Author, Playwright, Screenwriter… and Princess Leia’s Assistant

Written by | Books, Entertainment

Byron Lane

The real life of Byron Lane reads like some fantastical, hard to imagine book so it’s more than fitting that he pays homage to his own life with his debut novel A Star Is Bored, that could also have been titled A Reader is Never Bored. I read my advance copy in one sitting.  Geared toward the same fans of The Devil Wears Prada and a prior generation’s Postcards from the Edge, this book is the perfect quarantine companion with delicious celebrity name dropping, stuck up personal assistants, self-realization, daddy issues, gay dating gone wrong, witty comebacks, and even cameos by Debbie Reynolds – I mean a classic Hollywood diva.  At the center of it all is our protagonist, Charlie Beeson, who, after a completely absurd interview, lands a job working as a personal assistant for an eccentric, Sci-Fi Princess of yesterday with an addiction to coke – Coke Zero that is.  Allegedly.

What you get is a love story of sorts, between a writer and an actress, two lonely people obsessed with film life and obsessed with the need to be loved.  It’s a story of friendship and despite the diva spin to it all, there is a lot of heart in this book.  When you finish it, you feel a little sad, a little hopeful, and a little sassy.  We also get to see the underbelly of the personal assistant world, fraught with depression, smoke and mirrors, and self-giving with a  sense of worth and loyalty – you would do anything for your boss from getting them water from the highest mountain spring or bury a body in the backyard – without question.

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Lane worked for Carrie Fisher for several years and lovingly thanks her for the inspiration for this book as well as her friendship.  I am a huge Carrie Fisher fan and an even bigger Debbie Reynolds aficionado, so it was almost impossible to read A Star Is Bored without thinking of anyone else but Fisher as the book’s galaxy princess Kathi Kannon.  The Hollywood scene is merely a backdrop to tell the story of how these two people needed each other for this part of their life’s journey.

This is not a tell-all though, it is fiction, and there are no dirty Hollywood secrets being exploited.  The only deep dark secrets come from the protagonist.  Knowing Bryon’s real-life history, I had to put the book down and fire off some questions to Byron directly.

Did you have any trepidation with being so open with the character’s personal issues, such as suicidal thoughts, depression, and a wonky father relationship?

I like being open. I’m learning that being too guarded seems to hold me back from really connecting with myself and others. Honesty seems to serve me, and it seems to serve others, too. The truth is we all have bad days or tough decades, and I find that whenever I talk about my struggles, people are like “ME TOO!” And that kind of connection – to know we are all in it together – is really a treasure. The opposite, closing down and hiding, kind of robs me (and maybe others) of that treasure. The older I get, the less I try to be at war with reality. I saw a quote spray-painted on the sidewalk in LA and I love it: “Live THIS life.” And I take that to mean living honestly and openly with the life we have, and not dwelling on the life we wish we had.

What was your creative process for writing the book?

Working for Carrie Fisher saved my life. She was a star in every sense of the word, a bright force in the life of everyone who knew her. And when she died, it just felt like a profound loss. My creative process was fueled by a desire to keep her alive, even if just in my heart, even if just in shadows of a character in a novel. Our experiences together were just too important to me, too magical and otherworldly to not share some version of our friendship. I felt like I had to do it. And the book poured out of that.

How did you change the most, personally, from day one of writing the book?

It was very healing and joyful to write about experiences inspired by my time with Carrie. It helped me with grieving her death. She was the first major death of someone who was close to me. And I think that changes a person. But she used to say, “Take your broken heart and make art.” So, I did. And I did it with a full heart.

What was your first thought when you held your first copy of your debut novel in your hand?

