Morris received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Boston University, where she was the founder and president of the BU Creative Writing Club. She currently lives in Philadelphia and enjoys reading and playing indie video games in her spare time.
Jessica Palacios of Once Upon a Time in Montrose, California, who served as a member of the panel that selected Morris’ book for the Indies Introduce program, called it “a great, action-packed book that can be given to so many people.”
Said Palacios, “Gamers get ready! Kiera is your normal student dealing with family, a boyfriend, and high school, except she is also the game developer behind a secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. But when the game is exposed to the media, people want to tear down the safe space she has created. I loved the gameplay, energy, family dynamics, and the few chapters told from different players’ perspectives. I want to SLAY!”
Here, Palacios and Morris discuss representation, code-switching, and the creation of safe spaces, all present in the author’s debut.
Jessica Palacios: SLAY — the book and the game — are about building relationships, establishing safe spaces, and facing challenges. Why did you want to overlap the everyday world with the gaming world?
Brittney Morris: Growing up, I lived between worlds like Kiera did. Among my family and other Black people, I could be myself unapologetically. At school and at church, I had to code-switch or use my “telephone voice” and be constantly mindful of white people’s feelings. It felt like stepping in and out of an alternate reality. Kiera literally hops between worlds, so it felt natural for her real world and the gaming world to overlap.
JP: While the main character is Kiera, we also get to experience SLAY through other characters (Claire, Jaylen, John). Why did you feel like it was important to show us the wide world of gamers?
BM: The world of gaming is huge and gamers ourselves are so diverse and different! Claire is a star student in Paris, Jaylen is a trans girl in New Orleans, John is a Black Studies professor in Boston who barely knows his way around a controller, and Maurice is a businessman in Beijing who plays SLAY to wind down at the end of the day. I wanted to show that SLAY is available to people of all talents, all backgrounds, and all experience levels, just like how Black people of all walks of life are entitled to explore their Black identity.
JP: As booksellers, we often get asked to recommend books for kids who spend too much time playing video games. How do you think your book challenges the assumption that gaming is bad?
BM: Ooh, I love this question. I was a reluctant reader and avid gamer as a kid, so this hits home. Video games have been an underutilized educational tool for years. Games like Fortnite and Minecraft tend to get the spotlight, which I would argue are educational in their own ways, but there are also indie games that explore topics like depression, suicide, social advocacy, immigration reform, and even racial identity and racial bias. Lots of these indie games feel like playing a novel — a colorful, interactive, immersive novel. And SLAY — I hope — feels like reading a video game. An educational, empathy-inducing, exploratory video game.
JP: Your book adds a safe space in YA literature in the same way Black Panther adds one to movies. Why do you think it is important to build that sense of community and belonging in the media we consume?
BM: Wow, thank you! That’s a huge compliment. Everyone needs a space where they can be themselves. As Black people, we often have to exist in spaces where our Blackness is considered “too much” or even “unprofessional.” When you exist in those spaces for so long, you begin to hate what makes you “too much” or “unprofessional” to white people. You begin to hate your own culture. Without a space to exist free of the white gaze, we can’t thrive and foster community amongst ourselves. We need to remember that we are beautiful as a people, however our Blackness is perceived elsewhere.
JP: Who in the real world would you like to battle against in SLAY?
BM: Just for fun? So many. Angie Thomas, Lizzo, Oprah...I’d say Beyoncé, but I don’t feel like getting murdered today. I’d also like to fight Kanye or Chris Brown for entirely different reasons.
SLAY by Brittney Morris (Simon Pulse, 9781534445420, Hardcover YA, $18.99) On Sale Date: 9/24/2019.
Find out more about the author at authorbrittneymorris.com.
ABA member stores are invited to use this interview or any others in our series of Q&As with Indies Introduce debut authors in newsletters and social media and in online and in-store promotions. Please let us know if you do.