Zibby interviews playwright, screenwriter, Emmy Award-winning journalist, and author Byron Lane about Big Gay Wedding, a hilarious, quirky, and unashamedly proud novel about a conservative mom (who runs a small-town rescue ranch for misfit animals) and her gay son (who wants to get married at the farm). Byron shares his coming out story (and how it inspired bits of this novel); his journey with testicular cancer; his experience working as actress Carrie Fischer’s assistant; and the perks of being married to author Steven Rowley.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Byron. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Big Gay Wedding: A Novel.

Byron Lane: I’m honored. Thank you so much for having me. I love chatting with you.

Zibby: Of course. You too. Before we got on, I was just raving about how beautiful this cover is with the two men holding hands, but you almost can’t even tell. It’s this big blue and white wedding season, something blue. It’s just perfect.

Byron: Thanks. Yeah, good vibes. You never really know what the cover will look like when you hold it for the first time. I’m so happy. I’m so proud of it.

Zibby: It’s really great, and the book. Tell listeners what the book is about.

Byron: Big Gay Wedding is about a conservative mom who runs a small-town rescue ranch for misfit animals. She clashes with her gay son who wants to have his wedding there on the family farm. That’s the quick and easy.

Zibby: That’s a good one. Good pitch. Concise and all that.

Byron: It’s a little Father of the Bride. It’s a little Schitt’s Creek. We’ve got some humor in there. We’ve got lots of heart and some really fun characters to explore the world with. There’s a grandfather character named Paw-Paw who lives in a nursing home. He is really progressive because at the nursing home, they let them watch TV shows like Glee. He’s always got fun takes. I hope folks like it.

Zibby: Of course, folks will like it. Tell me about all the different points of view and deciding how to structure the book, first person, third person, which characters you chose for when. Isn’t that a hard decision? How did you structure it?

Byron: Really, I kind of just give the ball a kick and see what’s working. That’s where we landed. We follow all of the characters. We follow the mother, Chrissy Durang. Her son, Barnett, is the one who wants to get married on the farm. His partner is Ezra, who is a teacher and brings to the story some, I wouldn’t say new age, but maybe a little bit of outside-of-the-box teaching about helping kids connect with their feelings and all that kind of stuff. It was really fun. It was so different from A Star is Bored, which was my first novel, which was inspired by my time I worked for Carrie Fisher. For A Star is Bored, I was able to take reality and then paint imagination on top of it. Big Gay Wedding is really a lot more imagination. You get this opportunity to really explore life with these characters. There’s some that is inspired by my real life. I grew up in the South. My family had a hard time when I came out. It was a whole nother coming-out experience to introduce everyone to my husband, author Steven Rowley, who wrote The Guncle and The Celebrants. This story really is a mom’s story, to be honest. The title is Big Gay Wedding. There’s lots of big gay stuff in it, but it’s really a story about a mom who’s trying to come out in her own way as loving and supporting her gay son.

Zibby: It’s so interesting. I was on Instagram earlier today. This is going to sound random. Do you know who Jen Hatmaker is? She’s based in Austin. She had this whole evangelical following for a long time in her prior life and posted about her support of gay marriage and how amazing — she said something like, what if your son came out and wanted a wedding to another man? She was like, of course, I’d be a hundred percent behind it. I guess she lost her whole business at the time. All the evangelical Christian following that she had, they canceled all of her — it was a whole thing. She posted about it to say, but it opened up this whole amazing community. You never know. Sometimes when it feels like things are bad, things get better. All to say she can relate to the main character of Chrissy and all of that.

