Life Story VI

During this time, I had a seriously fascinating encounter with a mugger in Oakland, California.

I was walking to my car at about 2 a.m., and a huge man loomed up in front of me.

“Gimme your money, man!” he said.

I looked at him calmly. “What do you really want?” I asked.

His eyes widened. “What?”

“I’m a human being, you’re a human being. If there’s something you need, and I can do it for you, maybe I’d be happy to do it. In which case nothing has happened.”

He looked at me, and time seemed to freeze. Finally he said: “Five dollars?”

“Sure,” I said, opened my wallet, and gave it to him. “Take care of yourself.”

I can’t even say how happy I was with that exchange. I felt no fear. I saw his entire body as one big playground I was going to tap-dance on if he made the wrong move. But for five dollars, not only did I not have to hurt him . . . or risk being hurt myself (always a possibility), but I got a great story I’ve been able to tell for twenty years.

That’s what I call a bargain.


Some time around 1990 I taught a science fiction symposium at UCLA with Robert Bloch, Octavia Butler, Larry Niven, and . . . Ray Bradbury.

I picked Ray up at his house, and we went to dinner together in Westwood. Here was my chance to talk with him more personally. I was plagued by the idea that I may have made too many commercial choices in my career. And I unburdened my soul to this great man. (more…)

Life Story Part VI

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.” (more…)