Tag Archives: Writer

RACHEL AMPHLETT—A CRIME THRILLER/INDIE AUTHOR GOLDEN GEM

Every so often, golden writing skills shine through to the surface. Raw storytelling rocks become polished gems. They combine memorable words into unforgettable stories of espionage tales and detective adventures that captivate our imagination. Page by page, we follow twists as they totally tanglethen shock us with stunning solutions. And today, no crime thriller writer shines brighter at this than internationally acclaimed author, Rachel Amphlett.

Rachel Amphlett isn’t one to watch for. She’s already here. Rachel is the creative mind behind her Dan Taylor espionage and Kay Hunter detective series. Both are wildly successful as indie publications. Rachel Amphlett is also an amazing example of entrepreneurship. She’s both writer and promoter—a true hybrid business person who knows what truly works in today’s hyper-competitive indie writing and publishing worlds.

Rachel also has a great sense of humor. Otherwise, we’d never be friends and she wouldn’t be silly enough exposing her busy self in a DyingWords chat.

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Hi Rachel! Why do you write crime thrillers… what do you see in the genre?

That’s an easy one—it’s what I grew up reading! I started reading before I began school, so I was devouring the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton by the time I was five or six years old.  By the time I was about 12, I’d outgrown what was available for that age group, and so my parents and my grandparents let me loose with their bookshelves. Before long, I was discovering books by Jack Higgins, Dick Francis, Ed McBain, PD James, Elizabeth George and the like. I haven’t stopped reading crime thrillers since!

Why do crime thrillers affect so many people? Is it like why ordinary people can’t resist gawking at gory accident scenes? I just read something that people only pay attention to 3 things—food, attractive people, and danger.

Personally, I think crime fiction is a good way of exploring social issues, and for me as a reader, I like to see the bad guy caught in the end – of course, that doesn’t always happen in real life!

I always liked catching bad guys, too. Back then it was job security and some got away… Setting that asidewhat are the basic crime thriller craft elements?

I studied screenwriting a couple of years ago, and that’s definitely helped me hone my craft. Essentially, I divide up any story into a five Act structure rather than three – that helps me keep the pace moving rather than worrying about that huge middle part otherwise.

I read an interview with author Peter James a year or so ago, and he recommends having what he calls a “gosh, wow!” moment at the end of each of those points in the story – something happens that keeps the reader turning the pages. It might not necessarily be another murder, but the detective might discover something that turns the story on its head and hooks the reader.

Research is important, but story must come first – if I don’t know something, I’ll put a marker on the page (simply, “XXX” or “[find out more about decapitated heads and post mortems]”), and get on with hitting my word count. Then, I’ll find out as much as possible about the subject, and return to fill in that detail.  Not too much, though. You don’t want your readers getting bored. I reckon about 90% of what I know doesn’t go into a book, but it does inform my writing better.

So why are some crime thriller writers are so successful?

They don’t give up 😉

Ah-haa… *suddenly gets it, nods & winks* Okay. What are your writing skills? I mean your writing process and quirks. Also your writing tools. Like, why are you so…freaking… good?

My skills are improving all the time – I’m constantly reading interviews with my writing heroes to learn more about the craft and how they sustain their writing careers. It’s like going back to school. My own writing process in a nutshell is that I’ll have an idea going round and round in my head for a few days, then I’ll start to flesh out the initial scenes. I guess I’m lucky, in that when I get an idea it appears to me as if I’m remembering a scene from a movie, so all I have to do is write it down.

I’ll spend a few days developing a basic framework around that five Act structure, and this includes a few bullet points for about 30% of the book before I dive in and start writing. That basic outline keeps me on track against any deadline, while allowing organic growth from my characters and a few surprises along the way.

I’m an advocate of Scrivener for writing rather than MS Word – for the first draft, at least because it’s so easy to organise scenes. If I can’t get into one particular scene of a morning, then I can simply start working on another one to get my word count target smashed. I’ll export the first draft into MS Word though, and work in that until the manuscript is finalized, and sent off to my editor.

Why’d you choose to go indie? How does your indie process go and how does your writing/editing/publishing team operate?

I got rejected by a number of agents and publishers who, although they provided some fantastic feedback about the original m/s for WHITE GOLD told me that “there wasn’t a market” for that sort of book. Reading between the lines, what they meant was that vampires were big that year, and they weren’t interested in anything that wasn’t in that particular genre!  However, the great feedback about the story gave me the confidence to try another route, and when an Australian mystery author emailed me suggesting I try indie publishing, I jumped at the chance.

