Regulars to this site know that I’ve contributed my writing to other spaces. Among them, last year I did a series of articles for PopLurker.com, a pop culture and fandom website that was the brainchild of Loryn Stone. Stone had contributed to Cracked.com before setting out to plant her own flag in the pop-culture internet landscape with PopLurker, publishing her first novel, My Starlight, and has since gone on to launching another website focused on Toy news and collecting, Toy-Wizards.com, and writing a weekly column for SyFy Wire.
I sat down for a conversation with Stone on the importance of boldness, and how sometimes it’s not about thinking about how to surmount a hurdle, it’s about throwing yourself and your work out there as if the hurdles don’t even exist:
OI: You’re the fourth PopLurker Alum, third PopLurker interview after Emma, Ben & Matt.
LS: You said PopLurker Alum, but I’m still going on PopLurker. Jonathan is too. It’s my garbage baby, I need it.
OI: I have a couple ideas of where we could start, but where do you want to begin? Should we start with PopLurker or My Starlight?
LS: Let’s start with the Cracked.com writing and then PopLurker, and we can discuss Toy Wizards as well. I’m proud of my book and I’m glad My Starlight happened, but its impact has zero effect on my daily work.
OI: As I understand it, you dove headfirst into Cracked and just broke in the door.
LS: The reason I started even pitching to Cracked all started when my mom died in 2015. That was my catalyst of: ‘Oh shit, you’re next. You have to do everything you want to do or you’re not going to have time to do it.’ I started pitching to Cracked and I think my first four were promptly rejected, and finally they accepted a first pitch, and they accepted a second pitch. I had written maybe four or five in a first chunk and I think I wrote a total of eight for them, one anonymously. Finally, I couldn’t nail the voice anymore. It’s their website, they can do whatever they want, but I just kept pitching and pitching and pitching and just couldn’t hit it.
I had a bunch of things I still wanted to say so I started my own blog. It was pretty regular, just ‘Loryn: The Blog’ with articles in that sort of internet writing vein. But I thought I may have had something special when some of those article really hit. This was just my dinky blog and some of those posts would get upwards of thousands of reads. Finally, I said ‘What if I open this up to more people?’ But I knew it couldn’t be Loryn: The Website, featuring stuff by other people. That’s terrible. I wanted something that’s inclusive and has nothing to do with me or my name. No one would ever have to know who is behind that curtain. I’m really turned off when people have things named after them and ask other people to contribute. I think it’s the worst.
So I brainstormed for 24 hours and I came up with the name PopLurker because I’m a garbage person; that’s my brand, that’s who I am [laughs]. I’ve always said ‘we’re lurking, we’re lurkers,’ and I loved it. That’s how PopLurker came. It’s only a year and a half old and it still gets seven or eight thousand hits per month. It’s effortless at this point. Some months I get upwards of thirty thousand. It has evergreen content and people come back. It’s not a news website, it’s pop culture. So the content up there is good from contributors like yourself, Emma, Matt, Ben, Jonathan, Sophie- everyone that’s contributed to it, I’m grateful.
OI: You mentioned your mother passing in 2015, so I’m curious how much of your work is stuff that you’d talked about wanting to do before then and how much of it sprung up out of the ether of that confrontation with mortality?
LS: I went to school for writing. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first book of stories when I was ten. As a kid, I was writing in class when I should have been listening. I even have a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing from Cal State Northridge.
As for internet writing and articles, that wasn’t the thing when I was in college. Being able to take part in this kind of writing didn’t occur to me, and I graduated in 2008. The internet article rocket didn’t really take off as we know it until 2011, 2012- the listicle and that sort of quick article. I didn’t know that was even a thing, but once I got into it, I was hooked.
OI: You mentioned having a sense of the voice for articles on Cracked for a while and then losing it in a way. As an outside viewer and once avid reader of the site, I feel the Cracked voice became a little too rigid. It went from being a space to being a single voice and tone.
LS: Yeah, it’s your snarky friend who corrects everything you say. It’s not a fun person to talk to.
OI: There used to be a diversity of writers and voices that shared a space, but that space got narrowed to a pair of stools in a bar: you either sat next to this person and drank your whiskey sour, or you went somewhere else.
