(I am edging back into writing the blog after my novel-writing forced me to take a break from it: Hello!)
A persistent problem in explaining third culture to people new to the term is transmitting to them the importance of international mobility and detachment from "home" during the developmental years. I find myself at conferences reiterating the definitive importance of not really belonging anywhere during the years when an individual would ordinarily shape their identity:
if you grow up aware you are an outsider, that feeling persists into adulthood (which adds up to TCKness).
if you grow up feeling like you belong, and then travel as an adult, you may feel like an outsider when you travel but you retain the conviction that you do, if only in your heart, have a home somewhere (not TCKness).
One can see a clear distinction between Expat authors (who travelled as grown ups and write internationally inflected fiction) and Third Culture Authors (TCAs).
Chris Pavone's spy-thriller The Expats:
Pavone was born and raised in the USA. He lives in NYC. He has travelled, as an adult.
The Expats revels in the pleasures of travel and affluent expatriatism. It is a fun novel, full of European geographical and cultural details, with a gutsy protagonist (Kate) who lives her cosmopolitanism with flair and intelligence.
Belinda Bauer's murder mystery Black-Lands
Bauer grew up in England and Africa and now lives in Wales. She's a TCA. Black-Lands considers a boy murdered by a pedophile and his younger brother's efforts to find out what happened to the corpse. This is a deeply engaging, somewhat alarming novel.
Is there international travel in this novel? No.
But, if not international, is it still TCliterature?? YES.
It considers, like so much third culture literature, the extremes of what a child may lose and how it wracks them to try and reclaim what has been lost to them. This emphasis on how a child may feel disconnected, or devastated by loss, is a persistent trope in third culture literature, precisely because the experience of dislocation and unbelonging during the developmental years is so central to TCKness.