Rob Rufus is the author of The Vinyl Underground published by Flux Books in March 2020. He’s previously written a memoir, Die Young With Me that published in 2017 and won an ALA Alex award. This is his first fictional take on Young Adult. The five star review can be read here where he leaves readers engrossed with music of the 60’s era and life lessons to be learnt. This book's voice and character lends itself to an emotional read. It’s one of those books that alter the minds of this generation as it is motivating yet raw and real.
I have had the opportunity to interview Mr. Rob Rufus himself. When I read the ebook through NetGalley, I did not think I would be afforded the opportunity to interview Rufus but here we are!
Welcome, Rob Rufus and congratulations on the publication. The Vinyl Underground was definitely a moving piece. It introduced me to more historical fiction. Do you think The Vinyl Underground applies to young adult alone or does it have the wings to spread age generations? What does the book have that motivates people of all ages to give it a read?
Thanks! So glad you enjoyed it. To me, the only difference between YA and adult fiction is the age and storyline of the main protagonists. I don’t write any differently or pull any punches, which is to say I write for all audiences and don’t make a special effort to cater to young adults. My hope for Vinyl Underground is that young readers take away some of the lessons of the past. For older readers, I think they will get a nice sense of nostalgia and a kick-start to their sense of youthful rebellion.
Instead of writing another memoir or adult fiction, what gave you the idea to write this book?
My memoir, Die Young With Me, had a big YA following. So, I thought it would be good to write something else that connected with those readers.
The pacing of this book was perfect as it did not drag or seem to be cut short. Was this the same with editing?
I really cut down the first few edits of this novel. I was working on screenplays while writing this, and I think that helped me get the pacing more like a movie. It’s so hard to get anyone to pay attention to anything these days, so I try not to have a lot of lag-time in my books.
What made you write the book in first person?
I wrote the book in first person because some of the other characters are different sexes, races, etc. In 2020, the publishing industry is weary of anyone writing from a viewpoint they have no real-life ownership of (which is a whole other conversation). Also, I’d just gone through a significant loss, so writing from the viewpoint of a grief-stricken boy wasn’t a big stretch for me.
Do you relate to Ronnie or any of the other characters and was it easy to distinguish each unique voice?
I relate to Ronnie more than any of the characters, but I relate to all of the characters in one way or another. Hana, as well as the antagonists, are based on real people who have greatly impacted my life.
Hana is such a powerful character. Not only to encounter the racism faced during the time of the Vietnam War, but to showcase that there were women like her who stood up for themselves and sort justice during the sixties. Can you describe Hana’s character development?
Hana’s character was very much inspired by someone very close to me, who is every bit as badass. So, it was actually easy to conjure up that sort of powerful female. All my life, my female friends have been awe-inspiring and kick ass, just like Hana is to the boys in the book.
There is a line from Hana I loved: "Gangs keep secrets from the world," she said, "not from each other." In such a short time, Hana had a connection with Ronnie, Milo and Lewis. Could you describe the relationship between these four characters?
In my experience, extreme situations can make people bond fast and hard. The four of them feel like outcasts for one reason or another. Their vinyl club is the only place they can freely express themselves and know they will be met with empathy, not anger or judgement. Hana’s willingness to say and act on what the boys have been thinking and feeling leaves them in awe of her and forms a deep longing to be close to that sort of bravery and power.
What made you set the book in Florida compared to the other states and did the setting have an impact on the book?
I set the book in a fictionalized version of a town I spend a lot of time in. I wanted to set it in the South, but somewhere that current events didn’t necessarily affect day-to-day lives the way they did Alabama, Tennessee, etc. Plus, Florida is a weird place, so there was nothing I could come up with that wouldn’t be plausible there.
The book dealt with a lot of issues that are still relevant today. How important is The Vinyl Underground in terms of racism and the current pandemic?
What troubles me today is that racism is normalized. Why does the media use terms like “White Nationalist” instead of “racist piece of shit?” I don’t think neo-nazi assholes should get to redefine themselves. So, it was important to me to show these people for who they really are . . . I grew up in a rural small town, so I know many people who think and feel the way the antagonists in the book do. It’s troubling to say the least. I think if the kids in Vinyl Underground were living through this pandemic they would be very skeptical of the government’s lackluster response, as well as the selfish individuals putting their own theoretical liberties above the health of their brothers and sisters.
Ronnie’s father was quite the masculine father figure that is depicted a lot from the past. Do you think today’s teens still face the pressure of having to do what their father says in terms of what to become and what hobbies and careers to pursue?
I think they probably do, but it may be a little different. I grew up with a very masculine father, so I was definitely pressured to try sports, etc. It was not fun. But I think kids today will be pressured by their parents to do whatever they see as important fundamental growing experiences. It all comes from a place of love, misguided or not.
Vinyls become very symbolic to the book, not only to the club but later on in the cinema. Of all things, what made you choose music that made the characters bond?
I chose music because music is what bonded my friends and I early in life. Music is how I still bond with so many people, today. I think music is a magical thing for young people, because it has a way of emoting all the feelings you can’t express or, sometimes, didn’t even know you had. It is also open for interpretation, which is why I think so many different types of people are able to bond over it.
You’re a drummer for The Bad Signs, did any of your bandmates suggest any songs for the book?
My brother (singer/guitarist for The Bad Signs) definitely exposed me to a lot of the music that ended up in the book. Beyond that, though . . . no. I have a better record collection than both of them, ha-ha.
What would you say is your favorite song in the book?
Eve of Destruction is, to me, the most important song in the book. It sums up the way teens were feeling in the late sixties, and the way I am feeling about the current state of the world. Especially during the pandemic! Give it a listen, it will trip you out for sure.
Some readers have a sense that there could be more to the teenagers of The Vinyl Underground. Would you consider writing a companion novel? What about a prequel of Hana to get a deeper insight to her protests? Or when Bruce was alive?
I have much love for all the members of The Vinyl Underground. I would definitely be open writing a companion novel if there was an audience interested in that!
What do you hope readers can take away from The Vinyl Underground?
I hope readers take away the fact that successful protest has to be an active thing. Sitting on your couch and tweeting is passive and isn’t actually changing anything. You have to get off your butt and raise your voice when it matters. Otherwise, you are just screaming at a wall. Late reaction is inaction, as Hana might say. I want young readers to understand that.
What next can readers expect from Rob Rufus?
My third book is floating around to different editors right now, so hopefully there will be an announcement on that soon. The movie version of my memoir, Die Young With Me, is in development. The Bad Signs are supposed to be on tour right now, but it’s been rescheduled to September. My punk band, Blacklist Royals, will also be doing shows this fall. So hopefully I’ll see y’all on the road!
Thank you so much for your time and I hope to get a physical copy one day! Also I hope to read more of your future works!
You can read more about The Vinyl Underground here: https://fluxnow.com/product/the-vinyl-underground/
Also, watch the book trailer: