Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Kingdom, phylum, species ... and so forth

Being a disseration upon the Classification of Literary Species.

Part of the process of marketing books on the Internet is to get yourself into the directories, lists, hubs, communities and general meeting places for online readers and bookbuyers. This has been the challenge for both Keegan and DreamCraft during the last few months, and almost at once you hit a hurdle. Not a wall; or, if it's a wall, you can certainly scramble over it without much more than a bloodied knee or two. However ... a hurdle is a hurdle, and in this day and age, as we plow through the twenty first century at a speed I'm beginning to find disturbing, I have to wonder how far we've really come, and how far we have still to go.

The hurdle is, of course, the mainstream's attitude toward gay literature, or movies, or themes, or any kind of gay content at all. As a community, much as we might be reluctant to face the fact, we either define ourswelves, or are defined externally by others, by our sexual preference. Now, sex is a "mature" or "adult" theme / concept / topic in our modern world, and we're in a slightly sticky position right here, right now. Until recently, I had not actually realized how sticky.

I'm at a site called Author's Den, listing (or thinking about listing) books there. Top of the data list for any title is the field: Authors, Rate your work, G, PG, PG-13, R; no Adult Material.

Uh...huh. Well, Author's Den does have a gay list, so they obviously don't categorize anything gay as "adult" (some literature sites do). But at once, on line one, the writer is in the business of self-classification. And it ain't easy.

Let's ignore the G and PG classifications, for a start. I don't write for kids; I never have, and after being interested enough to look into the lower-end of the classification guidelines for purely academic reasons, I don't think I ever will. The way it's organized today, The Chronicles of Narnia isn't fit to be shown to kids, and as for The Golden Compass? Forget it.

(Interested? Get onto a site called Youngmedia and check out some recent movies; anything will do, since the "Under 8" and "8 to 13" recommendations are the same on every page. Based on these criteria, there isn't a lot that should be allowed in classrooms. My generation grew up with Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Jack London, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and so forth. Kids the same age, today, are supposed to be growing up on a steady diet of Alice in Wonderland, and the most mild of the Disney movies. (101 Dalmatians? Dog-skin coats??? No way! Peter Pan? You mean, with Captain Hook --? Good gods, kids will be scarred for life. The operative particle of sense within the ratings system is, of course, the letters PG. Parental Guidance. It's up to parents what they let their nestlings watch. Jurassic Park? Sure. People get eaten alive by monsters, screaming all the while; that's cool. Iron Man? Let's see. Whiskey, wine, gambling, sex outside of marriage. Hmmm. Too much reality for kids to handle. Right?)

I did this research to give myself a little perspective before I even looked at seriously classifying my work as per the Authors' Den requirements. Given that the bar is set so low at one end (to protect kids, obviously, and rightly ... though I do recall enjoying a ton of stuff, when I was 6, that today's kid ain't allowed to see ... which makes me sad), where is the bar set as one proceeds higher up the rankings?

Let's have a look at what Author's Den calls the R-rating: "In the opinion of the Author, this title definitely contains some adult material. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about this title before they allow their children to read them. An R-rated title may include hard language, or tough violence, or nudity within sensual scenes, or drug abuse or other elements, or a combination of some of the above, so that parents are counseled, in advance, to take this advisory rating very seriously. Parents must find out more about an R-rated title before they allow their teenagers to view it." [Author's Den pop-up guidelines; current as of the date of this post]

There's an ocean of elbow-space in there. Some nudity within sensual scenes? What does "sensual" mean? How explicit is "sensual" allowed to be, before you're over the line? What line, drawn where, by whom, upon what relative values, and for which reading group? Drug abuse? What if the story is about a parent trying to save the life of a kid, who's abusing drugs? Or a cop fighting a crusade against drugs? What about nudity outside of sensual scenes? In literature, how in the world does what a person is wearing, or not, affect the narrative? We can't SEE the character(s), the scene is set up with a line something like, "He turned off the shower and swiped up the phone, hoping to hear his partner's voice -- annoyed to hear his boss instead." Or, is literary nudity classified on the "hard language" used to describe body parts? Does "hard" language mean four-letter-words, or the correct anatomical terminology for physical characteristics?

In Aus, we have not one but TWO classifications for movies in between PG-13 and R, while at sites requiring literature classification, there seems to be an enormous, yawning void here. We do G - PG - M - MA15+ - then R. "M" stands for mature, obviously; there's no age ban on this bracket, but a parent ought to be along.

At Author's Den, the PG-13 bracket is very difficult. They begin with a fair statement: "Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13." Okay. But this bracket bridges all the way to R (18s, adults, only). The whole classification bracket is so "iffy," I'm going to paste the actual wording over, to remove any danger of me misquoting some element.

Here goes, with all due citations to the source:

    "A PG-13 title is one which, in the view of the Author, leaps beyond the boundaries of the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, or other contents, but does not quite fit within the restricted R category. Any drug use content will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. In effect, the PG-13 cautions parents with more stringency than usual to give special attention to this title before they allow their 12-year olds and younger to read.

    If nudity is sexually oriented, the title will generally not be found in the PG-13 category. If violence or language is too rough or persistent, the title goes into the R (restricted) rating. A title's single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, shall initially require the Author to issue that title at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive must lead the Author to issue a title an R rating, as must even one of these words used in a sexual context. These titles can be rated less severely, however, if the Author feels that a lesser rating would more responsibly reflect the opinion of parents. PG-13 is designed to make these parental decisions easier for titles between PG and R.


For myself, I've slapped an R-rating on my stuff, across the board, and I don't think some of my books fit into the Author's Den list at all. HELLGATE can go there, but not NARC ... TIGER, TIGER, yes, but not WINDRAGE. THE DECEIVERS, sure ... but not FORTUNES OF WAR, or WHITE ROSE OF NIGHT.

How the hell do I classify NOCTURNE? It's more than tickling the category of serious "proper" literature ... but at the same time it has blood, gay sex, violence, sexual violence, sexual references and inferences, the occult, the Tarot,the vampyre, murder, ritual killing, the works. It's firmly in the "too hard" basket, along with TWILIGHT and several other of my titles, which is interesting...

Because no one in "our community" would have reckoned my vampyre books as being beyond the pale. But when you step out of our community into the online literary communities, as I began, there's this hurdle right in front of you. Literature Classification.

Turns out, we're a difficult subspecies to classify ... and therefore, a much more difficult niche to market than you would at first assume.

Well ... shoot. Thinking cap goes back on.

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