All the Places We Call Home – Switzerland

We went home last week. Not back to where we were born, or through the neighborhoods where we grew up, but to a place that’s carved out corners of our hearts. Katie and I lived in Switzerland for 10 months. When we returned to North Carolina in April, we had a hard time imagining when we would ever go back. In a year? In a decade? Some distant future, surely, but not just six months later. So when we found out Katie’s work would take her back for a few days, there was no question of going or not going, but how long our trip would be and how best to squeeze the most of home out of that short time.

As Katie took part in a company workshop, I explored old haunts. All  the coffee shops that  I had transformed into offices, the same places I finished book after book while abroad. I looked out over the city at Lindenplatz, ate on the steps of Gross Munster, and walked the Limmat River. It felt nostalgic to retrace my steps through the unchanged city.


We had the pleasure of old friends to accompany old haunts. One night we snagged dinner with Jo and Jordash, who happily played CodeNames with us. I also was fortunate to grab a meal with Stefan Bachmann, friend and writer, who lives in the area. But several of our meals, and our entire weekend of travel, was hosted and helped by the Domecks.

The trip began with factory tours and quaint towns. You can see from the picture below, Gruyeres is a small gathering of buildings on a slice of Swiss land. The chateau overlooking the town proper is breathtaking. We went for the views, but also for the cheese and chocolate. Our first tour was of the Gruyeres cheese factory.


A quick ride took us from there to the Cailler factory. This side of heaven, chocolate is the closest we can get to perfection. Not only were we stunned by the production of the tour (imagine traveling through an animated history of chocolate), but we all found our sweet tooth at the end, where Cailler set out about 20 different chocolates and you could eat as many as you like. I finally had my golden ticket…

… and I went all the way through the chocolate buffet. Twice.

From there, we redirected our journey toward the French regions of Switzerland, heading for Montreaux. The sites that waited for us on the banks of Lake Geneva were truly stunning. Vineyards marching their formations down to a sway of blue, all offset by mountains and sunsets. Not a bad way to enjoy a glass of wine. We found a fine restaurant in town later that night and enjoyed the stag medallions, along with our first taste of escargots (Katie wasn’t a big fan of that one). The winning meal, however, might have been Justin’s Pumpkin Cappuccino.

The next morning we had our stomachs filled by a French bakery and set out on a new adventure. This, of course, is where the Domecks’ spontaneity plays into the trip. The plan was to drive to Interlaken, where Katie and I would spend a few days on our own. Of course, we decided to take the more scenic route. This brought us through a massive canyon, onto a tunnel-train, and finally to the beautiful launch pad that is Kandersteg.

While the Jungrau region still stands out in my mind, we were privileged with a flawless afternoon and that incomparable lake reflection of towering mountains… Oeschinen Lake really stole our breath away.


From there, we hiked down, climbed back in the car, and headed on. It felt like so many of the adventures that had come before it. Good company, beautiful vistas, and secret threads. Katie and I parted ways that night, barely making it into our room (apparently 8pm was well past the check in time for our hotel in Wengen). The next morning we ate pastries and drank coffee and ascended the familiar lift, setting our feet down in Mannlichen once more. The hiking paths belonged to us. We saw the occasional person being ferried overhead on the lifts down to Grindelwald, but otherwise, we had the quiet mountains to ourselves.

Highlights include:

  • being really cold, then really hot, then really cold.
  • A standoff with a bull
  • Quiet talks with the love of my life
  • Snow-tipped mountains
  • A really, horrible tourist lunch
  • Katie’s decision that she is definitely coming back as dairy cow


On Tuesday, we headed back to Zurich. The Domecks hosted us one last time (with Katie providing her famous Chicken Parmesan recipe with the secret sauce). Between dinner and games and conversation, it was quite clear that we had come home… We would fly home the next day, tired from the trip, catching flights, all to get back to another home. It’s quite a worthy state to be in, though, isn’t it? Finding a home here, leaving a home there. Knowing always there are places that you aren’t simply welcome, but at ease, in your element; finding a way to smile and laugh and dig deeper into this one, wonderful life. I find myself aching for whatever comes next. I find myself missing good friends. I find myself thankful for home, wherever that may be.

What now, you ask? The next adventure of course.



New York City

I adjusted my Pirates hat and disembarked at Utica Avenue. After the stifling cabin of a plane and the drawling heat of the subway, I found the light rain pleasant. A bell sounded and hundreds of black teenagers from the Boys and Girls school filled the street ahead of me. A girl slipped past with a copy of The Book Thief tucked under one arm. A boy raised his voice to tell his friends to wait up. I moved through the commotion, smiling, and found my wife waiting up by Malcolm X Boulevard.

