ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Story of My New Book

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Story of My New Book
 
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Mario Cantone
Mario Cantone Photo by Robb Johnston

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Last week when I interviewed Mario Cantone, he said people are always surprised about some aspect of his career: People who know him from Broadway ask, "You do stand-up?," while people who know him from comedy clubs ask, "You act?" And then there's a mixture of both groups who ask "You sing?" It's very similar to what happens to me, but, unfortunately, people ask me, "You act?," after seeing me in an actual play. Rude. Regardless, my pit musician friends don't know about my performing career, and a lot of my radio listeners don't know I played the piano on Broadway for years. And then there's the crossover group who don't know I've written some books. So, since "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan" (my first young adult novel!) is being released this week, I thought I'd give a little back-story on my writing.

My first big writing attempt was a play I wrote in fourth grade called Killer Girlfriend. I'm not saying I was already heavily influenced by Broadway, but the so-called killer girlfriend's name was "Miss Mazeppa." Nothing came of the play even though I had ample copies of it due to the fact that I was able to use my father's rexograph machine (anybody around from the '70s?). Cut to the year 2000. I was in a bookstore and saw a novel a copy of "The Nanny Diaries" on the shelf. I thought that if people were interested in the inside world of nannying, then there would also be people interested in the inside world of Broadway! That night, I started writing my first novel, originally called "Subbing." I decided to write about a Jewish piano player on Broadway who worked as a sub ("write what you know," people!). After each chapter, I would send it to various friends for feedback, especially my college best friend Tim Cross, my Disaster! co-writer and best friend Jack Plotnick and currently starring as the Nun in Disaster! (and Yale alum and beltress) Anika Larsen. Then I started bringing it to the theatres where I was playing in the pit. During The Full Monty, I would haul it up to Andrea Burns' dressing room, as well as giving it to various fellow pit musicians so they could be distracted and miss cues. I decided to contact Charles Busch's partner, Eric Myers, because he and I were friendly through Charles and I knew he was a book agent. He read the first chapter and was crazily enthusiastic. He told me that comic novels were very rare and that I wrote exactly as I spoke and that could be a big plus. He kept on me to finish the book and I finally did by doing most of my writing after I came home from playing a Broadway show (aka 11 PM).

Seth and Andrea Burns at a recent book release event for "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan"

I was so happy to finish, and immediately started spending my publishing advance money in my head. Eric took it to three publishing houses that he thought would be the best match. I knew it would be difficult to choose between three and hoped that one offer would be astronomically better than the other so I could make an easy decision. It wound up being a very easy decision to make because all three rejected it. Wowza. Three out of three ain't bad. Actually, yes it is. Eric told me not to worry and then said, "Listen, worse comes to worse, we can always go to 'Clanky Publishing House' (not it's real name)." Well, ten rejections later, he then called to tell me that "Clanky Publishing House" also rejected the book! I was mortified. Finally, Eric said with little enthusiasm, "Well, you could ask this publishing house I know, but it's basically self-publishing." I wanted him to do it for me but he said since they really don't pay much, I needed to do it myself. Oy. I swallowed my pride and sent them the book. Can you guess the rest? That's right. Rejected. From a place that pretty much all about self-publishing! Why was my book so repellant? Eric told me that most publishing houses aren't fond of publishing books where the lead character is gay. That was so weird to me, because the book isn't about the lead character, Stephen, coming out or anything specific about his gayness. It's about Stephen not being satisfied with career/love life because of his co-dependant relationship with his narcissistic mother. (Some of the book is apparently autobiographical).

Regardless, after years of rejection, a new editor (Joe Pittman) took over at one of the publishing houses that rejected me (Alyson). After the reading the first three chapters, Joe asked to read the rest of the book. I then got the delicious call from Eric I'd been waiting for: "How you would like to get your book published?" Yay! It was so thrilling. First, Joe made me change the title to "Broadway Nights." Then came the part I hate: re-writing. I completely dreaded it. But, Joe gave me great notes and after forcing myself to start, I wound up being super happy with the result. And, to all the publishing houses that rejected me, my first novel is now in its fourth printing! Ha! Of course, each printing is probably 20 books, but brava nonetheless. P.S., Alyson went out of business and now Vantage Point has taken over the publishing. It has a fancy new cover and a new intro by Audra McDonald. Sass! Get a delish autographed copy here

Cover art for Seth's new book
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The nice news is, people would sometimes mail me after they read the book and request a sequel, but I never got around to writing one. One day, Eric (my agent) called me and mentioned that as hard as it is to get an adult book published with a lead gay character, the young adult world is clamoring for one. What!? Publishing a novel without having to beg? Yes! I immediately sat down and started writing. I wanted it to be about dating, so I knew the kid couldn't be too young. I settled on 15 years old. I decided, yet again, to base him on aspects of myself, so I made him an overweight teenager (based on my "fondness" for Husky brand jeans) and I added a so-called Jewfro. I thought of the name Justin for him but wanted a last name that inherently sounded awkward: Goldblatt. Ow. Here's the description from the publisher:

Justin has two goals for sophomore year: to date Chuck, the hottest boy in school, and to become the king of Cool U, the table in the cafeteria where the "in" crowd sits.

