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2 p.m. today, Gainesville State College, Oakwood
Tom Deitz enjoyed posing the question: "What if?"
What if a young man living in rural north Georgia accidentally uncovered a fantastic parallel realm?
It was Deitz’ vivid imagination, encyclopedic knowledge, gregarious personality and zest for life that made the Gainesville author and teacher many loyal fans and devoted friends, those who knew him said.
Deitz, 57, died from heart complications Monday. A celebration of his life will be held beginning at 2 p.m. today at Gainesville State College, where he was an assistant professor of English.
Deitz was known for his outgoing nature and wit.
"Just being in his company brightened a person’s day," said Brad Strickland, a longtime friend, colleague and fellow fantasy writer.
Another longtime friend, Paul Matthews, said Deitz had a mind that brimmed with knowledge of everything from medieval history to automobiles and music.
"He really had his finger on the pulse of so many areas, and that’s what made him such a great conversationalist," Matthews said.
Deitz was best known as the author of "Windmaster’s Bane," a 1986 fantasy novel that chronicled the adventures of a young Georgia man named David Sullivan. Deitz went on to have 18 more novels published, many featuring the Sullivan protagonist.
A 20th anniversary revision of his first novel was printed in 2006, earning Deitz accolades as Georgia Author of the Year for Young Adult Fantasy. In 2007 he received the Phoenix Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Southern Fandom Confederation.
Deitz first discovered fantasy literature, specifically the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, as a teenager in the late 1960s in what was then a very straight-laced Young Harris, fellow faculty member Dana Nichols said.
"He said growing up in Young Harris, it was impossible to be a hippy," Nichols said. "It was impossible to get bell bottoms. He said, ‘If I can’t dress like them, at least I can read like them.’"
Deitz went on to earn an English degree from the University of Georgia and a masters degree with a concentration on medieval and mythic literature.
In 1981, he spent his income tax return on a creative writing course at UGA’s Center for Continuing Education. Five years later, he sold his first novel, which debuted at the World Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta.
Deitz went onto to teach English, specializing in mythical literature. As an assistant professor, he had an uncommon connection with many of his students, Matthews said.
"He would tell me about his students and their backgrounds and what he knew about them, and how it related to teaching them," Matthews said. "I was impressed with that level of genuine interest he had with the students in his class. That’s rare, and that’s what made him such a successful teacher."
Last year Deitz was honored as the Ann Matthews Purdy Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Member of the Year, four years after joining the Gainesville State College faculty as a part-time professor. This year, he was moving to full-time.
Nichols said she’s been inundated with e-mails from Deitz’ students expressing sadness at his passing.
"He was an excellent teacher who went well above and beyond," she said.
Strickland said Deitz had enjoyed planning a special study abroad trip to Ireland for about 20 students that will go forward in his absence on May 11.
"He’s going to be sorely missed, because he was the expert," Strickland said.
Friends said Deitz knew for several months that he was terminally ill and approached his final days with grace and dignity.
"He accepted things very calmly," Strickland said.
"He was unworried by whatever the next stage was," Nichols said. "He told me he would treat it as an adventure."