Friday, April 22, 2011


The life of a turtle is ordinary in extraordinary ways. They eat from the land, hibernate in their houses if they don't like the outside temperature or their neighbors, have young and hope vultures don't harm them. They breathe, travel, swim and dig, none of it possible unless they come out of their shells.

I have two confessions.

One, I watched a really bad Miley Cyrus movie a few weeks ago. I can't recall the title and her acting made my one attempt as Becky Sawyer's best friend in a fifth grade play look like Hamlet, but I remember her vigilance at protecting a nest of sea turtles until they hatched and made it to the sea. It was a way for the screenwriter to show us her character's true nature, because she was so over-the-top cringe-worthy most of the film. The odds of sea turtles reaching water is long. Something like ninety percent die or are killed before their journey to the surf is complete. They take a risk to reap the reward of a full life.

Two, I watched ten minutes of the Nate Berkus show today. Dr. Ruth Westheimer talked about sex and redecorating and life. Weighty topics for two segments, right? Nate had redecorated her living space and left a special place for all the turtle trinkets people had given her over the years. I vaguely remembered hearing about her commencement address a few years back, something to do with turtles. She reminded us about those sea turtles, the risks they take, the message for us all. I wanted to know more. I was ready to hear that kind of message today.

Here's an excerpt from her commencement speech to Trinity College University's Class of 2004:

My favorite animal is the turtle. The reason is that in order for the turtle to move, it has to stick its neck out. There are going to be times in your life when you’re going to have to stick your neck out. There will be challenges and instead of hiding in a shell, you have to go out and meet them. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Jewish word chutzpah, but it’s a word you should familiarize yourself with. To live life at its fullest you have to have the chutzpah to accept challenges. You don’t need nerves of steel. I’m not saying that sometimes you won’t be shaking in your boots after accepting some major challenge. But you can’t let that stop you. It really is better to fail than not to try, because if you never try, you’ll never succeed, and as bad as failure feels, success feels so much better.

She is a woman with eighty-four years of wisdom behind her. From humble and oppressed beginnings, she embraced life's challenges, stuck her neck out and found success. We do her a disservice to associate her exclusively with sex jokes.

And the turtles? They may hold the secret to a well-lived life.

Stick your neck out today. Try something new. Move. Dig deep. Live.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reset Button

It is a week of transitions, epiphanies and firsts. All involving time travel. Imagine that.

For the first time in my life, as in ever, I went to a movie alone. Not just any movie, mind you, but The Source Code. I could not have picked a better lone-virgin movie. No one saw me drool at the budding action star Jake Gyllenhaal is becoming. No one crunched popcorn in my ear and spoke at crucial turning points. No one grumbled “I don’t get it” at me while stumbling out into the blinding sunlight. No one nudged me by the elbow, a Captain Obvious, to say, “Oh. My. God. This is what you write.” The other lone-cinema guns and I strapped in for the long haul to a short conclusion: The Source Code is beyond awesome. At least by Vortex standards. It’s impossible to review this movie without spoilers, so I offer up something here that’s spoken to me this week. A reversal of sorts. From the end product to the first thread. I traced the backward journey from production to pre-production to casting to green light to screenwriter, for therein lies a map for a similar journey, not to film but to novel. And not just any novel. A great novel.

I know Hollywood and New York publishing cycles are polar. When one is up, the other is down. But time travel threads within other genres do not seem to follow this pattern. If you look at the television shows and films involving time travel in the past five years, there is a small, yet consistent presence even vampires can’t touch. I’m not sure it will ever be “over”. Too much of human nature rests on the possibility of what-might-have-been. The desire for a reset button.

I needed to read about the project in its organic form. To know that screenwriter Ben Ripley didn’t have it all figured out in the first draft, or even the fifth. I needed him to remind me to "Put character first. Don’t let the technology take over the story. Center your narrative on an emotional experience and let the science part of it be the ambiance."

It so happens this week, I’m in transition. Which project to dedicate myself to make it stellar? For a myriad of reasons, it is a difficult choice. After much thought and no conclusions, I offered it up God, angels, the universe, karma. Take your pick. I told myself I would look for a sign that would show me I was on the right track. I believe in signs. They're around us every day. We don't always pay attention. Today, like a gift, my sign came.

I’ve written about this traveling carnival before. Every April, it comes. And every May through March it is forgotten. On a road travelled infrequently, this carnival came to me today of all days, the morning after I asked for it. Ferris wheel glistening in the sun.

Here’s your sign.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wax On. Wax Nostalgic. Wax Off.

A week, I know. But what a week it's been. Remember my writing journey with my literary Mr. Miyagi? It could not have been more career-changing had Ralph Macchio tap danced on my manuscript, folded it inside a silk kimono and hand-delivered it to J.K. Rowling's agent. First learn weaknesses, then learn to laugh at own dialogue. Writing rules, L.A.-san, not Miagi's.

I also met four of the most amazing writers I want to be like when I grow up. I ate Nutella for the first time, discovered the beauty that is a Chilean hero, used a fruit bowl as a motorcycle helmet, slipped into the most delicious kind of writing vacuum and rediscovered why I write. I'm a better writer this week because of the retreat. I'm a better person for going through it with my new friends.

A call came last Sunday, my first on Thriller Island. The Night Caller is a finalist in the Mystery/Thriller/Suspense category of The Sandy contest. Nice to know the ship fares well in new waters, too.

I was oh-so-tempted to change my blog to Dynamic Views, but then where would we be? A random filmstrip-like collage of MacGyver action figures, hot physicists and John Titor? Exactly what would that say about The Vortex? That we're all about time travel and bendable heroes with mullets? Wait. That would wrong. Wouldn't it?

Have a great Monday, everyone!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Past to Future, Fails and Wins

Next week is special. It's a calculated, hopeful step closer to publication. It's the breaking down of my polished, golden-to-me words into something messy and disturbing so they can become that fully-unearthed fossil. It's an intense step away from reality to live and breathe my story with the guidance of a literary Mr. Miagi. I have preps to do, so I leave you with two juicy tidbits of something that has always fascinated me: revisiting the past making predictions of the future.

The first is ten vintage video clips of ways previous generations believed our lives would be now. It's not the Jetsons, but it's close.

The second is a Friday-worthy look at all the ways Back to the Future got it right.

Hmm. Makes me want to pull out my Heinlein novels.

Have a fantastic weekend (and week!)