My Starlight, a new young adult contemporary novel by Nerdbot Editor-in-Chief Loryn Stone, centers on a teenager named Orly who gets thrown into the middle of a chaotic anime club at school. She is recruited by her friend Serena to join a Lovely Starlight Fighter Club that wants to do something really special for the other fans of the anime- throw a giant meetup. The results of the event? Not so optimal.
“If only we could have met sooner…
Orly Kochav likes nerdy things. A huge fan of Japanese animation, cosplay, and playing the bass, she’s convinced she can use her natural charisma and swagger to get anything she wants.
Including beautiful girls.
But when her judgmental mother catches her kissing one of her girl-crushes and asks her a hideous question, Orly shuts down and goes into a state of emotional hiding. She grabs her nearest male friend, Spencer James, declares him her boyfriend, and lives in a quiet bubble.
That is, until her mom suddenly dies.
Now sixteen, Orly is itching to reclaim her prior life. And when her new friend, Serena Karl, informs her that a secret club dedicated to their favorite Japanese Anime, Lovely Starlight Fighter, is at their high school, Orly thinks she’ll be able to slip back into the world of fandom without issue. Until rising tension between the club president, Marcus Powell, and vice president, Danielle Cohen, threatens to tear the club apart. And a rising attraction to Danielle threatens to make Orly question every choice she’s about to make.”
Orly’s story is a journey of someone learning to identify as bisexual. She comes to terms with both exploring her sexuality as well as identifying and commenting on the darker sides of fandom. It is important because there are not, in my experience, many stories that detail exactly what being bisexual means. It is a great social commentary on the ins and outs of being in a club and running a fan event. This story comes at you from all sides of the equation and really gets you thinking about whether or not there is one true good or bad side, or even if you should take a side at all.
While Loryn was writing the book she asked me to be a beta reader so I was able to see the creation of the book. Full disclosure, I may be friends with Loryn but I still recommend the book for anyone interested in fan focused young adult fiction. There are many hidden anime fandom Easter eggs throughout the story that make it even more exciting and enjoyable. The whole story is based on a fandom in which Loryn and I both know very well, anime and all of its subgenres and cultures. The culture is facing a bit of an identity crisis itself so identifying with some of the events of this book are easy for anyone deep in the throes of fandom.
I was able to sit down and talk to Loryn about her book My Starlight and ask her some questions about herself and the story.
What is your background? Have you always wanted to become an author?
My background…well…I was born on August 3rd, 1985 and I’m the middle child of five girls. I have two older sisters (Jackie and Keryn) and two younger sisters (Michele and Jordana). I’m the tallest and the only blonde, so just that was enough to feel like I was from another planet. I’m Jewish, but like most self-loathing Jews I don’t practice anything, but somehow all the Yiddish words and Jewish foods stuck with me. Falafel and macaroons for life.
In spite of having so many sisters and a good number of friends, I was a pretty solitary kid and liked to stay in my own head. I played video games a lot, but more often, I liked to listen to music and make up stories and games with my Barbie dolls. To this day, I’ll never understand why so many people talk crap about Barbies. Those things taught me how to write. They sparked my imagination. I would read books or see movies and shows and just reenact them with my dolls. And it was endless, too. That’s when I knew there was something in the art of storytelling that was starting to reel me in. I had a very active imagination. I still do to this day, and if left to my own devices, my brain will just sort of start spiraling with narratives.
As for wanting to become an author…I just knew I wanted to write. I started writing when I was seven and seriously never stopped. I wrote short stories from ages seven to ten. At ten, I wrote my first “book” which I still have in by bookshelf. In high school, I refused to do my class work, but told my teacher that I would write stories for him. I did, and I managed to get out of the class with an A. Maybe I should consider those my first commissions! As a moody teenager, I wrote a lot of terrible poetry. Like, it was cringing bad. It was as though I learned to rhyme from Dr. Seuss. That’s how the rhythm worked and everything. Seriously, they were just awful. But I still have those on my shelf, too! Finally, when college happened and I found out my university had a BA in Creative Writing option? It was over for me. I surrendered to a lifetime of words.
