Sunday, November 25, 2012

Franco American without a home

As a writer I sometimes wonder where I fit in.  I don't tend to write in specific genres.  Even the book I'm writing now, which is in many ways very much science fiction, I'm writing more from the perspective of the characters than what you would find in the kinds of books that usually feature the kinds of scenarios that they inhabit.  That's happened in every book I've written.  The first one was about superheroes but doesn't focus on the action so much as, you guessed it, the characters.  When I wrote a vampire novel, I wrote about the characters.  This is what I do.

I think part of this is an extension of my cultural identity.  I've never really known where I fit in.  My immediate ancestors came to America from French-speaking Canada, and yet for the most part the only Franco Americans I've ever known have been from my own family, and in my own generation we've already lost most of what it means to have such a background.  We didn't learn to speak French in the home, and there were no specific traditions that came from this lineage except perhaps a strong Catholic faith.  My oldest brother was named Pierre, but I ended up with St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of lost things, as inspiration.

I was raised on entertainment that rarely featured anything relevant to my origins.  Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, was French but played by a British actor.  Beauty and the Beast was most French in its villain.

Writers derive the most support from their own kind, and yet as a thoroughly American, melting pot kind of writer, I've stirred so many influences into my work that it's difficult to find anyone who relates enough with my instincts to see me as a kindred spirit.  I'm not talking about readers.  Readers are forgiving.  They're the only step in the process that can possibly offer me redemption.  The writing industry is not made up of readers, however.  Maybe that's a problem.

My family likes to suggest I do things they'll understand, like write about my family.  Like any writer, I do write about my family, constantly, yet always through the lens of whatever story I currently have in mind.  I think the readers who are interested in the familiar dominate the industry, not so much as writers but as editors looking for manuscripts.

Does any of this even make sense?  I wonder if I should embrace this Franco American existentialism. Is there a place for writers who don't have a culture but yearn for one?  I always believed that this was the definition of a writer.  Yet there seems to be a pervading belief that a writer ought to know better than anyone where they belong.  A writer should transcend the circumstances around them, not be defined by them.

If Picard was a Frenchman who was barely French, is that meant to be a statement about cultural identity in the future?  Malcolm Reed, Pavel Chekov, these were characters who were almost parodies of their countrymen.  Scotty was all but a stereotype.  And yet Miles O'Brien and Julian Bashir fought every cliche.  Star Trek in its best moments always strives to overcome the mundane.  Trip Tucker and Tom Paris revel in pop culture, but they're also some of the best if most complicated officers Starfleet ever had.

If I have any identity as a writer, it's something like that.  Perhaps that's why I've always liked Star Trek, entertainment like that.  My instincts match my heritage and my interests.  It's all so gloriously convoluted it can only be called modern.  I'd like to believe that my problem is very much a cultural one.  We're all trying to figure this out.  The only thing I know for certain about my writing is that through it I'm constantly trying to figure it out.


  1. I prefer writing characters more than action too and I'm English-German heritage. So there.

    My favorite French actor is Jean Reno. He's awesome in Ronin and The Professional. Not so much in Rollerball and The da Vinci Code.

    1. Funny to mention Da Vinci Code, because that's the next subject of this continuing series.

  2. Bonjour Tony. Identity is a hard thing to figure out. Star Trek has always found a way to embrace other cultures even while following stereotypes (French wine-lover, Scottish drinker). I say embrace what you can and leave what you can't. As long as your voice is unique it doesn't have to be French or anything else. Just Tony.

    1. I should write about New Orleans after Katrina. I would bring a whole new level of alienation to that story...

  3. Great idea Tony! That really would be a unique spin.


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