The Big Idea: Matt Mikalatos

Zombies and vampires and werewolves are all fantasy creatures — but there are times when you look around at the people in the world and think to yourself, hmmmm. Author Matt Mikalatos knows a bit about that, as his new, humorously theological, novel Night of the Living Dead Christian has its genesis in the real world, and with real people… including the author himself.


Many people look at Christians, especially conservative Christians, and think, “Zombies.” Sure, they get to live forever, but it’s not like they’re sparkling conversationalists. And there’s this weird, overpowering urge they have to convert people into creatures like them. Immortality can be yours at the low, low cost of … your brains. Mmmmm, brains.

My Big Idea came while I was being yelled at by one of my co-workers. I happen to work at a Christian non-profit, and believe it or not, this happens pretty often. His wild, unkempt hair and his predilection for furious, grandiose monologues jarred me out of the conversation with the realization that my co-worker was a mad scientist. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head, and I found myself completely detached from the conversation, watching the guy and wondering what was in his basement laboratory.

I started looking around and realized this woman who lives across the street from me, my good friend, had every sign of being a vampire. She was selfish and a night owl and sometimes she looked at my neck like it was a straw.

Then there was this guy who didn’t celebrate Halloween, which was suspicious by itself. Add the fact that he put up a “No Halloween Here, Happy Reformation Day!” sign in his yard, and I had to think he was trying to prove there weren’t any monsters in his house. Also, every kid in town suspected he was a jerk. I know you think I’m exaggerating, but here’s a picture.

There were so many monsters around me that I was afraid to look in the mirror. Frankly, in my life, I can’t always stop myself from doing things I shouldn’t do, even don’t want to do on some level. I can barely keep myself from punching my co-worker in the nose. I want to be changed, I want to be someone better than who I am, but in certain areas of my life that proves elusive.

The conflict for me came from two opposite Christian theological statements. One, all human beings are sinners. Evil. Messed up. Depraved. Two, all human beings are made in the image of God. Sacred. Holy. We have, in some way, to some degree, the attributes of God.

So, while a lot of theological works focus on answers, my book is more about the questions. Can human beings experience true transformation? Can we become something more than monsters? Is there a way to achieve a society without rape, injustice, violence, war, poverty and abuse? If so, is spirituality part of the answer, part of the problem or completely irrelevant? As Thomas Jefferson said, “We are afraid of the known and afraid of the unknown. That is our daily life, and in that there is no hope, and therefore every form of philosophy, every form of theological concept, is merely an escape from the actual reality of what is. All outward forms of change brought about by wars, revolutions, reformations, laws and ideologies have failed completely to change the basic nature of man and therefore of society.” I wanted to explore whether we can change our basic nature.

I’m also of the opinion that theology, by definition, should be interesting. Your biggest risk in reading about God should not be a forty pound book smashing your face when you fall asleep reading it. Which brings us to my book, Night of the Living Dead Christian. It’s a comedy theology novel, and believe me when I say there aren’t a big heap of other books like it.

The story revolves around Luther, a man who struggles with anger and violent urges, who can’t control his base nature when he transforms into a wolf. His lycanthropy is having, as you can imagine, a detrimental effect on his marriage. His wife has finally, wisely, taken their daughter and moved out, and Luther realizes that he’s going to need to work harder to find a solution to his problem. He has tried self-discipline and psychologists and a hundred other solutions, none of which worked. And now there’s a werewolf hunter determined to kill him, so the question has become one not only of saving his marriage, but of saving his life. Luther teams up with a mad scientist, an android, a vampire and the local constable of the neighborhood watch to find some answers. And their first step is something more terrifying than he ever imagined possible… going to church.

Of course, unbeknownst to him, the first church they pick is a zombie congregation. Zombies versus werewolves! Things on fire! A robot Jesus! Psychologists! Pet zombies! Lutherans! Secret Lairs! Theology! Ice cream! At the heart of things, the book is about humanity, our desire to better ourselves and whether that’s truly possible.

I don’t know that I found a complete answer, but I had a lot of fun exploring the question.


Night of the Living Dead Christian: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt at Google Books. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

27 Comments on “The Big Idea: Matt Mikalatos”

  1. I’m considering it – I’m a big fan of Christopher Moore’s Lamb. But Matt’s prior book, Imaginary Jesus sounds more like Christian Apologetica wrapped in post-modern irony, which isn’t my bag.

  2. So I downloaded the excerpt – is it normal that the ‘excerpt’ is nothing but the approval blurbs, cover image, and author’s dedication?

  3. See, this is the kind of allegory Jesus should have considered. Although, maybe they didn’t have werewolves in their mythology stories then. Still, if you want to get people in the seats, a good monster story works every time.
    The fishes and loaves thing is illustrative, but it doesn’t have the same interest.

