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Florida author Tim Dorsey dies at 62

The creator of Serge Storms wrote 26 bestselling novels set in his beloved Florida, and captured the crazy along the way.
 
In interviews, Tim Dorsey credited his journalism career as a rich source for his fiction, providing both his encyclopedic knowledge of Florida lore and his familiarity with bizarre crimes.
In interviews, Tim Dorsey credited his journalism career as a rich source for his fiction, providing both his encyclopedic knowledge of Florida lore and his familiarity with bizarre crimes. [ William Morrow ]
Published Nov. 28, 2023|Updated Dec. 1, 2023

Tim Dorsey, author of 26 popular novels about a unique Florida Man named Serge Storms, has died at age 62.

Dorsey, who had recently had health problems, died at his home in Islamorada.

Randy Wayne White, a friend and fellow Florida author (of the Doc Ford novels and other books), said by phone Tuesday, “When he started writing a series about an insane serial killer, I thought, how long can that bulls--t go on?

“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,” White said. “Humor plus history — that’s a winning combination.”

Dorsey was born in 1961 in Indiana; his family moved to Florida when he was a baby, and he grew up in Riviera Beach. After graduating from Auburn University, he worked as a reporter at The Alabama Journal, then joined the Tampa Tribune staff in 1987.

In interviews, Dorsey credited his journalism career as a rich source for his fiction, providing both his encyclopedic knowledge of Florida lore and his familiarity with bizarre crimes. He was a political reporter, copy editor and night metro editor at the Tribune before leaving in 1999, one day after his first book was published.

While writing that first novel, “Florida Roadkill,” Dorsey originally created Serge Storms as a James Bond-style villain — and killed him off.

In a 2022 interview, Dorsey said, “After (Serge’s) second rant, it was a revelation: This is the main character. I could see where I needed to go — adjust my coordinates. So in the second draft, I made him the main guy.

“Luckily, I said to myself, ‘Don’t kill him off. You’re going to need this guy.’”

Dorsey went on to write 26 bestselling novels about Serge. The most recent, “The Maltese Iguana,” was published in February.

The novels were structured as road trips that zigzagged around Florida on various missions improbable, with the brilliant, hyperenergetic Serge accompanied by his heavily self-medicated pal Coleman. Serge’s two vocations were his passionate pursuit of Florida history and his imaginative killings of the kinds of people many of us wish we could knock off.

Serge’s rage was most often ignited by people who exploited Florida, either its natural world or its most vulnerable residents. Damage a sea turtle nest or rip off a bunch of older folks, and Serge would come for you — and his methods were highly imaginative.

The combination of trivia and catharsis proved to be catnip. Dorsey’s book tours were legendary, drawing enthusiastic crowds of fans — some boasting Serge-themed tattoos — to bookstores and libraries.

“I averaged 100 events a year, on the same template,” he said. “I learned to put them together to get the most events in the least time. My record was four in one day — Sarasota, Bradenton, St. Pete, Largo. That got to the edge.”

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He was a frequently featured author at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading, and for several years the all-day Stomp in the Swamp event celebrated all things Serge, first in Myakka City, then Everglades City.

Author Tim Dorsey and Times book editor Colette Bancroft ham it up at the Bouchercon crime fiction convention in St. Petersburg in 2018.
Author Tim Dorsey and Times book editor Colette Bancroft ham it up at the Bouchercon crime fiction convention in St. Petersburg in 2018. [ Courtesy of Erin Mitchell ]

Dorsey lived in Tampa for years with his wife, Janine, also a longtime Tribune staffer, and their daughters, Erin Appleton-Dorsey and Kelly Dorsey. After a divorce, Tim moved to the Florida Keys. Janine Dorsey was killed in 2021 when her bicycle was hit by an impaired driver.

Dorsey’s daughters survive him but declined to be interviewed. Erin Appleton-Dorsey said in a message they were “overwhelmed.”

Larry Fletcher of Tampa worked with Dorsey at the Tribune, and they had remained close friends since. “I know people talk about his books,” he said Tuesday, “but Tim was a hell of a newsman.”

Fletcher, who is editor in chief of six military magazines published by Booz Allen Hamilton, said he had known Dorsey since about 1990 and had talked to him as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

Dorsey had had serious health issues earlier in the year, Fletcher said, but seemed to be recovering and talked about renovations to his home in Islamorada. “He loved living there, kind of being one of his own characters.”

Fletcher helped edit some of Dorsey’s earlier novels, except the first one, which, he said, “Tim sprung on us.”

“I’ve always said Tim is the good version of Serge Storms,” Fletcher said. “He loved NASA, he loved Florida. He could be manic, writing through the night. And he knew all those places he wrote about. It all came from his work as a newsman.”

Crime fiction writer Ace Atkins also worked at the Tribune with Dorsey. He posted on social media, “He and I both attended Auburn University and later worked for The Tampa Tribune at the same time. We quickly bonded over our love of classic crime fiction. In particular John D. MacDonald. He was a brilliant journalist and novelist with a keen and satirical eye for the insane state of Florida. I’ll miss our wonderful conversations and more of his Serge Storms books.”

Another friend of Dorsey’s is Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the legendary Boston Red Sox pitcher. Lee is the inspiration for one of White’s characters, Tomlinson, and he appears as himself in Dorsey’s 2021 book “Tropic of Stupid.

“We played catch when (Dorsey) showed up at Pine Island,” White’s former home, Lee said by phone from Vermont.

“We just hit it off. So he made me a character and kidnapped me in Vermont” when Serge made a rare side trip outside Florida, Lee said.

“He had a great sense of humor. And I’ve always loved serial killers who get rid of bad people.”

Several of Dorsey’s fellow Florida writers offered their thoughts.

“Tim was a great guy,” columnist and author Dave Barry wrote in an email, “and a uniquely Floridian writer. He loved this state, and he knew everything about it — especially the weirder things, which he so skillfully incorporated into his wild, wonderful novels.”

Barry said, “Tim was a friend of the Rock Bottom Remainders, the extremely mediocre author band I belong to. Whenever we played at the Miami Book Fair, Tim joined us onstage, enthusiastically playing his cowbell, which he bought just for our gigs. I’ll miss him, and so will his many fans.”

Former journalist and bestselling novelist Carl Hiaasen, who knows a little something about writing on the wild side of the Sunshine State, said in an email, “Tim wrote about Florida as if it was a rollicking, free-range paradise for lunatics, which of course it is. The unforgettable characters he created fit in perfectly. He rose to the challenge of satirizing a place where true life is routinely weirder than fiction.”

Craig Pittman, former Tampa Bay Times staffer and author or co-author of six nonfiction books about Florida, emailed this about Dorsey: “I was fortunate to serve on quite a few book panels with Tim over the years and always howled with glee at his outrageous wit. He was just as funny in real life as he was on the page. 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.”

Dorsey’s publisher, William Morrow, released a statement by his editor, Emily Krump: ““It was a privilege and honor to work with Tim Dorsey. His easy wit and deep knowledge of Florida-lore made his satirical crime capers as entertaining as they were timely. But his greatest gift was the boundless joy and escape that Serge A. Storms brought to readers on every page.”

Fans might just want to picture Dorsey and Serge together, firing up the Dodge Challenger as Coleman fires up something else in the back seat, and driving forever into the Florida sunset.