Feb. 24 2016 12:17 AM

Author Tim Dorsey finds inspiration in Florida’s weirdness

When City Pulse caught up with author Tim Dorsey by phone last week, he was on the book promotion circuit in Florida. The author, who was trying to get to a bookstore on Sanibel Island, was caught in a traffic jam and was looking for a shortcut.“Hey, can you hold on a minute?” Dorsey asked. “I’ve got to check my GPS.”

It sounded like a line Dorsey’s character, Serge A. Storms, would say to his sidekick, Coleman. Serge, a likable vigilante serial killer and encyclopedic Floridian pop historian, is the central character in 19 of Dorsey’s books.

Most of Dorsey’s books are built as road trips exploring the weirder aspects of Florida popular culture. For his newest road trip adventure, “Coconut Cowboy,” Serge decides to replicate the road trip from the 1969 film “Easy Rider.”

“Its’s one of the best road trip movies ever,” Dorsey said of the film.

Dorsey finds several advantages to using road trips as a literary vehicle (no pun intended).

“It gives the book a pace,” he said. It also puts Serge in unusual places where he can exact ironic and unusual punishment on the bad guys who come his way. “Bad” for Serge is a flexible term, ranging from a sexist redneck to a rude rich boy in a Ferrari. Both face an unusual demise at the hands of Serge in “Coconut Cowboy.”

When Dorsey first began working on his series, he was unmarried. On weekends, he would explore the unusual haunts of the Sunshine State.

“I would just head out on the road and go exploring the state,” he said.

After all of his travels, Dorsey still ranks Key West at the top when it comes to strange.

“It’s my favorite strange place. You gotta love the Keys, but Key West is entertainingly strange,” he said. “It’s like you take the rest of strange Florida and square it. That’s Key West.”

And Dorsey, who worked nearly 20 years in the newspaper industry in Florida, knows strange. His experiences inform scenes in “Coconut Cowboy,” like when Serge rides up on his low rider to find a battle royal featuring a group of costumed panhandlers.

“The beat-down had begun,” Dorsey writes. “The gorilla wrenched the bigger panda’s head sideways and thrust a knee to the groin. The pirate went for the smaller bear.”

“Another turf war,” Serge observes, “The economy is bouncing back.”

And the book gets wilder from there. A parallel story features a naïve geologist in a corrupt town. City officials are running every scam imaginable, including money laundering for a drug dealer and selling homes over a sink hole.

Serge and Coleman ride into town, joined by a Princeton University graduate student who is researching a thesis on how the American way of life has been lost. This addition might seem a bit farfetched, but it’s not long before you realize that Matt is a stand-in for Jack Nicholson’s character from “Easy Rider.”

Once you get the hang of Dorsey’s style, and especially if you have ever driven through Florida, you understand when he says “I never have to leave Florida for a good idea.”

MSU fans might appreciate another book from this series, “Gator A-Go-Go.” Serge and Coleman go on a spring break tour following former MSU Professor Glendon Swarthout’s 1960 book, “Where the Boys Are.” Fans should also check out timdorsey.com, where the author peddles Florida-flavored swag like autographed fishing hats and a three-pack of hot sauces named for characters from his books.

Dorsey said his next Serge-centric book will be about corruption in the Florida lottery system and money laundering — and it’s based on real events. Maybe that’s what makes Dorsey’s stories so believable; his books are a mirror on society.

After visiting scores of Florida cities on his book tour, Dorsey will make his way north, stopping in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio. He swings through Lansing on March 3 for an event at Schuler Books & Music’s Okemos location. Dorsey, whose success as a writer could easily afford him first class flights or private drivers, prefers the charm of a road trip.

“I like to take control of a situation,” he said, again sounding very much like Serge.

Tim Dorsey presents “Coconut Cowboy”

7 p.m. Thursday, March 3 FREE Schuler Books & Music (Meridian Mall) 1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos (517) 349-8840, schulerbooks.com

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