Broadway, Baby--Tim Federle on "Better Nate Than Ever"
Young fans of Broadway musicals or Glee rejoice--Tim Federle has written your novel. To be honest, I'm not even a huge fan of musicals (don't tell anyone) but I laughed my way through Better Nate Than Ever, and had the most enjoyable experience reading this middle grade story of a small town boy pursuing his dream of stardom on the Broadway stage. Nate reminds me of a much younger version of a good friend of mine (who I think will love this book regardless of the intended reading age)--funny, stubborn, a little bit of a diva, and absolutely delightful to be around.
It's an open casting call for E.T. the musical that ultimately draws Nate to New York despite the dust-up he knows will result at home, and if you are scratching your head asking, did they make E.T. into a musical? the answer is not yet. But maybe they will now. In the guest post below, author Tim Federle shares the story behind Better Nate Than Ever including the answer to the question, why E.T.?
“What’s the one movie they’ll never turn into a Broadway musical?” That’s the question I asked myself when I set out to write my first novel—all about the adventure of auditioning for a Broadway show—for young readers.
I may be a debut novelist, but I know musicals like the back of my own jazz hand.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, I was the only kid who had memorized Oklahoma! before I’d memorized its state capital (Oklahoma City). When I moved to New York, I ended up performing in lots of movies-turned-musicals. In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I played a dancing candy-maker; in The Little Mermaid, a dancing catfish. In Billy Elliot, I played a different kind of role—associate choreographer—training the child stars and sending the next generation into the spotlight.
And yet! As inspired as I was by the kids’ talent and ambition, I grew a little restless about my own. A guy can only dance for so long, and I began quietly daring myself to follow my next dream—my understudy dream, we’ll call it—which was to write a novel.
“But real writers have MFAs and live in Park Slope,” I told myself, and: “I’m not a novelist, I’m a chorus boy.” But then, one day, while coaching one of the Billy-Elliots-to-be on a nearly impossible dance, I heard myself say: “I know it’s scary, but you cannot give into your fear!” And I was right—not just for him, but for me. If I could make these tweens face a Broadway audience, I could make myself face a blank page.
Better Nate Than Ever is the story of a thirteen-year-old Pittsburgh-area theater dork who does what I’d only dreamed of at that age: He runs away from home to try out for a Broadway musical. But what show should Nate audition for? I needed a hook. Something to make me smile hard enough to propel my way through a first draft. “What’s the one movie,” I asked myself late one night, “they’ll never turn into a Broadway musical?”
Of course, E.T. A classic film so big-hearted and true that the addition of tap shoes would clomp all over its very gentle soul. Plus, there was that one, poetic detail: E.T. is an alien, just like I was; just like a lot of kids are in their little hometowns, and sometimes their own families. I wanted to write a book for all us kids who get chosen last for dodgeball. Who can use a laugh and a voice and an unlikely hero. And I wanted that unlikely hero to audition for an unlikely musical.
Once I settled on E.T., it took one frenzied month to write one frenzied first draft—but Better Nate Than Ever was born.
thirty-two years as an alien on this planet, I’ve been lucky. Two impossible
wishes have come true: I’ve danced on Broadway and written a book. It feels
like pushing my luck to wish for more, but I do: to never let my fears get
bigger than my dreams. No matter how alien they may be. --Tim Federle