2018 Preble County Author Con

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I’m proud to announce that I have been asked to be part of the 2018 Preble County Author Con, to be held at the Eaton Library (301 N. Barron Street, Eaton, OH 45320). The event will be from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm on Saturday, Mat 26th.

I will be joining nine other Ohio authors for a day filled with panel discussions, children’s crafts, and, best of all, free popcorn! I’ll be bringing along a trunk-full of books for purchase and I will be more than happy to scribble my name in them…or anything else you put in front of me!

For more information, click here.

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Link To My Interview On The Paranormal View

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Franklin Castle, Gore Orphanage, Mudhouse Mansion, headless motorcycle ghosts, Vanishing Hitchhikers, phantom joggers, and more! All during the course of one radio interview!

Click here to go directly to the archived interview and listen to your heart’s content. BTW, there are audio issues for the first 30 seconds of the show, so don’t panic when you hear all the echo. It goes away!

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Information On My Thurber House Appearance

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On Wednesday, July 29th, I will be the featured speaker at one of Thurber House’s Literary Picnics. What’s a Literary Picnic? Simply put, it’s an opportunity for people to come out and hear an author speak while enjoying a picnic-style dinner on the front lawn of the historic Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. How cool is that?

If you’ve ever been to one of my presentations, you know that I tend to enjoy assaulting my guests’ eyes and ears with all sorts of weird visuals and audio clips. Not sure how much of that I do while standing in the middle of a yard with the bright summer sun shining, so for now, exactly what I’ll be doing is still up in the air. But rest assured, it will be memorable!

Thurber House -- via thurberhouse.org

Thurber House — via thurberhouse.org

In terms of tickets, there are several packages available: you can get the whole “dinner and a show” ticket or, if you prefer, you can bring your own dinner and just buy a ticket to my talk. Either way, the Thurber House will be open for tours during the entire evening and you can even BYOB!

There will be copies of my books available for purchase. However, I am not handling the book sales, so I have no idea which ones they will have on-hand (Weird Ohio and The Big Book Of Ohio Ghost Stories are safe bets, though). I’ll be hanging around after my talk to sign books, shake hands, and consume any of your leftover reubens, if you let me.

But perhaps the biggest question people have been asking me is “are you going to talk about your new book?” The answer to that is “yes”. While Ohio’s Historic Haunts isn’t due out for a few more months, I will indeed be spending a bit of time discussing the book and maybe even giving a sneak peek or two at what readers can expect to see when it finally comes out.

For more information about Thurber House’s 2105 Summer Literary Picnics, click here. Or, if you’re chomping at the bit to get your tickets, click here to review the different packages available and order your tickets online. 

No idea how many tickets are available, but I’ve been told they do sell out quickly. So if you’re thinking about coming, don’t wait to get your tickets.

Hope to see you there!

I Might Not Rock, But Some People Still Think I’m Cool

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Zak Bagans rocks!!!! You do not rock!
–anonymous e-mail I received after reviewing an episode of Ghost Adventures for The Ghosts of Ohio Newsletter

Over a decade ago, I bumped into a beautiful woman named Stephanie who, for reasons known only to her, decided to join me on my strange and spooky adventures (she also foolishly agreed to marry me, giving “strange and spooky adventures” a whole new meaning).

Looking back, we probably should have checked that Face Painter’s credentials BEFORE we agreed to be test subjects

I can still remember our first spooky excursion as if it were only yesterday: We decided to check out the ghostly legends associated with Cedar Hill Cemetery in Newark, Ohio. In fact, if you own a copy of Weird Ohio, turn to the Cedar Hill Cemetery story and you’ll see I even managed to capture that memorable day in photographs–that’s Steph with her ear to the door of the Baker mausoleum, listening for ghostly cries.

Not long after that day, Steph started uttering what has become something of a catch phrase of hers when we’re out on adventures: “I’ll wait here.” Usually, I’d hear these words if I pulled up to some spooky location in the middle of the night…in the middle of nowhere. But truth be told, my journey has taken me to some pretty sketchy locations that are spooky in broad daylight. And by that, I don’t mean that I’m trespassing or breaking any laws. It’s just that some of these places tend to be located in areas where, at any minute, you’d expect to hear banjo music off in the distance. Oh yeah, and there’s usually all sorts of broken glass, trash, and debris laying all over the place. In other words, a romantic setting this ain’t!

