First-time author Tim Federle has written an instant young adult classic with his debut novel, Better Nate Than Ever. Federle is a Broadway vet who was born in San Francisco, grew up in Pittsburgh, and, like the eponymous hero of his novel, ran off to New York as a young man. There he landed in five Broadway shows. Later, while coaching the child stars of Billy Elliot, Federle encountered the boy who would inspire the title character of Nate. Federle's almost universally praised novel offers a refreshing respite from the vitriol around gay issues and bullying that seems to dominate the national landscape these days. Indeed, one reviewer — Curtis M. Wong of The Huffington Post — called it "a glittering love letter to Broadway [and] bullied gay teens." The Advocate asked Federle for his take.
The Advocate: Tell us about the kid who inspired the book.
Tim Federle: I moved to New York to dance on Broadway, a little over 10 years ago. After "doing time" in a number of shows, I ended up coaching the child stars of Billy Elliot. All of the little wise guys cracked me up — the role of Billy required an unusual amount of moxie and smarts, above and beyond dance abilities — but it was this one kid who showed up to audition for Billy who inspired Better Nate Than Ever. He walked in the room, looking pudgy and old-fashioned and not quite right for the show, and he clutched a green rabbit foot throughout the whole tryout. And something about that lack of jadedness really inspired me. I wanted to remember what New York was like when I'd first arrived, wide-eyed and uncynical. And so I wrote Nate.
Why was it so important that this book be aimed at teenagers?
I think teens and tweens are open enough to the world that the right book — or movie or TV show or mentor, even — can really change their lives. And it's gratifying to write for young people because they write to you to tell you what they think.
You've said that Broadway is not for sissies. How do you feel about bullying and how it affects gay kids? You seem to suggest that overcoming that adversity makes someone stronger.
Bullying sucks, of course, and anybody who's different — hell, anyone who's breathing — has experienced some version of it in their lives. But "bully" has also become a buzzword, and I think it's important to not teach kids that there's a someday-world where nobody ever picks on anybody else. I just don't think that's realistic. But there are ways to cope with people who single you out. I wrote Better Nate Than Ever in part to create a character — 13-year-old theater dork Nate Foster — who was braver in facing down his adversaries than I ever was. I hoped to write a hero for kids and adults who could use a laugh. And a voice.
What was your first memory of loving the theater?
Please don't hate me: My parents took me to see the tour of Cats, and I was hooked and wanted to play the white cat. Victoria, duh. I never did Cats — it closed right when I moved to New York — but I've definitely dressed up as animals in my fair share of Broadway shows. And the rest, as they say, is Google-able.
Want to see more on the author? Visit @TimFederle on Twitter.