Dr Gay Hendricks has reached the pinnacles of book promotion – on Oprah no less – talking about one of his thirty five personal growth best sellers Conscious Loving – so why was he inspired to create a mystery series starring a Tibetan monk turned PI called Tenzing?
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler and today Gay explains why most of us live dissatisfied lives, what he enjoys most about writing fiction, and how the radical adventures he had in Tibet as a younger man influence his work today..
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- How a night of insomnia got him writing
- His remarkable mediation discipline
- How his collaboration on the Ten mysteries came about
- The Netflix deal that will bring Ten to TV
- The writers he most admires
- And the secret to a truly satisfying life
Where to find Gay Hendricks
Website: http://rules-of-ten.com/ and https://www.hendricks.com/
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Jenny: But now, here’s Gay. . Hello there Gay and welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us.
Gay: Thank you very much, it’s a treat to be here with you Jenny.
Jenny: Beginning at the beginning – Why write a detective series? You’ve had a such a very successful career as a psychologist, writer, and university teacher in the field of personal growth, and you’ve founded the Hendriks Institute.
Was there a “Once Upon a Time” catalyst that sparked five Tenzing Norbu books? (Five and a half if you include the prequel….)
Gay: Well I think it really started over fifty or sixty years ago when I first fell in love with Sherlock Holmes and the mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I read so many of them in the eighth and ninth grade- I remember my eighth and ninth grade English teacher started calling me Sherlock because I always walked into class with a copy of Sherlock under my arm!
I was just totally in love with that kind of a mystery. Maybe I even started thinking back then that I wanted to start writing a mystery of my own someday. I’ve been a big mystery fan all my life – I don’t know how many mysteries and thrillers I’ve read, it must be hundreds of them by now!
But I always look forward to a good mystery novel. What happened was, one night I woke up one time- about seven years ago now- and I woke up in the middle of the night, just lying there trying to think of what I might do to go back to sleep. I started reading the mystery novel that was over by the side of my bed, but I didn’t want to turn on the light because I didn’t want to disturb my wife.
So I decided to make up a mystery novel of my own in my head, just as a way to entertain myself. So I started doing it, and it became so fascinating to me that I just had to start writing it down! So my mystery novel career kind of came out of a night of insomnia one time, and wanting to try and get something done in the middle of the night!
Jenny: It’s amazing how many mystery writers I’ve talked to who have been inspired by reading Sherlock Holmes as a young person! Steve Hockensmith said exactly the same and he has written a number of books setting Sherlock in the West. . . .
Tenzing Norbu has been described by one reader as launching a new mystery sub- genre – that of the “Mindful PI.” Did you have any models in mind for him when you started?
Gay: No, actually I decided I wanted to create something brand new if possible, which was a whole new type of Private Investigator. I read Robert Crais all the time- in fact I just finished a Robert Crais novel about a week ago. I love his stuff.
But it’s really a different kind of genre. His hero is often a wise cracking kind of guy. My hero has a good sense of humour, but I really want him to be mindful in the sense of thinking about deeper things in life, and meditating. I just want him to be a modern mystic in the real world.
Jenny: A lovely phrase – a modern mystic in the real world. Ten – for those not familiar with the series – is a Tibetan American – American mother, Tibetan father – whose had eight years in the LAPD and then gone out on his own as a Private Investigator. He stands astride two cultures and two thought systems, and we get quite a lot of his internal reflections on this. Was it hard to get inside his head?
Gay: Not really, because I’ve been a daily meditator myself for almost forty five years. I haven’t missed a day of meditation since 1973, and so I’m an experienced meditator. So it’s very easy for me to be inside the mind of a person who meditates a lot, and I’ve also spent time in Tibetan monasteries and Zen monasteries in pursuit of my own wisdom over the years.
I’ve always had a monkish aspect to me think-I’ve always felt comfortable in monasteries in Tibet and in different parts of the world, so that allowed me to have an understanding of how Tenzing might see the world.
Jenny: Yes, and I must say the setting- when he talks about Tibet, and it does feel like you’ve seen Tibet and been there so that rings very authentic in the books.
Gay: Well I was fortunate enough back in 1986 to get one of the first mountain bike visas to ride a bicycle across Tibet, and so I rode my bicycle across a lot of the Tibetan plateaus in the Summer of 1986.
There was a little window of time there when the Chinese opened up Tibet for independent travel, and so twelve of us we were able to ride our bikes off the beaten track and visit all the monasteries and everything; it was an amazing trip! It gave me a whole different feeling of what Tibet is all about.
Jenny: What an amazing experience, that must have been absolutely fantastic. It’s amazing how it’s translated into this series all these years later. Tell me was striking the balance between education and entertainment tricky?