Of course, when our daughter, Courtney, was born back in 2010, Steph started saying “I’ll wait here” a lot more. And with good reason. Say what you will about me, but I’ve yet to entertain the thought of dragging my daughter through places filled with garbage, bugs, and god knows what else. So the two of them usually hang out in the car while I go roaming about.

“Come on, guys, it totally looks safe!”

Such was the case recently when I decided to visit the infamous Crybaby Bridge on Fudge Road. While I had visited the bridge many times in the past, I recently received an e-mail saying the bridge was in bad shape and was in danger of being knocked down. So I wanted to get some pictures of it for my Ohio Crybaby Bridge Project before it was gone for good.

As we drove to the bridge one afternoon, I filled Steph in on all the legends swirling around not only the bridge, but Fudge Road in general. Of course, there are just as many stories about people being chased down the road by angry neighbors as there are ghosts. Long story short, when people ask me about the bridge, I tell them it’s probably not a good place to visit. So it didn’t really surprise me that much when we pulled off to the side of the road in front of the Road Closed sign near the bridge and I heard “I’ll wait here.” Well, at least I heard it from Steph. Courtney was so engrossed in her Justice League Vs. Bizarro League DVD that I don’t think she even heard me get out of the car.

Fudge Road Crybaby Bridge

I guess I had been out of the car for 5 minutes or so, busily snapping pictures and even walking across the closed bridge, when I heard Steph call out “Jim?” My immediate thought was “oh s**t, someone’s here.” As soon as I looked towards the car and realized I couldn’t see it from where I was standing, I admit it: I panicked and started running towards Steph’s voice as I yelled back “coming! What is it?!” I was almost halfway across the bridge when I heard Steph’s response:

“We’re getting out. Courtney said she wants to see your spooky bridge.”

And see it she did. For the next few minutes, Courtney wandered along Fudge Road and the Crybaby Bridge, sometimes hand-in-hand with Steph, asking questions about ghosts and bridges…and hawks (she saw one in the trees). She even made me and Steph pose for a picture on the bridge. All the while, I kept trying to hide the tears in my eyes. Courtney still doesn’t comprehend that sometimes, people cry when they’re happy.

Photo courtesy of Courtney

So yeah, I don’t rock. But I have a wife who, after all these years, still loves and supports what I do. And I know she’s not even five yet, but my daughter still thinks I’m cool.

I can live with that.

October 2014…And Beyond!

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It’s October 1st, which means the Halloween season has officially begun for me! So this seemed the perfect time to address what so many of you have been e-mailing and texting me about recently. Namely, the fact that it doesn’t look like I’m doing very much this year in terms of presentations, appearances, and ghost tours. The simple answer is that I’ve decided to take this October off for the most part. Don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere. Just taking a break to gear up for some craziness that’s going to pick up the first of the year and continue straight through next October, when all heck is going to break loose…in a ghostly good way!

So that’s the simple answer. If you care for a longer, more in-depth explanation, then read on! I’ll even throw in a couple of random spooky pictures just to sort of break things up.

Still there, huh? OK, then let me start by saying that I’ve been overwhelmed with the outpouring of e-mails I’ve received from people who appear to be downright depressed that they aren’t going to be able to see me this Halloween season. You guys touch me in all the right ways (and none of the wrong ways) and to you, I say “thank you”. Some of you have even said that you plan on boycotting some of the events/conferences/locations to show your displeasure at my not being there. Please don’t do that. Look, I appreciate the gesture, but to make it clear, not a single one of those events/conferences/locations asked that I not return. Across the board, it was my decision and mine alone. Since all of these events/conferences/locations depend on your attendance in more ways than one, I ask that you continue to attend and support them. And don’t think you’ve seen the last of me at those events, either. I’m taking a break, not going away.

So why am I taking a break? For no other reason than I needed one. My upcoming project, the one I keep teasing the heck out of, took over 2 and a half years (and literally thousands of miles) to complete. While that was going on, I was still trying to keep the Halloween tour schedule running full-steam ahead and attempting to balance all that madness out with my personal life. Late last summer, when the project was finally put to bed, I realized something that depressed the hell out of me: 3 Halloweens had passed and I had yet to take my daughter, Courtney, trick-or-treating.

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Courtney wears Batman stuff because he’s her “buddy”. But for Halloween this year, she wants to be Batgirl. She also wants her dad to be the Riddler. I’m still trying to convince her dads are not supposed to wear spandex. Wish me luck!

