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Don’t Panic. Really, we mean it this time.

In Books, Literature, Media, National News, Opinion, Politics, psychology, sociology on April 17, 2013 at 7:00 am

Deer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

dontpanicIn 1978, a radio comedy called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams, aired as a series on the BBC. Hitchhiker’s was a wholly remarkable radio show that eventually became a wholly remarkable television program, and a series of wholly remarkable – not to mention lucrative – novels, five in the so-called trilogy. A sixth novel was completed by a different author in 2009, eight years after Adams’ untimely death.

Commonly known by fans as, “HG2G,” Hitchhiker’s was essentially a parody of age-old science fiction with a satirical spin. The story line is filled with political satire and a pinch of sarcastic banter, the focus of which was the “establishment,” whatever that meant to the reader.

The story begins with one ordinary man’s adjustment to being transported from Earth only moments before it is destroyed to make way for a bypass for space ships. Suddenly thrust into a galaxy of crazy characters and a manically depressed robot named Marvin, human Arthur Dent is dumbstruck by his complete lack of ability to adapt.

Arthur’s friend Ford, an intergalactic researcher who rescued Arthur from his doomed world, finds his way through the galaxy hitchhiking and following the advice of an electronic book, whose cover is inscribed, in large, friendly letters, with the words, “Don’t Panic.” As the pair travels through the stars, Arthur finds little comfort in his new life except for the constant search for a nice hot cup of tea and the friendly inscription on the cover of his electronic guidebook.

A prolific writer and avid environmentalist, Douglas Adams may be single-handedly responsible for inventing the concept of the e-reader (which is essentially what the “Guide” was) nearly three decades before Amazon, the iPad or even the Internet ever existed. Adams also managed to show us the world more as it really it is than how we’d rather it be. I think that’s where, “Don’t Panic,” came from in the first place.

As Adams’ character, Arthur Dent found out, there are simply things we cannot control so the best thing to do is try to keep our heads and move through it. By a curious coincidence, as I watched the tragic events of terrorism unfold in Boston this week, I found myself thinking about the cover of Adams’ book and those large, friendly letters. “Don’t Panic” seemed like just the kind of thing you’d want someone to say to you at a moment like that.

I’ve never been in a situation like a terrorist bombing, but I have had my share of life and death scrapes over the years. From a head-on truck crash that should have certainly killed me to dealing with the painful helplessness of watching my mother whither away from Alzheimer’s disease, I have learned which things I should panic about and what I should try to just push through. And I don’t believe I’m alone in that practice, by any stretch of the imagination.

Given the circumstances, there is no level of security that could have prevented what happened in Boston. But when it did, people clearly pushed their fear and panic aside, stepped up and did their best to help each other through a horrible situation. Human beings are resilient, even though some might seem like they’re not. We’ve managed around 15 million years of evolution so there must be something to us, right?

I had the good fortune to meet Douglas Adams in 1992 when he came to Dayton for a book signing. Thanks to a fortuitous hiccup in the autograph line, I found myself standing in front of the author for several minutes. He was as gracious and humble, kindly asking how I liked his work.

As we chatted, I asked him what it meant – Don’t Panic. He said simply, “Whatever you need it to.” He also told me I should continue writing and not let the problems of the world interfere with my creativity and positive outlook. I’ve tried hard to do both. So the next time you’re faced with a tough situation just remember the Hitchhiker’s cover line: Don’t Panic. After all, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown, Ohio. More at http://www.gerydeer.com

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Great books are hard to find on today’s shelves

In Business, Children and Family, Economy, Education, Entertainment, Literature, Local News, Opinion, Senior Lifestyle, sociology, Technology on March 20, 2013 at 2:47 am

Deer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

"Flights of Fiction" is an anthology of stories set in southwest Ohio by local authors from the Western Ohio Writers Association. It will hit shelves in mid-April 2013 and features local talent and production.

“Flights of Fiction” is an anthology by local authors will hit shelves in mid-April 2013.

Books are incredible things. They can make you laugh and cry. They can whisk you off to faraway places with strange sounding names and introduce you to characters and worlds that only exist in the mind’s eye.

This month, Disney released the film version of Oz, The Great and Powerful, a prequel story to the more familiar tale of Dorothy Gale’s trip down the Yellow Brick Road. Author L. Frank Baum wrote his 14 originally published Oz books between 1900 and 1920 and each one carried us over the rainbow to a world of magic and adventure.

Of course, it was movie magic that brought the Land of Oz to life on more than one occasion. Even with all of the high-tech special effects and brilliant colors, nothing can replace the written versions of these timeless classics.

Books have a way of exciting the mind and launching the imagination of children and adults alike. Sadly, instead of giving us amazing tales of adventure, modern publishing has turned its attention more towards anything that fits a hot-selling genre rather than keeping an eye out for the next Sherlock Holmes.

When Baum and his contemporaries like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were writing their books, publishers were looking for great writing and engaging stories. Of course they wanted to make money, but they were less likely to sacrifice quality in favor of selling solely for the lowest common denominator. They knew that the best way to grow revenue was to publish a great book.

It seems that today’s publishers are looking, not so much for good literature, but sole marketability. Publishing companies are focusing on the bottom line with through a bit of astigmatism.

People often forget that the business of publishing fiction is part of the entertainment industry and is driven by the buying public. As major publishers shrink in size and revenue, they continue to blame the Internet and self-publishing authors rather than looking in a mirror to realize they’ve done this to themselves.

Occasionally, a publisher will take a chance on a unique story which then turns into a runaway success. The best examples are more recent series books like Harry Potter, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. But once those titles charge up the audience, the publishers start releasing knock-offs or genre-trapped titles based on similar characters and situations to pacify the desire for more of the same.

The problem comes when that’s all they put out, rather than trying to take advantage of a good book-buying market and release something different. All they’re publishing for is cash flow at that point, landing much better manuscripts in the trash bin.

Sadly, there’s really no way to change this trend as long as the public continues to follow hype instead of looking for quality. Until consumers demand better material to read, the status quo will remain low cost, high volume, all buildup and no substance.

So if readers don’t find what they want at the big-box bookstores, they should turn their attention to local authors. After all, everyone talks about buying local and here’s just another way to do that. Thanks to high-quality electronic and self-publishing options, some great local authors are making their work available on a regular basis.

A few minutes in a neighborhood bookstore, even used book shops like Xenia’s, “Blue Jacket Books,” on S. Detroit St., can turn up a treasure trove of locally produced work. From memoires to science fiction local authors have some great work out there to satisfy the hunger of the voracious reader.

Like with larger outlets, local authors can spin some stinkers too, but they often cost less and, even if the book isn’t that great, you’ve helped support the community. Local authors work and live in your community and often hold signings and attend area writing groups. Keep your eyes open. There might just be another L. Frank Baum out there somewhere, yet undiscovered by the big guys. So go hit the local bookstore and remember reading is fundamental.

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