Author Interview with Rob Rufus

Today, I have the honor of interviewing Rob Rufus, author of YA historical fiction novel The Vinyl Underground. 

First, here’s what the book is about:

During the tumultuous year of 1968, four teens are drawn together: Ronnie Bingham, who is grieving his brother’s death in Vietnam; Milo, Ronnie’s bookish best friend; “Ramrod,” a star athlete who is secretly avoiding the draft; and Hana, the new girl, a half-Japanese badass rock-n-roller whose presence doesn’t sit well with their segregated high school.

The four outcasts find sanctuary in “The Vinyl Underground,” a record club where they spin music, joke, debate, and escape the stifling norms of their small southern town. But Ronnie’s eighteenth birthday is looming. Together, they hatch a plan to keep Ronnie from being drafted. But when a horrific act of racial-charged violence rocks the gang to their core, they decide it’s time for an epic act of rebellion.

And here’s a little bit about Rob:

Rob Rufus is an author, musician, and screenwriter. His literary debut, Die Young With Me, received an American Library Association Award and was named one of The Best Books of The Year by Hudson Booksellers. It is currently being developed for the screen. His musical projects, Blacklist Royals/The Bad Signs, have released numerous full-length albums and toured in over a dozen countries.

And here’s the interview!

1.) The Vinyl Underground is your fiction debut after publishing a memoir. Can you talk about your road to publishing?

It was honestly harder to publish a work of fiction than my memoir.  My former publisher didn’t think the protest movement of the 1960s was a “relevant” topic to young readers, which in and of itself is troubling given the current political/social climate.  I was very happy to find the book a home that understood and welcomed hard topics and conversations.

2.) The Vinyl Underground takes place in 1968, one of the most turbulent years of the 20th century. What type of historical research did you do for the book?

It was really important to me to get the details right.  I read a LOT of books, watched a lot of documentaries, read articles and watched news stories from the time to get a sense of how the narratives were discussed without the gift of hindsight.  I also talked to people who participated and lived through the events covered in the book.

3.) There were several years in which the Vietnam War took place. What drove the decision to set the book in 1968?

1968 was one of the most turbulent years in American history.  We almost got out of the war, but then doubled-down in full force.  Martin Luther King was assassinated, and the Democratic Convention sparked one of the most violent sociopolitical protests in American history.  I think I chose 1968 because the country was ready to blow, which felt very familiar.

4.) Your book is filled with rich atmospheric details that makes the book come alive in that time period.  How do you handle historical world building?

I think mainly research, research, research.  It helped that I am very enamored with that time period.  My dad is a Vietnam Vet, but would never talk about his experiences.  So, all of my life I’ve immersed myself in the culture, music, and history of the war to get some sort of understanding of what his life was like.  When it came time to write the book, it was easy for me to close my eyes and see that world come alive.

I absolutely loved The Vinyl Underground, and you can read my review here.

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