Q&A with Tim Federle

Q: To a lot of readers, you’re probably best known for writing the literary cocktail recipe book “Tequila Mockingbird.” But you’ve also written the “Better Nate” middle grade books, which Lin-Manuel Miranda raved about in the New York Times. How did you get the idea to do a Broadway-style self-help book?

A: Before I became an author I was a Broadway hoofer in shows like “The Little Mermaid”. The internet has photos of me as a seagull. (Laughs.) I basically got my education in the school of hard knocks, learning how to deal with the rejection and realities of auditions and uncertainty. I told my editor that everything I know I learned doing theater, and “Life is Like a Musical” was born.

Tim Federle as a seagull.

Q: Can you give me an example of something the theater taught you?

A: Totally. One of the big things I picked up doing shows is to value courage over confidence. Confidence is the by-product of doing something that you were afraid to do, but you did anyway. Courage is what you get after trying the thing you thought you’d royally suck at — like getting up and singing in public — and learning afterward that you only suck at it a little bit. Theater taught me that, to not wait ‘til I felt “ready” to start something I was curious about.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a performer?

A: Oh gosh. Okay, picture it: Downtown San Francisco, the late 80s, I’m a little kid and my parents take me and my older brother to see the tour of CATS. And when I found out those people wearing makeup and fake cat tails were being paid for it, I was like: I’m done. I’m in. Someday I will be a cat!

Q: Did you ever do CATS?

Tim’s childhood headshot.

A: No (laughs). But in a hilarious bit of cosmic irony, the week I moved to New York City, CATS closed. That’s another thing that’s in my book: how to deal with tough breaks.

Q: So, I have to ask: is this book just for fans of Broadway?

A: I hope not! “Life Is Like a Musical” is for anyone who find themselves desiring something— like, a stronger relationship or a better job or a more refined way of framing the story of their life. We theater people call this your “I want” song, which has its own whole chapter. Many of the references will resonate with Broadway fans, sure, but also with anyone who didn’t think they liked musicals. Until they accidentally overheard some kid blasting the “Hamilton” album.