I love Madeline Hunter’s books, but she is swiftly becoming a favourite for the articles she writes for USA Today. While reading through Twitter, I came across another article she has written. This one is about the use of series by romance authors. Her article researches and dissects the use of families and series. You can read the article here.
I’ve copied the article for you to read here:
Romance Unlaced: Series that keep it all in the family
To dynasty or not to dynasty — that is the question.
Like any author who writes series, I debate the length of mine. I have never had the option of writing a dynasty series, however. Other than the Duclairc siblings in the Seducer series, the connections among my main characters have not been familial.
With the publication of His Wicked Reputation next week, that is no longer true. The series — I was calling it a trilogy. Can you tell I am thinking of other options? — revolves around three brothers. In other words, the potential beginning of a dynasty.
I decided to talk to authors who have been writing dynasty series, to learn what such a long-term commitment to characters involves. As it happened one of the all-time-popular dynasties is in the process of expanding and its author offered her views. I am talking about the Cynster family written by Stephanie Laurens. At twenty-four books already, the series added The Tempting of Thomas Carrick yesterday.
Before I got into the nitty gritty of a writing dynasty series, I had to ask Stephanie about this new book. “It is the story of Lucilla Cynster’s fated romance with Thomas Carrick. While Lucilla accepts that they are destined to be life partners, Thomas resists, but can a man continue to resist fate when what is being offered is love?” she said. It is also the first of the Cynster Next Generation Novels, which brings us to the subject of writing about the same family for years.
Since the writers I spoke with are all doing this and enjoying it, needless to say they were enthusiastic about their dynasties. Stephanie in particular has made a big commitment to the Cynsters. The series began in 1998 and the books have been bestsellers since 1999. I asked her what benefits all those connected stories provided the writer and reader.
“Having such a deep immersion in the life of an extended family creates the opportunity to explore in greater depth certain aspects of family life, of inherited character traits and how characters interact with other family members, for instance interactions across the generations that flow through multiple books,” she explains. “Dynastic series enable a longer view through generations of family, facilitating exploration of how familial traits reappear and adapt to changing social environments — for instance, the shift I’m currently negotiating between Regency-era and early Victorian haut ton and wider societal mores.”
This deep familiarity with the characters and their environments was mentioned by the other authors, too. “Getting to show the family and the individual characters evolving over the course of the series is the best part about writing such a series,” says Sandy Raven, who writes The Caversham Chronicles (Lucky’s Lady arrives in March). “Using the characters from the earlier books allows the world created in The Caversham Chronicles to be much richer than it could ever be in a single book.”
That isn’t to say there aren’t challenges. Foremost is a need to be highly organized. “The primary challenge,” Stephanie says, “is in keeping everyone and everything straight — not just the family members, but their household staffs; where their houses are and what they look like; where the stables are in relation to the main house; do they have a rose garden, and if so, where in relation to the house — how does one reach it; what style of interior; where the rooms are in relation to each other; etc. The details need to be consistent.”
Most authors create a central repository of facts and details for reference. Callie Hutton, who writes The Marriage Mart Mayhem series (The Baron’s Betrayal) described hers. “I have a spreadsheet for my series where I list the main characters, their dates of birth and the dates of birth of their children. It wouldn’t do have to have a child from book No. 2 off to University when he was born only six years prior.”
Other authors refer to the repository as the series “bible.” All the dates, names, branches, etc., get included for reference, to keep it all straight. “I don’t have the best memory,” says Lauren Royal, who writes the Chase Family series (The Art of Temptation), “so I have to keep very careful notes, and sometimes I have to reread parts of my own books to make sure the characters’ individual voices stay consistent through the years.”
Some authors figure out they will need that bible from the start. Others learn the hard way. “When I first started out,” says Patricia Rice, who has a series featuring the Malcolm family, “I hadn’t realized how intertwined the stories can become. I had to go back and re-read earlier volumes and create timelines for births, list physical characteristics, places, and names. And then … because I’m an idiot … I’d built up a huge story about a mysterious relative who had to be worked into the family tree in a disastrous way in the sixth book. That required genealogy software!”
Michelle Willingham (Warrior of Ice, coming in July), whose MacEgan Brothers series about hunky Irish medieval warriors is 12 books and novellas strong, kicks herself that she did not create a bible from the beginning. “Sometimes you’ll write about a secondary event, and four books later, you have to go dig up those details. I also need to do a family tree, but it’s gotten so complex, I’m not sure it would fit on a Web page.”
Sherri Browning (An Affair Downstairs), who writes the Edwardian-set Thornbrook Park series, shares another challenge: “The biggest challenge is to catch my readers up on the secondary characters without repeating too much from past books or allowing the secondaries to take over the main action.”
So, just how extensively can these family trees spread? While many authors keep the books centered on one generation, others allow the dynasty to flourish through the ages. Lauren’s series is subdivided into the Chase Family Series from the 1700s, the Regency Chase Family Series that starts 1815, and her upcoming Renaissance Chase Family Series will begin in 1549.
For Anna Markland (Rover Betrayed), the dynasty has branched in several directions. “I have six series of books that follow successive generations of the Montbryce family and its offshoot branches, legitimate and illegitimate. The first five series cover the period from 1066 to 1152 whereas the last series (Viking Roots) goes back to the 10th century to trace the Viking ancestors of my noble Norman family.”