We spent the weekend in a beautiful, basement apartment on Bainbridge Street. The owner had made the home industrial and chic. Exposed brick walls and sliding barn doors and a out-of-the-future fireplace. Our comfortable base of operations as we introduced ourselves to the big city. We would laugh later and wonder if the home was too chic, as the door to our room was paneled with glass and offered no privacy at all. We just had to ask Katie’s brother, Victor, and his girlfriend, Patience, to not walk into the kitchen whenever we needed to change. But hey, it did look cool at least (with an added benefit that our basement rooms doubled as a fallout shelter).

After settling in, Katie and I found our way to Greenwich Village to meet up with her cousin. Gottino, a local wine bar, was the perfect spot to kick up our feet and breathe in.

The main purpose behind our visit was to meet my agent and editor. We slept in late and got up in time to catch the train into Manhattan. The Random House tower sits between 55th and 56th street. There’s something breathtaking about the entryway. A glass case plays host to recent, breakout titles from various imprints. A bigger display to the right and left shows off books published since its foundation in 1927. It’s quite humbling.

My editor, Emily Easton, awaited us on the 9th floor. Penguin Random House’s various children divisions line that floor and the one below. Emily kindly took us on a tour of everything. Some general observations from my time there:

  1. Editors are real people, but I still think of them as rock stars. Emily was incredibly easygoing and kind to us. Our brief meeting with Phoebe Yeh (the editor who worked with Walter Dean Myers) was equally positive and kind. It helped so much to put faces and voices to the people I’ve mostly known through emails and book editing.
  2. Books. Everywhere. Piles of books. I don’t know how they get anything done?
  3. Art. Everywhere. It was really cool to see the little, intricate pieces that form the covers we fall in love with or the characters we envision. Really cool stuff.
  4. It’s massive. There are so many moving parts to publishing a book. I knew that in some vague sense, but really had no idea just how many people are doing X number of things for my book. Again, it’s humbling to see.

Our lunch went very well. The book continues to move in really positive directions. Both the team and myself have such high hopes for it’s success and we’re all looking forward to the next steps as we develop what could be a really smashing series. I’m thrilled.


So how do you top meeting your editor for the first time?

You don’t, not really, but we tried. A quick, rain-slung walk through Times Square rewarded us with a Daniel Fox sighting. Considering the species is endangered, we felt particularly blessed to spot one just outside of the Walgreens (EDITED: A helpful reader pointed out this serious mistake. It was not, in fact, a CVS).


After returning home and changing, we forged ahead to dinner and the theatre. Becco gets a full recommendation from me. Fancy eating and delicious food, and like most of the restaurants in that section of the city, famous for getting you in your seats before a show begins. The show in question was Wicked. And what a performance. I was surprised by how funny the show is, but also by how flawlessly it’s performed. I don’t know much about voices or choreography, but there’s a legitimacy behind Broadway’s claims of having the best musical performances in the world. My favorite moment came during the “Defying Gravity” song. Seeing Elphaba in the air, her cloak stretching out behind her, the lights ethereal and ghostly… All of it was just so stunning.


But Saturday refused to be outdone by Friday. We started with Bagel Pub, devouring what was easily the best bagels I’ve ever had in my life. From there a walk through Central Park that included a celebratory dog festival and a hilarious street performance. We made it to Yankee Stadium just in time to get some dogs and enjoy the game.


The final stop of our tour was dinner with my agent, Kristin Nelson. We were particularly looking forward to it, in part because Kristin has been so instrumental in the start of my career as a writer, but also because Red Farm’s menu looked amazing. It didn’t disappoint. Katz’s Pastrami Egg Rolls? Lobster Long Noodles? Bacon and Shrimp Fried Rice?

Please and thank you.

As expected, the night with Kristin was just a blast. We talked a little bit about upcoming projects, but mostly had fun celebrating how well the debut has gone and getting to know each other. Can’t wait to rinse and repeat, but next time in Denver?!


In conclusion, it was a great weekend in a great city. I feel like we managed to scratch .001% of the surface that is New York. As with Chicago and San Francisco, it’s a city I plan on returning to many times, with the understanding that years and years from now, I’ll still feel like I’m just getting to know all the little nooks and crannies. Let that worthy exploration continue. Until next time!



