Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Role of Monkeys in This, Our World

Let's be honest, we've known for a long time that the monkeys are a problem.  Maybe not a problem on the same scale as, say, the sharks, but when it comes to animals on the earth which are likely to try to take over and remove us from the top of the food chain, monkeys are on the top ten list, somewhere between kittens and werewolves.

Look how the monkey corrupted this poor guy with the eye patch.
It's because of our history.  We know that monkeys might look cute, but are often Nazis, like in Raiders of the Lost Ark (spoiler alert).

We know that monkeys sometimes run into a town and beat everyone up and steal the liquor. We know that so-called ninja monkeys sometimes fight the hand that trains them.  We know that monkeys sneak into kitchens and steal food and shiny objects.  Monkeys, in brief, are big trouble.

But our clever friends in India have come up with a solution to the world's monkey problem: USE MONKEYS TO FIGHT THE MONKEYS!  I am amazed by the ingenuity.  Stay tuned and I will look for video of a monkey vs. monkey smack down. 

In the meantime, I would appreciate it if someone would train some sharks to eat some other sharks.  Gracias.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Books in my mailbox (now and later)

Two recent arrivals in the Mikalatos mailbox (C'mon people, I can't read them all at once.  I do have comic books to read, too, ya know):

The FaithfulAuthor Jonathan Weyer sent me a sneak preview of his supernatural murder mystery, THE FAITHFUL, in which a pastor wracked with spiritual doubts is catapulted into an investigation of his former fiancee's suspicious death.  I am promised that there are evil societies, cults, creatures of the night and ghosts.   

City on Our KneesAlso in the mailbox thanks to Bethany House books is City On Our Knees by TobyMac.  This book is about Christians from different walks of life, cultures and theological backgrounds setting aside their differences to come together in unity and pray, and make a difference in the world.  I haven't read any of this yet, but I can say that I really like the design of the book cover.  It has see through letters on the jacket that reveal the color and art underneath it.  Pretty snazzy.

Thanks for the books, Jonathan and Bethany House!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I should probably buy some of these

I'm getting too many people asking me to fly them around. "Oh, Matt, I've always wanted to fly!  Couldn't we just go up above the clouds."  And then they're like, "Oh, it's too cold!" 

At least it's not as creepy as the people who want to shoot me with guns so they can see the bullets bounce off.

Anyway, I thought you might all enjoy the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, where you can find all your superhero needs.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The best Christian "Men's Book" I've ever read

I've read my share of men's books.  They've been assigned for homework, handed to me by friends, agreed upon by small groups.

I've never found them useful. I'm sure this is my problem as much as the books', which other people have found enlightening or helpful.  I couldn't help feeling that the books either reduced Jesus to the "paragon of manhood" or became a defense of John Wayne style American manliness.  I've shared my thoughts on this topic elsewhere.

Bond of Brothers is different.  This is the first men's book I've read that takes Christ, scripture and the need for a transformed life as a Christian man seriously. As I read the book I started thinking of all the people I would want to give it to, and it quickly became a list of every Christian guy I know.  I found it really helpful, insightful, convicting and full of wisdom.

I'll mention here, too, that the author is my friend as well as my literary agent.  I've been impressed with his integrity, his character, his care for others, his focus on Christ and his humility.  He's someone I am glad to learn from, and he's someone whose life I would gladly imitate in pursuit of a life like Christ's.  So I'd encourage you to buy a copy for yourself, your father, your son or any other man in your life.

I'd also like to say that it rained this morning, and I did just a little bit of work and did you catch today's game?

UPDATE: Wes called me this evening and mentioned that the Bond of Brothers website is up and running!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eavesdropping with Matt (Episode Forty-Seven: Thai Me A River)

Dedicated to the family gathered at Dok Koon Thai at the round table to our left, who had so many hilarious antics while deciding what to order (WHAT?! NO SUSHI? AND NO SAKI?) that I had to choose this, my favorite excerpt.

Waiter: What can I get you?

Mom: Some pad thai.

Waiter: How spicy?

Mom: Medium. Also some Rad Na.

Waiter: How spicy?

Mom: Medium.  We would also like some... hmmm... Spicy Pork.

Waiter: How spicy?

Mom: Mild.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

BOOKS I LOVE: Win a copy of The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure  "Wait a minute... wait a minute... is this a kissing book?"

I am going to give away a copy of The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  I love this book.  Not enough to marry it and be committed to it above all other books, but enough to have consistent, loving and respectful flings together.

