Key Historical Notes for Clocktower Books
Key Segments 1996-2007 and Beyond. In retrospect as we turn the 2021 milestone of our 25th Anniversary in online and digital publishing, the sequence of events a quarter century ago seems to blur and blend. My aim in this short article is to keep the threads separate. They include:
Our first two hosted websites, as two folders at a San Diego-based hosting service were Neon Blue Fiction (Suspense, April 1996) and The Haunted Village (July 1996, SFFH). By about 1997 or 1998, we created our own domain names/sites online, moving the site contents from their folder locations, each to a primary subdomain. These two sites made world history because they published the world's first HTML novels as I now call them.
As a separate operation, we decided to launch a publishing house called Clocktower Fiction. Until then, the two websites mentioned above had only carried my own fiction. Now we wanted to start publishing the work of other authors. Our first umbrella publishing venture, Clocktower Fiction, under our own domain ClocktowerFiction.com, purchased in 1996; went live in 1997.
Clocktower Books. (Most of this information can be gleaned from the Clocktower Books site and the Clocktower Books Museum site). Starting circa 1998, C&C Publishers (Cullen & Callahan, or Callahan & Cullen) moved on to our own, newly launched two hosted websites (now gone) that I long ago managed to transcribe as stand-alone HTML websites. They were Neon Blue Fiction (Mystery, Suspense, Thriller) and The Haunted Village (SFFH). That progression led to the creation of our publishing house as such (C&C Clocktower Fiction, which around 2000 became Clocktower Books. This progression of events followed sort of like rocks tumbling in a stream, piecemeal, as we invented and thought through our own early version of Internet (WWW) publishing.
More On CTB: We went from two guys with two websites on which we published my own fiction. Because of the breath-taking newness of all this, I adopted the pseudonym John Argo. To begin with, I was then about 45 and had written about fifteen or so novels, plus dozens of short stories and hundreds of poems. Out of all that, only a few poems were published by third parties. Even with a B.A. in English (University of Connecticut) and by then a M.S. in Business Administration (Boston University, earned while serving on Active Duty with the U.S. Army in Europe, attending what was then B.U.'s MET Overseas Division at Heidelberg FRG), I was shut out. Long story, article(s) coming some day soon. As Brian and I launched our first ventures, it was a critical moment in history (mid to late 1990s). The small, cruelly tight preserve of corporate investor-driven publishing was forced open by the Internet, by digital technology, by thousands of adventuresome writers, and by a growing number (millions) of readers looking for original alternatives
around the world. It was an exhilarating time, leading me during an unforgettable moment (April 1996, launch of Neon Blue Fiction) to invent a very special pseudonym. My choice was not casual or trivial. Why set my real name aside for a made up one?
John Argo Is Born! With my Classics background, I immediately thought of of those many powerful, enduring ancient mythologies, e.g. Jason and the Argonauts (literally: Argo-Sailors). Even in Classical Hellenic times (specifically, the Homeric age, 8th Century BCE) the Argonauts were already ancient history of the lost Bronze Age civilization a thousand or more years earlier, of which Classical Hellenes ('Greeks') wrote; which includes Homer. In fact, looking back over the millennia, one would think that Homer's powerful epics formed or created the Classical Age yet a few centuries in the future, based on a lost world a millennium earlier. On the ship Argo, Jason and his companions sailed to adventures around what was then the Space Age of their day: the Aegean and Pontic (Black) Seas; possibly the Caspian Sea. The power of those myths is attested by the fact that even in modern times, people are still devouring those tales. Think of the wonderful 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts, with a great cast including young Honor Blackman (who was a lead in the U.K. thriller TV series The Avengers; and female lead in the James Bond film Goldfinger. The 1963 movie is especially revered for the strong special effects engineering of Ray Harryhausen.
In December 1996, Brian purchased a domain name, and we launched (1997) an umbrella publishing operation as our own website (domain ClocktowerFiction.com, long ago lost to squatters). To include nonfiction and other materials, we created a new domain, Clocktower Books, which still remains today. The name comes from my novel Streamliners (Art Deco Science Fiction novel) involving several parallel worlds centered on an imaginary Raritania, the City of Clocktowers, near New York City. That novel is alive & well for reading at Galley City (over a million words free; read half free/try-buy, links to Amazon.com).
SharpWriter.Com On the side, as a totally separate venture, I ran a writer's resource site (portal) that was called 'One of the 101 Best Resources for Writers' circa 1999 by Writer's Digest magazine. The site later doubled as a review site for many start-up authors until retired around 2003.
Magazine (1998-2007). Starting in April 1998, again as a totally separate venture, Brian and I launched the first professional magazine of SFFH online, following all the rules of SFWA.
