Whirlwind

By Sung J. Woo

Essay

Fourteen years ago, I started an online magazine. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal now, since anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can create an online presence, but back in March of 1994, it wasn’t so easy. Because Netscape Navigator wasn’t even at 1.0 — it was in beta. And Internet Explorer didn’t exist. Email ran on mainframes and VAX machines, and Gopher was the protocol of choice when it came to delivery of information in a menu-like interface. Anyway, I had to come up with a name for the magazine, and I chose Whirlwind. I’m trying to remember why I picked that name, but honestly, I can’t recall, though I would like to say now that I regret choosing it. I mean it’s not a terrible name, but couldn’t I pick something cooler, like Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head? I mean I was in college, for God’s sake. It’s just sad. Once I had the name, I wanted to make this legit, so I filed it with the International Standard Serial Number folks. Looks like it paid off, because the ISSN still belongs to me. From that point on, it was a matter of getting the word out, which meant posting on various writing-related USENET newsgroups and listservs. And just like that, for the first time in my life, I’d become an editor of my very own magazine. Which was painful. So many awful pieces filled my inbox that I seriously considered ditching the project. But then one day, Keith Dawson sent me his story, “Barking Dogs and Flying Saucers,” and suddenly I realized why people have the crazy notion to start a magazine like this: because I would be introducing this great work of fiction to the world. Or so I thought; realistically, it was probably about a dozen readers. Still, the rush I felt was genuine. I couldn’t wait to share these barking dogs and flying saucers with the reading public at large. It took many days to assemble the magazine, using Aldus PageMaker (remember Aldus? yeah, me neither), a scanner, and a good friend who helped me edit it. I was so preoccupied with making sure the text didn’t have any typos that I forgot to look over the cover. PREMIER ISSUE, it reads, for eternity. (And there’s plenty of typos in the text, too, unfortunately.) In the end, I published four more issues of Whirlwind before I ran out of gas. I didn’t even make two years, but hey, who’s counting. There was another story by Keith Dawson, titled “Cigars”, that’s worth reading; also Jonathan Drout’s “Oranges.” I put out two formats, PostScript and ASCII (PDF wasn’t around yet). Enjoy. v1n1 (in PDF!) v1n3 (Keith Dawson’s “Cigars”; Jonathan Drout’s “Oranges”) All the issues I think it took me a couple of hours to create this ASCII art for the text version of the magazine. Good times.

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SUNG J. WOO is a writer living in New Jersey. Some of his short stories and essays have appeared in McSweeney's, KoreAm Journal, and The New York Times. His debut novel, Everything Asian (April 2009), has been praised by the Christian Science Monitor and received a starred review from Kirkus.

3 responses to “Whirlwind”

  1. Sung J. Woo says:

    Comment by Josie |Edit This
    2008-10-24 16:24:25

    In ‘94 I think I was still popping the cursor around to find hyperlinks…

    We had to listen to the dial-tone from 36 computers and when the system froze the whole class did a hard shutdown…

    They were publishing paper reference guides for websites… (!) The college computer center guarded them with their lives. I’d love to take a peek at one of the first ones again.

    I love how ancient this all makes me feel
    ;^) … I still dig the oldskool smilies
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Sung J. Woo |Edit This
    2008-10-24 20:27:10

    The first browser I used was NCSA Mosaic, running on a Mac IIcx. The first hyperlink I clicked on brought me to an Itchy and Scratchy video snippet that somebody had probably captured through a VHS-to-MPG conversion process.

    I don’t have anything on the real old-timer geeks who used punch cards, but I’m feeling quite a bit old myself, when I think back to the old days of the 300-baud modem, BBSes, 5 1/4″ floppy discs…
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Amanda |Edit This
    2008-10-25 09:25:11

    I have a strange affection for now-outdated computerish things.

    I remember being forced to take “computer classes” in junior high, because Computers Were Going to Change Our Lives. Then, we were taught all this heavy programming stuff out of context. All we really knew was that if typed the right combination of “go to’s” and “runs” it would make the green arrow zip across the screen for an A+ grade.

    And who can forget the cassettes we used in grade five, to save games and word processing files?

    Crazy…
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Wendy Lee |Edit This
    2008-11-13 07:49:56

    This made me think about how when I was a kid I used to put out this one-page handwritten newsletter complete with line drawings that was about the animals who lived in the hills behind my house. I don’t think anyone ever read it. I guess kids now are starting blogs and websites.

    I wonder how many writers have something like that in their pasts–a newspaper, a zine, an online magazine? I guess we expressed our desire to publish early…

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