This has nothing to do with the Christmas carol. What it does pertain to is the fine art of shipping, something common to romance fans, of the reading and/or writing persuasion, and I happen to be both. I write romance, I write about romance, and I have been reading romance since the age of eleven, when I stole a then-brand-new copy of The Kadin from my mother’s nightstand and inhaled it under the big brass bed in the guest bedroom. I’ve been a first round judge in several romance writing contests, write posts on romance novels and recap shippy TV moments for Heroes and Heartbreakers, so I think I know a little something about the smoochy stuff in stories.
For those who may still consider “shipping” to refer to the transportation of goods by water, I’ll clarify. I don’t mean that. I mean “shipping” as in “relationshipping” (yes, yes, not techinically a verb, I know, but still valid in the vernacular, so we roll with it) or following a work of media, in this case, a television program, primarily for the sake of a romantic relationship. That, I do mean, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Even before I filched The Kadin, I was very strongly drawn to the happily ever part of fairy tales, and devoured them in endless variations. I preferred the darker, pre-Brothers Grimm versions, the ones where Cinderella’s stepsisters actually lopped off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper, Rapunzel gave birth to twins in the wilderness, Sleeping Beauty gave birth to –I am seeing a theme here– you get the drift. In short, I don’t want la-la-la perfect; I want my lovers to earn that HEA.
I can’t plan when I connect with a ship, but I know when it happens. I’m watching, I’m interested, and BAM, the chemistry hits me, and I’m a goner. Some ships are casual, and others, well, they get me thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot lately.
Fans (and former fans) of How I Met Your Mother know exactly what two-year anniversary recently passed, and may of may not have been part of the mini-kerfluffle that stemmed from Neil Patrick Harris’s tweet on the occasion of Cobie Smulders’ birthday. No, actors are not their characters, but there was a reference to their HIMYM characters’ relationship. There was the word “marry!” There was the word “divorce!” There was the word “love,” which came after, and therefore is the defining statement! Past references to NPH introducing CS as his HIMYM co-star and wife (present tense, no “ex”) though their characters did divorce in the finale…but the alternate finale suggested that may not be the end of the story.
Out of the two options, I’m an alternate girl, myself.There are enough holes in the out-of-the blue divorce plot to qualify it as a spaghetti strainer, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Well, not entirely. Stick with me. I’m going somewhere.
Sleepy Hollow’s maybe-season/maybe-series finale similarly hit fans between the eyes with a two-by-four, killing off the Abbie half of the popular Ichabbie ship, and leaving the other half, Ichabod, vowing to find Abbie’s eternal soul in another body. Ummm…yeah, about that. The tweets, during the original airing, that had started as #RenewSleepyHollow turned to #CancelSleepyHollow, and the fandom (or former fandom) is split between defending the original Ichabbie bond and being done with the whole deal. Others are happy to see the show continue, if it does, but we’re dealing with shipping here, so that’s for someone else to discuss.
For me, the appeal of the show was the relationship between Abbie, a thoroughly modern law enforcement officer with a storied past, and Ichabod Crane (yes, that one, albeit a much more fanservicey version,) man out of time, fish out of water, devoted husband….wait, did she say “husband?” Oh, yes, she did. At the series start, Ichabod was married to and determined to return to his wife, Katrina, whom one might say was not worthy of him. Didn’t tell him she was a witch, didn’t tell him they had a child, buried him alive (but she had good intentions,) that kind of thing. The connection was palpable from the start, but he was married, there was the whole staving off the apocallypse thing, we never saw a single lip lock (closest we got was an impassioned hand kiss in their last moment together) and yet…the chemistry crackled. In the season two finale, Ichabod had to make an impossible choice, and kill Katrina to save Abbie. That should have gone somewhere. It didn’t. Even if there is a fourth season, even if Ichabod does find Abbie’s soul in another body, will fans be there to watch it? I’m not sure.
This comes straight on the heels of the sinking of another favorite ship, Derek Morgan and Penelope Garcia of Criminal Minds. Buff, alpha male FBI agent meets quirky, colorful, optimistic computer nerd, and it’s magic. He’s her Chocolate Thunder, she’s his Baby Girl, their in-office flirtation is the stuff of legend so much so that a seminar on proper conduct in the workplace quotes their specific exchanges. They’ve been there for each other in the other’s darkest moments, she’s been on the line with him when they both thought he wasn’t going to make it, and his most distraught moment during a near-death experience was not related to then-girlfiend, Savannah’s reaction to his death, but of Garcia letting go and walking away from his memorial photograph on a wall of agents killed in the line of duty.
I recapped Morgan’s farewell episode at Heroes and Heartbreakers, and while, on the surface, it was a good exit, Morgan choosing his now-wife and newborn son over the BAU, for Morcia fans, it didn’t sit right, because, dangit, what could have been. I’m not going to address the brother/sister argument here, except to say that I’ll skip those family barbecues, thanks, I know, I know, the actor wanted to move on to other projects, and Criminal Minds is a police procdural, not a romantic drama, but my shipper heart still aches over the loss. Maybe if we’d seen more of Derek and Savannah’s relationshp grow, come to know her, it would have been easier to accept, but it’s Morgan and Garcia that we saw, so that’s what’s going to stick.
So, where am I going with all this? Straight to my initial reaction after turning off the Sleepy Hollow finale: “I need to read a romance novel.” Granted, commercial fiction and TV writing are two different things, and I’m not about to tell a different kind of writer how to do their job, but when I’m there for the romance, I want…the romance. I want the two lovers who went through hell and back to be rewarded for all they’ve been through. I want to see that the charater arcs have taken the characters to a better place (and not in the “they’ve gone to a…” variety.) I want to see the couple become more than the sum of their parts. I want these characters, whom I’ve fallen in love with, individually and together, to have each other’s back, from this day forward. I want the you-and-no-other. I want them to know they’ve found the place where they won’t be judged, won’t be rejected, will be accepted and valued and cherished. I want to know these characters have found, in each other, the one who will walk through the darkness with them, as well as dance in the light. That, even though it may not be strictly puppies and lollipops and rainbows ever after, it’s going to be good enough, still, because they have each other, no matter what life throws at them.
That’s what I want from romance fiction, and that’s what I strive to put into mine. While a TV show may be about wacky hijinx, a supernatural take on history, or the dark corners of the human mind, and incorporate love stories that may end happily or otherwise, in romance fiction, both protagonists win. Always. That’s a promise, and one I am proud and happy to keep.