Den of Geek Book Club Podcast #3: Britta Lundin on Ship It

We talked to Britta Lundin about writing Ship It, working on Riverdale, and the balance between fan and creator.

Britta Lundin’s young adult novel debutShip It is the story of Claire, a teenager who writes gay fanfiction about her favorite show, Demon Heart. When Claire attends a fan convention, she meets Forest, one of the two stars of Demon Heart and our other Ship It narrator.

Forest is baffled by fans like Claire who not only “ship” Demon Heart‘s main characters together, but who also ship him with his male co-star. When the Demon Heart PR team decides to bring Claire along for the rest of the show’s con tour, Claire decides she is going to convince the showrunner to make her ship canon, while Forest vows never to let that happen.

“It’s really about the fan/creator relationship,” explained Lundin when we talked to the Ship It author for our Den of Geek Book Club podcast. “Who has control of these characters once you put them out in the world? Who gets to decide which characters are gay and which characters aren’t? All that good stuff.”

As someone who grew up in fandom and who now works in the TV industry as a writer on The CW’s Riverdale, Lundin understands both sides of the fan-creator relationship better than most.

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“I’ve been in fandom for a very long time, like since middle school. For most of my life, it’s been something that you sort of didn’t really talk about,” Lundin said. “It was like your secret internet thing that you did, but you didn’t bring it into the real world. You certainly didn’t tell your friends at school about it. It wasn’t something that you blasted or went on podcasts to talk about.”

Ship It began life not as a young adult novel, but actually as a feature screenplay Lundin wrote during the Athena Film Festival Screenwriting Lab in 2016. It was the Ship It screenplay that got Lundin her job on Riverdale.

“Through that process [of working on Riverdale and in other Hollywood jobs], I’ve just learned a lot about the entertainment industry and how it works,” said Lundin. “I was able to see times when fandom was right on the money about how they were reading a scene, and then there were other times where I was like, ‘Sometimes fandom doesn’t totally understand how TV production works or the schedules of this, or any of this.’ It felt like I had this insight that maybe other fans didn’t have.”

Rather than writing solely from the fandom perspective or solely from the industry perspective, Lundin decided to include both sides in the Ship It story. Lundin explains: “[Ship It] partially came out of this desire to write a story from two perspectives, about two different people coming together and learning to understand each other.”

So how did Ship It become a book? The screenplay eventually found its way into the hands of the people at Freeform Books, the publishing arm of the Freeform TV network, who approached Lundin about turning the screenplay into a young adult novel. From there, Lundin worked to adapt the screenplay into a novel, while also performing her day job on Riverdale.

“I think the biggest change that happened while I was writing the book,” said Lundin, “was that in the course of working on Riverdale, TV writing happens at such a brisk pace, that you have to break and write and complete notes on episodes so quickly. You’re writing episodes over the course of maybe two, two and a half weeks, or something like that. Every two and a half weeks, you’re starting a new episode. That process just teaches you how to break story and get really confident at breaking story quickly. Creative decisions that might have taken me longer, before I got on Riverdale, now I’m able to look at a creative choice and decide much more quickly, ‘Yes, I think that’s going to work,’ or, ‘That might work, let’s test it,’ or, ‘That’s definitely not going to work.'”

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Lundin credits her fellow Riverdale writers and especially Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre Sacasa with modeling this skill and helping Lundin to develop it herself.

“There were days where I would just kind of look around [the writers room] in wonder,” said Lundin. “I’d be like, ‘I can’t believe how much talent and experience there is in this room.'” 

In Ship It, it is the Demon Heart showrunner who serves as the quasi-antagonist of the story, not only unwilling to make Demon Heart happen, but unwilling to even listen to Claire or the other fans explain why the ship matters to them. It says a lot about Ship It‘s perspective that even Jamie gets his moment to explain himself.

“A lot of times, as you’re reading the book, you’re just supposed to be like, ‘Wow, that guy’s an asshole,'” said Lundin, “but there’s a few parts in the book where Jamie gets to talk and really explain himself. There’s some truth to what he’s saying. I hope that those passages feel authentic, and maybe fans who hadn’t considered what it’s like to be a showrunner, understand the pressures and difficulties that Jamie is under. Whether that excuses his behavior or not, it gives some depth to what he’s going through, so he’s not just like a one-dimensional jerk, who is a homophobe.”

The queer themes in Ship It shine through not just in Claire’s Demon Heart fanfiction, but in Claire’s own exploration of her sexual identity. During the con tour, Claire meets Tess, a Demon Heart fan artist Claire immediately falls in like with.

“I started reading gay fanfiction years before I identified as gay myself, and Claire’s doing the same thing,” said Lundin. “Over the course of this book, she meets Tess, and in meeting Tess, is forced to sort of take a closer look at her own sexuality, and whether or not she could be queer. That’s really scary and intense for her.”

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Tess isn’t just Claire’s love interest, but also a character who acts as an ambassador of sorts into the complex world of gender and sexuality for Claire, Forest, and the reader.

“[Tess] has very sort of advanced Tumblr speak knowledge of different sexualities, and how sexuality works,” said Lundin. “This is all new for Forest. He has really basic questions about, ‘How many genders are there?’ Stuff like that, that Tess explains. That’s there because these are basic questions.”

As anyone who has spent any time on Tumblr or in similar internet communities know, these sorts of conversations are more common than in more mainstream pop culture. With books like Ship It, Lundin is hoping to bridge the gap between those cultural conversations and communities.

“For someone who hasn’t been spending the last decade of their life entrenched in internet communities, this is all still brand new,” said Lundin. “To be gentle with those people and help them along on their journey, rather than rejecting them, was really important to me. I wanted this book to feel accessible to people who are maybe interested in this topic, or wanted to learn more, even if they never read a fanfic in their life, want to understand the world and why it’s important to people.”

You can listen to the rest of our conversation with Britta Lundin below. Ship It is now available to buy via Amazon or your local independent bookstore.