Byron: I hope that this book carries a little bit of that spirit of hope that when things seem bad, there’s always another side to it. When my first book came out, I was in the middle of chemo for testicular cancer. I’m fine now. There were so many experiences during that that made me — I was forced to face, oh, I feel like I’m going through this terrible thing, but look at all these beautiful things that are happening. One of them was an older lady. She was also going through chemo. She would knit all day. Then at one point, she came up to me. One of the things she was knitting was a hat for me. I was bald. She gave me this hat to keep me warm. There were all these sweet moments. Gosh, your friend in Austin, I’m sorry that that happened. I’m also so glad that she’s able to see beauty that comes out of it. I hope I brought some of that to these characters in this book too. They all go through their own journey of acceptance and understanding. At the end of the day, isn’t that part of all of our lives, being able to say, “Wow, there’s still sunshine”?

Zibby: I think in large part, that’s why people read. I analyze what I like to read. I like to read stories where something bad happens, and something good happens at the end. You get through something. It doesn’t matter what it is. You get through the challenge, the family challenge, all of it. Then you can go about your day and be like, whatever I have on my plate, it’s going to be fine because these fifteen books I just read, there are skills and tools that I’ve learned in every one.

Byron: Also, being seen, just that human thing. I still remember this Oprah episode where she said your kids just want to see you light up when you enter the room. I think that that’s also true of adults. I think we all like to feel seen. I love it when a book can capture that and make me feel that way.

Zibby: Totally. Your journey with testicular cancer, how old were you when that happened? Do you want to talk about it? You don’t have to.

Byron: Oh, yeah, anything you want. I noticed a lump on a testicle in 2015. The doctor was like, “This isn’t good. We should remove the testicle, see what’s going on in there.” They did. They did a biopsy. There was cancer, but it was contained. I didn’t need chemo in 2015. He was like, “If you wait it out five years, we’ll do the scan every few months, that kind of thing. After five years, you should be good to go.” Then Zibby, five years later, almost to the date, I went for my scan, and they were like, “The cancer showed up in some lymph nodes,” kind of in my leg. It wasn’t the end of the world. I’m so lucky that I had Steven here to help me through that. By that point, he had published three books, and so he was really a great support at — A Star is Bored was coming out. He was like, “Here’s what’s going to happen. Here’s what that process looks like.” Then of course, COVID happened during chemo. I took my little bald head, and I put on my mask. Steven drove me to the chemo place. Then he wasn’t allowed to stay because of the new rules. It was a little bit of crazy town. It’s hard to not look back at that with a little smile because it brought us so much closer. That was a beautiful time for our family, and then the little experiences I had with the doctors and the nurses and all that. It all worked out. I had to have one other surgery where they took the tumor out. Afterwards, I said to the doctor — he was like, “That was a really weird-shaped tumor.” I was like, “Did you take a picture?” He was like, “Oh, man, sorry. I only take pictures of the giant ones.” I was a little bummed about that.

Zibby: Next time.

Byron: Next time. All is forgiven because I’m safe and sound and healthy and moving all along.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. How many more obstacles can you throw in the book launches? It’s hard enough to launch a book.

Byron: I know. It’s like, is Town & Country going to review? Then you’ve got, also, cancer and COVID. It was really a nutty time.

Zibby: I don’t even mean to laugh.

Byron: Oh, my gosh. If we can’t laugh, what is the point? What is the point? Every now and then I’ll have these moments where I think, if I just take myself out of it for a second, life isn’t that hard. Laughter is one of those things where it can be sort of an automatic response. If I just let it happen and let the thing be funny, sometimes if I just let it be embarrassing, it really can be a smooth ride. I’m all about having a good laugh at all of it.

Zibby: Wow. I love that you finalized that whole section with saying what a smooth ride it is when it sounded like it was the opposite of a smooth ride, so let’s go with that.

Byron: The thing is, it’s sort of like — I heard this self-help lady say one time, her little mantra was, I want what happens. I don’t always feel that way. If I can get in that headspace, what else is there to do but just kind of sit in the roller coaster and let it roll?

Zibby: So true. Wait, I didn’t realize — I’m sorry, I have to admit I did not read your other book, the first book, A Star is Bored. Tell me more about that and working with Carrie Fisher. Actually, my husband’s business partner is married to Carrie Fisher’s daughter, Billie.

