The Thin Reads Interview with Richard Bach, Author of “Illusions II: The Adventures of a Reluctant Student”
In the summer of 2012, Richard Bach’s seaplane crashed after hitting power lines while attempting a landing near Seattle. Bach, author of one of the best-selling books of all-time, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” suffered extensive injuries and remained in a coma for a week. But Bach pulled through, showing remarkable strength and drive for a man in his mid-70s. And he more than recovered. He turned his near-death experience into an e-book single, “Illusion II: The Adventures of a Reluctant Student,” which Amazon published on the third anniversary of the Kindle Single form. Thin Reads caught up with Bach and conducted this e-mail interview.
Thin Reads: What led to your decision to write about your accident and recovery?
All my life, I‘ve had nothing happen like this. Close calls – the flash of an airplane instantly in front of me, instantly gone, engine failures with nice places to land with no damage, a parachute that didn’t open but the reserve opened fine. Never anything that threatened to kill me for weeks and then took months to recover. At first I thought it was an accident: I didn’t see the wires, and in a few seconds the airplane was snatched, slammed into the ground upside down. But I kept asking…you’re the pilot, you’re responsible, why did you do it?
My life had been charmed, no long-term difficulties for me to heal. Somehow I learned that so long as we refuse to accept responsibility for any event, we’re its victim. So I took responsibility for hitting the wires, and therefore became one who could repair the damage. How would I do it? How would I think, to make me the master of the “accident?” I would have loved to read that from others, but now I had an event that I could write myself, with none of my quirksome ways of thinking.
Thin Reads: Why did you choose the Kindle Single format?
Kindle Singles is publishing on skates. It prints like lightning; our book meets readers in hours. I’ve spent so many years waiting for publishers to consider whether they wanted to print a book of mine, making contracts, taking months to fit it into the Fall list or the Spring list, fitting it into an advertising plan. I’ll take the fast lane, please.
Thin Reads: It appears that you suffered significant injuries. How are you feeling today both physically and psychologically?
Significant injuries in other people’s minds. Not in mine, somehow. They were tests, for me as a mortal to make well again. We have amazing gifts of healing within us. Physically, I can live a normal life again. Psychologically, I was frightened for a while by the sight of wires even when I planned not to fly through them. Flying airplanes is easy. Driving cars, just a few feet apart from other cars in the opposite lane, that filled me with dread. That’s fading, slowly.
Thin Reads: What is it about flying an airplane that inspires such passion in you?
Same with anyone who’s been flying for years and loves it still…we’re part of a world we deeply love. Just as musicians feel about scores and melodies, dancers about the steps and flow of music, so we’re one with the principle of flight, the magic of being aloft in the wind! Aerodynamics is mathematics for those who haven’t learned to do calculus. In my case, too, for one who hasn’t learned to add or multiply, at least the first time.
Thin Reads: From reading “Illusions II,” it’s apparent that you feel an incredible bond with your airplane, almost as if it was a living thing. Can you explain those feelings?
I’ve owned 41 airplanes. A few of them would talk with me. This little seaplane, though, we’ve had long conversations in flight. There’s a spirit in anything, I think, into which we weave our soul. Not many pilots talk about it, but they think about it in the quiet dark of a night flight. Puff (the hame of the seaplane) didn’t much care for me at first, but we flew thousands of miles together and somehow she got to talk a bit. She was frightened at first when we flew from coast to coast, but along the way she learned confidence.
Thin Reads: What was it like the day you first climbed into your cockpit after your crash and flew?
Pretend you saw a lovely young friend laid out in the morgue, killed in a crash. You thought about her always after that, talked with her spirit, saw that the true soul of her, like our own, was untouched, no matter her body was cold and dead. Then pretend a year later you opened the hangar and there she was, bright and beautiful, alive again! That’s how I felt. The friends who rebuilt her gave me quiet time with her and sure enough, I cried for the joy of seeing her again, no broken wings, no struts severed and bent, not dead but ready to fly! An hour later we were airborne once again. Do you have any idea how that felt? She didn’t talk for half a dozen flights; she seemed to be just an airplane. But finally after a takeoff from a lake she said, “Hi.” Nothing more for several flights, and then, bit by bit, she began to talk with me again. “Who are you? Are we OK? Will you hurt me?” She was different, as her spirit had told me: she had a mortal body again and she’d learn slowly that we could talk, just thoughts. Does that sound crazy? Yes. Is it true? Yes.
Thin Reads: What’s the next piece of writing we can expect from you?
I have no idea. I hope I don’t get killed again to write it.
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Buy the Kindle Single “Illusions II: The Adventures of a Reluctant Student” at: Amazon