The original post for this episode can be found here.
Sarah ENNI: Welcome to First Draft, with me, Sarah Enni. Today I’m talking to Lance Rubin, author of DENTON LITTLE’S DEATHDATE and its forthcoming sequel, DENTON LITTLE’S STILL NOT DEAD, due out in early 2017. I met Lance at the North Texas Teen Book Festival, where he was thoroughly charming on a Humor in YA panel. When I told him I was visiting New York, he offered to meet up at the Haymaker Bar and Kitchen in Chelsea, which his brother-in-law owns, to talk to me about his wayward path to writing novels, how stage and computer screen are, and aren’t that different, and of course, a bit about death and life. Lance is pretty much the coolest, so get a witbier on draft, hang some Teddy Roosevelt wall art, and enjoy the conversation.
ENNI: Okay, there we go. Okay so, let’s start with where were you born and raised?
Lance RUBIN: Um, I was born and raised in New Jersey, central New Jersey in a town called Matawan, it was a good town, about an hour from New York City, kinda near the beach as well, like thirty minutes from the beach.
ENNI: Which I think is an amazing double–I like that you can choose either way to go.
RUBIN: Yeah, oh absolutely. New Jersey gets a bad rep, you know, people drive through the New Jersey turnpike, they smell horrible things, they think it’s a very gross state, but I think New Jersey’s actually beautiful, um, I was near the beach, I was near New York City, there were also some beautiful farms I did not really spend time on…
ENNI: Yeah, I’ve been to a winery in New Jersey before.
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah!
ENNI: It was like, amazing.
RUBIN: New Jersey is a good place, give it a shot, everybody listening, because you might not know it as well as you think you do. And I was perfectly happy growing up there.
ENNI: That’s good–did you go to the city a lot, when you were a kid?
RUBIN: Um, yeah, yeah, yeah, uh, definitely. I mean, mainly it would be to see a Broadway show–I saw my first Broadway show when I was in third grade, I think, it was PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
ENNI: Wow! Oooh, that’s a good one.
RUBIN: Yeah yeah, it was good, chandelier and everything, it was pretty cool.
ENNI: Well, because you grew up to love the arts so much, it feels like you were so close to the world class stuff.
RUBIN: Yeah! Definitely. And then I totally took that for granted in some ways, I just assumed like everybody gets to go to the city and see Broadway shows growing up, right? Uh, ‘cause that’s all I knew. But now, obviously later, I understood that like, no, not everybody lives near New York City and gets to see the shows. Um, so that was pretty cool, and then definitely, I’m sure, went a long way towards engendering that, like, love of the arts and appreciation of the arts, and all of that.
ENNI: Which is amazing. Um, and the–so, we will get to talking about acting and performing, but I do want to know, when you were young, how writing and reading was a part of your life.
RUBIN: Yes, well reading was definitely always a part of my life from a young age, I loved books so much that like, the joke of my family–I mean, the actual thing that happened, but the thing they still joke about now is that I slept with books, um, and I still can kind of remember that feeling, if I think about it, of just like–I guess I was kind of worried that people would take the books, it was like…
ENNI: Did you have like, siblings? Was it like that sort of a thing?
RUBIN: Well, I did, but they wouldn’t steal my books. Yeah, I’m a middle child, I have an older brother and a younger sister. But they–they were not really a threat. I don’t know what it was, it was just this feeling of like, I need the books close to me.
ENNI: Like loving them so much.
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah, so I’d have three or four books in the bed with me, um, and now I have a two-year-old son who also started wanting tons of books in his crib, so I don’t know if it’s just in the DNA, but yeah, yeah.
ENNI: I love that, I can relate to that feeling, that like intensity, you’re like, “No, I just want to be on a pile of books at all times.”
RUBIN: Exactly, just sleeping, yeah on tons of books. Um yeah, so… Loved books from a young age, continued reading you know, steadily all throughout.
ENNI: When you think about books you were reading when you were younger, what are some of the big ones that stand out–and like all through high school?
RUBIN: Totally, um, the first book I ever read that I could read on my own was HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOON, I believe is the title, by Frank Asch, it’s about a bear who bakes a birthday cake for the moon.
ENNI: Which is so adorable.
RUBIN: Which is a very adorable story, um, I remember the first series I was really into was called PEE WEE SCOUTS, by Julie Delton, I was really into that, it was a co-ed group of scouts having adventures. I really liked the illustrations, that–I might be making this up, but I think was by a guy named Alan Tiegreen or something, just really fun cartoon art that I loved, the stories were great too. I was really into Bruce Coville’s MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN series, that’s like sort of a fifth grade, sixth grade, um… What else did I love, Louis Sachar, like SIDEWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL was huge, um, oh my god, I loved Jon Sciezka’s STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES, that was like, a big book, because it was just so funny. Like, I think I was actually–that probably came out when I was in sixth grade, so maybe a little older than the intended audience, but like, I just remember me and my friends cracking up, because it was like…
ENNI: It was so good! And I have like–the visuals are so strong in my mind, still.
RUBIN: Yeah, the illustrations are amazing, um, I was also reading Beverly Cleary, and some Judy Blume too, that was all great. And then the first adult book I ever read was JURASSIC PARK. Uh, and that was in fifth grade. I remember it well, I just felt so proud that I was reading an adult book to the extent that I was–I would report back to my parents “I’m on this page number, this page number,” and they were super sweet to humor me, “Great!” they must’ve been like, “Okay… Alright… You know, we’re recording the page number constantly.”
ENNI: I think it’s really neat that you obviously had such supportive parents to foster that.
RUBIN: Totally, totally, yes, there were bookshelves in the house, my parents both read–but you know what, my dad–I still haven’t read these books, my dad was huge into Dick Francis novels, all of his novels take place in and around the racetrack–there were a lot of racetrack mysteries.
ENNI: [laughs] Interesting!
RUBIN: Yeah, it’s still–to talk about it now, I’m like, "What happens in those books?” but I think it’s just, you know, probably a lot like murder mystery stuff–just with horses.
ENNI: MURDER, SHE WROTE with horses. [laughs]
RUBIN: He loved those, and I–but I do remember, you know, just thinking, “Oh, it’s so cool that my dad loves these books, that’s the series he’s into, what’s the series I’m going to be into?” So I definitely had good models for that.
ENNI: Yeah, that’s neat! I like uh, I want a house full of like, mass market paperbacks and stuff like that, that was mine too–my mom would just like plow through–and then I think that led me to read like, Mary Higgins stories.
RUBIN: Oh my god, I was just going to say Mary Higgins Clark, I read some Mary Higgins Clark when I was young!
ENNI: So early! Like, and it was like, what was I doing reading that? These are like, assault stories and like vicious deaths and I was like, “More please!”
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah!
ENNI: In like, fifth grade, why?
RUBIN: It’s kind of crazy like, how as a kid, you can read this stuff, even though you’re not totally getting it, but you think you are? Yeah, that’s so fascinating to me, that like, you’re not realizing how inappropriate it is, like assuming it has no bad language.
ENNI: Yeah, yeah!
RUBIN: Bad language is like, “Oh, this is crazy,” but like–'cause I think I read a Mary Higgins Clark book called WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN, maybe? Does that ring a bell?
ENNI: That sounds familiar.
RUBIN: I just remember the cover was like this really intense like, a house with like, just one mitten in the front lawn or something like that–someone was having the children, they’d been kidnapped, just like, what did I think of this book? Yeah.
