When people ask what type of stories I write, I often tell them I prefer “cheesy” romances, and I mean this in the modern sense of the words.
Cheesy, of course, is my adjective of choice, showing that my writing is like cheese, those thick, gooey, satisfying layers of flavor that enhance whatever they are draped across. Cheesy also shows that my writing isn’t meant to be an entire meal; it’s a snack, something to tease the senses and delight the mind, but without the necessary depth and breadth that make up a meal. Even a cheese plate in a fancy restaurant is not meant as a full meal–it’s a nice touch, a great chance to sample different textures and flavors, but it’s not meant to replace the grand affair that is the entree.
What I mean when I describe my work as cheesy is that my stories are not the Great American Novel–and that’s ok. The English teacher in me knows that literature, great literature, often reveals some fundamental truth about what it means to be human–and I think my stories skim the surface of that goal, revealing depths beneath the ice but not quite dunking the reader into the murky symbolic depths.
I spend my days reading, teaching, and discussing literary works. I know what it feels like to have an author smack you over the head with theories about life. And I enjoy those moments. Sometimes. I love the feeling of diving into the wreck, as Adrienne Rich so aptly describes, unraveling the secrets and squinting into the spaces between images. But I also appreciate not getting dunked into watery chasms of biographical significance and cultural commentary, especially after a long day spend showing my students the way with a spare SCUBA tank and a flashlight. Sometimes I just want to waterski across the surface of the work, to quote Billy Collins. I want to read without work, without careful attention to detail and nuance. I want to stand under the shower of words and let them pour over me, sliding across my skin without having to chase them, corral them into sense and convert them into meaning. And on those days, at those moments, cheesy romance is my escape. I can meet new people and watch them do new and exciting things and not have to focus on what the blue curtains really mean. Yes, sometimes I find those meanings without meaning to (once an English major, always an English major), but I like not feeling pressured to find them, to decipher the hidden symbols and unearth the subtext.
So when I write, I create the stories that I want to read when I’m tired of reading into every little thing. My tales are snacks, refreshing glances into new worlds with different people, and if they do have some universal truth lurking within, it’s generally the effect of storytelling at large rather than a conscious effort to make the story mean something significant. And so my stories are always cheesy.
There are plenty of entrees out there; go out and enjoy them. Inhale them, savor each bite, study each sentence and dissect each word for its meaning. Literature is vast and powerful and worthwhile.
But when you need a break from that level of focus, when you just want a quick snack that’s satisfying the need for a story, check out some cheese. You deserve it.