That’s right: James A. Willis, the self-proclaimed strange and spooky guy who’s addicted to all things weird has yet to take his daughter trick-or-treating. How sad and pathetic is that? Sure, I could try to blame it on Ohio’s asinine habit of randomly assigning what 2-hour window I’m allowed to celebrate Halloween during, but the simple fact is that it was usually because I was either hopping around some stage/auditorium/haunted house/carriage, entertaining everyone with tales of weird and ghostly things.

And that was when I made the decision to take a break this Halloween season and focus on my family. I’m planning on taking Courtney trick-or-treating. Not only that, but as a family, we’re going to be carving a whole mess of pumpkins, decorating the house, bobbing for apples, watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV, and rolling around in the 25,000 pounds of leaves that fall in my front yard every year. In short, this Halloween, I plan on being nothing more than a strange and spooky father and husband.

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One of our latest acquisitions. After helping me put him together, Courtney asked if we could keep him in her bedroom.

But I’m not going anywhere. Far from it. In fact, I would suggest that most of you take this opportunity to enjoy a break from me. Because come next year, you just might get sick of seeing my ugly mug.

You see, the other reason I felt I needed a break was to sort of rest up for what is going to be nothing short of a strange and spooky assault on all of you in 2015. One that I’m sure you’re all going to enjoy: new projects, new appearances, and new presentation topics. Trust me, 2015 is going to be hopping around here!

It’s probably going to start picking up right after the first of the year. By the end of the summer, things will more than likely be bordering on “strange and spooky overload.” Put it this way, if you or someone you know is planning on having me out for an October event, etc. in 2015, you might want to look at getting something confirmed with me before this coming summer. The sooner the better, too. To put things in perspective, my latest project involves 21 specific locations in Ohio and 20 of them have already expressed having some type of event in October of 2015. So do the math…and get excited because, as I said, you’re probably going to get sick of seeing my face in 2015!

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Contrary to popular belief, Steph and I really ARE wearing Halloween costumes in this photograph.

Of course, all of this is calling for a bit of re-branding of myself. Well, perhaps “re-branding” is a bit strong. But by and large, people tend to develop incorrect preconceived notions about what they’ll get from one of my presentations/appearances. Their conclusions come from them thinking I fall into one of two categories:

  1. A published author, meaning that I will spend most of the time reading from my books
  2. A ghost hunter, meaning that I will spend most of the time trying to convince people everything is a ghost and that demons regularly pick me up, scratch me, and then chuck me across the room

Now, I’m sure those of you who have seen me live are probably chuckling as those descriptions, but it’s true: that’s what people who have yet to experience my Strange & Spooky World expect. That’s probably why most people walk away from one of my presentations muttering “I’m not sure what just happened, but it was fun.” Allow me to throw modesty to the wind here and state that since I first starting giving presentations in Ohio some 15 years ago, the only complaint I have ever heard was “it was too short.” Well, ok, one woman wrote to me and told me my stories gave her nightmares, but I take that as a compliment. I have always felt that my job, once I take that stage, is to entertain each and every member of the audience and to have them all smiling, laughing, and perhaps shrieking, by the time I’m finished with them.

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Preparing to unleash the video of my infamous Blue Flash video on Kenwood Elementary School. The kids with their hands up are the ones who said they’d be willing to ride the Blue Flash with me!

But while people walk away happy after the presentation, there’s still some confusion among the general public about what to expect going into one of my presentations. So I have my work cut out for me, especially since I’m planning on upping my game in 2015. If you thought my presentations were over the top before, just you wait! 2015 is going to bring all-new topics, bigger and better photos, audio, and videos, and even special guests! I’m even looking into the logistics (and legalities) of incorporating lasers, t-shirt guns, and confetti cannons. Yes, I’m serious.

So please, get out there and enjoy the Halloween season this year. You’ll be fine without me, I promise! Just know that I’m busy stocking up on Monster drinks and Boo Berry cereal in preparation for next year!

2014's Box #1

2014’s Box #1

Despite Popular Belief, I Wasn’t Drinking In The Author Alley!

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So here’s the photo they chose to use of me in Cleveland.com’s recent review of last Saturday’s Author Alley. I couldn’t be happier!

