Still checking out the newly redesigned New York Times Magazine – so far, so good. But I was excited to see a page on “shipping” in the column Search Results by Jenna Wortham. And no, it wasn’t a column about Fed Ex.
Shipping is about relationshipping, or a romance between characters who are not otherwise romantically linked, such as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Dr. John Watson on PBS’ “Sherlock.” (Drawings of them from the Tumblr website are featured on the Search Results page.)
Shipping, then, is the umbrella term for things like slash – gay pairings of characters who were not originally gay – and slash in turn includes male/male romance, which is where I come in. Though the characters in my series “The Games Men Play” – the swimmers and tennis players in “Water Music” and the football players in the forthcoming “The Penalty for Holding” – are entirely fictional, I won’t pretend that I wasn’t influenced by male/male romances I read on the Internet that either used real people (called RPF or real person fiction) or well-known fictional characters.
As per the Search Results piece, Benedict Cumberbatch has said he’s “amazed at the level of artistry” in his shipping fandom. I can attest to the level of artistry in the slash/RPF/m-m romances I’ve read. I remember one story in particular about Rafanole (Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic), in which Rafa dies but comes back as a ghost to bolster Nole, the shattered lover who is left to go on without him. It was so beautifully written it made me cry.
But it also frustrated me. While historical fiction and literature inspired by other fiction have long had an honorable place in our culture, there’s something too easy, too shorthand about taking contemporary celebrities or other people’s characters and running with them. Also, there’s little money in it but the potential for a whole lot of legal trouble – E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which began as “Twilight”-inspired fan fiction, notwithstanding.
Writing real fiction may have its challenges, but it’s a lot more freeing than nonfiction and thus in some ways, a whole lot easier.