Byron: That’s so cool.

Zibby: We know them very well. Tell me about your experience and all of that.

Byron: It was truly life-changing. She was a magical person. I worked for her for about three years, from 2011 to 2014. Every day was a peak experience, not just because we were traveling the world and she’s rich and famous and all that stuff, but because she’s hilarious. She was so funny and so warm and had such a great outlook on things. I think of her all the time. Yesterday, I was walking the dogs. The smell of the neighborhood I was in reminded me of Bali, when we went to Bali. She’s on my mind every day. Part of what was so special about my time with her was that when I started working for her, I was really depressed. My life wasn’t going the way I had imagined it would go. Things felt really hard. I was really lonely. My career as a journalist wasn’t thriving. I was working a graveyard shift at CBS2/KCAL9 writing news. Then a friend of a friend basically emailed and was like, “Hey, would you want to work for Princess Leia?” I thought, well, maybe. If I’m going to leave this journalism career, it should be for something cool. I met with Carrie. She was otherworldly and just added so much color to my life and pulled me out of that depression I was in. We talked about being seen. I felt seen by her. We also shared this isolation. I was isolated by being depressed and feeling ugly and unwanted and unlovable and a failure. She was isolated by being a big movie star who had to do hair and makeup before she went to the grocery store. We were friends. It was really lovely.

A Star is Bored kind of tries to capture that. It’s this depressed assistant who comes into contact with this really manic movie star. She shines her light on him and changes his life. Then as he starts to change, he has to come to terms with whether he’s going to live his own life or keep living hers. That’s sort of what happens in a celebrity assistant situation. You really are living someone else’s life. You’re living someone else’s vacations. You’re having their experiences. Some people can do it forever. The pay is great. It’s pretty cool to say you work for Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds, Carrie’s mom, her assistant was with her life. That happens a lot because it’s a cool gig. It’s just this little gnawing thing of if you want to do something different with your life and not live someone else’s. That’s ultimately why I ended up leaving working for her. It was life-changing. It was beautiful. I hope I captured the spirit of that in A Star is Bored. Billie is such a lovely, beautiful person. I don’t know her partner. They weren’t together when I was working for Carrie. The whole family is beautiful. I’ll tell you, Carrie cared about one thing, and that was Billie. It was really beautiful to see that. Speaking of great moms, by the way, that was really beautiful to see how much she loved Billie.

Zibby: That is so nice. I love that. What did you do after? What were your original career aspirations? You wanted to be a journalist from day one? Tell me about that.

Byron: Oh, yeah, what a nerd. I wanted to be Katie Couric. In college, I had a roommate, this poor guy Jason. Our TV had a timer, so I would set the alarm to wake us right before the Today Show would come on so I could hear the cool music and the headlines. What a nerd. Then I got a job working for a local TV station in New Orleans and ended up, during college, working there overnight. I would get to work at midnight, type the news for the morning show. The morning show would run. They would get off the air at eight. I would race home, change clothes, and then go into classes at Loyola in New Orleans. It really was my life. I worked with Hoda Kotb. She worked at Channel 4/WWL-TV in New Orleans at the time I was there. It was just a great life. The TV station there was a dominant number one, so everyone there in town watched that channel. Everyone watched Hoda. There was another brilliant anchor named Angela Hill. Everyone was watching her. They could effect change in the community. This was around 1997, ’98, ’99. When I left, journalism really changed across the board. There were fewer dominant number-one stations. Everyone got into gimmicks.

