Jhamak Kumari Ghimire: Hope for Nepal

Jhamak Kumari Ghimire is a Nepalese writer whose novel Jeevan Kada ki Phool ("Life is a Flower or a Thorn") recently won Nepal's highest literary prize.

Shortly after she was born in 1980, her parents secretly hoped she would die -- a wish that wasn't shameful but merciful and humane -- because they understandably perceived then that their baby daughter was little more than a "vegetable" without probable hope of future independence or any future, for that matter, free of excruciating suffering. Despite her cerebral palsy, Jhamak Kumari Ghimire learned to write when she was young with the only muscles under her complete control -- the three toes of her left foot.

Thinking of Nepal this morning, and searching for inspiration.


Kirby Wilkins' autograph (Vanishing)

Every teacher who's ever taught or is currently teaching creative writing and every aspiring student who's ever written creatively or who is likewise creatively writing in the specific here and the specific now under the tender tutelage of a certified writing instructor, and all this whether said instructor was or is in high school, college, or an MFA writing workshop, should drop what they're doing right now and read "The Assignment" by Kirby Wilkins.  That's my impromptu assignment to anyone who reads this now or at any moment in the future: read "The Assignment"!

Why?  Because it crushes clichés, for one thing, and twists with acerbic wit, for another, the tired-and-untrue notions of what creative writing is--and isn't--and how best not to go about inspiring it in uninspiring stock writing assignments such as:

"... using illustrations and examples as well as vivid description to communicate your feeling for the person, describe a person who has had a great influence on your life..."

Oh, God, yada yada yada, Teacher, here we go again with another lame assignment, and yet that's exactly how Kirby Wilkins began his short story "The Assignment"--with an uncreative assignment designed to somehow mysteriously elicit that all too elusive quality in literature that is, in fact, vanishing right before our collective very eyes--creativity. Doesn't take Wilkins long to mock what is so asinine about such writing assignments as italicized above: their stay-within-the-lines instructions are inherently restrictive, and do more to limit any would-be creative writer's creative conceptualizing than to unloose their imagination and truest potential, their natural, perhaps as of yet untapped, artistry, that no assignment, no matter how many times a teacher badgers her students over the head with, can successfully tap.

I recommend reading An Interview with Kirby Wilkins by William H. Coles to learn more about this unknown writer a lot more readers should read. That's my second (and it's as mandatory and supplementary as it is imaginary) reading assignment for you.

more autographs


Vance Bourjaily's autograph (The End of My Life)

 Originally published in 1947, The End of My Life was Vance Bourjaily's (1922-2010) first novel. His inscription ("for Kay / on a beautiful / October Day.") and autograph below are from 1984, the year Arbor House reissued his largely forgotten debut, a melancholic but moving novel about a sensitive soldier, Skinner Galt, who ultimately discovered, as so many soldiers did, that even though his side won the second world war, "You can only mourn."

more autographs

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins

You don't have to be some
 unusually well endowed Sissy Hankshaw
  to give 
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
  a big thumbs up!


John Gregory Dunne's autograph (Monster: Living Off the Big Screen)

I first read John Gregory Dunne's shrewd and amusing perspectives on the "Biz" in 1969s The Studio, his second book, but his first excellent exegesis of the film industry and its executors written before he became a player in the business, recounting the remarkable year he spent in 1967 as an astute, everyday observer of Twentieth Century Fox:  On their lot, their sets, in their dressing rooms, board rooms, random offices, during take-fives, lunchtimes, late night overtimes, watching Hollywood hard at work (and, occasionally, harder at play) behind the scenes, interviewing anybody and everybody who'd talk to him, from the headiest of producer honchos to the lowliest gofers on the ladder (and every union scale grip or assistant director's assistant in between), writing it all down all the while, compiling notebook stacks of it, chronicling the comings and goings of those employed by the studio, having been granted an unprecedented all-access pass to it by its usually private and overprotective gatekeepers -- an amazing feat in and of itself for which Dunne probably should have been awarded a special Oscar in 1968!

