Wellington grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where her childhood was spent wandering the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Her love of the written word led her to a BA in Creative Writing and International Studies. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading and when she’s not doing that, she’s attempting to bake bread with varying degrees of success or strengthening her encyclopedia-like pop culture knowledge.
Gerard Villegas of Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, Washington, served on the bookseller panel that selected Wellington’s book for Indies Introduce. He called the debut “A page turning-thriller focusing on a group of female college students vying for a scholarship fund amid a private, secluded estate. What begins as a friendly competition of academics turns deadly as they are being hunted and forced to survive in this teen novel that combines The Hunger Games with The Inheritance Games.”
Here, Villegas and Wellington discuss Their Vicious Games.
Gerard Villegas: Congrats on the success of your debut, Their Vicious Games, and for showcasing a strong, smart BIPOC protagonist who challenges this deadly cat and mouse tournament. From your perspective, how important was it for you to create a diverse main character that doesn’t fall into the typical cliché or trope of the damsel in distress?
Joelle Wellington: I think it’s so important to show a young black girl who is portrayed as unapologetically ambitious. Oftentimes, I think a BIPOC protagonist has to be perfect on paper for people to empathize, but that’s not something that I'm into or propagating. I think it’s good for young readers to read a character who might sometimes be unlikable because she’s a teenager. All teenagers are unlikable at some point, I know I was. I wanted someone relatable, and I hope people find that in Adina. Even the parts they don’t like so much about themselves, I hope they see in her.
GV: Their Vicious Games can be classified into mystery, thriller, or horror genres. Are you yourself a fan of any of these genres?
JW: I am a huge horror fan! Ready or Not and Scream are two of my favorite movies. I just love both Grace from Ready or Not and Sidney Prescott, my favorite final girl. I reference both of these movies quite a bit in the book, because I can’t help myself. They’re a bit like Easter eggs, and I also love pop culture so I use it in regards to what I write, though never in a way that dates the book.
GV: I saw your protagonist, Adina, as a metaphor for overcoming the struggles of being BIPOC or a minority in any industry, and this deadly competition is [an oppressive] symbol of that. How important is it to bring awareness of diversity in any field of study or business?
JW: I think so often about how most professional industries talk about “needing” diversity without thinking about what that actually means. They believe by choosing a few, that it’s evening the playing field, so to speak. But it’s not. It shouldn’t be about creating equality, but creating equity by giving chances to groups that need it. It’s repeatedly creating structures and opportunities within these spaces for minorities that really encourages the truth of equity, over a body count that might symbolize “equality.”
GV: As the book industry is bringing fresh new voices and introducing more representation, what advice or words of wisdom would you give to aspiring BIPOC writers based on your experience?
JW: I would say I’ve had a very charmed experience, compared to some of my friends who are also authors. I know my privilege in that. But, I would say rearrange your support system. This is not an industry that is always built for you. It’s important to have people in your corner that support you, no matter what this industry tells you about the worth of your words. I would also encourage BIPOC writers to write stories that are not comfortable. Write stories that make sense to you. And sometimes, there will be people that don’t get it. There will be people that want your experience explained or made palatable for them, but you shouldn’t feel the need to do that. You should write for the child that will understand that experience. The child that might look like you.
GV: Last question and this is a fun one! If you were placed in a non-lethal competitive gauntlet, based upon your unique skill set, what is something that you know you would win?
JW: I have to think about that...Uno! I am a cheater. I will lie to win a game of Uno. I fake how many cards I have in my hand all the time. I will distract and make conversation so I can drop an “Uno” mid-sentence. I’m really good at that game!
Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington (S&S Books for Young Readers, 9781665922425, Hardcover Young Adult, $19.99) On Sale: 7/25/2023.
Find out more about the author at joellewellington.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.