ACFW / author interview / book reviews / superheroes / writing

Author Interview: John W. Otte

At the recent ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference, I had the pleasure of meeting author John W. Otte. Here’s your chance to virtually meet him, too!

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I was both impressed and entertained by the book, Failstate, which I reviewed in an earlier post. After reading this great book, I sent John some questions. Hope you enjoy his thoughtful answers as much as I did:

1. What is your favorite type of cheese?

I’m kind of a coward when it comes to cheese. I don’t get too crazy. For me, it’s mild cheddar (although sometimes I’ll go for aged cheddar).

2. Why do people like superhero stories? (First 3 reasons that come to mind.)

I think superhero stories tap into everyone’s deep-seated desire to be heroic. We want to be big and strong and able to do amazing things. Superhero stories give us the chance to experience it vicariously.

Related to that, I think it’s also a reaction to the “brokenness” of the world. We know that the world is a messed up place and, unfortunately, we don’t often get to see that brokenness fixed. A superhero story, at their heart, is about good battling evil and evil eventually losing. Sure, sometimes people flip those expectations, but those are the exceptions.

And third, I think that in some ways, superhero stories are our society’s version of the epic myth. In ancient times, people would tell stories of heroes going on quests, fighting monsters, that sort of thing. We’ve left behind the classic heroes of old, but I don’t think people will ever outgrow their desire to tell those epic kinds of tales. Superhero stories are just the old myths dressed up in spandex.

(Sarah E. pauses here to set that off in quotes. It explains so well why I’m featuring a superhero book on a site about unruly fairy tales. Our genres are cousins. Or at least one genre is the father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate of the other.)

“Superhero stories are just the old myths dressed up in spandex.”

-John W. Otte

3. Some say that authors inject a little of themselves in their main characters. Do you relate to Failstate and if so, how?

Actually Failstate’s story was inspired by something that happened to me at a writers’ conference. It felt like I was constantly falling flat on my face while a different author was wowing editors and agents. I was Failstate; the other author was Gauntlet. When I got home and started to process what had happened to me, the story of two superhero brothers started coming together and I knew I had to write it.

4. Failstate and his companions compete in a reality TV show for a superhero license. What’s your real opinion of reality TV?

I hate to admit it, but I’m a recovering reality TV show junkie. I’ve read a lot of articles that talk about how the producers and directors will creatively edit their footage to tell the story that they want, creating heroes and villains out of ordinary people. But even with that knowledge, it’s still really easy for me to get sucked in. I used to watch America’s Next Top Model faithfully (the name of the show in the book was a nod to that old addiction). I still watch every episode of Amazing Race and I’ve even thought about auditioning for it. I narrowly avoided getting sucked into this season’s Utopia. I know that reality shows are just about as “real” as professional wrestling, but I still enjoy them.

Failstate

5. Clearly you had a lot of fun designing the superheroes in this book. Who are some of your favorites (outside your book)?

My absolute, all-time favorite is Batman, hands down. You just don’t do better than him. When I was a kid, I was a big fan of a DC comic called “Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew” about anthropomorphic animal superheroes that were simply ridiculous. Right now, though, I’m really enjoying Arrow and The Flash on TV. And all the Marvel movies…

Do I really have to choose?

6. The source of a superhero’s (or supervillain’s) power can vary from spider bite to genetic mutation to planetary migration. Does the Christian worldview in your book change the source of the superpower?

Actually, it does. I’ve never really talked about the origin of my superheroes’ powers, but in the first draft of the book, I did spell out exactly where all the powers came from and how they all had a divine origin. But here’s the thing: I’m a firm believer that if the origin story doesn’t contribute to the story an author is trying to tell, it’s better to cut it out. In this case, my explanation of where the powers came from didn’t really add anything to the story (and, in some ways, it actually weakened it), and so I cut it. I don’t regret that at all. That’s why I’m even hesitant to say as much as I did here.

7. There is a hierarchy in your superhero universe in which “cognits” are considered inferior. What’s a cognit and why do they get a bum deal? Does this resemble real life in any way?

A cognit is a superhero whose powers are more in the mental realm and maybe not as flashy or combat-ready. As a result, they’re seen as the lowest class of superheroes and definitely not as impressive as the heroes who can deal a lot of damage.

I think that is very reflective of real life. The people who get the most glory in our present society seem to be the strongest, the fastest, and the flashiest (think athletes and entertainers) while the people whose work is quieter and maybe a bit more cerebral are overlooked.

8. Define “Geeky Grace.”

Geeky Grace is the kind of fiction I write. It’s unashamedly aimed at self-proclaimed geeks, people who love science fiction, fantasy, and superheroes. But at the same time, I try to weave in a Christian worldview and message, one that is infused with the grace that redeems us and transforms us from sinners into saints.

9. Fans of Stan Lee, famous comic book icon, know he makes a cameo appearance in the movies based on his Marvel superheroes. Do you have a cameo in this book?

Kind of? A lot of people have asked me if Pastor Grant, Rob Laughlin’s youth pastor, is me. Technically he isn’t. I’m a Lutheran pastor in my “day job,” and we’re a little more traditional and formal than P.G. is in the book. I think P.G. would be me if I served in a non-denominational church.

10. How can people learn more about you and your books?

The best place to find out more about my books is at my author website, www.johnwotte.com.

Thanks for the great interview, John!  Readers and superhero fans, I highly recommend this author.

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