Funny and fascinating as The Studio was, I thought Monster: Living Off the Big Screen, published nearly three decades later in 1997, funnier and more fascinating, as Dunne was now a Hollywood insider himself, routinely butting heads with some of the more famous bad boys in the business. Monster also captured better how absurd the often all-consuming Business could be; how crude and condescending, as well, were some of its control freakish executive producers.  The "Bully Boys" section, for instance, which, among other things, dissected Dunne's (and his wife's, his screenwriting collaborator, Joan Didion's) surprisingly non-explosive first meeting with the notorious and "difficult to work with" moguls, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, also featured an awful cameo performance by Otto Preminger.  Otto, who might as well have sneered as breathe at the finest living essayist in the world, addressing her as "Misss-isss Dunne" -- as if being old school polite was any excuse for being a sexist dumb ass -- was later showcased in fine form admonishing Joan and John for basically having a life outside Hollywood; for having the gaul, that is, to insist on temporarily leaving their work on an unfinished script in New York in order to travel cross country and tie up some loose ends on a house they were purchasing in Malibu.

That even the most arguably narcissistic producer Hollywood has produced could still be that arrogant in talking down to one of the most revered writing partnerships of the twentieth century, both inside and outside the Biz (though, granted, inside the Biz, screenwriters' slots in the cinematic food chain ranks only slightly above pond scum's), as if they were irresponsible adolescents abandoning their commitments on a whim just to get their feet wet frolicking in the Pacific Ocean, is as flabbergasting as it is unconscionable to read about.  The nerve of these kids!

"I forbid you to go," Otto demanded, when "Didion and Dunne" (as they were known among friends) dared defy him. "If you worked for a studio, Misss-isss Dunne" (never mind her name was Didion, Stupid!), "This behavior would not be tolerated".  Otto Preminger, having his pride apparently wounded by a woman, of all things -- and a petite, fragile appearing woman at that -- sued them for two million dollars.

Whereas The Studio went for the big picture (if you'll pardon my pun); went for the widescreen vantage of an historic Hollywood corporation and its mostly benign artistic foibles day-in and day-out on the set; Monster: Living Off the Big Screen zoomed in, went "up close and personal," you could say, on Dunne's and Didion's unsatisfying and redundant eight years of coerced script revisions on a screenplay that as originally envisioned should've been great; a movie made from it that should've become a gritty biographical docudrama masterpiece about the sordid life and tragic death of TV news anchor, Jessica Savitch; and a movie, moreover, that somehow, after a protracted and vindictive labor strike in Hollywood and a multitude of firings, rehiring, and bastardized script rewrites to the absurd nth degree, metamorphosed into a didactic, artless, allegedly "feel good" flick with its contrived happy ending -- defects which were not Dunne's or Didion's original ideas or doing at all -- this piece of forgettable celluloid dreck starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. . .

John Gregory Dunne & Joan Didion
At least Dunne's superb memoir Monster: Living Off the Big Screen eventually rose like a phoenix out of the charred remains of that movie's pathetic, burnt out husk the result of studio hubris and corporate banality.

For a much deeper and more personal look at the life and times of John Gregory Dunne, I recommend reading A Death in the Family -- the poignant elegy written by his brother, Dominick, shortly after John's death in 2003.

more autographs


Patricia Grace's autograph (Dogside Story)

Patricia Grace's Dogside Story was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2001, which I mention for those, who, like me, may be visually challenged and cannot read the small print on the front cover pictured above.  I found this autographed copy in a thrift store in Southern California more than 5,000 miles removed from where it was originally sold at The Women's Bookshop at 105 Ponsonby Road, Auckland, New Zealand (see sticker in the middle image above).  I'm not sure why, but I have this strange image in my head of Patricia Grace's novel dog paddling for days on end all the way across the Pacific Ocean.

more autographs


A.M. Homes' autograph (Things You Should Know: A Collection of Stories)

I remember reading Salon's 1996 interview with David Foster Wallace about five years after it'd been published — this was just after DFW had been hired by the Claremont Colleges and the L.A. Times had run an interesting piece on his work and arrival to the university, and my interest in this writer that I'd heretofore never heard of, was immediately piqued; and piqued enough, I might add, that I immediately and rather obsessively went online to learn more about him — in which Laura Miller asked DFW who were the contemporary literary writers he read and admired.