Reading List: Fantasy and Science Fiction

Students and friends ask this question a lot: What are some great books to read in the genre? Recently, I wrote a pretty extensive email in answer. Here’s the list of books I’ve either fallen in love with or I have on my to-be-read shelf at home:

A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
– A familiar title, but if you’ve never read it, the first book in that series is simply gorgeous. A master class in just about every imaginable category.
Binti or Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor
– There’s a reason she just won awards for Binti. Brilliant writing in diverse settings with diverse characters. Please grab Akata Witch instead of reading about Rowling’s school of magic in Africa. Okorafor’s is by far the superior version.
The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
– In terms of literary/lyrical writing in fantasy, few really stand up to Rothfuss. He even wrote an off-shooting book for this world in iambic pentameter. A worthy, sprawling epic.
The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
– Not action oriented at all. It’s much more focused on diplomacy and navigating traditional waters in a new way. The main character, Maia, wrestles with maintaining his thoughts and beliefs in light of an unexpected and powerful new status.
The Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson
– Only read this if you enjoy a steep learning curve, feeling a little lost, and the convergence of powerful forces. Erikson’s characters tend to feel like video game bosses, which I really enjoy. His magic system is also pretty great in this one.
Wizard of Earthsea- Ursula K. Le Guin
Old school, but she does it so well. We can thank her for all the wizarding schools that followed. I’d also suggest The Left Hand of Darkness, if you want a taste of her sci-fi.
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
– This series was tops for me after the past few years. It’s relentlessly action-packed with characters we simply can’t help attaching ourselves to. It has the darkness of Game of Thrones, but really tends to read more tightly, and without so confusing a cast.
The Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb
In my mind, this is the benchmark for traditional fantasy. The magic, the world, the characters… all brilliantly rendered, but I’ve never read someone who writes relationships better than her. Fitz reads like a Jane Austen character in that respect. His interactions with each person are incredibly dynamic. Whether it’s the Fool or Molly or Chivalry
The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
In my mind, it’s Ocean’s 11 but set in a fantasy world. Great characters and a very gritty world.
Temeraire – Naomi Novik
Not my personal favorite, but if you like historical fantasy, this is one of the tops in the category. Imagine the 1800’s navies of our world, but with a dragon air force. Pretty great concept. Her more recent novel, Uprooted, was up for all kinds of awards.
N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season
One of my recent favorites. The work she does with narration in this one is just brilliant. She also has some mind-bending, eye-popping world building within the story.
The Scar – China Mieville
If you want weird fantasy, go this direction. He’s trying to push back against Tolkien (dwarves and elves) and carve out some funky newness in the genre. I just started his book The City and the City It’s one of the coolest things I’ve read in a while.
Bone Street Rumba / Shadowshaper – Daniel Jose Older
Daniel’s known for being a force on Twitter and a force in his books. He crafts distinct, diverse worlds with casts of characters you’ll follow to the end.
Station Eleven  – Emily St. Mandel
A group travels from town to town performing Shakespeare in the apocalypse. She jumps through time quite a bit, but I really thought she pulled it off better than most.
The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker
1900’s New York. A story about a golem and jinni trying to make life work in the city of immigrants. Really beautiful prose throughout
Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
Science fiction. Really cool story, sort of creepy, but very compelling intellectually.
A Darker Shade of Magic – V.E. Schwab
A character who can travel to three different versions of London?! Treat yourself.
Just to be clear this is the equivalent of a starter kit. I also didn’t really include ANY YA books in here. I know there are MASSIVE gaps in my reading as a science fiction, fantasy, and young adult author… I’m working every day to shore those gaps up, but I’m also admitting to myself that I’ll never really complete that task. Too many new books. Too many brilliant writers over the year. Just pick the books you love and keep reading them!

How to Write a Chapter


I’m writing an epic fantasy with seven viewpoints right now. It’s no small task to manage the storylines, to juggle character arcs, and to weave the entire plot through those varied various. Recently, I’ve been examining how I begin a chapter and how I move forward to it’s completion. There are some really short, take-them-or-leave-them tips that have come out of that examination:

