Welcome to OTIS!

My  name is J.W. Ocker. OTIS is a chronicle of my visits to the unusual...oddities of nature, art, science, and culture. I also write books and party on my Facebook Page, Twitter, or Patreon. Reach out to me at ockerjw@gmail.com or to my agent here.

The Black Slide is Out!
August 16, 2022. It's the story of an ominous black slide that appears on the playground one day and the world of terror it leads to. I call it "Hellraiser for kids." The book comes out August 16, and you can order it today from Amazon, B&N, Bookshop.org, or any of your local indie bookstores.

December 21, 2021. We decided to skip Thanksgiving this year and do a big week-long road trip. We planned to see oddities all along the route but needed a farpoint for the trip. Something to wrap a U-turn around. We wanted that farpoint to be Christmas-y and really drive the carving knife into the turkey’s heart. So, almost at random, we picked Dollywood for its Smoky Mountain Christmas.

November 3, 2021. I read my brother’s suicide note for the first time inside a chapel in Portugal made of human bones. I learned about his death three hours before.

October 4, 2021. I visit an ancient Fall fair in Deerfield, New Hampshire, while my wife lives there in a camper at the center of it all.

October 1, 2021. The Halloween Season now goes full, steaming Something-Wicked-This-Way-Comes nightmare train for the next 31 days. And now that it's here I have to run away from it for a few days.

September 30, 2021. I drive into the Pine Barrens of New Jersey to find the Devil for my latest nonfiction book and find much more...deadly ruins, a crash marker, and an Anthony Bourdain site.

September 29, 2021. We head to our local IHOP to eat mummy burritos and evil pancakes, while marveling at menu art. It doesn't sound like it from the description, but it turned out to be one of my favorite moments of the Halloween Season so far.

September 28, 2021. The house decorations are done. Now the normal act of watching horror movies in my living room has been transformed into a sacrament. I can now come home after a long day at work to the welcoming arms of witches and skeletons, ghosts and scarecrows. Even the act of taking the trash to the curb has been transformed into an exercise of eerie joy as I look back at the giant ghoul towering over the house.

September 27, 2021. Every September 16, we make gin cocktails and watch a Boris Karloff flick or two. This year, it's Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer. Come for the movie, stay for the oddity visit at the end.

September 24.2021. Wanna see the gorgeous horrorshow that is the cover for my next kid’s horror novel (or, as I like to call them, horror novels starring kids)? And learn a little about the terrors inside? Here it is. Beware of playgrounds.

September 23, 2021. White church steeple. Skulls carved on the gravestones. Dates so old they look like house numbers. Everything you want in a New England graveyard. Church Cemetery was established in 1743 in Hollis, New Hampshire, and contains an amazing variety of tombstone iconography for such a small yard.

September 22, 2021. On the last night of summer, we chased the harvest moon. Lindsey’s idea. A sudden idea. An hours-before idea. She wanted to photograph it. The harvest moon. The problem? We needed to see it close to the horizon. When it still reflected the golden desperation of the dying sun. If the moon got too high, it would be a mere full moon, pallid and bright. A mere full moon.

September 21, 2021. In the devil-haunted Pine Barrens of New Jersey looms the graffiti-covered ruins of a brick factory where four people burned to death, and which might be haunted by a witch and a wizard.

The First Road Trip of the Season, Part 2
September 20, 2021. In the first half of this piece on my first road trip of the season, I took you to a rock, a potato, and a roof ornament. Now we finish up the trip with a visit to three different metal rectangles. Why do you come to this website again?

September 17, 2021. It was our first road trip of the season, and we saw some spooky sites—a Devil’s footprint, an Edgar Allan Poe sign, a dragon, a skeleton marker, a murder marker, Mr. Potato Head. 

September 16, 2021. Today, I take you to a painting in Washington, D.C., a grave in New Hampshire, and a school in New York. All of which share in common the Official Spectre of Autumn, the Spook Who's Spurned...the Headless Horsman. Let's ride.

September 15, 2021. Westside Plaza is full of stores I only visit in September and October. You can walk from one end to the other of the L-shaped arrangement, stopping at almost every store to check out their black and orange wares. And we did.

Home for the Howl-idays: Jumanji for Monster Lovers
September 14, 2021. Two kids come home to find their family turned into all the classic monsters. And that home is a mansion. Based on a board game. About classic monsters. I loved this 27-year-old book.

