Interview with Jennifer Gennari re: MUFFLED

We’re happy to have you visit MG Book Village today, Jennifer. Your second middle grade novel, MUFFLED, is scheduled for release on October 27th with Simon & Schuster. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Thank you for having me! I am excited for readers to meet Amelia, reluctant trombonist and earmuff wearer! Fifth grader Amelia is sensitive to sound yet has to learn to play an instrument, or, as she sees it, make noise on purpose. It’s a story about navigating school, making friends, and stepping out of her comfort zone on her own terms. Plus, a pet fish and the Boston Public Library!

I’m curious to know how the idea for this book came to you. What compelled you to tell this story?

Snow is the seed of MUFFLED! When I was young, a blizzard in my Boston suburb stopped all traffic for a few days, and I loved the silence. Later, I wondered, what if quiet was a need, not a want? Then I met my husband, who is a highly sensitive person. He has taught me to listen more and provide those breaks of sound and space around him. Many of his traits I borrowed for Amelia, but ultimately this is her story. Plus, I love trombones, although I played clarinet in elementary school (and quickly switched to choir!).

Is there a character that you most enjoyed writing, and which character is most like you?

It’s hard to choose one! Madge was fun — she is kind and loud and it takes a lot to make her upset. Amelia is a little like me, although I do not have a sensitivity to sound. I was the kid alone on the playground, reading and avoiding sports. And the biggest treat was to create Mr. Skerritt, the school counselor, who wheezes when he speaks (which irritates Amelia) but ultimately she realizes he is a friend.

Do you like to have a book planned out before you write, or does it develop as the writing happens?

I am a planner, and I often begin with an idea and a setting. Then, the characters develop through many, many revisions. I am a huge fan of revising! I read aloud and use index cards to rearrange scenes until I have a satisfying arc. MUFFLED is interesting, too, because it started as a novel-in-verse. A big shout-out to my editor, Catherine Laudone, who asked if I’d be willing to write it in prose. Her suggestions helped me deepen the secondary characters and add in fun people like Mr. Skerritt!

What’s one thing that’s different about publishing this book (besides a pandemic, of course!) from your debut book, MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER.

Nothing compares to the thrill of a debut! The main difference is that I know what to expect with a second book, from marketing to promotion to sales. It’s hard to connect with readers during a pandemic but it was also hard to find an audience for MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER, which takes place in Vermont in 2000 during the backlash against the nation’s first civil union law. Unfortunately, many schools and states weren’t ready yet for a middle grade novel about a girl with two moms. I am hoping that MUFFLED finds many more readers, especially as it is a Junior Library Guild selection.

The other big difference is that it was eight years ago! Now I know so many more authors and book-loving people. It really does take a village (like MG Book Village!) to make and share books, and I’m grateful to everyone, from agents, editors, and designers to booksellers, bloggers, and librarians. 

What do you hope your readers will take away from your story?

I hope everyone finds MUFFLED a fun read, with a holiday concert that goes wrong, multiplication tricks, and Boston T subway rides. Ultimately, compassion is an undercurrent that runs through my work — I believe we should be kind to one another and accept our different ways of experiencing the world. 

Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing, and do you have another writing project on which you’re currently working?

You can follow me on twitter @jengenn and learn more at www.jengennari.com. I am excited about my next middle grade, which is the story of a girl who wants to stop the sea from flooding the only home she’s ever known.

We wish you all the best with your book’s launch, Jennifer!

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 schools, 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. 

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