During this time, I got my first taste of television, when Walt Disney television got in touch with Larry and asked him if he would be interested in adapting a Stanislaw Lem short story for a proposed anthology show. Larry wasn’t interested but pointed them at me. Tad Stones was the executive there, and I adapted “The Test” for them; although it was never produced, it led to me getting my first television agent. There is simply no better way to get an agent than to walk into an office with a contract in hand and say: “Negotiate this for me?”
Free money, anyone?
Well, that agent, Marvin Moss, was packaging The Twilight Zone with Phil Deguerre, and I got in on the deal. This led to my first hour-long script, “Henry VIII,” which was written for a series called The Wizard over at Fox, starring David Rappaport (of Time Bandits). The guys who produced The Wizard, Micheal Berke and Doug Schwartz, went on to produce Baywatch, for which I eventually wrote four episodes.
About this same time a truly wonderful thing happened. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle came to me with an idea for a short story they proposed to write with me. Short story my eye! These two had had a New York Times bestseller with “Lucifer’s Hammer.” I figured this was my chance to turbo-charge my career and showed them how the idea could be expanded into a novel. It turned into the Legacy of Heorot, one of my favorite of my novels, and featured a butt-kicking quote from Tom Clancy on the cover.
There was another change in my life. I’d had great success in martial arts until I got my butt whipped by a thirteen-year-old prodigy one day when I was about twenty-five, who crowed to everyone about how he “beat a man!” Frankly, something in my heart just . . . collapsed. It didn’t matter that the kid, Alvin Prouder, went on to become a world champion kickboxer. Something just broke inside me, and I developed a phobia about sparring. Morbid, and totally disproportionate to any injury or pain I’d ever received.
I’d spent years trying to heal it, gone to therapists and counselors and countless instructors, read books, meditated, tried hypnosis . . . everything. But whatever wounds I’d carried since childhood simply refused to heal, leaving me unable to perform without emotional grief WAY beyond anything required by the situation.
Now, note something: under real-world performance stress I tend to go cold. No fear at all, just readiness. But put me in an artificial context, and ouch.
Well, one day I went to Santa Maria California to watch my brother in law, Pat Young, train with his martial arts instructor, Terry Letteau. Terry is a wolf in human’s clothing, just an animal, and I mean that in the very best way. After Pat finished practice, I rather miserably, with no expectations of result, asked Terry the same question I’d asked so many other instructors:
“I have a fear of sparring. Do you have any idea how to deal with that?
“Sure,” Terry said to my astonishment. “Your problem isn’t fear. It’s lack of clarity.”
“Well, do you have a way to deal with that?” I asked.
“Sure. Close your eyes and visualize a glass tube filled with glitter. Wait until the glitter settles to the bottom. See what you see.”
I couldn’t believe it. After all this time, someone had actually proposed a simple solution. Brilliant. It took me about four weeks of daily practice to get all the glitter to the bottom, but when I did I realized that my problem wasn’t fear, it was confusion about what the fear meant. I eventually earned a black belt in Judo from the man who had taught this technique to Terry, Harley “Swift Deer” Reagan.
I was recruited to teach creative writing at UCLA, and while there, a major breakthrough occurred in my life. One of my students in a workshop on “general toolbox” for writers theme said that he didn’t think he’d be able to apply these tools to his situation. His wife didn’t understand, his job was a killer, the kids sucked up his time, and so forth.
There is an expression that from time to time life gives you a cubic inch of opportunity. Either you take it, or it’s gone forever. I got one of those moments right then.
“Well,” I said, “if you were a story that you were writing, and if you knew that at the end of the story you got everything you wanted, what would you do next?”
The guy’s eyes whirred as if he were a slot machine, and then he focused and said, “I’d have him make a deal to exchange blocks of free time with his wife. Enlist his kid in his goals. Brown-bag it to lunch and spent that time at his desk, writing . . .”
I tried the same gambit with the other people in the class. They tried the same thing and began coming up with their own answers.
I went home that night and said to my wife, Toni, that something odd had happened at UCLA. I asked her if she thought I should pursue it. She agreed, and I began to research.
I went straight to Joseph Campbell, and I found a quote from him to the effect that there is a link between cultural stories and our individual dreams as human beings. Armed with that idea, I looked at the steps of what Campbell referred to as the “Hero’s Journey” and concluded that this pattern contains the combined wisdom of all of the world’s elders. And this, for the first time, suggested a syntax, a recipe for ordering everything I’d ever learned about success (my Mom had played records of Psycho-Cybernetics and Think and Grow Rich for me since childhood); I combined all of this into the first “Lifewriting” workshop, taught in the late 80s. To this day I’ve shared the technology with thousands of people in at least a dozen countries. One of my proudest achievements.