John W. Otte 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, and South Saint Paul, Minnesota. He currently serves as an associate pastor at Timothy Lutheran Church in Blue Springs, Missouri.
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 lifelong 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.
His debut novel, Failstate, was published by Marcher Lord Press in April 2012 and was a finalist for the Christy Awards in 2013. He has gone on to publish three more novels with Marcher Lord Press. Failstate, Numb, and Failstate: Legends were finalists for the Christy Awards. The Hive won the Realm Makers Genre Award for Science Fiction, and Drawn in Ash won the Realm Award for Science Fiction in 2023. John looks forward to telling even more strange tales that point people back to God and His incredible grace.
More about Drawn in Ash
FORCED TO MARRY THE MAN SWORN TO DESTROY HER KIND
The Dynasty claims to be a veritable paradise, where a multitude of races live in peace and harmony. Everys knows better. The Dynasty has been broken since it was founded, with the human nobility oppressing many of the peoples they’ve brutally conquered, including her own. As an illegal mage, Everys hides in a rundown corner of the capital city, running her family’s electronics repair shop, afraid to risk her life to stand against the injustice. But then she brought to the palace and forced to marry King Narius, the descendant of the tyrant who destroyed her people’s homeland, and she realizes this might be the chance she’s been waiting for to make things right.
Due to sacred law, Narius must marry to legitimize his reign. Forced to marry for political gain, he cannot marry the woman he actually loves, so he must settle for another. Unfortunately, the young woman he chose seems determined to cause him nothing but trouble, jeopardizing his plans to bring the Dynasty into a more prosperous future.
Thrown together by circumstances they can’t control, Everys and Narius must set aside old grudges and painful legacies to forge an uneasy partnership before the Dynasty’s enemies destroy everything they hold dear.
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Q&A with John W. Otte
TG: Everyone always asks for an interesting fact, we’re going to flip the question. What is one boring fact about yourself?
JWO: Boring facts? I have too many to pick from. I’m probably one of the most boring people you’ll ever encounter. My hobbies are all generic (watching TV and playing video games). I’m an extreme introvert who hates to be pushed out of his comfort zone. If you looked up boring in the dictionary, you’d probably find my picture. If I remembered to show up for the photo shoot, I guess.
TG: Where did you get the inspiration for Drawn in Ash?
JWO: Every summer for the past several years, I’ve taught at a homeschool writers’ conference called One Year Adventure Novel in Olathe, Kansas. This is aimed at teaching high school students how to write stories by having them write their own novels in a year. The kids who attend this conference are amazing! They are so intelligent and creative that I worry about my job security as an author each year.
In 2017, I was teaching a session on bad guys and I included a lame joke (something the students really get into and meme like crazy). I was talking about writing a story based on the Biblical book of Esther in a dystopian setting. As part of the joke, I nicknamed this story #gottabebae. At first, I was thinking I’d just hand off the story idea to the kids if they wanted it. But the story took hold of me and I told them all to back off because it was mine. They didn’t mind at all. In fact, they encouraged me to write the whole thing. Several years later, I self-published the book—now called Drawn in Ash—by funding it through Kickstarter.
TG: Do you have any habits or rituals as a writer?
JWO: Not that many. Remember, I’m the most boring guy ever. The only “ritual” or habit that I have is that I always have movie soundtracks playing while I write. I’ve discovered through experimentation that I can’t write if I’m listening to music that has actual lyrics. It has to be instrumental only or I can’t focus. Otherwise, it’s just trying to find the time to write every day.
TG: What habits would you encourage others to take up to be a more productive writer?
JWO: If you can, write every day, especially when you’re working on the first draft. And don’t worry about story quality while you’re doing that first draft. You can always fix whatever mistakes you’re making during the rewriting process.
For example, I’m currently working on the first draft of the third book in The Legacy of Ink trilogy (Drawn in Ash is the first book). It’s a mess right now and I know it is. There are about five or six chapters that shouldn’t be in there because I didn’t have a good handle on how I wanted the book to start. But I’m leaving them in there until I get the first draft done. Once that’s completed, I’ll go back and start cutting, rearranging, and writing the new chapters.
