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The sunshine scribe

If it’s in Florida, Tim Dorsey has probably been there — especially if it’s a little on the seedy side. And if he hasn’t been there, it’s on his list of places to go.

Dorsey is a novelist and an almost-native of Florida. He moved from Indiana to Riviera Beach, just north of Miami, before he was a year old. He still lives in Tampa with his wife and two daughters. His latest book, Cadillac Beach, is the sixth in a series of humorous novels set in the Sunshine State.

The stories revolve around Serge A. Storms, a manic-depressive intellectual and compulsive murderer. Serge ties together a madcap assortment of characters that includes strippers, elderly con men and drug fiends.

“Florida is out of control because it’s 30 percent corrupt and 70 percent chaos,” Dorsey said. “There’s no one in control; there’s just incredible growth, and politicians are taking bribes from developers, and they’re just going for their own careers. As long as the economy keeps moving forward and they’re building skyscrapers, it looks like civilization.”

The characters that make up the novels, he says, are always based on real people.

“A lot of them are college roommates. Some have been people in the news. Probably a little more than 50 percent of them are people I know firsthand,” Dorsey said.

The places are real, too. Everywhere from Daytona Beach’s infamous Boot Hill Saloon to Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West and Sarasota High School make appearances in Dorsey’s novels. His extensive Florida travels make just about any place in the state fair game.

“It was all for pleasure until the books started coming out. I just love the traveling part,” he said. “After the books started coming out, I was doing so much traveling for the book signings that it became a situation where all I had to do was know what the topic for the next book was so that I could go and do the various research visits to different places.”

Dorsey graduated from Auburn University in 1983 with a degree in transportation. He spent a few years unsure of what he really wanted to study. He started writing for the student newspaper, The Plainsman, and eventually became editor. By the time he decided he wanted to work in journalism, he would have had to spend an extra year in college to complete a journalism degree.

“I was looking for the fastest track out of there,” he explained.

A transportation degree, he discovered, was just that.

“I don’t even really know what they teach,” he said. “I just wanted to write.”

Dorsey knew he wanted to write novels by the time he was 15.

“I admired my favorite writers so much — they’re just fantastic. It was an evolution of reading and writing, but when I specifically said ‘my dream in life is to write humorous novels,’ I was 15, and everything I did from then on was down that road,” he said.

Dorsey had second thoughts after he began to write for newspapers and realized he was making significantly less money than his friends, but he ultimately decided his dream to write novels was the most important thing.

“The life without a dream isn’t worth living,” he said.

Still, he knew that the chances of succeeding as a novelist are slim.

“You’ve got to be realistic — and the realistic side of me said I would rather be chasing this dream and not succeeding than doing anything else.”

Even though the money wasn’t in journalism, Dorsey considered it the best apprenticeship for an aspiring novelist.

“I knew that if I left newspapers and went into something else it would never happen, because (working at a) newspaper was great training. It kept me plugged in to all the wild things that were happening in Florida, and also … trained as far as the fundamentals of writing.”

Dorsey was a reporter for The Alabama Journal from 1983 to 1987, and then worked in various positions for The Tampa Tribune from 1987 to 1999. He currently writes monthly columns for Tampa Bay Illustrated and Sarasota Magazine.

He said he has two pieces of advice for aspiring writers.

“Pick a style that you really think you might have an aptitude for, and then just read it to death,” he said. “The second bit of advice that I would give is if you really want to do it, take a job where your job involves writing. People in the Olympics – they train every day. You’ve got to do something that’s everyday training.”

Dorsey’s next novel is slated for release in February 2005.