Unfortunately, he has the wrong look (short, plump, Brillo-pad curls), he has the wrong interests (Broadway, chorus violin), and he has the wrong friends (Spencer, into Eastern religions, and Mary Ann, who doesn't shave her armpits). And Chuck? Well, he's not gay; he's dating Becky, a girl in chorus with whom Justin is friendly.

But Justin is determined.

In detention one day (because he saw Chuck get it first), Justin comes up with a perfect plan: to allow Becky to continue dating Chuck, whom Becky's dad hates. They will pretend that Becky is dating Justin, whom Becky's dad loves. And when Becky and Justin go out on a fake date, Chuck will meet up with them for a real date with Becky. Chuck's bound to find Justin irresistable, right? What could go wrong? Seth Rudetsky's first novel for young adults is endearingly human, and laugh-out-loud funny, and any kid who ever aspired to Cool U will find Justin a welcome ally in the fight for popularity.

I wrote the first three chapters super-quick and my agent sent them to Schuyler Hooke, a fabulous YA editor at Random House. Schuyler loved it and said that in order for Random House to buy it, he'd need the whole book. And thus my writer's block/laziness began. I just couldn't get myself to write more. Every time I'd run into Eric, he'd ask how it was going. Silence. Then I'd see Schuyler sitting in the audience at my Chatterbox shows and he'd ask the same devastating question. Eventually, two years passed. Really! Finally, James told me that he ran into Eric, and that Eric asked him to get involved and convince me to finish it. I felt like I was in an episode of "Intervention," but it worked. I decided I was going to write every day until I finished. So, I sat at my desk overlooking Manhattan Avenue (this is when I lived in Harlem) and every night I would show each chapter to Anika and Jack as usual and then I'd show James before we went to sleep. I took all of their advice and finally finished it in January 2010. Eric sent it off to Schuyler and three weeks later we had an offer from Random House! It took almost two years to get "Broadway Nights" a deal, and just three weeks for my YA book! Since I'm using initials, I'll add WTF!?!?!

Rory O'Malley join Seth in reading a section of the book on the Jan. 29 "Seth Speaks."
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

First, Random House asked me to change the title. It was called "Surviving Sophomore Year" but that went the way of "Subbing" and became "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan." Schuyler sent back my manuscript with a bunch of notes, but they were all great and I started to rewrite it. Then I suddenly found myself doing They're Playing Our Song with Sutton Foster and right after that I got cast in [title of show] in New Jersey. Suddenly my deadline for revisions came and went. I got a crazed email from Eric asking where the revised manuscript was (maybe it was "where the H" or "the F"), and I wrote that it was almost done. If "almost" means one page out of 300, then I wasn't lying. I started frantically rewriting on the train to and from the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey but I was stuck on a plot point Schuyler wanted clarified; if Justin is so savvy, why would he possibly think he has a chance with Chuck, who is so obviously straight? Oy. I didn't know! Then I flew down to New Orleans to film "Varla Jean and the Mushroom Heads." While on set, I kept my computer open so I could write when I wasn't filming. Suddenly, during a take I wasn't in, I came up with the plot point that explained it all and I ran to the computer and typed up a storm. Phew! This is a classic example of adult ADD; I need an extreme amount of pressure and a past deadline to get anything done. That's why it's "fun" to live and/or work with me.

I remember when Eric first told me it would come out in January of 2012, and it seemed so far off (two years!). But now it's here! I was so thrilled when I got my first copy. I thought they issued a hardcover especially for me because I'm the author, but, it turns out, the whole first printing is hardcover! So exciting. I was thrilled when "Broadway Nights" was printed but it was essentially a crepe paper cover. And because I'm so modérne, the new novel is also a Nook book. Brava! My book reading at Barnes and Noble went so well Jan. 23 and I sold/signed a ton of books. Delish. This weekend, I'll be in Houston at the Blue Willow Bookstore on Saturday Jan. 28 at 11 AM.

My musical Disaster! opened at the Triad on Sunday and was amazing. So thrilling. I have a ton of stuff to write about dealing with getting the show up (that's what she said) but will write it next week. Our next show is this Sunday at 9. So excited. Check out www.DisasterMusical.com. I'm also going to be reading a section of my new book on the next "Seth Speaks" radio show, Sunday Jan. 29 at 5 PM on SiriusXM Stars. Rory O'Malley is going to read the role of my best friend, and Norm Lewis will be my main guest! Peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)

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