  4. “I wanted to explore whether we can change our basic nature.”

    sure we can. the usual reason that we dont is that its because we have to acknowledge something about ourselves we dont like. Sometimes it comes down to having to forgive someone else but we dont want to give up the righteousness being victim gives us.

    The thing is that we are the way we are because we get something out of it. Sometimes we are protecting ourselves from something that happened decades ago. sometimes we like being righteous.. Someone who is overweight might like overeating because it fills a n emotional void. The thing that needs to happen for transformation is that person has to see something more is possible if they give up the small positive of like overeating and see the potential that would be available once they heal that void and food is no longer needed to fill it and numb it. some people overeat because the weight is like a form of ‘protection’ against the world. telling them to ‘eat right and exercise’ without addressing whatever it is they are protecting themselves *against* will likely not cause lasting transformation. yoyo dieting ican be the result of trying to lose weight without transforming the underlying issue that caused them to gain eeight in the first place.
    lasting transformation is possible. the thing is it usually requires a level of introspection and self evaluation that people arent comfortable with.

  5. idiosynchronic is correct. Imagine my frustration when the “book excerpt” turned out to be page after page of praise for his previous novel, without actually letting me read any of his current novel! I’m an atheist, and his current work of fiction sounds like something I could really enjoy (strange as that may seem), but I’ll never know it from the “book excerpt”.

  6. itsathought @10:44,
    There are plenty of people converted to wolves in classical mythology, and there’s a werewolf story by Petronius written within decades of Jesus’ lifetime. No excuses for Jesus there. Though he did kill a couple hundred demonic pigs, so that’s something!

  7. Sounds fantastic, I’ll check it out. If Matt is reading this, did you get any criticism from your friends on writing an unconventional book about religion?

  8. I will be sure to check your novel out sir.

    Seeing the Mallet welded in the thread, as I suspected it would be whenever the topic of religion is brought up, I was wondering if Mr. John could consider writing a column on the articles that featured the most “Malleting.”

  9. Michael Langlois @ 12:58

    I haven’t gotten any real criticism from my friends, but they know me well enough to know my point of view. I will say, as Jerry @3:09 mentioned, that the mention of religion in general seems to make people think they have the right to set up their freak flags on your front lawn. I’ve had angry emails from strangers, certainly. Also… a guy claiming to be Jesus wrote me, but that’s a whole other story.

    3 common issues from the Christians who don’t like how I deal with theology in my novels:

    1. “I don’t get it.” They genuinely don’t understand what is going on. Is this pro-Jesus or anti-Jesus or what?

    2. “Could you write me an essay?” In the absence of obvious, point by point, essay style theology, some readers are unable to discern what is being said. And since I shy away from outright didacticism in my fiction, this can be an issue. These are also the folks who generally don’t like that the books are designed more to wrestle with questions than provide answers….

    3. “Making fun of Christians = making fun of Jesus.” Which is obviously not true. I’m pretty sure Jesus is making fun of some Christians right now. In a really loving way.

    I get completely different mail from people who aren’t Christians, but those are the issues that seem to come up most from the more religious readers.

  10. This sounded like an entertaining and thought provoking book, so I bought it, and found that the previous book was on offer for free as a download and B&N, so I felt like I got a twofer. I very much enjoy books that offer questions and don’t presume to have the answers, so this will be right up my alley.

  11. Rob — I had never heard of Matt Ruff until this exact moment. Bad Monkeys looks awesome. Is that where I should start? Which of his books is your favorite?

  12. “Also… a guy claiming to be Jesus wrote me, but that’s a whole other story.”

    And potentially a whole new book. :)

  13. Re: Matt Ruff — Haven’t got to Bad Monkeys yet but Sewer Gas and Electric is wonderful (Ayn Rand’s in it, kind of) and I liked Set This House in Order a lot.

  14. All of the above are great books. If you can find a copy, “Fool on the Hill” is fantastic. Some of what you write/describe above reminds me of similar threads in Ruff’s novel. Good luck to you, I look forward to reading your novel.

  15. Have you guys seen the write up for Ruff’s new one coming out in 2012? It looks pretty great, also. Thanks for the introduction, I’m looking forward to reading his stuff.

  16. For fans of fun, whimsical theological writing, I massively recommend Doug TenNapel’s graphic novel “Creature Tech.” Giant space eels, demon cats, a ghost vampire mad scientist, aliens, and a handful of questions about Jesus. Completely enjoyable.

  17. I love the premise. I am a fan of the philosophy of Jesus, even if most of his fans give me a rash. Will have to read the book!

  18. @andrew Hamm I love Creature Tech. It’s a great, great graphic novel.

    @stephanie harper Drop me a line after you read the book, would love to hear your thoughts. Sorry about the rash. Ha ha.

  19. You had me at ‘comedy theology’. This one goes on the reading list with a ‘high priority’ star beside it.

  20. I dont know if I’ll check out the book but the cover art increases the odds. I was snickering at it and I dont even understand what its trying to say.

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