Columns > Published on September 30th, 2014

Writing Lessons from the Dead: Hunter S. Thompson

NOTE: This is the final installment of a 4-part mini-series; read the previous installments here: One, Two, and Three.

I was still having trouble writing, so I turned to drugs. There was a guy who always hung out behind Wendy’s trying to sell stolen bottles of cologne. I figured he would be the person to ask. And sure enough, hidden deeper in his bag was a plethora of mind-alternating candies. I had $300 in cash and handed it all to him. I told him to give me whatever was fair. He nodded, as if I was a perfectly normal customer. Just another suburban lunatic who’d finally had enough of the nine hour shock therapy every goddamn day of his life. The cologne salesman stuffed the drugs in my own bag and told me to get the hell away from him and to only return when my bag was empty and my wallet was full.

Later that night, once I relieved the 3-11 girl and I was alone at the hotel, I dumped out the contents of my bag on the front desk and stared at the mountain with wide, excited eyes. I had no idea what I was looking at. There were tiny bags everywhere. Some containing white powder, others containing various assortments of pills. Pills of all sizes. Some pills so small I could barely count them. Other pills so big I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to swallow them.

Even after talking with Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Bukowski, I still wasn’t writing. Even after Elmore Leonard showed up at my hotel with his typewriter, nothing happened. I wrote a few sentences and shit the bed. My bed was a perpetual motion machine of word feces. I didn’t know what else to do. The days that followed, I tried knocking on the authors’ doors, but nobody was answering. When I called the rooms, I only received their voicemails. Once I even asked the 3-11 shift about those specific guests, and she only responded with a strange glare.

“What?” I asked. “Spit it out.”

“Those rooms are on hold,” she told me. “Someone infested them with bedbugs. We had that whole meeting about it last month.”

I laughed like a madman until she left the lobby, leaving me alone once again, alone and in my comfortable habitat. Nothing made sense in this hotel of the damned. We were all spiraling out of control, freefalling through oceans of depravity and hysteria.

Now here I was, staring into a mountain of delicious candies guaranteed to screw up my mind beyond repair. I took them one-by-one, in a steady flow, not stopping until the front desk was empty. I fell on my ass almost immediately after finishing. The ceiling spun and spun and the air was too thick to breathe, too fast to catch. I remembered the books I read as a teenager, the ones about writers doing all the drugs in the world and going on to write the Great American Novel. A part of me knew the drugs weren’t the actual answer to writer’s block, but another part of me was too desperate to cling on anything but the truth to care. So I clung onto drugs. All the drugs.

Ten to fifty million minutes later, I climbed to my feet and found my notebook. I started writing. It took me five pages to realize I was scribbling smiley faces and large, erect dongs. Surprisingly detailed dongs, too. I threw my pen across the lobby and hit a man directly in the face. It knocked his cigarette out of his mouth and he gasped, as if I’d just urinated on his mother’s ashes.

“Good god, man!” the man shouted. “What kind of barbarism is this?”

I rubbed my eyes and the man was gone. The pen was back in my hand. Some type of magician trickery, perhaps.

I stared down at my notebook. The dongs had been replaced with swastikas. I ripped the pages out and tried writing again, only this time I found I could only write the letter “R” over and over. The other twenty-five letters of the alphabet seemed too full of themselves. I began to suspect that I’d misinterpreted some of the books I read as a teenager.

Then, a voice in my ear: “Every deadline was a crisis...No doubt it has something to do with a deep-seated personality defect, or maybe a kink in whatever blood vessel leads into the pineal gland...On the other hand, it might easily be something as simple and basically perverse as whatever instinct it is that causes a jackrabbit to wait until the last possible second to dart across the road in front of a speeding car.”

“Every deadline was a might easily be something as simple and basically perverse as whatever instinct it is that causes a jackrabbit to wait until the last possible second to dart across the road in front of a speeding car.”

Not my voice. Someone else’s. I spun around, but saw nobody. I was alone. “Hello!” I screamed. “Show yourself, scum!”

Nobody. Of course there wasn’t anybody here. This was a hotel for ghosts, after all. An imaginary vessel of the uninspired.

I stared back at my notebook. My next article was due to be published tomorrow and I hadn’t even started writing yet. My editor was giving me shit and I couldn’t click the “DELETE EMAIL” button fast enough.

I tried calling Bukowski, then Vonnegut, then Leonard. Nobody picked up. They weren’t really at the hotel. They were dead. Gone. They were dead and I was insane. The drugs weren’t increasing the insanity, just making it clearer. Oh sweet Jesus.

I started shedding my clothes. I was too hot to wear a tie. A tie was nothing more than a dead snake awaiting its reanimation so it could wrap around my neck and strangle me. No thank you, ladies and gentlemen. No thank you.

After I was completely naked and finally cooled down, a woman walked into the lobby looking to rent a room for the night. I screamed and told her these rooms were reserved for the locusts, and she ran back outside, crying. Good riddance.

The voice again: “You’ve lost it, man. You’ve completely fucking lost it.”

“Shut up,” I told the voice.  “I know what I’m doing. I’m here to write. I’m writing the Great American Novel. I’m changing the world here.”

“I thought you were writing an article.”

“Fuck, man,” I said. “It’s all the same thing.”

“Where are your buddies now?” the voice asked.

“They’ll be here soon. They’ll have advice. Good, solid writing advice.”

“You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal—to point with a trembling finger in the right direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.”

“We are all fools, Doctor,” I said.

“Foolish and doomed!”

Something we could agree on. We’d celebrate with roman candles and gasoline. I lit the match and laughed at the flames igniting all around me. All inside me. Where were we? We were everywhere. We were writing. Yes, sir, we were writing the Great American Novel. We were writing the last article in the universe.

“What about Vonnegut?” I wondered. “What about Bukowski?”

The voice sniggered. “Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all. We must be our own writers. We bleed our own blood and write our own words. Everything else is just artificial sweetener.”

“The hotel is burning,” I said. “People are screaming and panicking. How can I be expected to write under such times?”

“Brother,” the voice said, “these are the best times to write. Rejoice. We must ride this strange torpedo out until the end.”

“These are really strong drugs, aren’t they?” I asked.


I found another pen, another notebook, and I restarted my article. The hotel was empty now. It was destroyed. It was the calmest it’d ever been.

I wrote my article, and when I thought I was done, I wrote some more. After the article was finally finished, I tore it up and started a new article. I did this until the end of time, and then I kept going.

And the voice continued:

“As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I'm not sure that I'm going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says 'you are nothing', I will be a writer.”

If you didn't completely hate the above article, consider buying Max Booth III's new novel, THE MIND IS A RAZORBLADE. And, as always, beware of brainspiders.


About the author

Max Booth III is the CEO of Ghoulish Books, the host of the GHOULISH and Dog Ears podcasts, the co-founder of the Ghoulish Book Festival, and the author of several spooky books, including Abnormal Statistics, Maggots Screaming!, Touch the Night, and others. He wrote both the novella and film versions of We Need to Do Something, which was released by IFC Midnight in 2021 and can currently be streamed on Hulu. He was raised in Northwest Indiana and now lives in San Antonio.

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