LS: That’s a really good way of putting it. I’m always talking about nerd culture in cafeteria seats. One of my things I tell people: ‘we sit at the same lunch table.’ So we have this collective space, this cafeteria and my toy collectors, my garbage people, my buddies- we sit at the same table but over there are a different flavor of nerd.
Sure, we’re not going to throw food at each other, but we’re just not choosing to sit right next to each other. Cracked remodeled the cafeteria and kicked everyone out. I was a freelancer, and by the time they stopped accepting my pitches, I didn’t want to have that voice represent my work anymore. I had other things to say.
OI: I’ve always loved the lunch table illustration. I mentioned it in my interview with Matt & Ben, which brings me to their question for you: Would you rather be an unknown talent with strong personal wealth, or a famous artist with barely a dime to their name?’ I feel like this may not apply to you since you’re already killing it in your space though.
LS: I built a platform; I’m not like environmentalists on Twitter, or comedians who can manage to say a single line and get retweeted 5,000 times with 40,000 followers from being awesome. Good on them, this isn’t condescending. I have in my sphere managed to build a platform. It’s a combination between the writing I do and how much content I pump out- there’s thousands of articles by me. The ones I don’t have credit on have been plagiarized by other sites. At the risk of sounding cocky, I’m extremely plagiarized at this point.
I would definitely rather have a visible platform and less money. I can do other work to pay my bills. I want to be a name people think of either in toy journalism which is really working out for me, convention planning- I’ve become a name people think of and it’s a huge compliment because I work so hard.
OI: In addition to the cafeteria table, I always remember you telling me that being told no changes nothing. To pitch and throw your stuff out there, and you’re exemplar of that.
LS: Aw man, thank you!
OI: You found your voice for PopLurker seemingly effortlessly, because your voice has always had the tone of ‘come on in, water’s fine!’ Is that something you calculate in everything you do?
LS: I know it’s accidentally quoting Aladdin, but I tell people all the time that all you have to do is jump. Just go. Just do it. That’s a person over there, I’m a person right here, and no one is any scarier than anyone else. Everybody brings something to the table. You mentioned PopLurker being inclusive and having diverse voices. The only thing PopLurker narrows is how we present content. I’m quoting a friend who described PopLurker like this and I was so flattered when he said ‘you don’t provide lip service to the casual fan.’
If I were to write something about some obscure character from some piece of media and do a deep dive into them, I’m not going to introduce you to that character. If Sophie’s writing about tabletop gaming, Sophie’s not going to introduce you to the idea that there are tabletop games more complex than Trouble or Clue, which are two of my favorite games.
If Jonathan is writing about being a small town Dungeons and Dragons nerd, he’s not going to introduce you to Dungeons and Dragons. You’re going to open that article and know what it is. We’re talking to people who want to get more out of the things they already love.
I never set PopLurker to be a nerd media site or a geek media site, or anything like that. It’s only that typically, people who are grown adults that will write a thousand words on something they remember from childhood well…tend to be on the nerdier side. We don’t care about politics as much, we want to know which Megazord we can have sex in. Which Megazord cockpit is most conducive and why. This cockpit has a stage in it, but this one has rows of seats like a movie theater.
OI: Inclusivity ties into My Starlight, tell me about the inception of that idea and where did the spur to write it originate?
LS: My Starlight is the only novel that I have published. Unfortunately, I signed the rights to a publisher that was too small and marketed it wrong. I didn’t have the confidence to give it an extra minute to let some literary agents get through it so that it could have gone to a bigger publishing house. That’s a big regret, I fully admit that I regret that. Fortunately the rights revert to me in January so I’m going to start re-pitching it.
It’s semi-autobiographical, it’s kind of about somebody who is really into nerdy things, fandom, conventions and stuff. Because of life events and pressure she takes a halt away from pop culture, but then her judgmental mother dies and then she returns to the world of fandom and there’s this spiral. That’s where the autobiographical elements really kick in. Same with me: I went to college, I didn’t really go to conventions anymore and I didn’t really go to nerdy meet ups, or anime clubs or comic con. Then I just decided I would make my return to nerd society. In real life I don’t know if it’s been a spiral or a trajectory but it’s been nuts. That’s where the book and my life overlap.
