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Monday, March 12, 2012


Long and Short Reviews welcomes John W. Otte, who has a short story in the anthology Twisted being released by Leap Books on March 28. His debut novel is also being released soon: Failstate. I asked him to tell us something about it.

"It’s Christian YA speculative fiction (that’s a mouthful, ain’t it?) about a young superhero named Failstate who is competing on a reality TV show for a government vigilante license. When one of his competitors is murdered, he finds himself on a very real quest to find justice."

John has always been a storyteller and, in some ways, a writer. He told me that he thinks part of it comes from being a voracious reader.

"I like to joke that my family was the terror of our local library," he said. "We increased the poor librarians workload when we visited every other week."

In the fifth grade, he created a series of "badly drawn" comic books about aliens and then moved on to "badly written stories" about aliens. He's always dreamed about being a published writer.

Even though he's been writing his whole life, he didn't really consider himself a true writer until he graduated from seminary (he's also a Lutheran preacher) and joined American Christian Fiction Writers.

"It was at one of their conferences that someone pointed out that if you write, you’re a writer regardless of if you’re published. I started calling myself one after that," he said.

If he gets writer's block, sometimes he'll take a break and do some reading so he can "supercharge" his imagination. If that doesn't work, however, he'll just plow ahead and spew whatever comes to mind on the page.

"Eventually I’ll break through," he told me. "It makes the first draft a mess, but that can always be fixed when I’m rewriting."

"Who is your favorite author and why?" I wondered.

"Do I have to pick just one? Ouch. The thing is, I have a lot of 'favorite authors,' and my choice in who I like ebbs and flows depending on what I’ve been reading lately. One of my absolutely favorites is Michael Stackpole, a fantasy writer who has also written some Star Wars novels. I like the way he portrays his heroes in his books. They’re very relatable."

Relatable characters are one of the important elements he looks for in a good book. He also wants a good hook—to be able to be sucked into a book and lose track of time.

He remembers reading about a woman who was going on a flight and picked up a Stephen King novel at the airport bookstore. She settled in to wait at the gate and started reading. When she finally came up for air, she was startled to see that the gate was empty. She had been so engrossed in the book, she missed her flight.

"A friend of mine asked to read Failstate so I sent him the file so he could read it on his e-reader," John told me. "When he contacted me a few days later, he told me that he almost missed a flight because he was reading my book. Made my day."

When it comes to developing his plot and characters, John uses a method developed by Randall Ingermanson called "The Snowflake Method."

"It’s a great approach to developing your story from a small seed up to a full synopsis and it really works," he assured me. "I’ve used it on the last couple of projects I’ve worked on."

The plot comes first for him—he'll come up with the overall story first and then try to figure out what characters he'll need to tell it properly. He's tried writing "by the seat of his pants," but it doesn't work for him—he's a plotter all the way.

He hates coming up with titles, however.

"I know what I do like to have in my titles: memorable simplicity. I want a strong title, preferably one word or less, that captures a person’s imagination and makes them wonder what the story is going to be about. How I get to that title is a mystery to me."

Finding the time to write and staying focused is the hardest part of writing for him, he confessed. He's a very busy man and is his own worst enemy when it comes to finding the time to write. There's always something else he can be doing and he finds that he tends to gravitate towards those "something elses." When he's cracking down, though, he tries to find at least an hour a day to write, usually later at night after his wife and kids have gone to bed.

"I find I can usually get a good chunk of writing done in an hour," he said.

He's a sucker for videogames, though, he admitted, especially if they have a good story.

"I’m particularly looking forward to playing Mass Effect 3 when it comes out, specifically because that franchise has had such a dynamite story to it," he told me.

One of his favorite characters is an elf named Resolute from Michael Stackpole's Dragon Crown Cycle. In Stackpole's stories, elves are connected to their homeland.

"Since Resolute’s home was destroyed when he was young, he’s angry and bitter and very violent," John explained. "But he’s also a good friend and very reliable."

He will sometimes listen to music while he writes, but only from a movie soundtrack or something that doesn't have lyrics.

"I once read that if you’re listening to music with words, your brain will be engaged in deciphering the lyrics, taking away part of your concentration from your writing. I’ve discovered that’s true for me as well," he said.

Finally, I asked, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"

"Number one, think of yourself as an author. Not an aspiring author or a would-be author. If you’re putting words on paper (or on a computer screen), you’re an author, regardless of whether or not you’re published. Confidence goes a long way. Second, learn your craft. Buy books about writing. Attend classes about writing. Join a local writing group if you can. And third, don’t give up. You’re going to have a lot of doors slammed in your face and it’s going to hurt. The best thing to do is learn from your rejections and just keep trying."

About the Author:
John W. Otte grew up in Columbia Heights, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. When he was younger, he dreamed of being a superhero, fueled by reading collections of Superman and Batman comics. Instead, he attended college at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he majored in theatre. He graduated summa cum laude in 1996 and then attended Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, where he received his Master of Divinity in 2000. He now serves as the pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in South St. Paul, Minnesota, where he lives with his wife, Jill, and sons, Isaiah and Micah. His debut novel, Failstate, about a teenage superhero competing on a reality show for a government license, will be published by Marcher Lord Press in April of 2012.

Find the author online at:


Twitter: @JohnWOtte


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  1. Thanks for the interview! It was a lot of fun!

  2. Great post. Very interesting. Love the book.
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