Kid Reporters

An Author’s Advice

TFK talks to the author of the books about 13-year-old aspiring-actor Nate Foster

March 10, 2014
COURTESY GARRETT FAMILY

TFK Kid Reporter Camryn Garrett talks to Broadway performer and author Tim Federle.

Everyone has a different passion. Sometimes, kids may feel like they don’t belong because they have different interests. But people shouldn’t change who they are in order to fit in. “Don’t waste your time trying to convert the haters, because there will always be people who don’t understand you,” says author Tim Federle.

Federle, 33, performed in Broadway productions including The Little Mermaid, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Gypsy before working with the child stars of Billy Elliot from 2009 to 2011. Now, Federle is the author of Better Nate Than Ever and its sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, which hit bookshelves in January. 

TFK Kid Reporter Camryn Garrett spoke with the performer and author to learn more about his Broadway background, advice for kids, and what message he hopes his Nate books will send.

TFK:

When did you first become interested in musicals?

TIM FEDERLE:

When I was 9 years old. My parents took my brother and me to see the national tour of Cats, which was a completely ridiculous show with grown-ups dressed up like cats. When I found out that they actually got paid, I said “This is what I want to do with my life. I want to be a professional cat.”

As I got older, despite the fact that musical theater wasn’t always the most popular activity for a boy, it felt like my calling. So I stuck with it even when I got teased.

Federle's second book about 13-year-old aspiring actor Nate Foster encourage kids to stand out.
Federle's second book about 13-year-old aspiring actor Nate Foster encourage kids to stand out.

TFK:

Do you have any advice for kids who get teased or bullied for their interests?

FEDERLE:

When I was a kid, I thought the best thing I could do was to win over the kids who picked on me. I spent a lot of time that I could have been using to practice songs and hang out with friends to subtly try to change my personality in order to make people like me.

I think the greatest thing you can do is find the people, or even the person, who is passionate about what you’re passionate about or just supports the thing that you are passionate about. It can be a mentor, coach, or another nerdy kid. I always say “Go where the love is.” Find the people who understand you and don’t worry about the people who don’t.

TFK:

Do you ever miss performing on Broadway?

FEDERLE:

Yes, I do. When you perform on Broadway, you do eight shows a week. You get about two weeks of vacation per year, so that means that you are at the mercy of the producers who are in charge of the show. But it is so fun to be backstage, and so fun to entertain thousands of people, and to get to put on costumes, sing, dance, and receive applause. Lots of people don’t get applause. I think teachers should get applause for what they put up with.

Now that I’m writing, I feel like I’m reaching audiences more directly because it’s my voice. At the same time, it’s not the immediate feedback that you would receive on stage. I don’t hear people laugh or applaud. But I’ll get an email from someone and it’ll make my day.

TFK:

How did you jump from performing on Broadway to writing novels for kids?

FEDERLE:

I decided that I wasn’t going to wait for permission anymore. That’s my second piece of advice to kids who have a dream, whether it is writing, singing, or dancing: don’t wait until someone tells you that you can. If it is legal and doesn’t hurt anyone else, go for it.

When I was working on Billy Elliot, I would wake up and write for three hours and then I would go to work with the kids for ten hours. When no one is grading you, you can write faster and then you can grade yourself.

I wrote the first draft of Better Nate Than Ever in a month. I think the hardest thing is to get to the end. You can edit terrible writing, but you can’t edit a blank page.

TFK:

How do you think your time spent working on musicals has shaped your writing style?

FEDERLE:

There is a principle in acting called “Yes And,” which is about improv acting. If you’ve ever watched the television show Saturday Night Live, and someone’s wig falls off, they have to make it part of the scene. So a lot of times I write very in the moment without very much of it planned out or outlined, and I just try to type fast.

Working on Broadway taught me that you can make anything work, like if you’re singing a song and an audience member sneezes, you have to go along with it. What I’ve [also] learned is, as long as you keep a smile, a brave face, and keep on going, the audience won’t even know the difference. You don’t have to be a genius with great ideas, but you need to have a lot of ideas, and the genius will emerge later.

TFK:

Kid Reporter
Camryn Garrett

Would you say that Nate is inspired by your childhood, or the kids you worked with on Billy Elliot?

FEDERLE:

Physically and dialogue wise, he was based on a kid that I worked with on Billy Elliot. His internal thoughts, monologues, and what he notices about the world is very much a little version of me. If you don’t feel like a writer, write about people in your life in fictional set-ups. Put your friends in a story, and change their names at the end so they don’t sue you.

TFK:

Was the romantic interest for Nate in Five, Six, Seven, Nate! orchestrated a certain way to garner a certain reaction?

FEDERLE:

I wanted to include a first crush for Nate because all of my writing comes from a place of what happens when what you’ve always dreamed about doesn’t always live up to your expectations. In my own life, having danced on Broadway, which was my life-long dream, I’ve learned that it’s often times the thing “waiting in the wings” that is the most exciting, wonderful, reason of why you did it. You don’t know that until you get there.

For Nate to have a first crush, and even a first kiss, is about the fact that he was in this world, performing in ET: The Musical, but the most exciting thing was meeting this kid who understood him, and who he felt he was like.

TFK:

Did you ever feel insecure about your skills as a performer? Did dealing with this help you prepare for the writing process in any way?

FEDERLE:

I felt insecure all of the time. Once, I auditioned for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and I was cut right away at the very first audition. I didn’t sing, or get kept around to dance. About six months later, for reasons I still don’t know, I got called in to replace a guy in the show. I was hired for the show and the choreographer asked me why I didn’t audition for the show in the first place.

Don’t spend so much time worrying about what you’re not, but worry about what you are. I’m only 5’7’’, so I’m short as grown adults go, but all of the shows I’ve done on Broadway were because they wanted people who were short. If I had spent time trying to stretch out my poor body, I would’ve been hurting myself.

TFK:

What’s your favorite musical on Broadway right now?

FEDERLE:

That would be a tie between Once and Newsies, which is interesting because I auditioned for the Newsies movie when I was 9. I’m also really excited to see Aladdin, which is just about to start performances on Broadway.

TFK:

What advice would you give to kids who hope to work in the arts?

FEDERLE:

I think confidence is overrated. Even though adults can be great mentors, I highly encourage kids to know that adults are just making it up as they go along too. They just have more money for clothes, so they look like they know what they’re talking about.

Don’t wait for the day you feel confident enough to start your novel or try out for the team. Start today, because you might be waiting for confidence that might never come. I think confidence comes from trying things and finding out that you actually don’t stink.

TFK:

What are your plans for Nate?

FEDERLE:

I have not decided if there is going to be a third book yet, but I’m working on a screenplay adaptation of Better Nate Than Ever. If any TFK readers have ideas for titles that might include a pun around the name “Nate,” I’d love to hear them. Teachers, tweet your students' ideas to Tim at @TimFederle.

TFK:

Would you rather see your books adapted into a movie, or a Broadway musical?

FEDERLE:

My dream is for it to be a Broadway musical, but it would be pretty lucky if it went the Matlida route: book, then movie, and then a musical. I’m taking it one step at a time. My real dream is for the story of Nate, in whatever media, to reach any kids who feel like they might have a dream that is bigger than they are, or might not always feel like they’re the coolest kids at school. If they get [Nate’s message] from the book, or a movie, or even a musical version someday, I’ll be really happy.


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