  • Consider how it connects to the previous chapter from that character’s perspective. I’ll take my character Gemma for example. In one of her chapters, she’s giving the survivors of a plane crash haircuts. It’s meant to be exceedingly light, one of those moments inserted between action and chaos to alleviate the reader and provide a small (read SMALL) ray of hope. It works. After examining that, I did not want Gemma’s next scene to be as comfortable. I simply asked, “What would make her most uncomfortable?” Gemma’s old and in a situation where her age is very meaningful. I decided to use another character to exacerbate that discomfort and draw her into a place of anger and frustration over it.
  • Consider how it connects to the previous chapter directly before it. I wanted to make sure Gemma’s story continued properly, but I also have to make sure the piece of her story is well-positioned with the rest of the narrative. How? Well the scene right before hers is a scene of creation. Someone is bringing something to life. I wove that fact into her scene in two big ways: she has an encounter with the new creation and she’s forced to consider her own death in the scene, which juxtaposes ideas of creation and newness. Even if the reader doesn’t catch these two chapters held up side by side, they’ll hopefully feel the rhythm of these things in their reading.
  • Examine where each paragraph starts and where it ends. Does the trajectory make sense? Did you stray from the subject of that paragraph? Maybe you were supposed to be describing the dragon, but you got sidetracked by describing the waterfall around it… Did you take ten sentences to get there when you should have taken 5? Does that paragraph nestle logically in with what’s around it, or does it stick out awkwardly?
  • Closer or farther. I like examining if my character has moved closer to their desired goal/outcome or farther from it. In most scenes, they should do one or the other. Stagnation frustrates characters and readers.
  • Dominant or Not. I also like examining my character’s status in the scene. Are they setting the tone? Are they the leader? Is the person they’re interacting with afraid of them? It helps to shift this from character to character, too. For instance, I have a scene in which a character gets ordered around harshly… He then follows this encounter by snapping at one of his own subordinates to do something. Exploring those shifts in powers tells us more about each character.
  • Critical Hits – Is there anything new in the scene that doubles or triples the reader’s interest, even for a moment? I never want the action to fully die down. For example, that scene in which Gemma’s giving haircuts? Totally positive scene. The other survivors love her for it. They’re laughing and having fun. It goes really well… until right around sunset. Someone shows up for a haircut that Gemma doesn’t like. What does she do? A positive scene gets drawn into darkness, suspicion, and intrigue.
  • The Close – I think there are hundreds of ways to end a chapter. I’m always wary of the red herring chapter ending: “Something breathed on her neck…” And then we cut to the next scene only to find out it’s a fairy and all is well… Those can work, but used sparingly. I’d much rather see a scene close with a really meaningful line that summarizes or concludes or increases what’s been happening in the scene up until that point. If you ever want a lesson in this, check out The Wizard of Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin. A friend, Stephen Carradini, pointed this out to me. She’s a master of making sure her final lines have weight in each chapter. If the point of the chapter was to open Ged’s eyes to his own weakness, the final line will really hit that aspect home in a way that’s powerful without being preachy.

Those are just a few of the writing thoughts on my mind today. I was working on two scenes. One came together so easily. The other struggled out of the gate, and took a lot of revising. These are some of the qualities I noted about the first one, and my approach to it.

Hopefully they help! Happy writing!


That’s right.

We’re in full on puppy mode at the Reintgen household. After some social media voting, and serious deliberations, Katie and I decided to name our little chocolate lab Luna.

She is all the wonderful things…

… and she’s also chaos in 12 lb form. My last few days have been spent playing with Luna (Translation: trying to avoid being eaten alive). She’ll nap four or five times every day, for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. During those times, I slowly tiptoe into the other room and scramble to do anything productive. But hey… at least she’s cute as a button.

Luna 1

Really, you’d have a hard time finding a button this cute, but I digress…

Here are a few things I’m learning in the first week of having a pupper:

  1. My wife is going to be a really great mom. She’s thoughtful, but more importantly, she has systems she likes to put in place. She’s going to be a smart mom.
  2. Luna wants to be wherever you are. You’re touching that? She wants to touch it, too.
  3. She will eat ANYTHING. Rabbit poop? Check. Mounds of grass? Check. Flowers? Check.
  4. But she’s obsessed with her dog food. I went to scoop some out the other day and she pulled some kind of Houdini act. I looked up and she was over the barrier and attacking me from the western flank. She came. I fell. She conquered.
  5. We’re learning a lot about how good God is to us. This puppy is straight helpless. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s peeing in the wrong places. She’s chewing on extension cords. We swing in and, to her infinite frustration, give her nudges away from a lot of bad stuff. It’s not hard to stretch the metaphor. You can probably measure what I know and understand in teaspoons. I’m sure God’s shaking his head at me all the time like I do with Luna, “He’s doing what now?”
  6. But we love her. And God loves us. That’s crazy good.
  7. Caring for a creature that can’t support itself is exhausting. People have babies and puppies simultaneously? Can you believe that? That’s amazing. Can we get these people medals? Candy bars? Something?
  8. I absolutely hate when she’s in pain. Seems like a given, but she has bad dreams and I go hold her for a little while. I stepped on her paw yesterday and thought she wouldn’t ever forgive me (she did!).
  9. But she’s totally cool when I get hurt. Between the biting and that time I fell down the stairs at 3am… she’s yucking it up over here.
  10. Sleep. I miss sleep.
  11. Who knew how much of a space in your heart is waiting to love other people/creatures? Sometimes it’s not something you’re feeling until there’s someone who needs you to, you know, pick up their poop and clap excitedly when they pee. True love, you know?