TG: What do you snack on or drink while writing?
JWO: For me, it’s always a can of Coke. Snacks depend on how long my writing session is. I can usually crank out about 2,000 words in an hour or so, and that’s usually all I have time for. So I usually don’t need a snack while I’m working.
TG: How do you overcome writer’s block?
JWO: Two ways: read and talk.
I often get blocked when I’m writing if I’m not reading enough fiction. I’ve discovered (again, the hard way) that I have to take in fictional stories if I want to produce fictional stories. Seeing what other people have done, both good and bad, can usually keep me going.
If that doesn’t work, I’ve discovered that if I start talking through my block with someone, either in person or via email, my brain usually starts jumping ahead of me and figures out a solution to whatever issue I’m having. It’s kind of frustrating, actually, because I have to go through a long explanation of what the problem is, and before the other person can respond, I suddenly say, “Wait, I think I’ve got this figured out. Never mind.”
TG: Are you an “edit-as-you-go” writer or do you wait until the very end before you do any editing?
JWO: I don’t do any back-editing when I’m writing a draft unless I’m reviewing what I previously wrote and spot something minor I can tweak right there (like spelling or grammar or a wrong name). I don’t want to bog myself down by going back over stuff that I’ve already written to try to fix things. I need that forward momentum to get a draft done.
TG: What would you say is the most common mistake new writers make?
JWO: Thinking that the first thing that they’ve ever written is amazing and so wonderful and needs to be published. A wise person once told me that an author has to write about a million words before they’re ready to be published. And that’s cumulative, not rewriting the same 50,000-word book twenty times. I’ve seen a lot of new writers make it through one book and assume they’re ready. And they usually aren’t. They need time to mature and grow as a writer. I have drawers full of old stories that I wrote that, at the time, felt amazing and brilliant. Only now I know that the best thing I can do is hope that they never see the light of day. Being a good writer takes time, growth, and maturation. Don’t rush the process.
TG: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
JWO: The best piece of advice I’ve ever received about writing came from Colleen Coble: sometimes you need to stop.
I had been working on a high-concept, epic science fiction trilogy for years when I attended my first writers’ conference. I absolutely bombed. I tried pitched it to all the wrong people and, by the time the conference was over, I was ready to throw in the towel.
But then I had a session with Deb Raney and Colleen Coble. While they appeared a bit overwhelmed when they heard what my book was about, they encouraged me to keep writing and keep working.
So I spent another two years working on that same trilogy. Two years later, I attended the same writers’ conference. Because I had volunteered to drive people from the airport to the conference, I got to speak with Coble again. I thanked her for her encouragement. She asked me what I was pitching at the conference, and I told her that it was the same project I had shown her two years earlier.
That’s when she gently suggested that I needed to stop. She said that sometimes writers can get locked in on one project and they obsessively tinker with it and tweak it. As a result, their growth as a writer stagnates. We grow best when we work on new projects in new worlds with new characters.
I didn’t like that advice at the time, but when I didn’t make any traction with editors or agents at the conference, I decided to try her way. I set aside that project and wrote a book that eventually became Numb, which was a finalist for the Christy Awards in 2014. And after I finished that, I wrote Failstate, which was my debut novel and also a Christy Awards finalist in 2013.
Stopping was the best thing I ever did. And I haven’t touched that epic science fiction trilogy in over ten years. It’ll probably never see the light of day again. While I regret that every now and then, I’m okay with where I am.
TG: What is coming up next for you?
Right now, I’m working on the first draft of Drawn to Light, the conclusion to The Legacy of Ink trilogy. I’m hoping to run a Kickstarter to publish that book in May of 2024. After that, I’m not sure. I have a bunch of half-ideas I’ve been kicking around, but nothing has really caught my attention yet. We’ll have to see what I come up with.
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