MFA student Julia Lynn Rubin showed up at The New School in the fall of 2015 with one book written, one in the process of being written and an idea for a third. A student in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program, once she began the program, she hit the ground running with her writing.
Rubin recently sold her Young Adult Novel, Burro Hills, to Eliza Kirby at Diversion Books, and is in the process of working with her agent, Saritza Hernandez of Corvisiero Literary Agency, on selling a second YA novel. She’s also using her third novel, one she says she’s “only 37,000 words into,” as her thesis project before graduating this May. Along with writing YA novels, Rubin’s short stories have appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Sierra Nevada Review, and The Lascaux Review, and she has written for a variety of online publications, including The Content Strategist, Wetpaint Entertainment and AllDay.com
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Rubin over sushi where she introduced me to edamame and entertained me with her bubbly personality.
Here’s a look at our conversation:
Kelly McHugh-Stewart: First off, congratulations on selling your book! I’ve been dying to hear about it. Can you share a little of it with me?
Julia Lynn Rubin: Thanks! It’s called Burro Hills, a fictional town in southern California on the outskirts of LA. It’s a gritty LGBT YA novel that I started writing in college. I had no idea it was going to be a novel, it was just a series of vignettes then. It was a hot mess for years. I wasn’t sure how to write a novel, and I had so much trouble finishing it because I was working, but I finally decided to go to grad school and finish it.
KMS: Where did you get the inspiration for Burro Hills?
JLR: I just had these characters in my head. I’ve always been fascinated by the West, the climate and the culture. The two books I’ve written both take place out West. I’m fascinated with southern California for some reason, and urban sprawl. So I just had these ideas and pictures in my head. I went from there and the characters just kind of took on a life of their own.
The book isn’t autobiographical, but it’s based on emotional experiences that I’ve had. The main character is a gay teen boy, I don’t know what that’s like, but I sort of based my own emotional experiences on his, so I feel very connected to that character. I care about my characters a lot. They feel real to me.
I’m also fascinated with toxic masculinity and how it affects boys. I really wanted to write a very non-stereotypical gay character who was dealing with social pressure. I wanted to show a very non-stereotypical character and wanted to make him very real and have very non-stereotypical experiences.
KMS: Do you feel there’s a need for more representation of LGBT characters in YA literature?
JLR: There are definitely LGBT books, but there can always be more. There’s a lot of great LGBT YA that’s coming out and doing really well, but it’s still under represented. It’s still mostly straight characters and mostly straight romances.
KMS: You said you base your characters on your own emotional experiences, is that a difficult way to write?
JLR: It’s an emotionally charged book, and I put a lot of my own emotion into it. I was with my characters. My best stuff was the stuff where, even though I wasn’t necessarily writing about actual stuff that happened to me, I was basing my writing on a feeling I had. I would fictionalize that feeling and write a scene, and that was really cathartic. It’s a very personal book even though it’s not necessarily about me, if that makes sense. I really relate to all the characters. They all have an element of me in them.
KMS: How did it feel when you went under contract with your book earlier this year?
JLR: I was scared when I signed, but I trusted my agent and really trusted the publisher after talking to my editor. Publishing is scary because there are a lot of unknowns. I was excited, but it was also like now what? It’s funny because you think when it happens there are going to be balloons everywhere and these magical gates open, but then your life is kind of the same.
KMS: Tell me a little about Diversion Books.
JLR: They’re an indie publisher in New York. They started out in 2010 as an ePublisher but they’ve expanded and have grown a lot. They published Mark Cuban’s eBook, How to Win at the Sport of Business, and now they’re doing print titles. So they’re doing well. My agent had another YA book that she sold to them that has been doing really well, and she thought it would be a good spot for me.
So far my editor is really nice and she loves the book. The whole team is really behind it. They’re not a Big Five, they don’t have tons of money and I’m not a celebrity release, but at the same time I think one of the benefits of a small pub is that you get a lot of personalized attention and they really care about your book. They really want to help you succeed.
KMS: How has the Creative Writing Program helped you in your writing?
JLR: I think the most helpful thing for me has been the sense of community and feeling that, as a writer, I have a place. I have friends, I have people I can talk to, I have professors; it’s a great network. I know I’ve improved as a writer, but I think mostly my confidence has improved. Before, writing was something I just did on my own, but now I have friends who are also serious about it, so it’s definitely been helpful that way.
KMS: The Writing for Children and Young Adults program seems like a pretty close-knit group. Have you enjoyed being a part of it?
JLR: We are. We’re a really close group and it’s non competitive and supportive. We’ve had every workshop with the same people, more or less, so that’s been very helpful. We’ve really gotten to know each other’s writing. I know everyone’s style and they know mine. I attribute how most of my second book turned out to my classmates, actually. Plus, they’ve become come of my closest friends as well, so it’s been really great.
Julia Lynn Rubin lives the writer's life in Brooklyn, where she is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at The New School and is set to graduate in May 2017. She earned her BA in Anthropology & Film Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Follow her on Twitter using the handle @julialynnrubin.
Kelly Stewart is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing, focusing in Nonfiction, at The New School. She is working on a memoir about her father, the late U.S. Army Colonel John M. McHugh. Stewart previously worked as a sportswriter with K-State Athletics and has freelanced for Sports Illustrated, The Associated Press, The Kansas City Star, The Manhattan Mercury, and The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter: @kellystewart01