September 13, 2021. It started during the Halloween snow last year. My wife Lindsey immediately cut two holes in a sheet and pushed our oldest daughter out into the cold to take photos. And then she didn't stop. Just kept making ghosts all winter.

September 11, 2021. We head into a forest in Beverly, Massachusetts, to find some ruins. We find them. That's it. That's the story. At least give me a page hit for the pictures.

The Augusting of Halloween
September 10, 2021. I get uncomfortable thinking about August as part of the Halloween Season, even though that seems more and more to be the trend. But what’s wrong with annexing August? Why not give into the anticipation of everything I love about the season? Why not enjoy life 98% more for three months instead of two? I’ve got a few reasons.

September 8, 2021. It’s that pumpkin-stabbing-dead-leaves-scratching-sweater-sporting-spine-chilling-broom-riding time of year again. Time to sort out your spooky reads. Here are eight short pitches for why you should choose one of mine as part of your complete spooky season.

On the First Day of Halloween…
September 7, 2021. We kicked off the Halloween Season at my house on September 3, but honestly, it didn’t totally feel like we kicked it off. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. Here’s how it went down.

Hitler-Coated Hitler with Hitler Filling: Hitler-Ludvig Cemetery
September 6, 2021. Our first graveyard visit of the OTIS Halloween Season! Let’s meet at Hitler Cemetery. Don’t know where that is? Just take Hitler Road #1 to Hitler Road #2. Come on, I’ll show you. And, don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

I Forgot Last Halloween! The COVID One!This was an important...
I Forgot Last Halloween! The COVID One!
September 4, 2021. This was an important October 31. It was the COVID-19 Halloween. That needed to be documented not for my own nostalgia, but for posterity. When future historians look back on this time, they’re going to want to know things like, “How did national governments respond to this crisis?” and “How did social media influence everything?” and, most important, “What was Halloween like that year?”.

The Headless Horseman Head
September 2, 2021. My favorite monster is the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. But that doesn’t explain why, last year, I painted the walls and ceiling of my bathroom black and then themed it Headless Horseman.

Welcome to the 2021 OTIS Halloween Season Halloween…2021. Feels...
Welcome to the 2021 OTIS Halloween Season
September 2, 2021. Halloween…2021. Feels weird, right? I mean, Halloween 1985 sounds great. So does Halloween 1977. Or Halloween 1993. Halloween 2004 even feels somewhat evocative. But Halloween 2021? How do you celebrate ancient monsters and old graveyards and orange-tinted nostalgia in such a futuristic year as 2021? Well, let’s find out together.

OTIS Podcast, Ep 33: Visiting the Sites of the Martha Stewart of...
OTIS Podcast, Ep 33: Visiting the Sites of the Martha Stewart of Serial Killers
August 22, 2021. My fascination with serial killers comes with a heaping load of shame, except for in one instance: Ed Gein. That’s because without Gein, we might not have Norman Bates. Or Leatherface. Or Buffalo Bill. Or the Firefly family. So my shame load was only a mild one as I visited sites related to him in his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin. With my wife and two kids… (listen here) (see photos here)

Five Reasons to Take Middle-Grade Horror SeriouslyMiddle-grade...
Five Reasons to Take Middle-Grade Horror Seriously
August 16, 2021. Middle-grade horror novels—spooky books aimed at 8-12-year-olds—are often an overlooked part of the horror scene. Most horror fans’ knowledge of the market stops dead at R.L. Stine and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. But middle-grade horror novels are a force, with Big 4 publishers and other major presses putting them out every week. But should they be taken seriously or are they just, “A training bra for Stephen King”.

Ten Things about The Smashed Man of Dread End I’ve a new book...
August 16, 2021. I’ve a new book out, and the only marketing tactic I know to sell words is to write more words. The Smashed Man of Dread End is about a neighborhood haunted by a flat, horrifying monster that oozes from the cracks in the basements of every kid on Totter Court, a monster with a terrifying cosmic significance, a monster that the adults in the neighborhood are helpless against. Want to know more? Here are ten (non-spoiler) things about the book. It’s like a self-interview without any banal set-up questions.

Unboxing Video for THE SMASHED MAN OF DREAD END Eight books,...
August 13, 2021. Eight books, and I’ve never done and unboxing video. Screwed around and shot one. The Smashed Man of Dread End is a middle-grade horror novel for readers who want a real scare but not a ghost story. For readers who believe their neighborhood can contain an entire universe. For readers who know that, in the end, the adults can’t help. Beware your basement.

Keep going for more Halloween.