John T. Cullen has been online since early 1996, joining the early Web pioneers in publishing exciting stories in several fields. On these pages, in March 2010, we begin to gather as much of the old work that has not been lost by time, computer crashes, upgrades, fatigue, and neglect over the years.
Past web endeavors with founding years (as best able to recollect) include Neon Blue Fiction (1996), The Haunted Village (1996), Clocktower Fiction (1997), SharpWriter.Com, Clocktower Books (1998).
As to the web magazine, it began as Outside: Speculative & Dark Fiction (April 15, 1998), quickly morphed to Deep Outside SFFH (late 1998 to late 2001), and finally Far Sector SFFH (late 2001 to January 2007). Most of the art work on the first two versions was done by Brian Callahan (Sighco.com), who was my business partner until his departure for other green pastures in 2001. After that, much artwork came from A. L. Sirois and some from myself.
Brief Aside by JTC. Reality, technology, truth, and progress are sending the New York City ('Big Six') publishing anomaly's self-ordained and mercenary gatekeepers packing. Early on, many of us saw that the Internet was a unique new publishing opportunity. This is not because we are unintelligent, or amateurs, or heretics, or the unclean whose trivial and ridiculous scribblings have not been blessed by the high priests and their acolytes in akad¯me, and so forth. Quite the opposite will eventually dawn on even the dimmest of bulbs. Many of us have multiple degrees, often quite relevant. My three are a BA in English (Univ of Connecticut), a BBA in Computer Information Systems (National University), and an MS in Business Administration (Boston University). I am a professionally trained editor, journalist, author, and scholarly researcher. Many of us have years of professional experience in writing, editing, journalism, book editing, and various other disciplines. In other words, some of us, at least, bring the highest professional standards to the work we create online. Many of us are far better educated and knowledgeable than many of the gatekeepers of cheap, sentimental trash that New York typically purveys. How many of their books of the last 40 years, since the advent of shopping malls and big box stores, will survive to still be read in the classrooms of 2212 or 2412? Given that they have literally owned the entire industry, vertically and horizontally, we may expect that a few literary works got through the censorship and gatekeepingbut not enough to justify their self-adulation.
I remember seeing a survey in The Los Angeles Times (remember them?) around the early 2000s. Most of the respondents (authors, editors, etc in the print industry) tended to think the Internet and digital publishing had no future. One or two still vocally railed against the idea that one would sell print books on line through retailers like Amazon. Stories of such shortsightedness and lack of vision abound. They are not worth mentioning in detail, because they are all dreck that has already run over by the wheels of progress. You can imagine similar outrage among the monks of the scriptorium when Gutenberg used moveable type to grind out Bibles. Does anyone remember the loathing among publishers (which lasted for decades, and still echoes even today) when Betty and Ian Ballantyne revived the Liberty Book (softcover, in WW2 rationing) and created the paperback in the late 1940swhich was anathema to the shamans and their acolytes of the publishers in boards. Ironically, they who speak of 'hardcovers' have not produced a true hardcover in over half a century. A real book between boards, hand-stitched in an antique wooden machine, entirely by hand, has not been manufactured in popular quantities in nearly a century by now. For all the drama and the posing, modern 'hardcovers' are really nothing more than paperbacks glued together between cardstock or cardboard. In fact, even the 'trade paperback' is really no more than a cardback that has come unglued.
In the long term, reality and the free market place will determine the outcome of the current death and birth struggles. Only a few years ago, in a survey of publishing and writing professionals by The Los Angeles Times (remember them?), there were still several people who loathed and condemned the new practice of selling print works online via Amazon.com and other retail sites. There remains to this day a vast horde of [censored] who keep insisting that everything online should be free, including tens of thousands of hours of hard work and sacrifice by dedicated and talented writers and musicians. If many of these artists online do not meet the standards of their'onors, the [censored], then we may well recall that most of the print industry's output ends up being remaindered for failure to sell. But again, discussions like this are pointless.
What is Traditional Publishing? In 2011, I did some studies for an online publication. I found several truths. First, most great authors (meaning that their work transcends their time and culture, and is read generations later by an avid public) had to self-publish because of the mediocrity and myopia of their era's gatekeepers. This includes writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman (who was a trained typesetter and printer), Virginia Wolfe (who owned her own press), D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Erma Rombauer, Zane Grey, Beatrix Potter, Anais Nin, Stephen Crane, and entirely too many great authors to name. They fill up much of the syllabus of the typical literature department whose hierophants despise 'vanity' publishers. If only they had a clue. Secondly, I could plainly see that the Big Six (or is it Five by now, or Four, as they collapse one by one?) is not the so-called 'traditional publishing' of which people so vacantly-eyed speak. The real traditional publishing, in the United States of John Peter Zenger, press freedom, and the First Amendment, consists of over 40,000 small press publishers who have survived the now moribund big-box, shopping mall industry of the New York City cartel. But make no mistakeI don't loathe them, because I am a business person as they are. I just hope to do it smarter and better. Time will tell. With their unholy monopoly broken by the new freedoms of digital publishing, anyone has a fair shot now. With the gatekeepers sent packing, the world's James Joyces and Walt Whitmans, its Virginia Wolfes and Beatrix Potters, are no longer at the whimsy of distant strangers half as smart and not a tenth as talented. That's as it should bea level playing field. It's all anyone can or should ask for.
