Byron Lane Invites Us to a Big Gay Wedding

Written by | Books

Byron Lane’s love affair with words is far from languishing. Winning two regional Emmy Awards for his time as a TV journalist, he went on to write for and appear on the stage and screen. Remember the odd but highly successful stage piece Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist? That was from his mind. Three years ago, he made the leap into novel writing with A Star is Bored, a fictional homage to his time working for Carrie Fisher, a master of words herself. The book barely hit the shelves as it was scooped up by critics and readers alike. It was a smashing success. It made the top book lists for People, Town & Country, Harper’s Bazaar, Parade Magazine, New York Times Review, USA Today, and the NY Post, with the list going on and on – not to mention that social media frenzy it stirred with celebs from the LGBTQ world and beyond touting his book. We had the honor of chatting with him as his debut novel was released. That’s when we fell in love with the man behind the keyboard. Unassuming and soft-spoken, he is a force of optimistic and infectious energy. He is what his books promote – sincere love and affection. He somehow turns the conversation around, asking how you are and what you are going through to the point you don’t know if the conversation will result in laughs or tears with it most times having a bit of both.

This summer, he’s back with his sophomore novel, Big Gay Wedding: A Novel. It has been said in the literary world that a follow-up book is a bigger test for a writer than the first. There are deadlines, there are economic pressures set by the first book, and there are expectations set by readers and critics. Can a successful debut novelist recapture lighting in a bottle? List after list of media outlets and critics have touted Big Gay Wedding as one of the most anticipated and best reads of 2023. Having read an advance copy, I can enthusiastically say this is what you loved about A Star Is Bored and even more. With more pathos than his first book, he weaves emotion, humor, and gayness into a masterfully told story that is both charming and important. Basically put, the book deals with the homecoming of the hero Barnett to a small Louisiana farm town to announce to his mother that he is getting married … to a man. Though his mother knew he was gay, it was never such a definite issue and she certainly has her reservations. As the story unfolds, Barnett’s fiancé and family invade the farm and it is decided the wedding will take place on the farm. Hilarity ensues as mother and town must adjust to all the gayness being thrust upon them. Was Lane nervous in writing this follow-up? How did he choose this story?

The process of writing anything for me always has been scary from the plays and the web series stuff, the first book, and then the second book. I was lucky that I had an editor who was very encouraging. My partner, Steven Rowley, and I had just gotten married and we had a very small gay wedding. I remember talking to my editor, James Melia, about what should the next book be. We tossed around some ideas and he pointed out, you know, you just had a little gay wedding and do you have any ideas for a book about maybe a BIG gay wedding? And I thought, all right, well, what would that look like in the world and what would that look like in my world of this guy from Louisiana? I’m a Southern guy, conservative background, religious background, so what would’ve happened if I would’ve brought the big gay marriage to the South? That’s where the idea came from.

On a more serious note, the book does deal with homophobia, hate crimes, forgiveness towards those who rally against our community, and the real definition of unconditional love. With so much political and social hate directed towards our community, did he think titling the book Big Gay Wedding would be limiting its off-the-shelf appeal?

I think it is not just wise, but important. I hope people think that it’s brave in some way. And now is the time to be brave. Now is the time to refuse to be eradicated from public life and public space. If Pride ever meant anything, it must mean EVERYTHING now; now really is the time for Pride. I’m going to be 45 soon and, for me, Pride has always been evolving. It really started for me way back in 2008 with gay marriage stuff and Prop 8 [CA amendment to ban same-sex marriage] very early on. Now, at this age, I look around and I see the horrible things that are happening with our trans brothers and sisters and our non-binary friends. It really is time to be proud to show our pride and to be loud. And if having a title, Big Gay Wedding with a couple of guys holding hands on the cover in a bookstore can be any kind of flag for that, I’m here for it.

Big Gay Wedding has the substance and sincerity of Byron’s first novel, but, being told in the third person rather than first, the characters have evolved. Lane has this talent of connecting with a character so the reader knows in an instant who this person is, how they feel, and how they think.

We go into the minds of all (these) characters. I hope it shows some growth on my part in an ability to round out these stories – a mother who is desperate to connect with her son and who has to experience her own sort of coming out as being supportive of a gay son; the gay son who has to wrangle his maybe impatience and frustration with a mom who’s moving a little bit too slow and coming to acceptance; and a grandfather who in the book is named Paw-Paw (in real life, I did have a Paw-Paw and Maw-Maw) who lives in a nursing home and forced to watch Glee and has had his own evolution on what gay life means and that it’s acceptable and loving and who cares? You’ve got all these rich characters and I’m grateful that I’m able to explore each one so in-depth.

Being gay has helped me with characters because, growing up, I’ve had to protect myself constantly. And so sometimes I feel like I’m a little bit of a scared puppy or something where you have to just be on alert and know like, okay, these are some bad vibes, this person doesn’t have my best interest in heart. Even growing up with strict parents, I didn’t want to step on dad’s toes. And I think a lot of gay people can relate to that. Is my teacher making fun of me, or is she being supportive? Riding the bus to school the guys in the back would shoot spitballs at me and I remember so vividly looking at the driver, I could see him in the rearview mirror, he had dark sunglasses on. I never knew if he was really looking back and wondering why doesn’t he help me? Why doesn’t he protect me? So, I think some of what I can bring to writing is a little bit of that hypersensitivity and an ability to kind of craft these people because I’ve met these people.

