Happy New Weird


OTIS in 2015 Makes Me Happy Sad like Jeff Buckley’s Dad


Spent the last few days in a house on Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where much of these thoughts coalesced.

December 31, 2015 — It’s that time again where the planet occupies a point in space relative to a giant flaming ball of gas that makes those of its denizens on the Gregorian calendar reminisce en mass. And on OTIS, 2014 was a madcap year. Here are the stats to prove it:

  • Number of OTIS articles: 88 
  • Number of photos posted: ~700
  • Number of words mutilated: ~80,000
  • Number of oddity news stories stolen for Facebook likes: ~275
  • Number of new states visited: 9 
  • Total number of states visited: 30
  • Number of new countries visited: 2

Now, in between all that writing and posting and what ended up being the most travel I’ve ever done in a single year (including two road trips, one of 1,621 miles and one of 3,267 miles), I spent the first two and a half months of the year finishing up all the travel, writing, and editing for my book Poe-Land, which debuted in October. Add to that my second daughter, who debuted in March, and I’m pretty sure I must have lived 827 days in the past 365. Oh, and of course all of that was around a full-time work schedule at my day job. I need to remind you of that because I’m a jerk.

That’s a lot of living and a good bit of producing, and it makes me happy. But some of it’s depressing. Let’s start with this stat:

Number of oddities visited in 2014 but not written about yet: ~35

That’s a bummer for me. After all, these aren’t cutting-room-floor oddities. I wasn’t so disappointed by them that I didn’t want to add them to OTIS. It’s just that my time is a piece of wax falling on a termite who’s choking on the splinters. I mean, check this out—I never got around to writing about visiting the birthplace of Kermit the Frog or an abandoned factory in Alabama or the place where Robert Johnson sold his soul or a lake of acid or the St. Louis children’s attraction where I actually felt my life was at stake or the place where they filmed the credits for Northern Exposure. Unforgiveable. And all out of proportion to my level of excitement at experiencing them.

The other part that brings me down is that I’d like the site to be as real-time as possible. Most of my value in this field where travel oddity websites are rampant and steadily making travel oddities common knowledge is that I’ve been to every one of the oddities on OTIS. Personally. And can tell you what it’s like. Today. With, admittedly, a threshold of error that makes the rest of those benefits pretty much moot. I like to call it “charm.”

But it gets worse. Check this stat:

Total number of oddities visited (including previous years) that I’ve yet to add to OTIS: ~100

Yeah, I keep a list. And that’s everything from the Vatican to the General Sherman sequoia to a ring of stones in a Massachusetts park that, well, probably doesn’t deserve to be written about. So a lot of stuff. And a lot of cool stuff. And time, time, time, see what’s become of me.


OTIS has been around 7.5 years. It’s long enough that I regularly wonder how much longer it goes. That doesn’t mean I want to stop searching out oddities. Those experiences add too much to my life to give up unless I’m forced to by circumstances beyond Congress’s control. But the heavy question is whether I invest so much of my spare time blogging about them. Especially when this type of blogging can be somewhat of a hamster wheel: Spend hours researching, writing, and formatting photos. Post. Get a few hits, maybe a couple of likes on Facebook, and then it’s on to the next bout of researching, writing, and, formatting like the other one never happened…and hoping that people are reading.

It gets me down. Mostly because OTIS isn’t really what Alexa would call a “growing site.” As a one-man shop of original content, I can’t keep up with, well, anybody and add that to my style of writing and the topic itself and that all minuses up to making me extremely niche. And while that’s fine, I would love for some stronger growth. After all, a bigger OTIS means better opportunities to visit oddities, more publishing interest in my books, and just keeping the hamster wheel going for another year.

You guys can help. And are, in fact, the only ones who can. Sharing my stuff on the socials helps 20 tons (although not this one...let’s keep this between us). That kind of encouragement is worth its weight in credit cards to me. And for those who already do that, whose avatars regularly appear on the OTIS Facebook page or who RT my tweets like I’m paying you per character or who send me pics of my books that you’ve bought or drop me emails about your own travels, thanks so much. Without you, OTIS would’ve long ago become a diary that I kept hidden under my pillow. It would have a home-made collage of Gilligan’s Island characters on the cover.

So is 2015 going to be the year of the Gilligan’s Island diary on OTIS? I have no idea. I know I’ll be taking some time off from it here and there this winter to work on a novelish-thing that’s been scratching inside my head for a while…just to kind of jar that hamster wheel a bit. We’re doing a long Southwest road trip at the end of January, which is particularly exciting as we’ve never been to that part of the country and particularly depressing as it will put me that much further behind on OTIS posts.

Meanwhile, as the utterly faithful among you know, I’ve tried off and on for some time to get an agent for my completed novel Death and Douglas. It’s about a 12-year-old boy who helps his parents run their New England funeral home and whose morgue is suddenly filling with murder victims. It reads too old for the Middle Grade genre and the main character is too young for Young Adult, so I’m basically the only audience for it. I was told by one agent that it has too much death in it. Starting with the title.

I’ve also recently landed on what I want my next nonfiction/travel book to be about, so I’m busy putting together a pitch for it. I’m way jazzed about the concept (although I’m still trepidatiously researching to make sure it’s not been done yet) and think most of you will really dig it. I am, unfortunately, less sure if it’ll catch my publisher’s interest. It’s a weird one, and the entire publishing staff has changed in the past couple of months, including the people who really supported my books at a place where they didn’t really fit in. And if it doesn’t work out with the new guys, I have no other connections in the publishing industry (see above note about no agent).

