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.
Meredith Goldstein will read from her debut novel, “The Singles,” on April 24 at Brookline Booksmith. She can be reached at email@example.com.