Author Scott Reintgen tells Hypable about the challenges, truths, and very real inspiration for his debut novel Nyxia.
Set in a fantastic future that feels all too familiar, Nyxia, which debuts today, injects a welcome humanity into the YA sci-fi scene.
Nyxia centers on Emmett Atwater, a teen from Detroit who is recruited to join a strange and secretive mission for the mysterious Babel Corporation. Along with other troubled teens, the Corporation takes Emmett aboard a ship to distant regions of space, with generous compensation promised when they return.
But life on board the ship rapidly turns into a competition, with teens jockeying for the right to serve as miners on a hidden planet. As the stakes of the game rise, Emmett is forced to reckon with terrible choices — and the possibility that even victory might mean destruction.
Scott Reintgen on ‘Nyxia’
What was your initial inspiration for Nyxia?
I was inspired by my students at Jordan High School in Durham, NC. They struggled to find themselves on the pages of literature. The stories being told — in young adult and science fiction — often didn’t include them. I wrote Nyxia in the hopes that I could go back in time, set it down in the middle of that classroom, and have any one of my incredibly diverse students open it up and say, “Hey. I belong here. This world is inviting people like me into it. I get to launch into space, too.”
How did the story change most between your first draft and finished novel?
Let’s just say my agent pulled back the death count. I think there would be a lot more angry readers if she hadn’t ;-) And one other big change was the “found-family” aspect in the story. The more I got to know these characters, the less and less I could force them to really hate each other.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some serious rivalries and enemies in the book, but for the most part the characters couldn’t help falling for one another. It was pretty cool to see them force that change on me.
What drew you to Emmett as a protagonist? What did you discover about him as you developed the story?
Emmett is a lot like some of my students. He’s incredibly intelligent and driven, but life hasn’t often given him an opportunity to shine. Aboard the Genesis 11, he’s getting his chance. Not only to make a name for himself, but to change the outlook of his life forever. I loved seeing Emmett struggle toward greatness while still maintaining the goodness his parents taught him.
The environment of Nyxia is very futuristic and imaginative, but the characters feel very grounded and current. How did you achieve this balance between sci-fi and reality?
Put real people in extreme situations. That’s really all it was. I made sure that each of these characters is human. Human motivations and desires, fears and concerns. And then I shoved them onto a spaceship and sent them wormholing their way to another world. The balance there is really crucial, so I’m glad it feels right for most readers.
Nyxia is a very diverse novel, with a strong eye toward social inequalities. What drew you to exploring these issues in the context of space ships and miracle substances, and what do you think that setting can offer readers today?
Nic Stone and I talk about this all the time. Her first book, Dear Martin is about a black teenager who’s caught up in serious life and death circumstances in his every day life.
My students need stories like that one. They need a realistic story where they can safely wrestle with the realities of the struggles they face in this world. But my students also need to launch into space, and fight dragons, and rule kingdoms. They have every right to dream and see themselves going to unimaginable places. For too long, we’ve seen science fiction and other genres make the claim that space and the future are for white people. I’m thrilled to see books that say otherwise.
How did you approach creating the villains and/or antagonists of Nyxia?
This echoes what I said before about people being “human.” I really have fun with nuanced villains. People with motivations, sometimes with motivations that are identical to Emmett. If you want to go really deep into it, consider that Emmett is the villain in some of these other characters stories. That’s all an antagonist really is: someone who gets in the way of the protagonists desires.
So I just wanted to write human characters who were all reaching for the same lottery tickets. “Villains” were bound to surface, one way or another.
What did you find to be the scariest or most challenging part of writing this novel?
All of it? There’s always this fear as a writer that people won’t like what you wrote. You never truly get over that. At this point, some 500+ readers have read Nyxia. The reviews are almost all positive, but I still have a little of that pretender’s syndrome happening.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known at the start?
Patience. The name of the game in traditional publishing is patience. You expect things to happen so fast, and you’re so impatient to get on with the business of being a published author, that you don’t really grasp how much goes into this. It’s a slow process, and I’d encourage any hopeful author to learn patience.
Which is easier to write, the first line or the last line?
Finally: Would you rather be a book or a computer?