ENNI: We talk a lot about–my friends and I–about kids who are reading and like, books are this uniquely kind of safe space, because as a kid you can just gloss over–if it doesn’t make sense to you, you kind of read around it. I think–not true for everything–but I did read a lot, like, I read Stephen King too young, I read all these books, but like I didn’t remember the things that didn’t make sense to me, so I took out of it whatever I was getting just from reading, and that was it.
RUBIN: Totally, I love that idea of books as a safe space, because I think that’s so true, and that’s why…
ENNI: Because movies and TV are like, you get it, and then you can’t unsee that really strong visual.
RUBIN: Right, it’s so visceral.
ENNI: Books, if you don’t know it, you can’t visualize it, and it’s kind of interesting in that.
RUBIN: Right, you’re just filling in the gaps and often you won’t know how to fill in the gaps, so it just won’t. And uh, but that is why I think just the idea of censoring books is just so ridiculous and unhealthy, because this is a safe space to experience these things.
ENNI: Ask questions!
RUBIN: Right! Exactly, kind of start discussing these things, going on a journey with a character and you’re not–you yourself are not going through these things, but you’re kind of learning about them through a character, and it’s a great way to do it.
ENNI: Yeah, totally. So anyway. [laughs]
ENNI: We love books, obviously.
RUBIN: Yes, everybody pick up Mary Higgins Clark and give it to a seven-year-old.
ENNI: [laughs] Um, so–I want to come back to the fact that you were reading a bunch of funny books, too, because I’m really interested in that, but I want to know what else–obviously, as a young adult you were getting into acting, too.
RUBIN: Right, yes, yes, I–so my journey, I should say, getting to be a writer is really interesting, because I always thought I was going to be an actor, I was like, you know, from the time I was six I was just like… Um, I like to say, and I think it’s true, that it started when I saw BACK TO THE FUTURE, I just loved that movie, even as a six-year-old. I loved the character Marty McFly, I thought it was the coolest character of all time, I thought that was what it meant to be cool. I loved it so much that I would daydream on the school bus about being Marty McFly. Um, and… Actually, you know, the daydream was more specific than that. I–this was before the sequel came out–I wanted to play Marty McFly’s son in the sequel. Um, so I was daydreaming about that–it was never, I never actually came up with a plot for what the movie was, it was just kind of like me as Marty McFly’s son, like walking around holding a skateboard. I would always holding the skateboard–
ENNI: Be cool!
RUBIN: Being cool! Being super cool, uh, holding onto the back of trucks while skateboarding. So, that at that point I wanted to see if “Oh, I want to be an actor, I want to do this,” and then come my third grade fourth grade actually had some performing opportunities of like community theatre stuff and school, and then I really liked it. That confirmed it for me. I was like, “Oh, I like being on stage, I like performing.” And so then I was doing that, I was, you know, in high school musicals, I went to a performing arts summer camp called French Woods for six summers, always doing shows… But then I was still doing some writing, so along with that I wrote for the high school newspaper, Husky View was the school paper, um, and I wrote for the entertainment section, you know, I wrote some movie reviews, I gave TOY STORY 2 a really great review.
ENNI: Full stamps. [laughs]
RUBIN: Yeah, really controversial! Um, and then I also had this humor column that kind of, you know, it had been passed down along the years, when someone would graduate and they found someone new to write–it was called Random Thoughts. Um, and so it was just my humorous musings, um, which–I’d have to look back, because I think some of them, like maybe one out of ten were actually kind of funny, most weren’t. One I can think of was me musing about like, sleep and how sleep was invented, like before they knew that sleep was a thing, maybe they just kept thinking their caveman friends were dead. Um, really cunning stuff, so. So writing was always in the picture, and also, I should say, at that summer camp I did some improv stuff, there would always be like an improv kind of class or whatever it is called at summer camp, elective that I would do. And that was kind of like, the first, you know, improv I see is like acting plus writing. You’re acting, but you’re writing on your feet while you’re acting, and so that always really appealed to me in my, you know, creative sensibilities. Then I went to college, and college–
ENNI: Wait, you were in high school also writing and like, recording skits and stuff with friends, or were you…?
RUBIN: Yes, yes, I totally–you are, you have ESP, just now. Um, yes, in high school I also–another form of writing was writing these comedy skits, um, specifically me and my buddy Zack would, you know, take a video camera–one of those huge video cameras, we’d make these stupid videos, um… But yeah, that was a form of storytelling. Um, and even before that at a young age there was this camping trip that my family would take with some other families, and all the kids would kind of write this skit, and I remember like, I would be involved with that. So yeah, even though I always had this dream of being an actor, writing was always kind of happening alongside that, but in this way that I didn’t even fully realize how much I was enjoying the writing part.
ENNI: Yeah, right, and I think it’s so neat because my view of writers is that we’re all total control freaks, and so I feel like there’s the stereotypical thing of an actor like, wondering what his motivation is or whatever, but you really wanted to be a part of creating this thing and know what you were performing and why.
RUBIN: Yes, and you saying that is so spot on, because cut to many years later I got out of college and I was like, you know, “Okay, it’s time to start an acting career, do this thing professionally.”
ENNI: Where did you go to school?
RUBIN: I went to school at Brown, in Rhode Island.
ENNI: And were you studying acting?
RUBIN: Yes, I was, in theatre I was majoring–it was a Liberal Arts school, so there was other stuff too, but, but definitely acting was a huge part of what I did there, I also did co-write a musical there that I did there–I’m just going to talk about some writing things I did there–I also did a solo performance class where I get to write and star in a one person show.
ENNI: That’s amazing.
RUBIN: So, well thank you, I’m not saying it to list my resume, but just…
ENNI: No, it’s neat that you got the chance to do that.
RUBIN: Exactly, exactly, these experiences where I got to do these cool performing/writing things. So I got out of school, went into the world, and you know, there were a lot of fun highs of my acting journey, certainly, but as a whole experience I kept encountering just the disempowering feeling of being an actor, you know? Where it’s like, often you’re not asked for your collaborative vision, you’re really there just to do the thing, and you’re getting these auditions all the time for a lot of things that maybe you’re not–you don’t even think are that good, or don’t really appeal to you, you sort of slip into that territory where you kind of feel sometimes more like a puppet, um. You know, the best acting experiences are great, where you do feel like you can have a voice in the experience, and helped in the collaboration. That’s wonderful, and I still love performing so much, but I kept hitting that disempowering feeling of like, “Why am I getting so worked up about trying to get this part in a thing I don’t even like?” So that was really hard. So I was kind of, um… I came at this crossroads where I was like, “This is so weird, because I’ve always wanted to be an actor, and I’m kind of doing it, but it’s also making me very unhappy.”
ENNI: The method of it, like… Being at the mercy of other–I mean, it would be so–I have so much empathy for this, you spent all this time building up experiences of having like, a lot of control, and having an enormously beneficial and exciting time like, making creative things, and then all of the sudden a flip switches and you have to just totally be on the back burner and like, your opinion doesn’t matter and no one wants to hear from you, and it’s like–that happens to a lot of people in a lot of different ways in their twenties, but as a creative person that would’ve been really upsetting.
