For all those of you who are contemplating writing a multi-generation saga for your next novel (come on, admit it), a word of warning for you.
All of my previous books have taken place over a relatively short time period. One of the things I wanted to do with my new novel was to expand that rather tired palette (to mix artistic metaphors) and try something altogether bigger in scope and subject matter. But I hadn’t realized until I was well into the book is that there is a severe drawback to writing a story that takes place over an extended period of time (just over a century, in this case): people have to die. And it is my job to kill ’em off.
Despite the rampant megalomania inherent in the act of making up stories, I’ve found this to be a surprisingly tough gig. As you live with characters and watch them grow, it’s hard not to become quite fond of them (even the bastards – perhaps especially the bastards.) And it’s only with extreme reluctance that I’ve consigned them all to their various fates, sorry to see them go.
You can’t just have them expire from old age, either. Most unprofessional, don’t you know. This is a novel, for heaven’s sake! So we’ve had death by: enemy sniper fire, arson, drowning (twice), hanging (suicide), lynching, massive stroke, cycling off the edge of a cliff, Parkinson’s disease, and myocardial infarction brought on by a malfunctioning pituitary gland (you’ll just have to trust me on that last one.) The only person who does die of old age is 106. If you’re going to do it, do it properly, I say.
It may be wearisome, this endless trudge of death, but I suspect that all those morbid endings contribute hugely to the book’s vitality. After all, a life lived without fear of death is not much of a life at all.