Lenny started out as a playwright, working in Chicago.
His articles have appeared in Chicago Magazine, Playboy, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.
And now he's written an absolutely delightful crime novel he calls Shooters & Chasers.
If you haven't read it - get it.
Lenny's subject for today is:
The use of coincidence in fiction is a big no-no. Just plain tacky.
To which I respectfully say: Bullshit.
First, like any technique, it can come off brilliant or brain-dead, depending on the skill with which its deployed. Second, coincidences happen all the time. At least in my life.
As in this 100% true chain of coincidence stretching over forty years:
In the mid-1960s my wife, Ina, attended New Trier High School in the Chicago suburbs. She dated a guy named Mark Estrin.
In 1969 Ina made the mistake of marrying me.
In 1986 I sold a screenplay and made the mistake of believing people who told me I had to be in Los Angeles.
In L.A. I hung out a bit with a wealthy guy named Dan. He's a Dodgers fan, I'm a Cubs fan. We went to games when Los Cubbies were in town.
In 1987 Dan called and said he'd been at a charity auction and bought lunch for four with Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. Did I want to go?
When I got to the restaurant, one of Dan's other guests sat down next to me and introduced himself.
Pause. "Did you go to New Trier High School?"
Another pause. "How did you know?"
"I married Ina Jaffe."
Mark had come to L.A. to write TV movies. His career hit the wall and he became a wine salesman. Dan was his best customer.
In 2003 my career hit the wall and I started writing my first novel, Shooters And Chasers, which has a subplot about winemaking.
By this time Mark and a different wealthy customer of his had started making wine, at a co-op wine facility in Santa Barbara County Their mini-boutique label, Red Car, was an instant success.
Mark became one of the wine advisors on my novel.
One day Mark was excited because Red Car had bought what he believed were the best wine barrels in the world: Gamba barrels, French oak crafted by Italian coopers.
The Gamba barrels went into the book.
In 2004 my agent submitted Shooters to all the majors. It didn't sell.
Mark was stricken with brain cancer. He asked to read Shooters. I told him if he wanted to read the book he'd have to survive until I could hand him a published hardcover copy. When it became apparent he wasn't going to keep his end of the deal, I dropped off a manuscript at the hospital.
Mark plowed through it in one night. Best review it'll ever get.
That same year, the movie Sideways came out.
It was set in wineries in Santa Barbara County.
When it became a hit, Ina—a reformed actor who'd become an NPR correspondent—went up there to do a story on how Sideways effected business for the wineries and restaurants featured in it.
Ina hit it off with Karen Steinwachs, a woman who worked at Fiddlehead Winery. Karen was disappointed that Ina wasn't tasting any of the wines (because she was working). Karen invited Ina to stop by and taste Fiddlehead's stuff if she ever got back that way.
A year later we were driving up the coast. Ina called Karen. Karen said she'd be out of town, but she'd leave the keys to Fiddlehead with their next door neighbor.
That turned out to be Steve Clifton, partner in the high-end, low-volume Brewer-Clifton label. Steve had also started Palmina, a line of moderately-priced Italian varietals.
Steve asked us if we wanted to taste some of his wines before we went to Fiddlehead. Twist our arms, why dontcha.
After about an hour spent going through all of the Palminas, and a couple of Brewer-Cliftons, Steve asked if we wanted to go backstage and taste a sample from one of his tanks. Twist our arms again.
While we were in the winery, I leaned on a wine barrel. Looked down at it. The logo on the side said Gamba.
"You have Gamba barrels!" I exclaimed.
Steve nodded. Said he'd bought them from some friends who had a company called Red Car.
I was leaning on Mark's barrels. I was leaning on the barrels that were the props in a scene in my book.
Wait, as the late-night philosophers say, there's more.
The other wine advisor on that book was a guy named Chip Hammack, a good friend from Chicago who'd also slid down the continent into Los Angeles in the 1980s.
Chip and Mark ended up working in the same wine store in L.A., and became close. Chip spoke at Mark's funeral.
Last year, when Shooters finally got published, Chip contracted stomach cancer. Passed away last September.
Moral #1: Coincidences are pure naturalism.
Moral #2: Never be a wine advisor on one of my books. It's one of the most dangerous jobs in showbiz.
Or maybe it's just one of those tacky literary coincidences.
Posted by Leighton, for Lenny - Thursday