Are you looking for a calm, relaxing Florida book that paints a mental picture of tranquility, sunshine and gentle waves lapping onto the shore? Stay as far away from Tim Dorsey as possible. His novels have been compared to the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Carl Hiassen and Dave Barry, and he’s not a writer for the serenity seeker. His books are veritable meeting places for sizzling violence, rough politics and edgy social themes. If the crime-gone-awry content weren’t fiery enough, all of his juicy literary romps take place in the sweltering state of Florida. The 41-year-old Dorsey, now a resident of Tampa, grew up in the West Palm Beach area and tackled journalism before plunging full-throttle into the crime fiction scene. His works include Florida Roadkill, Hammerhead Ranch Motel, and most recently, Triggerfish Twist. Dorsey’s upcoming appearance at the Miami Book Fair International is fitting for this tropical author, whose novels are nothing if not packed with tasty local color.
Life & Art chatted with Dorsey about Florida, fiction, and plenty of dead bodies.
Q: We have to ask: are you any relation to Ken Dorsey, the UM quarterback?
Dorsey: (laughs) No, unfortunately I’m not, but I am glad that he’s getting the Dorsey name out there.
Q: Your website says you graduated from Auburn with a degree in transportation. That’s a far cry from something like creative writing or English.
TD: I was jumping around with majors. I knew I wanted to write for a living, but I felt that was a distant fantasy. I thought I needed something else. So I literally looked through the syllabus, and decided to just get any degree and get out. I was involved with journalism, however, and my senior year I was editor of the student paper.
Q: You have a background in journalism and reporting. How did that segue into a writing career?
TD: The creative writing was what I wanted to do first and foremost. I decided when I was 15 that I wanted to write wacky, satirical novels, which is a strange vocational choice for that age! I needed to get started in writing, so I went to the student paper in high school and wrote for a while. At college, I started corresponding for the school newspaper as a freshman. So I used learning about writing to start my career. I worked for the Tampa Tribune for about 10 years, then I left to start writing fiction. Actually, my last day at the Tribune was the day my first novel was published. Of course, I had a bunch of failed efforts and failed books in the beginning, but I wasn’t going to quit!
Q: You travel the state a lot for research.
TD: All the time. It helps me get a feel for the settings of my novels, as well as all different types of people. The star of my books is really the state of Florida, and then I just throw a lot of dead bodies around.
Q: Do you have a favorite part of Florida?
TD: I love the Keys, definitely. Also, a book that I’m working on currently is set totally in Miami. It alternates between present day and the 1960s.
Q: So you like the Miami area?
TD: I get goose bumps just looking at all the incredible landscaping, foliage, and architecture in Miami. It’s so unique, and just a really inspiring place. Actually, one of my older books involves the University of Miami-one of my characters gets involved in a scenario in the old Orange Bowl.
Q: Your next book is called The Stingray Shuffle, due out February of next year. Can you talk about that?
TD: Basically, a missing briefcase with 5 million dollars goes to New York City, and everyone ends up chasing after it. It really delves into Florida history, about the story of Henry Flagler and development of the railroads. It’s also about tracking down murderers, and at the end all the characters end up on an Amtrak murder mystery train and try to kill each other. I did a lot of travel and research for this one. I actually took the train down from New York to Florida.
Q: Your book Orange Crush contains straightforward, savvy political satire. Did your own views influence that kind of governmental cynicism?
TD: Yes, but I tried to attack everybody as to be fair. That was an uphill sell to my editor, because my other books are straight-up crime drama and this one was political comedy. We were worried about commercial value, but I turned it in right before the 2000 presidential election, and after the whole scandal broke out sales soared.
Q: What’s your involvement with the book fair?
TD: I’m speaking on Sunday the 24th, and I’m just going to read from one of my novels and discuss a little bit. I love coming to the fair, and this is actually my fourth time participating. I like to poke around and see Miami too.
Jessica Misener can be reached at email@example.com