An Interview with Byron Lane, Author of A Star is Bored

A Star is Bored is fiction. It really is. But it’s also inspired by author Byron Lane’s years as personal assistant to Carrie Fisher, and there’s something uniquely delightful about getting to go on this ride knowing that the essence of the story, at the very least, comes from magic that happened in real life.

Charlie Basson drives his sad Nissan Sentra through film icon Kathi Kannon’s gate, desperately hoping that his life will never be the same. The celebrity/assistant journey that follows is full of joy, madness, hope, pill cases, and gloriously profane text threads. It’s about old wounds and second chances, shutting down and opening up. It is never boring.

The praise and summer reading lists for A Star Is Bored already rivals Kathi Kannon’s trail of discarded jewelry. And while this is Byron’s debut novel, he has a critically acclaimed play, Tilda Swinton Answers An Ad on Craigslist, an award-winning web series, Last Will & Testicle, and a feature film, Herpes Boy, under his belt. His writing is like having drinks with that friend whose perfectly timed stories make you snort into your fancy cocktail.

One of the questions I forgot to ask was about how Byron’s boyfriend, Steven Rowley, is also a best-selling novelist. I wondered, does it ever get competitive, all that writing and living together? When you read the book, don’t skip the acknowledgements. I think it’s going well.

Join me in celebrating ALL THE THINGS for Byron Lane and A Star is Bored, which is out in the world today. I ran out of candles so I topped the cake with e-cigarettes.

Sara Shukla: While this is fiction, to me it also reads like a love letter to Carrie Fisher. It’s like a platonic rom-com, two lost souls who find each other at the right time. Was it hard to figure out how to approach writing about this kind of experience? I ask because I could see it veering into total Hollywood satire, and this story, while hilarious, always feels very human.

Byron Lane: I really wanted this book to capture the spirit of my time working for Carrie Fisher, which really was full of joy and friendship. So I wanted Charlie and Kathi to have the same dynamic: respect, which gives way to honesty, which gives way to unconditional love. Sometimes telling the real truth of a situation becomes humorous by nature of it being relatable. I’m so glad you felt all the things: heart and humor and humanity.

When we meet your narrator, Charlie, he’s so alone. Instead of a sidekick, he has Siri. At one point he asks Kathi, “How are you able to break the rules with such abandon?” And later, I love this: “I’m drunk with awe of how a human being like her can take the most ordinary of moments—checking in at a hotel—and turn it into an otherworldly memory, a thrill, an essential ingredient in what makes a life feel full.” What do you think Kathi Kannon breaks open for Charlie?

Poor Charlie is so stuck in the seriousness of everything—the horror of his crappy car, the oppression of his bad hair days, the shame of being from Louisiana. Charlie only sees flaws, flaws, flaws. But when he meets Kathi, he meets a person who wears her flaws like armor. Kathi doesn’t even see them as flaws, she’s just living her life without worrying about what her hair looks like. And there’s real value in that. There’s a certain joy in abandon. I think Kathi helps Charlie lighten up, making space to live in the present, making space for hope and optimism.

How did writing a novel compare, for you, to writing a screenplay, or a stage play, or a web series? Do you approach writing in a similar way?

Writing a novel has been the most fun so far. I think it’s because of how much control the author has over the vision. Other mediums yield the work to the will of producers and a director and a cinematographer and actors and others. Plus, I get to approach a novel differently because there’s more freedom to explore the world, since so much more can go on the page. But I’ve learned a lot from other mediums—like keeping writing and especially dialogue sharp and tight. The truth is: I’m grateful to be writing whatever it is I’m writing, no matter the medium.

This is a very important question. In real life, have you ever put shellfish in a handbag?

Haha. I have never personally put a shellfish in a purse—but Carrie did. I was with her and a friend in Japan and they were invited to a fancy dinner. When they came back, Carrie’s purse was full of half-living pieces of sushi that she stuffed in there in a panic because she didn’t want to eat them, but she didn’t want to send them back to the kitchen because she didn’t want to offend anyone. When she got back to the villa, it was my job to toss the critters into a river outside of our room. And then clean her purse. Working for her wasn’t always glamorous, but it was never boring.

(Interviewer’s note: the fictional scene, one of my favorites in the novel, is excerpted here.)

I also have questions about fitted bedsheet ponchos. Were there scenes or even text threads that you loved but had to cut? 

The bedsheet poncho story was made up, inspired by a dear friend of mine from New Orleans who loved a fancy blanket so much that she had it made into a poncho which she wore to a wedding. It actually looked amazing!

I’m very lucky that there were no big scenes or text threads that I had to cut. But I did leave out some fun memories that just didn’t exactly have a home in the novel. Like the one time Carrie and I went to Ross Dress for Less. We ended up there because a famous friend of hers heard from a housekeeper that it was like an oasis of deals. But, Carrie’s dog peed on her as we pulled in the parking lot and Carrie rushed in to buy a dry blouse, but security was yelling at her for wearing something before she paid for it. Plus, I was parking the car and had her credit cards and there was a no dog policy, so by the time I got into the store it was delightful chaos.

How do you think Kathi and Charlie would handle quarantine? 

I think Charlie and Kathi would be pros at quarantine. To be honest, for good or bad, they were both pretty isolated in their day to day lives anyway. He was insulated from the world by his fears and her by her fame. Charlie would probably delight in how much easier it would be to keep Kathi safe by keeping her separate from the world. And Kathi loved her home and any good reason to stay there and not work very hard. These two were built for quarantine.

In another interview you listed three things you learned from your time with Carrie, and one was “Everything is funny eventually.” Your web series Last Will & Testicle is about being diagnosed with testicular cancer, and it tackles the anxiety of that experience with humor. (Please see: JVN waving, “I’m your testicle, gurl, hiiiii!”) How does humor work for you as a coping mechanism? And is this something that you had going already, or did Carrie help ignite it?

I think finding humor in things is a function of being optimistic. I wasn’t always so hopeful, but years of therapy and a stack of self-help books on my nightstand led to finding hope even when things weren’t perfect. Carrie definitely helped teach me not to take things too seriously. She reinforced the belief that there’s fun to be had in everyday adventures, that humor feels better than tension, that things usually work out whether you’re serious or playful, so you might as well have a bit of a good time when possible.

Is there a Kickstarter I can get behind for a revival of Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist? On second thought, maybe a sequel: Tilda Swinton, Lockdown Roommate? That could be a from-home socially distanced production. Just saying.

A TILDA SEQUEL! I’m totally into it! We would love to have a Tilda revival. The play was so fun to write and even more fun to perform. My friends and I did it for 3 years before the lockdown rattled theatre. I’m sure we’ll be back on stage with it eventually and I’ll keep you posted! I’d love for you to see it!

Byron Lane is an author, playwright, and screenwriter. He’s also worked as a journalist and as a personal assistant to celebrities, including Carrie Fisher. Originally from New Orleans, he lives in the Los Angeles area with his boyfriend, author Steven Rowley, and their rescue dog Tilda.

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