As a teenager, Britta Lundin was steeped in fandoms surrounding films and TV shows, long before the subculture of obsession became visible.
Now the 32-year-old Lundin, who graduated from Astoria High School in 2003, writes for the teen series “Riverdale” that recently got picked up for a third season on The CW. And on May 1, her debut young adult novel, “Ship It” — a story about how media-makers shape the cultural conversation — lands in bookstores.
Lundin — whose first job, in the fifth grade, was delivering The Daily Astorian — is in town this week helping her parents, Fred and Patricia, move out of the Astoria home she grew up in. She’s also stopping by the high school to chat with students about her journey to media-maker herself.
“Astoria is a small town,” she said, “and because of that, I think, growing up here, you don’t always have examples of people going on to do things that you may want to do.”
When she was younger, she knew no TV writers personally, or anyone from her high school who became one, “so it took me a long time to even acknowledge that a TV writer was something I could be or something I wanted to pursue.”
The most important thing she wants to impart to students: “‘I was you 15 years ago. I sat in these dumb chairs, in this classroom, and I was obsessed with television, as maybe some of you are. And now I’m one of the people who gets to make it.’
“And so I just want to let them know that’s a possibility for them if they’re interested in going that route.”
Foot in the door
Lundin studied political science at Reed College in Portland, then worked at political organizations like MoveOn.Org and the Bus Project.
When she decided to get into filmmaking, she took production assistant jobs on film shoots and did commercial work. She enrolled in the film school at the University of Texas at Austin, where she learned to shoot, edit, direct and write — and, sticking with writing, she moved to Los Angeles.
She worked a series of grunt jobs, often waking up at 5:30 a.m. to write her scripts for a couple of hours before going to her day job. At night, she’d spend an hour or so with her girlfriend (now her wife) before going to sleep so she could get up early again.
This cycle lasted about three years until she got staffed on “Riverdale.” In that period, she wrote “Ship It” as a screenplay, which she sent out for consideration. Producers liked it, she said, but didn’t know what to do with it — a reaction she understands.
“It was a very gay screenplay,” she said. Plus, viewers who know nothing about fandom or internet culture may not relate to it. “But I knew there was an audience for it.”
Then Lundin found her current agent, who understood the project immediately and sent it out. “Ship It” became the writing sample that fell into the hands of the “Riverdale” folks.
“I think they were looking for people who could write young voices and could speak to what young people care about today,” she said.
Meanwhile, the publishing company Freeform Books had also read the screenplay and invited Lundin to turn it into a young adult novel. Having digested countless young adult novels, she agreed.
And so it was that during her first year working on “Riverdale,” she was also writing her first novel.
“I was getting paid, too,” she said, “which is cool: Get paid to actually write it instead of waking up at 5:30 of my own accord and just working on something that I have no idea if it’s going to be good or not, or go anywhere or not … It felt good.”
The idea of “shipping it” — when fans want a pair, especially of TV or film characters, to fall into a romantic relationship — is of no small importance in the fandom community.
If you “shipped it” with Han Solo and Princess Leia, you were lucky enough to see that love “go canon” in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, Lundin explained.
But what if you always saw sparks between Han and Chewbacca? You’d have to seek out fan fiction to watch that dream scenario play out — to locate an underground internet community that sees what you see.
Things get tricky, and political, when the characters you “ship” would be a gay match. The rarity of that kind of relationship blossoming on mainstream TV, which would be expected of any straight on-screen duo with similar chemistry, makes it significant.
“It can get very lonely, especially if you’re a gay teenager, and all of your favorite gay ‘ships’ never go canon,” Lundin said. “And what it can feel like is, everyone who makes these movies, and everyone who makes these TV shows, doesn’t care about people like me. They don’t care about the same things that I care about. They only care about the straight couples.”
Teenagers look to the media for cues on how to live, she said, and “when you only see one way to live in the media, you start to think that maybe the way that you want to live isn’t OK.”
Lundin is comfortable with her sexuality now, she said, but “I wish that when I was a teenager I had seen more gay people on TV. I think it would have helped me understand myself better earlier.”
Living in both worlds
In “Ship It,” a character named Claire who writes fan fiction is obsessed with an actor, Forest, who has a large fan base but whose character is being “shipped” with his male co-star. Forest resents this, especially since he wants to be an action star, and the insinuation that his character is gay, he believes, could risk his career.
These squabbles happen pretty frequently, Lundin said. “The creators of the show and the fans of the show butt heads over who has control of these characters, who gets to say who’s gay and who’s not.”
Interesting questions arise. “Ultimately, once you make a show and you put it out into the world, who owns those characters anymore? Are they the public’s, or do they remain the property of the creator, not legally but emotionally?”
In writing the book, she could get inside both characters’ heads — and highlight the forces bringing the characters into conflict — because she’s lived in both worlds.
Asked whether anyone — teachers, librarians or others responsible for young minds — pushed back on the novel because of its subject matter, Lundin said, “Not yet.”
If “Ship It” were a film, it would be rated PG-13, she said.
“I hope that people who love gay fan fiction read this and say, ‘I feel seen. I feel like someone finally wrote a book about me,’” she said. “And I hope that people who know nothing about gay fan fiction read it and be like, ‘This was more interesting than I thought it was going to be.’”
Jennifer Newton, a language arts teacher at Astoria High School, taught Lundin’s drama and leadership classes. Newton remembers her student as “creative, ambitious, brilliant, very philosophical,” she said.
“She’s always stood up for the marginalized, not afraid to be heard,” Newton said.
Newton recalled the year the high school was in a pilot program that required drug testing for all student athletes. And Lundin, Newton recalls, “made very clear she was in no danger of failing the drug test, but she stood against it so strongly she quit athletics and joined theater. And that’s Britta.”
Lundin’s advice for teenagers who want to become writers, but who may consider giving up, unsure whether they have the talent: “You’re nowhere near that time yet. You’re still young. And give it a shot. Go to college. Study things in school. Keep writing. Keep practicing.”