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A Tampa author with a penchant for the weird

Tim Dorsey lives, he swears, a fairly normal life in South Tampa with his wife and two daughters, and until recently he worked as an editor for the Tampa Tribune.

So, how does he come up with death by Fix-A-Flat, death by concrete block and Barbie doll, death by hot-dog spit, murder via the space shuttle and all the other viciously funny but bizarre methods of mayhem in his first novel, Florida Roadkill?

From the headlines, only slightly exaggerated.

"I'd never really thought of crime or mystery, because there was a lot already out there," says Dorsey, 38. "Then I realized that's what we dealt with every day at the paper."

Dorsey, who grew up in Riviera Beach an hour north of Miami, and returned to Florida in 1986, wanted to write about Florida _ its scenery, its variety, its history. "Actually, I wanted to write a compelling travel guide," he says. "Some kind of a book where I could run the plot through these different places."

But what he ended up with in Roadkill will not exactly thrill the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Think Hunter S. Thompson on the road, except weirder. His Florida is populated by hucksters, addicts, drug runners, con men, white-collar crooks and hypocrites, with a couple of good guys thrown in for relief.

He says he wrote out of love for Florida but disgust for those who come to abuse it. "I remember my grandparents retired here, and they were just beset by all the con artists," he recalls. "When I visited, the phone would never stop ringing. People kept trying to get past the guard shack to get at them."

Dorsey has left the Tribune and is embarking on a publicity tour around the state, stopping at many of the locations lovingly described in the novel. He also is enthusiastic about the book's Web site, http://www.timdorsey.com. He will be presenting the novel at the Times Festival of Reading,scheduled for Nov. 13-14 at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. He already has completed a sequel, to be published next year.

As for murder by Fix-A-Flat, he admits making that one up: "That one, it almost scares me that I thought of it."

_ Howard Troxler is a Times staff writer

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