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Five questions for Tim Federle

Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

Tim Federle, well known for his middle-grade novels Better Nate Than Ever and its sequel Five, Six, Seven, Nate! (both Simon, 8–12 years), recently published his YA debut The Great American Whatever (Simon, 14 years and up). We asked the versatile writer and Broadway veteran about his reading past and his characters’ futures, and we couldn’t resist asking some theater questions while we were at it.

1. The world of queer YA has grown enormously in the past decade or so. Were there books you turned to as a teenager?

TF: Yes. Don’t laugh. I used to cut class in high school and hike a mile down the road to the library, in Pittsburgh, and read any book I could on Stephen Sondheim, the famed composer-lyricist about whom there are myriad biographies. I actually went on to make my Broadway debut dancing in Gypsy, for which he wrote the lyrics, so in a way I was skipping Chemistry in order to study life.

2. In addition to your novels for children and teens, you’ve written adult humor books and you co-wrote the book for the Tuck Everlasting musical. What’s it like to shift from one type of writing to another?

TF: Fun. I got my start performing in summer stock, where you’d put up one show during the day while performing another one at night. I’m from the ADHD generation, to be honest — I genuinely was on Ritalin in middle school — so I’m most comfortable with a hundred things going on at once. It’s deadlines that get pesky.

federle_great american whatever3. Humor is a big part of your writing (and your Twitter life!), but you also tackle more serious themes such as mortality and grief. How do you find the right balance?

TF: I think for me the trick is not to aim to impress or to even try to make people laugh but instead to tell the truth. I didn’t realize I was funny until my family left San Francisco for Pittsburgh when I was in third grade, and all my classmates’ going-away cards praised me for being “as funny as Pee-Wee Herman” — a giant compliment in 1989. To this day I often don’t mean to be punch-line-y, it’s just how it comes out. I’d be sobbing all the time if I weren’t looking for the lighter side of life.

4. Do you see a happily-ever-after ending for Quinn and Amir?

TF: The Great American Whatever allowed me to write my first true romance, between two young guys who are — SPOILER ALERT — very probably not going to end up together, and that’s okay. And they’re okay with that. Sometimes you’ve gotta have some training-wheels love before you get it right.

5. If you could live forever, but had to spend eternity listening to one original cast recording, which would it be and why?

TF: Ha! Easy. Tuck Everlasting, which, incidentally, just dropped this week on iTunes. (My backup option: Sweeney Todd, because, c’mon, I’m no dummy.)

From the June 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

For more in The Horn Book’s Pride Month series, click on the tag LGBT Pride 2016.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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