As soon as it became clear that my novel was going to be published, I made a list of the men who deserved a warning.
The book is loosely based on a wedding I went to a few years ago, one that put me in the position of having to see an ex for the first time in years. That ex is in my book — as are two other former flames who snuck into the story. Lucky them.
I thought that those exes would be able to recognize themselves easily so I prepared to make obligatory phone calls. I felt as if I was getting ready to inform former sex partners that I may have given them an STD. They deserved to know.
Guy No. 1 was my biggest concern. He’s a stoic who had trusted me with many secrets while we were together. I lifted episodes from his life and dropped them into this “fictional” wedding. I called him — we had barely spoken in over a year — and explained that I had written a book and that one of the characters might seem, um, familiar.
From the other end of the line I heard silence then a skeptical grunt. I knew he could tell I was skirting the truth. So I just came out with it. His alter-ego hadn’t really been altered at all. The character was him, from top (very tall) to bottom (never goes barefoot). I grinded my teeth as I waited for his response.
Reader, he did not hang up on me. Instead he seemed curious, flattered. He came to my apartment a few weeks later, stretched out on my couch, and listened as I read him every scene. I watched him smile during the chapters that were most revealing. He only got stuck on the specifics I had changed. Didn’t I remember that his family owned a dog, not a cat? I was trying to protect his anonymity; he just wanted me to be accurate.
As a show of good faith, I let him pick his character’s last name. And at his insistence, I gave him a Division I college athletic career. Because you can do that in novels, just decide that someone played competitive basketball like a superstar.
Next up was Guy No. 2, who’s not quite an ex. More like a make-out partner from college. I didn’t worry that No. 2 would object to reading about himself in print; I thought he might like it too much.
I wanted Guy No. 2 to be the romantic lead of the book, so I needed to be able to picture him as someone magnetic and irresistible — someone I wanted to sleep with. So instead of imagining real-life Guy No. 2, I imagined “Twilight” actor Robert Pattinson playing Guy No. 2 in a movie. The scruffy beard. The wild hair. I even named the character Rob.
Fake Rob was so attractive in print that I worried that Real Rob would read the manuscript and assume that I had been nursing a crush from more than a decade ago. In reality I just wanted to make out with Robert Pattinson.
More surprises awaited me behind door (Guy) No. 2. After reading the manuscript he sounded pleased, proud, and supportive — without a trace of the narcissism I expected. I had forgotten that unlike his fictional counterpart Real Rob could be humble and insecure. I realized that my memories of Real Rob weren’t as accurate as I thought they were and that Fake Rob had become someone else; I had created an original character!
Real Rob requested only that I change the name of his brother in the book. I had accidentally named Fake Rob’s brother after Real Rob’s brother. So I let Real Rob rename his fictional self’s real brother (got that?).
Next up: Guy No. 3, the ex I dreaded seeing at the real life wedding — the ex who inspired me to write this book in the first place. I was sweating the call to No. 3 big time. After our last excuriating 4 a.m. relationship talk I picked up a cigarette with one hand and held my inhaler in the other.
To prep I re-read the book. Halfway through I noticed something weird. As it turns out, Fake Guy No. 3 wasn’t like Real Guy No. 3 at all. Over the course of many drafts, Guy No. 3 had become a more layered person. Fake No. 3 had become more real to me than Real No. 3. Furthermore Guy No. 3 had started out as one of the book’s most important characters, but I had conveniently eased him into a minor role.
I decided I didn’t need to warn Guy No. 3 after all. Shockingly enough my novel had become fiction.