Let’s Talk Books #8: Q + A with Kalynn Bayron

Well, it’s been a while since my last Let’s Talk Books post, but I’m back today with a really special one. The amazing team at Bloomsbury, particularly Namra Amir, have allowed me to conduct a Q & A with none other than the stupendous Kalynn Bayron! This continues on with the Cinderella Is Dead love from my review the other day.

I’m so grateful to them for this incredible opportunity and after giving some background information about this feature and the phenomenal Cinderella Is Dead, I will let Kalynn’s wonderful answers speak for themselves.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may remember that Emma and I cohosted a feature called Let’s Talk YA. We decided to revamp this during this world-wide pandemic to become a weekly series where we highlight books that are being published during this time that may not get the release they deserve. We will often feature a review or some other exciting bookish content. This was started a while ago with some awesome recent releases and you can check out the page at the top of my blog to see the other posts. 

We strongly encourage other people to join in the conversation and promote upcoming books they’re excited about.

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

Waterstones | Amazon | Goodreads

Q & A with Kalynn Bayron:

Emily: Hi Kalynn, thank you so much for joining me on my blog today to celebrate Cinderella is Dead, which is an utterly phenomenal book by the way. Could you possibly start by telling me a little bit about yourself? 

Kalynn: I’m Kalynn Bayron, author of Cinderella Is Dead. I live in San Antonio, Texas but I grew up between Anchorage, Alaska and Portland, Oregon. I am a classically trained vocalist. I love musical theatre, horror movies, and, of course, books!

How would you describe Cinderella is Dead in five words?

Cinderella Is Dead is magical, mysterious, empowering, truthful, and unique.

What was your main inspiration behind Cinderella is Dead?

I didn’t see a lot of stories with Black girls as the main characters when I was younger. I didn’t see a Black Disney princess until Princess Tiana and I was 26 when that movie came out. Cinderella Is Dead is my love letter to that younger version of myself who so desperately wanted to see someone like Sophia take the lead in a fairy tale. 

As a classically trained vocalist, music must play a huge part in your life. What music would you associate with Cinderella is Dead? 

I actually have a playlist on Spotify that I added to as I was writing Cinderella Is Dead. There are songs on there that are dark and atmospheric but there are also songs that speak to empowerment and Black joy. There’s a song, Django Jane by Janelle Monae that I think would be the anthem for the entire book, but there’s also this song called Us by Anna of the North that I listened to while I wrote most of the scenes between Sophia and Constance. Music is such a huge part of my life it only makes sense that it would play a part in the creation of this story. 

Why did you particularly choose to focus on reimagining the tale of Cinderella?

Cinderella is a pretty popular tale, it’s highly visible. That’s Cinderella’s castle at Disneyworld! I wanted to retell a story that was instantly recognizable and deconstruct it in a way that centered the kinds of people who are nowhere to be found in the story itself, mainly Black, queer people. So, I wrote this story that explores not only how fairy tales have the power to personally affect who we become, but also allows the reader to see this fairytale world through the eyes of a young woman who is actively harmed by the societal norms the fairytaleitself perpetuates. It’s a continuation of the Cinderella story and a kind of reworking of that already established framework that makes it accessible to people like me, while also being wrapped in this dangerous magical mystery. 

What was your biggest struggle in writing Cinderella is Dead and what was your favourite part?

The hardest part was showing the level of violence that people who consider themselves the “good guys” were perpetuating by remaining silent. It’s tough to write a scene where someone is being hurt in full view of the public and no one says or does anything about it. The characters have myriad reasons for staying quiet; fear, intimidation, a misplaced sense of duty, and of course some people are complicit because they want to be. And the tough part is that even though this is fantasy, this aspect of the story is very real. It happens every single day.

My favourite part was allowing these beautiful queer Black girls to take center stage. My favorite scenes are the ones where Sophia is kind of testing Constance’s boundaries to see if it’s safe to be open and honest with her. Constance handles Sophia’s feelings with such care, it makes me happy to have my girls genuinely respect each other. I love them so much!

I adore your covers, particularly how they centre around the wonderful Sophia, who is a proud Black lesbian. Could you possibly talk about what this representation means to you?

I didn’t know how much input I would have in the creation of the covers. I didn’t expect to have much of a say but Bloomsbury came to me early on and asked for my opinion so I feel extremely fortunate in that regard. My only sticking points were that Sophia had to be a brown skinned girl with her natural hair out because that’s how I envisioned her. I got exactly what I wanted. The covers are different but both of them exude Black Girl Magic. It’s important that Sophia gets to be front and center because this is her story.

What’s a piece of advice you’d like to give to any aspiring authors reading this, particularly those who feel underrepresented in the industry?

You have to be persistent above all else because rejection doesn’t stop when you get an agent or a deal and there will be rejection that is clearly motivated by racism, homophobia, misogyny, or a combination of the three. It hurts. As a marginalized creator you will deal with things that your white/straight/cis colleagues will never have to. But you have to keep pushing because there are readers out there who desperately need your stories.

Who would be your ideal cast for a film or TV adaptation of Cinderella is Dead? 

Good question! I have a list!

Going clockwise from the top left corner: Love Simone, Madison Pettis, Alfred Enoch, Lono Brazil, Nafessa Williams, Jamillah McWhorter, Marsai Martin and Tika Sumpter.

Sophia – Lovie Simone or Marsai Martin

Constance – Jamillah Mcwhorter

Erin – Madison Pettis

Sophia’s Mom – Tika Sumpter

Sophia’s Dad – Lono Brazil

King Manford – Alfred Enoch 

Cinderella – Nafessa Williams

Which books inspire you as a writer? 

So I think it’s a combination of things versus a specific title. I loved fairytales. I had this huge volume of collected fairytaleswhen I was a kid. It had early versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, but they were older versions that didn’t look anything like the stories we know now. It also had more obscure tales like The Juniper Tree and The Ridiculous Wishes, which I was really drawn to. And this is gonna sound ridiculous but there was this book that came out when I was about seven called THE TRUE STORY OF THREE LITTLE PIGS that was a retelling of the The Little Pigs from the POV of the Big Bad Wolf. 

I also read a lot of Stephen King and Anne Rice, and Shirley Jackson because I was a horror fanatic and there weren’t any restrictions on what I could read. When I was about 12, a librarian introduced me to Toni Morrison because I was looking for stories about people who looked like me. Toni Morrison lead me to Zora Neale Hurston which lead me to Octavia Butler. I was reading about people who were Black for the first time and realizing that there was absolutely a place for me in the kinds of stories I loved to read.

And all of those things together became my foundation. I write fantasy with elements of horror, that center Black, mostly queer, women.

Finally, what are you currently working on and can you tell us anything about it?

I’m working on my next YA which should be out next year. I can’t say much about it right now, but it’s a combination of The Secret Garden and Little Shop of Horrors with a sprinkle of Hadestown. I’m having a lot of fun putting it together. I’m also polishing up a queer Middle Grade urban fantasy.  

I am so in love with just the tiny crumbs I just got for Kalynn’s next book! Cinderella Is Dead came out in the UK yesterday and I would strongly recommend that you pick it up. Thank you so much to Bloomsbury, Namra and Kalynn for letting me conduct this Q & A.

I will continue to speak up about current events now and forever and to help, here are links to Carrds talking about many of the world’s current events and how you can help. Also, I’ve linked here the Black Lives Matter Carrd to support, but also here is a list of resources to aid Anti-Racism work in the UK, as well as UK specific places to donate to. I will be doing this on every post. If you have the funds to donate, please do but if not, please support and uplift Black voices and sign the petitions. 

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