Florida ManTim Dorsey

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)

Born in Indiana, Dorsey was moved to Florida when he was young, and lived there most of his life. Though he studied transportation, he was the editor of the student newspaper at Auburn University, and was then a police reporter for the local newspaper in Montgomery, Ala., before moving back to Florida to work for the Tampa Tribune, where he worked his way up to night metro editor. But he quit once he figured out his real niche as a writer: Florida Man.

Dorsey in his author’s publicity portrait, c2022 (William Morrow)

He had plenty of opportunity to study the phenomenon up close, and once he started writing about his favorite subject with a fictional eye, he declared, “I will never leave Florida.” Dorsey’s novels feature Serge A. Storms. “The character has several coexisting mental illnesses that render him obsessive, psychopathic, schizophrenic, and frequently homicidal, but Storms serves as the anti-hero in Dorsey’s works due to his strong sense of moral absolutism and justice,” Wikipedia says. “Serge is intelligent, and frequently devises wildly inventive ways of condemning villains (or at least who he perceives as such) to death.”

Storms is helped by a sidekick, Coleman, who “was based on a friend,” Dorsey admits. “Whereas Serge is a high-strung straight-edged coffee addict, Coleman is an alcoholic drug user who goes to extreme lengths to maintain his buzz.” Starting in 1999, Dorsey published a new novel every year, with one exception: he churned out two for 2011. His first was Florida Roadkill *, and the last The Maltese Iguana in February, his 26th. There are also several collections of essays and short stories. (My favorite title of his novels is Tropic of Stupid, though No Sunscreen for the Dead is a close second.) “When he started writing a series about an insane serial killer, I thought, how long can that bulls–t go on?” said Randy Wayne White, a friend and fellow Florida author. “But he wrote about every nook and cranny of Florida. He colonized it. That will last. He was not a haphazard researcher; he was a field historian. Plus the books are freaking hilarious. Humor plus history — that’s a winning combination.” Besides: where else would an insane serial killer good-guy operate? “The books have been out long enough,” Dorsey said after his 25th was published, “that I have people come to my events and say, ‘I started reading your books in prison. You wouldn’t believe how many people pass them around.’”

“I couldn’t write a better job description,” Dorsey told Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Ore., in 2008 — “travel Florida wherever my curiosity leads me, talk to locals, venture down the most remote back roads. Then come home and weave all the cool things I found — historic, obscure, funky — into seemingly outrageous crime plots that are but thinly veiled reflections of what fills our newspapers down here every day. The books’ satire also provides a cathartic vent to keep me sane in my home state, which I love too much to ever leave, while thinking I’m crazy for staying.” He said his final thought in life will be, “What just happened?” Florida writer Craig Pittman said that “The next time I hear of a wild Florida story — which will probably be tomorrow — I will have to mourn him all over again, knowing he’s not around to include it in his next Serge Storms novel.” After fighting health problems this year, Timothy Alan Dorsey died in his Florida Keys home in Islamorada on November 26. He was 62.

From This is True for 3 December 2023