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: Night of the Living Dead Christian

If you discovered that one of your neighbors was a werewolf, what would you do about it?

If you answered, “Move”, you are not Matt Mikalatos. He would decide to kidnap and cure the werewolf or, at last resort, kill him. Then – because silver bullets are so hard to buy and even harder to make at home – he would arm himself with a slingshot and silver quarters and go ambush his neighbor.

You are, I trust, more sensible than Matt Mikalatos.

Here I must make a distinction. Night of the Living Dead Christian is written by Matt Mikalatos and features Matt Mikalatos as a main character. Most of the book is written from his viewpoint. (The rest is written from the werewolf’s point of view.) I do not know what, precisely, is the difference between the author Matt and the character Matt; it is merely justice to note that the author might not, in fact, attempt to subdue a werewolf with a slingshot.

There are other characters who carry the names (and who knows how much else?) of real people. But it’s appropriate that some of the characters aren’t entirely fictional; the novel isn’t, either. In its largest idea, it’s an allegory. The werewolf in the man is the sin nature, the old self that must die. The imagery may be from horror movies, but the idea is Christian.

Night of the Living Dead Christian is also, as the title suggests, a satire. It’s actually a very funny book. Mikalatos makes fodder of much in our culture – the foibles of American churches, robots, mad scientists, monsters.

It is also a dressed-up theology book. The novel is a search for our healing, but the answer is not given as allegorically as the question. A pastor could splice together a pretty good sermon from these pages. What is unique is that the target of the sermon is equally Christians and non-Christians. Matt Mikalatos asks what it means to be transformed by Christ, and how we can be – and it seems as much a challenge to believers as a lesson to unbelievers.

I will dock points for this statement: “Hitler was firmly opposed to atheism. He claimed to be a Christian.”

In truth, Adolf Hitler disdained Christianity. His belief that the races were in a struggle was based on Darwin’s theory of evolution. That’s what all the talk about the great Aryan race was about: They were the fit to the unfit, and the triumph of the Aryan race over the Jewish race was the survival of the fittest. The truth of Hitler’s bloody philosophy has been too obscured. I fear that Night obscures it more.

I will also dock points for a small inconsistency. Matt is clearly portrayed as being knowledgeable about Christianity. He quotes Scripture from memory and casually uses the hefty, overwrought word transubstantiation. But somehow, he doesn’t know the story of the rich young ruler. Stranger yet, he fails to recognize the beginning of an exchange between Christ and a Pharisee – and then quotes the end of it.

Still, Night of the Living Dead Christian has many points left. It gives you much to laugh about and even more to think about. The characters, though generally strange, are generally likable, and thoroughly entertaining. Despite its comedic side, the story engages humanity’s deepest needs with great urgency and emotion. Not often do novels show so vividly that we must be transformed, and that we can be. Night of the Living Dead Christian challenges, teaches, comforts, and entertains. Try it and see.

Now – you knew it was coming – here are the links.

the author’s site;

the book’s Amazon page (buy it there!);

and the blog tour links:
Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Theresa Dunlap
Amber French
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan

Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White
Dave Wilson

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