Then I worked in Las Vegas for a couple years as an on-air reporter. That was crazy. That was also in the middle of the night. I put on a little necktie at midnight and went in a live truck. The photographer and I would drive around and listen to the police scanner and go from crime scene to crime scene. It was truly like a bad movie. Whatever was the worst thing was our live shot for the morning show. I’m not saying that was a big contributor to my depression at the time, but maybe. Then I got to LA. I was a news writer. That’s a big change from wanting to be on air and all that stuff. I started writing movies. I wrote a web series. When the thing happened with my testicular cancer, I wrote a web series called Last Will and Testicle. That was well-received. I kicked it all around and was looking for the next thing. When Carrie passed away in 2016, I posted a little tribute on Facebook. People were so responsive. It had a little bit of a viral reaction. I thought, maybe there’s more to that story that people would like to hear. That’s when I started writing that book.

Zibby: Did you consider it as a memoir?

Byron: No. I tried to write like Carrie used to write. She would take real life and then cover it with imagination. Part of that is to save some souls so she didn’t have to use real names and all that stuff. The other part of it was really — this was something I learned while I was putting A Star is Bored together. I hired a couple of freelance editors to help me with the structure. It was my first book. I wanted to know what I was doing. They would point out the areas where — the shorthand of it is, you need something to happen here. You need something big. My time with her was really pretty level. We didn’t have big fights. Her priorities aligned with my priorities in life. In crafting a fictionalized story of that, you have to add in some peaks and valleys and whatnot. It was a little bit more fun to tell a fictionalized version.

Zibby: Then how did you come to this story after that one?

Byron: I was talking with my editor over at Henry Holt, James Melia, who’s a genius. I love him. We were talking about, what could be next? Steven and I had just had a little gay wedding. It was right after the chemo. It was right during COVID. We were trying to figure out this marriage thing. I had proposed to him in the acknowledgments of A Star is Bored. I proposed in 2020. Then when 2021 rolled around, we were like, let’s just do it. Who knows when COVID will end? Who knows when there’ll be big gatherings again? Also, this way, we don’t have to invite all of our families. We found this house here in Palm Springs that hadn’t been remodeled since the sixties, so it was all that great, old, crazy, grand, emerald carpets and curtains and things like that. We just had an easy-breezy ceremony there. Then when it was time to write this book, I thought, I had a little gay wedding, but what if I would’ve had a big gay wedding? What if it would’ve been a big, grand thing? What if I would’ve done it back home where it would’ve been hard for my friends and family in the New Orleans area to — my friends and family are in the rural part of Louisiana, so a little bit north of New Orleans. That would’ve been a big deal for them, and even for some people who — I truly think that the haters are kind of a minority, but they’re really loud. I think what would’ve happened in real life and what I tried to bring to the book is people who sort of wanted to be happy for the character Barnett and want to cheer him on. It just takes a little bit of courage to do that sometimes.

Zibby: Interesting. How did you meet Steven?

Byron: We met on OkCupid.

Zibby: No way.

Byron: Yeah. This was ten years ago. We were just looking at our first messages back and forth. I emailed him first. I knew. I knew he was a winner. I sent him a message. I wrote, “Wow, I can tell you’re a writer.” His profile was so well-written. It was so clever and funny. It had all the opposite of red flags. It had green flags. We both loved the movie Meet Joe Black. That’s one thing that came to mind. We talked about complicated relationships with our families. We started messaging. Then we had a Pinkberry yogurt date. I remember when I left there, I reached out to a friend. I said, “I think I met my husband.” I kind of just had this feeling. He was just that kind of guy, really special. He got to meet Carrie. I was still working for her at the time. We were at a party at Penny Marshall’s house. Carrie had just hidden a bunch of Coke Zeros all around the bushes around Penny Marshall’s swimming pool because she was scared that Penny was going to run out. She wanted to make sure she had enough Coke Zero to drink. It was at that moment that I brought Steven over. I was like, “Hey, this is Carrie.” She pulled him down, and she was like, “If you break his heart, I’ll kill you.” I was like, what a sweet little moment. That was another interesting thing about how I knew that Steven would make a great partner. Carrie was really special to me. Most of my friends didn’t even know I worked for her. I didn’t tell people. I kept everything private. There was no gossip. I didn’t want people asking for me to get something signed. Similarly, with dating people, there was no one who I ever wanted to introduce her to. Then I met this guy, Steven Rowley. I was like, this is a great guy. I thought that she would get a kick out of him, and she did. It was all very lovely.

