Welcome back to the second week of Diversify 2017! Diversify 2017 is a series of interviews and guest posts centering around books that I’m especially looking forward to and that I think truly represent the diversity movement that’s been shaping up these past couple of years. Today we have a story about a boy who competes to travel to a new planet:
Release Date: September 12th, 2017
Emmett Atwater agrees to leave Earth behind when Babel Communications offers him a fortune. The catch? He has to launch into deep space to get it. One of ten selected recruits, Emmett boards the company’s spaceship and sets course for a planet that Babel has kept hidden from the rest of the world.
Before long, Emmett discovers that all of Babel’s recruits have at least one thing in common: they’re broken. Broken enough that Babel can remold them however it pleases.
Every training session is a ruthless competition where friendships are tested and enemies are made. Each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden– where they will mine nyxia, a substance that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.
But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. Secrets about the volatile substance they’re hoping to mine, about the reclusive humanoids already living on Eden, and about the true intentions for the recruits.
Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.
Description taken from Goodreads.
Could you do a brief introduction of your main character?
My main character is Emmett Atwater. He’s a black teenager from Detroit, Michigan. He lives and
breathes the love of his family. He’s insightful, always turning over the details he sees and jumping
to intelligent conclusions about people and situations. Sometimes he’s competitive to a fault. He’s
loyal, too, though. Anyone who earns their way past his first barriers will get unquestioned love in
return. And as his Pops would say, “You’re the best of me and you’re the best of her, it’s always
been that way.”
What made you want to make Emmett a black character?
This goes back to my time at Jordan High School in Durham. I had a young, black student point out that most of the YA on my shelves didn’t connect with him. As a teacher, this meant hunting down the brilliant works of Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers and Sharon Draper and Kwame Alexander. As a writer it meant examining which of my students could open up my own books and really feel at home. After that, the writing of Emmett required great care and attention. I had some 10-15 sensitivity readers. I’m hopeful that Emmett is worthy of those students who so inspired me.
What Harry Potter houses do your characters belong to?
Emmett (the MC) is Gryffindor. His actions are marked by defiance and bravery.
Kaya is totally Ravenclaw. She’s got strategies on strategies on strategies. There’s no one who can
break down the games and challenges Babel throws at these characters like she does.
Bilal is Hufflepuff. You know that nice kid in class? That’s Bilal.
Isadora is Slytherin. She knows what she wants. She gets what she wants. It’s that simple.
What research, if any, did you do in writing Nyxia?
Ah, the research. I read articles. I sought the advice of experts. I hired sensitivity readers. And, of
course, I tapped into the endless supply of YouTube videos out there. I think that a writer who
doesn’t engage in meaningful research is missing a chance to sharpen a vital tool in their arsenal.
What do you love most about Nyxia?
The book wrestles with this question: who do we become when pressured by enormous forces? My main character, Emmett Atwater, is reaching for a prize that will change his life forever. I wanted to write him as this cutthroat competitor who goes flying over the boundaries of his own humanity in an effort to return home a king, but Emmett refused to be that character. He refused to bend to Babel’s pressure. In the face of difficult circumstances, he clings to some of the best aspects of humanity—mercy, kindness, friendship, humility.
How does your book stand apart from novels like Ender’s Game and others like it?
Babel is a global company. They recruit from all over the world. So to have a young black teenager as the MC, to have characters from Palestine and Japan and Kenya… I think the diversity and representation are pretty marked differences from most of what we see in the science fiction and fantasy of the 80s and beyond. I also took a note from Pierce Brown’s writing in the Red Rising trilogy. I wanted this book to have a breathless pace. Both the reader and Emmett are going to be bracing for impact as the next challenge, and the next, and the next come rolling around the corner.
Strap in and get ready!
What do you hope that readers will take away from Nyxia?
Aside from being wildly entertained, I’d love for people to walk away with the same conclusion that
my former student and sensitivity reader had after finishing. Vickey said that the story “was a perfect
reminder that whether down the street or across the galaxy, anyone can achieve anything.”
What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity is reality. I taught in NC public schools. I’m engaged with the YA literary community. Those worlds offer up a reality of students and peers from different cultures, ethnicities, religions, orientations, abilities… That’s the beautiful reality of the world our teen readers are living in.
So as we walk into the realm of fiction, we have to be willing to engage with that reality in meaningful ways. Diversity is the young man who walked my class through how his family celebrates Kwanzaa. It’s the young lady who shared her experiences as a female employee in a male-dominated occupation during our class seminar. It’s the favorite songs, the family traditions, the first kisses… A roulette of faces runs through my head daily. All the students I’ve taught or coached, it’s astonishing how much they’ve taught me over the years. Why forget this reality as we dive into other worlds?
What do you think is the most important thing publishing can be doing to promote diverse literature right now?
I think there is a long list of ways the industry can continue improving on this front. More agencies and publishers can actively pursue employees from marginalized backgrounds. Authors can use their platforms to boost #OwnVoices authors as often as possible. And of course, a contest like #DVPit does a great job of actively highlighting voices that have so often been ignored. I’m still a teacher at heart. So for me this looks like investing my time and energy in the younger generation of writers. That means forming mentor relationships with passionate, diverse authors (one person I’m working with right now is Aaron Cole—and watch out, world, he’s brilliant). It means forging relationships with local schools. It means putting in the work to change our industry. Most of the time, though, it means listening and learning and changing.
As a teacher, what books do you think are most important for students to be reading?
Four things came to mind:
1. Read books that you love. Read books that make you want to keep reading.
2. Read books that affirm your right to exist.
3. Read books that affirm the right of others to exist.
4. Read books that challenge you (at a vocabulary and comprehension level).
What’s one thing on your bookish bucket list?
Deep down, I’d love to see one of my books made into a Netflix series or something like that. But my main goal is to publish a book every year for the rest of my life. It sounds so impossible, but I’m putting in the work and aiming for the stars every single day.
What diverse read(s) are you most looking forward to in 2017?
I’ve already enjoyed The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Rhoda Belleza’s Empress of a Thousand Skies. I also read and loved Ibi Zoboi’s American Street. If you haven’t heard by now, Nic Stone’s Dear Martin is a BEA Editors’ Buzz selection, and I’ve been buzzing about this book since I read an early version back in 2016. Mark your calendars and be ready for this book to crush you in all the right ways. I’ll cheat a little and jump to next year for Jay Coles’ book Tyler Johnson Was Here. It’s great!
I’m also a fan of all things speculative fiction, so Tristina Wright’s 27 Hours comes to mind. Also, the release of Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns cover has me quivering with all the grabby hands. Lastly, I’m right in the middle of reading The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton and it is absurdly gorgeous. Get these books on your radar if they aren’t already!
Scott Reintgen began his writing career at Cary High School. He pursued this passion into his undergraduate studies at UNC. This led to a career teaching English and Creative Writing in the public school systems of North Carolina. His book, NYXIA, is the first in a science fiction trilogy that will be published in September by Crown BFYR, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House. Scott and his wife, Katie, are also excited to welcome their first child into the world in August. Scott currently lives in Apex, NC.
Thanks so much to Scott for doing this post! Scott (along with his agent-mate, Heather) are extremely thoughtful writers and advocates of the diversity movement, and I’m proud to have worked with them for #Diversify2017. Be sure to follow Scott and Nyxia on social media and enter into the giveaway above! Tomorrow’s author will be Marie Marquadt.