Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality

Wed Apr 18 2012

The controversial story behind my boyfriend’s book

New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A HomeA couple weeks ago when I posted the new cover image for my Facebook page, several of you asked about Andy’s book, saying you had no idea he was a writer. Well, that’s because he isn’t one, according to him.

“Yeah, I wrote a book, but I’m not a writer.”

Paradox? Allow me to explain.

“Yeah, I wrote a book…”

I met Andy as a freshman in college. He was a sophomore, and the Resident Assistant for my floor. (Don’t worry, we didn’t date until a couple years later.) Andy was a great RA — in fact, he inspired me to become one myself. And lucky me, I got to take over the exact same floor that I had lived on and that he had been in charge of. A floor called NEW HOUSE 5.

Yes, that’s the name of his book, and it’s about my freshman year floor.

Now, this is where it gets messy. Because the “characters” in the story are based on real people. (Yes, I’m in it.) But that doesn’t mean that everything in the book is true. (Having lived through it myself, I can assure you it’s not.) Problem is, the lines between fiction and reality can be blurry, and there was enough truth to upset people. Andy lost some things as a result.

First, he lost friendships. There are a couple people who haven’t spoken to him since the book came out, and several more whose opinions of him and relationships with him were changed forever. I think that was the hardest part for Andy. He’d wanted to do something special — to honor the great experiences that he’d had as our RA, and to paint an accurate picture of college life for other students, RAs, and parents to enjoy — but not everyone appreciated how he went about it, or the secrets he divulged.

Second, he lost his job. Andy was supposed to be the Community Advisor for New House (an RA for the RAs — i.e., my boss) but when the book came out, Student Life panicked and fired him. They had gotten some complaints, I think, and were probably worried about confidentiality, lawsuits, and the like.

(This, of course, AFTER the school had put out multiple press releases celebrating his accomplishment.)

The tizzy didn’t end there. Most students were oblivious to the book, and remain so to this day, but that didn’t appease the administrators. Supposedly all the deans were required to read the book and vote on whether or not to expel Andy from the university. Outside of that debate, NEW HOUSE 5 became taboo. One secretary even confessed to Andy that she loved his book, but she’d had to read it in secret, hiding it inside a different cover so she wouldn’t get in trouble.

Now, all of this happened within the span of a few days, and the Dean of Student Affairs was traveling during that time. As soon as she returned and learned of his firing, she apologized to Andy and reinstated him as CA at a different dorm. I suspect that she realized what the years have proven to be true: that the book would not ruin anyone’s life, and that almost no one would recognize the characters in the book unless they already knew the real people.

(Furthermore, Andy had discussed the book with the floor ahead of time and had support to publish it. He also took some steps to protect people by changing names, mixing identifying traits/actions, and creating new characters. I think any legal battle would have been murky, although I’m glad it didn’t come to that.)

Hard to believe that was 7 years ago. Whatever splash the book made has long died down, but occasionally we still feel a ripple or two. Like at our friends’ wedding this past weekend, when the best man referenced the book in his speech. Can you say awkward?

(Funny, but awkward.)

The book’s contract expired in January, and rather than renew with the publisher (who was offering less attractive terms than before) Andy decided to make use of the new tools that have cropped up. With my help and Stephanie’s awesome design skills, NEW HOUSE 5 now has a great new cover and is available in digital form — as well as print — from all the usual places (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.).

“…but I’m not a writer.

Andy’s goal was never fame or fortune. He didn’t want an agent. His book was not meant to be a work of literary genius, or the first in a long career.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very creative and talented guy. (Especially on guitar. And Draw Something.) But business and baseball are what he loves, not books.

Andy is more than content to leave the publishing scene to me. To which I say, “Thanks! I think…”

filed Personal, Reading/WritingtagsTags:
9 Comments
  1. mandy says:
    Wed Apr 18 2012 at 4:29 PM

    Oh my. I bet he could write an interesting book about THAT experience too.

  2. Anthony Lee Collins says:
    Wed Apr 18 2012 at 6:12 PM

    Well, as you can tell him, Hemingway annoyed some people with The Sun Also Rises — also all based on real people. :-)

    Also, I’m pretty simple-minded on the “who is a writer?” question. If you write, you’re a writer. If not, then no. If it’s how you make a living, then you’re a professional. I have no idea what makes somebody an “author,” but I’m not one. :-)

  3. Trisha says:
    Thu Apr 19 2012 at 7:34 AM

    Thanks for sharing. I hadn’t realized all of that had gone on.

  4. Margot says:
    Thu Apr 19 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Whaaaaat?! Andy wrote a book that got him in trouble? Now I have to read this!

  5. Juliann says:
    Thu Apr 19 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Wow! What a crazy rollercoaster ride. Andy’s ordeal is exactly what I would fear if I were to write a memoir. I want to, but don’t want to deal with the fall-out, because trust me — there’d be fall-out.

  6. Sonje says:
    Thu Apr 19 2012 at 1:38 PM

    So he had support to publish it by the people he wrote about, but then when he did publish it, they got pissed off?

  7. Kristan says:
    Thu Apr 19 2012 at 7:45 PM

    Mandy-
    Hah, maybe not a whole book… but yeah, I don’t think he has any desire to try anyway.

    Anthony-
    I like your distinctions/definitions. :)

    Trisha-
    Not too many people did.

    Margot-
    I love the book, but I’m definitely biased. Not only because Andy wrote it, but because that was one of the best years of my life, and I like having it captured in some way. It’s not entirely true, but it’s a springboard for my memory.

    Juliann-
    One of my favorite professors is a memoirist, and she said you can never predict who’s going to react how. She has written 3 intensely personal (and wonderful) memoirs, and she said she was very surprised when they came out, because few people reacted the way she would have guessed. She also said, though, that more people tend to be supportive than non, especially over time.

    Sonje-
    Sort of. I only know of one person who said from Day 1 that s/he did not want Andy to write the book. I don’t know if s/he has forgiven him, exactly, but s/he isn’t mad and doesn’t really care about the book anymore.

    Everyone else had supported the project in the abstract, but I guess when they read the final product, it was different, and went deeper, than they expected.

  8. T. S. Bazelli says:
    Fri Apr 20 2012 at 11:51 AM

    Andy sure sounds like a writer to me ;) Maybe we all don’t want or need to tell more than one story, and that’s OK too.

  9. Kristan says:
    Fri Apr 20 2012 at 1:22 PM

    So true, T.S.! I’ve always thought that. (Like Harper Lee!)

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