About John T. Cullen's Fiction
This is A Focal Site About My 35+ Published Novels
Your Author: I'm JTC and I've written well over sixty titles, including at least 35 published novels, some as yet unpublished novels, and many short stories and anthologies. Information about my books (fiction, nonfiction) and poetry can be found on several sites on my webplex. This one is dedicated to the totality of my fiction and is still in work.
Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry. In the broader context, I am a trained journalist (both college and OJT) and have degrees in Business and English. My broad Liberal Arts background will explain my interest in History, Science, and other topics in terms of writing nonfiction. That's a topic for my nonfiction website in work now. I also just completed most of the work on a site about my youthful poetry. On this site, I'll focus on my fiction.
Four Main Fiction Areas. I have written primarily science fiction and suspense fiction. With my deep interest in History, Languages, Travel, and (throw in) Human Nature, I have also written historical fiction and other areas. I think the index (home) page is self-explanatory. Each of the images (accompanied by a description) leads to a specialized website. With one exception (the tragic story taken from true history about the 1892 true crime and famous ghost legend at the Hotel del Coronado near San Diego), every one of my novels has a strong romantic thread in that I always write a strong male lead and a strong female lead who fall in love, while undergoing all sorts of harrowing adventures, and end up firmly wedded together in a HEA ending. If there is any continuity in my work across 35 or more novels, that is one strongly consistent element.
Homages & Background. Every one of my novels had some purpose, some background, a deep and stirring passion that made me write it. Each of my novels is unique, pretty much a stand-alone, which is a no-no in commercial writing. My style and subject matter have generally not been as vanilla and commercial as society might expect, but think about snowflakes. Every snowflake is unique, like a fingerprint. I only write each story once, though with certain consistent elements like that romantic aspect. Similarly, I don't imitate other writers' work, except to be inspired when I find a favorite. Favorites (inspirations) for me most often come from certain writers or film directors. For example, I've been heavily influenced by Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Pynchon, John Dos Passos, William Golding, and actually a great number of famous and unique stylists across a wide variety. I'm also in the bookstore at least an hour every day, looking at recent authors, so I'm not stuck in the past at all.
Among film directors, I admire Ridley Scott the most (my favorite all-time film being the 1982 Blade Runner, which I cite as a primary example to explain my SF concept of DarkSF (which has a dedicated website now).
Likewise, my novel Doom Spore San Diego is a tribute to the 1956 black and white movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Ron Siegel and based on the 1955 novel The Body Snatchers by another of my favorite authors, Jack Finney. The late, great Jack Finney also authored a fun novel called Night People. His truly amazing illustrated 1970 novel Time and Again is considered by many critics to be one of the top five mystery and simultaneously science fiction novels ever written. I would love to write an homage to Time and Again but haven't quite found the full mojo to get me there (it's not a light, easy process). I use the category descriptions DarkSF and/or Science Horror to describe Doom Spore.
My great hero Ray Bradbury, who sent me a rave personal fan mail in January 2008 for my dark holiday fantasy novel The Christmas Clock (ah yes, an homage to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol) might disagree with me but I've always been a stickler for separating logic from emotion, fact from supposition, science from the supernatural, and certainly science fiction from fantasy fiction. That's why I use the term science horror (like science fiction) to distinguish this type of terrifying yarn (Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes to mind) from fantasy-based horror stories. Not to misunderstand: fantasy fiction including its horror subgenre is quite enjoyable in its own separate space. Ray basically believed in just barreling ahead, and forget the fine points. Stephen King has made similar statements in his book on writing (to the effect that you should write first, research later). Obviously, they created immortal art and will forever be in print (and films), so I can't argue with success. My novel The Christmas Clock is fantasy, not SF. Think about it this way; we use the term 'science' too loosely. It comes from the ancient Latin scientia, meaning knowledge. But what can we know (for sure?). The Enlightenment of recent centuries demanded precision and logical accountability. The term 'science' actually has a first name: natural. It's not just 'science,' but natural science, to separate it 100% from supernatural science, which is inherently a meaningless contradiction: knowledge of the unknowable.
There is actually a small bridge between fantasy and science fiction; call it maybe a demilitarized zone. I'll keep you in suspense (no pun intended) for now. I'll discuss my resolution (compromise) at some later time.
