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March 17, 2015 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm always delighted when reading to discover that an author has subtly written their books into the same quasi-real-life universe. Help me find more examples!

So, obviously a lot of sci-fi/fantasy books are written in the same universe. Not interested in those.

A couple examples of what I mean off the top of my head:

Christopher Moore's books feature a lot of crossover characters, but their plots and personalities don't really carry from one book to another. You won't miss part of the story by not reading all his books; it's more like a shoutout. Everyone exists in the same world.

Lincoln and Child feature the same side character, Eli Glinn, across both of their otherwise unrelated series. I just read The Ice Limit where Glinn is a main character, and realized that the rough plot of that book got a couple-sentence nod in Glinn's later, more minor appearances.

Pretty sure Stephen King does this as well but I haven't read any of his stuff.

Basically, I'm looking for stuff that falls between Red Apple Cigarettes and Middle Earth on the callback continuum. (Doesn't have to be common characters, that's just what piqued the question to begin with.)

Examples of authors who do this would be awesome. Bonus points for thrillers since that's what I like to read.

I am already familiar with TV Tropes.
posted by phunniemee to Writing & Language (71 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure brett easton ellis does this.

I thought kurt vonnegut may have done this.
posted by kookywon at 10:44 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Several of David Mitchell's novels (Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, Ghostwritten…) tell unrelated stories but have a few overlapping characters and other subtle references.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:44 AM on March 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

Michael Connelly does this with his two main series - Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller live in the same Los Angeles and share a connection which I will leave vague in case you decide to read the books, but they aren't close. He's written at least one book that features both of them working together but usually they live separate lives with only an occasional reference or cameo in each other's stories.

Sarah Dessen's YA books are mostly (or maybe all?) set in the same seaside North Carolina town, and occasionally a character or two will pop up from previous books.

Same with Stephanie Perkins' three books beginning with Anna and the French Kiss. Set in the same world, characters from previous books are in a few scenes in later books but not as a key set point.
posted by something something at 10:44 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wikipedia lists some of the references between Mitchell's works.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:46 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Danzig Trilogy by Gunter Grass (The Tin Drum, Cat & Mouse and Dog Years) all share scenes even though they're standalone works and their plotlines and characters aren't necessarily related.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:48 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Madeleine L'Engle. I love Suzy Davidson's appearance in "A Severed Wasp".
posted by Melismata at 10:48 AM on March 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Faye Kellerman occasionally mentions Alex Delaware or Milo Sturgis from her husband Jonathan Kellerman's books.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:50 AM on March 17, 2015

Robert Lipsyte did this with at last four of his YA books: The Contender, One Fat Summer, The Brave, and The Chief. A character from the Contender turns up (rather briefly, but he's there) in One Fat Summer, and the teen-aged main character from One Fat Summer (who is, not incidentally, a stand-in for Lipsyte himself), turns up as an adult in The Chief.
posted by holborne at 10:51 AM on March 17, 2015

Thomas Pynchon, Pig Bodine.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:57 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Neal Stephenson may fit the bill (e.g. the crossovers from Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle--events intertwined with real-world history).

Guy Gavriel Kay buries tiny throwaway references to everything existing in the same world in almost all of his post-Fionavar novels. I mean really tiny--like one sentence out of an entire book referencing a location from another.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:57 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Peter Straub has lots of links between novels, both as part of the story and as little in-jokes.

In Koko, there's a nightclub named The Floating Dragon, which was the title of his earlier horror novel. Floating Dragon also shares a character with Koko, although whether the shared character is strictly the same character is debatable. Harry Beevers appears in both Koko and the short story "Blue Rose," which was purportedly written by Straub in character as Tim Underhill. In Shadowlands, the protagonist is named Tom Flanagan, which is the name of a murder victim who recurs in Straub's Blue Rose trilogy (Koko, Mystery, and The Throat). Milwaukee, Wisconsin shows up in many guises in Straub's stories and novels as well.

