Jilly: Multi-Generational Stories

An unexpected corona-bonus is that author book launches have gone digital. Which means fans who would never have the chance to attend a physical talk and book signing can join in the fun.

This week the Cary Memorial Library in Massachusetts hosted a conversation with fantasy romance authors Ilona Andrews (Ilona and Gordon, in Texas), Nalini Singh (in New Zealand), and Amanda Bouchet (in Paris). I watched from London, and now it’s on Youtube. How cool is that? Click here if you’d like to check it out.

There were lots of good questions about world building, what makes a strong character, what makes a great villain…but one that caught my attention was something like: do you have any plans to make your much-loved stories multi-generational? In other words, to give the kids of your bestselling characters their own story or series. Amanda Bouchet and Nalini Singh weren’t at that point, but Ilona Andrews are currently writing Blood Heir/Ryder, whose heroine is Julie, the adopted daughter of Kate and Curran from their bestselling Kate Daniels series. I’m super-excited about this book (click here for an early squee) and already have it on pre-order.

Ryder feels like a natural progression. After a ten-book series Kate and Curran are due a hard-earned Happy Ever After, but many fans aren’t ready to say goodbye to the world, and the series is rich in secondary characters. It’s made easier by the fact that Julie (alias Aurelia Ryder) was a street kid in her early teens when she first encountered Kate, so she’s only half a generation younger. That means the Ryder book can begin eight years after the conclusion of the Kate Daniels series—long enough for everything to be the same but different.

The question caught my attention because I’m currently writing a multi-generational epic fantasy series. Unlike the natural flow of the Ilona Andrews stories, mine crept up on me. After I finish with my Elan Intrigues books (one currently published, one book and two novellas in the works), I have a series in my head, set in the same world, starring the adult children of the main characters of the Elan Intrigues series. Alexis, the heroine, is twenty-five years old at the beginning of the main series. That’s a whole generation after the end of the Intrigues books. It didn’t occur to me to question it until now.

I started to think about how many other multi-generational stories I’ve read and enjoyed. I love Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub, about Vidal, the son of the characters from These Old Shades. Loretta Chase has Last Night’s Scandal, starring characters we first met as children in Lord Perfect. That one didn’t quite work for me, though I’ve often wished she’d write a story for Dominick, Dain’s illegitimate son from Lord of Scoundrels. The most obvious example, which I haven’t read but I know Michaeline loves, is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. Other than those, I’m coming up empty.

So I thought I’d turn the question over to you. Does the concept of a multi-generational series appeal to you? Have you read any good (or bad) ones?

10 thoughts on “Jilly: Multi-Generational Stories

  1. I think I can vaguely remember a multigenerational grape-growing, wine-producing family in a series of romance novels set in Napa, California. But… author and titles escape me. Maybe Nora Roberts? Maybe someone of lesser popularity, though. The reason I remember it at all is that this series was the first time I’d read a series, and the concept came as a bit of a shock to me. 🙂 I liked it enough to invest in the series, but not enough, I guess, to remember it clearly.

    I’m not a huge fan of series, because I feel a lot of pressure from them to read all the books and read them in order and read them all right in a row, which is not my MO. Even though I’ll read all the books of an author I like, I rarely read them from the first to the last straight through. Basically I read what comes to hand, so I read series out of order and over a long stretch of time (as in years). So when subsequent books of a series depend heavily on what went before and leave elements unexplained or don’t remind readers of important developments, I’m not happy, because I might have read the previous book five years ago or not at all. Conversely, however, I’m very accepting of explanations like “it’s this way because Reasons.”

    So, I guess I’m saying that I’m fine to read a multigenerational saga, but I don’t yearn for one.

    • Just thinking: I don’t read Bella Andre, but I know that her Sullivan series is 21 books and counting. I bet she’s hitting multigenerational stories by now—she’s got a family tree up on her web site!

    • Multigenerational grape-growing, wine-producing sounds good to me! I think Kristan Higgins has a series about a vineyard. Maybe that’s the one?

      I like to read series in order, but I don’t like it when the author expects me to remember plot points from one book to the next. I like each book to have a standalone story, and if that depends on crucial elements of backstory I’d like them recapped somehow in the now of the book in question. I suppose the trick is to do that without annoying engaged series readers (imagine them yelling at the book “yes, I know that, get on with the story”).

      It’s a fine line. I read a blog post by Ilona Andrews once saying that one reason for ending a series is that you run out of different ways to re-describe an important but frequently recurring plot point/setting/whatever in a fresh and interesting way.

  2. If I remember correctly, Stephanie Laurens’ books that started with one generation of the Cynsyers progressed on through brothers, cousins, and children, with a prequel featuring the original parents. The stories have moved through family generations and historical periods and are somewhere in the Victorian period by now, I think. I stopped reading a while ago because the stories felt repetitive/stale after a while. That is kind of a hard line to straddle—melding the past with fresh new adventures for the new characters.

    I can’t think of any other multigenerational stories right now, though I’m sure I must have read some.

    • I bought a box set of the first few Cynster books, ages ago. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t so hooked that I felt compelled to continue. If she’s kept the series going over family generations and different historical periods she must have grown a readership who are really invested in her fictional community. I love that, and take inspiration from it!

  3. My mother LOVED multi-generational books, and I think I share some of her fondness for them. It’s so interesting to see what gets “passed down” fictionally as far as personality, baggage, and how stories morph. The younger generation gets a heroic version, while the reader has already read the gritty, SNAFU version. The Vorkosigan series was really good with this, and to some extent, you see it in the Curse of Chalion/The Paladin of Souls (all Lois McMaster Bujold).

    One of the first I read, though, was James Michener’s Hawaii, which follows the generations all the way from the creation of Hawaii from a volcano to WW2 (I think it may have gone into the 50s or 60s, as well?). That’s not a series; that’s a honking big doorstop of a book. But I remember it being very good. Reading Michener as an adult was very hit or miss. Alaska was a miss, but Mexico was excellent.

    Another one I read when I was quite young was Roots, which follows the man Kunta Kinte from his childhood until he’s kidnapped by slavers and brought to America — and then his descendants. Another HUGE book. It was made into a mini-series just about the time I read it, IIRC. Alex Haley was the author.

    Mercedes Lackey wrote several series; Valdemar in particular follows the royal family (although they are mostly side characters in many of the novels). Some nice romantic moments in that fantasy series.

    Oh, and Good Omens is all about the interplay between ancestors and descendants! Another one-book, and not a particularly huge one, but the life of Agnes B. Nutter and her g-g-g??-great granddaughter Anathema Device are woven together. And the hero of the piece also has an ancestor who set up his destiny.

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