It was a very steep learning curve though, and that’s why I like to do these sorts of seminars, because there’s so much bad advice out there, and I want to help people avoid the sort of mistakes I made when I started out.

Currently, my indie publishing process operates as a proper business— once the writing is done, I become the project manager. I hand over the editing, cover design, and blog tour organising to others while I take on the marketing effort required to successfully launch a book. That’s why I detest the term “self-publishing”. None of us does this on our own.

My PR person contacts book reviewers/bloggers to sort out a blog tour a week either side of the book’s publication date and she also arranges for them to do a cover reveal about 6 weeks out from publication to drum up interest. She also organises a Facebook online party on publication day and between us we write to other authors seeking prizes to give away to readers during the hour the party runs.

I manage all the advertising, including paid ads and social media for my business, as well as doing the book-keeping (although I use a chartered accountant to manage all the tax stuff).

On top of that, I work with distributors and aggregators to ensure my books are reaching as many people as possible worldwide, and also work with them to promote my novels through their platforms, such as Kobo and iBooks.

Wow! No wonder you’re killing it! Your marketing plan—what works in indie book marketing & what’s a waste of time?

I recommend that people find a template business and marketing plan online and tailor it to their book business needs – there are plenty available if you Google them, and it’s what I did when I took the decision to make this work for me two years ago. I also recommend that writers don’t simply make that plan for the next 12 months and then forget about it – you need to be constantly reviewing and updating what you’re doing to make this work.

My own business and marketing plan runs for each calendar quarter, as well as providing me with an overview of where I want my business to be in 1, 3, 5, and 10 years.

As for what works in marketing and what doesn’t, that’s an ever-changing beast. I’d recommend signing up for free updates from online publishing news sites such as Publishing Perspectives, and listen to podcasts such as Author Biz and The Creative Penn to find out the latest trends.

At the moment, it’s all about advertising through Amazon Ads, Facebook Ads, and BookBub Ads, but that could all change in six months. The important thing as an indie author is to be agile and open to change.

Hmmm… Your views on social media platforms…

A must for writers – it’s the only way to get visibility for your work. My own strategy is to have a website and Facebook page (not a personal profile) as my mainstays and then use Twitter and Instagram as “outposts”. However, a writer of YA fiction might find that something like Snapchat and Instagram works better for them. You have to be prepared to spend time experimenting.

Best publishing outlets? AZ, Kobo, iTunes, etc?

This comes down to the individual author. Some writers prefer to lock into KDP Select (Kindle Unlimited), whereas others like me prefer to “go wide”. Something like 30% of my sales come through Kobo Canada; another 20% through iBooks Australia, so there’s no way I’m going to lock something like my Kay Hunter series into KDP Select!

If you’re just starting out though, go for KDP Select to find your feet, and then expand using an aggregator like Draft2Digital to reach a wider audience. Again, test, test, test!

Is there a place for print/audio/foreign?

Absolutely! I have audiobooks for both my series, and print for every book I’ve published. Foreign rights are another pillar to your business, and I have sold rights to publishers in Italy and Germany so far for my Dan Taylor series – all without an agent!

Rachel, what you see in book sales/genre/marketing trends?

This goes back to what I was saying with regard to marketing plans—it changes all the time, but I would say take what you see in the press regarding eBook sales declining with a pinch of salt. A lot of indies who are making six figure salaries don’t use ISBN codes, so their sales aren’t factored into a lot of the reports, which skews the data of course.

Romance is always going to be a popular genre to write in, but crime thrillers have an attentive audience, too – it’s about finding a niche you like writing in (and that you read in) and checking out what those successful indie authors are doing that you can emulate.

Getting personal… What’s your dream where you want to be in 5/10/20 years? Yes, this means sticking your neck out.

I’m a traveller at heart, so I want to be in a position where my writing enables me to work anywhere in the world. That’s the five year plan. I expect to have at least 20 books out by then, and to keep learning the craft so I don’t become stagnant in my writing.

Advice for new and old writers?

Don’t be afraid to experiment, but DO analyse the results – whether that be a Facebook ad you’re testing, or a new genre you’re writing in. Don’t spend more than you can afford to, either. And, be easy on yourself. We’re all guilty of comparison-itis, but you must enjoy this to make a career out of it.

And some advice from now to give the future Rachel Amphlett?

Remember to come up for air every now and again!

What stops writers from being superstars like you’re becoming?

They refuse to learn and/or give up.

If you could start over, what would you do differently?

