Tim Federle returns with yet another instant young adult classic with The Great American Whatever. With Whatever, Federle moves away from Broadway and bullying (two overarching themes in Better Nate Than Ever) to young love. Sixteen-year-old Quinn Roberts is unlike any other protagonist in a gay young adult novel in that he simply is. A great quick summer read for adults, this is a must-read for LGBT youth. The Advocate spoke with Federle as the book hit stands in paperback.
The Advocate: There's a craftsmanship in your writing that makes it really resonate. You make these stories seem very simple, but you unpack details in such a titillating way it compels you to want to read it in one sitting.
Tim Federle: I never studied writing formally, so any level of craft is a co-production between me and my editor at Simon & Schuster, David Gale. In terms of unwrapping details, I don’t outline before writing, so a lot of the “surprises” are coming as I write them — I have ADHD, so it’s the only way to keep myself interested in the endless drafts a novel takes.
The Great American Whatever evokes the books of Beverly Clearly and John Knowles's A Separate Peace — was that intentional?
Maybe subconsciously. I definitely pulled some middle-schooler all-nighters reading Beverly Cleary under the covers (and in the closet). And I remember having the biggest crush on the guy in the sweater on the cover of A Separate Peace. And then somebody revealed that the other guy was behind him hidden in the tree and I gay-gasped. But, yeah, I think a lot of YA fiction stands on the shoulder of the books that cover before it.
What was the real life event that inspired this book?
When I was 17 years old a classmate of mine in Pittsburgh was killed in a car accident outside our high school. I think that was the day I grew up and realized none of us would live forever. Ellie was this sparkly theater kid who would have become so much, and in a way, everything I write now is partially inspired by what she could have become.
What's been the response from public high and middle school libraries?
Librarians are rock stars. And I receive so many emails from LGBTQ+ kids saying how much they love reading a snarky gay teen who doesn’t hate himself. He just hates the world, ha ha.
I definitely finished wanting to revisit Quinn's Pittsburgh. Please tell me there's more coming!
There’s more Pittsburgh coming, that’s for sure; I’m writing the third and final book of my “Nate” series of theater books right now — in fact, I’m on deadline and gotta go! [Laughs]
TIM FEDERLE is the award-winning author of the autobiographical novels Better Nate Than Ever and its sequel Five, Six, Seven, Nate! (Lambda Literary Award winner), which were named best books of the year by The New York Times and were highly recommended by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, who called the series “a wonderful evocation of what it’s like to be a theater kid.” The Great American Whatever was inspired by an accident near Tim’s high school in Pittsburgh that changed the community forever. Connect with the author on Instagram and Twitter at @TimFederle, and at TimFederle.com.