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J. Kasper Kramer: The Story That Cannot Be Told


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The Story That Cannot Be Told

by J. Kasper Kramer

Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published—right before he went missing.

Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life.

October 8th, 2019

Introduce yourself and your debut novel!

I’m J. Kasper Kramer, and my debut is THE STORY THAT CANNOT BE TOLD. It’s historical fiction set in 1989 Communist Romania + a dash of retold fairytales and folklore. STORY follows young Ileana, who desperately wants to be a writer, even after her poet uncle is disappeared by the Securitate. For her safety, Ileana is sent to a rural village in the Carpathians to stay with her grandparents, but danger isn’t far behind. Here in the U.S., STORY is a middle grade novel, but I think older readers will enjoy it, too. In some places abroad, it’s actually going to be adult fiction!

What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?

I’ve always been a pretty solitary writer. This journey has helped me find a writing community, though, something I really didn’t expect.

Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!

If you haven’t read Gillian McDunn’s Caterpillar Summer, go get a copy! Her next book, The Queen Bee and Me, comes out March 2020 and I can’t wait!

Describe your main character in 3 words.

Cunning, Brave, and Creative


What was the hardest scene to write?

One chapter is a story from Ileana’s grandfather’s experience in WWII, and one scene in that chapter is set during the Holocaust, specifically at the Odessa Massacre. This was hard to write for many reasons, of course, but it also became a point of frequent revision. I believe reading about the Holocaust should always be upsetting. It should make us want to fight against fascism and genocide. It should make us afraid of prejudice and extremely wary of leaders who preach it. However, finding the line between “telling the truth” and what was too graphic for a MG book was not an easy task.

How do you develop your plot and characters?

My husband, Dustin, is not only my first reader (and has been since we started dating in high school), he’s also my brainstorming partner. We work really well together creatively, so when I get a new concept for a book or short story or essay, one of the first things I do is talk through it with him. I always say he gives me my best ideas, and it really is true. Dustin knows me and my writing so well and has such a great understanding of good storytelling, but he’s also able to see things I can’t, since he has a distance I don’t. I consider myself pretty lucky.


What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I usually let the idea of a book hang around in my head while doing some casual research for about a year. When I feel like I know the characters and the plot well enough to have real direction, I start in-depth research. If I can afford it, I travel. I order and read lots and lots of articles and books. (It helps that I teach at a university with a great library.) I get in contact with experts and specialists, if needed. This stage usually lasts about another year before I start writing, though of course the research continues while I’m drafting, too.


What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Last year, I had the opportunity to go to the Highlights Foundation for a retreat with some other debut MG authors: Rajani LaRocca, Chris Baron, Josh Levy, Nicole Panteleakos, Cory Leonardo, Naomi Milliner, and Gillian McDunn. We all became really close because of that trip, and I don’t know what I’d do without them at this point! It’s not even really about writing help, either—though we do share chapters and such from time to time. Mostly, it’s just about having other people to lean on while navigating this new career. They make me a better author—and probably a better person, too.


Share a picture of your favorite animal!

I foster neonatal, orphaned kittens for the Humane Society when I have free time. Here’s one of my favorite pictures of a couple cuties from a litter last year. The screaming one is named Cereal. The other one is Oatmeal.


I'm so excited for this great historical fiction, and I can't wait to read it on 10/9/19!

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