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah, exactly. That’s very well said, and it was upsetting, and my best experiences acting post-college were things that I was involved in collaboratively, be it a comedy show that I wrote with my friend Ray, called the Lance and Ray Show, that was, you know, kind of a la Mr. Show, um, which was an HBO show years ago with David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, um, so we had successful runs of that at Uptight Citizens Brigade Theatre, and that was great, that was so fulfilling, so enjoyable. And then there’s this musical theatre writer Joe Iconis, who’s also one of my very close friends, who I met right after college at a reading of his, and I went on to act on like tons of stuff with him, I still actually do perform at concerts of his music, because I love what he does so much. But also, in those acting experiences it was the more collaborative thing I was talking about, where it’s like “Oh, the creators here are open to what I’m doing as an actor and like, if I have an idea for a different thing to say here–as long as I’m being respectful about it, and I’m not trying to change every line in the script.” But there is–there’s just such a noted difference as an actor having an experience where people are clearly respecting you and open to your input, and when they’re just like, “No, just do the thing, hit the mark, and be the puppet.”
ENNI: Don’t think.
RUBIN: Yeah, don’t think, for someone who’s like, creatively inclined in any other way besides hitting the marks, it becomes really hard and really unsatisfying. So I had this moment circa 2011, where I just wasn’t that happy with what was going on in my acting career, I wasn’t making that much money from it, and my agent basically moved on to a different agency and didn’t take me with him, and then so I just didn’t have an agent anymore, and my manager–who I’d been with for a few years–was like, “Yeah, I think we should reassess our relationship too,” so…
RUBIN: Yeah, which was like, it was rough, but at the same time I was kind of relieved, because I was like, “Oh good, this isn’t working,” I mean it totally sucked and I was devastated, but I felt like, “Oh god, I’m so happy not to have that agent and manager anymore.” And then I was like, “Why am I happy?! I’m trying to be an actor and now I’m happy that I don’t have representation?” So it was all very confusing, I had just so tied my identity to “I’m going to be an actor,” so it was like “What am I doing?” around that time I read THE HUNGER GAMES, have you heard of it?
RUBIN: And I loved it, and I was like, “Oh, this is so fun, this is story-driven,” and then I had this idea bouncing around in my head for a couple years that I thought maybe I’d write as a screenplay, which I never did anything with, and I was like, “Maybe I’ll take that idea and age the characters down,” I thought they’d be in their twenties, “maybe I’ll make them teenagers and just try writing this as a YA novel.” I don’t know if I could do it, but I feel like it’ll be a fun creative thing to try, and I’d been feeling so sad and disempowered that like, what did I have to lose?
ENNI: Right, right, totally. Just like–to give a little background, because I’m really curious about why you thought about making it a teen story. Like, what was your relationship with teen stories up until that point, how much did you really know about YA?
RUBIN: Yes, yes yes yes. Well, I always loved teen stories, I loved teen dramas so much–DAWSON’S CREEK, saw every episode. DAWSON’S CREEK, FELICITY, and THE O.C. I would say are like, the big three of my life.
ENNI: Yes, huge.
RUBIN: Yeah, love those shows, BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 I used to watch too, you know, I was a little younger then, and I didn’t quite connect as deeply as I did with these other shows. So I always loved those, to the extent where I actually–when I got out of college I created this improv show that was kind of a tribute to teen dramas, it was an improv comedy show but it was an improvised teen drama where there were nine of us in the group, we all played the same characters every week, it was an ongoing story, it was continuous. Instead of THE O.C. it was called THE NYC, this place in New York–meanwhile, as far as YA went, you know, I’d read all of these books I mentioned earlier, and then obviously I loved HARRY POTTER–I say obviously because everyone should and everyone does.
ENNI: So you’ve been like, keeping up with it kind of.
RUBIN: Yeah, but HUNGER GAMES was definitely the first kind of, you know, I feel like HUNGER GAMES in a way does mark the beginning of this new era. I guess TWILIGHT comes in too, I did read TWILIGHT, I won’t talk about that anymore. But I was really into THE HUNGER GAMES, yeah, that kind of opened my eyes to, “Oh wow, there is this thing happening.”
ENNI: Yeah, and in a way that’s like–I think the new wave of YA is a lot more, can be a lot more reflective of what we love about the teen dramas, like. There are some stories that are fun and contemporary and kind of have that vibe going on.
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah, completely. Completely. And I didn’t even mention this, but maybe it goes without saying that my dream was to be on a teen drama as an actor.
ENNI: Really? Oh my god.
RUBIN: So when I got out of college I was really hoping, like, I would have loved to be on THE O.C. That was like, right when I got out of school, starting in 2004, like, to be on THE O.C. would’ve been like…
ENNI: The dream.
RUBIN: The dream. And of course it would actually happen that I would’ve been like, “Oh, this is it,” and probably immediately dissatisfied. But yes, I wanted to be on THE O.C. and that was part of what drove me to create this improvised teen drama. It then–as I started to age out–I was like, “Oh, maybe my dream is to create one of these teen dramas.” And so then even though it was like, a weird thing for me to suddenly think, “Oh, let me try to write a YA novel,” it also wasn’t, because I’d been thinking so much of like teen stories in that world, just not in the YA, um, vein necessarily, but like it was not a foreign thing for me to be like, “Oh my god the same thing, I love that these teen dramas, and the same kind of connection it gives me to that–” to those years, like… “Let me just write this in a book, and that’s great, and I can do that right now, and I can sit in a coffee shop,” it’s like, it was the ultimate empowering creative act.
RUBIN: Because you can just–you just need a computer, or you just need a pad and a pen, you know? It’s an amazing thing.
ENNI: Yes, that’s what I was going to say, it was like–living in Los Angeles, there’s a lot of people that I know who are like, who are writers but who are doing other things too, and like, you have to be asked to act. Like, you can’t just act in your house and like, and have anything come of that. And writing is such a powerful thing because no one has to ask you to do it, you can do it whenever you want. Anyone can do it, it’s like, great.
RUBIN: Which is amazing, it really is. You can’t overstate how wonderful that is. And that is why, honestly, my advice to all actors–if any actors are listening–is really to try and embrace your writing side, you know, because the more you’re creating material for yourself to act, or the more you can just be, you know, building up your own confidence by and flexing your creative muscle in other ways, it’s just, it can only be helpful.
ENNI: Well, I was listening to an interview with Judd Apatow, or maybe it was Jason Segel, and anyway, it was talking about the FREAKS AND GEEKS crew of kids. And I guess after that show ended like, they kind of obviously were looking to Judd like, “What do we do?” And he was like, “Honestly? If you want to have careers, you have to write your own movies.” And that’s like, they all did.
RUBIN: Worked out pretty well for pretty much all of them. FREAKS AND GEEKS and other, I mean, that kind of transcends teen drama, 'cause it’s an amazing thing. Another show I love. And I also want to add BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER–amazing and hugely influential to me.
ENNI: So, so, tell me about what the idea was, and then how you kind of created it into the story.
RUBIN: Yes, yes, right, so the idea was–so this is the novel that is out on shelfs now, the only book I’ve written that is out, called DENTON LITTLE’S DEATHDATE. And so the idea that I had when it was just a screenplay was really just me, you know, I think about time a lot, and I think about death a lot sometimes, too, and I just kind of–you know, with time I’m always thinking, I think, in terms of, “Oh, what happened a year ago? What happened two years ago? Where was I three years ago? Oh, that’s so funny, it’s been two years since we did that thing,” or whatever, my brain just kind of works that way. At a certain point, I think, I started thinking forward like, “Oh god, wouldn’t it be weird if you could like, know when you’re going to die and be able to kind of like, plan and inventory your life.”
