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A Bold Voice, a First Draft Manuscript in One Month, a Pit Mad Pitch, and the Inspiration to SLAY: An Interview with Brittney Morris


A Bold Voice, a First Draft Manuscript in One Month, and the Inspiration to SLAY: An Interview with Brittney Morris




rittney Morris is a YA author who is proving to be a vital voice in the world of writing with her novels, SLAY, The Cost of Knowing, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales – Wings of Fury. I recently read her award-winning debut SLAY, an incredibly original YA novel in its presentation and story setting, and a coming-of-age drama that offers the timely exploration of community, race, relationship, and identity against the backdrop of teen video gaming. Within its pages, Brittney Morris expertly interweaves aspects of black culture, black history, and iconic figures in a way that preserves, educates, and entertains. No stranger to making her voice count and bringing about change, Brittney Morris is the founder and former president of the Boston University Creative Writing Group. She boldly exclaims what some of us have whispered: black stories are not a single trope. There is great diversity in our experience, background, and personalities. Black stories matter, and there is not just one theme, setting, or way to tell them.

It’s no surprise that someone who loves storytelling and has the courage to write from the heart would be successful. It is remarkable that such detail, raw emotion, creativity, and ingenuity could be relayed from inspiration to paper with a first draft! SLAY is that story of Kiera, a black female, teenage game developer who is coming to terms with the two worlds that she must exist in—one Black, one White—and developing the strength to be uniquely herself amidst both.

Beginning its journey as an entry in Pit Mad (#PitMad is a Twitter pitch event), SLAY had the luxury of receiving several offers of representation prior to Brittney signing with her current agency, the Nelson Literary Agency, and represented by Quressa Robinson. An enviable position for any writer to be in, and it led me to want to find out more about this former economics major whose work has been hailed as Publisher’s Weekly Most Anticipated Children & YA Novel for 2019, Barnes & Noble’s Most Anticipated Debut YA for 2019, and People Magazine’s Best Book Winner of Fall 2019, amongst many other accolades.

Brittney graciously agreed to speak with me amidst her new and busy writing schedule. I wanted to first of all congratulate her on the accolades for SLAY and the spectacular feat, in my opinion, of writing a novel that is original, timely, and told from a perspective and tense not often attempted successfully by writers. I very much enjoyed our conversation and see how this Boston University alumni and economics major became the next big name in publishing.

Slay by Brittney Morris

WOW: Hi Brittney. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me on behalf of WOW! Women on Writing. I want to jump right in and tell you how excited I am about your book. It’s garnered quite a few notable awards and mentions! I had to pick up my own copy, and I’m so excited about one of the first things I noticed. It’s written in present tense, first person point of view. I’ve rarely seen that executed successfully. Was this a conscious choice, and if so, how did you perfect that writing skill?

Brittney: Present tense, first person POV has always been the easiest format with which to convey a sense of immediate action. Since SLAY is packed full of high-stakes duels and tense situations, it seemed only fitting. It’s actually the first book I’ve written in present tense, first person, but I think reading books in that format helped me prepare to write in that format.

WOW: Definitely. Reading the works of others is a writing lesson in itself and one that should be a staple of every writer’s practice. Not only do we pick up style but inspiration. I hear inspiration played a part in your conceiving the idea for SLAY. It’s quite an original concept for me, as it tells the story of a black female teen lead who is a game developer coming of age, grappling with the expectations of existing in two worlds and dealing with the social responsibility and emotional toll than can come when one has an expressed idea that goes against the society ascribed trope regarding one’s gender or culture. How did you come up with the storyline for your character?

Brittney: I came up with the concept first—the concept of a virtual Wakanda (the fictional setting for the movie Black Panther) that I could visit whenever I wanted to feel like I was back in the theater on opening night of the movie. I’ve played or seen gameplay of thousands of video games, many of which are in the indie scene and very focused on social issues; so tackling the complex issue of racism through the vision of a game developer seemed natural.

WOW: Quite an epic movie, I agree. It’s wonderful how you held on to that inspiration and combined it with your knowledge of gaming. It also intrigues me because there is a lag time between inspiration and final draft. In fact, sometimes the story isn’t even completed because the writer gives into doubt. We wonder if we have enough or are a good enough writer to bring the full idea to life. How did you maintain inspiration and motivation during the writing process without giving into that doubt?

