Seven years ago Jonathan Livingston Seagull proclaimed, “You have the freedom to be yourself.” The world trembled at the insight, and nine million copies of the book were sold. Now author Richard Bach has gotten a few more inspirational clichés off his chest in a slim new volume, Illusions.
“My message is going to be deified in some places and crucified in others, and I am too,” Bach admits, and adds, “I do not have to meet the needs of people whose values are radically different from mine. Norman Mailer can do that.”
Bach, who does not drink, smoke, take drugs or use bad language, believes he has found the answers to some Eternal Questions. Who are we? “Fun-loving creatures.” Why are we here? “To learn.” But please, Bach insists, do not take him too seriously. The hero of his new book is a playful messiah, Donald Shimoda, who barnstorms the Midwest with a character immodestly named Richard.
“I am saying,” Bach explains, “that we all have a messiah within us. If you’re looking for the Savior, my messiah says, don’t look outside yourself.” The Book-of-the-Month Club picked Illusions for June, and the book is already a best-seller. Pop psych lives.
It has also made Richard Bach rich beyond the dreams of an Army chaplain’s son born in Oak Park, Ill. He grew up in Long Beach, Calif., flunked out of college, joined the Air Force and logged 1,000 jet hours.
“After I entered the world of grownups I discovered I couldn’t hold a job,” Bach says. “Then I remembered, when I was in high school I sold something I wrote. I knew about flying, and I knew about my feelings about flying. Wowie, of course! I’m a writer.” He published three books about flying before Jonathan hit in 1970. A year earlier he left his wife, Bette, shortly after he had personally delivered their sixth child. Mrs. Bach and the kids are now touring America, and Bach lives in Winter Haven, Fla., where he “flies around, writes, lectures and sits in the sun. I am not work-oriented at all, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with just being very, very quiet.”
In a moment of introspection, Bach allows that he spends “too much time alone.” Of women, he says, “Maybe there are three who are important to me, but I don’t see that much of them, and I could never live with anybody. I never make promises about the future, but it would be radically uncharacteristic of me to get married.”
Bach will not talk about his age—”I don’t believe in birthdays,” says the 40ish author—or money. He does acknowledge that his advance for Illusions was $150,000, and to celebrate he bought himself a T-33 jet to add to his fleet of three other planes. He flies himself to California occasionally to shop for a film producer for the messiah’s story.
Reluctantly, Bach is already working on his next book—”a part of Illusions that started running away. I hope it’s the last thing I ever write. My goal is to communicate everything that matters to me so I can go back to flying. I’ve always felt that flying is my trade.”