Mission of this Website. While at my Galley City website, you'll find a rich sampling of my novels under the Bookstore Metaphor or "read half/try-buy" models and more, on this site I hope to explain gradually, over time, some of the rich sources of my work. Part of that involves the homages or praise-works. I do not copy or imitate. Rather, when a film or novel deeply moves and inspires me, I tend to want to write a praise or homage. A good example is my SF novel Nebula Express, which at least in part is a nod toward Ridley Scott's great movie Alien. An added little fillip on this is that it's the first novel I wrote backwards, starting from a screenplay treatment I wrote, to see if I could master the plot points expounded by experts like Syd Field and Vicki King. Worked just beautifully. Should be a great SF film if anyone will read the novel for starters.
Look, I'm a guy who returned from the Army and, while struggling to rediscover civilian life in the World, took my turn at many things (not just working in aerospace, etc). So one day in 1984, I sat in the balmy San Diego sunshine on my mother's patio in Mission Cliffs Gardens, and typed a proposal on my cheap little portable typewriter (no computer yet). I invented a new TV channel idea, and sketched out a whole development schedule, including shows to see, re-runs, classics, and even some originals to be made. I sent it off to two famous movers and shakers, who I thought would immediately have the vision to see it. Instead, I got back a pair of form letters from their underlings, basically saying (in terms of a marketing audience) "nobody would e-v-e-r be interested in anything like that." What did I call my idea? "The Science Fiction Channel.* I had a similar miscue with another idea not long after for an idea I had called *The Women's Channel*, sort of like a cross between Hallmark and selling jewelry online, but again "nobody would e-v-e-r be interested in anything like that." I'm seventy years old now, know the world about as well as I'll ever understand it, and can take all this in stride. Not even a grain of salt wasted on all this folly. Back to *Read My Fiction*. (Nobody would e-v-e-r be interested in anything like this
oh but I *can* be sardonic, yes).
If you learn what nightmares Ridley Scott had to go through to get funding for his production of Blade Runner, you see that I'm not alone. He ended up going to China (literally) to seek funding from the innovative Sir Run-Run Shaw in Hong Kong. And yes, I fell in love with the movie right after my return to the World in 1982 or so, and my life was transformed; it is still my favorite movie of all time. And yet I was shocked to hear from so many SF critics and writers and readers how much they hated it (because they just plain didn't get it). Years later, the consensus agrees with what I knew in the first half hour of seeing the movie for the first of many times: it is now generally considered to be one of the best 100 movies ever made.
A Genre of Adventure Fiction (including SF)
Special Mention: Robinson Crusoe 1,000,000 A.D. I'll mention one more. My 2003 SF novel Robinson Crusoe 1,000,000 A.D. has drawn a remarkable mix of love, hate, rage, trolling, admiration, and misunderstanding over the years. It received a great, positive review in 2003 from Library Journal and some die-hard SF fans have understood and loved it.
In a larger framework, the original 1719 classic and archetype by Daniel Defoe is much misunderstood by those who have not actually read it. It is not a Walt Disney style fuzzy bunnies cartoon to make you feel good, but a dark parable full of sickening betrayal, horrifying nightmares, and bloody cannibals from a very complex author (Daniel Defoe, a Calvinist pamphleteer who spent time in prison for sedition, yet also authored Moll Flanders).
Over the centuries, authors around the world have identified a genre called Robinsonades, which has seen many movies, novels, remakes, you name it; e.g., 2000 Tom Hanks in Marooned and 1964's SF cult classic Robinson Crusoe On Mars.
Back to Robinson Crusoe 1,000,000 A.D.. A few readers, not understanding the total science underlying my novel, have mistaken it for a confusing mix of fantasy and SF that didn't sit right (which I find unfortunate but still tolerable).
One group of wrong-wing nuts had a lynch mob going on line because the 2003 Library Journal review rather too casually tossed in their term (not mine) "cannibalistic clones," which raised the troll index amid conspiracy nuts, sectarian inquisitors, and government haters to a fever pitch. Use of that term, not in my novel, also distracted from the real meaning of the story (although real SF fans tended to understand it and love it). It had over 400 reviews at Fictionwise for example; almost 90% of the reviews were on the great-to-good side (just 6% poor, which is a great statistic). That was a very tekkie-educated, gamer-oriented, computer systems developer readership where that flavor of science fiction easily became a strong favorite.