Brittney: My answer to avoiding doubt is to outrun it. It’s why I’m a fast drafter. If I can get a first draft out fast enough, I don’t have time to overthink it or lose inspiration. In moments where I’ve lost motivation to continue writing, I usually take a break and go read something—anything. It usually gets me out of whatever funk I’m in.

Brittney Morris

“My answer to avoiding doubt is to outrun it. It’s why I’m a fast drafter. If I can get a first draft out fast enough, I don’t have time to overthink it or lose inspiration.”

WOW: Great advice and a wonderful challenge for writers—set a deadline and one within a short time frame. It leads me to my next question. Was the manuscript for SLAY your first effort towards a completed novel or published work?

Brittney: Not quite. My first effort towards a completed novel was in the fourth grade. SLAY was my second attempt to get something published. The first was a dystopian trilogy starring a seventeen-year-old girl caught in a love triangle, up against a totalitarian government with a battle Royale element thrown in for good measure; because back then I read so little, I hadn’t even heard of The Hunger Games! (This is why we read!)

WOW: Reading and experiencing life seem to inspire your writing. Once you had the idea for SLAY, what was your writing routine? Is it something you had time to do on a full-time basis? If not, please share the tips you found helpful towards completing the novel?

Brittney: Great question! This year has been back-to-back writing projects with zero letup, which isn’t how I usually like to work. My natural writing rhythm is to write a book in about a month, and then take several months in-between to read and recover from my breakneck drafting pace. If I tried to write every day all the time, I’d burn out.

WOW: That’s understandable, but the short time frame of four to five weeks is certainly not discernible with the level of detail, style of writing, layout, and formatting of SLAY. One thing I noticed is SLAY’s layout is impeccable. From the font chosen to the formatting used for the texting dialogs, it reads and is easily translatable to a script format or visual novel. Was that a conscious style and formatting choice on your part? If so, why that choice for this novel?

Brittney: Thank you! But I can’t take credit for that. The teams at Simon & Schuster came up with that all on their own. They’re brilliant!

WOW: They have such a rich tradition and history of great literature. Nice to have a creative team like Simon & Schuster on your side! Much of the credit goes to you as well. Your writing is descriptive, detailed, and very accurate regarding cultural icons, societal themes, and even places. Did you rely on research when writing about places like France where one of the main characters (Cicada) resides, or did you write based on firsthand experience?

Brittney: Thank you! While I went to school in Boston where Professor Abbott lives, and I’ve been to Beijing where Maurice Belrose lives, I did rely on research to write about France and Italy where much of Cicada’s chapters take place. As I was writing those scenes, I opened up Google street view and moved through different areas, where I envisioned she might live and just took it all in as a virtual tourist. I’m glad it came through well!

WOW: It did. I’ve used that technique as well, and it’s nice to see how believable it can be for the reader. How did you develop your writing skills, being that you were an economics major, and how do you continue to fine tune your creative writing skills?

Brittney: I’ve been telling stories ever since I learned how to draw. Practicing for years and years certainly helps, but my writing skills didn’t truly take off until I jumped back into reading a few years ago. Reading nothing but economics textbooks for four years in college left me jaded about reading altogether. I was determined to never pick up another book once I graduated. But I didn’t realize just how much I could learn about writing from reading.

Brittney Morris

“I was rushing to enter Pit Mad, so I broke the querying rules.”

WOW: You mentioned drawing which may be key to how your writing comes across as very visual. In terms of the manuscript, when did you know that you had something special and had reached the final draft or agent query ready draft of SLAY?

Brittney: I queried with my first draft. Every querying how-to out there will tell you not to do that, but I was rushing to enter Pit Mad, so I broke the querying rules. I advise those who can take their time to take their time. You’ll never really know if a draft you’ve written is “ready” enough to get a yes, but you can always get feedback from beta readers who won’t mince words with you. Don’t be afraid to go back to the revision board if you need to! Agents aren’t going anywhere.

WOW: Thank you for saying that. It will give many of us more courage. I read you had several offers by the time that you were being considered by your current agent. That’s a great place to be as a writer! What was your criteria for choosing an agent?

