5 questions with Dean Atta

5 questions with Dean Atta

In Author Conversations by Sarah Sung

5 questions with Dean Atta

We love any opportunity to get to know our favorite authors better. So a lightning round of questions sounds like a good place to start. Here, we ask five quick questions (with one wildcard) about books, genres, reading preferences, writing style, and their secret to success. 

We were lucky enough to have poet, performer, and author Dean Atta answer a few questions for us. His first YA novel Black Flamingo, a coming-of-age story about a mixed-race gay teen finding confidence in his complex identity, was published in 2020 and won the Stonewall Book Award, which recognizes LGTBQ+ books. Most recently he published Only on the Weekends and shares insight into reading preferences and the writing process.

1. What are your all-time favorite books?

Dean Atta: This is a really tough one for me. I’m often asked this question but I’ve never come up with a definitive answer. I’ve half-jokingly said The Bible in the past (but I won’t go into the reason for that here). A favorite book I have read recently [is] Gay Club! by Simon James Green. The story centers around a high school LGBTQ+ society’s presidential election, and is packed with conflict, drama and complicated characters (much like The Bible, haha!) 

2. What’s your favorite genre to read?

Dean Atta: LGBTQ+ young adult fiction is my favorite genre to read because when I was a teenager we didn’t have as many books about LGBTQ+ friendships, romances, and identity as there are today. Here in the UK, throughout my time at school (1988-2003), there was a law called Section 28, which meant you couldn’t have LGBTQ+ books in schools, much like some of the book banning we see in parts of the U.S. today. When Section 28 was repealed in 2003, schools began to have much more inclusive libraries. But I’ve found that LGBTQ+ adults from my generation will read LGBTQ+ YA because we didn’t have these types of books when we were at school, so in some ways we’re playing catch up with LGBTQ+ teenagers of today. 

3. Which do you prefer: ebook or audiobook?

Dean Atta: I prefer audiobooks because I’m dyslexic and it takes me a long time to read a book. I prefer having a story read to me. I find it so comforting, and it’s easier for me to enjoy the story when I’m not misreading words or losing my place in a book. The main exceptions to this preference are poetry and novels in verse, when it’s particularly important to see how the words are laid out. As a poet myself, I take so much care to consider every line break and every stanza. So I’d love people to get to see and appreciate that work. That said, I do believe poetry is ultimately meant to be read out loud, and to that end I do pay a lot of attention to my characters’ voices, vocabularies and dialects. Therefore, I think my books can be enjoyed and appreciated as audiobooks and ebooks for different reasons. 

4. What’s your writing routine or process? 

Dean Atta: My writing process usually begins with some external force. This could be someone asking me to write something (e.g., receiving a writing commission or attending a writing workshop) or an important life event that I want to process or better understand by writing about it. My new book, Only on the Weekends, was originally inspired by me moving over 400 miles to a new city. I wanted to put a character in that situation in part to see what the move meant to me. Once I know what I’m writing about, I just try my best to get some words written every day but I don’t have a specific daily word count and I go easy on myself on days when I don’t write much. Part of my process is also to make playlists of music for my characters, and immerse myself in elements of my story that I don’t know from personal experience — this could mean I spend a lot of time listening to music I wouldn’t normally listen to, watching movies and documentaries and reading books on topics that my characters are into or even taking up a new hobby. All my research and getting to know my characters is as important a part of my process as the writing of the story. 

5. How much of your writing success is due to hard work, talent, or luck?

Dean Atta: I think a lot of my success comes from saying “yes” to the right opportunities at the right time, and saying “no” to other things so that I can prioritize the writing projects I’m truly passionate about. My writing process is quite slow, so I need a lot of time to write a novel. If I’m passionate about my work in progress, I’m going to be happy to put in all the time it takes to research, write and edit. I’m going to work hard because it’s something I truly believe in.

Wildcard: If you could have coffee/tea with anyone alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Dean Atta: I would love to have coffee with the Greek philosopher Plato. I studied philosophy and English for my undergraduate degree, and my highest mark was for an essay I wrote as a Socratic dialogue in which two characters discussed the essay topic set by our professor. A part of me would have loved to pursue philosophy further; however, spoken word poetry felt like my calling and eventually led me to writing books. In both of my novels, the characters have dialogues in which they learn from one another’s perspectives and experiences. This is me, the author, figuring something out through my characters. Hopefully, it also shows my readers that I’ve considered more than one perspective. I don’t know what I’d want to discuss with Plato over coffee but I’m sure we’d both have a lot to learn from one another. 


About the Author: Sarah Sung

Sarah is the Editorial Director at Scribd who obsesses over content strategy and brand building, and has written lifestyle content for AFAR, San Francisco Chronicle, and Under Armour. In her spare time she teaches indoor cycling and consumes podcasts, audiobooks, and ebooks at all times of the day and night. Traveling and dining out are always high on her to-do list