Well, when I started I only wrote for myself so becoming a full-time writer hadn’t even crossed my mind at that point – I just needed to get the stories out of my head. It was only when I was approached in 2014 for the Italian foreign rights to WHITE GOLD that I realised I might be onto something and immediately took a long hard look at what I needed to do to make this work for me. I don’t think I’d do anything differently – you’ve got to remember that back in 2012, indie publishing as it is now was very much in its infancy.

Who are the best crime thriller/indie authors today? Besides you and me. What were their journeys? What did they do right and wrong

Ooh, I wouldn’t like to comment on what they did right/wrong – we all make mistakes, after all. Some of the people I look up to though are writers such as Mel Sherratt, Caroline Mitchell, and Louise Ross—all very smart cookies when it comes to their writing businesses.

Your takeaway for DyingWords followers?

Find out by attending our FREE thriller writing and indie publishing seminar at Literary Central Vancouver Island. It’s at 2 pm Saturday, October 21, 2017 in beautiful, historic, downtown Nanaimo, British Columbia across from the Van Isle Conference Centre. Seating is limited so make sure you pre-register at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca.

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Rachel Amphlett is the bestselling author of the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the new Detective Kay Hunter series, as well as a number of standalone crime thrillers.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel’s novels appeal to a worldwide audience, and have been compared to Robert Ludlum, Lee Child and Michael Crichton.

She is a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold, being sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint in 2014, and the Dan Taylor series sold to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag in 2017.

Get access to exclusive competitions and giveaways by signing up to the author’s Readers Group at rachelamphlett.com or keep in touch through:

Facebook (on.fb.me/TN7rpu)

Twitter (@RachelAmphlett)

Instagram (@rachelamphlett).

And Buy Rachel Amphlett’s Books at:

Amazon.com

Amazon.uk

Kobo

WHY WE LOVE GETTING SHIT-SCARED

A3We’re fascinated by monsters. Violent horror movies. Psychological crime thrillers. Blood, guts, and terror are blockbusters. They’ve been bestsellers for generations. Something’s buried deep in our collective subconscious that craves fright—something hard-wired in our brains that physiologically reacts in a fight-or-flight response when facing horrific, brutal, and shocking creatures and events.

A1We know lots of fictional monsters. Freddy Krueger. Norman Bates. Hannibal Lector. They’re household names. We love watching them perform—from a safe distance. But most know nothing of real-life monsters like Michael Oros, Billy Ray Shaughnessy, Esa Raasanen, and David Shearing. I guarantee these creeps will scare the living shit out of you because I know who they are…what they’ve done…what they can do…

I’ve investigated them. I’ve written about them. And I’ll tell you about these true-life monsters in a bit.

So, why do we love fright? Because fright gives us pleasure.

A4My internet friend, Lisa Cron, wrote Wired For Story. This was a game changer for me. As a crime thriller author, I wanted to know what makes psychological crime thriller readers tick—why so many are fascinated with death—so I could write better stories.

Particularly murder stories.

Lisa explained shock is the triggering mechanism for releasing our brain’s chemicals that active a fight-or-flight response. Our brains are lightning fast at assessing threats. Shock stimulus shoots adrenaline, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine re-uptakes through our neurotransmitters. This mentally and physically prepares our neuromuscular systems for a drastic response. It shoves us to the edge of the mental cliff.

Ready to run. Or fit to fight. But not to fall.

These natural chemicals are also responsible for giving us pleasure. This shock rush is like crack to the brain and it craves a repeat—provided we know we’re in a safe environment—subconsciously reassured when we’re at home, quietly watching TV or reading a book.

Lisa says more about why our brains crave fright. Ultimately, our brain has one overall responsibility for the rest of our body.

To ensure our survival.

A5Our brains evaluate everything we encounter with a simple question. Is this going to help me or hurt me? Not just physically.

Emotionally, as well.

From the start of a story—from the very first scene—our brains crave a sense of urgency that instantly makes us want to know what happens next. It’s a visceral feeling…seducing us into leaving the real world behind and surrendering into world of story. Our brain’s goal is to predict what might happen so we can figure out what to do before it happens.

This is where shock value comes in. And where the monsters come on.

A7Storytelling’s master of monsters and sheik of shock is Stephen King. He’s scared the shit out of millions and his audience is massive. They love it and keep coming back for more. It’s because Stephen King gives readers pleasure.

I’ve repeatedly sent emails to Stephen King asking permission to republish an outstanding article he wrote years ago. It’s called Why We Crave Horror Movies.

I don’t know if the master’s too busy or if I’m a small pupil, but Stephen King ignores me. Nerve of him, after all the money I spent on his stuff.

So I said “Fuck Stephen King.” I’m tired of waiting.