Brittney: I was incredibly lucky to have several offers. I had several criteria I was looking for. First, I wanted someone who would honor my voice and the spirit of SLAY and wouldn’t try to soften the tone I was going for with Kiera’s story. I wanted an agent who brought their professional perspective and thoughtful edits but still allowed me to be the cultural expert. I was lucky enough to land an agent whose culture is extremely similar to mine (in that she’s also Black and also not about to soften any tone!). She got the book like nobody else did; so once we had our call, that was it. I’d made my decision.

WOW: You were very fortunate but also had the talent to back up the offers you received. Did you consider self-publishing at some point?

Brittney: I think I was up to around two hundred agent rejections by the time I landed my agent, so I’d considered it a few times. But every time I thought about it, I kept coming back to the idea that it would be unfortunate to self-publish because I felt that I had no choice. Self-publishing is a great option for so many writers, but I had a strong desire to hand marketing/promo/distribution/cover design, etc. over to a publishing house and let me focus on the writing. I was willing to wait to be able to do that.

Brittney Morris

“I was up to around two hundred agent rejections by the time I landed my agent.”

WOW: Two hundred rejections? Wow! I’m glad you persevered. It’s also great that you had your goals in mind and chose the path that would help you achieve that! What have you learned most from working with an agent and a traditional publisher?

Brittney: It feels like it’s been so long since I signed with my agent that it’s easy to forget what I didn’t know; but if there’s one thing I’m learning and re-learning every day, it’s to have patience with myself, with the process, and with publishing in general. Everything can take so long—even to be able to announce projects! But I have to keep with the paraphrased mantra that nature takes its time, and yet, everything is accomplished. And so, must I.

WOW: I applaud your exploration of what some writers may shy away from: race, cultural, and societal issues that impact our world and our youth. What advice would you give another writer in developing the courage to maintain and use their own voice?

Brittney: Thank you! My advice would be this: As afraid as you may be to speak your truth, for fear of trolls or rejection or imposter syndrome, there is a whole world out there waiting to receive what you have to say. There is a family for you out there with people who have similar experiences and have been waiting for someone to come out and say what they’ve been wanting to say for years. You just have to take the plunge.

Brittney Morris

“As afraid as you may be to speak your truth, for fear of trolls or rejection or imposter syndrome, there is a whole world out there waiting to receive what you have to say.”

WOW: Last question. Who are some of your favorite writers, and how have they influenced your work?

Brittney: Angie Thomas, N.K. Jemisin, and Nic Stone immediately come to mind. I fell back in love with reading after I picked up The Hate U Give. I realized I am capable of reading fast if it’s a book I’m in love with, like Dear Martin. And I learned so much about writing Black characters in sci-fi unapologetically in the Broken Earth trilogy. These three queens are my role models.

WOW: Thanks for that reading list and for your time, Brittney. I wish you well in continuing to SLAY!

There’s no doubt Brittney Morris will continue to succeed and challenge our thinking about the ways we exist in the world and interact with each other. Her formula for success came from being inspired by the work of others and her own love of storytelling coupled with a goal to finish her draft in a month in order to enter the pitch wars. With boldness and unapologetic truth, she’s afforded many the example of courage to write with passion and purpose. Why not challenge yourself the next Pit Mad/NaNoWriMo season? “Snail to Sprint: How to Write Your First Draft in Four Weeks” by Michelle Rene featured in WOW! Women on Writing is a great starting point for tips. Just remember to shower, eat, and come up for air in the process! With a manuscript in hand and courage to try, you’ll be better prepared for the opportunity to succeed.




Margaret Y. Buapim-West-.jpg

Margaret Y. Buapim is the author of Ring Envy, a Christian fiction romance novel. She writes full time and has contributed to Guide Magazine and WOW! Women-on-Writing’s Friday Speak Out. She has previously interviewed New York Times Best Selling author Mary Monroe featured in “Lessons from a Self-Taught Author” in the June 2020 WOW! Women-on-Writing ezine and newsletter. She also interviewed author Karen Brown Tyson in her piece, “The Gift of Falling Forward: An Interview with Karen Brown Tyson,” featured on WOW’s blog, The Muffin, in February 2021. Margaret recently edited The Shameless Plug: Curse of My Father, Series Book II by author Taunishia Zoa and offers ghostwriting and editing services for fiction and memoir. She is currently querying for her second novel. Feel free to connect with Margaret on Twitter at @YBuapim or on her website


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