“It’s easier to track a story if it’s bleeding,” says Princess Eve, the protagonist of Sleep Like Death (Bloomsbury, June 25), Kalynn Bayron’s new, Snow White–inspired fantasy-horror novel. It’s a sentiment the book bears out, with Bayron once again proving the timeless appeal and endless interpretive potential of fairy tales. Kirkus’ starred review calls the book “a spellbinding narrative of betrayal, redemption, and the enduring magic of maternal love.”

Eve has spent her life training to face the Knight, a spectral figure who prowls her queendom, offering the tantalizing promise of wishes fulfilled, but only at a terrible price. Eve is well acquainted with his horrific bargains, having seen her mother transformed by his cruel games. As Eve collects accounts of his crimes in her pursuit of justice, she learns not only about her own origins, but about the nature of storytelling itself.

Kirkus spoke with Bayron via Zoom from her home in Ithaca, New York. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s your favorite part of working with fairy tales and fantasy? Do you consider your stories to be retellings?

I use the term retelling loosely, especially within the framework of my stories, but it’s true. They are retellings, or maybe reimaginings—I like that term a little more. I like to think of my stories in conversation with the generally accepted versions of these fairy tales, which for a lot of us is the Disney version, although many of these stories predate Disney, of course. But I enjoy stories that have a thread of horror in them, and stories that are a little gruesome, and I get that with fairy tales.

It’s exciting to rework them with a modern lens. Fairy tales give us a very specific snapshot: We’re getting the main beats of the story, but we don’t see the before and we don’t see what happens after they ride off into the sunset. I’m searching for that broader view within these stories.

How do you prepare to write a novel like this?

I try to read every version of the story I can get my hands on, and, thank God for the internet, they’re easily accessible.

I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the form of storytelling with some characters who are pillars in the world, and their stories are familiar to us, but we then get to see all these other, branching timelines. I think of my work existing in a similar space: I have the freedom to take the research I’ve done, and the story versions I’ve collected, and fit them together in a way that expands on a story we all think we know. I’m also hugely inspired by things like Wicked, which takes a story we think we know and flips the point of view. I think these stories require interpretation to get to their true meaning.

There’s a throughline of parent-child relationships in this book.

A theme I lean into with Sleep Like Death is motherhood, and mothering done by people who are not our mothers. What kind of trauma and trials do we go through in those roles? Because I think society vastly underserves people in caregiver roles.

I really enjoy writing about complicated relationships, and especially if you’re someone like me—someone who has a complicated relationship with your parents—those themes are present for a reason. Storytelling can be transformative, so I hope even in a YA fantasy novel there’s room to find comfort and healing.

We’re accustomed to the fairy-tale trope of a couple who wish for a child. You subvert that trope when it comes to the character of Leah Kingfisher, whose wish for children turns into a curse.

The Kingfisher storyline felt horrifyingly timely. This couple wanted children so badly, but their dream turned into a curse because they were given no say in how they would enter into parenthood. They love their children, but the tragedy that befalls them is timely and it speaks to the question: Who is allowed to have that kind of power, and who is allowed to make those choices?

The Knight presents characters with an illusion of wonderful choices, but really, there’s only the choice that he wants to give, and it’s no choice at all. I think we see that dynamic in the real world all too often. Putting him in the story as a figure they’re working to defeat gives us something to cling to, and characters to root for, and space to think about how we can do that in our own reality.

You mentioned Wicked and broadening the scopes of stories to reveal new facets of characters. With the Knight, we learn his backstory, but it doesn’t make him any less of a villain.

Sometimes, villainy just exists. That can be a difficult concept to grasp, because it’s hard to grapple with an evil that has no reason and cannot be reasoned with. It’s a frightening prospect.

Your previous foray into fairy-tale reimagining, Cinderella Is Dead, has been the subject of censorship challenges. How do you handle these kinds of attacks?

It’s unfortunate that I spend so much time thinking about it, but it has affected my career and my life so drastically that I do have talking points. Right now, more than ever, young readers need mirrors. Especially when we’re talking about young readers who have marginalized, historically excluded identities. Especially when we’re talking about queer kids.

I try to keep that in the back of my mind. I try to remember that young readers deserve these stories, and the rest is just background noise. I have to listen to [the noise], of course—I have to deal with it and make plans—but in the end, my goal is to put as many queer stories in the hands of as many young readers as possible.

There’s an interesting parallel between thinking of literature as a mirror and considering the very famous mirror in this story.

I can’t talk about mirrors without talking about Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s [article] “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” That’s very literally what this story is about: It’s about being able to look at yourself, and look at interpretations of yourself, and taking the hand of someone who is close to you and saying, We’re going to go through this together. That’s storytelling, and that’s what Sleep Like Death is. I feel really proud of that.

I also saw that Cinderella Is Dead was optioned recently. What do you hope for from an adaptation of your work?

What I want more than anything is for the heart of the story to stay intact. I think we’ve all seen adaptations that didn’t quite do what they needed to do. Sleep Like Death, Cinderella Is Dead—all of my work, really—is about the queer, Black experience, and whatever that looks like for the situation, because we are not a monolith.

I want so badly, not just for myself but for my colleagues, to see those adaptations. I want to see the adaptation of [Tracy Deonn’s] Legendborn; I want to see the adaptation of [Bethany C. Morrow’s] A Song Below Water, and all these amazing Black fantasy stories. Seeing us center stage in these roles is a powerful thing.

Ilana Bensussen Epstein is a writer and filmmaker in Boston.