Jennifer Gennari is the author of My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012). This week marks one year of publication for her debut novel, which was selected for the Association of Booksellers for Children Spring 2012 New Voices and also named to the American Library Association Rainbow List.
Twelve-year-old June is set on winning a blue ribbon for one of her pies in the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition, but her plans get muddled when June’s mom decides to marry her girlfriend now that Vermont has made civil unions legal.
Jennifer Gennari is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts and a former reporter. She lives on a houseboat in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and (occasionally) their four daughters. In addition to her own blog, she also writes for The Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog.
Describe your workspace.
I write wherever I am, whenever I can find time. About three years ago we moved to a floating home in Sausalito, so I don’t have a room of my own. But on the sun-filled main floor, I flip open the desk of this mahogany old secretary that used to be my grandmother’s. I really love looking up at the spines of great literature. The row closest to eye level contains my collection of poetry, which inspires me to keep in mind the beauty of each word, every sentence.
Describe a typical workday.
I don’t work full time as a writer—I’m a mom and work in a marketing department nine to five. My commute is heavenly: I bike through town and take a ferry to San Francisco, cruising by the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. On the ferry I have 25 minutes—just enough for writing blogs, editing, or writing poems. It’s a good puzzle time too—does my plot work? Would my protagonist feel that? Do I have enough suspense? There’s no wifi so I’m particularly productive!
The weekends are my main creative time. I’m up at 6, reading the paper, sipping tea, and relaxing. Then from nine to noon, I sit at my desk. After lunch, depending if I’m revising or creating, I may keep going. But by 3 p.m. I’m done—and it’s time to kayak or go for a sail!
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
Up in the case is a SCBWI bumper sticker: Peace, Love, and Children’s Books. It reminds me of the supportive kidlit community and the inspiration I draw from being a bit of a hippie. Hope, love, and all that jazz often ends up in my stories.
In the cubbies of my desk I have a postcard from Ellen Levine, one of my faculty advisors from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She wrote to remind me to keep on growing, and there’s a picture of a woman watering her garden. Ellen, who died in 2012, believed in making the world a better place.
From the New York Times Book Review, I saved a column by Jonathan Swift called “Words per Minute.” He reminds me that novels are slow work, and that’s OK.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I talk to myself. I read out loud. I pace.
What do you listen to while you work?
I can’t listen to music with words (I’d end up singing along). Instead, I listen to squawking seagulls, and if I’ve put seed in the bird feeders, the finches fighting noisily.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
I always have green tea, my second cup. I try not to snack but I often grab nuts and fruit.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
Knowing that the house may be quiet only for a little while.
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I’m a mac user. I love how lightweight my computer is, and often I end up on the sofa in the afternoon. I also keep an idea journal with me always.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I’m an outliner. I also draw maps. There’s always a point, too, where I need to print out everything. Sometimes that means getting out the scissors and cutting and rearranging scenes.
I also don’t think you have to be one way or the other. Sometimes a story starts in my head and I just go, writing the first 5,000 words or so. But then I stop and say—where is this story going? That’s when I go back to the outline and tell myself the story pitch, as if I’m talking to a child (And then this happened!).
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
Emily Dickinson. She’d probably be quiet, and we could read aloud to each other. We’d take walks and I’d introduce her to the pelicans and diving grebes and roses and succulents along the dock (so different from New England!). And then we’d quietly retreat to write about the beautiful world we see.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
I believe wherever we are on the writing journey, the advice we need to hear will reach us. For me, it was a recent post by Robin Lafevers who wrote “don’t let envy erode your own path to success.” That’s a good reminder to not get sucked into a social media freak-out over other people’s news. All I can do is write from my heart and write to illuminate the human experience.