‘Better Nate’ author returning to city for book tour

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As a youngster whose parents took him to see a staging of "Cats," Tim Federle thought it would be "just great" at the time to be able to get a job wearing a Halloween costume every night of the week.

As an adult, he did just that becoming an actor/dancer, first in Pittsburgh, then on Broadway.

But the road to the stage wasn’t without its pratfalls for the Upper St. Clair High School graduate. There was a price to pay for being enamored with theater in a town in love with its sports teams. For many of his school chums, going to see "Beauty and the Beast" didn’t have the same clout as watching the Steelers play the Ravens. And he was teased about his attraction to the theater.

Mr. Federle, 33, now living in Manhattan, put his early experiences as theater nerd to good use after he turned 30, an age when musical theater and dance careers often take a new direction. He decided to tap into another interest and write a book about the challenges youngsters face while on the path to realizing their dreams.

His semi-autobiographical "Better Nate Than Ever," a retelling of his theatrical endeavors, met with more than modest success since Simon and Schuster released it last February. For starters, the New York Times named it one of the "notable books of the year for children." It’s also been a surprise best-seller in London since British Vogue reviewed it and it became an Amazon.com Best Book of 2013.

The book also made Mr. Federle the best-selling author at the Penguin Book Shop in Sewickley, a phenomenon he attributes to "support of readers in his hometown community."

"When I published a book geared to middle grade students, I hoped to reach kids who feel kind of different, like I did," he said. "But I was surprised to hear from many kids and as well as adults who weren’t theater fans but who could relate to the story line nevertheless.

"I got notes from moms and dads saying the book helped their children who were going through the same type of outsider experiences as Nate. It goes to show that stories are universal when the character strikes a resonant chord with the reader."

The book's success allowed Mr. Federle to retire from acting and dancing, at least temporarily. For the past several years, he’s been writing full time.

"I miss being in a room with a group of theater people who are in the process of creating something new," he said. "On the other hand, as a writer, you may work all alone, but you also get to be your own director and costume and set designer."

While writing his book, Mr. Federle said he hoped to be able to write a sequel, but he also wanted the book to be able to stand alone.

After several school visits across the country on book tours, he said he received a lot of emails from readers who wanted to know what happened next. A sequel titled "Five, Six, Seven, Nate," scheduled to be released Tuesday, is an attempt to answer all their questions.

"The title is a take off on a dancer’s term, a way of gearing up to start a dance step by counting," he said.

His first book was finished in a month’s time, written a chapter a day. From the time Mr. Federle finished writing until the time Simon and Schuster acquired his book was a scant four months, an uncharacteristically brief period for a debut novel.

His second book in the Nate series took him a bit longer to finish - two to three months - and was "harder to write," partly because the first book set the bar for reader expectations. Geared once again to middle school students, the book is roughly 100 pages long, about the same size as "Wonder," another middle grade book that’s become a huge hit.

"I did a lot of revisions on the second book, but once I handed the text over to my editor it underwent little in the way of rewriting," he said.

Once again on the book tour circuit, Mr. Federle will make a stop in Pittsburgh at 6 p.m. on January 24 when he’ll chat about and sign his new book at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in South Hills Village, not far from Upper St. Clair High School, which he attended as a teen. On Jan. 23, he’ll also give a master class at the Center for Theater Arts, 250 Mt. Lebanon Blvd., which he also attended.

"Part of the reason it’s so fun to come back to Pittsburgh is to visit the second generation of students at the Center for Theater Arts and to talk to the kids who’ve read my first book," he said.

Coincidentally, after visiting scores of school on his previous book tour, he still hasn’t made a stop at one of the Upper St. Clair schools.

"I’m giving them an open offer for a visit," he said. "I’ll come back anytime."

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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