Works you may wish to read, in this order:

"The Juniper Tree"
"A Short Guide to the City"
Floating Dragon
"Blue Rose"
"The Ghost Village"
The Throat
Lost Boy, Lost Girl
In The Night Room
posted by infinitewindow at 10:58 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Alan Furst writes historical spy novels, the so-called "Night Soldiers" series, set around WWII featuring protagonists who are pulled into the spying role. Of the dozen or so books only a couple pairs share characters in a continuing storyline.

What the books all have in common is a particular Paris bistro, Brasserie Heininger. In the first book, it's the scene of a shooting, assassination really, of a Bulgarian head waiter. One of the bullets missed and shattered a mirror on the wall.

In every book that follows, some of the characters will visit the bistro, sit in the same booth, and tell one another about the now mythical events surrounding the bullet-shattered mirror that still hangs on the wall.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

John Sandford's books. Lucas Davenport is the Prey series. Virgil Flowers works for him, but has his own series, as well as showing up in some of the Prey novels. Kidd, of Kidd and Luellen series (read them!!), pops in to a few of the Prey novels, and both Kidd and L. play a larger part in one of the more recent Prey novels.
posted by jaruwaan at 11:08 AM on March 17, 2015

If you read French, the Quebecois horror novelist Patrick Senecal does this on a fairly frequent basis, most notably with his best-known villain, Michelle Beaulieu (a supporting character in his first novel, 5150, rue des Ormes, and then the chief antagonist several years later in Aliss).
posted by thomas j wise at 11:10 AM on March 17, 2015

Not the genre you're looking for, but Faulkner does a delightful (and depressing) job of this with most of his novels and short stories, all of which take place in the same fictional Yoknapatawpha County. For example, Quentin Compson is in both The Sound and the Fury and is the narrator that frames the amazing Absalom, Absalom.
posted by ldthomps at 11:11 AM on March 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

Paul Auster does this in his work. Travels in the Scriptorium features characters from his previous novels, though the stories are not intertwined. Also, a main plot element in the novel is a man reading the pages of an unfinished story. This story is from a work of fiction written by a character in a previous novel, Oracle Night.
posted by alligatorman at 11:15 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Andrea Barrett's novels and short stories (literary fiction) are mostly (maybe all!) set in the same universe.
posted by mskyle at 11:17 AM on March 17, 2015

The classic one is JD Salinger and his short stories that upon inspection comprised characters from the same family.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:23 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Brett Easton Ellis is mentioned above, and you should also know that characters from Donna Tartt's A Secret History appear in his book The Rules of Attraction, which was published before A Secret History. Tartt dedicated her book to him, and they were at Bennington at the same time, so it's been my opinion (and that of many others) that he was Truman Capote to her Harper Lee, if you receive my meaning.
posted by janey47 at 11:26 AM on March 17, 2015

Carl Hiassen's novels are pretty much all set in the same slightly skewed off course version of Florida. A recurring character is former Governor Clinton Tyree, who eventually went wild and now lives in the swamps under the name "the Skink" and pops up from time to time in various books.

Also, Tim Powers and his friend and fellow writer James Blaylock co-created a poet named William Ashbless as a pen name under which to make joke poetry submissions to their college paper. Later, both writers would use Ashbless as a character. In Powers' brilliant The Anubis Gates, he becomes a British romantic-era poet (actually a modern-day Ashbless scholar named Doyle who travels back in time to study his hero, only to discover he actually is Ashbless.)

Ashbless also turns up in Blaylock's The Digging Leviathan as a member of a secret society of scientific cranks.

