Ask the Author: J. Kasper Kramer
What would you like readers to know about you?
My debut novel, The Story That Cannot Be Told, came out with Simon and Schuster/Atheneum in October 2019. It earned three starred reviews and has recently been featured alongside works by authors like Ruta Sepetys and R. J. Palacio in several publications. My next book, The List of Unspeakable Fears, is forthcoming Fall 2021.
I teach English part-time for The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Martin Methodist College, and when I’m not writing or reading (or grading!), I can usually be found playing video games or fostering neonatal kittens for the Humane Society and local animal shelters.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
The Story That Cannot Be Told is set in 1989 Communist Romania and follows the journey of 10-year-old Ileana, an aspiring writer. After her uncle is disappeared by the Securitate—the Romanian Secret Police—for publishing poems that criticize their government, Ileana is sent away to stay with her grandparents in their rural mountain village for safety. However, danger is never far off, and to save the people she loves, Ileana must find her voice and the strength to use it.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
The inspiration for this book came from listening to the stories of my Romanian friends who worked at the same international school as me in Japan. They were an incredible help throughout the entire process. The novel wouldn’t exist without them.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
Though most of the novel is historical fiction, there are several chapters interspersed throughout the main story that follows Princess Ileana, a character from Romanian folklore. Real-world Ileana was named after this character, and the chapters of folklore are her retellings of her favorite story, “Cunning Ileana.”
These folklore chapters were my favorite part to write because I got to play with fairy tale tropes and mix together a blend of some really wonderful traditional Romanian characters, quests, and magical items. The folklore chapters also are pretty light-hearted and funny compared to the rest of the book, so I think they serve as a good break from the heavier stuff—even though, if you look closely, you’ll probably see that Princess Ileana’s life has a lot of parallels to real-world Ileana’s.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve wanted to be an author my whole life—I honestly can’t remember a time when that wasn’t the goal—so there were several picture books that inspired me before I could even read on my own. However, I really found what kind of an author I wanted to be in late elementary and middle school, when I was reading authors like K.A. (Katherine) Applegate, R.L. Stine, and M.C. (Mark) Sumner. I knew I wanted to write exciting stories with characters that could be my best friends, and that I wanted to write about things that were fantastic or scary or both! The love for history came much later, in college. That’s the academic in me—the nerd who loves piles and piles of research and long hours in the library spent digging up lost fairytales or strange historical facts.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
I know a lot of people say, “Never give up!” but I want to add a footnote to that. Never give up on writing altogether—but it’s okay to set aside a project that isn’t working. I wrote (and rewrote and rewrote!) the same fantasy series for half my life before making the hard choice to put it in the trunk and try my hand at something completely different. That new project became The Story That Cannot Be Told. I still love my old fantasy series—I still believe in it and hope to see it on shelves one day—but putting it on the back burner was the move that jumpstarted my career.
So don’t give up, but know it’s okay to admit something isn’t working and check out a different path.