My guest today is St. Paul author, Pastor John Otte.
What are some memories you have of that area? I loved growing up there. When I grew too tall for the basement of our first house (I’m 6’6″), my parents moved to a larger house on a lake. We often went for walks around the lake when I was younger. When I was a teenager, I used to go to an improv comedy show called Comedy Sportz in downtown Minneapolis and absolutely loved it. And Columbia Heights still has some of the best pizza I’ve ever had: “Tasty Pizza.” I’ve tried a lot over the years and I’ve never found better.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Oh, a lot of different things, but the funny thing is, I always wanted to be such-and-such…or a pastor. So it was, “I want to be a teacher or a pastor.” “I want to be an astronaut or a pastor.” While I was in high school, it came down to “I want to be a radio DJ or a pastor.” Eventually the other stuff fell away and I knew I wanted to be a pastor.
Funny how that always works out, isn’t it? So what do you love about living in Minnesota? What are you not particularly fond of living here? I love the people. Minnesota Nice exists (even if the ugly flip side is passive aggressiveness!). And I love everything that the Twin Cities area offers. When I was going to college, I was told that the Twin Cities has the highest number of theatres per capita outside of New York. It’s simply a phenomenal place to live and to grow up and I’m really excited I get to raise my sons here. There’s a lot to do and see, and while you’re doing and seeing, you’re surrounded by some of the greatest people on Earth.
What I’m really not fond of is the winters. I hate winter. I despise snow. I mean, I can deal with it just fine (I’m a firm believer that everyone in the U.S. should be required to live in Minnesota for at least one winter so they know how to deal with winter weather), but I really only like winters when they’re mild. This one hasn’t been too bad, but as far as I’m concerned, it should only snow in December so we have a white Christmas. Then we can have unseasonably warm weather that melts it all.
I am all over that idea! Tell us about your writing journey. I’ve been writing for just about as long as I can remember. The screwy thing is, I always intended for my “masterpieces” to be published. When I was in fifth grade, I tried my hand at drawing comic books. They were basically creative exercises in plagiarism. I ripped off ideas from He-Man, Spiderman, and Voltron. As it turns out, I’m a lousy artist (and still am).
I’m glad you recognized that plagiarism isn’t a good thing on which to build a career! When did you try writing? I made the switch to writing novels in sixth grade. The results were equally awful. In high school, I produced some way-too-obvious YA mystery novels, along with a few books that could best be classified as Star Trek fanfiction. When I was in college, I tried to branch out a little and wrote a stage play (one that was almost produced by a dinner theater in Australia!). Then, while I was attending the Seminary, I wrote three different movie scripts. Once I was out of the Sem, though, I returned to writing novels and “got serious” about it.
What did getting serious entail? A few years after I graduated, I joined American Christian Fiction Writers and started to really hone my craft. It was via ACFW that I met my publisher and my agent. As a matter of fact, I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for ACFW, I wouldn’t be published right now. Anyone writing Christian fiction should check them out because they can help you in innumerable ways. Don’t get me wrong, I still made a lot of mistakes along the way and I had to work hard to get here, but I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do without their help.
What is a lesson you’ve learned during that journey? What was something that surprised you? Sometimes the best thing you can do is quit. That may sound like an odd piece of advice, but in my case, it turned out to be a good thing. When I first joined ACFW, I was working on an epic science fiction trilogy. I was convinced this would be my debut, the first thing I got published. When I attended my first ACFW conference, I pitched the first book in the trilogy. As it turns out, the way I structured the story over the three books was seriously flawed and, after a few publishing professionals pointed that out to me, I was feeling pretty dejected. Then I met with Colleen Coble and Deborah Raney. They both were very encouraging and picked up my spirits.
I love it when God puts people like that in our path, just when we need them. What did you do next? When I went home, I thought I figured out how to fix my structural issues, so I spent two years rewriting the first book and tweaking it. That year, the ACFW conference was in Minneapolis, and I was asked to ferry people from the airport to the hotel. One of the people I gave a ride to was Colleen Coble. I was so excited to see her again. I thanked her profusely for helping cheer me up and keep me going. She asked what I was pitching, and I told her that it was the same book I was pitching two years earlier.
She then very gently suggested that maybe I should move on. She said that it’s really easy to get wrapped up in obsessive tweaking to the point that we kind of stagnate in our writing process. She suggested I shelve the trilogy and start something new.
Ouch. That’s hard advice to hear, especially after years of working on it. I didn’t want to do that, but I decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did. I learned so much by writing a few more books until I finally found success with Failstate. If Colleen Coble hadn’t said that to me, I might still be “tweaking” and “fixing” my trilogy and still be banging my head against the wall with it.
That would have been a painful way to live! Tell us about your current work. Failstate: Legends is the sequel to my debut novel. It’s a Christian YA superhero story, following the adventures of a teenaged superhero named Failstate. He’s recently received his government vigilante license, making him one of the go-to crime fighters in his hometown of New Chayton. But all is not well. Zombies are starting to appear on the streets of New Chayton, some of them with super powers. Failstate soon finds himself rubbing shoulders with living legends and, if he’s lucky, he can become one of them.
Actually, a better way of putting it is in this book trailer I made.
Zombies? Where did that idea come from? The idea for this book came from my agent, Amanda Luedeke. She and I were tossing around ideas for the sequel. She suggested the zombies. I’ll admit, I was a little hesitant to try that, but I let the idea sit for a while and then realized that it could be a lot of fun. And I did have a blast writing this story.
How long did it take to write this second book? It took me about three or four months to write the first draft, and the only reason I managed to finish it is because my wife kicked me out of the house so I could write in the local library. LOL! I let it sit for a few weeks and then started editing it. That was interesting. The first few chapters went through three or four different versions. I removed a subplot that just wasn’t working. It took a little bit of work to get it to where it had to be, but I don’t regret any of the hard work.
What are your future plans and goals around writing? Well, I’ve got a non-superhero book coming out in September from Marcher Lord Press called Numb. It can probably be best described as “The Bourne movies meet Star Trek.” And then I’ve got one more Failstate book coming out in a year that I’m working on right now. After that, I’m not sure. I’ll need to do some thinking.
As for eventual goals, well, I’d love to see something I wrote on the New York Times Bestseller list, but who doesn’t? Or have a movie adaptation made. That’d be cool too. But my one dream would be to write a Star Wars novel.
What’s something you’d like to experience in Minnesota that you haven’t yet? Boy, that’s a good question. I guess have the Vikings actually make it to the Superbowl and win? I don’t know. I’m pretty happy with my experiences.
What’s something most people don’t know about you? That’s another really good question. I’m a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (another Minnesota-based phenomenon). I’m an armchair Titanic historian. Something about the wreck fascinates me. And I’m also scared of heights, which is odd, seeing as I’m 6’6”.
Thanks for sharing your writing experiences with us, John!
Leave a comment for John and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a copy of Failstate (winner announced next Monday). If you’d like to connect with John, here’s where you can find him:
John Otte on Facebook, on Twitter, and on his website.
And the winner of Michelle Lim’s “Idea Sparking: How to Brainstorm Conflict in Your Novel” is….LYNN DAVIDSON. Congratulations, Lynn. You’ll love Michelle’s book.