ENNI: Do that, apply that same math of like…
RUBIN: Yeah, to do that same thing, like “Oh, I’m going to die in three years, what am I going to do–okay…” Um, so I had that idea, just like, “Oh, it would be interesting to know my deathdate.” And then I kind of thought, “Oh, what if it’s like–what if we all know our deathdate?” You know, what kind of society would that be, would that change things? Would that not change things? So I had that idea, and then it was just going to be a protagonist who was dying tomorrow. That was pretty much all I had, and then I kind of came up with a title, I was like, “Oh it’s going to be Denton,” because–I don’t even know why I thought it, I just liked the name, Denton Little. And then DENTON LITTLE’S DEATHDATE, right, so for two years I’m just like–I just had this one line premise, and, you know, that title. I was just holding onto it. And I was thinking maybe–“Oh, maybe I’ll write the screenplay and act in it,” and maybe, you know, my best buddy Ray, who I do a comedy show with, maybe he’ll play the best friend. Whatever, so it just sits there, and nothing happens. And then when it comes time to write a YA novel, and I decided I’m going to do that, I made the characters teenagers, and Denton is like, it’s his senior year, and graduation is approaching, but his deathdate is before then, his deathdate is actually the same day as prom. And just suddenly–it instantly felt like a more heightened idea, too, as teenagers, I was just like, “Oh, that’s so much better than a character in their twenties, what a crazy thing to be ending your high school experience and then your life at the same time–what does that mean?” And then it just kind of spun out from there. But the best friend character, Denton’s best friend Paolo, is–you know, the foundation of the character was my friend Ray. And so the banter we had in our sketch comedy show kind of–even without me meaning to just kind of went into the pages of the book.
ENNI: Yeah, okay, wait, before we get too far down there, because I want to talk about the humor separately, but I do want to just like, harp on the brilliance of this concept, because I think it’s so great, and like–it did like, what I think, when I was reading about it and thinking about it I was like, “This is so brilliant,” because I love writing about the senior year of high school, because it’s like this insane moment of like, the–it’s the first big end of a thing in your life. And at the same time, it’s the beginning of everything kind of exciting, so it’s a really weird crosshatch of all of these feelings, and it’s really, really poignant. So, to like, to then like bring the deathdate up and heighten it even more, I was like, “This is just so smart.” But also like, sad, when you get into that mindset, you have to be like, kind of playing with a lot of stuff that’s tough to think about.
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah totally.
ENNI: What was it like to spend time in Denton’s head?
RUBIN: Yeah, it was… It was good in a lot of ways, because it really did make me present in my own life, it made me feel like, “Oh my god, I’m glad I’m not dying tomorrow!” It couldn’t help but make me appreciative, of my own life… Yeah, it was interesting, because in the world everyone knows their own deathdate, part of the humor is that it’s more matter-of-fact, you know, death still sucks, but it’s like, “Well, you knew it was coming, everyone knows it’s coming,” it’s kind of like… You know, the example I always give is like, “You going to be at that party Saturday?” It’s like, “Uh, no man, I’m gonna…” “Oh yeah, you’re gonna be dead, I’m sorry, so sorry.” “Oh no, it’s okay, it’s fine.” So operating in that kind of vein, which is cool, I think, in a way of just like, reading and thinking about it the way it makes you look at death a little differently.
ENNI: As a part of life.
RUBIN: As part of life, yeah, the way they’re so open about death–the characters, um, was kind of cool. It definitely made me think about my own death. I am very glad I do not know my deathdate.
ENNI: Right, yeah, seriously.
RUBIN: I kind of went back and forth during the writing of it, like, “Oh, would I like this yet? This might be kind of nice,” but ultimately I think it’s just too much.
ENNI: It would be too much.
RUBIN: Too much knowledge, we shouldn’t all know.
ENNI: The–and I was also interested in like, when you were sitting–'cause this is the first book that you sat down to write, like, full-length novel, right?
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah.
ENNI: Did you notice that some components of writing–basically what I’m trying to ask is whether, how acting fed into the writing of this, like visually, character development, it seems like you probably were able to bring those things like, pretty strong.
RUBIN: Yeah, for sure, it surprised me how much crossover there was between acting and writing. Especially because this was written from the first person perspective, and also because the character, Denton, I just like… I was like, “It’s going to be hard enough to write a book, so let me just make this guy me at seventeen, at least as the foundation of the character.” So, because I did that even more it felt like “Oh, it’s kind of like acting, I’m just choosing what this guy does, how he responds to this world,” and as an actor, you know, that is your job–to know the character so well that you can kind of fully inhabit that character and respond as that character, so… Yeah, so all of that did really help, um, in the writing of this, it felt very comfortable for me.
ENNI: And natural, right?
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah.
ENNI: I think it’s a humongous advantage for you to be able to bring like, it’s neat as a starting writer like, then everything is hard. So I feel like you had like, honed some skills like so much.
RUBIN: Totally, totally, yeah, it’s just–it is really cool to think back, you know, to look back at what I’d done leading up to that and how I never would have predicted, “Oh, I’m going to start writing YA novels,” you know, “when I’m thirty,” but then when you trace it back it’s like, “Oh, this does kind of makes sense.” You know?
ENNI: Yeah, yeah.
RUBIN: That’s the cool thing I think you can follow tracing anybody’s path, you know, where it’s like… It goes in really unexpected places, but then there are kind of patterns, and you realize, “Oh,” like, “this, this is not the craziest thing. It’s not the craziest switch.”
ENNI: It’s all kind of building, which I think can be similar for you for humor writing, 'cause it sounds like from the very beginning of writing anything it was comedy type stuff.
RUBIN: Yes, totally. Let me just backtrack–one thought I had was just that, yes, that made writing certain parts of the book easy, but like, there’s stuff that I just suck at on writing, I just want to make that clear. That like, my description of like, the way characters look–and my description of really anything is often like, pretty bad. I have to handle that in the re-writes. Like, dialogue pretty good, like… Overall structure, well no, structure got changed a lot in re-writes too, but like, I do–pacing and stuff from like, lovey movies and being in shows and stuff, I feel like that kind of fed in, but then there’s other stuff that was just like, weak, and continues to be something I work on.
ENNI: Yeah, well you gotta have something to work on!
RUBIN: I just want to stress that–oh my god, yeah. Because also, like, I did, you know, my journey is annoying to hear about because I did. That was the first book I wrote, and it went very well. But I got rejected a lot–a lot, a lot, a lot as an actor, and it also continues to struggle with the other books I’m writing since then. I just mean like, it all–in the karmic scale of a lifetime, it all balances out.
ENNI: Yeah, you’re not a fourteen-year-old kid who just wrote a book and got a seven figure deal or something like that. Those are the where it’s kind of hard to swallow.
RUBIN: Yeah, those are kind of crazy. This is like, yes, a very charmed journey but… You know, there’s been a lot of sucky stuff too along the way, and I’m sure will be in my future. Okay, but yes, talking about humor, um…
ENNI: Because humor writing is not easy, and for a lot of people it does not come naturally, but then, I think for some people it’s like, you can’t help it. That’s kind of how stories occur to you.
RUBIN: Totally, and yes, I had been like, just into comedy for such a young age, and then like, making these comedy skits, like yeah, I just… I am attracted to that stuff. I like to laugh, I like to, you know, think about what’s funny about life, you know. Calling out that stuff. So, yeah.
ENNI: Well it’s a way of like, it’s interesting because it’s hard–there’s not like a word for it, for what I’m trying to say, but it’s like, it almost is like a genre of writing because it’s a lens on everything. Humor can sharpen pain, and it can, you know, it’s just a way of making other things… There’s no comedy without darkness, and so it sort of enhances that stuff.