A.M. Homes was at the top of his list (and this despite labeling her first novel Jack as being "imperfect" — as if his first novel had been perfect! — zeroing in on a short story of hers called "A Real Doll" that had particularly captivated him with what sounded like a bizarre mix of satire and social commentary on the sorry state of our culture's disconnectedness.

After reading the L.A. Times story, not only did I then go to Borders the next day to buy Infinite Jest, I also went to get A.M. Homes' first book of short stories, the phenomenal The Safety of Objects, so I could read "A Real Doll".  And I've been hooked by A.M. Homes' perfect, yet twisted, uh, barbs, ever since . . .

more on The Safety of Objects
more on The Mistress' Daughter: A Memoir

more autographs


Jim Ladd's autograph (Radio Waves: Life and Revolution on the FM Dial)

Jim Ladd, the "lonesome cowboy" of late night radio in Los Angeles for four decades; the self-described aficionado of "long legged ponies," wrote poignantly in Radio Waves: Life and Revolution on the FM Dial, of the rise and fall of L.A. FM radio, of a radio paradise lost, from FMs inception in the late 1960s to its abrupt demise in 1987, when KMET went off the air forever without a word; without even the courtesy of allowing its DJs to say goodbye to its loyal audience; of two luminous and all too brief decades when radio playlists were still determined by real human beings -- by DJs who knew their sonic shit -- rather than the ratings-obsessed program managers and conglomerate suits more interested in record company kickbacks than promoting new and innovative rock-and-roll.

"To Vickie  Lord Have Mercy!  Jim Ladd  8/3/91"
Ladd, long a proponent of what he coined "freeform radio" -- radio that allowed DJs like Ladd and a handful of others to be creative, thematic and novelistic in the setlist stories they let their song choices narrate -- recalled the rise and fall of the legendary KMET and all its subversive shenanigans (as well as its intelligence, social relevance, and sensitivity, too, such as that sad pathetic day John Lennon was shot dead minutes prior to Jim Ladd going on air), and how KMETs demise marked the beginning of the end for freedom and integrity in FM radio throughout every U.S. market.

Well respected by his peers and the musicians he celebrated, Ladd recounted his many interviews or, "innerviews" as he called them, with the likes of John Lennon (Lennon was Ladd's first "innerview," in fact, in 1974), the Eagles, Roger Waters, and Tom Petty, among many other rock icons. The funniest story Ladd recounted for me was his early remembrance when he was just getting started in radio at KNAC in Long Beach, circa 1969, and how he stepped outside of the studio to smoke a joint and inadvertently locked himself out.  Luckily, he'd just set a song from Live Dead on the turnstile that took up an entire album side on the turnstile, twenty-four minutes of Grateful Dead improvosations, and despite being "stoned immaculate" as his idol, Jim Morrison, once sang, was still resourceful enough to find a janitor to let him back inside the studio just seconds before the song ended.  Can't you just imagine Ladd in that desperate moment of his then nascent career, praying, "Lord have mercy!"

Radio Waves is must reading for anyone remotely interested in FM radio's inception; its wild, short-lived frontier history when the Eastern mystical strumming of Ravi Shankar routinely occupied a slot in the same eccentric setlist next to the likes of the Amboy Dukes, Wishbone Ash, Cactus, or The Clash. Don Henley wrote the warm introduction, as much a fan of Jim Ladd as Ladd's long been of him.

While FM radio is now mostly dead, "freeform radio" as Jim Ladd envisioned and pioneered, is alive and thriving, having been resurrected on satellite radio.  Jim Ladd, praise the Lord!, can still be heard weekdays at Deep Tracks high in the Hollywood Hills on Sirius XMs channel 27.

more autographs