Interview with Tim Federle, author of Better Nate Than Ever

One of the books we’re totally excited for this year is the amazing Tim Federle’s debut, Better Nate Than Ever, which came out this week! We dragged Tim in got Tim settled in our comfy chair and grilled him. Gently.

Better Nate Than Ever

Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune?

With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.

Broadway dancer Tim Federle writes a warm and witty debut that’s full of broken curfews, second chances, and the adventure of growing up—because sometimes you have to get four hundred miles from your backyard to finally feel at home.

Tim, welcome! We think it’s incredibly cool that Better Nate Than Ever is grounded in your own experiences on Broadway performing and working with young performers. Was there a light bulb moment when you knew you wanted to take that experience and write, or was it slower? How did Better Nate Than Ever come about?

When I started the first draft of Better Nate Than Never, I was on the artistic staff of Billy Elliot, where I coached the brilliantly goofy child actors. They were under huge pressure—Billy Elliot is basically Hamlet with acne—and these kiddos inspired me to face my own fears and to get serious about writing. Better Nate Than Never was born out of my dream to tell stories in a different way than I had as a dancer.

From one form of art to another. Geez, talented much? Tell us a little about your journey to publication—how did you and Nate find your agent and your publishing home?

With luck at my back and wind in my shoes, or something similarly Irish Proverb-y. I’d written a novel for adults, first, and showed it to a good friend who happened to edit children’s books. It wasn’t right for him, but he saw something he liked and passed it along to the dazzling Brenda Bowen, who offered to represent me—if I’d write a book for kids. I took the dare and along came Nate. Brenda found an ideal home for the book with David Gale at Simon & Schuster.

Seriously, adults and kids? Stop being so multi-talented! Please at least tell us it’s hard. What’s a typical writing day like for you? Are you a 500-words-a-day kind of guy? How do you get it done?

I’m up super early. If I linger under the covers too long, I’ll talk myself out of those still-sleepy ideas that are often my biggest bursts of Aha! No matter the word count—though it’s usually something like 1500 a day—I type and type till a (big, bad) complete chapter is out of my head. And I won’t go back and edit till I’ve written The End on the whole shebang, about thirty days later. Then: “Revisions, meet Tim. Tim, Revisions. Pull up a red pen and get to know each other.”

Thirty days?! Okay, let’s talk about something else. If you could be transported into your book, which scene would you most want to reenact?

(These questions! Are so! Good!) Scene one, when Nate is standing in his backyard bidding his best pal goodbye. He’s all set to skip town, hop a bus, and crash an audition for E.T.: The Musical, hundreds of miles away in New York City. I’d want to transport there because the start of any adventure is when anything is possible. (Also, backyards are fun. As I remember. #NewYorkProblems)

I read the first chapter over at, and I loved it! Envy aside, your writing is fantastically diverse—you’ve got a middle grade novel, a picture book and a book of literary cocktails in the pipeline. Was it always the plan to diversify? How did it come about?

There wasn’t a plan! I’m just trying to get the most people smiling, no matter their age. And my three editors are (honestly) each incredible advocates and co-pilots. The drinks book came out of a two-line joke-email to my agent: “Do you think a cocktail recipe book called Tequila Mockingbird would fly with the Urban Outfitters crowd? Think: The Last of the Mojitos and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita.” She took the bait! And my picture book is with Disney/Hyperion and stars an irrepressible child who finally gets out of trouble and into the spotlight when he discovers tap dance. (“NOT THAT EVERYTHING I WRITE IS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL,” TIM SAID, TAP-DANCING AWAY TO MAKE A COCKTAIL.)

Speaking of a drink or two, if you could spend a night at the pub with any 3 authors (alive or dead) who would it be and why?

Dorothy Parker, Joan Didion, and Roald Dahl. Because all three of them wrote (and write) up to their audiences and not down to them. Dahl, in particular, made me go: “Oh, my gosh. This guy isn’t afraid to say that some people are nitwits.” I was eight. This clarity was a revelation.

We love to ask our guests this, and for you especially I can’t resist: Mix me a literary cocktail! What elements would you include in your ideal book (i.e. 2 parts fantasy, 1 shot romance, and a twist of mystery!)

Recipe for ideal book: 30 overwritten chapters, 1 patient editor, 320 cut adverbs, 1 shaken author. Garnish with Advil.

I will take one of those, please! Especially the patient editor!

Can’t get enough of Tim? You can see him on YouTube talking about Better Nate Than Ever, OR you can win one of the very last ARCs of Better Nate Than Ever right here on Pub Crawl! This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada.

Not only that, but Tim will autograph it, deliver it to your door and tap dance just for you! Well, he’ll autograph it and post it to you, at any rate. Dancing not guaranteed. In honour of Nate’s story of chasing a dream all the way to NYC, leave us a comment telling us your favourite Broadway show!

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TIM FEDERLE is the author of over seven hundred emails. His debut novel, Better Nate Than Ever—about a small-town teen who crashes an audition for E.T.: The Musical—was inspired by Tim’s time coaching the child stars of Billy Elliot on Broadway. Say hi at and on Twitter @TimFederle.