What is My Starlight about?
My Starlight is a young adult contemporary novel about an angry high school student named Orly Kochav. Her dad is Israeli and that aspect is very important to me and for the character. Her name ties into the book, which people will have to read to understand the full context. She was really into anime, cosplaying, and nerdy fandoms, but abandoned them when she tried to come out to her mom as bisexual and it didn’t go so well. She picked up the bass guitar because it was different, cool…not nerdy…and declared her best guy friend Spencer her boyfriend. But then, her mom dies. As depressing as it sounds, her mom’s death allows Orly to bring this “guise of normalcy” to an end. She knows she wants to get back into fandom…and girls…but isn’t exactly sure how. The book is about the exploration of that and being true to the nerdy things you’re into.
What types of challenges did you face while writing My Starlight?
You mean other than finding the time to literally write it? It was definitely a challenge with two young children, but I made it work with my loving husband’s endless support. He’s an artist too, so he gets it. The story was inside me and seriously dying to come out, so actually writing it didn’t take long at all. With any big-scope narrative, sometimes your original visions don’t work out. When I was plotting the scenes in the book, I had two huge moments sketched out that I thought would be just imperative to the novel. One scene involving Orly and her romantic antagonist Danielle, and another involving Marcus, the Lovely Starlight Fighter Club president. The scenes ended up not happening at all or were severely reworked.
Another challenge is…reliving the past. My Starlight is a conglomeration of many different events and times in my life and writing them was really emotional. There are a lot of feelings in that book, and readers can know that for every scene that gets tense or the emotions start peaking, that I was riding that wave right along with the characters in the story. All of it is very raw and very real.
What was your inspiration for the story?
Some inspirations were life in high school, and some of those relationships I had there. There’s a scene where Orly’s mom catches her kissing her friend Cara. The two of them latched onto the lesbian couple in Lovely Starlight Fighter, Yuuka and Megumi (whose names are also fandom Easter Eggs!) I had a friend in high school and she and I really latched onto Michiru and Haruka from Sailor Moon. I think a lot of young people can identify with that exploration of sexuality today. The story is also about what it was like (for me) getting into anime and people’s reactions to it. It’s pretty mainstream now, but back in the 90’s, you were still a freak weirdo if you liked it. The isolating feelings I had being Jewish also edge into the book. Meeting other fandom and cosplay groups as an adult and seeing the toxic drama that’s injected in there. It gets nasty, which is just the worst. Going to conventions is in the book, which is huge for me to this day. Plus, dealing with the loss of my own mother. It was just everything.
In the book you address fandom and what it can look like when there is a type of gatekeeping going on; people get so lost in the one-sidedness of things. How did you approach such a touchy subject? You did an excellent job of showing multiple sides of it, was that hard for you to imagine?
Thank you! I guess I feel that when it comes down to it, it’s important to remember that everyone in a fandom are people. We all have our capacities and limitations and some people just really don’t understand what their behavior looks like and how it affects other people. I had a friend (another fandom lifer) tell me recently that you have to be empathetic to people within fandoms because some of the have never been taught that certain behavior is or isn’t appropriate. They just really don’t know. That really stuck with me. And certain fandoms tend to attract more or less of a specific flavor of person, it would seem.
Let’s look at a fandom like Sailor Moon. It’s probably the most divided fandom short of like, Star Wars or something. On one side of the playing field, you have shy, quiet, introverts who love the manga or the show or a combination thereof. They might have a hard time connecting with people, but Sailor Moon gave them a story they loved with characters they identified with. But on the flip side, there’s another half of the fandom who look at Sailor Moon and see glamour and romance and pretty pink things and makeup brushes but have no idea who the Sailor Starlights are. Some people need to collect everything. Some people are pickier about their merchandise choices or can’t afford all the toys. Some people make their cosplays, and some people buy theirs. Neither version of fandom is wrong, but when you have gatekeepers, it can feel like your input and experience isn’t valid or welcome.
