The Karl Gallagher interview, part two: On the pleasures of writing, challenges of series, and what’s next in his Fall of the Censor series

Here is the second part of the Prometheus-blog interview with sf writer Karl K. Gallagher.

A 2022 Best Novel finalist for his Fall of the Censor novels Between Home and Ruin and Seize What’s Held Dear, Gallagher is in the midst of completing his projected nine-volume Censor series.

His fourth novel in the series, Captain Trader Helmsman Spy, was  published in May.

Q: Your trilogy of Torchship, Torchship Pilot and Torchship Captain, published in 2017, were together combined into one nomination by LFS judges and ended up ranked as a Prometheus Best Novel finalist in 2018.  What were the main pleasures and challenges of writing your Torchship trilogy?

A: One of the surprising joys of novel writing is thinking of a funny line and being able to slip in the perfect set-up for it.

On a larger scale, it gave me a chance to exercise some of the ideas I hadn’t been able to turn into serious essays, such as AI disaster through failure of the software and social stresses from people trying to escape being at the bottom of the social pecking order.

The biggest challenge was having the discipline to keep my butt in the chair and keep writing. I also found that finding typos, grammar errors, and continuity errors can be harder than the original writing. Fortunately, my wife is a talented editor and has improved my work considerably.

Q: Was it daunting to launch your Fall of the Censor series, even
after having written your earlier Torchship trilogy?

A: Some. The ‘nine’ books in the series is an estimate. If the story goes in another direction, the series may be a book or two longer or shorter. That’s committing most of a decade of writing to one project. I am determined to complete it. Too many readers have been left hanging by unfinished series. I don’t want to disappoint mine.

Q: What lessons did you learn from writing your first trilogy that are
helping you to plan and write your Fall of the Censor series?

Author Karl K. Gallagher (Creative Commons license)

A: The biggest lesson is to not be afraid of recycling. Torchship’s plot was built from RPG adventures that I used for pick up games at SF cons.
Fall of the Censor drew from RPG material I’d written (but not
published) and other ideas I’d been kicking around for a while.

Second lesson is to start writing even if I don’t have a complete
outline yet. I need at least a partial outline to get started, but I
can work with an outline for half the book and write tens of thousands
of words in confidence that I’ll figure out the rest of the story
later. This approach probably horrifies other authors who believe in
completely plotting out their novels or series, but it works for me.

Q: So far, the Prometheus Awards have recognized each of the first three novels published in your ambitious Fall of the Censor series, starting with Storm Between the Stars, a 2021 Best Novel finalist, and the two 2021 sequels, both of which became 2022 Best Novel finalists: Between Home and Ruin and Seize What’s Held Dear.

Can you give us an interim progress report, including how many more years you expect to take to complete the series?

A: Captain Trader Helmsman Spy (the fourth novel in the series) was published in May and I have a complete outline for its sequel Swim Among the People and have thousands of words written so far.

Book six, as yet untitled, has a rough outline. I’m hoping to have books 5 and 6 out in 2023. If all goes well, the series will be finished in 2025.

Q: What else can you share, at this point, about your plans for the
Fall of the Censor series, without giving anything major away?

A: As you can guess from the title of the series, the good guys will win and the Censor will be toppled. It won’t be cheap, or easy, and the galaxy will be left in a bit of a mess. Which will create opportunities for more stories. I expect I’ll write some different ones and give these
characters a rest before returning to the Censorverse.

Q: Do you see pros and cons in writing series?

A: The simplest pro is that when you start the next book in the series,
you already have most of the characters and settings you need for the
new story. That saves a bunch of skull sweat up front. If you have a
complex enough situation the next book’s plot flows automatically from
the end of the previous one. You also gather more readers as they
become invested in the story. Long and successful series can spawn fan
clubs and cosplayers.

On the con side, you’re restricting your creativity by all the decisions made in the earlier books. If you’ve resolved all the major conflicts it can be hard to keep it going without bringing in new  antagonists not set up earlier, which may weaken the story and disappoint readers.

The Amazon algorithm rewards writers for having a new book out every month or two. Some writers work themselves to death trying to hit that goal. Others team up.

Pestilence (The Four Horsemen series)

The “Four Horsemen” military SF series has released 74 books in less than six years. It’s a joint project with about a dozen writers producing novels and another 20+ adding short stories.

I admire them, but it’s a lot of work coordinating the effort and maintaining continuity.

Q: What else do you hope to write over the next few years?

A: I’ll write a few short stories every year, either because an inspiration hit me or I was invited to an anthology.

One was just published in April in the Mammon: Collateral anthology, a companion to the Mammon: Titan novel, which was a 2022 Prometheus Best Novel nominee. My Amazon profile lists more anthologies I’ve contributed to than novels.

There are a couple of novels that I’ve written a few thousands words of
while blocked on another project. I may go back and finish them (one
is a romance, the other a techno-thriller).

My ideas file accumulates random thoughts and scenes which I can draw on when I need inspiration. For now, I’ll be focusing on the Fall of the Censor stories.

Coming up soon: Part 3 of the Gallagher interview, with a focus on his favorite sf authors and novels and what he thinks of awards.

Here is a link to the first part of the Gallagher interview, published in early February 2023.

* Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Watch the videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.

Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different but complementary visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity overcome tyranny, slavery and war and achieve universal liberty and human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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