In the book it’s more about cosplaying and anime culture. I’m not as much into that, I’m really more reclaiming my toy collecting roots. I’ve been a toy collector forever. The house is still neat and organized, but the more shows I go to, people I meet, I’m getting things to review and being gifted because people are amazing. That’s where My Starlight and my real life overlap, but My Starlight is a high school story, coming of age. Simple slice of life.
OI: I think more than a simple slice of life: relatable yes, but there’s a nuance to it that once you open yourself up to one truth of yourself other truths begin to reveal themselves. Orly getting back into fandom is directly tied to her burgeoning sexuality.
LS: It does because she’s starting to feel more comfortable like she doesn’t have to lie to herself. I was going to say: if nothing else there are girls kissing in the book.
OI: You started convention coverage last year for PopLurker, but now you’re doing toy and convention coverage for SyFy and covering toy news in other places as well.
LS: Here’s a funny story for you. It was my very first venture out as press covering a convention. I wanted to see if I would meet people for networking opportunities, and my very first time out I met my best friend and business partner, Scott Zillner. He’s the promoter and owner of Power Morphicon, and we just clicked. We do business really well together. I’m really organized and he’s really creative so it makes for a really productive pairing. In addition to PopLurker, I had a couple other websites come after me to do writing for them and I saw what my writing and social media did for their numbers. I thought if I could do that for somebody else, maybe I could do it for myself again. I knew the content on PopLurker being slow moving evergreen content wasn’t going to work that way.
So Scott had pitched to me that he and some buddies wanted to start up this Toy News website called Toy-Wizards. He asked me if I wanted to be a part of it because I’ve been a collector and in love with toy culture forever. I also have the background to prove that I can make websites go vroom. We launched Toy-Wizards in beta in December of last year, then we did our official launch January 2nd of this year. Funny enough, PopLurker and Toy-Wizards are exactly a year apart. It just exploded. People were telling me, lots of people in the toy industry from toy authors to really big time toy collectors, custom action figures and jumbo robot makers said there’s a hole in toy news reporting. When I started pitching them the vision they said ‘you’re gonna fill this niche.’
My fellow Wizards are above me in terms of the toy industry and its workings. Hell, they’re world renowned collectors and professionals, but I pump out content like no one’s business. I can’t stop, my brain’s just on fast forward so we launched Toy-Wizards and it’s been astounding. Traffic is out of control. A seven month old website, halfway through the July and we’re creeping up on 150,000 hits this month. The month before, it was almost 200,000.
At this point in time we have sponsors, we do reviews, and we have companies coming after us to get our hot take on their products. Because of that reporting, it gave me the opportunity to slip right in as SyFy Wire’s toy journalist for their column “Important Toy News”. I’m so grateful, because there are people actively pitching to SyFy and I just showed up out of nowhere and was given a weekly column. I’m so astounded and humbled and grateful. It’s been nuts.
OI: The irony of saying you’re humbled is that you walk the line very well between being out there and bold but not crossing into hubris.
LS: I want the content to speak for itself. It doesn’t matter who’s cleaning the floors at the end of the day. It can go on without me.
OI: I feel there are three hurdles every artist has to clear these days: having an idea, making your idea real, and then (in this day and age) promoting and pushing it out. What are your thoughts on those as hurdles? You’re so good at that third one especially- is that just me overthinking?
LS: I don’t think about anything. Blind confidence gets you far. This might be a childish or naive outlook, but I figure if something is a problem, someone will tell me to stop. If I’m posting my toy news articles or my PopLurker articles in pop culture groups or clubs on Facebook, if it’s against the rules, tell me to stop. I make sure it’s okay before I go in, but I’ll do it until they tell me to stop.
I don’t really have a concrete answer. I don’t overthink much of anything until it’s in my face that it needs to be thought about. Again, very childish and naive but I’m not going to get anywhere worrying about a reality that doesn’t exist. To quote The Truman Show: “We accept the reality with which we’re presented”. If it’s not in front of my face, I don’t see it.
OI: Before I let you go, what should I asked my next interviewee?
LS: What is one of your hobbies or interests that defines you that other people would never expect? What are your secrets?
Loryn Stone is Executive Editor of PopLurker and Editor-in-Chief of Toy-Wizards, weekly columnist for SyFy Wire, author of the novel My Starlight, and all around self-proclaimed garbage person who you can follow for toy news and other geek culture on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.