A8Stephen King’s piece on why we love getting shit-scared is just too good not to share. Therefore, I evoke the “doctrine of fair use and open source domain in accordance to the statutory and common-law allowances of the country of publication”. Besides, you can download and read the pdf here.

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Why We Crave Horror Movies–By Stephen King

I think that we’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better—and maybe not all that much better, after all. We’ve all known people who talk to themselves, people who sometimes squinch their faces into horrible grimaces when they believe no one is watching, people who have some hysterical fear—of snakes, the dark, the tight place, the long drop . . . and, of course, those final worms and grubs that are waiting so patiently underground.
When we pay our four or five bucks and seat ourselves at tenth-row center in a theater showing a horror movie, we are daring the nightmare.
Why? Some of the reasons are simple and obvious. To show that we can, that we are not afraid, that we can ride this roller coaster. Which is not to say that a really good horror movie may not surprise a scream out of us at some point, the way we may scream when the roller coaster twists through a complete 360 or plows through a lake at the bottom of the drop. And horror movies, like roller coasters, have always been the special province of the young; by the time one turns 40 or 50, one’s appetite for double twists or 360-degree loops may be considerably depleted.

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We also go to re-establish our feelings of essential normality; the horror movie is innately conservative, even reactionary. Freda Jackson as the horrible melting woman in Die, Monster, Die! confirms for us that no matter how far we may be removed from the beauty of a Robert Redford or a Diana Ross, we are still light-years from true ugliness.
And we go to have fun.
Ah, but this is where the ground starts to slope away, isn’t it? Because this is a very peculiar sort of fun, indeed. The fun comes from seeing others menaced – sometimes killed. One critic has suggested that if pro football has become the voyeur’s version of combat, then the horror film has become the modern version of the public lynching.
It is true that the mythic “fairy-tale” horror film intends to take away the shades of gray . . . . It urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure blacks and whites. It may be that horror movies provide psychic relief on this level because this invitation to lapse into simplicity, irrationality, and even outright madness is extended so rarely. We are told we may allow our emotions a free rein . . . or no rein at all.

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If we are all insane, then sanity becomes a matter of degree.
If your insanity leads you to carve up women like Jack the Ripper or the Cleveland Torso Murderer, we clap you away in the funny farm (but neither of those two amateur-night surgeons was ever caught, heh-heh-heh); if, on the other hand, your insanity leads you only to talk to yourself when you’re under stress or to pick your nose on your morning bus, then you are left alone to go about your business . . . though it is doubtful that you will ever be invited to the best parties.
The potential lyncher is in almost all of us (excluding saints, past and present; but then, most saints have been crazy in their own ways), and every now and then, he has to be let loose to scream and roll around in the grass. Our emotions and our fears form their own body, and we recognize that it demands its own exercise to maintain proper muscle tone. Certain of these emotional muscles are accepted – even exalted – in civilized society; they are, of course, the emotions that tend to maintain the status quo of civilization itself. Love, friendship, loyalty, kindness — these are all the emotions that we applaud, emotions that have been immortalized in the couplets of Hallmark cards and in the verses (I don’t dare call it poetry) of Leonard Nimoy.
When we exhibit these emotions, society showers us with positive reinforcement; we learn this even before we get out of diapers. When, as children, we hug our rotten little puke of a sister and give her a kiss, all the aunts and uncles smile and twit and cry, “Isn’t he the sweetest little thing?” Such coveted treats as chocolate-covered graham crackers often follow. But if we deliberately slam the rotten little puke of a sister’s fingers in the door, sanctions follow – angry remonstrance from parents, aunts and uncles; instead of a chocolate-covered graham cracker, a spanking.

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But anticivilization emotions don’t go away, and they demand periodic exercise. We have such “sick” jokes as, “What’s the difference between a truckload of bowling balls and a truckload of dead babies?” (You can’t unload a truckload of bowling balls with a pitchfork . . . a joke, by the way, that I heard originally from a ten-year-old.) Such a joke may surprise a laugh or a grin out of us even as we recoil, a possibility that confirms the thesis: If we share a brotherhood of man, then we also share an insanity of man. None of which is intended as a defense of either the sick joke or insanity but merely as an explanation of why the best horror films, like the best fairy tales, manage to be reactionary, anarchistic, and revolutionary all at the same time.
A12The mythic horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized . . . and it all happens, fittingly enough, in the dark. For those reasons, good liberals often shy away from horror films. For myself, I like to see the most aggressive of them – Dawn of the Dead, for instance – as lifting a trap door in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath.
Why bother?
Because it keeps them from getting out, man. It keeps them down there and me up here. It was Lennon and McCartney who said that all you need is love, and I would agree with that.
As long as you keep the gators fed.