RUBIN: Yes, well said, and I can’t–whenever it’s time to talk about comedy, I can’t even fully–you know, there’s certain parts of it that I can kind of like, “Oh, that’s why this is funny, that’s why this is funny,” but it is as Mark Twain said, it’s like poking a dead frog. You can’t really… But it’s just hard to actually think about why, you know, why do I tune into what’s funny, or like, why do I think what’s funny is funny. And to even know exactly what I’m doing when I’m writing, you know, funny stuff.
ENNI: Yeah, but did you know with DENTON that you wanted the story to contain humor, or were you…?
RUBIN: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I mean, absolutely, like, THE HUNGER GAMES I love but I was like, “Wow, there’s like, no jokes in that thing.”
ENNI: It’s pretty relentless.
RUBIN: Yeah! It’s so dark, as it has to be with that story, but I was like, very much I was like, “I want to write a YA book that’s story driven and fun like THE HUNGER GAMES, but like, is funny.” So yeah, that was my hope.
ENNI: Well, I think it’s very needed, there’s not a lot of–there definitely are funny YA books out there, but there’s not a ton of them. And like, books that make you laugh out loud are like, generally not that common, so I feel like it’s very welcome to have YA books with a great sense of humor.
RUBIN: Well, that’s nice, yeah, no I do, any of those YA books that are funny are great. Yeah, it’s an interesting nut to crack, too, because, you know, I was just talking to my editor–you know, the first book sold fine. It sold fine, but not as well as they’d hoped, and just, you know, so my editor was saying how a lot of times YA that’s funny doesn’t sell as well, like middle grade funny stuff does sell, but YA doesn’t. And so then thinking about that like, why would that be? Is it that teenagers are more attracted to darkness but like, as a teenager I loved to laugh, don’t teenagers love to laugh? So it’s, I really like thinking about that and trying to understand why–if this is a true statement that funny YA doesn’t sell as well, is that actually, you know, is that a real thing? Or is that just something we’ve decided? You know, is that a false equivalency or something that we’ve drawn from the information.
ENNI: Yeah, I think that’s a good place to start, because I think there’s a lot of publishing truisms that are like, “Actually, I think we can look at this again.”
RUBIN: Of course, and that’s any, any like entertainment industry stuff that like, you know.
ENNI: Because teen comedies like, there’s… That’s… a thing.
RUBIN: Right! Right, yeah, exactly.
ENNI: But it is interesting because it does seem to, like middle grade can be so funny, and then YA is like, a lot of navel gazing, which is fantastic and I love reading that stuff too, but it feels like there’s gotta be space for this, like you’re–the kid who’s reading these middle grade books because they’re hilarious like, we have to let them know that there’s stuff for them as they get older. I don’t know, it’s interesting.
RUBIN: It is interesting.
ENNI: But, anyway.
RUBIN: Either way, it’s fine with me, I’m delighted that my book is out there in the world.
ENNI: Yes! And even the cover, like, I love how the cover is so smart about letting you know what you’re in for.
ENNI: The sideways hearse, it’s really clever, so I thought that was awesome.
RUBIN: Yeah, props to Angela Carlino, cover designer.
RUBIN: Yeah, did a good job.
ENNI: Yeah, so, okay, the other thing that I wanted to sort of bring up, and transitioning a little bit into book two, is that, is like… We talked a little about this at the North Texas Teen Book Festival, but like, Denton puts a little bit of the spin on contemporary that I think has been happening a lot lately, which is like, 90% contemporary and 10% a little bit of something else that helps heighten it. And it’s almost sci-fi or whatever, spec-fic element of knowing your deathdate. And I love stories that are doing this, and I think it’s super fun. But then it also like, in looking at the new book and the description for it, the description in there says–and this is not a spoiler because there is a second book coming out.
RUBIN: Totally not, it’s out there in the world, like on the internet…
ENNI: And it’s called DENTON LITTLE’S STILL NOT DEAD, which is my favorite thing.
RUBIN: It is, it is.
ENNI: But in the description it says, “He may now die at any time.”
ENNI: And I was like… It really was, it struck me so hard, even in the description I was like, “Wow, really, this book is so effectively,” like, that is true. For all of us. All the time.
RUBIN: Right?! Right, exactly, it’s so funny, I just saw that description for the first time a couple days ago too, so I’m–I haven’t talked with anybody really about it, but yes, I had that same feeling like, “Oh yeah.” I mean, and that is a part of the book, but seeing that sentence there, “He may now die at any time.” Right? That’s all of us.
ENNI: But for Denton, especially in that world, like, how terrifying!
ENNI: And it makes you think about like, why am I not terrified about this? This is our reality!
RUBIN: Right, right.
ENNI: But it’s so fascinating!
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah, I’m glad you kind of like, you know, glommed onto that. That sentence. Yeah, well and also, side note: it is so interesting, so the original title of the book, the second book, was going to be DENTON LITTLE’S BIRTHDATE. Um, which I’m really glad about the title change now, but like, I liked that maybe you’d think it was a prequel, so that it like doesn’t spoil that he’s still not dead.
ENNI: Oh, right!
RUBIN: But I–I’m really happy that, you know, Random House Children’s was like–there was push back on “birthdate,” they felt like as a title if you just heard that without knowing about DEATHDATE it’s like, “What is that title?” So, I’m happy with the new title, but it’s so funny to me that this is like the ultimate spoiler, like, why not? Great.
ENNI: Right there on the shelf! Alright. But for me, as a reader, I will say, it does not hinder me wanting to read the first one, because I feel like it makes me like, “Oh,” like this…
RUBIN: That’s great; that’s great! And I am–that was one of the most interesting things about like, sending this book out into the world was that I felt like it would be such a cool, like, a lot of people write a thing as a standalone, and then they get to the end and it’s not, it’s a two book series, and they’re just like, frustrated
ENNI: How interesting.
RUBIN: Yeah, and I was not necessarily anticipating that, I was like, “Oh, what a wonderful thing, like, you get to the end and there’s kind of a fun twisty thing, and like, then you’ll be like, 'Wow, can’t wait for the second one,’” and a lot of people were like that too, but it was just such a good lesson, like, expectation fueling your reading experience. So when you go in there expecting to read something that’s standalone and it’s not, you’re like, kind of pissed, it turns out. And the advance copies of Denton didn’t even say there was a second book at the end, so there was a lot of confusion, and people being like, you know, I’m sure people have been reviewing it based on that, and some people kindly were like, “Oh, this works as a standalone.” Which I–bless their hearts. But it was never meant to be, it was meant to be a two book thing. Just, that’s just a little sidebar thing.
ENNI: No, I think that’s really interesting!
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah! I mean, when you think about, and then you realize how important marketing is for just any of these books. The cover and just like, what you set the reader up with going in, and how the actual book meets or does not meet what is set up is like, crucial, right? Because if you have expectations about a book, this can be an amazing book, but if your expectations are for something and it’s not met, then you’re like, “I did not like that book.”
ENNI: Yes, yes!
RUBIN: You know?
ENNI: Just because it was like, I was set up to fail, like, movie posters, right?
RUBIN: Same with movie posters! Yes, movies–and in any kind of art when it’s like, the marketing does not match what you see, even if that is a good…
RUBIN: Good product, you might leave feeling like, “Oh, I did not enjoy my experience.”
RUBIN: “Because it did not match up.”
ENNI: That’s a funny lesson in psychology.
