Plotting Puzzles and the Necessity of Silence: An Interview with Jennifer Gennari

I jumped at the chance to interview author Jennifer Gennari as soon as I heard about her newest book, Muffled. As a special education teacher, I’m always excited for stories that portray exceptional kids with honesty, humor, and strength. Muffled does it beautifully, and as it happens, Jen is just as insightful and honest as her main character, Amelia.

Jennifer Gennari

CL: Hi, Jen! Thanks for chatting with me! Let’s start with how the idea for Muffled came about – can you tell us about it?

JG: Thank you, Chris, for inviting me to the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors! Like many writers, I keep a story file of ideas. For more than fifteen years, I had a note about a blizzard from my childhood: “I’ll never forget that snowstorm. The silence without cars. What would happen if all the noises stopped?” It wasn’t until much later that I saw a way to approach that idea. I realized that for many people, including my husband, silence isn’t just beautiful, it’s something they need to recharge, to be able to participate in our very noisy world. And that’s how Amelia’s story began.

CL: And the story is set in Boston – any particular reason you chose that city?

JG: I lived in Boston when I was the age of Amelia, and it was important to me to show a family that depends on public transportation. Many children who live in cities don’t have cars, and I wanted to reflect that reality. I love Boston, for its Public Garden (and Make Way for Duckling statues), the stately, amazing library in Copley Square, and the Red Sox. Like Amelia, I grew up riding the green line!

CL: It’s so cool to have that personal connection! How about research, then? Muffled seems like a super realistic portrayal of life with sound sensitivity—did you have to do any research for the book? 

JG: Researching is an integral part of writing. I didn’t rely on my memory of Boston—I looked at images of the library’s lions, transit maps, and apartment buildings. To develop Amelia’s character, I read The Highly Sensitive Child and spoke to a therapist and special education teachers. Researching also means empathizing, an important skill for writers. I notice people’s emotions in certain situations, and try my best to get those details right. Stories introduce young readers to different ways of being, something I take seriously. Readers will always find hope and connection in my books.

CL: Muffled is your second traditionally published book. I’ve heard that second books can be harder to write…was that your experience?

JG: Yes! I’m glad you asked. I wrote three books between My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer and Muffled. Each one was beloved but the stories, in the end, were not viable. I think of those manuscripts as plotting practice: I got better at increasing tension, giving characters a satisfying arc, and rewriting scenes that didn’t work. For all those aspiring writers out there, know that persistence and a willingness to revise are key to success!

CL: That’s a great way to think about it! You actually mention on your website that plotting a story is a bit like a puzzle. Could you explain that?

JG: I am a big fan of jigsaw and crossword puzzles—especially during this pandemic! When you first start a jigsaw puzzle, all the colors and details are scattered. You have to organize the pieces, and see what picture emerges, just like the details and scenes of your manuscript. And to carry the metaphor on, revising is like doing the same puzzle twice—it’s still hard but memory helps you find the path forward to complete a story without any holes.

CL: I love that! So if it wasn’t obvious already, you’re also an editor and writing teacher yourself, right?

JG: My career began as a reporter, and later, I became a news editor of a weekly paper. If your article doesn’t fit on the page, it will be cut! I discovered I’m good at preserving voice and intent and excising the fluff. When I studied for my MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, I understood even more completely that every word choice matters. Now, through The Highlights Foundation, I teach others how to edit their own manuscripts. It’s an essential skill and I love teaching writers!

CL: So cool! Okay, Jen – now it’s time for the lighting round! Favorite place to write?

JG: Surrounded by shelves of kidlit books with a cup of tea nearby!

CL: Favorite authors?

JG: Jacqueline Woodson, Kate DiCamillo, Erin Entrada Kelly to name a few!

CL: Best dessert?

JG: Any homemade pie!

CL: Do you have any pets?

JG: No, but I love watching shorebirds from my home.

CL: Favorite elementary school memory?

JG: Like Amelia, I often snuck off during recess to find a cozy place to read. 

CL: And lastly – favorite piece of advice for other writers?

JG: Read, read, read!

Jennifer Gennari is the author of MUFFLED (Simon & Schuster, 2020), a Junior Library Guild selection, and MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), a Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year selection, and an American Library Association Rainbow List title. An engaging speaker and teacher, she has presented at the Writing Barn, SCBWI workshops, and Highlights Foundation. She serves as Marin County Co-Coordinator for the SF North and East Bay Region of SCBWI. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, she lives on the water in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her @JenGenn and more at www.jengennari.com.

Many thanks to Jen for taking the time to talk to me! Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of Muffled!

See you next time!

Chris Low on FacebookChris Low on Twitter
Chris Low
Chris Low is a children's writer and elementary school teacher outside of Philadelphia, PA. He draws inspiration from the organized chaos of his special education classroom and the perpetually surprising wit of his own students. In addition to his middle grade book projects, Chris has published several award-winning short stories with Highlights for Children and Cricket magazine. Chris is married with two young boys and a dog who will eat literally anything. He spends most of his free time running, hiking, and negotiating with preschoolers.
19 Comments
  1. Familiarity with these games is essential so relating
    to assure your win someday. This way you can get comfortable your
    new games you are attempting. Tuesday’s estimated one-time cash option is $86 squillion.

  2. Read moore below and learn a few general ides for your online casino
    challenge. By this term is meant to actjvate the cash or to pput
    the cash into sport by gambling on.

  3. Thanks for a really fun interview. The book sounds terrific. As someone who grw up in Minnesota, I experienced plenty of snowstorms. Yes, the silence after a snowstorm is really special. I will be looking for muffled.

  4. I am so excited to read this book. My middle daughter’s name is Amelia and she is on the spectrum and has some noise sensitivity and she has “alone time” where she is away from everything and everyone. Thank you so much for writing about this subject!!

    • I hope your daughter enjoys “meeting” another Amelia! I hope many kids find themselves in Muffled.

  5. I loved reading the interview about your book. I would love to read it and share it with my students! I also love homemade pies but only when someone else makes them. I haven’t quite mastered that skill yet-mine never turn out well.

    • Thank you for reading and I hope you do get to share Muffled with your students! On the subject of pies — don’t give up! 🙂

  6. Wow! This looks so great! I’he wanted this book for awhile. Looks so good! I love what you said about puzzles! 😌 thanks for the chance.

    • Good luck! I’m considering offering teachers a puzzle-friendly virtual talk about scenes and beginnings, middles, and ends. It’s such a good way to help young readers think about revising!

  7. I admire your attitude and persistence to keep working at improving your craft. I am excited to read Muffled. Congratulations!

    • Thank you for reading this post, and I hope you get a copy of Muffled!

  8. CONGRATULATIONS, Jen! You’ve also proven that it pays to be persistent. All the very best to you!

  9. This sounds wonderful. If I won I would give it to my niece, but only if she would promise to lend it to me in return. 🙂 Thanks for being so open about the effort that went into creating your second book. It’s always good to know that even talented people have to work at “getting it right”, and that that is part of the process.

    • Yes, it’s so important to recognize that writing takes a willingness to listen and learn!

    • Hi Beth! As it happens, you DID win the drawing for Jen’s book! Please reach out to me via the contact form on my website (www.chrislowauthor.com) with an address I can forward along to Jen. Congrats!!

  10. Jacqueline Woodson, Kate DiCamillo, Erin Entrada Kelly are some of my favorite authors too!

Leave a Reply