They've also been known to lead off chapters with quotes attributed to Ashbless, and have done a number of weird side projects together, including a William Ashbless Cookbook...
posted by Naberius at 11:29 AM on March 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

The greatest living American novelist is Philip Roth, and he has a bunch of novels in which a novelist named Nathan Zuckerman features, and a few in which literature professor David Kepesh features. Philip Roth also appears.
posted by jayder at 11:31 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Anthony Trollope loved to do this.
posted by JanetLand at 11:33 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

You mention Stephen King, but just to give you a sense of how intertwined his universe is, you might want to have a quick look at The Stephen King Universe Flowchart.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:41 AM on March 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Roberto Bolaño also does this.
posted by florzinha at 11:46 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Harlen Coben does this. His stand alone books have minor characters in common.
posted by LightMayo at 11:58 AM on March 17, 2015

posted by Jahaza at 11:59 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

A lot Fannie Flagg's books interweave stories from the same small midwestern town, Elmwood Springs, MO, often decades apart.
posted by Mchelly at 12:04 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Olivia Goldsmith's books tend to feature references to or cameos from characters in earlier books.
posted by Shmuel510 at 12:06 PM on March 17, 2015

A minor character in the Wind Up Bird Chronicle shows up as a point of view character in 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.
posted by wrabbit at 12:09 PM on March 17, 2015

Irvine Welsh does this, main characters in one novel are mentioned in passing in others (e.g. Begbie from Trainspotting in Marabou Stork Nightmares and Filth).
posted by Pink Frost at 12:17 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Vonnegut, David Mitchell, Ursula K. LeGuin, Paul Auster, are the ones off the top of my head.
posted by entropone at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Linda Fairstein's Alex Cooper series (sorry, atrocious web design) are all set within NYC and have most of the same characters.
Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon (PDF) all have their base in Israel but the crimes are across Europe and most of the same characters.
Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series (no website?) are all set in National Parks and have the same heroine and her dead husband.
posted by TravellingCari at 12:24 PM on March 17, 2015

Alan Furst writes historical spy novels ... set around WWII

I'm always amused when Momo Tsipler & his Wienerwald Companions take the stage. Unlike the Brasserie Heininger, they don't always make an appearance.
posted by Rash at 12:25 PM on March 17, 2015

Faulkner is well known for this.

A helpful (but more broad) concept is intertextuality.
posted by bilabial at 12:26 PM on March 17, 2015

Charles de Lint, but not sure he'd be up your alley.
posted by you must supply a verb at 12:34 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

A bunch of Casey Plett's short stories are set in the same world and contain subtle references to characters or events from other stories
posted by lisp witch at 12:38 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the vein of Faulkner, most/all of Donald Harington's novels are set in the same fictional county in the Ozarks with characters popping up here and there, but are not part of a serial narrative.
posted by selfnoise at 12:44 PM on March 17, 2015

We were just discussing some elements of this in the recent Agatha Christie thread-- there are a few characters who crop up throughout the novels. She especially likes to do this with characters who have been in the Foreign Service, and appear once in awhile to offer insights into the underworld. (Colonel Race, for example.) Poirot's nemesis (a detective who likes actual clues more than thinking) appears and is invoked from time to time.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:01 PM on March 17, 2015

This is most definitely not a thriller but I saw a couple other YA suggestions upthread, so I'll add L.M. Montgomery's Avonlea world which starts with Anne of Green Gables but encompasses many of her books; there are many recurring bit characters, especially in her short stories called the Chronicles of Avonlea. I can't find it in a brief Googling but I could swear that I saw once a map of all of her characters and the books in which they appeared.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 1:05 PM on March 17, 2015

Not only does Bret Easton Ellis do this, he and Jay McInerney have had the character of Alison Poole crossover from book-to-book.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:17 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not quite sure what you mean. Are you talking about (for example) Kurt Vonnegut's character of Kilgore Trout, a fictitious author who appears in several of Vonnegut's novels?
posted by tckma at 1:45 PM on March 17, 2015

Seconding Michael Connelly, who's also had main characters from his other books make appearances in the Harry Bosch and/or the Mickey Haller series.

In one of the Bosch books (I forget which one), Connelly makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to one of Robert Crais' main characters. Crais has also had characters cross over from standalone novels into his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series.

Richard Stark (Donald Westlake under a pen name) wrote a series about the professional thief Parker, and one of Parker's associates (Alan Grofield) eventually got a short "spin-off" series of novels that were more comic than the Parker novels.