RUBIN: It is! It is, oh my god, because I just thought writing DENTON and like, the way the first book ends, I just thought like, “Oh, this is so cool, who wouldn’t like this?” It’s like, “Oh, a lot of people. A lot of people feel very annoyed.”
ENNI: [laughs] Interesting.
RUBIN: So, I’m very happy now that the second book is out there and people like, expectation-wise, it’s like… You know what you get. It’s two books, the second book will end, great. No…
ENNI: It will complete the journey.
RUBIN: There’s no gray area anymore, so that’s good.
ENNI: And a relief for you, I’m sure. That’s nice.
ENNI: So, I’d love to, like–you knew, then, from the beginning, that this was going to be a two book situation?
RUBIN: I did; I did.
ENNI: So what did you–because it’s really reading that line, like, struck me about how fundamentally different Denton’s perspective is going to be from book one. What were you looking to explore more in the second book?
RUBIN: Um… So the first book, right, is about coming to terms with death, and I think the second book is more coming to terms with life, like… 'Cause in the second book, Denton Little is still not dead. And yeah, it’s kind of like–crap, I’m just trying to think how much I can say without being crazy spoiler-y, so I won’t say too much, but basically it is that, it’s just like totally flipping on it’s head and it’s like, “What does it mean to live?”
ENNI: And live with the–what I love about it is that Denton spends the whole first book like, having these amazing firsts and doing these crazy things, and like, with sort of the implicit understanding that he’s never going to have to stick around and deal with the consequences.
ENNI: And then the second book is like, well it must be that his wall is crashing down and figuring out like, “Oh man, now I have to like, own up to my choices.” Which is such a great sort of, in the context of a teen story, that’s a really important, interesting thing to explore.
RUBIN: Yeah, totally. I like the way you said it! It’s really smart, it’s like, “Oh cool.” Yeah, I hope the book does that. Yeah, yeah, so I think it’s exciting, you know, the book was originally, the second book was going to come out in April of this year, April of 2016, and it’s been delayed, so first it seemed so far that the second book was coming out. But now, you know, February is not right around the corner, but in publishing terms…
ENNI: It’ll be there.
RUBIN: Yeah, so it’s nice to be talking about it and knowing like, “Okay, this book is coming out.”
ENNI: It’s real!
RUBIN: It’s real; it’s real, because yeah, the no-man’s-land of publishing sometimes where even though something is coming out, it’s just like, far away, I can sort of feel like, “Is this even happening?” Like, “What is going on?”
ENNI: Yeah, it is kind of a warp. Do you feel like–because I am actually curious about this, I don’t know. Sometimes with movies or plays it feels like there’s a long lead time as well, but then it’s… Especially when you’re used to being on the stage, that’s so immediate.
RUBIN: Yes, yes, that’s so true! It’s so true.
ENNI: Is it frustrating? I mean, do you miss like…
RUBIN: The immediacy of that?
ENNI: Like feedback must be so different for you now.
RUBIN: Feedback is so different. You know what, I kind of–I like the publishing thing in terms of–it becomes, the focus becomes much more like, your own fulfillment and like view, like, “How can I please myself?” And then by the time the book comes out, hopefully, what I always want is to like, I want to know how I feel about it, and so that you know, good stuff or bad stuff can just be like, yeah, of course you want it to all be good stuff, but then it can just be like, “I know what I think about this. And I’ve had time to,” you know, “get myself straight with what I made.” And then – [sound interrupts]
ENNI: Whoa, hang on, this got really – [cuts, sound ends]
RUBIN: In writing books, so, for the time the book comes out, you’re really like focused on making the next thing.
RUBIN: And I love also that like, once a book is out there in the world people can be connecting with it at any random moment of any day, whereas performing a show is amazing and it’s fantastic, but basically then that night maybe someone says something night or they’re like, “Oh, I connected with that show that you were just in,” and you’re like “Oh, that’s great,” but then it’s like, it’s so ephemeral. And that’s what is beautiful about theatre, but is also like, you know, less gratifying sometimes.
RUBIN: Yeah! Because it’s like, “Well, that happened–did that even happen?” You know, two months later…
ENNI: I was–and I was listening to, especially when you’re talking about like, humor or improv, I was listening to some professional improv person say the thing about it is that you can never talk to anyone about a great improv show that you saw, because you’ll sound like an idiot trying to describe it. And it’s like, no one wants to hear about it. And it’s like, so it just is this implied contract between an audience and the performers, that “one night only,” and that’s it.
RUBIN: Yeah, which is an amazing thing, but yeah.
ENNI: But hard!
RUBIN: It must be hard, right. Something amazing happened in that room just now, where we just had this amazing performance, our minds were locked, the audience was locked in, and that’s a magical thing, but yeah, you can’t fully describe it.
ENNI: Now it’s lost to time.
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah.
ENNI: Which is a wonderful thing to be able to like, learn to love that, and let it go.
RUBIN: Oh yeah.
ENNI: That’s a whole other sort of like, maturity as a creative person, but books will last forever, and you’re like… You can be answering questions for the same book for twenty years or whatever, which is a whole different kind of interesting thing. Like, J.K. Rowling is like, you know, never gonna not be dealing with that. But do you feel like criticism–do you think that acting that long has made you sort of like, less intimidated by reviews?
RUBIN: I don’t know–I want to say yes, I want to say yes because I’m just so grateful that it’s like, not me, specifically. It’s like, “Oh, my book”–is like a separate thing for me, and it still sucks when people say bad things about it, but as an actor, when you’re being rejected in auditions, it’s like you. You’re trying to sell you, and they’re like, “No, we don’t like you.”
ENNI: That is so true.
RUBIN: Yeah, there’s this comment that stuck with me about, like, you know, I was doing this workshop of musical that like, there was talk, will I move on with the thing, whatever, and this was one that my friend had written so he told me this feedback some producer was like, “I don’t like his mouth.”
RUBIN: “His mouth is weird.”
RUBIN: And still, like, if I see myself talking–and thank god this is a podcast–but like, I’m kind of like, “Oh yeah, my mouth is kind of weird.” But that’s so stupid! Like, why should we, you know. And so, I’m just so happy now to have a thing that’s stuff like that, um… You know, I really stay off Goodreads now, I don’t even think to go there, which I’m very pleased with. It’s a great site, Goodreads, I’m not knocking Goodreads, it’s just like, not healthy.
ENNI: It’s not for authors.
RUBIN: Yeah, it’s not healthy for me as an author. But you know, sometimes there–I have caught some reviews that are just like, “This is not funny,” like, “Why do people say this is funny? This book is like, not funny at all.” And that really doesn’t bother me, because funny is just like a sensibility. It’s like, “Oh, well the book isn’t for you, 'cause you don’t think it’s funny.” I’m trying to–and I’m not totally successful–but trying to get more in that headspace of not looking to those things for it to lift me up, because nothing good can come of that.
ENNI: No, and I actually–I think that’s really well put, how you’re saying like, with all of this lead time, the best thing you can do is then, on pub date, like, know how you feel about your book.
RUBIN: Yes, yes, not be like, “What are they gonna say?! Because if they say it’s good, I’m gonna feel great! If they say it’s bad, I guess I have to go kill myself.” I just don’t think that’s helpful.
ENNI: No, not a good way to set yourself up.
RUBIN: Yeah, so… You know, yes, pros and cons of the long lead time, that’s how I choose to approach it.
ENNI: That’s interesting. Um, the–oh yeah, so, well, what is next? You were talking about having time to move on to the next thing.
