CSFF Blog Tour: Character Profiles: The Autobiographical Insert

I sighed and put my head down on the steering wheel. “I hate shrinks. But I guess I could take you to see Dr. van Pelt.” I had to start seeing Dr. van Pelt after my first book, Imaginary Jesus, came out. With all the hallucinations of Jesus and time travel and talking donkeys, my boss thought it would be wise for me to get some professional help, even though I had explained to him numerous times that those were just literary devices. Nevertheless, he had insisted that I visit Dr. van Pelt. I didn’t like her that much.

– Matt Mikalatos, Night of the Living Dead Christian

We would all be peeved if our bosses made us go to therapy. But for Matt Mikalatos, at least, there was some benefit. Not that it cured him of strange literary devices, but it did allow him to give ready help to a werewolf looking for a psychiatrist. And, in the back seat, a zombie, a mad scientist, and an android listened.

Matt Mikalatos was an unusually blatant Autobiographical Insert. You read Matt Mikalatos’ novels about how Matt Mikalatos got counsel from a talking donkey, and chased his imaginary Jesus around Portland, and went church-hunting with a werewolf; normal things may be mixed in, but they lose the ratio war to the strange things. And still, somehow, you get the feeling sometimes that Matt Mikalatos is writing himself.

All authors insert, at one time or another, an opinion, or a religious conviction, or a personal experience; some give their protagonist their own personality traits, or one of their struggles. Many characters have a little of their author, and some have a lot. Usually, though, they have their own names.

And Matt Mikalatos is, believe it or not, the second exception to this rule that I’ve seen. The first is Oliver North, who briefly appeared in his novel Mission Compromised. Oliver North, writing in the third-person, referred to himself as “North”.

The Autobiographical Insert is usually more subtle – sometimes so subtle you don’t even notice it. But in some degree or other, it’s always there. Every author, good or bad, pours himself into his novel; naturally it spills over into the characters, too.

And speaking of what authors insert … Matt described Dr. van Pelt – to whom he took his werewolf friend – like this: “She was crabby. All the time. But on the plus side, she was surprisingly inexpensive.” And when he poured into her waiting room with his friends (“the mother lode of wackos needing counseling”): “She came storming out of her office and demanded to know why I hadn’t made an appointment. She had her dark hair up in a bun and that same blue dress that she always wore. It must be her work dress or something.”

The only other van Pelts I know of are Lucy and Linus. And “crabby” was the word that defined Lucy. She also had a psychiatrist’s practice that was very inexpensive – only a nickel a session – and her hair was dark, and she always wore that blue dress …

Matt Mikalatos is clever. The author, I mean.

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