Happy New Weird 3: The 2016 State of the OTIS

December 31, 2016 —
I know, I know—we meme’d 2016 into a villain. Celebrity deaths. Political absurdity. Social media squabbles. Terrorists attacks. For me personally, 2016 was, well, it was a year. Lots of great, good, mediocre, and bad stuff. Let’s go to the tape.

Travel-wise, I did pretty good. I spent a few wonderful days in New Orleans. A few wonderful days in Barcelona. A magnificent nine-day road trip among the Great Lakes. I went on a strong one-day oddity hunt from New Hampshire to Maryland. Hit up Manhattan. Found myself in Texas once or twice. So I got to see some stuff for reals, enough to continue pretending to be a travel writer, I guess. But I keep waiting for that year where I don’t leave my house even once. It’s a compulsion often as equally strong as traveling for me.

Among the many, many, many oddities I saw this year, my favorites were without a doubt Morphy the Corpse Flower in New Hampshire, Ray Bradbury’s ravine in Illinois, and the Kiss of Death grave in Barcelona. Everything else was a tie for fourth place.

My latest book, A Season with the Witch, came out and had the most successful release of any of my books. That’s a low bar, but one I’m very happy to leap. I still remember the day it was conceived and how ridiculous it sounded to my own ears to say to Lindsey, “Let’s go live all of October in Salem.”

My favorite thing this year, though, I’d say, is the OTIS Club. It’s only been around six months, and it has more than 60 members. We just hit 30 newsletter issues. The newsletter has given me the opportunity to write more personally and randomly. The OTIS Club came at the exact time I needed something like that out of OTIS. And it’s turned out to be the thing I like doing the most right now.

Another highlight of the year was giving a talk at the George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It was an awe-inspiring library, and I was speaking on the occasion of a new exhibition of Edgar Allan Poe artifacts. That means I got to talk Poe in the same space as his original manuscripts and a piece of his coffin and a lock of his hair. It was also the largest crowd I’ve ever addressed, thanks to those artifacts.

Of course, this was also the year of my mother’s death, meaning that all those 2016 highlights are dimmed to the point of darkness, and any 2017 ones I have will be equally so, as they won’t be witnessed by her. Everything still feels a little bit ashy, honestly.

But back to the main point: How is OTIS doing? The same. OTIS always does the same. The site doesn’t grow, it doesn’t retreat. I don’t know what to do with it. Fortunately, I am neither a glass half full nor a glass half empty kind of guy. I’m a just-happy-I-have-a-glass-even-though-it-will-be-smashed-to-shards-any-second kind of guy.

Admittedly, I did write fewer articles this year on OTIS than I usually do: 67 all told, about 20 less than previous years. The decreased output was partially due to A Season with the Witch, as I spent the first three months of the year finishing it off, and it beat me up pretty bad there at the end. Ate more of my soul than my books usually do. A bigger reason, though, is because of the OTIS Club. One newsletter issue equals about two OTIS articles wordcount-wise. Or, put it this way, I wrote 10,000 fewer words for the OTIS Club than for OTIS, and the former was only around for half the year.

Looking at 2017, it seems like it’ll be a big year for me. I’ll hit 40. OTIS will hit 10. I’m on pace to hit record weight gain. I will move into a new house—the type of house I’ve always wanted, the “I will die in this house” house. I’m going to introduce it to you soon. My first novel will be published, and somehow it’s a middle-grade book, so hide your children. I have a few appearances being scheduled. Even have some trips bubbling already.

These year-end State of the OTIS pieces started a few years back after I got bummed and wondered if OTIS should end. And that’s pretty much the question every year for me. The answer so far has been “no.” And I don’t foresee it ending this year either, especially since its 10th anniversary is in June. We will—as we say in the club—odd on.

And, of course, none of the positive moments abovementioned would have happened without you. Well, not counting the house. You can’t take credit for that. And that’s a fact, not a sop. If you weren’t reading, I wouldn’t be writing. If you weren’t sticking with me, I’d be stuck. Period. Semi-colon. Exclamation point. Tilde. Interrobang.

So thanks to all of you OTIS readers, all of you J.W. Ocker book readers, all of you OTIS Club members. Whether you’ve lurked silently or emailed me weekly, you’re all a massive part of the “worth living” part of my life.

And for those of you who are at the exact center of that Venn diagram, the ones who read OTIS and my books and joined my club, my gratitude for you is outside the bounds of my writing. I’m going to have to show up at your house and say thanks personally. I’ll bring Star Crunches.

So here’s hoping that in 2017 you take your Tuesdays after your Mondays and your July’s after your June’s, and that it’s the year we conquer death, end working for a living, and meet aliens.

Thanks for making my work a part of your life.