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Breaking In: An Interview with Debut Middle-Grade Author J. Kaspar Kramer

The debut middle-grade author answers questions about writing and publishing her folklore-inspired historical fiction set in Communist Romania.

J. Kasper Kramer's debut middle-grade novel The Story That Cannot Be Told has been named a "Best Books for 12 Year Olds" by Imagination Soup. Her second book, The List of Unspeakable Fears, sold to Atheneum and will be published in Fall 2021. To celebrate, we're publishing Kramer's Breaking In interview. A shorter version ran in the November/December 2019 issue of Writer's Digest.

J. Kaspar Kramer The Story That Cannot Be Told

It's no wonder that The Story That Cannot Be Told has been praised as a best book for 12 year olds. Set during the final months of Communist Romania, the novels blends historical fiction and fantasy to tell the story of Ileana, who must find her voice and the strength to use it. The Story That Cannot Be Told was published in October 2019 by Atheneum. Kasper, a Chattanooga, Tennessee based author, answers a few questions for WD about her debut release.

What led up to this book? What were you writing and getting published before breaking out?

I had been living in Japan for about five years, writing novels in my spare time while teaching, when I finally decided to give my dream of becoming an author a real shot. I moved back to the States to attend graduate school at UT Chattanooga and landed a couple short, creative nonfiction publications. Story was my master’s thesis.

What was the time frame for writing this book? 

Story was inspired by my Romanian friends in Japan, who taught with me at an international school. With their help, I conducted research for about two years. I finally sat down to draft the book during my second semester of graduate school. It took six months.

How did you find your agent?

Getting my agent involved a lot of right place, right person, right time. After reading the first draft of Story, my amazing thesis director, Sarah Einstein, put me in touch with Yishai Seidman, who’d represented her in the past. One query later, I had an agent.

What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?

I was fortunate enough to speak to several editors by phone before Story went to auction. The thing that surprised me the most was realizing how truly subjective writing can be. One editor’s favorite part of the book was the same part another editor wanted to cut! Similarly, some editors thought Story was an adult novel, when in the end it sold as a middle-grade book.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

I went back to school. Getting my MA in Creative Writing gave me the time, focus, feedback, and professional contacts I desperately needed. However, this meant I had to leave the life I’d built in Japan behind, which was incredibly difficult.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

I don’t think I would have done anything differently. Maybe I would have done certain things sooner? This isn’t to say I haven’t made tons of mistakes—because I have—but each one was a learning experience that led me to where I am now.

Did you have a platform in place? What are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?

I had a couple thousand followers on Twitter before getting an agent, mostly from my efforts to join the writing community online. Now, I spend my time participating in debut author groups, such as Novel19s and Class of 2k19. We host chats, circulate advance copies, and support each other’s work.

What is the best piece of writing advice we haven’t discussed?
Don’t be afraid to let the story tell itself. So often, when I start working on a new novel, I have all these ideas about where it will go and what it will be. It’s only after I let go of the reins that the real shape of the book finds its form.

What’s next?

I’m currently revising a folklore-inspired YA, set in 1850s Poland, about a young woman whose family believes she’s a changeling. I’m also drafting a middle-grade ghost story, set in 1910 NYC on North Brother Island.


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