Last night, we received a phone call at the Chateau du Clifford. I was down in my office, wrapping up my (paying) work for the week, but I could hear Justine, who'd taken the call, asking me something. After the inevitable "Whats"--"What?" "What? I can't hear--I can't hear you!", I eventually popped my head up the stairs. The conversation went something like this:
Justine: "Whose Nix Verdia?"
Joe: "How the fuck should I know?"
Justine: "That's what the caller ID said. Nix Verdia. She's calling from 925 [a local number]."
Joe: "So? Who'd she asked for?"
Justine: "No one. She said wrong number...but she was weird about it."
OK. Now I get it. I laugh it off, because A.) I don't know any Nix Verdia, and B.) I have so little time that if I were to be seeing another woman, it would have to take place in the six minutes between my morning shit and when I walk our 8-lb. poodle, Lucky, halfway down the block (for his morning shit).
Justine's a sweetheart; it's not like she's some wackadoodle, but I could hear that trepidation in her voice, however slight. So I simply added, something to the effect, that if I were seeing another woman, I certainly wouldn't give out my house phone number. I'd give out my cell. (Actually, I'd probably get a separate cell, whose bill would go to a friend's. Of course, I'd never get to pick that bill up--since I don't have any fucking time!)
Fast forward to sleep, which isn't as fun as it used to be after my neurosis and anxiety finally caught up to me in my dreams a few months back, causing me to grind my teeth so much that I am causing little cracks in the enamel. Hence, the goofy looking mouthguard. I look like a punchdrunk when I nap.
Around 3 a.m., I am awoken by the phone. Conversation goes something like this:
Joe: "Who the fuck is calling at 3 a.m.?"
Justine: (grumble, grumble.)
At 6, our built-in alarm clock, Holden, sounds. I get up, bring him to mama's tit, and check the phone, even though I know damn well who it's got to be. Nix Verdia. So I go back to the bedroom to ask Justine who the hell this Nix Verdia is. Which gets a laugh. Sort of.
Joe: "Why the hell is she calling our house?"
Justine: "I don't know. But she was...looking for you, I think."
Holden: (slurp, slurp)
Joe: "OK. For the last time. I don't know any Nix Verdia!"
But I'm a writer. My mind is going 24/7 looking for plot ideas. More importantly, I'm a neurotic mutherfucker, so as I'm making my morning coffee and protein shake, the wheels start a-spinning, as I try to figure out how I know some woman named Nix Verdia. At first, I'm trying to think where I met her. This quickly peters out. Since unless Nix Verdia is living in my closet or underneath the bench press at the gym (the same gym my wife goes to), I'm not sure where I would've talked to her. I try to think of all the woman I know from for sordid past, but only one of them uses an alias, and she doesn't like me much anymore I don't think. And she'd e-mail anyway. Then my screwy head really gets to work...
I'm reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so naturally, we got to go foreign, spies, cloaks and daggers, and since I'm such a big fan of noir, Nix Verdia would have to be a femme fatale. I can see her in the fog, scarf wrapped around her head, smoking a long cigarette, probably under a lamppost. In the fog...around WWII...with a secret.
Then I think, this wouldn't be the worst idea for mystery thriller plot. Boring man, with a boring life, no time, kids, 8-lb. poodle, living in suburbia, and we'd have to make him even more commonplace than I, so he'd be an accountant, with little glasses, and since I know Justine is reading this let me make it clear that the wife, who would have to be a henpecker and mean and domineering, is not her, any more than the man is me, but this is how fiction works. Fiction is not life, but life-like. And our hero's probably not living in the Bay Area. No, he'd be somewhere more...conventional, and landlocked. Colorado. Or maybe Iowa. Either way, we're not putting him in the big city. He's going to have to be mousy (something I am definitely not), with a secret (read: lame) hobby. Like he fucking makes those little ships in bottles, but less of a cliche. I don't have to worry about this now.
And the story starts just like this. A couple mysterious phone calls, a wife implying an affair, the man shrugging his shoulders since even if he wanted to have an affair (and I don't, sweetheart), he wouldn't know where to start (since he has no fucking time!). But then...
The calls keep coming. And then one day the man takes the phone from his wife, to prove he doesn't know this Nix Verdia, but when he starts telling her to stop calling his house, Nix Verdia begins to supply details--intimate details--about this life, the sort of things only someone close like a lover would know, places he's been, secrets he's never told anyone, and I can see the scene, like in a movie, the man's face washing from confident self-righteousness to doubt right before his wife, and he's fighting to remain in control because his wife can't hear Nix Verdia talking on the other line, but the look in his face betrays him, as the doubt creeps in further and he becomes less sure and less sure of who he is and his reality, feeling slightly...mad.
Be a pretty cool scene. And plot idea for a book. Think like Unknown with Liam Neeson, which I haven't seen yet and and could suck, or The Forgotten with Julianne Moore, in which a father and mother wake up to learn the children they love...never existed. I never saw that one either, but I hear in the end the culprit is aliens, which is fucking lame.
But that's the problem. Locking a plot all twisty in a box with seemingly no way out is cool. But only if you can get it out of that box. If you go all deus ex machina and it turns out it "was all a dream" you are fucking your audience (*there are a few variations on the "dream" ending, like Fight Club or Shutter Island, which can work. I read/saw the former, which of course rocks. Never did either with the latter.) It's tough. This is why a lot of writers work backwards. You have to. Because you are creating the illusion, so you have to be in charge of all the puppets and strings behind the scene.
Anyway, I'm not offering a fucking tutorial on writing. Mostly because if I knew how to do it, I'd be doing, churning out potboiler bestsellers, and not merely 70K in student loan debt to learn a craft with which you don't make any money. Moreover, that would take time. And I don't have much of it these days. Not with the kid and dog, the working out to keep the hip God gave me going, and trying like hell to forge a writing career, plus the whole paying job thing. And, now, apparently you can add to that list of things vying for my time, Nix Veredia, because even if we are not having an affair, me and my neurosis will spend the foreseeable future trying to create alternate (i.e., horrific) realities where we are and things turn very, very bad.