Ultimately, the partisanship we have seen (print versus digital, mall stores versus online retail sites) amounts to nothing more than hollow posing by those who have a vested interest in keeping old economies alive. It's like the oil billionaires who have long stopped the world from progressing to clean energy. Ultimately, speaking of oil and cars, it's not about the destination or the vehicle, but about the journey. It's not about whether it is 'okay' to read a digital book. One elderly editor I once called at a New York house for information on pricing, around 1998 or so, commented about e-books, as if she were speaking of child molesters or lepers, in a voice dripping with disdain and loathing"I would *never* read one of those." She is probably now working as a barrista, and glad to have any kind of job. Time and progress move on, leaving their tire tracks on those who didn't have the vision to get on board. Soon enough, nobody will question whether it is moral or correct or smart to read a digital text. I remember when the Library of Congress refused to allow me to register a copyright because the book I had electronically published with Nuvomedia around 1998 'wasn't really a book,' but I could register the manuscript as 'unpublished.' Who really has time for this? Write a good book, publish a viable package, and find out whether readers will come. Ironically, that is all the New York industry ever did, and it was the right thing to doexcept they got way too big for their britches. Pride goeth before a fall.
The free market will prevail, as it always does. It's all about the end user, the reader in this case. Give them a good tool and a decent story, and they'll turn the page on this entire industry, faster than any so-called gate keepers can keep up with. In the end, the only thing we artists and intellectuals can control is how well we do our work, and how lovingly we apply ourselves to it. Very few of us will be remembered, print or digital, but that cannot ultimately be what matters. The age-old joys of story telling, and story hearing or reading, remain as fresh as they were around the Paleolithic campfire.
First E-Books Ever Published Online
We Made History Clocktower Books, the world's second-oldest e-book publisher (as of 2013+; third in 1996) pioneered in a number of areas during the halcyon, virginal genesis days of the World Wide Web as a publishing medium. When you buy an e-book (including our own titles) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iPad, or any other retailer, you are buying a product whose concept we pioneered in our early incarnation as Clocktower Fiction in 1996. That, along with other pioneering firsts by us, makes this website and publishing house a historically important landmark. We are proud of this heritage, and happy to share these true facts with a world that all too often moves on and leaves its history in the dust. Note: We only obtained a real domain name by about 1998--see Wayback Machine and other historical resources.
To be absolutely clear: At the moment in 1996 when we went online with our digital publishing project, digital publishing of full, proprietary books had not advanced beyond physical media (CD-ROM). One or two publishers offered portable media for sale by physical home delivery, and Amazon was just rocking New York City's boat by offering physical books that could be ordered for home delivery from Amazon's website. There may have been some public domain texts available. Pioneering short story publishers were already activee.g., John T. Cullen's first third-party-'published' story was in Andy McCann's Planet Magazine, which existed already online since about 1993. However, no book author or publisher had ever, before us, published entire proprietary (intellectual property, registered with the U.S. Library of Congress) books online for digital download. We also pioneered, among other innovations, the concept of weekly serial chapters online. Note: Since both Brian Callahan and I, among our various degrees, have B.A.s in English or Literature, we were quite aware that Charles Dickens, for example, got his career start during the early 1800s publishing in weekly serials (magazines; journals). Interesting how history appears to sometimes repeat itself.
A Brief Clocktower Books Chronology
1995 While working at a San Diego software firm, a group of us were amazed one day to download a single image (of one page from an ancient Byzantine codex) on our Mozilla browser, which took about an hour or more. Memory is a bit hazy by now, but I'll try to retell the story sequentially as best possible.
1996 In April 1996, Brian Callahan and I created our first website (Neon Blue Fiction), which consisted of a splash page and a content page, without a single image at first. This was our venue to publish mystery and suspense thrillers. Initially, all we had were a number of short stories and one novelthe eponymous Neon Blue. We added an image of the NBF logo (TBD), and later in 1997, Brian uploaded the magnificent website now in the Clocktower Books museum.
1996 A few weeks later, on July 5, 1996, Brian Callahan and I added our second website (The Hau