Byron Lane is a playwright and screenwriter. He's also worked as a journalist and as a personal assistant to celebrities, including Carrie Fisher. He's originally from New Orleans and lives in Los Angeles with his boyfriend and their rescue dog, Tilda. His first novel is A Star is Bored, and he recently agreed to talk about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for A Star is Bored
I worked for three years as assistant to Princess Leia—the late, brilliant actress and writer Carrie Fisher. It was one of the most meaningful times of my life, full of wild adventures and a redefining of what friendship means to me. When she died, I was inspired to write a novel based on our experiences because of advice she used to give: "Take your broken heart and go make art." And that's what I tried to do.
Clearly, Kathi Kannon and Gracie Gold are meant to reference Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Are any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals you encountered while working for Fisher?
That's a tricky question to ask a writer—haha. I think all writers tend to borrow whispers and shadows from their real lives and experiences. So, the short answer is, yes, kinda. But, no one is an exact mirror, and in most cases, they are totally made up. I wish I had better dish to serve!
When and how long did you work for Carrie Fisher?
From 2011 to 2014.
What is your favorite memory of your time working for her? Your least favorite?
I most treasure our time going to Canada to see the aurora borealis. Carrie had wanted to see the northern lights her entire life but never got around to it. She had signed up for weather alerts on her phone and one day got an alert that the lights would be spectacular and so we booked plane tickets that afternoon, and the next day we were on our way. I wasn't prepared for such an adventure, but she bought me a proper winter coat, and we killed daylight hours going dog sledding together—she was very motherly, it was very sweet. And then seeing the lights with her was magical. She was so in love with them, and her joy was infectious. Every time I see those lights on TV or in magazines, I think of her. She's part of the heavens!
My least favorite memory? I can honestly say the hardest part of being a celebrity assistant is actually being a celebrity assistant. Mostly, with Carrie, it felt like every day I was hanging out with a friend. But occasionally I had to do actual work—like tidy around the house or return purchases to stores or boring things like that. And every assistant job is different. I was really lucky. Some jobs are the boring stuff all the time.
Did Fisher know you were writing A Star Is Bored? Did you show her any early drafts? Do you think she would have enjoyed the final novel?
The book didn't exist before she died. I was inspired to write it after she passed based on her adage to "Take your broken heart and go make art." But she was always very supportive of my writing. She actually hired me for my writing. I was a journalist for many years before working for her, and she wanted help with her novels. She was always supportive. She watched and loved an indie film I wrote and produced years ago. And she tweeted about a web series I made about my testicular cancer. She was always very generous. I think she'd love the book. I think she'd be proud of me.
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
This was my first novel, so there was a learning curve. But once I figured out the story I wanted to tell, it pretty quickly found a home on the page. I'm lucky that I was able to include pretty much everything I wanted. I hope that in years to come I can pick it up and be transported back to the special time which inspired it.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
Heart of Junk by Luke Geddes. It’s so fun to read and reminds me of Carrie—she used to love antique shopping.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain. It's got some dark moments, but I loved it and remember wrangling my sister and using the story as an inspiration for a play we performed in our dining room.
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
Just my gay books! When I finally accepted that I was gay, I went on an Amazon shopping spree. It included sexy gay novels but also books that were basically "being gay for dummies"—haha.
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
What is a book you've faked reading?
I definitely faked reading history books I was assigned in college. I would try to wing it while writing reports and then open the book to a random page and pull a quote and use it as a citation, so it looked authentic. I still have guilt about this!
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
I got really lucky recently! I loved the cover for Trust Exercise. I was in the middle of figuring out the cover for my book at the time, so I was hyper-aware of covers. And it turned out Trust Exercise not only had a great cover but was a great book!
Is there a book that changed your life?
Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is one of the first books I remember reading and loving and leading me to enjoy books. I'm from New Orleans, so it was especially meaningful for me. Also, A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice because it was gay and beautiful, and I hadn't experienced much gay literature by that point. I still think about the last pages.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
I’m a bit of a self-help junkie, and the book A Thousand Names for Joy by Byron Katie has a special place in my heart. I sometimes think if everyone read it the world might be a more peaceful place.
What is the question that you're always hoping you'll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?
What’s my favorite Carrie Fisher book? All of her books are brilliant! But Surrender the Pink has a special place in my heart. It's my favorite of hers. And when I was working for her, she was considering adapting it into a film, so I had to transcribe the whole thing into screenwriting software—which was both a chore and an absolute delight.
What are you working on now?
Kicking around ideas for book number two! Stay tuned!