20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
“Keep going! That’s my vibe. Keep going! Follow your dreams, chase your goals, don’t give up. I’m cheering you on.” Byron Lane is an author, playwright, and screenwriter. His debut novel, A Star Is Bored, about an uptight celebrity assistant struggling to manage his eccentric movie star boss, was inspired in part by his time as assistant to beloved actress Carrie Fisher. Lane is also a two-time regional Emmy Award winner from his time as a TV news journalist. Originally from New Orleans, he now lives in Palm Springs with his husband, bestselling author Steven Rowley.
I got to chat with Byron about A Star Is Bored (and to which extent that it is fictional), why both storytelling and queer visibility are essential, what he’s working on next, and more for this week’s edition of 20 Questions.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Did you consider pursuing any other career paths?
I’m a storyteller through and through. As a kid, I would play He-Man in the front yard, imagining scenes and sometimes acting out the parts. Neighbors must have thought I was nuts. I studied journalism in college and was a television news reporter for many years, reporting stories about real life. I’ve written an indie movie and a web series and a play. And then my novel, A Star Is Bored.
In addition to a novel, you have also written plays and films, such as Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist and Last Will & Testicle. What are your favorite differences between writing for the page and writing for the stage and screen?
On the page, you can control all of space and time. Flashbacks and asides can come and go. You can easily travel from a rural town to a big city to another planet, if you choose. Stage and screen might limit space and time. You have restrictions of budget, location, and abilities of actors. But all of those challenges can be great fun and produce beautiful, collaborative results. I love all those mediums.
If you could pick one author that’s inspired you the most, who would it be and why?
My answer has changed over the years, but there’s no doubt Carrie Fisher holds one of the most meaningful places in my heart. I was lucky to work with her and watch her process and occasionally get some advice. Her books are so rich and funny and moving. She always said, “Take your broken heart and go make art.” That advice rings loud and true for me.
The best book you’ve read in the last year?
My husband’s book: The Guncle. It’s about a gay uncle forced to care for his young niece and nephew. It’s moving and funny with bits of heartwarming truth that sneak up on ya. I’m not alone in loving it: critics have hailed it, it’s a hit with People magazine, NPR, Goodreads, Bookstagrammers, and on and on.
The last series you binge-watched?
We just watched Squid Game. YIKES, and also BRAVO!
Favorite social media app?
This feels like a trap. If I’m honest, I spend way too much time on TikTok.
The best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Or one piece of advice you give most to people?
Keep going! That’s my vibe. Keep going! Follow your dreams, chase your goals, don’t give up. I’m cheering you on.
Favorite book of all-time?
Eek! Impossible to answer. But one of my top picks is Kavalier and Clay. The writing is so damn beautiful. I hope I can write like that one day.
What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
I wish I was more disciplined. The hardest part is getting my butt in the chair.
A tired question, I’m sure, but to what extent does your debut novel A Star Is Bored lend itself to the real-life experiences you had during your time as assistant to Carrie Fisher?
It’s definitely fiction, but my time with Carrie Fisher was life-changing and hilarious and wild. There are bits of truth in the book, but it’s full of imagination. I tried to capture the spirit of our adventures together, and in that, I think I did an honest job.
As a queer author, how would you explain the importance and significance of queer visibility in literature and media right now?
MORE, MORE! Queer visibility is essential. Being present and open and true-to-self is a human right and a critical part of human experience—not just for the individual, but for all people in all walks of life. Here we are, on a rock floating in space, with human beings as diverse as leaves in a forest, let’s celebrate all of it, show it all off, and enjoy the colors of the rainbow.
Favorite movie of all-time?
Hmm. One of my most-quoted movies is Big Business starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. I grew up in Louisiana and related to Bette’s character who lived on a farm but longed for a different life in the big city.
As a writer and artist, what would you say is the best way to rest or decompress?
NAPS! Morning naps, afternoon naps, depression naps, whatever. It’s my way of doing a reboot of all my systems.
What’s your current read?
How would you describe the importance of storytelling, especially in an age of social isolation?
Storytelling and all forms of art are essential—especially during this insane time. Art helps us open our minds, see life in new ways, travel—if only in our hearts, consider other points of view, recognize our humanness and connectedness. MORE ART!
If you could have one writer, dead or alive, to compose your obituary, who would it be and why?
Chuck Palahniuk. I love his writing so much—lyrical, gritty, thoughtful. He’s not afraid to say the hard things, and relish the absurd or delightful.
Print books or e-books?
Prefer print but ugh, e-books are so easy.
One thing that’s been keeping you sane during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our sweet rescue dog Tilda died in April and we haven’t been ready to rescue a new one yet, but we did get to dog-sit for a friend. His big pup Lucy stayed with us for 40 days and we loved every minute. Also, antidepressants.
One song that you will never be sick of?
“I Will Always Love You” by the one and only Whitney Houston. I was obsessed with her as a kid, I loved The Bodyguard so much, and hers was the first concert I ever attended. The song reminds me of the feelings I had watching the movie, and of always turning the song up loud when it came on the radio. I drove an old, used Ford Taurus station wagon at the time and blew out one of the speakers.
What can we expect to see next from you?
I’m excited to be developing A Star Is Bored into a television series, and I’m working on book number two right now! Hope to share more about that soon.
Follow Byron Lane on Twitter and Instagram, and look for his debut novel A Star Is Bored wherever books are sold.