Innovating/Emulating/Daring. Brian and I, and later our collaborators like Dennis Latham, A.L. Sirois, John K. Muir, and Shaun Farrell, had all been avid readers all of our lives. Each of us was a writing professional and multi-book author. We brought a lot of experience to the task, and yet, in this totally new digital publishing environment, we had to use a lot of imagination innovate new ways. We could emulate the print world up to a point, but the means and modalities were different. For example, in our magazine, we strove to provide an online equivalent of the pulp magazines dominating the SFFH environment since the 1930s. We did not reach readers through bookstores (yet; the Kindle and Nook were yet to come; we were among the first to publish across the pioneering Nuvomedia Rocket e-Book in 1998, which later was purchased by our distributor Fictionwise). And needless to say, we were operating in areas that the print monopoly was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with (to say the least). Somehow, in all of that, bottom line: we were able to help create more than one element of the new digital medium: online novels (HTML novels), new ways of distributing our magazine, in the best paths opened by the unique new medium. And it must be said, we were not alone. In 1994, before our web presence, Andy McCann began publishing his venerable Planet Magazine, which in 1998 accepted my first published John Argo SF short story (Control Game), now also available at Galley City.
At our magazine Deep Outside SFFH (later Far Sector SFFH) we published stories by several of SFWA's top officers, as well as a long list of authors who won or were nominated for SFWA's Nebula Award, plus every other imaginable major award in U.S, Canadian, Australian, U.K., etc. SFFH publishing. We are listed in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, courtesy Mike Ashley. From 1996 to 2000, the magazine's name was Deep Outside SFFH. After Brian moved on in 2000, I took over and renamed it Far Sector SFFH. One key difference was that, whereas in Deep Outside SFFH the fiction was posted on the site, I changed it so that Far Sector SFFH linked the actual story to its location on Fictionwise.com. After a successful ten-year run, I retired the magazine in early 2007, as I had done for SharpWriter.Com to be able to focus more on my San Diego, CA based small press imprint Clocktower Books (which is still operating, but closed to submissions).
Clocktower Books. The imprint made history in many ways, and has its own ISBN prefix (0-7433) since the 1990s. Here we are listed with a few other publishers of proximate ISBN Prefixes (click image for full list; opens new window; search page the Wikipedia page that opens for "7433"):
By around 2001, Clocktower Books had published over fifty authors from around the world. The entire operation frankly became too much for me to handle after Brian left, so I closed submissions and released most of the authors to pursue publication elsewhere. I wanted to focus my time and efforts on my own novel writing. A few authors stayed with me, notably Reneé Horowitz and Robin Marchesi. Long story short, I have lately been publishing my own books (about fifty to date) under the Clocktower Books imprint. NOTE: Clocktower Books and its magazine have never, ever charged any author a penny for any services; we provide(d) free covers, editing, uploads, and any other services required to publish a novel or short story, totally free. We have always paid generous royalties and made reports on time as required by law. SWC and the magazine ended in the mid-2000s. After Fictionwise folded, I migrated all books to Amazon (currently KDP) so the publishing end is under one roof.
Early History. As you'll learn in more detail on these Museum Site pages, Clocktower Books launched in early 1996 as C&C Publishers (Brian Callahan and John T. Cullen). A lot of the brilliant thinking and artwork of Brian Callahan is still evident in the Clocktower Books logo and many other touches on this webplex. Brian moved on to other adventures, including as a key figure in the Portland, OR H.P. Lovecraft film festival. I, John T. Cullen, have been sole proprietor of Clocktower Books and its related activities since 2001. As noted on these pages, I've also had vital help from a number of talented persons including but not limited to A. L. Sirois, the late Dennis Marino/Latham, et al.
World's First HTML Novels Starting 1996. I'll blow my horn here for a moment, as author of about fifty books, most published by Clocktower Books. Starting in 1996 with Neon Blue (suspense novel) and This Shoal of Space and The Generals of October (to name a few), Clocktower Books published the world's first HTML novels, authored by me. I coined this term to indicate these specifications: (1) proprietary, not public domain, to be very clear, so rule out Gutenberg Project, et al; (2) published entirely on a website in HTML to be read online rather than on portable media as a few authors were trying to do at the time; (3) released in weekly (Sunday Afternoons, San Diego time) and read by eager audiences around the world, on every continent except Antarctica; (4) with the instant possibility for a reader who was too jazzed up with suspense to wait to download a TXT file from our site. Our first hosting was with Electriciti, a site in San Diego. We received accolades from avid readers/fans in far places like South Africa, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Germany, U.K., and more, besides of course U.S.A. and Canada. This started before the arrival of general e-commerce, so it was primarily a promotional effort. And of course copies were stolen by a few trolls here and there (c'est la vie). A few of these early novels, especially Neon Blue, were bestsellers on the early Barnes & Noble website of the late 1990s, which was taken down for a few years before B&N got back into the e-book game more seriously. That's all for the history books and not of primary interest here. When e-commerce arrived, pioneered by Amazon.com and a few other players, Internet publishing (or Web publishing) entered a new mainstream that includes those early HTML novels. I had a renaissance of sorts at Fictionwise.com, which was the leading e-book specialist in the early 2000 before it became history.