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Animal act

Three decades after 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull,' author Richard Bach extols the merits of ferrets

Richard Bach
"My little ferrets have a lot to say to a lot of people," says Bach (at home with four of his pets). "This could be a 50-book series." Inset: Bach in 1973.

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(PEOPLE) -- On the deck of his cabin, gazing skyward in the last luminous light of a fall day, Richard Bach marvels at the birds circling overhead. "Look at them riding those updrafts," he says. "It's . . . it's just beautiful."

Anyone who lived through the 1970s -- and remembers them -- may be surprised that the birds are golden eagles, not seagulls. After all, Bach's name is forever linked to "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," his sweet fable of flight and freedom. Reviled by contemporary critics ("One called it 'icky-poo,' " says Bach), Seagull sold more than 40 million copies and was a harbinger of the flock of New Age writing in the decades since.

Bach still sings the praises of taking wing -- he has owned 36 planes over the years -- but his search for the ineffable has taken him to animals more earthbound than Jonathan. The feisty heroes of "The Ferret Chronicles," his new five-volume series, help humans renounce evil. (The first two books came out to mixed reviews in June; the third, "Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse" -- praised by Publishers Weekly as "lovable and entertaining" -- hits the shelves this month.) Why ferrets? "They have," says Bach, "a wonderful sense of humor and curiosity."

Bach, 66, had almost forgotten his affinity for fauna until third wife Sabryna reminded him of it three years ago. "She said, 'Why don't you write some more animal stories?' " says Bach (whose seven post-"Seagull" books, including the bestselling "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah" and "The Bridge Across Forever: A Lovestory," featured human protagonists). "I said, 'I don't write animal stories.' "

Then they visited friends who owned ferrets. "The ferrets sniffed us," Bach says. "I sensed this incredible intelligence." He and Sabryna, an aspiring writer, began making up tall tales about them. "All of a sudden," he says, "we had these imaginary ferrets with us."

Next: Real ferrets

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