Featured photo: Jessica Miller. Photo By Dustin Kramer
By Kyla Young | Photo By Dustin Kramers
“I loved books as a child because, in them, anything could happen, and the idea of being a person who could create anything out of nothing at all felt very much like magic,” says writer Jessica Miller, when discussing her lifelong passion for her craft.
A young child with a creative mind, Miller knew before she could even read that she wanted to be a writer—she wanted to tell stories to others just as her parents told stories to her.
An alumna of UT Southern (UTS) and UT Chattanooga (UTC) and an adjunct instructor of English at both institutions, Miller was a Barton Honors Scholar on campus during her undergraduate career, as well as president and vice president of multiple clubs, including drama club, Sigma Tau Delta and Gamma Beta Phi. She did all this while working for the Student Resource Center and summer youth programs. At graduation, she received the prestigious President’s Award, given to the graduate with the highest grade-point average.
After earning her Bachelor of Arts in English in 2009, Miller moved to Japan with her now-husband Dustin, having fallen in love with the country after spending a holiday in a friend’s hometown.
“For five years, we lived as expatriates in a big, old Japanese house with straw mats on the floor, sliding paper doors and a quaint little garden. The only reason we could afford it is because locals thought it was haunted,” Miller says.
After teaching English as a second language for several years in Japan, Miller became a kindergarten teacher there at an international elementary school, where the idea for her first novel came to light. Having become friends with her new coworkers from Romania, Miller decided to write a fantasy novel set in Eastern Europe and inspired by Romanian folklore and fairy tales; however, when talking with one friend for research, Miller heard the friend’s story as a young girl living in Communist Romania.
“I realized very quickly that I had a different novel to write,” she says.
Miller’s first published young adult novel, The Story That Cannot Be Told, penned under the name J. Kasper Kramer, is historical fiction set in Communist Romania right before the Revolution of 1989, but it also is heavily influenced by Romanian fairy tales and folklore.
Originally written for her master’s thesis at UT Chattanooga, Miller’s debut novel, published by Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, was released in the fall of 2019 and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Book Page, Writer’s Digest, The Rumpus and The San Francisco Chronicle.
In the fall of 2021, working again with Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, Miller published her second historical fiction young-adult novel, The List of Unspeakable Fears, set in 1910 New York City on North Brother Island—a quarantine island for the “incurable sick” of the city at that time. While her second novel includes many real historical figures and events, such as Typhoid Mary and the sinking of the General Slocum, it is also a ghost story, as Miller enjoys subtly blurring the lines between fact and fiction.
Since its release, her second novel has been recognized as a 2022 Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts and a 2022 Notable Social Studies Trade Book. It is a finalist for Surrey Schools’ Book of the Year and will be voted on by thousands of students in British Columbia over the next school year.
With her husband, she talks through plot holes and bounces around new ideas. She is currently working on two books while balancing writing, teaching and fostering neonatal orphaned kittens for local animal shelters.
“Before my first novel was published—and even afterward—I frequently said that none of it felt real,” Miller says. “Every time an article or blog or podcast mentioned my book, I pinched myself to remember that I wrote this novel—that I was the author they were talking about.”
“When I peek into a bookstore in an unfamiliar city and spot one of my covers, my heart skips a beat,” she adds. “Fan mail, especially from young readers, makes my whole world come to a standstill: In those moments, I remember staring longingly at the spot on the bookstore shelf where my last name would fit or I remember writing to my own favorite authors. I’ve dreamed of doing exactly this my whole life—writing and teaching people about writing—and I sincerely could not be happier.”