Vegetable Delight

What does it mean to be a “light” writer?  As someone who is often classified as “light”, I’ve thought about this almost as much as what it means to be a “funny” writer.  Maybe it’s time to share those thoughts.

The term “light” comes with certain expectations and baggage.  Nothing strange about that.  Every label given to us comes with that stuff, and you can’t avoid it.  Labels are designed to make things easier, and while there’s a lot of negative examples (hard and soft racism, cultural categorization, etc.), it’s also a necessary evil.  The only problem is when labels become absolute or when they put up walls rather than help bridge gaps.

“Light” has multiple meanings.  First and foremost, it tends to mean “easily accessible”.  That’s not so bad.  I’d like to think I write accessible books that are easy to read.  It’s one of my goals as a writer.  I’m never been devoted to manufacturing complicated language.  I enjoy a good turn of phrase and a poetic expression, but if a story is more determined to impress me with its vocabulary and powers of metaphor, I’m probably not interested.  No judgment on the quality of such stories.  Everyone has their own mind, their own desires, their own artistic appetites.  But for me, books that seem too “literary” (for lack of a better term) tend to lose me.  Not always, but often enough that I’m not surprised by it.

“Light” and “Literary” don’t usually go together.  They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but they almost always are.  This brings me to the second definition of “light”.  It often means “frivolous” or “frothy”, an enjoyable but empty treat.  It’s this definition that troubles me.  And I’m not just referring to my own novels, but to many fine stories I’ve enjoyed over the years.  Too often, accessible fiction is deemed weightless.  But accessible doesn’t have to mean soulless.  And just because a story is hard to absorb that doesn’t make it high art.

The mistake folks seem to make most often is assuming that anything readily consumed and enjoyed is somehow not good for us.  True art, like our vegetables, should be less tasty, more demanding.  If we like it, it has to be bad for us.  Often, high literature strikes me as deliberately inedible in order to earn its respect.  Not always.  Certainly, a story can be difficult to absorb (and often should be).  But just because a story is depressing or difficult to enjoy doesn’t make it art, and just because a story is easy to read / view doesn’t mean it’s cotton candy.

Keeping with the vegetable metaphor, I like to think of my stories as “light and filling”.  They’re vegetables but properly prepared, sauteed and made yummy, but underneath, they still have nutritional content.  You partake of the meal gladly and afterward, maybe realize you ate something worthwhile.  Even if you don’t, it doesn’t change the fact that maybe someone slipped you some vegetables anyway and you’re probably better off for it.  And if you just enjoyed the meal as a delicious snack, I can live with that too.

Making something easy to enjoy is not easy.  That’s all I want to really say.  So if someone wants to label me a “light” writer because they gleefully read my books without hesitation, I take it as the grand compliment it is.  But if someone wants to suggest I’m “light” because my stories are simple to write, this is where we run into problems.  Despite the initial reactions one might get from hearing what my stories are about (space squids, country-fried vampires, minotaur teens with body issues), my stories have never been intended to be confectioneries.  They’re tasty, sure, but they matter, if only to me.  (And, of course, you, my loyal fans.)

It’s only a label, and I try not to take it too seriously.  Just something I thought I’d comment on.  Thanks for reading, folks, as always.

(Next post will be something NOT about writing.  Unless that’s what you really, really want.  Never let it be said I don’t listen to the people.)

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted April 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t think of you as a light writer, because your stories often deal with some pretty weighty issues. Granted, your prose is easy to read, but I definitely don’t think that’s a strike against you. Hemingway’s prose was incredibly easy to read, but no one would have ever called him a light writer. I think part of the problem is the fascination of/with nerd culture. I think the product producers are still trying to determine how much complexity they need to offer and how serious they need to make the product.

    For instance, I’ve been trying to watch this BBC science fiction series on Netflix called Outcasts. There’s a great cast, decent special effects, and decent writing; except for the fact that the plot is just so freaking serious. I mean, the people are in a dire situation and you can just feel this oppression weighing down on you while watching the series. I made it to episode 6 and just had to quit watching. It’s as though we went years without anyone taking science fiction seriously, but now they’ve found religion, and they’re taking it way too far.

    I’m glad they’re publishing your work and I’m glad you’re writing it. I think it’s an open window in what has become an incredibly stuffy room.

  2. RudyG
    Posted April 9, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Not only did I think Gil’s All Fright Diner wasn’t “light,” when I reviewed it I said, “I liked it enough I decided spoof it in my next unpublished novel, make it less deadpan and more blatantly Chicano.”

    If you never read that review, go here:

    Actually, I need to talk with you because I just got a contract for the novel that contains a cameo spoof of Gil’s. If you have any objections with my spoofing, I’ll have to edit it out.

    Contact me and I’ll send you the section in question.

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