On June 20, Kalynn Bayron is tapping into her horror side with the release of her upcoming YA novel. You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight. The book follows Charity, a teenager who holds a summer job at Camp Mirror Lake, where guests pay to be scared. During the simulation, Charity takes on the role of “final girl” as she and her co-workers recreate scenes from the classic slasher The Curse of Camp Mirror Lake. However, as the season comes to an end, Charity’s co-workers go missing, and one even ends up dead. So, Charity — along with her girlfriend Bezi — fight against the clock as they try to survive the night and uncover the killer’s identity. But Camp Mirror Lake is more than what it seems.
Bayron is the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead, her debut novel. More recently, she released her first middle grade novel, entitled The Vanquishers, whose sequel releases October 10. In March of this year, she released a retelling of Jekyll & Hyde, entitled My Dear Henry, as part of Macmillan’s remixed classics series. Her other work includes This Poison Heart, This Wicked Fate, and contributions to anthologies.
Ahead of You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight’s release, we had the chance to talk with Bayron about the book, leaning into the horror genre, creating her own final girl, and more.
Note: This interview was edited for clarity.
Nerds & Beyond: First things first, congratulations on the book! You just absolutely killed it. I was actually hollering when I was reading. It’s so good.
Kalynn Bayron: [laughs] That’s the best response, if I can get people shouting and hollering. That’s the best.
Nerds & Beyond: Yeah, I definitely was. So, where did the idea for the story come from?
Kalynn Bayron: So, You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight is kind of my ode to ‘80s horror films. I’m an ‘80s baby, and I grew up with Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp and all of these movies that I probably shouldn’t have been watching when I was much younger. But it’s always been a fascinating thing for me. I’m a huge horror fan in general, both movies and books. So, this novel really is my ode to all things kind of scary, camp, slasher-type things.
Nerds & Beyond: With this being horror, there’s obviously going to be the final girl, a title that applies to Charity. But something I thought you did so well was showing the responsibility of a final girl. Why was it important to you to really emphasize that she’s not just the character who has to survive the night?
Kalynn Bayron: I think for Charity, she plays a final girl in this kind of terror simulation, but I think that that specific viewpoint — which I feel is pretty unique — it really allows us to look at Charity as a whole person. She’s not just a survivor. She is someone who has this very complicated background. She has people in her life that she loves and cares about. She has family drama. She has all of these components to her that make her so much more than just what she ends up becoming. So, I think the focus there kind of shifts a little to who she is as a person and her kind of interpersonal relationships. It was important for me to be able to include that because the final girl is a horror trope. It is something that we see time and time again, and we don’t always get the final girls who are fully fleshed out. I wanted that for Charity. I wanted that for everyone in this story.
Nerds & Beyond: Speaking of tropes, that actually leads perfectly into my next question. It’s always so fun — at least to me — to see the characters acknowledge the genre tropes, but at some point, they almost have to embrace certain ones largely because survival kicks in. What did you enjoy most about playing with those tropes, especially with a Black and queer final girl? What were some of the challenges you faced to avoid falling into too many?
Kalynn Bayron: Yeah, my thought process was, I’m going to try my best to squeeze in as many of those tropes as possible because I feel like tropes are a storytelling device no matter how — whether you love them or hate them. They are a storytelling device, and so I wanted to put in all of the ones that I really loved, but I wanted to try to do it in a way that shows why these tropes are so prevalent. We have Charity, who really wants to help her friends. She wants to try to save them if she can. It forces her to go out into the dark, in the middle of the night, which is something that we all know you shouldn’t do. We all know that is bad news, but she does it because she has this very human emotion of wanting to help, wanting to save her friends, wanting to try to get out of this terrible situation.
So, I think it gives another voice to those kind of horror tropes that we’re familiar with. I wasn’t too worried about having too many of them because I feel like they’re all fun, and they’re all part of this horror genre. So, I wasn’t too worried about including too many. I just wanted to make sure that each one was addressed. I am also just a huge fan of the Scream movies, which I think do an excellent job of having the characters acknowledge these types of storytelling devices. So, I tried to put all of that in there. But the main thing is just to have this really compelling story driving all of it.
Nerds & Beyond: Something else I think you do so well is creating this very eerie and isolating atmosphere even before anything really wild happens, but you also include these moments of false security when everything is happening. How did you approach striking that sort of balance without pulling readers out of the moment?
Kalynn Bayron: I think that the way that the story is set up is a huge part of that. We have these kids who are essentially running this camp, out in the middle of nowhere. So, immediately you have that sense of isolation, but then we start to kind of see that there are — it’s a contemporary story, and so why don’t you just drive out? Why don’t you just use your cell phone? It’s like we start to see these cracks in that security. Cell phone service is spotty, and it’s a really long way to the nearest town. It kind of further isolates these characters in this environment, and I think that that isolation in and of itself is a huge part of the plot. It really is something that’s essential. I really needed the reader to feel how alone these characters feel and how frustrating it is to feel like you’re so close to maybe being saved. You have a cell phone. You have a vehicle, but having them be so close yet so far away from those things, I think, creates a sense of tension and a sense of frustration.