You also will love it, unless you are an uncultured Philistine, in which case you will probably only mildly adore it.

Over the next few months I'm going to occasionally give away a couple of my favorite books.  As an author, it's hard not to be influenced by the books you love when you write your own books, and I thought it would be fun to share a couple of the similarities between Imaginary Jesus and the books I want to gather into a big pile and cuddle with.

Here are a couple ways that The Princess Bride and Imaginary Jesus are similar:

1) They're both light-hearted comedies.  Granted, one is about true love, giants and fencing, and the other is about punching a fake Jesus out and chasing it through time and space, but the fact is they're both meant to be goofy, enjoyable books.

2) The author appears as himself.  In The Princess Bride, William Goldman discovers that one of his favorite books from his childhood was actually heavily edited by his father to make it palatable for children, and he sets out to make his own "good parts version" of the book.  In Imaginary Jesus, Matt Mikalatos is both narrator and main character as he sets out on a quest to find an answer to why God has allowed suffering in his family.

3) Both books deal with serious topics in the midst of the craziness.  Underneath all the wackiness, Princess Bride deals with love... True Love in romantic situations as well as the love between parents and their children.  Beyond the talking animals, time travel and legion of Jesuses, Imaginary Jesus looks at the way we make decisions about religion, spirituality and our desire to be connected to God.

4) Both books will make you laugh so hard that you break all the furniture in your house.  Or, if you are a more serious sort, they will make you guffaw in public places.  This is not an unconditional guarantee, and the authors are not responsible for any damage to your furniture or social shame brought on by your public displays of mirth.

HOW DO I ENTER, you ask?

Easy.

1) Link to this post from your blog, twitter or facebook.

2) Leave a comment on this post telling me you've linked it up.

3) I will send a note to the winner on September 29th.  Don't worry, I'll do it using the power of the random number generator.

4) Yes, multiple links will give you multiple entries.  Enter as much as you like.

5) Your chances to win increase with every line from The Princess Bride you quote in the comments section of this post.  Because the random number generator loves that movie.

 And now for the small print: If anything about this contest is illegal or opens me up to lawsuits where you live, please do not tell your authorities or lawyers about it.  Because that will void this contest in your area.  And that would be sad.

UPDATE (9/28): We have a winner!  Congrats to Rahma Krambo!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to Make a Point Without Being Preachy (with examples)

Some of you may be coming in today because of my guest post at Rachelle's blog (if you haven't seen it, here's a link).  In any case, welcome. 

I promised over at Rachelle's blog that would I share a few more thoughts about how to make a point without being preachy in your fiction.  I'll use the same points I shared over there and expand on them with some examples and a couple of notes on how I tried to do this in my own book.

1) If it doesn’t advance character or plot, ditch it.


It’s easy to have your hero make an impassioned speech like, “All intelligent people agree with me all the time because I am a big smarty. And I want to tell you that there are giant alligators in the sewers because people do not get rid of their unwanted pets correctly.” But what if I, the reader, do not agree with you or your hero? You are preaching to me. And insulting me by saying I am dumb. Now, if there is some character reason for this (our hero talks about alligators in the sewer so often that he annoys everyone around him) or plot (our hero is going to be sent on a mission into the sewers of New York City) then so be it. But If you can delete the speech without damaging the plot and without major damage to the character development, you need to toss it.

This was a painful process for me in Imaginary Jesus. When I turned the book in to my (beloved) publisher, my editors told me the book needed to be 33% shorter. Cutting my book by a third was painful. I used these questions when slicing away my sweet, wonderful words: Does it advance the character? Does it advance the plot? (And, because the book is satire I added the questions: Is it funny? Is it true?) I lost some hilarious moments in the book, but they weren’t key to the plot. I lost some good, interesting speeches. But they weren’t really key to the book. It hurt, but it made the book better.

2) Have worthy opponents.

Too many preachy novels have this scene:

Hero: If we flush pet alligators down the toilet they will grow enormous in the sewer.

Eight year old boy who is a liar and somewhat stupid: Nuh-uh.

Hero: Actually, yes.

Eight year old boy: You have defeated me in a battle of wits!

This would be much better:

Professor Moriarty: There is insufficient biomass in the sewers for a full grown alligator. An alligator requires thirty pounds of meat a day. It simply cannot survive in the sewers, you ignorant, preachy hero.

Hero: Gasp! I do not have a sufficient comeback. But I am certain there are, indeed, alligators in the sewer.

Professor: If so, they are tiny, starved, dead ones.

