Please Welcome…John Otte
(Originally posted April 2012
This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction author John Otte.
John has been a minister in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod—for close to twelve years now. He majored in theatre at Concordia University in St. Paul. He is married and is the father of two “incredible boys.”
John’s debut novel, Failstate, released on the same day this interview went live. Failstate is a YA novel about a young, down-on-his-luck hero trying to make it on a superhero reality show. It received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Failstate is Marcher Lord Press’s first foray into YA fiction.
And now, the interview…
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been doing lately?
John Otte: Mostly trying to survive Lent. That’s a busy season for pastors, filled with lots of sermon writing and leading worship.
But I’ve also been playing Mass Effect 3 (at least, I will be once this interview is released). I’ve also been working on a release party for Failstate and trying to get the word out about it as much as possible.
WhereTheMapEnds: I know I’m publishing it, so I can’t be trusted to be objective, but I think Failstate is a terrific novel. It’s nice that Publishers Weekly agrees. And what they reviewed hadn’t even been edited yet!
John, what is your favorite speculative novel of all time, and why is that your favorite?
John Otte: That’s a tough one. I’ve got a shelf-full of them, and I love them all. If I had to zero in on one, I’d probably pick The Dark Glory War by Michael Stackpole. It’s a great fantasy novel about a group of heroes trying to defeat an evil sorceress. He turned a bunch of fantasy tropes on their ear and created a culture of people who always wear masks in public. It’s a fascinating prelude that leads to a pretty decent trilogy.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write speculative fiction?
John Otte: The voices in my head wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.
In all seriousness, though, it’s a perfect fit for me. I’m an inveterate storyteller and I love speculative fiction. And given my calling as a pastor, it’s only natural that all of those three things get blended together
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
John Otte: I wrote my very first Christian speculative novel while I was in high school. The only person who ever saw it was my pastor. He liked it well enough, but he had some pretty pointed criticism of my theology (and well deserved, I might add).
When I rewrote the book, I showed it to my friends (all of whom I had included in the story in one way or another). They thought it was hilarious. One of them held on to the manuscript and gave it to my wife as a wedding present. Thankfully, my wife still hasn’t read it.
WhereTheMapEnds: Hysterical. What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
John Otte: I’m mostly drawn to straight sci-fi and fantasy (and usually Christian) when I read, although I have been dabbling in steampunk and dystopian lately. And that’s what I write. I’ve tried my hand at fantasy and sci-fi. I’ve been thinking about dystopian as well.
I guess in the end, I like to write what I read.
WhereTheMapEnds: Don’t we all? How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
John Otte: I’m cautiously optimistic. When I joined American Christian Fiction Writers five years ago, nobody wanted to see speculative fiction. The doors were definitely closed to the genre. But at the last ACFW Conference, more people seemed at least willing to listen to spec fic ideas, especially when it comes to YA fiction. And that’s really what has me hopeful. If you look at what the young adult market is publishing, a good chunk of it is speculative fiction. Those younger readers become older readers eventually. If their tastes don’t change as they age, they’ll be looking for more books to read.
WhereTheMapEnds: I have often said that it is this younger generation of readers who will save us. Christian teens seem to really love to read fantasy. And when they grow up and begin running publishing companies (or starting their own), they’re not going to suddenly want to publish Amish, you know? The next 10 years are going to see an avalanche of Christian speculative fiction.
What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
John Otte: Again, it seems as though the publishing industry is taking more chances on speculative fiction. I think a lot of that has to do with the small presses like Marcher Lord Press and Splashdown Books. They’ve proved that an audience is out there that wants this kind of book
WhereTheMapEnds: Woot! What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
John Otte: That so few Christians seem to be aware that Christian speculative fiction even exists. Christians read speculative fiction. It’s not just non-Christians who go to those shelves in the bookstore. And I think that if they knew about the great books that are out there, they would love them. But they just don’t know they’re there. A few years back, I was in an online forum telling people about Christian speculative fiction. One guy was absolutely shocked. He had no idea and he said he’d be checking out the books I mentioned.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yes, in our day of the small press and the self-published novel, the challenge is all about marketing. How do you get the people who would love your book to find out that your book exists? But word of mouth like what you did will always be powerful.