By the time I held the book, I had already had my fits of crying from happiness – when my agent signed me, when my editor came on board, and especially when the first industry reviews were loving. So, by the time I held it, my first thought was actually, “Oh, thank god this is a normal size!” [Laughs] I wish it were something more profound! But because of coronavirus, mailing me a copy was delayed, and other book industry people were getting their copies of my book before me and I kept seeing them post pictures and for some reason, I thought my book looked HUGE in their hands. Like, it was oversized or something. Maybe they just had tiny hands LOL. I don’t know. Anyway, what a relief when I finally got a copy and it wasn’t the size of a coffee table!

The book is full of delicious tidbits of Hollywood royalty and name dropping. Do you ever get star struck at this point?  Has working in Hollywood tarnished that a bit?

Oh, for sure. My ability to be starstruck is definitely dulled. I think my last big celebrity moment was meeting Lily Tomlin many years ago. I’m a huge fan of hers and used to watch and re-watch the film Big Business as a kid. I was in Beverly Hills crossing a street and talking on my cell phone and she was coming towards me and I instantly hung up my call and said to her, “Excuse me, I love you! I loved you in Big Business!” And she was so lovely, and she did the signature “You can’t out-snake me” wrist shake thing from the film and I died. [Laughs] I think it was so special because she was part of my childhood and she was one of the first celebs I met when I moved to Los Angeles. Nowadays, my being starstruck is limited to simply being impressed when a big celebrity is even nominally kind.

Describe three things that working with Carrie taught you about life.

1) Don’t take life too seriously. Everything with Carrie was an absolute blast. Even the boring stuff was typically good for a laugh or two. 2) Everything is funny eventually. Humor is the best drug. Sometimes things happen that suck. But time and a good attitude can go a long way to healing with humor. 3) Wear your favorite sweater to the gym. I grew up in a lower-income family, so the idea of wearing a $300 sweater (or any clothing of any real value) to the gym was unheard of. But Carrie didn’t think twice about it. If it was there and she loved it and felt like wearing it, she did. She lived life at full force. Why not wear your favorite sweater or sneakers or eyeglasses today? Enjoy this life, now. What if there is no tomorrow? Plus, I’ve had sweaters I loved and didn’t wear because I waited for a special occasion, and when one finally came it was too small or had moth holes in it. Do not waste a moment of feeling – or wearing – some happiness. Life is too short.

Where were you when you first heard Carrie had passed?  How did you work through that grief, mentally and creatively?

I had taken another personal assistant job and was at work when I found out. She had already been in the hospital by this point and I knew it wasn’t looking good. My phone started with texts and emails. And that is how I found out. I was washing dishes for my new employer at the time and had to leave. I don’t think I have ever cried like that, where the tears just felt pushed out of me. I am lucky that I had a great support system in my boyfriend and goods friends and many tools to cope with such things from years of therapy. It was such a shitty time. That night I took a bath and typed out a little tribute in the notes app on my phone and put it on Facebook. I just wanted the world to know a little about the real her. And it helped to know I was not grieving alone.

From working as Princess Leia’s assistant, Bryon has carved out his own success in Hollywood and beyond.  He’s a regional Emmy Award winner for his work as a TV news journalist (pre-Carrie), and his oddly premised show Tilda Swinton Answers An Ad On Craigslist has been a megahit internationally with Hollywood biggies praising it left and right – yes, the show is literally about Tilda answering Craigslist ads.   He also wrote and co-starred in the film Herpes Boy, starring Octavia Spencer, and winning a Comic Con award for Best Comedy.  Once again using his real life as an inspiration, his web series Last Will & Testicle details his testicular cancer diagnosis which Cosmopolitan Magazine called “fearless”.  His cancer has since come back.

In today’s current social, political, and health environment, do you think you would be able to go back to work as a TV News journalist?

I cannot imagine doing it again. Current news reporters out there are doing a lot with truly little. There’s low pay, high demand, high stress, horrible hours. It is thankless and the institution is under constant assault – big conservative companies buying up all the local stations and forcing an agenda, for example. I think the future of news is going to be hyper-local, like a version of journalism born out of apps like NextDoor. There’s demand for local-local-local news and no one is really delivering. But leave me out of it! I don’t want to do it! [Laughs]

When I first read about a play called Tilda Swinton Answers An Ad On Craigslist, I first thought, “what the hell?”  This has become a phenomenon unto itself.  You named your dog, Tilda, now this play.  Why Tilda?  Why are you so obsessed with her?  Does she need to get a restraining order?