Gay: Well, I think it’s always difficult. That’s kind of a tightrope walk that a novelist is always on; how to work that balance. Quite frankly, that’s one of the most exciting things about writing for me, is how to stay true to the voice I’ve created.
One of the best things that happens to me in my writing life is when I’m working on a new book, and suddenly I get the voice just the way I wanted in my head. Once I get the voice of it just right and how to tell the story, I find the attitude to take toward it- whether it’s going to be playful, or serious.
I also write about a new hero that I’ve created- Sir Errol Hyde who’s a dandy in England in 1908. He’s an aristocratic kind of a fop, with a big heart. They’re designed to be funny.
Tenzing isn’t necessarily designed to be funny, although he does have a good sense of humour from time to time. One of the things I wanted to put into his life, was that he struggles with relationships. As you’ve mentioned in my real life so to speak, my wife and I are relationship experts who have written a number of books, like Conscious Loving the one you mentioned that we were with Oprah many years ago.
We love to work with relationship dynamics, so I wanted to create Tenzing as a person, like many others who don’t have all the answers. He’s maybe adept at meditation, but not at intimacy with another person. And so a lot of what goes on in the books, and the background are his coming to terms with different relationship issues that he has.
Jenny: As we mentioned – the series is co authored with Tinker Lindsay, an experienced scriptwriter – how did you set up the co-authoring?
Gay: That was by pure magic. First of all, I should let you know that Tinker is one of the most wonderful human beings that I’ve ever met in my entire life, and I consider her coming into my life one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. She’s become a very dear friend of my wife and myself, and she and her husband and my wife and I go to the Opera together and things like that down in Los Angeles.
We only live an hour and a half away from them, so we’re able to get together with them from time to time. What happened was I wrote the first Book Of Ten, a 200-250 page manuscript. I knew that I wanted somebody else to take a look at it- I didn’t think at the time of having a co-author.
I thought I would sent it to somebody, and they would take a good look at it and make some suggestions. I actually had another person in mind because I didn’t know Tinker at the time, but I happened to be on the phone with a friend of mine one day, Arjuna Ardagh, and he and I were talking about some other project and I said “by the way, do you happen to know any really good editors that have a good sense of understanding of meditation?”
He said right off the top of his head “Tinker Lindsay, call Tinker Lindsay”. Interestingly enough, unbeknownst to me Tinker Lindsay and I learnt to meditate at about the same time in the early 70’s, and she became a meditation teacher for many years before she got into screenwriting. So I got on the phone later on in the day, and I just called her up cold and I said “Hi, this is Gay Hendricks. I wanted to talk to you about a project”.
And she said, “Oh my God, I’m just looking at a book of yours on my shelf here! Is this the real Gay Hendricks?” It turned out she had read my book Conscious Loving, back twenty five years ago when it came out, and also had my book The Big Leap when it came out.
So that was really just a great little piece of magic. And then let me tell you what happened – I sent her the manuscript and she came back and rewrote the first chapter just to show me what she might do. She just did this for free, just an example of what she wanted to do if she took on the project. I read the first chapter she rewrote, and I burst into tears. It was so good, and so much better. I had it written out as a nice little twenty five page chapter, but she had turned it into this thirty five page much more sensory, rich chapter.
One of the great things about Tinker is she loves details- if you look at all the detail that’s in the books, a lot of those are hers. I kind of sketch out something, and I’ll say he drove down the street in his car, and by the time she gets through with it it’s just so much detailed, not just broad sketches. She also loves research- she will go riding around with the cops and the paparazzi, whereas I just research over the phone and on Google! She’s out there on the frontlines!
Jenny: The books cover a lot of interesting ground – Apart from all the LAPD and PI insider knowledge – Book three the Third rule of Ten for example – which gets into gang cartels in Mexico . . Book Four goes to Bosnia – that must have required a lot of research . . .What is your working model for successful collaboration?
Gay: I’m the first draft guy usually, I write the first draft of the whole thing. Then I send it off to her. I kind of hunker down and spend several hours each day working on the book until I finish it- say that takes me 6 months. Then I send it off to Tinker, and she takes a month or two to do all of her magic on it, and then she’ll send it off to me and I’ll fluff it up a little bit. That’s how we go about it. I know other authors who send pages back and forth each day and that kind of thing, but we’ve just never done it that way.
Jenny: I think I read somewhere that you originally planned for ten books – we haven’t seen a new one for a couple of years – is that still the plan?
Gay: We haven’t left Ten behind. What’s happening right now- the reason we haven’t started publishing six and seven – I’ve already written books six and seven but I’ve got it in the can here just waiting for the television show, because Netflix has auctioned the books to turn into a television show. If they get it on air this year, then we’ll probably start publishing book six and seven. If they don’t get it on the air till next year, we’ll wait I think and just have these books be the ones out there before the TV show goes out.
