Interview by: Fatimah H. and Ava S.

We’ve been so lucky to host Kalynn Bayron, author of the incredible YA fantasy novel Cinderella is Dead, TWICE in 2020! First with BookPeople and then as part of the 12th annual Texas Teen Book Festival! We were so excited to get to ask Kalynn all of our burning questions about Cinderella, writing advice, twisted fairy tales, literary heroes, and more! Check out our interview below.

Psst– Get your copy of Cinderella is Dead here!

Teen Press Corps: How did you come up with the title for your book?

Kalynn Bayron: I think the title came to me pretty early on. It’s always been the same. Sometimes when you write a book the title changes, like my next book has gone through several title changes. But “Cinderella is Dead” just kind of popped into my head. I knew I was going to be writing this story where Cinderella was already dead, so it just seemed like a nice fit.

TPC: What typically comes first for you when you’re writing a book: the plot or the characters?

KB: I think for me, the characters take more time, so the plot, the setting, all that world building stuff happens earlier on. For me I know the situation that I want my characters to be in, before I have those characters fully fleshed out. And sometimes it takes me a full draft before I know exactly who my characters are, what they want, what they stand for. So yeah, world building, those kind of plot points are what comes first.

TPC: What does your research process look like when you first start writing a book?

KB: I guess it really depends on the book itself. For Cinderella Is Dead my research consisted of watching every movie adaptation of Cinderella and reading every adaptation, including stories that came way before the Disney-fied adaptation of Cinderella. And that was fun. I can’t complain about watching movies and reading fairy tales all day. I have a kind of a process that I go through when I’m starting a new book, and it’s to do the research, and to gather all the things I’m going to need; gather all the source material, especially when I’m working on a retelling.

TPC: If you could write a spin-off about one of your side characters, who would it be, and why?

KB: I would pick… Amina. Because she is a very complicated character. She is a morally grey character; you know she’s not really good or bad, she’s a mix of both. So I would love to tell her backstory. She is one of my favorite characters.

TPC: Are there any authors that inspired you to start writing through their own works?

KB: I have been an avid reader my whole life. I started off with fairy tales, the Nancy Drew novels, the Ramona books, Baby-Sitters Club, and all that. But when I got a little older, when I was a teenager, I discovered the work of Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston. Their work has made the most difference in my life, and has made the biggest impact on me personally and in my writing. Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston have been my biggest influences.

TPC: What was your favorite fairy tale growing up (besides Cinderella)?

KB: I had a collection of fairy tales, the Brothers Grimm collection. It had the versions by the brothers Grimm, and some other versions. It also had some more obscure fairy tales in there. There was this really creepy, dark fairy tale in there called The Juniper Tree. And, I love a fairy tale that has those kinds of dark undertones, so that story is really gruesome and strange so I really enjoy it. I really enjoy that kind of stuff. I’m a big horror movie and horror novel fan, so any kind of fairy tale that has that kind of scary story element appeals to me. But I think that when it comes to princess stories, I loved Cinderella, but I also loved Snow White, I loved Rapunzel, I loved all of them. I just didn’t really see those kinds of stories that had people that look like me. But I did love those fairy tales, so there’s some nostalgia in there for me.

TPC: Are there any other genres besides YA that you can see yourself experimenting with in the future?

KB: Yeah, So I have a middle grade that I’m working on. And it’s a paranormal middle grade. It involves vampires, which I love. I’m also working on picture books. That’s something I’m working on and am trying to get better at. And I just really really love scary stories, so I think that if I could write a horror novel, or maybe something like Goosebumps, sort of short stories, that would be great.

TPC: When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

KB: I always wanted to be a storyteller, I just wasn’t sure what the medium would be. I studied music in college, I studied opera. I’m a huge musical theatre fan, so I thought initially I would try to do something in musical theatre, because that’s another form of storytelling. I think I sat down, and I attempted my first full length novel when I was 18. And I realized, even though that novel was terrible, it was something I really liked to do. And that it was another form of storytelling so it was something that I circled back to later on as I got a little older. So I always knew I wanted to be a storyteller but the medium has changed. Writing for me really checks all the boxes, I really enjoy writing, I like getting to talk to the readers, and it lets me tell the stories that I want to tell. So yeah, it’s been a process and a long journey but it’s paid off.

TPC: What would be your advice to an aspiring writer?

KB: My biggest piece of advice would be to tell the story that you want to tell, don’t think so much about what other people want you to tell or what the market is telling you. Just really ask yourself what kind of story could you tell that would mean the most to you. Because that’s what I did for Cinderella Is Dead, and before Cinderella Is Dead I wrote a few other books but they didn’t really work, and I think that’s because I was worried too much about what other people wanted to hear from me. It wasn’t until I sat down and said: OK, I’m going to write this book for me, I’m going to write this story for the 15, 16, 17-year-old version of me, who really wanted to see a Black girl in a ball gown on the cover of a YA fantasy. And when I wrote that story that’s when everything kind of clicked into place. So, write the story that you want to tell, that is my most important advice.

“It wasn’t until I sat down and said: OK, I’m going to write this book for me, I’m going to write this story for the 15, 16, 17-year-old version of me, who really wanted to see a Black girl in a ball gown on the cover of a YA fantasy. And when I wrote that story that’s when everything kind of clicked into place. So, write the story that you want to tell…”

TPC: What are your plans for the future? Any works in progress?

KB: I have another YA fantasy, a contemporary that comes out next summer. It’s called This Poison Heart. And I have a middle grade that is coming out in 2022, that’s a paranormal vampire story. And I have several secret things… that should be fun.