content by

Kalynn Bayron

How Marginalized Authors Are Transforming Gothic Fiction

Gothic literature, and more specifically gothic horror, is one of my great loves. I love the rain, the gloom, and it is my ultimate goal in life to retire to a creepy, possibly haunted, estate on some windswept moor at some point. I love the drama of gothic literature, the creeping dread that is always simmering just under the surface, the specters that lurk around every corner, the women in white nightgowns padding through darkened hallways by candlelight. If there is a haunted mansion and a brooding, mysterious stranger involved, I’m all in.

My earliest encounters with the genre were film versions of Dracula and Frankenstein which led me, as a voracious reader, to the source material. Since that time, I have come to hold a special place in my heart for the work of Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Oscar Wilde. Their stories fueled my imagination but they have also sparked in me an avalanche of questions—namely, what does gothic literature look like through the eyes of BIPOC and how do our often-intersecting identities fundamentally change the way gothic stories can be written?

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Not Until We Get a Turn: Retellings, Tropes, and Who Gets To Tell Stories

In 2018 I was in the depths of submission hell. I had this novel about queer Black girls living in the former kingdom of Cinderella 200 years after the fabled princess’s death. It centered Black girls in a fantasy setting and was full of magic, adventure, peril, levity, and sisterhood. I’d been working on it for about two years and after finding an agent, we went on submission.

One of the first things people tell you when you get into publishing is that the industry is highly subjective and that you shouldn’t take the rejections you will ultimately receive when querying, or when you’re on submission, personally. From what I’ve seen I’d say half of the time, that’s true. There are myriad reasons a story may not be the right fit for an agent or editor and those passes don’t sting quite as much. But there is no denying that in publishing, as there is in every other system built on a foundation that has specifically excluded marginalized creators, there is an element of selectivity, of bias—insidiously polite terms for racism and homophobia masquerading as “quality control”. Because I share my main character Sophia’s intersectional identity as a Black queer woman, and because it was very clear that in some cases that was the reason we didn’t get a bite, it was personal at least some of the time. It’s exhausting to constantly be wondering if the most recent pass was because of something I could improve upon or if it was because of something that I can’t—and wouldn’t—change about who I am as a person.

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