Moving to a more general focus, away from specific books to your wider career
Jenny: As director of Conscious Loving you have a newsletter and free video series offering “the secrets to creating easy lasting love.” If you had to name the biggest cause of dissatisfaction in the western urban world – what would it be? Or is that just too simplistic?
Gay: I think that If you really look deeply into ourselves, what you find out at the bottom of a lot of our difficulties with ourselves is that we’re not loving or accepting toward ourselves. We think of ourselves largely as a failed improvement project.
A lot of my work in my non- fiction books Conscious Loving, Learning to Love Yourself and The Big Leap- what those are all about is helping people come to a loving embrace of themselves as they are, rather then living in constant criticism of themselves.
What I’ve found is as people open up and embrace themselves and the wholeness of themselves as they are, suddenly they are able to tap into a deeper level of creativity in themselves. If you look around the world- I’ve been fortunate to go around the world 35 times- wherever I go in the world, since my books started coming out in 1975 I’ve gone around the world giving lectures and things like that. One of the main things I see that’s the cause of much pain is people being out of touch with their inner creative potential.
There’s so many ways that we can get distracted and detach ourselves from our deep creative potential. But I think all of us as human beings- in order to feel really good about ourselves and in order to feel like we’re really making our best contribution to the world around us, to our families and to our kids- I think the only way to do that is to embrace our deep inner genius. I think that we all have a deep innate genius within us. For one person it maybe writing music, for another making a soup. It doesn’t matter.
I say that creativity is anything that has the capacity to surprise you and take you out of the non version of yourself and your known routine. So I think creativity of which can surprise us is really the key to feeling satisfied in life. If we can keep that spark of creation nurtured, and keep expressing our own creative potential, we have the opportunity then to inspire others to do the same thing. What I’m seeing around the world is a creative awakening where people are owning their deep creativity and allowing themselves to make contributions they never knew they were capable of.
Jenny: Is that universal – does it cross cultural barriers?
Gay: It’s absolutely universal. It’s born into human beings.
Jenny: That’s fascinating. I was interested in the study you did on your blog about the three levels of relationship status with couples who have been together for a long time. There was a distressingly small number who had a really alive and continuous active, loving relationship. It’s very hard to maintain over a lifetime.
Gay: it certainly is, and it’s difficult because a lot of the time the things we learn growing up are absolutely backwards from what you need to know in order to have a successful relationship. When I was growing up, it was a time where big boys didn’t cry, you weren’t supposed to admit that you were scared, sad or angry- you were supposed to keep your emotions hidden.
When I got into relationships in my teens, suddenly a girl would ask me ” what are you feeling”, and I didn’t have any way to answer them! I was like, I didn’t know how to speak that language! So I think all of us have a lot of looking and seeing to do on the inside of ourselves to figure out what needs to be opened up within ourselves so that we can really be present in our close relationships. Certainly life becomes at its best when our relationships with others and ourselves are relationships with the cosmos.
Jenny: Is there one thing you’ve done in your writing career more than any other that’s been the secret to your success?
Gay: I remember making a decision right around the time I met my wife, Katie. She and I have been together for almost 40 years now, and I made a decision that I wanted to learn how to write from my heart. I’ve always been a writer, one of those kids who’s always writing stories at five years old, and directing plays. I’ve always had a screenplay background to me even as kid. As a grown up, it took me a long time to learn what was really going on in relationships.
Right now if you look around the world, the divorce rate for first marriages is around 50%. But if you look at second marriages, the divorce rate is even higher. And if you look at third marriages, the divorce rate is even higher- I think it’s 63%. So what’s going on here?
Our learning curve is going in the wrong direction! It’s an urgent thing for human beings to learn how to be together in the realm of relationship, and so I decided back in 1980 to write my first book from my heart based on my own experience, an idea I found to be true. You see, I was first trained as a research psychologist- you know, the whole idea of trusting your own inner experience just wasn’t something you talked about!
You were meant to do experiments on 50 people and then give them all a test, all that kind of research. I learnt that that’s good for academic learning; but real life learning, deep down in the trenches, working with other human beings- I needed a different kind of learning. So I decided to start writing my books from my heart, and making sure it resonated with my own inner experience.
I had so much success doing that right away with my book- Learning to Love Yourself became a Bestseller and continued to be a Bestseller to this day, 40 years later. I think it sells better now then it did when it first came out in the early 1980’s!
Turning to Gay as reader
Jenny: The series is called “The Joys of Binge Reading” because I see it as providing inspiration for people who like to read series . . . .So – turning to your taste in fiction who do you “binge read” ?
