Byron Lane on Being Carrie Fisher’s Personal Assistant
The Author of The Star is Bored Takes the Lit Hub Questionnaire
Byron Lane’s novel, A Star is Bored, is available now from Henry Holt. We asked him questions about his experience as Carrie Fisher’s personal assistant, how that played into writing this book, and the lessons he took away from his time with her.
You once worked as Carrie Fisher’s assistant, and that job shaped this book. Why did you want to use that experience in your novel?
Working for Carrie Fisher saved my life in so many ways. I was in a funk when I got the job and her energy and zest for life lifted me up. She taught me so much about friendship and family and writing and life. We had so much fun and so many adventures. When she died, I wanted to capture the spirit of our time together. She always used to say, “Take your broken heart and make art.” And, so, that’s what I did. I think she’d be proud of me.
What are the characteristics you need most to be a personal assistant in Hollywood?
Being a celebrity assistant can be a tough job and an amazing experience. If you’re intuitive and naturally inclined to be a helper, you’ll do great. The vibe of your boss will color the experience and make it more or less pleasant, but at the end of the day, it’s about service. If you find the right fit, you can have a life-changing and brilliant time. I wish everyone was a lucky as me to work for someone as amazing and cool as Carrie Fisher.
Most of us aren’t going to movie theaters, so what films are you watching these days?
Eek I’m all over the place with my movies! I’m doing chemo right now for testicular cancer (I’m doing great, in good spirits with great prognosis), so I’ve had LOTS of time. I’ve revisited some of my childhood favorites like Big Business with Bette Midler and Housesitter with Goldie Hawn. I’ve rewatched some fun action films like Edge of Tomorrow and Skyfall. I love some classic Carrie Fisher so just rewatched Postcards from the Edge (genius!). And I’m watching some oldies I’ve never seen like Das Boot.
How do you tackle writers block?
I’ve noticed my writers block is usually because my outline isn’t thorough enough. Or I’m just burned out and need a break. I like to take walks or go on a drive. It also helps to chat with a friend and sometimes just talking about it helps. I sometimes turn to books on writing to inspire some ideas. Other times, I force myself to sit at the computer and give myself permission to write something terrible—at least I’m writing and sometimes it leads somewhere. And, honestly, sometimes it just takes time to figure out what comes next in your story. I heard somewhere (I wish I could remember where) that writers are always writing—even when they’re not at a computer. Going to the grocery and noticing quirky characters in line in front of you can count as writing if you use that material. Having an argument with your lover over what to eat for dinner can count as writing if you use the material. I try to not be too hard on myself.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most recent advice that’s helped my process has been from Chuck Palahniuk’s new book on writing called Consider This. He says when you’re stuck, ask yourself, “where’s the clock, where’s the gun?” He explains this brilliantly, but essentially I think he’s saying to make sure your story is counting down (or building up) to something specific. And that the stakes are clear and high. With these things in place, it’s easier to blastoff.
A Star is Bored by Byron Lane is available now from Henry Holt.