20 Responses to Interview with Tim Federle, author of Better Nate Than Ever

  1. Kate H Feb 8 2013 at 7:09 am #

    Ahh, this book sounds so cool! So does the author! I loovvvvve the concept. Can’t wait to read it!

    I followed my dreams: I quit my full-time teaching job to work part-time in a bookstore and write novels. I think that probably qualifies as “crazy.”

  2. Carla Luna Cullen Feb 8 2013 at 8:08 am #

    This book sounds great! My daughter and I would love it, because we’re big Broadway fans (and Billy Elliot is one of her favorite musicals!).

  3. Patchi Feb 8 2013 at 8:21 am #

    If anyone ever asks me the name of an author I’d like to meet at a pub, I’ll say Tim Federle…

    I loved the movie Billy Elliot–can’t wait to watch the musical. Haven’t seen many Broadway shows, of those my favorite was Les Mis.

    The craziest thing I’ve done so far was write a novel. For a scientist, that’s crazy enough 🙂

  4. Jordan Hamessley Feb 8 2013 at 10:09 am #

    Words cannot express my love for this book. It is such a joy to read. Tim is brilliant. I would’ve been obsessed with this book when I was a twelve-year-old theatre kid and I’m obsessed now as a twenty-somthing theatre kid.

  5. Deborah Kreiser Feb 8 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Loved the interview–enough to submit my name for the ARC drawing (first time after lurking for awhile!).

    At age 19, I traveled alone for three weeks. I hiked cliff trails in Wales in torrential rain, hitchhiked through Ireland, and navigated the English transportation system. Thankfully, I spoke the language (of course!), and I made a ton of friends along the way, but it was scary–and a bit crazy–nonetheless.

    • Caitlin Vanasse Feb 8 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      That sounds a little bit amazing! Traveling alone is terrifying and utterly satisfying all at the same time don’t you think? Also yay for stepping out and entering for the first time!

  6. Jasmine Stairs Feb 8 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Well, I went back to university, incurring many much debt, does that count?

  7. Katie D. Anderson Feb 8 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    How adorable is this guy? I can not WAIT to read his book(s)! What a talented little sucker. I’m tres jealous.

  8. Caitlin Vanasse Feb 8 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    I’ve only seen one musical officially on Broadway and a handful of traveling shows. My favorite Broadway musical though (one I’ve never seen professionally performed) is the 1995 revival of Annie Get Your Gun. It has to be the revival though, the original is way too sexist.

    As far as crazy or adventurous things, when I was studying abroad one weekend several of the girls and I traveled to Switzerland. In Interlocken we did this amazing thing called “canyoning” where basically you’re repelled into a canyon and then led out by guides. When I tell the story I almost always start with the fact that we changed into and out of swimsuits and wet suits in a cow pasture in Switzerland. It was an amazing, crazy experience.

  9. Hong Feb 8 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    I have never been to a Broadway show, but I hope to go to one when I am in New York at the end of the month

  10. Angelica R. Jackson Feb 8 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Great interview and what a fun book! I’m just finishing edits on my second book and ready to send it out to agents–I’m definitely following my dream. I’ll have to get back to you on whether it’s successful though!

  11. 4amWriter Feb 9 2013 at 6:40 am #

    This sounds like a great book, and something my kids as well as myself would enjoy. The craziest thing I ever did was go to NYC for the Writer’s Digest Conference in the middle of a blizzard at 2:00 AM– all by myself. As a small-town girl from NH, that is no small order. When I finally got there, 8 hours of traveling later, I was enourmously proud with myself. All to follow my dream to be a published novelist.

    Congrats on your book.

  12. Tim Federle Feb 9 2013 at 10:04 am #

    So tickled about this interview — and delighted to read about so many people’s *dreams*. Really, really!

  13. Katie D. Anderson Feb 9 2013 at 11:43 am #

    I forgot to leave my fave broadway show and I def want to win this book, so here it is: Mama Mia 🙂 Congrats again!!!

  14. Claudia McCarron Feb 9 2013 at 11:53 am #

    This book sounds great! My favorite musical? Definetly Fiddler on the Roof and Oliver!

  15. stephanie garber Feb 9 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    This was such a fun interview. Better Nate Than Ever sounds awesome!

  16. Meredith Anderson Feb 9 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    Okay, this was such a fun interview! I can’t wait to seek out these books. 🙂

    A time I did something daring? My first year of NaNoWriMo. I found out about it three days before November 1st and just decided to dive right in. Terrifying, but worth it. It gave me so much more motivation to write and, more importantly, finish a project before I move on.

    Fantastic interview!


  17. Katelyn Feb 9 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    Umm, Tim sounds amazing. I loved this interview to bits and pieces. It has adorable and funny and engaging. Loved reading every second.

    I haven’t lived the craziest life ever, but I chose a college halfway across the country from my home, which certainly felt like a risk. But it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

  18. Alexa Y. Feb 19 2013 at 3:20 am #

    This book sounds FANTASTIC! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy it. Tim sounds like such a character, and I can’t help but think his book will be the same!

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