GIVEAWAY: Die Young With Me by Rob Rufus

This fall, critically acclaimed musician Rob Rufus tackles a new form of storytelling with his debut memoir Die Young With Me, the true story of his teenage battle with cancer alongside his growth into a punk rock star.
Growing up in the Middle of Nowhere, West Virginia, Rob and his twin brother Nat spent most of their days skateboarding down sidewalks in the sweltering summer heat, the closest thing to teenage rebellion that could be found in a Podunk southern town – until a visit to an older cousin unexpectedly introduces them to their life’s calling: punk rock. After scrounging up instruments, Rob, Nat and their friends form Defiance of Authority and quickly take the local scene by storm. Suddenly they have purpose, a goal. The band is on the verge of their big break – a gig on the Warped Tour, the holy grail of rock festivals – when Rob is unexpectedly diagnosed with stage four cancer. After waiting his whole life for the future to finally arrive – bringing with it the chance to get out of his hometown, hit the road, discover something more – Rob and his family must cope with the sudden, bitter truth that tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Perfect for fans of The Fault in Our Stars, but with a grittier edge, Die Young With Me doesn’t shy away from the ugly facts of battling cancer – the nightmarish treatments, the blinding pain, the unbearable nausea, and the devastation not only to the patient but everyone around them – bringing a visceral reality to a disease that is so often romanticized. Rufus tells his grim story with the stripped down rawness and bold irreverence of the punk rock movement, and finds humor and wisdom in a refreshingly candid teen voice that will delight fans of YA. Readers whose lives have been touched by the disease will empathize with the crushing lows and soaring highs, while audiences of all ages will remember what it’s like to be a teenager trying to find your place in the world, one act of defiance at a time.

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Rob Rufus is a musician and writer living in Nashville. His band, Blacklist Royals, has released two full-length albums and played in sixteen countries over the past five years. Rob has written articles for Modern Drummer, Amp Magazine, Digital Tour Bus, and many music sites. Rob also works closely with the cancer community, including the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Stupid Cancer Podcast (the largest advocacy/support organization worldwide for teens with cancer), and Make-A-Wish Foundation. You can find him online at, on Twitter @rob_rufus, and Instagram @dieyoungwithme_official.

Q: You’ve previously told the story of Die Young With Me in an album of the same name. How do you approach storytelling differently in lyrics versus in prose? Was your songwriting experience helpful when it came to writing a memoir? 
A: I actually began my first attempt at the memoir three years before that album would ever come into fruition.  I had the title and everything – but I just never thought the book would see the light of day.   So when my brother and I began pooling our collective songs for a new Blacklist Royals album, and we realized they all reflected on the time when I was sick, I just decided to run with it.  We wanted to tell our story, one way or another.
But there are two huge differences in the process of telling a story in lyrics vs. prose.  Firstly, song lyrics are secondary to the hook.  If you have amazing lyrics, but no hook, then it’s a moot point.  More importantly, song lyrics are always open to interpretation – the listener may get your meaning, or they may hear an alternate meaning entirely, or they may not hear any substance at all.  For a songwriter, this can get really frustrating.  But it’s something I’ve learned to accept.
Tackling such a personal subject through prose has been much more gratifying for me.  In a book, not much is left open for interpretation – it’s me and my rants in full stereo sound, volume cranked up, take it or leave it.

Q: How long did it take before you could look back on what happened with the kind of clarity that you display in the book? Was writing this memoir part of the recovery process, a kind of catharsis?
A: For about ten years I did nothing but tour.  I was in a different city every night, with a different group of people.  No one knew I’d had cancer, or I had health problems, or where I was from.  I could be whoever I wanted to be – and, for a while, I tried to escape my past with every form of rock-n-roll self-destruction available.  But it didn’t work out too well…what a shock, huh?
In the end, running just left me more twisted up.  Beginning the memoir was a way for me to face my past head on, and to reconnect with the part of myself that I’d lost.  It was an uphill battle, reopening those wounds.  I’d never expected telling my story to be easy, but Jesus.  It took some time for me to really step back.  But I feel unburdened, for sure.  I’m glad I was able to honor that chapter of my life, own it, and move forward.  
Not many people can say they did that, so I feel very fortunate for the chance.

Q: In the book, you describe how your first doctors were biased against taking you seriously due to your alternative look. Do you think that’s something that would still happen today? Have we learned anything at all as a society?
A: No, I can’t imagine that specifically happening today.  Now that Justin Bieber and the guy from Maroon 5 are covered in tattoos, I think we can assume that alternative rock counter-culture is dead and gone, ha-ha.
But it happens in other respects.  As a sufferer of chronic pain, it still happens to me all the time.  No matter what my medical chart says, no matter how many scars I have, as soon as a doctor at the pain clinic sees me – a young guy with tattoos that plays music and writes for a living – a skeptical chill spreads through the air.  Am I really in pain?  Or do I just want drugs?  The hoops I have to jump through would shock even the most hardened bureaucrat. 

Q: If you could go back in time and give your teenage self a piece of advice, what would it be?
A: I’d tell myself to live inside the moment more often.  Even before I was sick, my whole life revolved around moving forward – getting my band off the ground, getting out of West Virginia, etc.  I was too young to understand that success is a moving target.  There will always be another goal, another milestone to inspire forward momentum.  Sometimes I wish I could have recognized that, and would’ve taken a step back to enjoy being a kid a little more.
But that being said, I’m a 33-year-old man who does nothing but travel around, create art, and listen to rock-n-roll records…so maybe I’m making up for that “being a kid” part now, after all.
Q: What one thing do you hope readers take away from Die Young With Me?
A: I hope that Die Young With Me gives readers some insight into the true weight of a cancer diagnosis, both for the patients and the caregivers.  I believe that, to feel any meaningful empathy toward a situation, one has to understand the gravity of it.  
But in American popular culture, teenage cancer exists comfortably behind a rose-tinted wall.  It’s made to seem simple, whitewashed, and even romantic.  I’m not ok with that.  So I thought it was time someone came along and broke that wall down. 

Q: Will we see more books from you in the future?
A: I'm always writing.  Right now I'm working on my second book, which is based on my grandmother, Mammaw Rufus.  She was a go-go dancer, a nurse in a WV mental institution, and a proud country music groupie - she scored with George Jones, Boots Randolph, some big fish.  
I have a book of short stories completed.  I’ve also begun drafting what I like to call my “road book,” sort of a follow-up to Die Young With Me.  I’m very excited about that one.  The things I see in my travels are weirder than anything I could ever make up.

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