5 questions for 'Five, Six, Seven, Nate!' author Tim Federle

Story highlights

  • Tim Federle's "Five, Six, Seven, Nate!" picks up where "Better Nate Than Ever" left off
  • Nate Foster's Broadway dreams are starting to come true, but it's no cakewalk
  • The book's message is to embrace whatever makes you unique, Federle says
Author Tim Federle believes that everyone has a little bit of Nate Foster in them. Even if you're not a gay theater nerd with dreams of stardom, Federle thinks everyone has felt like an outsider at some point.
He may be onto something with his Nate Foster novels, about the semi-autobiographical teen character who chases Broadway dreams to New York for an open casting call in "E.T: The Musical." Federle's 2013 debut middle-grade novel, "Better Nate Than Ever," struck a chord with critics and readers and was named one of 2013's notable children's books by the New York Times and Publishers Weekly. Its sequel "Five, Six, Seven, Nate!" comes out Tuesday and was listed among the best books of January by Amazon.
"Five, Six, Seven, Nate!" picks up where the first book left off. Federle, who was a Broadway dancer and choreographer, takes readers further backstage with Nate as his Broadway dreams begin to come true, but he has to do some growing up along the way. Federle says his aim was to write a novel he would have loved when he was younger and feeling left out.
"Fix, Six, Seven, Nate!" was released January 21, 2014.
The real message isn't about Nate's love of Broadway or his sexuality, Federle says, but about embracing whatever makes you unique.
Fast facts
Age: 33
Hometown: Pittsburgh
Other titles: "Better Nate Than Ever" and "Tequila Mockingbird," a literary cocktail guide voted the top food and cookbook of 2013 on Goodreads.
Fun facts: Federle appeared in the original Broadway casts of "The Little Mermaid" and "Gypsy" before coaching the child stars of the show "Billy Elliot."
For fans of: Broadway musicals and TV shows like "Glee," "Smash" and "Dance Moms."
Five questions for Tim Federle
CNN: What's happening with Nate in your new novel?
Federle: "Five, Six, Seven, Nate!" opens on my 13-year-old protagonist packing up a duffel bag and bidding his Midwestern town goodbye, heading off to start rehearsals for his New York City debut in "E.T.: The Musical." The book is an insider look at what happens when a big-budget Broadway show comes together (and occasionally apart), as seen through the eyes of a diehard theater nerd who just happens to also be a chocolate milk aficionado. Think: "Smash" with zits.
CNN: How was writing the sequel different from your first book?
Federle: I wrote "Better Nate Than Ever" in total secret while working on the show "Billy Elliot." Once the book came out and started getting a lot of unexpected attention, I felt like the "Velveteen Writer" -- like a bit of a faker who was suddenly turned real. So the biggest difference in writing a sequel is that now there are expectations. But also, and this is the awesome part, now there are fans, too!
CNN: Since "Better Nate Than Ever," has the message changed or evolved in your new book?
Federle: The books are highly autobiographical, and I learned as a dancer that even when you get cast in a dream show, there are still setbacks and surprises (and critics). For Nate, he's finally part of a tribe of people who truly "get" him in "Five, Six, Seven, Nate!" but now he's dealing with cutthroat child stars and the nervous clamor of a brand-new town. If the message between books has evolved at all, it's probably: "Hold on to what makes you unique, but get ready to grow up a little, too."
CNN: You've said before kids can be your toughest critics. What have you heard from them?
Federle: I've received quite a few all-capped emails YELLING AT ME FOR ENDING THE FIRST BOOK ON SUCH A CLIFFHANGER!!!!! Also, several kids named Nate have written to say it's "cool or whatever" to have their name in the title of a book.
CNN: Nate's sexuality is important to the story but not the focus of your book. How did you decide to handle that and what kind of reaction have you received?
Federle: You can't tell the story of a 13-year-old boy who knows every lyric to "Phantom of the Opera" without also referencing how much teasing he gets at school. Believe me, I remember. Middle school readers can handle a lot of truth, especially when it's broached delicately, so the response to Nate's subtle maybe-he-is-maybe-he-isn't-gay subplot has been overwhelmingly positive -- with librarians and parents cheering on Nate's goofy perseverance in spite of how hard it can be just being a kid. I think every adult I know felt like an outsider in middle school, and these books are for anyone who might be going through that now and could use a laugh.