Zibby: How is it being part of a two-author household?

Byron: It’s pretty great. I joke that we’re at war. Our books come out the same day. It really is just an accident. We have different agents, editors, publishers, the whole thing. May 30th, Steven’s new book, The Celebrants, drops the same day as Big Gay Wedding. It’s really lovely. I sometimes think I get more out of it than Steven. I’m able to go to him and be like, is this normal? Do you have your books yet? Have you seen your cover yet? How many blurbs are you asking for? I get to go to him for all the good stuff, and not to mention both of us reading each other’s work and giving feedback and advice. It’s a pretty quiet house except for our dogs, Raindrop and Shirley, who can make a ruckus when the mail carrier arrives. Other than that, it’s quiet. We say hello during lunch. The only other great part is we understand when the writer brain is at work. If we’re stressed because we can’t figure something out, we understand. If something happens and we’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I have an idea. Sorry, I can’t go on the walk with you. I got to go write,” we also get that. It’s nice to have a shorthand in that regard.

Zibby: That’s amazing. It’s so crazy that your books are coming out at the same time.

Byron: So crazy.

Zibby: Do you have any plans for another one? What are you thinking? Are you writing something already in these quiet hours?

Byron: Oh, my gosh, I know. I’m still kicking around ideas. I’m trying to see what comes of all of it. I want to turn Big Gay Wedding into a screenplay, so that’s on my mind. You know how it is. Sometimes you’re just waiting to see where the creative energy goes.

Zibby: It would be fun to do something about being part of a two-author household. It’s almost like a book in itself. Two authors, same pub day, but maybe only one of them can come out. I don’t know.

Byron: Brilliant. We’ve thought about it. Every now and then, we’ll kick around ideas. What about this? What about that? You never know.

Zibby: You never know. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Byron: It’s lame, but it’s heartfelt. I mean it. Keep going. Sit in the chair. Keep writing. If you get some rejections, who cares? Keep going. There are so many stories of people who, it was their 101 rejection letter, and then they made their deal or whatever. Even in my own writing, I sometimes don’t know what’s going to happen in a scene until the end of the scene. Sometimes you have to write several chapters until you realize, oh, I finally found these people. The keep going part of it, it just is part of it. That’s my advice. Don’t give up. Keep going. You’ve got this. Everyone — I shouldn’t say everyone. The writers I know all experience the same thing. Am I a failure? Is this dumb? Imposter syndrome is real. The truth is to just take your story and bring it to the page. Carrie Fisher, to rounds things out with her, she used to say, take your broken heart, and go make art. It really did feel like that served me when it came time to write A Star is Bored. I feel like it serves me when I have to take regrets in my life and put them into some of these characters in Big Gay Wedding. Keep going. Keep going with your story. It’s important. What you’re doing is important.

Zibby: I love that. I’m so excited you’ll be at Zibby’s Bookshop soon. I think this might air afterwards. Hopefully, we can record the thing because I’m so sad I won’t be there in person. Thrilled you’ll be there.

Byron: No worries. I’m excited too. I love the empire you are creating. It is such an honor to be chatting with you. What you have done for authors is brilliant, amazing, groundbreaking. I just think you’re iconic. I’m kind of fanboying out. I’m thrilled that you were able to chat with me. I can’t wait to visit your bookstore.

Zibby: Yay, thank you. This was so much fun. I loved talking to and hope to continue in person out West next time.

Byron: That sounds great, Zibby. More to come.

Zibby: Hi to Steven.

Byron: I will.

Zibby: Bye.

Byron: Bye.


Purchase your copy on Bookshop!

Share, rate, & review the podcast, and follow Zibby on Instagram @zibbyowens