So, it’s all in service to this greater overarching story, but it’s just fun to play around with all of those things. And it’s hard to do in a contemporary setting because we do have cell phones and all of the — I had to put a landline in this story, which, one of my kids was like, “What’s that?” So, I’m [laughs] it’s just funny to be able to put these modern things in with this horror story, with all of these tropes that rely on not having those things.
Nerds & Beyond: So, I have to ask about those twists at the end of the book. Spoiler-free, of course. But I was just floored at each one that kept coming, especially those last two that you put in. Did you know going in how you would end the story, or did the ending morph as you went along?
Kalynn Bayron: It definitely changed. I think that one of my favorite things in horror is when you feel like you’ve gotten to the end of the movie, the end of the novel, and you’re like, “Okay. I know what’s gonna happen. I know how this is gonna end.” That could be extremely satisfying. Or not. It really just depends. But I love feeling like I know exactly what’s going to happen, and then have — it’s almost like a false ending that’s where we thought it was going to end, but something else occurs that ties everything together. It’s not so out of left field that it doesn’t make sense with the story. It really is this kind of thing that was a possibility the whole time. That is so fun for me, just as a reader and as someone who loves scary movies. So, I wanted to do that. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there until the end of the first draft. Once I got to the end of the first draft, I realized what I could do because I had already laid the groundwork for this other thing to happen. That’s always fun as a writer when you kind of surprise yourself in that way.
Nerds & Beyond: Throughout the book, and you mentioned it a little bit earlier, but we do get some backstory about Charity’s home life and how Camp Mirror Lake — and horror — is an escape for her. Why do you think horror can be such a source of comfort? For you personally, what draws you to the genre?
Kalynn Bayron: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think horror can serve to show us what we’re made of, how brave we can be. I think there’s also an element of writing horror that lets you explore these very gruesome topics in a safe way. You’re sitting in your office writing these things, and it’s okay to put them on paper, but you’re still in a safe environment. As a reader, it’s the same thing. I can enjoy these horror stories but know that I’m gonna be okay at the end. There’s something about that that’s kind of thrilling, and I really enjoy that. So, I think that horror — it can, and it has the possibility to show us what we can become, good or bad. I think for this story specifically, it really is just about getting those scares in and knowing that you’re going to be okay at the end. Maybe not so much for the characters, but that you’ll be okay at the end.
Nerds & Beyond: Sort of on a similar note, you’ve been leaning a lot more into horror and the supernatural in your recent work, and this one, you certainly don’t hold back. What pushed you to go for stories like this as opposed to something more rooted in fantasy like your earlier novels?
Kalynn Bayron: I’ve just always been a fan of horror as a genre. I just enjoy it so, so much, and I think I had this idea in my head for a really long time. And I love fantasy, as well, so I’m trying to strike a balance of doing these kind of passion projects, where I just — I love scary stories so much. So, I wanted to do a one-off kind of scary story. But I love fantasy, so I will definitely return to that. I just love scary stories, and I love a good twist. I really feel like horror is a place where Black and queer characters have been severely underrepresented, and there’s an opportunity there for us to be the main characters and to be the ones who get to survive. I think that in and of itself is fun and exciting.
Nerds & Beyond: I noticed you included some outside horror references, which were both blatant and more subtle. One of my personal favorites was the sheriff’s name. That had me actually laughing out loud. I loved it so much. Were there any references that you were like, “Yes. I HAVE to put this in here”?
Kalynn Bayron: I knew that I was gonna put a reference to Killer Clowns from Outer Space in there at some point. That movie traumatized me when I was a kid [laughs], and I was like, I gotta put something in there. But, yes, the sheriff’s name, it’s a shout-out to Matthew Lillard. And it’s just so funny because I get to have these very meta things that I think other horror fans will appreciate without it being too, too over the top.
Nerds & Beyond: Since this book is all about the final girl, my last question for you today is: who is your favorite final girl in horror, across movies, TV, or books?
Kalynn Bayron: Ooh. I feel like the easy answer is Sidney Prescott from the Scream movies. We share a birthday, me and Neve Campbell, the actress who plays her, share a birthday. So, I just feel like that is probably my favorite final girl. And she’s still around. She’s still kicking after all these movies, so I would say that it’s probably her. A close second is Laurie Strode. [She’s] a classic final girl. But yeah, I’m gonna go with Neve Campbell. [I] love Sidney Prescott.