Patricia Rice (Risk of Love and Magic) also has explored the long possibilities of a dynasty. Her books featuring the Malcolm family began with six books set in the 1700s (The Magic Series), then moved to the family’s modern descendants (The California Series), and soon she will be writing about the family members from the 1830s.
As Anna explains, there are ways to connect the books to the family in more than name even if a long period of time is covered by the series. “There are many seemingly insignificant details that can tie the generations together. For example, the Montbryces suffer from a ‘curse.’ This is tongue-in-cheek. They are unusual medieval noblemen in that they are in love with their wives! They also distill a famous apple brandy that is mentioned in every book.”
Lauren provides the same experience. “In the Regency books, readers find evidence of the 17th century Chases hidden in old portraits and family legend (the truth of which astute readers often know better than the later Chases do!). I have had a lot of fun tying my characters together across the centuries, and readers seem to really appreciate the little ‘Easter eggs’ they discover in the books.”
I asked whether any of the authors had received push-back from editors or readers — or their own hearts — if their series went along enough in time for some of the earlier characters to have died. “That was the reason I made the next series hundreds of years in the future and in a different country,” Patricia says, “so I didn’t have to show my people dying. I know as a reader that it breaks my heart to see a favorite character die, so I simply couldn’t do it. Now that I’m starting on a series set 80 years after the first one — I’m tiptoeing around land mines, but I think I can do it.”
Sherri also intends to follow her family down in time. “For the next three books in the series, after August’s The Great Estate, I’m planning to jump ahead in the timeline and focus on the next generation. I hope they will be welcome on the scene, but time will tell.”
Sandy Raven ran into a little push-back regarding the main character when she wrote a prequel novella to her Caversham Chronicles. “After I wrote that novella I had one or two reviews that commented negatively about reading the story ‘knowing he was dead’ and would not be in the later books.”
Anna said she has not had negative reactions. “I’ve stressed the importance of honoring ancestors, and even if a character has died, he is mentioned with reverence and pride in subsequent books.”
For many series, it is not a question that comes up because not enough time passes in the series for anyone to pass away. “I haven’t yet run afoul of this, and am unlikely to — the generation I am just embarking on is very large, and none of the previous generation or the one prior (the grandparents) need to die just yet,” Stephanie says of her Cynster series. “However, what I have noticed is an ‘era’ prejudice, where some readers prefer not to read outside the Regency era. With dynasties, that’s not something the author can control — time marches on, and if readers want true multigenerational dynasties, then changing fashions and social mores are unavoidable.”
It helps if that original generation has a lot of characters available. “In my case, I started the Cynsters with a group of cousins, so four active branches of a single family tree with multiple cousins on each branch,” Stephanie said. “So my ‘family’ was large and extended from the first, not simply one arm with a single set of brothers and sisters. In hindsight, that was a boon and a critical decision.”
Becky Lower’s Cotillion Ball series (Expressly Yours, Samantha arrives in March) started with nine siblings. After they all have stories, she has various options. “I think there are books to be written about the Fitzpatrick family long after the initial nine are done. I’ve had secondary characters in each that could use their own novel. Then, there’s the children, who would be growing up in the Gilded Age. How fun would that be?”
Callie is also keeping her options open. “My series only has siblings from one family. Since they are very ‘fertile,’ there is always the possibility of moving to the next generation. My publisher wants another Highlander book when this series is finished, so there is the possibility of another generation popping up.”
I finally broached the question that concerned me most as an author: How does a writer keep it fresh, not only for the readers but for herself?
Michelle explains her solution: “That’s why I’ve created the Warriors of Ireland spinoff series (Warrior of Ice is book one). It allows me to begin a new series, but it’s rooted in the MacEgan Brothers.”
Anna took a similar path. “After finishing the series about the great-grandchildren of my original hero/heroine, I began to feel ‘antsy’ about carrying on. The decision to turn to the earlier ancestors seemed to solve the problem!” As for the future, “My next project will be completely separate from the Montbryce family, but after that I might go back to the four generations between Viking Roots and the original series (The Montbryce Legacy).”
Stephanie also takes breaks from the series. “I don’t write and publish Cynsters exclusively, but break the novels into groups, and intersperse those groups with other historical romance novels — for instance, the three Cynster novels of 2014/15 will be followed by the 2016 releases of the four-volume Adventurers Quartet. That tends to keep the series fresh, both for me and my readers.”
It is undeniable that these dynasties have enormous appeal to readers of historical romance. We can all name the families made famous by authors like Stephanie. Becky shared what a reader said to her about these series, and it probably expresses the view of many other readers, too: “One of my readers said, I feel as if I’ve walked back into a warm, familiar room, with people I know and love who hold me tight and take me with them on their exciting and romantic adventures.”
USA TODAY and New York Times bestseller Madeline Hunter is the two-time RITA-winning author of 25 historical romances. Her next release, His Wicked Reputation , will be published March 3. You can find her at http://www.MadelineHunter.com. To contact Madeline about content for or in this column, please e-mail her at RomanceUnlaced @ gmail.com (close up the spaces). Due to the volume of mail, e-mails from authors may not be answered personally, but all will be read.
My favourite families to read along with are:
I think there are great pros to writing multiple books about a family – you get to spend more time with your favourite characters, you find out more about their lives, and you usually get to see the big brother tear out his hair at the antics of his younger siblings. The cons are that personally I dislike reading about my favourite characters aging (and possibly dying), sometimes the books get a little tired, and if you don’t read them in order you miss a lot of plot or spend so much time getting caught up it detracts from the current plot.
What do you think of family series? Which ones do you love?