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.

CSFF Blog Tour: My Imaginary Jesus

Many people have, I suppose, believed in an imaginary Jesus – taken from the pages of Scripture and then quietly tailored to their own psyches. But Matt Mikalatos is uniquely privileged in being able to see his imaginary Jesus.

He is even more uniquely privileged in having the Apostle Peter show up to expose his self-perpetrated fraud. Most unique among all his privileges, he is educated in theology by a talking donkey named Daisy.

My Imaginary Jesus is written by Matt Mikalatos and stars Matt Mikalatos. It is, as the author/character says, a “sort of semiautobiographical novel comedy thing”. Here Mikalatos traces his search for the true Jesus. Some of it is what they call an unvarnished account of things that actually happened; most of it is a comedic-speculative fiction retelling of things that actually happened. The characters are entertaining, and the plot takes some good twists, but My Imaginary Jesus is not really a proper novel. It’s the most unique spiritual memoir ever to hit the shelves of your Christian book store.

Various misconceptions of Jesus appear as characters – 8-Ball Jesus, Legalist Jesus, Perpetually Angry Jesus. Of all the elements of the book, I think this is the most original and the most daring. It very effectively reveals – and pillories – the false notions about Christ that grow up in our minds and in our culture. I suspect, nonetheless, that some people may not like it

My primary concern with the novel is not something that was put in so much as something that was left out. Among all the false ideas about Jesus, no distinction is made between those who know Jesus to be God and Savior and those who do not. A Christian in the novel is actually told that hiscrazy ideas” about Jesus are not much different than the Mormons’. I don’t know if the author believes that, but there’s a danger of leaving the impression that we’re all in the same boat – Baptists who believe Jesus never drank wine right along with Mormons who believe that Jesus is Satan’s brother.

It also struck me as odd that, when Matt’s imaginary Jesus is exposed, it’s so central that he went to an all-white church. I suppose that point was that Matt was making his Jesus and his church just like himself – same culture, same tastes, same opinions, same race. Still, the focus on skin color rubbed me the wrong way, as did calling it uncaring that the church had only whites in it. Would an all-black church be judged the same way?

For all that, the principal idea of My Imaginary Jesus is not only true but vital. Matt’s quest to find Jesus – to know Him as He is, not as we want Him to be or think He should be – is a bracing reminder that Jesus is more than a doctrine to be defined. He is a Person to be known. The novel reminds me of C. S. Lewis: “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.”

Matt Mikalatos has an unusual talent of making deep points with a light touch. I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else such a combination of humor and searching spirituality. There are gentle, sometimes sad moments, too, mixed in with the wacky adventures. My Imaginary Jesus is a book that can be enjoyed; more, it’s a book that can do you good.

My Imaginary Jesus was first published two years ago under the title Imaginary Jesus. CSFF toured it back then; here is Becky Miller’s review and her list of participants and posts. Word to the wise: If you click on a name, it will take you to that person’s blog; if you click on the check marks beside the names, each will take you to a different post on Imaginary Jesus.

Now: The author’s site is here, and further information – not to mention buying opportunity – may be found at Amazon.

Finally, before I go: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

I think the FCC wants us to do that. Or something. I don’t mind, except that every once in a while it makes me want to add: But I give fair, unbiased reviews anyway. But that should go without saying, so I have a policy of letting it.

All right, all right: Now I’m going.