by Maddy & Serena
Q: What gave you the idea for Slay?
A: So the inspiration for slay goes all the way back to my childhood. Growing up, I was the only black kid at my high school, so I kind of became the black culture expert. People expected me to know all the right music, eaten the right foods, which made me feel unqualified, like I wasn’t black enough. When I grew up I didn’t think it was anything abnormal. But then I went to see Black Panther opening night, and It was the first time I walked into a room full of black people and felt total unconditional acceptance, or really allowed myself to feel accepted something that had always been there waiting for me in the black community. And after I wanted to immerse myself into the world of Wakanda, but since I didn’t know how to make video games, I decided to write a book about someone who did instead.
Q: What are some of your favorite video games?
A: I love video games so much. My favorite would have to be Undertale, which is a masterclass in story design and it’s just gorgeous. Another great one is a game called Poponyo, which is about an 8 year old boy in Brazil who’s interacting with this character called Monster, who’s usually pretty chill unless he encounters a frog which turns him into a demon. The games an allegory for an abusive father and when that was revealed about a third of the way through I just thought, this is on another level. And of course, Dance Dance Revolution.
Q: Have you ever considered putting your favorite video game characters into your books?
A: Ooooh, I haven’t but I like that idea. I might in the future!
Q: What inspired you to include a scene about cultural appropriation in your book?
A: I had a lot of white friends growing up, who had a lot of questions like that. A lot of people are so innocent with it, it’s an honest question, because you want to be sensitive and want to ask. What people don’t realize though is the gravity of that situation, they’re asking you to speak for 38 million people. It’s really an unanswerable question and so showing that in the book was really important to me because a lot of people just don’t get it.
Q: Will we see any of your characters in future projects?
A: I would love to get back into Slay, but I haven’t plotted anything yet, but maybe…
Q: How did Steph’s character come about?
A: Steph originally was supposed to be a really quiet background character, but she came forward with her own loud opinions. Naturally, her and Malcolm had to have conflict. I’ve encountered a lot of people like Malcolm on Instagram, who have highly questionable, anti-scientific views of what a black woman should be like, so it felt necessary to have someone with his narrative, and someone like Steph to oppose him.
Q: What colors make you happy?
A: I’m really into color psychology. So like certain colors are meant to represent certain chakras and certain energy centers in the body. They are supposed to make you feel different things. Before my theme was always green, because it was for self compassion and the heart chakra, and I’m very self critical so i need more green energy naturally. Recently though I’ve been really attracted to the third eye color, indigo. That one represents creativity and asking the big questions. I’ve been really feeling that one lately.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: I’ve gotten so much good advice over the years from so many amazing people. The best though is probably don’t be afraid to take up space. Throughout your life you’ll get people who tell you’re too loud, you’re too demanding, but what they’re really saying is that you aren’t what they are used to, and that’s okay. Also like, don’t be afraid to go after what you want. As a woman it’s not expected to be the person that’s like I don’t like this, or this makes me uncomfortable, even though men do it all the time.
Q: What advice do you have for those who struggle with loving themselves? How do you empower yourself?
A: I do a lot of yoga and meditation. And specifically, my biggest struggle has been with body image, so trying to focus less on what my body looks like and what it can’t do and focusing more on what I like and what I can do. Also of course, reading books about people who share your experiences and who are going through the same thing helps a lot.
Q: How has your sense of identity changed over the years?
A: As a kid I used to hate how wide my nose was and that my hair wouldn’t lay down, I wanted it to move. My identity was so wrapped up in how I looked. I was told as a child that I couldn’t wear makeup, so of course all I wanted to do was wear makeup, and then as I got older I just stopped wearing it because it was a lot of work. It became a thing where I felt sort of proud to feel confident enough without makeup, and felt proud of my afro, and felt proud of my twist outs and my not straight hair. It really changes with the wind, my relationship with self love, and it’s constantly evolving. I think it’s also helped me be more open minded because I get to see both perspectives because I’ve been both people.
Q: Which game card in Slay is your favorite?
A: The Michael Jackson card is pretty fun. I mean you get to put on a silver glove and attack your opponent with a horde of zombies which is just fun.
Q: What was your process for choosing what got to go onto a card?
A: My first draft of Slay was actually written in 11 days. So as I was coming up with the cards it was a matter of rapid fire thinking of different things that make up my identity as a black woman. So I thought of things I had seen and laughed at on black Twitter, things i’d bonded with my family over at cookouts, and inside cultural jokes within groups, black icons, and black historical figures. It was really just listing a bunch of them and then thinking of how to classify them.
Q: Culture acts to unify people and can act as an empowering force in people’s lives. It can create a sense of identity. However, do you believe that culture can be restraining?
A: Absolutely. I think people are afraid to do things that aren’t expected of them in their culture. For example as a black kid I was like I like video games, and sushi, and pumpkin spice. it has become a joke that black people don’t do x,y,and z, but that is really limiting. So a huge theme of Slay is to try and gather all the people on the outskirts, who don’t feel welcome, and say there are over a billion people worldwide, there’s a place for you among us. It’s important to celebrate everyone at once.
Q: What trope do you enjoy the most?
A: Lovers to enemies or enemies to lovers. Either one really, I just enjoy seeing some change.
Q: What are the dangers of book censorship?
A: Usually the danger with that is that the people with the power to censor will sensor in their favor. This keeps those in power in power and doesn’t give a voice to the voiceless. It’s dangerous in that the majority narrative stays the majority and people end up in these echo chambers where they only hear what reinforces their own beliefs. Like white-centric stories, straight stories, they stay the expected thing and then we don’t get to hear from writers of color or those discussing heavy themes like depression or suicide, things that people need to understand and be able to emphasize with.