Gay: Yes, as a matter of fact just as we’re speaking here I’m going to punch up and read off a bunch of titles of recent books I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading a Johnathan Kellerman mystery called Heartbreak Hotel, and The Art of Living- a wonderful Epictetus translation by a woman named Sharon Lebell.
I’m a worshipper of Epictetus in Roman Era and the Greek Era, so this is a great new translation. I also just finished a Michael Connolly mystery called The Late Show, and I just started a non- fiction book called Horse Soldiers. That’s about an operation in Afghanistan during the most recent war there.
I just finished Robert Crais’ latest book- the one with him and Joe Pike- and I’m also working on a new translation I found of War and Peace. I’m a big fan of T Jefferson Parker’s mysteries too- I’ve read every single one of his. He’s a great Southern Californian novelist and I have probably read a good eight or ten of his books. If you love Robert Crais, you’ll love Jefferson Parker.
Jenny: I love Robert Crais, and I think interestingly his background as a screenwriter has probably helped him as well. He did work in the movies for quite some time, didn’t he, at the same time he was writing his novels. You share that in common!
Gay: I’ve written a few screenplays- I’ve only had one feature produced but I’ve found screenplay writing much harder then novel writing. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience or other authors have talked about that, but with a screenplay you’ve basically got 100 pages and you’ve got to compress the story. It reminds me more of diamond cutting. I like to think of writing a novel as painting a very large canvas so you have lots of different places you can go. I think of it as like painting a mural, whereas writing a screenplay is like diamond cutting.
Circling back to the end
Jenny: At this stage in your career, if you were doing it all again, what would you change – if anything?
Gay: I feel so blessed that my mystery writing career has gone well – it’s been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, I can’t think of anything I’d do differently. I’m not going to put a knock here on CBS, but they originally bought the books to turn into a series but then it just took so long and nothing ever got done. So I finally got the auction back and sold it to Netflix, so I wouldn’t have wasted my 6 months on CBS – I would have gone directly to Netflix first. (See Footnote)
Jenny: What is next for Gay as writer and psychologist? Where is it important for you to use your energy right now – and any projects under development?
Gay: Well I just finished and sent over to my editor the sequel to the Big Leap. The Big Leap came out in 2009, and it’s been a steady bestseller ever since then. It’s widely used in the coaching community- it’s used as a bible of how to coach and work with people.
It talks about how to open up to your innate genius. Well I’ve written the sequel to that- kind of the next step beyond the Big Leap, and I’m sworn to secrecy as far as the title goes for another month or two until we have the official press release come out. But that book will be out in September, so that’s kind of the big thing that I’ve just been working on now. I haven’t got a mystery right now that I’m cooking on but I’m sure one of these days another mystery will pop into my mind!
Jenny: Where can readers find you on line?
Gay: Well if you’re looking for just general information about my institute and Katie and I and our relationship work, Hendricks.com is the best place to go. If you’re interested in our relationship work, we have a separate website called www.heartsinharmony.com. That’s where we offer our relationship courses and our e- courses and that kind of thing.
Right now, my wife is in Europe- we do a lot of teaching all over the world- she does more of the teaching for our institute. She still loves to travel a lot, I’m kind of the homebody after 1.2 million frequent flyer miles! I’m trying to spend more time here with my cats and my garden, in my home office. But my wife still loves to travel a lot, so she’s been in Spain and Germany in the last week or so. We do a lot of training around the world with different professional groups- usually therapists, counsellors and coaches that are interested to learn our techniques. So we spent a lot of time doing that.
Jenny: Wow, that sounds great. So the Tenzing books- is there a place that’s the best to go to for those?
Gay: Well I think the best thing to do would be to just pick a place where you can get books online – Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. On Amazon there’s a Gay Hendricks page that has all of my books, ones going back even 30-40 years ago that you can read about. So that would probably be a comprehensive way to look at my whole body of work.
Jenny: Look, it’s been wonderful talking today. I’ll be very interested to see Ten on Netflix as soon as he makes the screen!
Gay: Alright, and next time I’m in your neighbourhood we can crack a Foster’s lager together!
Jenny: That sounds wonderful, yes you must come back! It looks very different now from 30 years ago when you last came – it may not be improved, but it’s a lot less provincial and a lot less rural then it was. It’s still a good place to be!
Gay: Oh great, thanks a lot. It’s been wonderful talking with you Jenny.
Footnote: Daniel Dae Kim’s 3AD production company, which is behind breakout ABC drama series The Good Doctor, is developing First Rule of Ten, based on the successful books by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay, as a television series. Kim has partnered with Tony-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) on the project, which is set at ITV Studios America where 3AD recently signed a two-year first-look deal.
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