While Richard Bach’s trip to deliver the completed manuscript of his newest book ended with him crashing his plane, Nice Tiger Press remains hopeful of releasing Travels with Puff: A Gentle Game of Life and Death next March. The author of the megahit Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the bestselling Illusions flew to Nice Tiger’s Bellingham, Wash., offices in Puff, an airplane he built from scratch. After handing in the manuscript on August 30, while landing Puff on the San Juan Islands in Washington State the next day, the plane crashed and Bach suffered life-threatening injuries from which he is still recovering in a Seattle hospital.
“Richard flew to Bellingham that day to deliver the final version of Travels with Puff,” said Nice Tiger publisher Jack Hovenier, who is also a literary estate manager. “It reminded me of Mr. Roark on Fantasy Island.” Bach, whose past publishers include Macmillan, Morrow, and Delta, chose to sign with Nice Tiger for the new book because the press allowed him to be more involved in the creative process than a big house might agree to. Additionally, he and Hovenier share a similar perspective on lives of adventure and personal freedom, the primary themes of Travels with Puff. The book recounts Bach’s journey from Florida to Washington State in Puff, and is illustrated with nearly 200 photographs, many taken by Bach.
“We started talking about the project 14 months ago,” said Hovenier, whose copublisher in Nice Tiger is Eric Tollesson. It was originally slated for a November 2012 release, but Bach’s “horrific” plane crash, which occurred when one of his plane’s wings clipped a power pole, naturally forced Nice Tiger to put Travels with Puff on hold until the extent of Bach’s injuries could be determined. The author slipped in and out of a coma for several weeks while in intensive care, and then seemed to rebound. Hovenier was heartened by the 30-minute phone conversation he had with Bach in early November. “With the exception of a few misplaced words, Richard was his usual intelligent self, lucid, and engaged,” said Hovenier. “We discussed marketing plans for the book, and he sounded upbeat.” Since then, however, there has been a setback in Bach’s condition. “He’s in flux, which is not atypical of this kind of injury,” Hovenier added.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull has sold 40 million copies, and Illusions’s sales topped 10 million; Bach has had several books published in the intervening decades. While his popularity isn’t what it once was, his name still resonates. The weekend of the plane crash Hovenier found 1,600 articles about it on Google from around the globe. “Richard helped to spiritually alter a generation,” Hovenier said. “The day before the accident he told me that Travels with Puff feels very special to him, that there’s something about this book that’s different from anything he’s ever written. He told me, ‘I know its future will be unique and extraordinary.’ It seems so ironic now in terms of what happened the next day.”
Whether Bach, 76, is able to promote the book himself, Nice Tiger expects to get major review attention in national newspapers, and in aviation magazines as well. The publisher will also participate in a promotion with the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association and other regional indie associations, and it’s possible that Bach’s son John will fill in for his father on television and radio interviews.
Hovenier compares Bach’s new book to Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. “It has humor, wisdom, and insight that could only come from one of the world’s most beloved authors who also happens to be an accomplished pilot,” Hovenier said. In Travels with Puff, Bach writes, “If I’ve learned one lesson in all my days, it’s that what seems like disaster is the unexpected touch of our own destiny.”
Nice Tiger, distributed by Partners Publishers Group, will have a first print of 15,000 copies of Travels with Puff. “Richard would greatly appreciate receiving well-wishes from fans. Cards and messages will go a long way toward speeding his recovery,” Hovenier said. More information can be found at richardbach.com.