Interview with John Otte | Failstate

The Bio

John is a PK, a pastor’s kid. He grew up in Columbia Heights, a suburb of Minneapolis, with his parents and younger sister and brother. They were the terror of their local library because, every few weeks, they would come and check out crates full of books, increasing the workload of the poor librarians. In high school, though, John worked at the same library, so it balanced out.

After high school, John attended Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he majored in theatre. Upon his graduation in 1996, he moved on to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated with his Masters of Divinity in 2000. He served as a Lutheran minister in Blue Earth, Minnesota, before moving to South St. Paul, Minnesota, where he currently serves as the pastor for Concordia Lutheran Church.

John married his wife in 2002 and they now have two wonderful boys who are well on their way toward being geeks. John couldn’t be prouder.

John is a life-long writer. He started with badly drawn comic books in the fifth grade. When he realized that he was a lousy artist, he moved on to badly written novels in middle school. He’s tried his hand at screenplays (don’t ask), stage plays (a little better), fanfic, teen mysteries, and religious fiction. But his first love has always been speculative fiction.

failstateThe Interview

Josh: Tell us a little bit about the premise of Failstate and Failstate Legends.

John: Failstate is the story of a teenage superhero competing on a reality TV show for a government vigilante license. When one of his fellow competitors is murdered, Failstate goes on a very real quest for justice. But his superpowered older brother, who is stronger, more charismatic, and more popular, keeps getting in the way. Will Failstate find the killer? Or will his lunk of a big brother ruin everything?

Failstate: Legends follows the continuing adventures of the teenage superhero. Zombies are invading his city and no one believes that he’s up to the task of stopping them. Other heroes are brought in to try to deal with the invasion, but none of them take Failstate seriously either. Complicating matters are not one, but two girls who are vying for his attention. And in the middle of it all, a legendary hero has returned from the grave. Legends are walking the streets of New Chayton. If Failstate can survive the coming weeks, he can become one of them.

Josh: How did you come up with the idea of a superhero reality show?

John: When I first came up with the idea of Failstate, I had the barest framework: two brothers, both superheroes, in competition with each other . . . for some reason. While I was brainstorming the books, I read Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy and thought that maybe a reality show was the route to go. Well, I watch a few reality TV shows regularly. I’m a big fan of the Amazing Race and I make sure to catch every episode of So You Think You Can Dance. But the one that influenced me the most was America’s Next Top Model. Yes, I know, and I’m thoroughly ashamed to admit that I watch that. I blame my wife. America’s Next Superhero was sort of a combination of So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Next Top Model.

Josh: Was Failstate Legends planned from the beginning or did it just grow out of the first novel?

John: I never really planned on writing sequels, mostly because I didn’t know how well the first book would be received. So when I wrote Failstate, I capped everything off as best as I could and decided to wait to see what would happen. When it was well received, I approached Jeff Gerke, my publisher, about doing more books. We discussed a few ideas that I had and, with the input of Amanda Luedeke, my agent, we came up with the idea of a zombie apocalypse of sorts.

Josh: Will we see a return to New Chayton in the future or will we get to learn more about the other superheroes that make appearances in Failstate Legends?

John: There’s one more book planned for Failstate. I don’t have a title for it quite yet. As for the other superheroes, I hadn’t originally planned on it. But a lot of people seem to like Etzal’el from the second book. A few have even asked if I would write a stand alone book about him. I wasn’t originally planning on doing so, but the idea is starting to take hold. I’m not announcing anything. Right now, I’m trying to puzzle out who the bad guy would be in that kind of a story. If I can figure that out, then maybe. We’ll see.

failstatelegendsJosh: How much did comic books and superhero movies influence your writing?

John: Quite a bit. I know that I “push it” in terms of believability when it comes to both books, but I’m writing about superheroes! There’s a lot about the whole concept that pushes the boundaries of believability. The whole idea of secret identities make me roll my eyes a little. But for those instances, I figure I’m going with “comic book logic” and I think it makes the whole thing a lot more fun.

Josh: As Rob Laughlin, Failstate is a part of what seems to be a pretty good church. How much of those scenes are based on real life experiences?

John: Not as much as I would like. I’m a Lutheran minister, and the way we do things is very different from what’s described in the book. But I knew that my primary audience wouldn’t be as familiar with the Lutheran way, so I went with the more non-denominational approach. The problem is, I haven’t ever really seen how that works, so I had to make it up based on books I had read. I’m not saying that I haven’t served and still serve at some fabulous churches. They just aren’t like Mt. Calvary in the books.

Josh: What do you think is the appeal to superhero stories?

John: I think we all have a desire to be the hero, the one on center stage. Superheroes are larger than life and they make an incredible impact on the world around them. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that? I know that when I was younger, I wanted so badly to be a superhero, to be the “good guy” that people turn to when things go wrong. It’s a way to live vicariously through the characters and, in a way, live the life we all dream of.

Josh: What do you want readers to take away from your novels?

John: That God gives us all powers to serve Him. The original idea for the books sparked from 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul talks about how God gives us all gifts. He makes us to be His heroes, gifted to serve Him where we are. I think we often lose sight of that. I know I do from time to time.

Josh: What’s a normal writing day for you?

John: Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a “normal” writing day. It’s mostly about me trying to eke out time to write. I can usually find an hour or two at night, although I can sometimes sneak away for some dedicated writing time.

Josh: How do you balance your job as a pastor and your job as a writer?

John: I’m still trying to figure that out! My schedule is a little more flexible, so when things are quiet, I can usually sneak in some writing. But at times, the demands of ministry suck up all of my writing time.

Josh: What’s one piece of advice you wish you knew when you were trying to get published?

John: Know when to put something up on a shelf and move on. When I first “got serious” about writing, I was obsessed with a sci fi trilogy I was writing. I had to get that published and have it be my debut in the publishing world. I worked on it for five or six years, tweaking and editing. But it had (and still has) serious problems with it. Another writer (Colleen Coble) suggested that maybe the time had come to set it aside and work on something else. I was reluctant to do so, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I’ll go back to that trilogy someday, but for now, it’s been shelved.

Josh: What project are you working on right now?

John: Right now, I’m working on the first draft of the third Failstate book. After that, I’m not sure. I have a sci fi book called Hive about a teenage pregnant cyborg that I’d like to work on some more. And maybe I’ll come up with a bad guy for Etzal’el to fight. That’s why I love Christian speculative fiction. There’s so many fun stories to tell.

 

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