That’s it for this pupdate. Luna’s got a few more pictures up on Instagram, but here’s one more of the snooze machine:

Luna 2



Summer Update/Newsletter

For those of you not subscribing to the newsletter, here’s a summer update:

My blog has been quiet because our summer has been loud. The biggest news being: Katie and I bought a house! Talk about chaos. Does this house have the right pipes? What are the right pipes? Can you explain the amortization schedule to me one more time? Oh… can you unexplain that so I never think about it ever again? Aside from all the stress and learning that comes with owning our first home, there was also the packing, moving, and unpacking required. I assured Katie that I would use a magical spell to take care of everything. Fortunate, then, that my Patronus is a U-Haul truck.

On the fictional front, I’m happy to announce that we recently secured a deal in the UK for the Babel series. So the trilogy continues to do well abroad and we’re hoping for more announcements on that front in the future. I’ve also just finished and turned in copy edits on the first book. For those unfamiliar with the publishing industry, this is the level of edits in which a very intelligent person leaves me feeling like I stole my English degree from UNC. More seriously, I was amazed by the attention to detail in those notes. My favorite example has been the editor’s ability to determine an entire timeline based on one reference to the Super Bowl. Seriously, that’s nuts.

Right now, I’m finishing up my time at Duke Young Writers’ Camp. Teaching College Admissions Essays and Dark Fiction this summer has been such a blast. Katie and I are looking forward to a week in Wrightsville after the session finishes. After that, I’ll be back to full time writing. I can’t talk about those projects too much, but they involve magic horses, dirigibles, and a nine iron. Below you can find a few pictures from our summer!

Enjoy the rest of your summer and be on the lookout for more newsletters in the Fall!

Say it with me: TRANSITION

Some stages of life can be summarized by a single word. Other stages (middle school, mostly) should be outlawed from all future conversations. Still others are so confounding or glorious that there really aren’t proper descriptions for them.

I find myself in the the first category. Katie and I are two months into our return from Switzerland. We would tell you that transition has been pretty smooth, but “pretty smooth” doesn’t stop me from waking up sometimes, walking out our front door, and expecting the 33 bus to take me to Hardbrucke.

Another transition happening right now is teacher to writer. You would think ten months would be a big enough window for me to grow accustomed to that change, but remember that I started that transition thinking my time as a full-time writer would be completely temporary. Honestly, my real goal was to get an agent while I was abroad. Anything else felt like wishful thinking. Well, in the immortal words of Brick Tamland, “That escalated quickly.” Now we’re back, and I have a publishing deal, and I’m trying to sort through all the unpredictability of how to make a career out of my imagination.

We’re also making a big transition from “first townhome/apartment” to “first house house.” Katie and I are searching for a place to live in this absurd Triangle market and wondering why every property has one really strange quirk (I’m confused… why is there a window there?).

Finally, I’m transitioning between projects as well. I’ve completed a new YA about horse racing… and I’ve completed my edits for the first book in the Babel series. With each completed work there’s a profound sense of accomplishment. Trust me. I sit back for exactly twenty seconds, smile at my computer, and eat anything that resembles chocolate in the house. But that’s always followed by the inevitable: What’s next?

And here’s where I want to do some honest digging. I struggle so, so much with this question. I’ve spent the past week doing what I always do between projects. I’ve shoved small tasks to the forefront of everything. Write this email. Check that box. Do some research (aka watching Bloodline on Netflix). I know I have other projects on tap. There are three different stories I could finish. There are two others I could begin. But I know all of those require heavy lifting. They require my energy. They require more than quick one-offs. I’ll have to plot and plan and dig deep.

I’m not advocating for constant work. Trust me. I take weekends. I take breaks. I work hard and I dog it whenever I’m mid-project, but there’s always time with my wife, or time with family, or any number of solid, restful distractions. There’s something, though, about this in-between that doesn’t feel like rest. It feels like taking the easy road. It feels like… this:


And as nice as this looks, I kind of promised myself I’d work tirelessly so that I can keep doing the job I always dreamed I would get to do. So there’s no quick take from this particular blog post, but there’s definitely a psych-myself-up encouragement.

Tomorrow I’m going to wake up, pick a project, and dig my feet all the way into it.

Here we go.