Recently, I had the great opportunity to interview author, Matt Mikalatos. Mikalatos is the author of Imaginary Jesus. His sophomore novel, Night of the Living Dead Christian was released in 2011 with Tyndale House Publishers. You can find out more about Matt at his website.
1. What inspired you to write Night of the Living Dead Christian?
A friend of mine yelled at me for a perceived issue between us, and I got pretty mad at him. While he was yelling at me I started thinking, “This guy is just like a mad scientist… he thinks he knows what is best for everyone else, and he’s going to give it to them whether they want it or not. But he doesn’t realize he’s making a monster.” Which led me, eventually, to the thought, “What kind of monster does that make me?” At the same time, I was thinking a lot about two things the Bible says about human beings. One, that we are all sinful, broken creatures. Two, that we are all made in the image of God. I wondered how those two things interacted in us, and that question became a major theme of the book: Can we stop being monsters and become truly human?
2. How was writing Night of the Living Dead Christian different than writing your novel, Imaginary Jesus?
Large portions of Imaginary Jesus, including the central emotional issue as well as the main plot, were biographical. So when I didn’t know where to go in the story, I only needed to think back on my experience and figure out how to best translate that to the plot. With Night of the Living Dead Christian, the plot isn’t driven by my own biography and, in fact, I’m the narrator, not the main character. So when I got “stuck” I couldn’t rely on my past, I had to write my way out. Also… Imaginary Jesus was written without a contract, never knowing if it would be published. With Night of the LIving Dead Christian, I had signed a contract to turn it in at a certain time… so there was a deadline! That introduced a bit of stress when I was stuck or didn’t feel like writing!
3. Why did you decide to make one of the characters yourself?
Since I was the main character in the first book, I thought it would be fun to have a loose sequel (you don’t have to read Imaginary Jesus to know what is going on in Night of the Living Dead Christian). For those who have read the first book, there are a couple of little jokes about the first book, but nothing major. But I started writing with the assumption that I would be the main character again, but it didn’t work, so I shifted me over to narrator. With the first book, I took several cues from Dante’s Divine Comedy, where he is the main character, he has a guide of sorts and the “plot” is largely episodic. I didn’t want to throw that all away in the second book.
4. Why did you choose to portray the tale of spiritual transformation through monsters?
Monsters are the perfect metaphor for us as broken human beings. There are unthinking people who do damage to others trying to convert them to their own viewpoint, like zombies. There are people wrestling to control their animalistic impulses, like a werewolf, and there are selfish people who think only of themselves, like vampires. I liked the idea of exploring the theme of monsters looking for redemption… a werewolf wishing he didn’t harm the people around them, a vampire trying to be human, zombies who are only zombies until they realize that they are zombies. Also, I thought it would be funny to write some scenes with a werewolf in church.
5. How has your life changed since becoming a published author?
I get wonderful fan mail from strangers, asking spiritual questions, which I love. I haven’t had a lot of “famous” moments, probably because most authors are unrecognizable on the street. I do get asked pretty often what it’s like to be compared to C.S. Lewis, and the answer is that mostly I feel embarrassed because I think that might be a bit generous. I’ve met lots of amazing people through the book, and I love that as an author I can pretty easily interact with other authors whose work I love. It’s amazing to write a note to another author and realize they will probably write me back because I’m another professional! Much of the rest of life is the same, though… I still have a full time job, I still struggle to balance work and family and writing, I still work hard to carve out writing time. Oh, one other thing that has changed is that when I walk in a bookstore I have this neurotic desire to go stare at my book if they have it. If they don’t have it, I work hard not to take it personally. Or I say to myself, “I’m sure they sold out!”
6. What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
Read the best books you can find. Spend your time writing, not obsessing about what your book cover will look like one day when it’s finished and you find an agent and a publisher and so on. Also, the more stories or articles you can get published, it shows agents and publishers that you are a professional. Start at the bottom with places that don’t pay anything and start working your way up to the professional level outlets. You also might find it helpful to find an author who you think is at or just below your level who has been published. Look at where they have been published, and go submit to those places. But most of all, keep writing.
7. What is your favorite thing about writing?
I honestly love the escapism of writing. On my best writing days, when I am writing the whole world around me goes quiet and I forget all about the stresses and worries of today and enter into the troubles of my fictional world. It’s strangely relaxing and wonderful. And now that I’m consistently publishing, I know that someone else is going to enter that world and experience what I’ve left for them there, and the thought of having these sort of virtual conversations with others is really rewarding.
8. What do you hope readers will take away from Night of the Living Dead Christian?
In the perfect reading experience, my reader would laugh so hard her stomach hurt, have surprisingly profound insights into herself and walk away having enjoyed herself but also grown in her knowledge of herself and God. And, I think she would walk away filled with hope that through Jesus she can find true transformation.
Check out Matt’s most recent novel, Night of the Living Dead Christian, available now!
From Amazon: In his follow-up to the critically acclaimed Imaginary Jesus, Matt Mikalatos tackles this question in an entertaining and thought-provoking way—with MONSTERS!!! While Christians claim to experience Christ’s resurrection power, we sometimes act like werewolves who can’t control our base desires. Or zombies, experiencing a resurrection that is 90 percent shambling death and 10 percent life. Or vampires, satiating ourselves at the expense of others. But through it all we long to stop being monsters and become truly human—the way Christ intended. We just can’t seem to figure out how.
Night of the Living Dead Christian is the story of Luther, a werewolf on the run, whose inner beast has driven him dangerously close to losing everything that matters. Desperate to conquer his dark side, Luther joins forces with Matt to find someone who can help. Yet their time is running out. A powerful and mysterious man is on their trail, determined to kill the wolf at all costs . . .
By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Night of the Living Dead Christian is a spiritual allegory that boldly explores the monstrous underpinnings of our nature and tackles head-on the question of how we can ever hope to become truly transformed.