What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
John Otte: I’d love to see it more widely accepted or available to readers. I think there have been some phenomenal books published in the past few years, but due to the low profile of the genre overall, people aren’t aware of it. But I suspect that this is a change that will come with time. I think growing the genre is like farming trees: The growth is there. We just have to be patient.
WhereTheMapEnds: What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
John Otte: I think, thanks to the publishing revolution that’s going on right now, that we’re going to see a large increase in the amount of Christian speculative fiction that will be on the market. The thing is, I think a lot of it is going to be self-published, bypassing the big houses and the small presses entirely. And quite frankly, I’m not sure that’s the best thing in the world. But that’s just me.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yes, there are good and bad parts of this revolution. The great part, of course, is that books and authors that had been blocked by the old publishing power bloc can now get published and reach the people who love them. So that old censorship is fading.
But on the down side, many self-published novelists aren’t taking the steps necessary to be sure they have a good edit done on their book. Many don’t bother to learn how to write well. So the easy transfer between author and audience hurts us now, because readers are presented with all manner of poorly written dreck. And some books really shouldn’t get published. LOL.
So while the censorship of the old publishing model is gone, so is the vetting that (more or less) ensured that if a book got published it was actually pretty good.
As I’ve said before though, it’s a YouTube model now. No one goes trolling YouTube for whatever’s new. Instead, we wait until someone sends us a link and says, “You’ve got to watch this.” Word of mouth will become even more important with self-published books and e-books now. We’ll wait for a recommendation.
On the whole, this revolution is producing a tremendously positive result. But whenever new frontiers open up, you have more than explorers and pioneers and settlers…you’ve also got outlaws and fugitives and crazy people. 🙂
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
John Otte: A couple of pieces of advice: Write what you want to write, and don’t chase trends in either the ABA or CBA. Continue to perfect your craft, because there’s always room for improvement. And keep working on it! I first “got serious” about pursuing publication close to twelve years ago. It takes time and effort, and you can’t really skimp on either.
WhereTheMapEnds: And even with all your work on craft, I still put you through a pretty strenuous edit! What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
John Otte: The best “seminar” on fiction writing that I’ve found is Randall Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I’m a plot-first outliner, and Randy’s technique really helped me focus during my “pre-writing” phase.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
John Otte: You can do weird stuff, and people like it! We’re able to explore a lot of deep themes and take people on a wild adventure while doing so.
WhereTheMapEnds: Nice. What writing project(s) are you working on now?
John Otte: I’m both editing a book I’m calling Hive (a YA sci-fi story about a pregnant teenage cyborg) and I’m also getting started on the sequel to Failstate. I still need to come up with a title for it, but there will be zombies.
WhereTheMapEnds: Not to mention some other books that will be coming out through Marcher Lord Press. People will be seeing a lot of great speculative fiction in the near future, and not just for teens.
What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
John Otte: I recently read an article about how scientists now think that there are a lot of “nomad planets” that are basically shooting through space between stars. It kind of piqued my imagination. I’m thinking I’d like to write a story set on a nomad planet. I have no idea who would be there or why, but I’ve started with less in the past.
WhereTheMapEnds: Wow, that sounds cool. Wish I’d through of it! What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
John Otte: Do I have to pick just one? Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk trilogy set in World War I just wrapped up recently and it was a fun read. And then there’s the Hunger Games trilogy (though the third book left me a little flat). I’ve got a couple of books in my “to-be-read” pile that I’m looking forward to. There’s always a lot of fun stories out there, right?
WhereTheMapEnds: Of course! Which is job security for writers and publishers! Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
John Otte: If you’re a reader, thank you! And if you’re a writer, keep at it!
That’s All for This Time
Another terrific interview! Thanks again to John Otte for stopping by. Be sure to visit him online.