In addition to LGBTQ themes, the book deals a lot with getting older and death. Not to give anything away, but there are a few instances where the finality of life and where we go from here come into play. Lane’s dealing with the subject matter is delicate yet still heart-wrenching.

I think all the time about the duality of comedy and drama and then sometimes I’m snapped into the space where I think, wait a minute, is it really just one thing? Is it really just one experience that we’re all having? And when I worked for Carrie Fisher, she always talked about taking your broken heart and making art. She always talked about finding the humor in a bad situation because then what’s the point of the situation? No one wants to live in a world where everything is just bad. I do notice that if I can slow down for a second, if I can open my eyes a little bit wider, if I can see a bigger picture, often terrible things do have these moments of humor, and it can bring levity, it can bring inspiration. They can be moments of growth and healing. So, to me, it really is just so important to acknowledge that they are so connected, drama and comedy.

Having to work through drama is something Byron knows all too well. He is a two-time cancer survivor. His loss of hair, his chemo, and the return of cancer were all shared on his social media. He wasn’t shying away from life. In addition, he lost Carrie Fisher who had gone from boss to friend. Then, he had to deal with the loss of his beloved canine companion, Tilda. How has loss affected Byron’s daily life?

I had cancer in 2015, and they said, well, testicular cancer is easy to treat, no big deal, just relax. And I was like, all right. Then it came back in 2020, and I had to have chemo. Suddenly I’m like, well, wait a minute. Can it come back again? And they’re saying, oh, the odds are so low. And I’m thinking, you know what? I’ve heard that before. You do think about mortality.

I’m sitting there getting chemo and I’m looking around me at these mostly elderly people who are getting these infusions and crying out in pain. You can’t help but think, wow, we’re all kind of fragile here. There’s a part of it that makes you think, I need to live in the moment. I need to embrace the present. This is really important. And then here’s where it gets a little bit crazy. Once I started thinking like that, suddenly the present seemed really beautiful, even while I was getting chemo. One thing I remember so vividly is this old lady getting her chemo. She would pass the time by knitting, always knitting, and we were always freezing cold. They kept the room cold, the medicines were cold, and everyone was freezing all the time. So, she was knitting and one day she came up to me and asked, “Hey, do you like color?” And I thought, oh God, is this going to be some kind of gay thing that’s about to happen? I replied, “Yeah, sure, I think so.” She continued, “You like rainbows?” And I was like, “Oh, yeah.” She stated, “I knitted this for you.” And she pulls out of her bag a rainbow knitted cap and gave that to me and talked to me about her daughter and her life and all these wonderful things. It was just such a beautiful moment.

Thinking about death and sometimes getting lost in that sadness made me focus on the present. Once you start focusing on the present, I started realizing, oh my God, there are so many beautiful moments here too. That was a great gift. I hope in my writing and in my work, I’m able to bring those little moments of levity, those great lessons about the joy of this existence, to the page.

Byron’s characters in Big Gay Wedding each go through their own evolution with unconditional love. Unconditional love has been a journey for Byron in real life. He has found his soul mate with his husband, acclaimed writer Stephen Rowley. The two live in Palm Springs, sharing the squabbles of married life and unmade beds but also sharing the successes that have come their way. As gay men, not everyone finds their mate, and not everyone experiences that unconditional love from their family.

It really breaks my heart and it reminds me of growing up. My dad was really strict and I always wanted to please him. I sometimes think of that hypothetical where you go back and tell your younger self something, I would go back and tell my younger self, hey, you will never make him happy. This thing they call unconditional love, you will never get from him. So just put that on the back burner and live your life. Do your best, and be a good person. When I think about what that would’ve given younger Byron, I think it would’ve given him a little bit more freedom. Sometimes that’s just part of it. There are people who just aren’t going to love, and it sucks and it’s awful. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. We can look at the cliches – it gets better. That’s true. It WILL get better. Love yourself.

Big Gay Wedding is available everywhere, just in time for Pride season. The audiobook version is voiced by actor Noah Galvin, who also narrated Bryon’s first book. As for Bryon’s future … will there be a book three? Of course. While working on screen adaptations of his work, there will always be a book in the future.

And his message to the LGBTQ community this Pride?

Smile, baby! Take that smile and bring it to the streets. Let’s do it. This is the time to be proud. This is the time to really let it show. I have my whole life struggled with this idea of pride, but it really clicked for me when someone said that pride is very simply the opposite of shame. And that makes so much sense to me. We should not be ashamed of any part of our life, and we should not be ashamed of any part of our community. And when I look at these parades, and I think of it through that lens, I’m so proud. I’m so proud of the beautiful people, I’m so proud of the beautiful communities. I’m so proud of the different types of people, the different types of lifestyles. Put on that smile and get out there and let’s all do it together.

You can follow Byron on IG: @ByronLaneDotCom

Last modified: June 22, 2023