You should provide better objections than your reader. Anytime your reader feels that you aren’t giving the other side of an argument they immediately think you are either preachy or manipulative.

In Imaginary Jesus, I cheated a little bit on this by making the main character (me) a bit of an idiot. The poor guy (me) loses arguments to dead Apostles, talking donkeys, atheists and even himself. Sometimes I didn’t agree with the winning arguments, but the story hopefully showed that in the end without the help of a big speech about it.

3) Don’t say what you mean.

Take the centuries-long debate, “are human beings basically good or evil?” You don’t have to tell us your position on this. Simply have an impoverished child walk into her friend’s house and suddenly realize that no one is home. On the table is a wallet. No one is around to see. What does the child do? Don’t tell us what you think about people, show us what people do in the story you are creating. Your worldview has already dictated what you believe that child will do in that situation. Stop lecturing us and get back to the story.

4) If you must make a speech, let the skeptic make it.

Imaginary Jesus explores the question of “who is Jesus, really?” But the main character doesn’t get many chances to make clear-headed speeches about this, he’s in crisis and trying to figure it out. In fact, the clearest presentation of the traditional Christian view of Jesus comes from an atheist in the book (and he doesn’t believe it).

5) Say one thing and do another.

Make it absolutely clear that there is no possible way that alligators are in the sewers of NYC. Workers have never seen them down there. The professor points out there’s not enough biomass. They have sent in exploratory robots and there’s no evidence of them. The narrator, the professor and everyone but the hero sees this. The reader agrees. But when the hero and the professor get down there they find one tiny reptilian scale. And the professor remarks that there are far, far more rats in the sewer system than he had been led to believe. And just as our hero picks up a tiny collar that says “Godzilla” on it, they hear a rumbling growl from behind them.

Probably the clearest example of this in my book comes from the identity of Jesus. There are a lot of fake Jesuses in the book, but the main character keeps acting like they’re real, even when he says he doesn’t believe in them. This advances the plot (where is the real Jesus?) and reveals character (he says the right thing but clearly believes the wrong thing).

That’s all I’ve got for today, but feel free to leave your questions and comments and I’ll answer them in the comments. Thanks for dropping by and have a great day!

Winners in the Imaginary Jesus contest!

My friends, if you haven't yet seen it, Tyndale has posted the winners in the Imaginary Jesus contest, including the essays of the eight highest ranked winners.  They are well worth your time, and I think you will particularly enjoy the essay by the grand prize winner, Deidre.

Deidre will be coming out to Portland this weekend with her husband to enjoy her lesser prizes (a Kindle, an iPod, a hundred dollars to spend at Powell's, travel to Portland and a night at a fancy hotel) as well as the GRAND PRIZE (getting to hang out with me and Krista for some amount of time between ten minutes and three hours.  We have a secret code word in case it gets awkward and we need to bail early (FLYING SEA MONKEYS is the code word), so we can do it without hurting anyone's feelings. 

Buuuuut, now that our previous contest it out of the way, it's time to do a new contest, don't you think?  And you guys have been whining and complaining that you can't always be expected to draw pictures and write stories to win your prizes.  So tomorrow I will put up a brand new contest that will require no special abilities on your part other than typing and an ability to surf the net.  And, because I am a lame libro-geek the prize will be a book.  That's right.  So tune in tomorrow and enter to WIN. 

In other news, I finally found a way to get rid of that dog poop that keeps mysteriously showing up in my yard.  It's called Park Spark, and it's a way to harvest the methane in dog poop to light lampposts in the city.  The only problem is that it's only in Boston.  So I will need one of you who lives in Boston to send me your address so I can ship you the dog poop.  Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This is what it means to be an adult

My kids told me the other day that they wished they were adults because adults get whatever they want. I pointed out that we didn't, as a matter of fact, get everything we want.  For instance, I said, I want some kids who aren't complaining all the time and who do as their parents say without crying.  My kids replied that they were thinking more along the lines of, "Adults get to play video games whenever they want and choose how much dessert they want to eat."  An excellent point.

My friend Dan sent along this comic about what it means to be an adult (from the excellent gentlemen at this site):

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

What my co-workers are up to when I leave the office before them

This last week I came into the office one morning to find a copy of the picture at left pasted up over my desk.  Yes, that's me with Cat Deeley.

Now, I thought all copies of this photo had been destroyed, but apparently my co-workers dug it up somewhere on the internet.

I'm still a little embarrassed by the shirt I wore that night.  It's not really my style.  If I could go back in time and wear something different I certainly would.

