Losing a friend by writing a memoir.

The stories we tell about ourselves.
March 29 2007 7:39 AM

Collateral Damage

How I lost a friend and ex-lover by writing about him.

Click here to read more from Slate's Memoir Week.

The other week, Slate posed the following question to a group of memoir writers: How do you choose to alert people who appear in your books that you are writing about them—or do you not alert them at all? If you do, do you discuss the book with family members and friends while the work is in progress? How do you deal with complaints from people who may remember events differently than you?

My Lives, Edmund White.

I had trouble with only one person, the considerably younger man whom I describe in My Lives as "My Master." He had long since dropped me (the subject of my chapter) as a sex partner, but we remained friends. I read him out loud the chapter about our strange and intense relationship. He seemed to be quite moved by it. When we'd first met two years earlier he'd asked me to write about him some day (never wish for something—you might get it). He said it was some of my best writing. He had to clear things with his ex-lover, whom he'd been cheating on the whole time we were having sex. Though they were no longer together, he felt he had to tell him. There was an outcry but no permanent damage. My ex-master asked me to give him an initial instead of a name, which I did. He had no other requests.

Then the book came out in England and was about to come out here when he told me that I had betrayed him, and he no longer wanted to see me. Over the last 20 months I've sent him two or three little e-mails to see if he'd like to resume our friendship, but he doesn't.  The funny thing is that I liked him as much as I loved him, and his absence weighs heavily on me.  After 60, it's hard to make friends and he occupied a big place in my affections.

Would I do it over again?  Yes, since it is one of my strongest pieces of writing—and that's the kind of monster every real writer is.

Edmund White is the author ofMy Lives, among other books.

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