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There. That’s the best explanation of why we love getting shit-scared.

A14So where am I going with this monster, fear, and pleasure thing? Well, I’m doing shameless, self-promotion for the stories I write.

I write about human monsters because I’ve met a bunch and I try explaining how I think these extremely dangerous, fascinating, social-rejects operate. I also try portraying how police investigators behave—how real cops use creative and technological aids in modern-day monster-catching.

I believe an author’s storytelling job is to entertain, educate, and enlighten—and I believe there’s an intense reader interest in psychological crime thrillers. Here’s a snapshot of what I’m up to.

KushtakaNo Witnesses To Nothing is based on the true story of Michael Oros—a deranged bushman, terrorizing the frozen Canadian north and murdering people. Legend said Oros was the monstrous manifestation of a mythical shapeshifter who hunts people, kills them, and steals their souls. It’s also an intertwined, true story of two police informants who were murdered in apparent police-ordered hits. Deep down, No Witnesses To Nothing is not really a crime thriller. It’s a serious search for the science and spirituality behind our human existence. The soul.

Get No Witnesses To Nothing here.

NoLifeUntilDeath8No Life Until Death is the black-market world of international human organ trafficking. It parlays characters from No Witnesses To Nothing and continues the series of Sharlene Bate Crime Thrillers. No Life Until Death follows paths of two families whose daughters are targeted by a monstrous pair of abductors harvesting human organs in North America and shipping parts to the Philippines. No Life Until Death‘s tagline is Desperate People Do Desperate Things.

Get No Life Until Death here.

InTheAttic2In The Attic is the true story I investigated where Billy Ray Shaughnessy, a monstrous psychopath, hid in Maria Dersch’s attic with an ax. He climbed down at 3 a.m., slaughtering Maria and her new lover. It’s told in first-person with me, as the detective, narrating the story before and after the murders, as well as in Billy Ray’s homicidal thoughts while he lurked eight feet above. In The Attic‘s dialogue comes from actual transcripts and notes of my interviews with Maria and Billy Ray.

Get In The Attic here.

UnderTheGround8Under The Ground is from another factual case—the story of Esa Raasanaen and Kristen Madsen. It’s a monstrous tale of murder where Kristen disappeared and Esa was suspected of killing Kristen, disposing of her body. Under The Ground follows a highly-complex, psychological undercover sting where Esa was sucked into a fictional organized crime group. He confessed to the undercover operator and turned over Kristen’s body. What Esa did to Kristen…where he’d hidden her…was horrific—shocking to the most seasoned homicide investigators.

A15From The Shadows is my newest crime-thriller. The manuscript is underway. It’s based on the shocking true story of the worst monster imaginable. David Shearing murdered six members of the Johnson-Bentley family—three generations—to fulfill his psychopathic and pedophilic desire in capturing two pre-teen girls as sex slaves. From The Shadows follows the discovery of an unspeakable crime, the frustrating two-year investigation, and the final psychological break-down of Shearing during an outstanding police interrogation.

No Witnesses To Nothing, No Life Until Death, and In The Attic are currently available on Amazon.

Under The Ground is readying for publication. From The Shadows is close behind. I’m looking for ARC (Advance Reading Copy) readers for these two stories, so if you’d like an eBook file of either/both, email me at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca and I’ll ship you the monster stories.

…provided you love getting shit-scared.

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P.S. — Please comment, share on social media, and – if you’ve read the books – I’d really appreciate if you’d take a moment to leave a short review on Amazon. And thanks for your support in my writing and for following DyingWords!
~ Garry

TIMELESS ADVICE FROM HUNTER S. THOMPSON

AA1AIn 1958, a then 22-year-old Hunter S. Thompson wrote a letter to a friend who’d asked him for advice. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a big deal – 57 years ago letters were how people communicated. What stands out is that Thompson wrote this letter way before anyone knew who he was. In my opinion, this letter is a pure statement of faith, written by someone who’d become one of the most influential writers of our time, solely for the purpose of helping his friend. I know the letter wasn’t written to me, but I read it like it was and I’d like to share it with you. 

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume, 

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do!

AA2For 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.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)

AA13And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal?

That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man.

AA8We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on.

Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

AA3The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

AA17I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise.

So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. 

WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES. 

AA7But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

AA5As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

AA10In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

AA9So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

AA11If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it.

AA1There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company. 

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

your friend,

Hunter S. Thompson