Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pictures in My Mind, Words on the Page

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

A PICTURE'S WORTH A GAZILLION WORDS: I use still photos when writing descriptions of people, places, and things. When I needed to describe Mexicali in ILLEGAL, I scattered photos I took of the city across my desk. When I wrote a script set in the 1940's in Japan, I used a photo (below) of a young Japanese woman to help me create a particular character. The life and death of gangster Ben (Bugsy) Siegel play a role in the backstory of my new Jake Lassiter novel. Here are the photos I'm using to inform that character. Does anyone else find this helpful in writing?

AND SPEAKING OF BUGSY: Sunday night, I was having dinner with friends at Il Postaio in Beverly Hills when Annette Bening and Warren Beaty walk in. Notwitstanding the fact that we're neighbors, they didn't stop by to say hello. Okay, so they live on top of the mountain next to Jack Nicholson and I live at the bottom next to a den (or nest or condo or whatever) of coyotes. And we've never actually met. But I've seen all their movies, starting with "Splendor in the Grass."

AND SPEAKING OF PHOTOGRAPHS: Julius Shulman, famed architecture photographer, just died at 98. I first saw his photograph, Koenig's Case Study House Number 22 (below) as a high school student. It's the cantilevered house in the Hollywood Hills, the perfect spot for a modern ("Mad Men" era) cocktail party. The photo made me want to become an architect. Then I discovered I had no spatial abilities and was lousy at math, drawing, and virtually every other talent needed to conceptualize and express designs. Having no other discernible talents, I became a lawyer. Any readers wish they had an ability they lack?

TODAY'S HEALTH FOOD NOTE: I've always thought gyros were basically compressed wads of meat scraps, sort of like sausages without the skin. This New York Times story, about mass producing "lamb and beef trimmings" into frozen popsicles, confirms it. Now, be honest. Doesn't gyro meat look like roadkill? And who, besides Jim Born, eats them on a regular basis?

Paul Levine


  1. Um, Paulie...YOU'RE WRITING ANOTHER JAKE LASSITER NOVEL!!!!!!!! As they say in the Valley, "That's totally mind-blowingly awesome, dude."

  2. Ditto what Patty said. Lovin' the prospect of more Jake Lassiter in my future !! ... Mo

  3. I'm an unabashed fan of the gyro. Meat, yogurt, lettuce, tomato, pita -- all good stuff.

    Great to hear about the new Lassiter novel. Best of luck as always, Paul.

  4. Jake Lassiter eats gyros regularly, two at a time, even I do not.

    As he has said in the past, "I'm a brew and burger guy in a pate and Chardonnay world."

  5. Yeah but is he still windsurfing.

  6. Jake tore his rotator cuff swinging a roundhouse right at the Poacher's Saloon in Key Largo. No windsurfing for a while, and he's thinking about taking up that newfangled kite surfing.

  7. Always wished I could sing...can't carry a note in a bucket. WHEN will we see Jake again?? Can hardly wait...

  8. James O. Born7/21/2009 3:31 PM

    The real question is not who does eat gyros on a regular basis, but rather, who doesn't eat them?

    It is a fact that I have a gyro and Greek salad almost every Saturday at Chris's Taverna in lovely Lantana, Florida.

    I realized the meat was some kind of concoction of lamb and beef and that no animal comes in perfect logs with a hole in the middle of it but I tried to remain ignorant.

    Thanks a lot, Paul.

    Jim B.

  9. Pub date for Jake not set...sometime next year.

    When in Lantana or Lake Worth, Mr. Born, try a Finnish bakery.

  10. Paul, in writing my third book that takes place in the Florida Keys, I went with a friend to what we call the back country on his boat (my sailboat needs deep water) and took photos of the different wildlife, mangrove islands and shallow sand bars. When I write the boat chase scene, I will use the photos to remind me what the area looks like.

  11. My best friend eats gyros and, in spite of this epicurean fetishism, she remains my best friend. I have to go with the Greek salad when she drags me to Athen's Burgers in Dublin, California. I keep my eyes glued to my feta while she chows down. Yooouuuuccchhhkkkk! (That's the Yiddish spelling)

    What I wish I had become? A writer, natch. You guys have all the fun.

  12. Michael, I like it. There's a difference between reading a book and studying those photos and taking them yourself. Looking at your own photos takes you back to that time and place and awakens memories. At the same time, you can use reference books ("Florida's Fabulous Birds," "Florida's Fabulous Trees" to fill in the gaps.