How did you develop such fleshed-out characters? Is there a secret to writing characters with depth?
You have to write what you know, and that comes with everything. When you spend all your time “researching”, you end up not only sounding unsure, but it’s difficult to engage your reader. Every character in every book is based off someone the author either knows or saw somewhere else and reapplied. You start collecting traits like Pokemon. Like for example, the Lovely Starlight Fighter Club vice president Danielle Cohen (IE, Orly’s lust interest) is somewhat based off of Mother Gothel from Disney’s Tangled. Like right down to the way she looks and acts, with a little bit of someone else thrown in for flavor. When I started writing the book, I knew there was going to be a dark, headstrong girl in the club that makes Orly lose herself. But it wasn’t until I watched Tangled again that I was like “Yes…that’s her.” But other than that, the majority of the characters are either inspired by someone I met, or a combination thereof.
Orly is such a troubled girl, I absolutely love her, do you relate to her at all?
Thank you! Orly is a reflection of myself. A combination of how I see myself, and how I wish I was. It’s funny because in my first novel attempt, which was a super natural teen fiction I called Serrano (which I did complete, but it sadly never went anywhere in the publishing world), my friends accused me of modeling the main character (named Erica) after myself. But I really, really didn’t! Orly is my response to that. Orly is completely my own, but she’s sort of the me I wish I was in high school.
There are always a few hidden experiences written into books and I love to find out which mean the most to the author. What kinds of real life events from your own life did you incorporate into the novel?
Sadly enough, they’re mostly the scenes revolving around Orly and her mom. While my mom didn’t die of a sudden brain aneurysm like Orly’s, she died quickly from undiagnosed lung cancer in 2015. For me, my mom’s death was the fire under my ass. It was the “Oh my god, you’re next, now you have to do EVERYTHING you’ve ever wanted to do because you don’t have time to be afraid because you’re going to die next.” For Orly, it’s more like she doesn’t have to live in a false reality anymore.
Also, the question that Orly’s mom asks her is the exact same one my mom asked me when I tried to come out as bisexual to her. It not only stung me, but it literally traumatized me. To the point where what, seventeen years after she said it I’ve stuck it in a book. It hurt me in a way I never thought I could be hurt. She always knew exactly how to make me feel like a monster, an inhuman thing…someone whose feelings were invalidated and always, always wrong.
Otherwise, like everything I write, a couple of scenes take place at the park. The park always shows up. I was dropped off at the park a lot as a kid so it must have wormed its way in as a permanent setting!
I was also once asked to make sweet potato latkes at a party and almost had a heart attack at the request. I played it cool because I didn’t want to look like a dweeb, but the request made me cringe. So that whole scene with Orly thinking “Oh my god, my Israeli father would kill me for making these”, is pretty accurate to how I felt that day. The host also put marshmallows on top, which upset me too. I guess I’m a traditionalist! But at the end of the day, I was wrong and the sweet potato latkes were pretty tasty. So, it’s never to late to learn new things.
Do you have any advice for those who find themselves in Orly’s situation?
Don’t date mean girls! (laughing). No, but really, I’d say it’s never too late to find your personal truth. Don’t be ashamed of who you are and what excites you.
What kind of message do you want the reader to take away from reading My Starlight?
One of the ongoing themes of the book is the repeating of the words “If only we could have met sooner.” It’s something that’s gone through all of our heads before, but there’s nothing we can do about time. We have to make the best of the time we have left with the people we meet along the way. Also, when something bad happens, it’s not the end. It’s not our end. I hope everyone has the strength to pick themselves up and keep marching forward, keep pounding on that anvil, keep that hammer swinging. At the end, you’ll probably have something beautiful.
You can keep up with Loryn by following her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Nerdbot and also has a pop culture site called PopLurker. Her other writing has appeared on Cracked.com, LoadScreen, and Temple of Geek.