Bustle Book Club
Florida Storms Helped Dizz Tate Capture The Chaos Of Being A 13-Year-Old Girl
Her debut novel Brutes cleverly uses a collective voice to communicate so much more than a story.
Do you remember being 13? The awkwardness, the intensity, the euphoria, and deep experimentation of it all? Author Dizz Tate, who was previously longlisted in the Sunday Times short story award, sure does. And her debut novel, Brutes – hailed as “elegant” by the New York Times, and “whip-smart and warped” by the Guardian – brings it to life in a poetic and dream-like fashion. “I was just embarrassed for the entire year,” she tells me from her kitchen on Zoom, “I remember that age so clearly, I can really go back there. I can feel it in my body.”
It is a time, she adds, where you are so preoccupied with your friendships and the experiences you share together; a mood and mentality that Tate cleverly reflects in her chorus narrative voice. (Though we do get glimpses of their independent adult lives later on.) “You’re constantly observing for secrets that you suspect are there but you don’t have access to, and you’re also constantly trying on different selves, and have this desperate desire to be liked. You are building your own secret world and secret language that is rebellious, fierce, and true to you. But you also have this love for life but still super weird and obnoxious. I just find it endlessly funny and endlessly brilliant.”
On the surface, Brutes is about a group of girls in Florida, and what happens when a girl from their school, Sammy, goes missing. But it is also a coming-of-age tale of girlhood and innocence, with a group of 13-year-old girls, and one boy, at the heart of it all. This chorus watches on as their loved ones and local community search for Sammy, whilst also uncovering what it takes to leave the strange and eerie town of Falls Landing. As well as what may be lurking in the lake, which serves as its own character in the novel.
The backdrop is key, too. “Florida has such a huge place in my mind,” Tate tells me. “It’s where I spent my childhood days, but it was also a place I couldn’t really access. And so I had this cinematic, idealistic, exaggerated view of it, and I found myself always using it in my stories. Florida matched with the experience of being 13, how wild and intense those feelings are at that age.”
Below, Tate reflects on writing in bed, The Virgin Suicides, and her fascination with the Florida Storm Chasers.
On writing creatively
I've always written in bed, that’s a big part of my morning routine. When you're trying to write something creative or you're making something out of nothing, I feel it does help me to be in that just waking up mindset and still be close to a dream logic state of working. You're not so in your head or thinking about to-do lists, but slightly in between consciousness and unconsciousness. This works especially when I find myself staring at a blank page and I allow myself to just write complete nonsense.
On the books she turned to for inspiration
When I read books or writing that I love, it feels like it fires off certain impulses in my brain. If something just isn’t working with my writing, I’ll just close my laptop screen and read 10 pages of my favourite book. It’s a respite from your own writing but also a source of ideas and inspiration. I read The Virgin Suicides a few times as, like Brutes, that used a chorus voice. There's a book called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which I adore and the sentences in it are just stunning. Quite a few of Joy Williams’ books are set in Florida, so they were great to go back to when I wanted to get into that Florida mindset and environment. And I found myself going back to Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston often.
On creative discipline
I kept on finding myself giving up at times because I didn’t know what else to say, so I had to sit down and force myself to write 1000 words every day, even if those words didn’t make any sense at all. You never know what you might find in those words. I know a lot of writers are planners — which I’m trying to do for my second novel — but for Brutes there was very little planning or structure and a lot of just getting feelings down on a page.
On the power of storms
When I was creating the environment of Brutes, I liked to recreate the experience of Florida, particularly its storms and the thickness of that heat. I often had YouTube in the background, videos from a small online community called the Florida Storm Chasers. They share these three-hour long videos or sound clips from people just stood outside recording these huge storms on their phones, and I found it really helpful.
On the best writing advice she’s received
It was around the time that I’d written a full second draft of Brutes, and even though I hated this draft and was feeling pretty sad, I sent it to my agent anyway. She emailed me back and confirmed what I already thought – that the draft wasn’t working and that I still needed to find the story. And I was devastated. But then she wrote to me again the following day and told me that nothing is wasted work. At the time, I didn’t believe that, but now I definitely see what she meant. Any time that you sit down to write or work on something, even if it’s 10 minutes on a train journey — it all has value to what you’re creating. I’m glad that I kept going because now I have something that I want to share with people.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.