RUBIN: Yes, yes, okay. Let me tell you what’s next: right, so this book, this second Denton book obviously has been done for a while, it’s coming out in February. I have co-written a musical with close friends and collaborators Joe Iconis and Jason “Sweettooth” Williams. It’s called “Broadway Bounty Hunter,” and there’s a production happening this summer. It’s about a veteran musical theatre actress who’s having tough times, after a series of events she gets pulled into a world of bounty hunting and she goes on a mission in South America to capture a drug lord.
ENNI: [laughs] This is amazing!
RUBIN: I’m glad it sounds amazing, um, yeah, it’s coming in Barrington Stage, which is in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It’s gonna happen in August, so if you’re in that area, you should go see it. So that’s cool, and that’s exciting, this is the first time I’ve been like, on the other side of working on a musical.
ENNI: So, you’re not going to perform in it?
RUBIN: I’m not in it, no, I’m not in it.
ENNI: Okay, you’re just writing in it.
RUBIN: Yeah, just writing, which is super cool, yeah, we went through the whole casting process, I was on the other side of that–
ENNI: Ooh, interesting.
RUBIN: –you know, auditioning table. You could see just how arbitrary sometimes it is why an actor gets or doesn’t get a part. There’s so much more happening, so actors, don’t get so hung up about what happens–if I learned anything from that, it’s like, you just gotta do your thing and let the chips fall where they may. But yeah, so that’s really exciting, then I am–I just actually finished up a draft, I think I can share? Yeah, I can share this: finished up a draft of the DENTON screenplay.
RUBIN: Yes, no one–there’s no like, official plans for that to actually be made yet, but I am hoping that maybe there can be now that I have a drafted screenplay. So that’s pretty cool.
ENNI: Yeah, that’s kind of the thing–I think I’ve talked to a few people who have done that, it almost just like–if there was interest, I’d want to just be able to show someone this. It’s kind of like the “why not have this” kind of situation. And like DENTON, like the concept of it is like so, it feels like, “Duh.” Like, that movie is such a fun movie.
RUBIN: Well thank you for saying that, for all the nice things you say. You’re very kind.
ENNI: Well that’s fun!
RUBIN: And then I’ve been working on another YA novel that’s not bought yet, it’s just a standalone thing, uh… Yeah.
ENNI: That’s exciting! So you have a lot of different stuff you’re working on.
RUBIN: A lot of different stuff, yeah, I like saying it all like that, because it does seem like, “Oh wow, he’s working on a lot,” when I feel like, “Oh my god, I’m just like dragging my heels the past year, just drafting the new book and the screenplay, I feel, is taking me way longer than I thought it would, so…”
ENNI: It always does.
RUBIN: It always does, but then it’s nice to say like, “Oh yes, look at all of these things,” when really it’s like, “No, you should see,” you know, what a procrastinator I am. And like how bad I am at this.
ENNI: Nah, the other thing I want to ask about–a little bit, really quick, and then we’ll wrap it up with advice–is that, of course I’m interested in the, you’re doing interviews on podcasts, which is really neat, I just would love to hear about how that came out for you.
RUBIN: Yeah, well let me just say this is delightful to be on the other side of it, so fun! Yeah, so, me and my buddy Ray–who I’d done the comedy show with–you know, we had stopped doing stage shows but decided we still wanted to be working together, so we started the Lance and Ray Show podcast in early 2013.
ENNI: Which, how did you conceptualize that?
RUBIN: Um, a lot of it Ray like wanted to do kind of a variety show type podcast, um, so that, you know, he and I talked at the beginning and then there’s like us doing one comedy bit and then there’s an interview with the guest usually talking about creative stuff, life as a creative person, um, and then there’s always–at first there was always like a musical guest, someone we knew, but then we kind of ran out of people we knew making music, so we’ll just put a song in there, which, I don’t even know if we’re legally allowed to do that. And then at the end we kind of have like, a wrap up that’s usually like, based on the themes in the episode, some kind of, whatever. And the other concept is that um, every episode is always twenty minutes or less, so it’s like a very short, short form type podcast. Yeah, and, but more than anything it’s like a nice excuse to keep collaborating with Ray. It’s been really fun, we kind of–we’re about to actually record our first new episode in a while next week, which is great, so there will be episodes on iTunes, Lance and Ray Show, guys–and then I also started this Really Deep Conversations with YA Authors, I started at the end of last year, which is really fun, it’s just like… I just, I wanted to try and have a nice excuse to connect with more authors, and I’m kind of sure of like–the similar thing that I think sort of started for First Draft.
ENNI: Totally. And really, to foist my insecurities and questions on other people, like, hope that they have answers for me. That’s a lot of it.
RUBIN: Exactly. Yeah, and just wanting to–I just thought it would be fun to do a Skype series where you can see authors.
ENNI: Yeah, I wanted to ask about the format.
RUBIN: Yeah, I just thought it would be cool, I mean–what I haven’t thought about that, to that much of a complicated extent, was just like, “Oh, it would be fun to do interviews, it would be fun to have a visual kind of an interview thing going on.” And I don’t know how to–this would be an easy way to do it, where it doesn’t–it doesn’t matter if it’s bad quality, 'cause it’s supposed to be, it’s like Skype! Where it just like, gives you a nice casual peek, kind of authors talking, kind of capturing like, on an authors’ panel, a little bit.
ENNI: Yeah, right, 'cause not everybody–it’s, I think it’s really cool, because not–now there’s so much more book events than there was, at least, when I was a kid I didn’t know anything about it happening.
RUBIN: Right, oh my god, me neither.
ENNI: It’s crazy! But then like, you know, we were just at North Texas Teen Book Festival, and kids bust in from like, Arkansas, and like, all over the place, it was just like… This is so, so indicative of like, there’s kids all over the country that love these authors but like, cannot get to see them. Things don’t come to them all of the time.
RUBIN: Exactly. Yeah, so that was the impetus to… So I should be filming a fourth episode of that soon, and thank you for asking about it.
ENNI: It’s fun! It’s fun, and then–is that also available as a podcast, how does…?
RUBIN: I keep talking about doing it, it’s one of those things I procrastinated, but it’s gonna be. This is motivating me. I’ve got–yeah, no, it would be such an easy thing to do. You just pull the audio, make it a podcast.
ENNI: Well, you always–like, much like writing a screenplay, it always seems like those things are going to be easy, and as you know from producing your other podcast, like, there’s a lot of technical stuff.
RUBIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ENNI: That is like–we’re not techie people.
RUBIN: Right, exactly!
ENNI: And having to figure that stuff out is like, “Ugh.”
RUBIN: Oh my god, yeah, like–funny story about me and Ray’s podcast, we had a website, and then… You know, this is such a boring story, but I’m going to tell it anyway. I just got an e-mail saying, “Oh a lot of files on your website have been infected,” like, “What do you want to do about this?” And so, like, “How did the files get infected? What are you talking about? That just happens?” So then I called the people who host the server, and they’re like, “Yeah, you can like,” you know, “do a whole security clean out, that’s going to cost $200.” I’m like, “I can’t–” like, this is not. This is like our hobby, kind of, like I can’t just pay $200 so it’s secure. So it’s like, “Or you can, we can tell you the files, you can delete them yourselves and just see what happens.” So I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to do that version.” So I deleted all of the infected files, and then of course our website didn’t work. Like you go to the homepage and there’s nothing there, like, “Oh man! So now our website is dead.” So now on LibSyn with our podcast, because we just like, oh my god. And I worked so hard, and like, tried to figure out what would be the best platform, blah blah blah, it’s just like…
ENNI: It’s a total mess!