Now, most people would be horrified if they found a picture of themselves online, looking like that. Not me. I think it’s the coolest thing ever, especially since it was taken during a book signing. You see, I’ve always felt uncomfortable at book signings, including ones that have multiple authors at it. Don’t get me wrong, I love attending them and have met some wonderful people and authors at these events, including the Author Alley. It’s just that I always end up feeling like something of an outsider at these things, usually because people don’t know what to make of me.

Put it this way; sandwiched between novels, collections of poetry, and children’s books, you’ll find me–the weirdo who believes in ghosts and likes to run through the woods looking for Bigfoot.

On top of that, all the other authors are so professional, telling people who stop by what the inspiration for their book was and handing out professionally-printed press kits and business cards. Sure, I have business cards and flyers. But if someone comes to my table, I’m more interested in finding out if they’ve ever seen the Loveland Frog or if they’ve yet to see the Collection of Swallowed Objects at the Allen County Museum in Lima, Ohio. Most of the time, I don’t even mention my books. The way I see it, the books are there on the table. If people are interested, they’ll pick one up. If not, no biggie. I’m really just there to share my stories and talk about weird stuff.

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Which brings me back to that picture. While I certainly get that since I’m a “published author”, there are certain preconceived notions around how I should appear and act, let’s face it; people are already bummed when they find out that Weird Willis doesn’t drive around in a hearse or live in a haunted house. I think if they were to meet me for the first time and I was just sitting there quietly, they’d be really disappointed. And so would I.

Oh and for the record, my pose was the inspiration of my daughter, Courtney. Prior to leaving me to check out all the Larchmere Festival had to offer, Courtney gave me her traditional kiss and hug, along with her mini-pep talk to “go talk to the big kids about ghosts.” When I asked Courtney what I should do when the adults came to talk to me, she responded “be scary” and then proceeded to show me how to do just that. For the record, I think I nailed it.

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You can read the entire Cleveland.com article, complete with aforementioned Weird Willis photo, by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Does The Author Alley Open This Saturday?

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AuthorAlley-art-2014-m Glad you asked! The Author Alley will be open from noon until 4:00 pm this Saturday, July 5th. The Larchmere Festival, which the Author Alley is part of, will run from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. But participating authors, including yours truly, will only be available in the Alley between the hours of noon and 4:00 pm, so please plan your day accordingly. I will have copies of Weird Ohio, The Big Book of Ohio Ghost Stories, Weird Indiana, and Haunted Indiana available for purchase, but all sales are being handled by the Festival. In other words, after 4:00 pm, I won’t have any copies with me.

Of course, with all the cool things to see and do at the Festival, I’m sure I’ll be wandering around, looking to score a shrunken head for my Strange & Spooky Museum, so feel free to tag along. Hope to see you all Saturday! For more information on the Author Alley, go here. Or go here to find out more about the Larchmere Festival.

Author Alley Releases List Of Featured Authors

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Author Alley has just released their list of Featured Authors for their July 5th event. And yes, I’m still on the list. Of course, having the last name “Willis” means that I’m almost at the bottom of the list (thank you, Mary R. Woldering), but I’m on it!

I’ll be signing copies of my 4 most recent works, including The Big Book Of Ohio Ghost Stories, so come on out and say “hi”. Heck, drag out your old dog-eared copy of Weird Ohio and I’ll sign that for you, too. I’ve never been to the Author Alley before, but it’s tied in with the annual Larchmere Festival, so there should be lots of cool stuff to see and do. So if nothing else, you can help me try to find some new and exciting pieces to add to The Strange & Spooky Museum.

Hope to see you all there!

For more information on Author Alley, go here.

Want to know more about the Larchmere Festival? Give a little click here.

Updated Bio Now Available

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Recently, I’ve gotten a few requests from people wanting my most recent bio. I’m guessing they need a bit more information in order to help them decide whether or not they want to be associated with a “weirdo”!

Regardless, the 2014 version of my bio is now available and links to it have been sprinkled throughout this site. But if you’re just dying to get a peek at it, go ahead and click here and in mere seconds, my giant head will magically appear on your desktop!

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Final Specifics On The Ohioana Book Festival

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OK, so I’ve finally got all the specifics about this Saturday’s Ohioana Book Festival.

The entire Festival is free and runs from 10:00 am until 4:30 pm, although I am hearing rumors the doors might open up at 9:45. Not sure if that’s because they’re anticipating a crowd or what. Either way, all of the authors, myself included, will be at their tables with their books for the entire day, unless they are taking part in any of the many author panels during the day.

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