I am less obsessed with the real Tilda Swinton and more enchanted by the idea of her. Her public persona is very ethereal and mysterious, and I love things that warp reality. Naming my dog Tilda came first. My boyfriend and I were adopting from the Lange Foundation and we found a terrier who was blonde and beautiful in a high-fashion way and my boyfriend suggested we name her after Tilda, and it was so perfect. And then I wondered what life would be like living with the real Tilda Swinton and the play was born from that.

You worked with Octavia Spencer in a film you wrote, Herpes Boy.  Do you know if she is looking for a personal assistant?  Asking for a friend.  From working with Octavia, what is the craziest thing you think she would ask her assistant to do?

[Laughing] I don’t know if she’s looking, but she is so busy, I hope she has one or two assistants helping. I can tell you from my time with her that she is a joyous, kind, beautiful person. She is generous in every way, talented on every level, and brings absolute brilliance to everything she touches. I can’t imagine her making any crazy requests. I bet she is a blast to work for! Hell, it’s a blast just to be in the same room with her!

Ok, let’s talk Last Will & Testicle.  Getting a cancer diagnosis at such an early age is not something that is normal to deal with.  How did this change your way of thinking about life?

Well, I had my first testicular cancer diagnosis 5 years ago and now it’s back. I’m in chemo infusion right now. A recent routine test showed the cancer came back in some lymph nodes. It’s a drag but the prognosis is great, chemo hasn’t been too horrible yet, and I’m in good spirits. This kind of thing forces you to focus on what is important in life. I am thankful for the wisdom. I wish I could have found such clarity without cancer and chemo but it’s okay. This is what life looks like. The first time I was diagnosed I made the Last Will & Testicle web series. I’m not sure yet which form of art this new round of treatment might bring.

Where do you go from here?

I am writing more books and I would love to maybe write another play, or maybe a mockumentary-style sitcom with my castmates from Tilda Swinton Answers An Ad On Craigslist. Those guys are brilliant and crazy-talented and we’ve had so many adventures doing the show around the world – from the five of us sharing a tiny flat in London to the five of us performing the show for one rich lady in her mansion to try to get her to invest in us. I think the world would love to see the crazy places we performed and the idiotic mishaps on stage. And I would do anything to have those actors as my co-workers every day!

As a super fan of Debbie Reynolds (I’m the only one who requests to sing Tammy at karaoke), I must know, what is the one memory that sticks out from meeting her?

She was the best! We all called her Miss Debbie. My favorite memory of her was getting to see her perform. I think it was one of her last shows and she had requested Carrie attend, so I went along, too. I think it was a small auditorium in Phoenix or something. She still did small shows – performing was her passion, no matter the venue. She was a STAR. Hilarious and charming. I sat behind the curtain, on the floor backstage with Carrie, who told me that when she was a girl, that was how she watched her mother’s shows–sitting on the floor, from the wings. It was sweet. Debbie didn’t miss a beat on stage and wore fancy, heavy beaded gowns the whole time. She could have worn more modern, light-weight stuff but she wanted the real deal. Nothing about her was fake–not even the wardrobe. She always thought her fans deserved the absolute best. During intermission, it was clear the performance was taking a toll. But, swollen feet and exhausted, she got right back up when it was time to go back into the lights. And no one in the audience was any wiser. I am so lucky I got to see that. You would have loved her. Everyone did.

A Star is Bored hits shelves in July, grab your copy, and grab a Coke Zero.

 

Find everything Byron Lane at www.ByronLane.com

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Twitter: @ByronLane

Last modified: June 27, 2020