Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Thank You, Douglas Adams

Michael Salsbury
The late Douglas Adams is probably best known for his radio plays and books entitled The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  In 2015, I took some time to study the late author's life, his influences, and of course his work.  Doing this was useful and enjoyable.

I learned that he and I were both influenced by the comedy of Monty Python.  As I learned more about Adams, I learned of his appreciation for P.G. Wodehouse and Robert Sheckley.  Having no familiarity with their work, I sought out several of their books and read them.  It was interesting to see their influence in Adams' work.  No, I'm not saying that he "stole" anything from them.  He didn't.  But it's easy to see echoes of their work in Adams' own.  This helped me better appreciate something I learned from Austin Kleon in his book Steal Like an Artist.  Namely, that every artist borrows ideas and techniques from those who came before, and builds on them.  Adams clearly learned from these two (and probably Python), but created something I think is better than they did.

Something else I learned about Adams was how much we had in common.  We both had technology in common, and (around the same time on the calendar) were fans of the Apple Macintosh.  (I later lost that fandom, but Adams retained it.)  We both enjoyed Monty Python.  Some of our musical taste was also very similar.  I suspect that if we had met in person before he died, we might have been friends.  Sadly, I'll never know.

Despite having never met or communicated with Adams, I am grateful to him for many things.  His Hitchhiker's works remain among my favorites today.  Each time I re-read them, I enjoy them all over again.  Now that I've begun taking my writing more seriously, I learn from them as well.  The last time I read through one of Adams' books, I began to see certain techniques he used to create unique and funny sentences.  For instance, Adams would embody inanimate objects with emotions or motivations, as in "The rain made itself heard against the glass."  (This implies that the rain wanted the character's attention and intentionally made noise against the window.)

I know that many times during Adams' career, he wondered if he could really do it, if he could ever really succeed as a writer.  He questioned himself and his abilities constantly, which I suspect almost every writer does.  I am grateful that he stuck with it and produced The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Last Chance to See, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and his other works.  These have taught me a lot about writing humorous stories.  I thankful that he didn't give in to the self-doubt and get a job as a banker, a stockbroker, or something else.

Thank you, Douglas, for hanging in there and cranking out the work you did.  I only wish you'd been with us longer and been able to bring us much more.  You deserved a longer life and a chance to enjoy all your success.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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