work-life balance, low-stress, so I can devote time to writing on the side, hopefully building up several published works and some.name recognition. I'm really open to anything after I've finished the book. That's the priority right now.
BB: That’s amazing. I’ll be the first to pre-order your book when that happens! Do you have any advice for new writers?
AC: I think that the most important thing is to explore different genres, and find what really clicks. Writing can be difficult and frustrating sometimes, but it shouldn't be something that feels like a chore. If you like romance novels, that's what you should write. A lot of people feel like high literary works are the only things of value, but I think anything that brings some sort of enjoyment has value and deserves to be written. And if you’re struggling to write a novel length story, but like the world you built, try writing “prequels” where you focus on world building. You might find inspiration there.