IN OMAHA'S "CITY WEEKLY"
By Jim Minge
Last week, former Omaha
radio and TV personality Otis Twelve was in England collecting
his award as the new “Lit Idol” at
the renowned, annual London Book Fair.
This week, the 55-year-old
Otis – aka Doug Wasselmann – was
back at his home in rural Walnut, Iowa (pop. 897). That’s
where he’s been the past two years since leaving Omaha
and his long career in broadcasting.
When he moved
to Walnut in 2002, Otis left behind the limelight. He had been
1-rated morning radio host with longtime partner ‘Diver’ Dan
Doomey on Z-92 and CD-105, and he also hosted talk shows
on KFAB and KKAR. In addition, Omahans knew Otis as a movie
on KETV-Channel 7 and then on KPTM-Channel 42.
Fans of cult-pop
hit-makers, such as Ogden Edsel, will remember Otis – who
has also traveled as a standup comedian and spent time working
at a mental hospital – from his role
in that band, which had a national hit with the song “Dead
Puppies” in 1979 (see Dr. Demento’s “20th
left all that behind for a new life, and now is a fulltime novelist.
Nevertheless, Otis couldn’t escape
the spotlight – this time it’s in Brit
land, where Mr. Twelve was No. 1 last week in the eyes
Lit Idol judges.
You see, in merry ol’ England, writers are treated
like rock stars.
Take the Lit Idol
Idol” (which originated in England), but for
authors. Heck, even the brother of “American
Idol” judge Simon Cowell,
Tony Cowell, is a judge for London’s Lit Idol
Otis traveled to London’s Book Fair twice before attending
last week’s edition. He had been on the short
list for the prestigious Debut Dagger award for
in 2003 and 2004, but came in second.
trip was a charm, as Otis’ book, “On
the Albino Farm,” won the top prize in the
Lit Idol contest.
It is a competition, and a weird format that opens itself up,” Otis
said this week during a visit at his Walnut home, about 50 minutes
east of Omaha. “The Brits really love books.
They put this thing on TV.
For all the hype they raise for it, it gets people excited about
books. It makes books as much fun as popular
music – and
why not? Why should books have to be stuffy?”
what did Tony Cowell have to say about “On
the Albino Farm”?
A unique, undependable, charmer of an anti-hero brought to life
with confidence by a writer who deserves major notice,” Cowell
said of the book, set in the fictional Midwestern
town of Tirawa.
(Cowell) is a totally different guy; he’s a great guy,
although he did rip a few of the other people,” Otis
Those who have
been in the Omaha area for a while likely have heard of the ‘albino farm.’ There’s
allegedly one in Bellevue, and another at Hummel Park, and
on West Maple
Road, and probably a couple other places. All of the tales
revolve around a family of pink-eyed and pale-skinned humans
on compounds and reek havoc on society.
I’ve always liked the story of the albino farms, and I’ve
always liked urban legends, and every town has its own little
quirks,” Otis said.
And when I came to Creighton in the ’60s, when I first
came to town, is when I first heard about it. Of course, it’s
I had a body. The body had to be somewhere, and I thought, ‘Well,
why not on the albino farm?’ And then I thought, ‘What
a great title.’”
The plot is described
as “a sociopath who manipulates a
psychopath to kill a pedophile.” It’s
a crime story, but also much more than that, Otis
Otis said he aimed for the
crime genre after a friend,
Crime is the biggest of the genres,” Otis said. “But
genres are kind of artificial. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is
a crime novel. Does it get put on the crime novel shelf? No,
but it’s a crime novel – it’s
about a murder and a trial.
Shakespeare was a crime
So it’s the largest genre, and it applies across the board
to almost all great literature – a
lot of it is crime, if
you really look at it.”
Death and revenge are two
themes Otis has enjoyed writing
It’s great fun. I kill off some people I don’t like,
certain types, my crime stuff is really quirky and on the edge
of satire,” Otis said. “It’s real, but the
protagonist (in ‘Albino Farm’) is a guy called ‘Tools,’ because
he can open locks – he can open anything, mostly low-rent
thievery – but his
hands are the tools.
