Author Spotlight: Brittney Morris talks Slay
I'm thrilled to welcome Brittney Morris on today's blog! In her fantastic debut, SLAY, Brittney explores the intersectional issues of social justice,community, and diaspora that will resonate with anyone who has questioned who they are and where they fit into the world. In addition to writing kick-ass books, Brittney is also the founder and former president of the Boston University Creative Writing Club.
SLAY is available now from Simon Pulse. Check out the synopsis below!
Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give in this dynamite debut novel that follows a fierce teen game developer as she battles a real-life troll intent on ruining the Black Panther–inspired video game she created and the safe community it represents for Black gamers.
By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”
But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”
Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
And now, here's my chat with Brittney!
Hi, Brittney! Welcome and congrats on SLAY. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?
Sure! SLAY is about a Black teen game developer who creates a Wakanda-inspired VR game and has to duel a racist troll to maintain control of it, using duel cards based on Black culture and Black history. The inspiration for SLAY really started in my childhood. I was one of the only Black kids in my hometown, and the first Black kid to graduate from my high school. Ever. I became the “Black culture expert” at my school. My classmates expected me to have seen all the movies, listened to all the music, and eaten all the foods that Black people are “supposed to like.” Needless to say, I felt underqualified. I grew up in the same small town they did. Ate the same foods. Heard the same radio stations. Had the same TV channels. But I still felt pressure to fit a stereotype. I thought I acted too “white” to fit in with my Black friends, and too Black to fit in with my white friends. I grew up in a racial limbo, and that stayed with me all the way until I walked into the theater the opening night of Black Panther. It was the first time I ever felt like, just as I was, with my cardigan and nerdy glasses and natural hair, I was Black enough. That total unconditional acceptance I felt in the theater, I wanted to share that love with every Black person on this planet. I wanted a “Wakanda simulator” video game, STAT. And after 3 days, when I realized no one was going to make one, (and I’d never programmed anything in my life), I decided to write a book about one instead!
I love that Kiera is a game developer! If we were talking to her, what would she say about the importance of gaming in her life?
Kiera would say that SLAY is her Nubian utopia. It’s her safe space. It’s where she can be herself! Gaming is Kiera’s window into the world and her passion. It’s also how she met Cicada, her closest friend, who happens to live halfway around the world.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing SLAY teach you?
The actual process of writing SLAY showed me what I’m capable of, and what can happen when I don’t let that slump in the middle (that existential crisis that can happen around the 20k word mark) convince me the story won’t work, or that it was a bad idea, or whatever.
The story of SLAY taught me that I’m not alone in how I feel about my Blackness. It’s multifaceted. It’s complex. I don’t have to fit every stereotype, I don’t have to be an expert, and I certainly don’t have to be a punchline. Sometimes my twist-outs fail, and sometimes I don’t feel clever enough to fit in with the genius of Black twitter, but I’m Black. Simply because, I am.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I just finished playing Life is Strange 2, Chapter 4, which is a fantastic game! For anyone who likes story heavy games that feel like playing a book, and anyone who is new to gaming and wants to get into it, I highly recommend! I just picked up RED, WHITE, & ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston (YAY!!).
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your writing/publishing career?
Being patient with myself, and watching for opportunities. It took me multiple rounds of querying, and hundreds of query letters before landing the perfect agent. I thought about giving up dozens of times, and I had several writing slumps in between. But I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your eyes open and watching for a door to open. If I hadn’t, I might’ve missed the opportunity to write SLAY. Leaving the theater after seeing Black Panther, I first got the idea for the concept: a Wakanda simulator video game. The opportunity came when I realized that the next Twitter pitch contest was happening in a couple of weeks, and I could be the first person with a Black Panther comp. There was never a question of whether or not I thought I could write the book that fast. There was only the realization that I had to. It may take years of positioning yourself before a door opens. And when it does (and it will), trust your gut, and seize it! Take care of yourself while you’re seizing it though. Hydrate. Nourish. Exercise. Rest. You can do it.
Many thanks go out to Brittney for taking the time to tell us more about the evolution of SLAY, and for sharing bits of her own personal journey. Be to sure to add the YA novel that People Magazine called 'gripping and timely' to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,