In the end, my friends, I write the book I need to write, based on what I feel, what I know, and what I think. What I know includes three college degrees, a wide knowledge of modern and classical literature, translations between several languages including Goethe's Faust and Virgil's Aeneid, to name a few; and a deep reading of History across the ages. Add to that living and working many years in multiple countries, plus a lot of travel, and my Army years and all that. I have a lot to draw upon, some of it light and some of it dark (which, I guess, makes for an all the richer mix).
The vast majority of readers (99%) are considerate and kind in their reviews, if they post any online. They tend to be gentle in their critiques, or avoid them at all. A few will make helpful comments. And then: all writers get the troll problem, actually a tiny number of individuals whose insanity makes their ravings unduly stand out. The only reason I mention them is because unfortunately, even one such scathing (meaningless) comment from a cannibal-hunting troll can scare off normal, decent readers who might otherwise take the plunge and actually enjoy the writer's work.
A Canadian author friend of mine calls them 'the haters.' In virtually all such cases, hateful review comments ("because I can, so there!") come from individuals who did not read your book, but instead brought their psychosis to the forum. I am glad I created a wonderful SF adventure, a Robinsonade, inspired in part by Daniel Defoe (whose book I actually did read, as a child for the first time, and loved, although the cannibals and nightmares in it scared me). I was amazed and inspired by the 1964 SF cult classic movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars. I was also inspired by the 1960 movie based on Swiss author Johann David Wyss' 1812 novel Swiss Family Robinson (remember that?); and any number of castaway, shipwrecked, desert island sorts of stories ranging from nightmares and horror to adventure to just plain silly (e.g., Gilligan's Island). Those are just a few examples of Robinsonades.
The Take-Away: Ultimately, my friends, there is a lot more behind many novels and films and other artworks than one may readily suppose. A careful, thoughful, open-minded bit of research would avoid a lot of flying off the handle and other nutty emotions that aren't called for at all. A famous best-selling novelist I won't mention once stated in an interview that "I always write the same novel over and over again." He was frustrated, because that was what sold. If he'd written a different story each time, nobody would buy his books. And I've heard other famous authors, including members of ITW in which I am an Active Member, state that one should "never write stand-alones but always write a series." I've dreamed of writing a series for many years, if I could find something that inspires me enough. Oh yes, I do have one going in SF (Empire of Time) but it's not formulaic; each novel picks up a different thread scattered across millions of years and parsecs of space (across multiple universes yet) that they might as well be stand-alones until you see the tight similarities. I feel it very deeply. Pardon me, I can't talk more. I must run now because there are a pack of grunting, yelling cave dwellers waving sticks and throwing stones chasing me, who don't look very Cro-Magnon.
I'm outta here! He-e-e-l-l-l-p-p-p! Yaaahhhh
(sound of Flintstones bongo-feet).
Why I Am So Passionate About All This
Archetype: John Buchan's 1915 The Thirty-Nine Steps
Classics and Archetypes: Here is your Literature 101 lesson for today. A classic is a story that survives over centuries or ages to be enjoyed by successive generations. An archetype is something even more special: a classic that demands to be retold. I'll mention one more of my novels in this context. That is Valley of Seven Castles, a Luxembourg Thriller. To begin with, I just wanted to write a good, rousing action thriller. Among my copious reading over many years has been the work of Robert Ludlum, plus all the others in that thriller genre including Ian Fleming, John Le Carré, and Leslie Charteris to name just a few. Robert Ludlum wrote a few classic thrillers, including The Bourne Identity (excellent!) which has launched a fast food franchise among the Big Five foreign-owned publishing cartel in New York City (and I mean all of them, including the notorious Australian tabloid hack who may have the paperwork, but will never by a U.S. citizen; no heart, no soul, just greed; a creature for our times). Soooo
I absolutely loved the 2002 film (one of several; it's an archetype, okay?) starring Matt Damon and Franka Potente (a fine persona from Run, Lola, Run as well. But here's why I mention this novel of mine in this venue.
