Creative Access got the chance to speak to author Kalynn Bayron about her latest book, Cinderella is Dead – a young adult retelling of Cinderella with a Black, queer protagonist at its heart. We discuss favourite fairytales, representation, and advice for aspiring writers.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
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!
Q: Your passions are broad, from sports to music. What was it that led you to writing?
I think I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller. That’s the common theme that runs through most of the things I’m passionate about. Literature, music, theatre, movies—they’re all mediums for expressing emotions, for telling stories. I knew I wanted to write because I was a reader, first. I read everything I could get my hands on from a pretty early age. And even though I was always reading, I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me on the page. I started writing for that younger version of myself who wanted to see Black girls in ball gowns, saving the day, and being the heroines of their own stories.
I started writing for that younger version of myself who wanted to see Black girls in ball gowns, saving the day, and being the heroines of their own stories.
Q: What is Cinderella is Dead about?
Cinderella Is Dead is the story of 16-year-old Sophia Grimmins, a young girl living in the kingdom of Mersailles—it is the place where Cinderella lived and died 200 years before. Cinderella’s story has become the backbone of this society and young women are expected to follow in her footsteps by attending the now mandatory annual ball, where they are chosen by prospective suitors. This kingdom has used Cinderella’s story to manipulate and control the women and girls who reside there. As Sophia is preparing to attend the ball she grapples with how this story doesn’t speak to who she is or what she wants. She’s in love with her best friend, Erin, she doesn’t want to be married, and she watches the people around her fail to help her at every possible opportunity. The ball is a turning point for Sophia. She makes some decisions there that put her on a collision course with Mersaille’s ruler, and in the process she uncovers some earth shattering truths about Cinderella, Prince Charming, and the fairy godmother. It’s a story about raising your voice, about telling the whole truth when it comes to our history, and about telling Black queer girls that they are enough just as they are.
It’s a story about raising your voice, about telling the whole truth when it comes to our history, and about telling Black queer girls that they are enough just as they are.
Q: What made you want to tell Sophia’s story?
Cinderella is a pretty popular tale. 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. 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 Sophia’s eyes—this young girl who is actively harmed by the societal norms the fairytale itself 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.
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.
Q: What’s your favourite fairytale?
Probably not something that’s very well known, but there is a story called The Juniper Tree. It’s about a young boy whose mother dies and his new stepmother resents him so much that she kills him and then frames her younger daughter for his murder. Then he comes back as a bird to try and get the towns folk to solve his murder. Very dark, very creepy. But I’m kind of drawn to stories that have elements of horror and fantasy blended together.
Q: What inspired you to give this classic story a dystopian twist?
It was the question of what happened after Cinderella got her happily ever after. You get married and then…what? You’re guaranteed a long happy life? I imagined a world where maybe, Cinderella didn’t have that opportunity and I wanted to know what the people living in the kingdom she ruled over thought of her and her story. It felt like a good entry point into this narrative that is essentially about a fairytale being used as propaganda to manipulate and control the people living in the place where Cinderella lived and died.
There is this myth that our stories don’t sell, so we don’t often get as much support.
Q: You’ve spoken about how important it is for readers to see themselves reflected in your work. What do you think the publishing industry can be doing to champion diverse stories?
There are so many things, but I wish publishing threw as much support behind our stories as they do for stories by and about white/straight/cis people. There is this myth that our stories don’t sell, so we don’t often get as much support. And then guess what? Our titles don’t do well because there wasn’t enough (or any) marketing and publicity. The title tanks and then we’re told, “See. It didn’t sell.” It’s a vicious cycle that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and it actively harms marginalized authors. Our stories are worth championing and our readers are waiting.
Our stories are worth championing and our readers are waiting.
Q: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t wait to be inspired, sit down and write. Be persistent above all else because we all have days when the words don’t flow, the rejections get the better of us, or things just aren’t going to plan. You have to keep going.
Kalynn Bayron’s book Cinderella is Dead is available to order now.