October 1, 2003
By Julie Summers Walker
Sometimes you take a roundabout way to get to where you want to be. For Bill Adler Jr. that meant first rejecting the career path his parents forged for him.
Adler grew up in the literary world of the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City. His parents were successful literary agents, representing such authors as Dan Rather, Mike Wallace, Willard Scott, and Larry King. It was a career path he could have emulated, but he chose international relations instead. He worked in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist for causes he believed in but "hated wearing a suit," he says. So he turned to book packaging, putting writers together with publishers. That didn't satisfy him either. "You have 100 clients and you have 99 people with problems."
Then came a conversation with a neighbor in the Cleveland Park, D.C., neighborhood where Adler lives with his wife and two young children. The neighbor was a private pilot. "I'm an early adopter — if it's a new thing, I want to try it. It sounded like a hoot," he says. But when he mentioned the idea of lessons to his wife, she discouraged him. Turns out she had purchased flight lessons for his upcoming birthday already. "She thought I'd go up for an hour and that would be the end of it," says Adler.
Flying helped Adler relieve the stress of publishing. "Work vanishes when you are in the cockpit. I had to go to the extreme to not be in contact with the office. Flying gave me that."
Flying also gave Adler the inspiration to finally do what he wanted — write. Adler, along with his wife, Robin, is now Adler and Robin Books, the authors and producers of a highly popular series that began with Adler's book Outwitting Squirrels. That book sold more than 300,000 copies and inspired a series of books that take a humorous look at particular problems and the solutions that others have tried to "outwit" the problem.
Outwitting problems and communicating with others are things Adler does very well. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when his home airport, Potomac Airfield in Maryland, was "shut down for what felt like forever," Adler (who'd had an instrument rating lesson that morning — "Another hour and I'd have been in the air") organized the D.C. Emergency Radio Network ( www.dcradio.com). Using Family Radio Service (FRS) radios and GMRS short-range radios, immediate neighbors can communicate with one another in case of an emergency such as 9/11.
That effort also spawned the Cleveland Park e-mail list that is now the largest neighborhood e-mail list in the Washington, D.C., area — and may be the largest neighborhood list in the country with more than 1,300 members.
Adler also formed an e-mail group on Yahoo called "PalmPilotPilots" for pilots who use Palm Pilots (and other personal digital assistants using the Palm OS) for aviation. This is a place where pilots can discover new software, troubleshoot problems, uncover tricks, share PQAs (Palm Query Applications), and compare notes with fellow pilots who use Palm Pilots in the cockpit. More than 700 pilots are members of this e-group ( email@example.com).
Adler also communicates his love for aviation on his company Web site ( www.adlerbooks.com/pilot.html), encouraging others to learn to fly, offering lists of flying clubs and flight schools in the Washington, D.C., area, recommending aviation-related books and resources, and promoting aviation organizations. "The more pilots the better," he says. He also maintains a Web site featuring D.C.-area weather for pilots ( www.adlerbooks.com/weather.html).
Being a pilot allowed him to see the interest in aerobatic pilot Patty Wagstaff's autobiography, Fire and Air: A Life on the Edge, which Adler and Robin Books sold to Chicago Review Press in 1997. "It wasn't an easy sell because most editors are not pilots. Chicago Review Press recognized her significance." After spending time with Wagstaff, Adler took up aerobatics himself, flying a Pitts Special out of Lee Airport in Annapolis, Maryland, with instructor Bill Finigan.
While he doesn't own an airplane yet ("I keep trying to convince my wife we need a Cessna Caravan," he says), whenever Adler travels he finds a local flight school and goes flying. "It's a great way to see America."
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