The Story That Cannot Be Told released earlier this week, and I’m celebrating by interviewing debut author J. Kasper Kramer!
Q&A with J. Kasper Kramer
Tell us about The Story That Cannot Be Told. What inspired this story?
I can pinpoint the exact night I came up with The Story That Cannot Be Told! So for quite a while, I lived in Japan with my husband, where I taught at an international school in Tsukuba City. We had both always loved Japan, so we’d moved there to teach after college. (“Just for one or two years” quickly turned into five, and in another life, we stayed there forever.) Some of my coworkers (and very best friends) were Romanian women—other expatriates like me—and since I was working on another novel with influences from Romania, one of them came over to my house to help with research. The plan was that she would tell me some fairytales and folklore, but after we’d been talking for a while, she started telling me other stories, too—stories about growing up under Ceausescu and Communist reign. Sitting there listening, taking notes as fast as I could, I realized I had a very different book to write.
The Story That Cannot Be Told takes place in 1989 during the end of the Communist regime in Romania. What kind of research was involved while you wrote this book?
The short answer is: a lot! I have no idea how many history books I read or articles and dissertations I ordered. I emailed experts. I read hundreds of blog posts from Romanian expats. There was some really fun research, too: looking through old photos, cooking Romanian food, stuff like that. Most importantly, though, my Romanian friends helped me through the entire process of writing and researching the book. They translated documents and spoke to their relatives about family history. When I sent them copies of the first draft, they each went through it on the phone with me, page by page, pointing out all my many mistakes. I absolutely couldn’t have written this book without them.
Your main character Ileana loves stories. What are some of your favorite folktales?
My favorite Romanian folktale is “Cunning Ileana,” since it wound up becoming such an important part of my debut novel. I’m currently revising a folklore-inspired book set in Poland, so I’ve come to love a great deal of Polish mythology, too, particularly stories about polednice (“Lady Midday” or the “Noonday Witch”) and odmience (the Polish equivalent of changelings). Since I lived in Japan for so long, I’m of course a fan of “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” (or “The Tale of Bamboo Wood Cutter”), and I’m just crazy about Japanese folklore creatures, like kitsune and kappa and bakeneko. (Keep your eye out for a MG Japanese-folklore-inspired book one day. It’s definitely in my future.)
The Story That Cannot Be Told is a middle grade novel. What do you hope for your young readers to take away from your debut?
I hope Story gets young readers interested in learning more about Romania, its incredible history and people and culture. I also hope reader of all ages come away feeling inspired to tell their own stories and to stand up for what they believe in, even when the odds are stacked against them.
What books do you recommend your readers check out after they finish The Story that Cannot Be Told and want to read something similar?
Story is actually a crossover novel, so in some places it’s being marketed to different age groups. (In Germany, for instance, it will be adult literary fiction.) So here are some comp titles from different age categories:
- MG – The War That Saved My Life
- YA – The Book Thief
- Adult – The Tiger’s Wife
What’s up next? Are you working on another middle grade novel or something different?
Right now, I’m revising a YA folklore-inspired historical fantasy set in 1850s Poland about a young woman whose family believes she’s a changeling. I’m also about halfway through drafting a MG historical ghost story set in 1910 NYC. I have a couple other finished novels in my trunk that need dusting off—and then there are the countless books in the space in my head reserved for constant background brainstorming/research. What readers can expect to actually see on shelves next, though, is still undecided.
About J. Kasper Kramer