The novel starts out, ‘I’m a really smart guy.’ That’s
the first line. He’s a smart ass; he’s always got
an opinion about everything. So I just let him go, and he’s
The hundreds of people – read, characters – that
Otis has come in contact with over the years have been fuel for
Otis’ literary fire.
In radio I met all kinds of types, all sorts of politicians,
business and industry leaders, musicians, artists, street people,” Otis
said. “Radio is cool in that sense, especially in Nebraska
where you know the governor as well as the derelict on St. Mary’s
Avenue – you know ‘em.
Those worlds are not that
far apart in Nebraska,
you know what
Life After Radio
Otis Twelve’s exit from the Omaha radio scene to move
to Walnut to become a fulltime
writer left many in the Big O scratching
their head. After all,
Otis is the guy behind such Omaha radio classics as the Mean
Farmer and Space Commander
It wasn’t that I quit radio,” Otis said. “I
think radio and I decided that that’s it – the run’s
over. It was mutual decision. It wasn’t
like I magnanimously
decided one day to quit.
Radio has changed, and it came time to go. I was lucky, when
I got to radio it was like, Otis, there’s
a mike, go do what you
want, with Dan and everybody,
and we had
And then new (station) owners would come in … we were doing
fine, but corporations come in and they need to control things.
It’s not good or
bad, but the atmosphere
changed and the approach
changed in radio.”
Otis began in radio in
Omaha in 1977 on the
now-defunct Sweet 98,
a rock station.
From there, Otis
joined Z-92, 1980 to
He had a one-year stint
taking over the morning
show with Diver
at CD-105, where he stayed
from the end
of ’94 to ’99.
Otis ended his radio
career on KKAR, when
he was host
Sometimes I wish I could just go on (radio) and just scream or
yell or make fun of somebody. But I get to do that with the writing
now because I have this character. I’m
still looking for that
Enjoying small-town life
Otis, who grew up
in Philadelphia and Kansas City – while
working on his grandparents’ farm
in Remsen, Iowa, in
the summers – thought
about opening a restaurant
prior to moving to
Of course, my friends in the restaurant business kept telling
me I’m nuts, and they were right,” Otis
So at that point, my wife, Debbie, turned to me and said, ‘You’ve
always wanted to write.’
“ You can see the books everywhere; I read everything. And in radio
and adverting and PR
I was always writing. For 30 years I was writing for stage, and for Ogden Edsel.”
Otis, the unofficial mayor of the Dundee neighborhood in
Omaha, said it was tough to leave the
We had a real nice house in Dundee. I loved it,” he said. “But
it’s a heavy burden.
Do you own the house,
or does the house own
It was a cool house,
but it was huge.
kids but one are gone,
“ Deb still has her (psychotherapy) practice (in Omaha), but it
was a matter of simplifying
things. So we started looking at houses and we discovered the 40-mile rule.
If you go 40 miles
outside of Omaha, the
prices on houses drop, the cost of living drops.
And we’d been here before, stayed at a bed and breakfast;
it’s such a cool
little town. And my family
roots are in small-town
Otis writes about eight
hours a day, he said.
him just 10 weeks
of “On the Albino
It’s gone through a lot of changes, and I’ve gone
through the struggles of getting to know this business,” Otis
said. “Since then I’ve finished two other novels
and I’ve been
working on short
In 2004, one of his
shorts (which he
his given name), “The
Goodness of Trees,” was awarded a Templeton Foundation
prize of $10,000. While the Lit Idol award doesn’t
come with a lump
of cash, the benefits
the annual contest
As the winner, Otis
will now be represented
agent Ali Gunn
of the Curtis Brown
Agency, one of the
in the UK that
will now shop
to a publishing house. In the states, Otis is represented by
Donna Levin of New York’s Manus & Associates, whom
Otis credits with taking “Albino Farm” to
a new level.
She is an editorial agent, which is cool,” Otis said. “It’s
been great for me, and she’s
really turned the
book into something.
good, but she leveled
Now that he’s
won the Lit Idol
is ready to take
his writing career
This is like climbing a mountain, getting to the summit and the
wind blows some clouds away and you realize you’re 1,000
feet short of the real thing,” Otis said. “I told
my son, it’s like a video game. You kill that boss and
then all you do is level up and the monsters are bigger, but