So that’s the Happy Sad of OTIS right now.

And, honestly, the downer parts of this post you can probably write off. It could very well be my between-book blues instead of my another-year-of-blogging-with-no-end-game blues. It’s most probably my holiday-weight-gain blues. Truth is, I am absolutely ecstatic that so many of you made OTIS a part of your 2014. And you’re under no obligation to stick around for 2015. But you will miss out on a church dedicated to dogs…that I visited two years ago.

Happy New Year. Try not to laugh at that baby with the big ears.






20 comments:

  1. To me OTIS is quality v quantity; Spago to everyone else's McDonald's.

    Please keep up the good work & have a Happily odd New Year !

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    1. Thanks, man. You too. Will be stealing that for the OTIS tagline. "Spago to Everyone Else's McDonald's." Although I do love me some McDonald's.

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  2. I found your site this year. And this year alone I've visited Poe's dorm at UVA, his honeymoon site, his mother's grave, and a lot of other Richmond sites I wouldn't have known about without you.
    I also visited the Met State hospital on Saturday that I wouldn't have known I could see (even though I live in Waltham) without your site.
    I told my husband I'm going to make a site called OTUS and post pictures of myself in the same spot you've taken pictures of yourself at the places you've visited, and call it oddthingsuveseen. Since I'm checking out so many things you've posted about.
    I'm even going to buy the New England book so I can start hitting more sights.
    Please keep it up. Even if I usually hover behind the scenes, I'm here and love what you do. I just have to walk that fine line between normal person/fan and "please don't think I'm a stalker" .

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    1. I do love that kind of feedback. I guess that's the big reason the project's public. To connect with others who've been in the weird spots as I have. Especially if they've been there afterwards, because I always have this sneaking suspicion that they disappear after I leave. Thanks so much, Becka.

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  3. Been reading your stuff for years, and I do understand your current conundrum. Best wishes for 2015.

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    1. Appreciate your sticking with me (and the empathy). All the best for your new year, too, man.

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  4. I have enjoyed the wild ride you've given us all.... Hope it continues....but also understand how life changes & moves on....best of luck as you change & grow. ....whatever decision you make....your Poe book was one of my fave of the year.

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    1. Thanks, man. I always enjoy seeing your literary posts on the old Facebook.

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  5. Not only do I love your writing and your charming family, but I've had the pleasure of making one of the most solid friends in my entire life. You sir, are a winner and true blue all the way.

    From the outside looking in, you have easily the best life that I've ever seen.

    Total love and respect, my friend.

    Bry

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    1. Oh yeah, the life is good. I can't lie. It's just writing that's the beast in the shadow. Of course, the other side of the site that I didn't bring up is meeting interesting new friends like yourself, sir.

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  6. Hey JW... I totally feel you on this post. It's a lot of work for a little pay off. I can say that I am totally your target audience. I would be going to see these things even if I had never discovered your books or your website. I am the one tripping through a cemetery to find the grave of the man who took care of Lincoln in the box at Ford's Theater.

    Any way, I hope you have a great 2015. Your family is incredible! I mean, how many wives would go to the Mutter Museum or spend October drifting between Salem and Sleepy Hollow? You're creating great memories for the kids who will always remember these outings.

    I hope you have a great year and that you write that book that sells millions, making you comfortable but not making you stop what you are doing.

    Frank D.

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    1. Hey Frank. Thanks for the kind words. Here's to your 2015, and hopes for many more assassin graves.

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  7. For the record, your posts brighten many days, I am absolutely loving the Poe book, and you can count me in with yourself as an audience for Death and Douglas. One can never have too much death in any story, really. In fact, I enjoy all your work, so as long as you enjoy doing it, you will have an audience of at least one to read it. Happy journeys...

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    1. Ha. Thanks, Tina. Way glad you're digging the Poe book. We'll see about the fiction. Maybe I've got some self-pubbing in my future.

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    2. Some of my favorite authors have self-published, actually.

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  8. Just wanted to pop in and say I have enjoyed your site for years. Found your Halloween blog years ago and have been following ever since. Picked up two of your books and refer to them often, especially since I live a stone's throw way from several of the sites in your New England Grimpendium. Just want to say I will do my very best to share and retweet anything you churn out in the upcoming year. I really appreciate all you do, and live vicariously through you and your odd adventures. Thanks for all you do, J.W. I want you to know it is really appreciated and entertaining. Looking forward to whatever this next year brings to O.T.I.S. Happy New Year.

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    1. Hey Maria, thanks so much for all that. I know I see you on Facebook here and there.Way appreciate the support. Happy New Year to you, too.

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  9. I love this site and have been reading it for years! You are an inspiration to a homebody like me. I just drug my sister and her family to the Poe Museum in Richmond because of you. Keep it up and count on me to be adding to your book sales!

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    1. I first read that as "I drugged my sister and her family." Ha. But thanks so much. And how worth it was the Poe Museum, huh? Such a great place.

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    2. Absolutely. I am currently in love with all of James Carling's illustrations. That was my favorite room in the whole place.

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