Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blooming Author J.W. Ocker!

“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” ~ George Sheehan

 J.W. Ocker's book The New England Grimpendium was published by Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton and Company, NY, this month.

Tell us about The New England Grimpendium. What is it about and where will it be available?
It’s basically a personal travelogue of some 200 macabre sites, artifacts, and attractions all over New England. Stuff like Claude Rains’ grave, the Edward Gorey House, a book made of human skin, the Zaffis Paranormal Museum, the Black Dahlia Memorial, the town where they filmed Beetlejuice, unique grave stones and cemeteries, weird collections, mummies. Anything creepy and Valley of the Shadow of Death-ish that I could find in New England. The book is part guidebook on how to find these things and part a collection of essays based on my firsthand experience at each location.

It’s available in all the usual places, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble. I have a few copies in my study.

What were your inspirations for The New England Grimpendium? What sorts of thing inspire you as a writer in general?
Two main ones, I think, for the book. First, New England itself. My wife and I moved to New England from the Mid-Atlantic region for no other reason than that we both love New England. We love how old it is. How great its Falls and Winters are. The fact that every three blocks, you can find a centuries-old graveyard.

Second, the entire horror genre was the foundational inspiration for the book…movies, literature, art. In fact, I sought out physical New England connections to the genre just as much as the historical gruesomeness. For instance, there’s a whole section on horror movie filming locations and another on legends and personalities of the macabre. Everybody from Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Henry James to Aleister Crowley Rob Zombie, and the guy who wrote the Monster Mash have left traces in New England. Ah. That was a very masculine list. Shirley Jackson, Edith Wharton, and Bette Davis are also featured.

As to the actual writing, the inspiration came from actually seeing and experience these places. So not only do I get to tell readers about the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, but also what it’s like to stay the night there at that murder scene turned tourist attraction.

In general, I don't know. I guess I’m not much of an inspired guy. Always looking for places to go, though.

Let's talk about your process. How do you approach a story, do you start with outlines or something else? Where did you work when writing The New England Grimpendium? Do you think it was the optimal writing environment for you?
Writing experiential nonfiction is a pretty lazy process for me, especially this kind where it’s less a continuous book and more a collection of articles. Of course, going to the place is half the writing. From there I just need an idea for the context (basically the introduction), and off I can run. In fact, I probably spend more time coming up with the angle than actually writing the piece. Also, since most of the book is written in a casual tone, it’s just a matter of “talking” rather than “composing.” All in all, it’s a pretty undisciplined approach and I’m totally hurting myself as a writer because of it.

I wrote most of the Grimpendium in my study at my house. It’s my favorite place in the world, full of my books and all the things I’ve collected over the years. And there’s this big window that looks out on my neighborhood just behind my computer monitor, in case I want to get all voyeur-y on the world.

Tell us about your "story of getting published."
For the past 3.5 years I’ve been writing for my site O.T.I.S.: Odd Things I’ve Seen, where I visit, photograph, and write about whatever oddities of art, culture, nature, and history stick out to me as interesting. Stuff like L. Frank Baum’s New York birthplace (they have yellow-bricked sidewalks there, you know), drive-through animal safaris, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial. Whatever sticks out to me as something that will make my life better if I see it firsthand.

Although the tone of the oddities varies wildly, a recurring them on O.T.I.S. is definitely the macabre. I originally put together a book proposal based on the overall O.T.I.S. concept, but after a couple of rejections decided to refine it. I then focused the concept a bit more, picked New England because that’s where I live, and created two proposals, one a literary tour of New England sites, the other the Grimpendium. The first publisher I tried picked up the Grimpendium. They also turned down the literary idea, by the way. Spooks beat books, I guess. The website was the important part, though. It gave me the appearance of an expertise on a topic and the illusion of a following, and it helped me develop and refine a style for this type of writing.

What are the publicity plans you have coming up?
I’ve already done some speaking and have a few book store appearances lined up, some guest blogging, a few newspaper interviews and photo ops. As we get into October, I’m expecting the interest to increase since ‘tis the season and all that. I’ll be posting updates on events and press attention on my author site jwocker.com as they happen. And, of course, I’m beating the book mercilessly on O.T.I.S. with photo essays based on the book. It’s like Shakespeare said, “Sell yourself.”

Odd Things I've Seen
J.W. Ocker
J.W. Ocker on Twitter

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