For awhile there, it looked grim for Victor Marchetti, former CIA spy turned agency critic and author. He was acutely depressed, drinking too much and boorish in public. Money problems mounted and he had difficulty writing, despite the critical and commercial success of his book with John Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence.

"If I had it to do all over again, I'd never have done it," said Marchetti in December 1980. His public indictment of the CIA as a place filled with busybody bureaucrats more worried about useless clandestine operations than intelligence gathering earned him the enmity of former colleagues and denunciation from conservative quarters.

But today 52-year-old Marchetti, a 14-year veteran of the CIA, now in his 12th year out in the cold, is on the comeback trail. Earlier this year his friend and former literary collaborator, John Marks, badgered him into taking an "est" self-help course.

"He said he thought I needed to take a new look at life, needed to get recharged," recalls Marchetti. "He suggested I try est, which I thought was ridiculous. Finally he said, 'I'll pay for it. I'll come and get you and take you.' I went kicking and screaming and found it to be a very rewarding experience. I didn't buy everything, but there is some very good stuff in there. It's an opportunity to stand back and take a good, hard look at yourself."

Marchetti stopped drinking. He took a job as communications director for an air courier service, Sky Courier.

"It was a great change of pace," says Marchetti. "Having the discipline of going to work completely revived me. I'm back to my old self again."

He dusted off a novel Delacorte had signed him to write, and, along with Washington writer Randy Fitzgerald, expects to complete a rewrite of the book this weekend. It's a novel--the better to thwart CIA censors to whom Marchetti, as an ex-spook, must submit his manuscripts for approval. But Marchetti says sections discussing the CIA's dealing in parapsychology are based on fact. So is the part about the agency's conducting seances in attempts to contact dead agents.

Originally, Marchetti says, he and Marks intended The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence to be a "once-over-lightly" look at the CIA, and a second book would have contained more dramatic secrets. But in Marchetti's case, a court of appeals ruled the CIA could censor books under a secrecy agreement all agents sign in order to guard against release of classified information. That, Marchetti felt, made a second nonfiction book impossible.

"So here I thought of some of the craziest things that went on in the business and then let my imagination take over," says Marchetti of The Soul of the Spy, which he hopes will be published this winter. "While it's fiction, I think the discerning reader is going to see a lot of things that he will feel are true. But it's for him to find out and for me to know."