RUBIN: And then it just got infected, like, two years later, so.
ENNI: In 2013, I think, I tried to fix my blog, and I’d been like, updating three times a week for like, two years. And I just deleted it. It just accidentally deleted the whole thing.
RUBIN: What?! Oh my god, are you horrified?
ENNI: I–it was such a stunning thing, I like closed my computer and then went out to dinner with a friend, and I was like, “So, I deleted my blog,” and she was like, “What?!”
RUBIN: Oh my god! It was just like, an option? Like, “Delete,” and like…
ENNI: It was like, I knew just enough to be the most dangerous thing. So I like–I was like, “Well, let me just refill it.” And then without knowing that, I just–it was like, yeah, scan, and then it just “Vwoomp!” Like, took the whole thing down. That was like, “Wow… Here we go.”
RUBIN: Oh my god, that’s crazy. Yeah, this is not dissimilar, although we didn’t press the “Delete” button–
ENNI: Good for you guys.
RUBIN: But it’s kind of like, we might as well have, because it was just like, “Oh, okay.”
ENNI: So we wrap up the interviews with asking for advice.
ENNI: So I’d be really–I’d love to hear from, just kind of basic advice for people who are starting to write, and maybe I’d love to hear you give advice to someone who is an actor or a performer and like, maybe is nervous about writing, like, from that perspective what you would tell someone.
RUBIN: Ooh, yeah yeah yeah, great. Well, what I would say kind of applies to both, which is, you know, I’m such a perfectionist and so–that is so unhelpful. I just feel like you have to… Okay, first of all let me name some of my favorite writing books: BIRD BY BIRD by Ann Lamott, fantastic, um, ON WRITING by Stephen King, very helpful, and THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield which is also just a book about kind of doing anything creative and battling resistance.
ENNI: I haven’t heard about that one!
RUBIN: It’s awesome. Okay, so those are the books. But yeah, so–with battling perfectionism Ann Lamott says like write shitty first drafts. And I feel like that is just like, the best advice, like write… Like, as a perfectionist, I always feel like I want the first draft to come out right, no matter how many times I’ve done it, it’s like, “Oh, I’m gonna get it right!” Like, no. Everybody–
RUBIN: –loud beep. All authors, maybe there’s a tiny percentage of authors that do get it right the first draft. I have no idea how they do that. But this podcast is called First Draft, and I want to encourage all writers to just write really bad first drafts, you have to, you have to. They say like all writing is rewriting, and it’s so true. You get to the thing, you know, you’re not–if you just sit like, waiting to get it perfect in your mind before you put it on the paper, you just never, you never will.
ENNI: I think I write one first draft, and at the end of it, I think I just know my characters’ names are right. Like, everything else just gets thrown in the trash.
ENNI: But you need that.
RUBIN: You need that, because it’s all a part of the process of getting there, it really is. Even when like, the second DENTON book I wrote a hundred pages, I think, that I then scrapped because I was like, “This is wrong. This is incorrect.” I took little things from it, little bits, but like, it just became a different thing.
ENNI: But then you knew it was wrong, and that’s actually almost better than knowing what’s right.
RUBIN: Totally, yes. So my advice, just to all writers, the biggest advice is like, really just try to be doing it. Try to be outputting stuff, because you will learn from that, you just can’t help but learn from that, as opposed to just sitting around waiting for inspiration strike, whatever, you gotta just start doing it, it’s fine if you don’t do it every day, but the more you can develop some kind of routine with it and like–where it’s all about just like, you know, shitting some stuff out instead of being like, “Let me write gold.” I think that’s gonna serve you so well. And as far as actors, yeah, like I said earlier, I do encourage actors to just try and write your own stuff, or connect with writers who will write stuff you can be in–any way you can kind of gain power of the creative process is so good, so yeah, actors, so you’re feeling scared, like, “Oh, I’m not a writer, I don’t know what I’d do,” I’d just like to–just try, just write something really bad. Just do it. I promise you will come out at the other end feeling good, even if you do write something really bad, like there’s so much to be gained from that.
ENNI: Do you feel like it would be a helpful exercise–I can only imagine it would be a thing where you’re like, if you’re so frustrated, it’s like, “What would be the thing you’d want to star in?” Like, just write a silly scene that would be like, a dream scene to be able to do.
RUBIN: Yes, yes, 100% correct. Also, because whether what you write is good or not, you’re gonna be like, “Oh,” you might have some kind of discovery of yourself as an actor, like, “Oh, this is the kind of stuff I like to do,” like, “These are the kind of parts I want to be playing,” like, “Why am I not kind of moving in this direction?” I just think you can’t go wrong as an actor, and in general, this was my other piece of advice: with my story of kind of like, having my eye on the acting prize so much and then being like, “Oh wait, no, writing.” I just always encourage people to do a lot of different creative things. You know, not pigeonhole yourself, be like, “I’m just a writer.” You know, like, paint things! You know, try an improv class! You know, just try and hop out, you know, experience all kinds of… And not even just in the art world, just try lots of things, because they all kind of bounce off each other in form each other in ways you could never anticipate or predict, and I just think it’s such a healthy way to approach your creativity.
ENNI: I think it’s–like we’re talking about where you find patterns later, whatever you’re drawn to, like, there’s something there. You know, so figure it out! Do it, see what’s drawing you to that, why is it important to you, and that’s always going to feed all of your creative efforts.
RUBIN: Totally, as opposed to being like, “Well, I’m not going to do that. I’m a writer. I’m working doing the writing thing, why am I going to go,” you know, I keep thinking–I keep using painting as an example, but there’s a lot of other examples.
ENNI: Why do I wanna take this boogie boarding class? I don’t know, just do it!
RUBIN: Thank you, yes, go boogie board! Who knows, yeah, you might write a very successful boogie boarding series that everybody loves, and you would have never predicted.
ENNI: That’s going to be the pull quote. “Go boogie boarding!”
RUBIN: Boogie boarding, and way to tie back into Jersey, sorry–what a way to wrap it up, because boogie boarding is a staple of New Jersey life. New Jersey beaches, so, thank you for that.
ENNI: Amazing, amazing. Well dude this was so fun! Thank you so much.
RUBIN: This was so fun, oh my god, my pleasure, this is a great podcast and I’m honored to be on it.
ENNI: Alright, let’s go get a beer!
[closing music plays]
ENNI: Thank you so much to Lance. Follow him on Twitter @lancerubinparty, and guess what? He’s a podcast and interview series nerd, too. Check out his awesome series Really Deep Conversations with YA Authors, as well as his podcast, the Lance and Ray Show Podcast, at his website, lancerubin.com. There will also be links to those and all the other things we talked about in this episode on the First Draft website, firstdraftpod.com.
If you want to follow First Draft on Twitter, nothing is stopping you! The show is @firstdraftpod and I am @SarahEnni. You can also find the show on Facebook and get sneak peeks at future guests on Instagram.
If you like what you heard, subscribe to the show on iTunes, and leave a rating or review there. Every five star iTunes review is the equivalent of staring longingly into Seth Cohen’s eyes. Mmm.
Thanks so much to Hashbrown for the theme song, and to Colin Keith and Maurene Goo for the logos. And Sarah DeMont, who continues to kill it as the First Draft intern. Of course, as ever, thank you, nihilistic deathday party throwers, for listening.