Probably Westlake's most well-known work is a series of comic crime novels about a hapless unlucky thief named Dortmunder. One of these, Jimmy the Kid, has Dortmunder and his crew attempt a kidnapping based on a (fictional) Richard Stark "Parker" novel.

A bit outside the bounds of the question, but Westlake and Joe Gores actually had their characters encounter each other more than once. Gores' Dan Kearney Detective Agency operatives encountered Parker in the early 70's, and Dortmunder in the 90's.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:47 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

tckma: yes, exactly.
posted by phunniemee at 1:49 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh and this is awesome, you guys are awesome. I'mma go full Oprah on best answers in here.
posted by phunniemee at 1:50 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

While not quite the same thing, the protagonist of John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River bears striking resemblance to Irving himself. In fact, one of the character's novels is a very thinly veiled reference to The Cider House Rules, and the movie adaptation of said novel is also discussed.

It's more of a shout-out to himself and something put there for fans of his work, I'm sure.
posted by tckma at 2:00 PM on March 17, 2015

Carl Hiassen's novels are pretty much all set in the same slightly skewed off course version of Florida.

Skewed? Opinions would differ.

Brandon Sanderson's fantasy novels all take place in the same multi-verse and there is a (minor) recurring character who makes a brief appearance in each (?) book.

Laurie King has two main series - one featuring a detective, Kate Martinelli, in modern day San Francisco, and the other featuring Mary Russell, the young partner/wife of Sherlock Holmes. "The Art of Detection" is a bit of both.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:01 PM on March 17, 2015

You are correct that Stephen King does this a lot. So does his son, Joe Hill, and King's Doctor Sleep implies that the two of them are actually sharing the same universe.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:03 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Steve Erickson does this in some of his books (off the top of my head, I know someone from "Tours of The Black Clock" shows up in "The Sea Came in at Midnight"
posted by drezdn at 2:07 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Two classic science fiction authors were well known for this -- follow the links into Wikipedia for more about Robert Heinlein's Future History and Larry Niven's Known Space. And nowadays, we have Iain M. Banks Culture.
posted by Rash at 2:19 PM on March 17, 2015

Brett Easton Ellis is mentioned above, and you should also know that characters from Donna Tartt's A Secret History appear in his book The Rules of Attraction, which was published before A Secret History.

Characters from The Secret History also appear in Tartt's The Goldfinch.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:45 PM on March 17, 2015

Joseph Conrad, the Polish-born English writer (if you will), has a recurring narrator, sometimes protagonist, of a few of his works; his name is Charles Marlow. Conrad's probable most-famous work, Heart of Darkness, is mostly narrated by Marlow (except for the intro and outro of the novel, which is narrated by an observer of Marlow) who is recounting an episode earlier in his career, as is the novelette Youth. Marlow also recounts to his companions the tale of Jim in Lord Jim. The fourth work is Chance, which I haven't read.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:47 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tana French! The Dublin Murder Squad books.
posted by CMcG at 3:49 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Vonnegut is a great example of this. Not only does Kilgore Trout appear all over the place, but so do Rabo Karabekian (Bluebeard), Eliot Rosewater (God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater) and others. What's more, in one particularly memorable segment, Vonnegut writes himself into the story to tell one character that he is a work of fiction. The character takes it badly and Vonnegut himself ends up chased by a doberman pinscher angry at having been written out of the final draft.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:15 PM on March 17, 2015

Michael Moorcock's books share the same broad, branching, universe over a vast time scale, realised through a mixture of shared characters, time travel, ideas of "reincarnation", and memories/dreams of some characters accessing other parts of the universe. He has also encouraged a few other writers to write stories set in the same connected universe or introduce his characters into their stories.
posted by Jabberwocky at 4:20 PM on March 17, 2015

OOPS. In Breakfast of Champions, I meant. All of my comments above are about Breakfast of Champions.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:24 PM on March 17, 2015

Yeah, I'm not sure how I missed Vonnegut before. I've read everything he's written and he does this for sure.

