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There once was a time when people didn’t eagerly share the details of their personal lives with strangers (in society’s collective memory, this feels like it may have been the Paleolithic era). But in the age of social media platforms, gossip rag Web-outlets and the sexts of tween starlets spread wide across the world via TMZ, there appear to be no boundaries (at least to what people tell the universe via keyboard, whether it be desktop or handheld).
Yet Hilary Winston discovered her boundary when perusing the “New Fiction” section in a Barnes & Noble, where, within the just-published novel of an ex-boyfriend, she found multiple thinly veiled references to their recently concluded five-year relationship. And, more specifically, multiple references to her “fat ass.” She wanted revenge. So she got it in a manner perfect for this age of the tell-all: she took to the keyboard and wrote her own collection of short stories, aptly titled “My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me,” which she proudly presents in the prologue as “Non-fiction: so sue me, ‘Kyle,’ you know it’s true.” Sterling will publish it in early May.
“I dated this guy for five years and we broke up,” Winston explains over the phone from Los Angeles amidst a long day of shooting the series finale for critical-darling “Community,” the NBC series for which she is a writer. “Then months later, I’m browsing through the bookstore and I see he’s published a novel. I flip it open and the first line I see is ‘My fat-assed ex-girlfriend takes Groundlings classes.’ And it was me; it was all about me. I turned bright red, my heart was pounding, I was sweating, it was the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my entire life. This was in print, it was in a store, it was just so public.”
Winston laughs lightly, retelling her discovery story with the air of someone who’s shared this painful anecdote many times before. She knows where to emphasize and where to pause, to draw out the details that really horrify and intrigue; but there is a lasting tinge of confusion to her speech, as if after all this time she still can’t quite comprehend her fate.
“It was just such a huge betrayal — and more than that, it was really a book that was written by a guy who I didn’t know,” she explains, and her voice vibrates with hurt-feeling, “That was the hardest thing: Thinking, ‘I’ve dated this a–hole?’”
Critical reception of the offending novel, which WWD promised Winston not to name directly (“I refuse to give him more press than I have already,” she laughs), has compared it to Tucker Max’s oeuvre; a sort of gross-out, lowest common denominator frat-boy-read.
“If so-called ‘women’s fiction [or] chick-lit’ is described as ‘Pink Fiction,’ then his is really ‘Black and Blue Fiction,’” Winston explains. Her voice is heavy with disdain but there’s fear in it too, maybe that there’s some truth to what she says next. “This whole, ‘I’m not going to apologize anymore for being a guy because guys like to have sex and drink beer and this is just what they do: so deal with it.’ This claim that men are forced into these little social boxes by women and this is who they really are: they want to drink until they throw up and watch midget strippers. And women are just these faceless bitches that are all alike.”
While the book may have originated from a place of revenge, Winston’s autobiographical short stories quickly became more of a chronicle of her personal journey than a list of her ex’s faults. The stories — snappy, sparse and conversational — are no-holds-barred, detailing her attempts to navigate the Los Angeles television-writer scene, hook-ups, break-ups, curious medical ailments, 15 pounds that refuse to disappear, and the constant search for a decent relationship.
“This book started with what every man or woman would feel if they saw that their ex had written a book about them,” she continues, “but this turned into a book about me, and it turned into a sort of ‘not every bad relationship you have is in vain’ message. It’s all leading to something, some sort of purpose: I didn’t know what the end of the book was when I started, but I did find out that nobody’s going to validate me but myself.”
And does the dreaded ex know about her book, with all of its impending ugly truths?
“I let him read an early draft of it…the good news is,” and here Winston cracks up before speaking in a sweet sing-song: “he’s a mega-lo-maaaniaaaac! This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him!” Funnily enough, it might be the greatest thing that ever happened to her, too. “My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me” has already been optioned by Paramount, and Winston is currently adapting it into a screenplay.