Interview Published in the Raleigh News and Observer September 10, 2017
You won’t find Apex author Scott Reintgen in a high school classroom this year. Instead, he’s working hard to finish his trilogy of young adult novels that debuts with “Nyxia,” a book that will be released this week.
“Nyxia” (pronounced nix-e-ya) is a fast-paced science-fiction novel with non-stop adventures and moral dilemmas comparable to those in “The Hunger Games” or “The Maze Runner.” The story follows a black teenager named Emmett, who is one of 10 poor teens competing aboard a spaceship for a position with Babel, a company that mines the valuable mysterious material that Reintgen named nyxia. Only eight willl be selected and Emmett needs the reward – both the monthly $50,000 salary and the medical care his mother with cancer can’t afford.
The book received buzz before it was even published. Publishers Weekly notes that Reintgen received a “mid-six figure deal” for the North American rights to his book. Published by Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, it has earned received advance praise from major publications, including Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.
We talked to Reintgen, 29, about the series, switching gears and how his writing is inspired by what he learned in classrooms at Jordan and Riverside high schools in Durham as well as his most recent tenure at Holly Springs High School.
Q: What is the response people have had to your shift in career?
A: I’ve been telling friends and family for so long, “I’m a writer.” The reaction is such a mixed bag. Now, when I say my book was picked up by Penguin Random House, there’s a different response. And those who track down the article from “Publishers Weekly” respond even more positively. I’m happy to be able to make a living writing, but if I’d made a lot less, it wouldn’t invalidate my craft, or how hard I work.
Q: When do you remember first wanting to be a writer?
A: Two memories stand out. In fourth grade, our class published books. The bound book about my bulldog still sits on my bookshelf. Holding a book with my name on it gave me an incredible feeling of accomplishment, and I knew I wanted to do that again.
I wasn’t sold on being a writer at that age, I still wanted to be an athlete. (Laughs) In high school, no one knew I was writing until I gave an English teacher a chapter of a book I was working on. The next day she told me, “You’re not in Spanish III anymore, now you’re in creative writing.” Her illegally switching me into that class meant, “I recognize your passion, now proceed.” I’ve proceeded ever since, even though there were bumps along the way.
Q: What kinds of bumps?
A: I was in the creative writing program at UNC and was working on science-fiction and fantasy. My craft was solid, but because I was writing in a genre that was off to the side, somehow lesser, several teachers told me, “This isn’t real writing.”
I’ve told my students: “I’m told this isn’t real writing, but I’m certainly making real money for writing it. Whatever you’re writing, as long as you’re passionate about it and you write it well, no one can tell you it’s not real, or worthy.”
Q: Was your book always intended for YA audiences?
A: When my book went to auction, I had to choose between two fairly identical offers from publishers. One did adult books and the other, YA. My answer came down to who I wrote the book for. I wrote it for my high school students, particularly the kids who had a hard time finding themselves in literature. I wanted them to see themselves on the page, vibrant and victorious.
Q: Describe more about what your teaching taught you.
A: When I taught English and creative writing in area high schools, I got really excited thinking that I could turn hesitant readers into lifelong readers. I put a whole bookshelf of YA books in the back of my classroom. Daily, I gave my students 15 minutes of sustained silent reading so they could dive into a book of their choosing.
I had a crucial moment where a kid (I’ll call him Q) came up to me and said, “Mr. Reintgen, I’m not in any of these books. No one looks like me, or feels like me.” I decided then that I wanted to write a book that Q and students from every background imaginable would pull off a shelf and find a place in the novel.
Q: Will you talk about Emmett, your main character?
A: Emmett was inspired by several students that I really respected. He’s versatile, adaptive and rises to challenges. He’s deeply analytical in the way he breaks things down. He figures out Babel’s rules, how they’re changing the rules, and how he has to operate underneath those rules to succeed.
I think the knowledge of self and how you fit into the grand scheme is an underrated intelligence. Lots of my students – who got the picture very quickly about how systems worked – had test grades that did not reflect their intelligence or ability. So you start wondering about the system.
Q: Do you have more books planned?
A: Recently I went through the list of projects that I want to work on. I’ve got 23 planned. I’m finishing the last book of this trilogy, have a middle grade and adult series I’m writing and another YA already finished. So I’m working hard.
“Nyxia” is 384 pages and retails for $17.99. For more on Scott Reintgen, go to itspronouncedrankin.com or follow him on Twitter @scott_thought.
He’s signing and speaking tonight, Sept. 28: 7 p.m. Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill. With Jessica Cluess