Tana French! The Dublin Murder Squad books.
You'd expect all the books in a series to live in the same universe. I like the ones across standalone books!
posted by phunniemee at 4:29 PM on March 17, 2015

Rick Boyer's dentist character Doc Adams used to meet up with William Tapply's lawyer character Brady Coyne to go fishing. Just an occasional gentle reference.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:31 PM on March 17, 2015

Louise Erdrich's characters recur in a lot of her books, and sometimes retell the same stories from their differing viewpoints.
posted by everydayanewday at 7:01 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Judith Krantz would occasionally have characters from other books pop in here and there. I remember that coming up in Dazzle when two other characters showed up from previous books, and another was mentioned in Spring Awakening.

Generally speaking, if authors write books that are similar enough and take place in the same-ish setting, this happens a lot. I can just only think of the one example right now :P
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:15 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Barbara Trapido does this too (I feel like I recommend her all the time on Metafilter but really, she is a chronically under appreciated writer)
posted by Wantok at 7:20 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Carroll does this. He sets a lot of his books in the small town of Crane's View, and a lot of characters from those books pop up in his other books. He's so great. I'm slowly forcing everyone in my life to read his stuff.
posted by silverstatue at 7:52 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Barbara Kingsolver
posted by BlueHorse at 8:20 PM on March 17, 2015

Wally Lamb 's books take place in the same general area and characters from earlier books often show up in other books. I really enjoy how he brings them in - it doesn't feel forced.
posted by melissa at 5:50 AM on March 18, 2015

Nabokov liked to do this too. Professor Pnin, who ends Pnin jobless and on the road, shows up years later in Pale Fire as a tenured Professor of Russian: a nice little piece of wish fulfilment for the post-WWII expatriate academic community in the US.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:25 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Carl Hiassen (I feel like dude just writes the same book over and over, but they're entertaining) and Fannie Flagg (who I find charming and relaxing and DID YOU KNOW SHE DATED RITA MAE BROWN BACK IN THE DAY I'M SCREAMING).

All of S.E. Hinton's young adult novels take place in the same universe. The characters in The Outsiders are, later, local folk heroes. Ponyboy Curtis makes several appearances in That was Then....This is Now.

It also features a very 1970s-young-adult-novel alarmist acid freakout, if that recommends it at all. (It does for me.)
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:16 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, here's the relevant Wikipedia article: Continuity within S.E. Hinton Novels
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:31 AM on March 18, 2015

John Barth's epistolary novel LETTERS features one letter-writer from each of his previous novels, all interacting in the same story. (It took some sleight of hand to include Giles Goat-Boy in this scheme, because it takes place in a world very unlike our own, but he manages it by making the character both mysterious and insane.) This probably isn't a good example for you, though, because there's not much suggestion of a shared continuity elsewhere in his writing. The main characters from Sabbatical make a brief appearance in The Tidewater Tales, but that's pretty much it.
posted by baf at 9:07 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Michael Winter. Many of his books feature the same main character, although they are completely stand-alone novels. Also in one book the character is writing a novel, and Winter's subsequent novel was the novel the character had been writing in the book.
posted by oulipian at 10:49 AM on March 18, 2015

phunniemee, even though Tana French's books are considered "a series", in case you haven't read them -- each book has as its main character someone who is a minor character in the preceding book. So there's a universe from which the characters are all plucked, but remarkably few last through the series and they are (iirc) all related from a first person narrative so the narrator doesn't know that you, the reader, have heard of someone they're talking about. It's a kind of unusual set up for a "series." fwiw
posted by janey47 at 12:48 PM on March 18, 2015

Jacqueline Moriarty does this with her Ashbury/Brookfield series of YA novels.
posted by Biblio at 3:34 PM on March 18, 2015

Besides Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle books, there's another implied character links in Stephenson's other works - a minor character in "Diamond Age" (the headmistress) is implied to be the female lead from "Snow Crash" when she mentions her youth as a skateboarder.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:51 PM on March 21, 2015

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