Anyway, just to beat you to all the questions you are asking in your mind, yes, Cat is a lovely person, she's fun to be with and her accent is real.

And if you are reading this right now, Cat, I ask that you forgive my friends for making this photo public.  They are well intentioned and friendly people who you would like, I'm sure.  I'll introduce you next time you are in town.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

My kids need a little more clarity about my job

Today was the first day of school for the kids, so we had a nice morning together as a family... we got up together and made breakfast and sat at the table and ate together.  Then we got ready and all walked the girls down to school.  I was telling them that I would be gone next week.  And, if you don't know this, it would be important to know that I work for Campus Crusade for Christ. I travel reasonably often (like next week) for work.

Me: I'll be gone next week.

Z: Gone!  Where will you be?

A: Z, you know that Dad has to go on his Crusades.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Link it up!

Here are some links sent to my by the intrepid BHR reporters:

1) ZOMBIES IN CUBA! Ay caramba!

2) GOATS ON A TRAIN! Samuel L. Jackson, feel free to contact me for the movie rights!

3) Are you fake? I think this has the makings of an excellent sitcom, especially if the Mill Rats get elected!

4) THIS JUST IN!  I am a white male and am not getting the expected privileges.  Dang it.  NYT Book Review, I am patiently awaiting your call to make this right.

5) IN OTHER NEWS I wear size 36 jeans.  Or do I?  It is a mystery.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Swimming in Volcanoes

Krista and I went to Crater Lake for our anniversary and we had a great time. We stayed in the least expensive of the lodge hotel rooms (the ones that look out on the parking lot... but we could see the lake if we walked down the hall to the elevators). Krista has put up a few pictures from our time here.

I wanted to share about how I went swimming in the caldera of the volcano. Crater Lake is the deepest lake (by the "mean depth" method) in North America, and the clearest lake in the world. It's amazing. It's filled completely by runoff from snow and rain, and there's a natural layer of gravel that somehow regulates the water so it never overflows the basin.

I was pretty excited to go swimming in the lake, because how often do you get to swim in a volcano?

And yes, it was cold.  Once I hit the water I couldn't breathe, and not just because I was under water.  There was hyperventilation involved in the short swim back to the dock.  And yes, I know you can tell from the picture that I have a thick pelt of fur that gives me an advantage over the average man in the arctic cold.  But still... brrr.  I loved it, though, it was really fun.  I convinced some kids who were hanging out on the dock to jump in, too.    

Friday, September 03, 2010

I hate ewoks but this guy loves them with an unrivaled passion

I was speaking in Chicago a couple weeks ago, and publicly declared (which created an unexpectedly large uproar) that I hated the ewoks.  I believe my exact words might have been, "Warrior teddy bears are cute and Return of the Jedi would have been a better movie if the Death Star had managed to blow up their planet before it was destroyed."

Then I saw this video on Marc's blog. This guy loves ewoks. And I have to admit that the surprise cameo in this video is pretty hard to argue with. Anyway, watch the video and you decide... are you an ewok lover or hater?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Update: Night of the Living Dead Christians

Several of you have asked for updates about how my second book is coming.  Well, it's written and is sitting on the desks of a bunch of editors at Tyndale right now.  They're debating who gets the painful chore of being my primary editor.  As they learned last time, my editor is likely to get panicked phone calls in the middle of the night where I shout, "WHO STOLE MY PUDDING?"  because of the fact that I talk in my sleep and keep my editors on speed dial.

It's your typical Christian literature, complete with zombies, vampires, mole men and werewolves, all bent on eating brains, sucking blood, digging holes and running over rooftops while being silhoetted against a full moon.

The basic theme of the book explores why Christians claim to have abundant, overflowing life, but so often live a disgusting half life, neither alive nor dead.  And of course the best way to explore this theme is through a comedy novel involving monsters. 

The book should come out in time for Halloween, 2011.  In the meantime, you can always buy another copy of Imaginary Jesus, or listen to the audio book (read by yours truly).

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Wonderful Wednesday: My Wife!

Today is my wife's birthday!  Happy birthday, Krista!

In honor of Krista's birthday I have painstakingly re-created the movie "Empire Strikes Back" starring her as Princess Leia and me as Han Solo.  You can make one yourself with a cast of your choosing!

Happy birthday, Krista!  I love you and am thankful for you.  I always dreamed of being married to a space princess, and you have lived up to those dreams!  I hope you have a great day!

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