I had a powerful story idea, and I had an inspiration for all the yelling and running and shooting (the 2002 movie that I love). I've read all of Ludlum over the years, which helps. Thrillers are among my specialties (look at The List of Adrian Messenger for another example). But here's the strange thing, and I'll just give you a quick overview. I've covered this all in an appendix to my novel.
The 39 Steps. As it happened, I had a copy of English author John Buchan's pre-World War One thriller at my elbow, among the 1000+ books that surround me in my inner sanctum. On a whim, I began to read it again. Mind you, this is both a classic and an archetype. I've seen several movies made from it, including the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock classic (The 39 Steps rather than The Thirty-Nine Steps). Hitchcock's movie alters the plot a little to include the steps leading up to the Big Ben clock in the Westminster tower in London (he loved clocktowers, as I do, hence Clocktower Books, although that term actually arises from my Art-Deco SF novel Streamliners). There's a lot more to the Hitchcock bit in this, but I'll just say that I found in Buchan's book the plot outline for my 2013ish thriller Valley of Seven Castles, named for a famous tourist region in my other country, Luxembourg.
Plot Basics: An innocent man goes on the run, accused of a murder he did not commit. His desperate goal is to escape both the authorities and the bad guys. His mission is to solve the crime, thereby proving his innocence. As the story moves through its ten parts or chapters (which parallel the ten parts in my novel), he
okay, I'm going to give away the real, biggest secret here. Talk about archetypes.
I am convinced, as I state in my appendix, that Alfred Hitchcock's screenwriter Ernest Lehman in the late 1950s used this exact ten-part plot structure to write the screenplay for North by Northwest. Think about it. An innocent man (played by Cary Grant) is on the run from a crime he did not commit. He was framed by the bad guys over a stabbing at the United Nations. He ends up (like the hero in Buchan's novel) in a duel with an aircraft. In Buchan's novel it was a canvas and wood aeroplane. In the 1934 Hitchcock film, the aircraft was the world's first helicopter or gyrocopter. In the 1959 movie, it's one of the most iconic scenes in movie history: Cary Grant being chased by a crop duster plane in a Kansas cornfield. In my recent novel, it's a deadly weaponized military drone in a field near Wiltz, Luxembourg.
Next (as I recall, in Chapter 7), Buchan's character finds a cabin in the woods, where a Wise Elder explains everything to him. At that point, the man on the run flips and becomes an insider to solving the crime. Hats off to John Buchan: that is powerful and brilliant.
In Hitchcock's 1959 movie, the hero goes to a rather comical art auction, gets himself arrest on purpose to save his life, and encounters a CIA chief who becomes his Wise Elder, making him an insider like Buchan's hero. In my novel, similar event but with Luxembourg military police and Grand-Ducal secret service officials. The encounter with the Wise Elder in each of these stories puts the hero on the right side of the law, so he's no longer running from the authorities. That was Chapter 7 or so in Buchan by the way. From there, Buchan's hero becomes part of the final, rousing plot to solve an international conspiracy, save the nation, and make everything right. Buchan did it in 1915, Hitchcock did it in 1935 and again in 1959, and I did it a few years ago with Valley of Seven Castles, a Luxembourg Thriller.
Points To Ponder. One, there is more to any story, by any author, than most people will ever know (or care, I suppose). Two, now you know the difference between a classic and an archetype. More points on another day.
History. I created the first HTML novels in 1996 (e.g., suspense novel Neon Blue a.k.a. Girl, Unlocked) and I have brought the HTML novel back into play in today's glutted market. To be clear: my HTML novel Neon Blue was the first ever proprietary (not public domain) novel published online in HTML format to be read online (not on portable media like disks or tape). I published it and others in their entirety starting 1996, using an innovative weekly serial-chapter format. Every Sunday evening, I would release the next chapter(s), which were read by a fan base around the world who eagerly awaited the latest chapter(s) to read as they came to work on Monday morning. More info about all this history is at the Clocktower Books Museum Site.
Since 1996, I've published and edited several magazines, blogs, personal websites, and more. I've been an Amazon affiliate since 1998, when I launched Sharpwriter(dot)com. I've published books and other texts through most major online markets over the years. You can order most of my books online or at your local bookstore, although the primary outlet for e-book short stories is typically Amazon dot com.