1. Q: Tell me about your new book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
“Amidst Traffic” is a collection of interconnected short stories. Most recently it won the International Book Awards in its category and placed as a finalist twice in two other major independent publishing book awards.
The stories are darker in tone (you have a woman tattooing scribbles all over her body, a man digging a hole just to escape nightmares and people who hear voices or see visions of the future). In it of themselves, each story is intended to feel a little chaotic and unsettling. But as they come together, the reader can see connections not only in themes but between storylines and characters. The book aims to represent how chaotic and twisted life can seem when we look at it at a microcosmic level (in the moment). But if we had the ability to step back and look at the greater picture, there’s a sense of order and purpose that exists beyond the chaos. Many of the stories intentionally tackle Christian themes, but none of the stories come across as “conversion stories” or “preachy.”
I wrote the stories over a four-plus year span, but I didn’t get the idea of reworking them to have all of the connections form until mid last year.
2. Q: Who is your target audience?
It’s tough to say because the main genre for this collection is definitely literary, so I want to appeal to a college-type audience or readers who aren’t afraid to use stories as an opportunity to think. But at the same time, because of the themes that drive a lot of the stories forward, I could see Christians who consider themselves intellectual really loving this collection.
3. Q: How did you get interested in writing books?
I first wrote one of the stories in this collection when I was 16 years old. Years later, I realized how terrible it was and I practically rewrote the entire thing. I got into writing in high school because we had to do a book report on a chosen author. I picked Stephen King, and I was surprised by how alive his stories are and how believable his characters are. It blew my mind that I could feel such strong emotions over fiction, so I fell in love with the spell of it and I thought that I might give it a shot myself. I wrote my first novel by the time I graduate high school and then published it about a year or two later.
4. Q: What kind of research did you do for this book?
“Amidst Traffic” wasn’t born so much out of research as it was born out of a response to existentialism. In college, we read a lot of contemporary literature that revolved around existential philosophy, and I found the idea to be such a fraud. I found it so ironic that all these brilliant authors wasted portions of their lives to create beautifully-written novels only to reveal a message of meaninglessness. I found that movement so self-destructive. So I wanted to respond with a collection where meaning exists beyond the boundaries of the pages. Meaning exists beyond the presence of a single story. Meaning exists beyond our egotistical selves and our individual experiences. That’s really what Amidst Traffic is about.
5. Q: What's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
I usually write in huge chunks, just like I eat my meals. Lately, when I set myself to write a new short story, I explode with 3,000 words almost all in one sitting. Then I walk away. When I set my goal to finish and publish “Amidst Traffic” I could only dedicate one day out of the week to writing, so every Tuesday night I pushed through as much as I could and still finished the book two months ahead of schedule. But my challenge is that I do too many things right now. I work full time for the Army, I have a wife, a two-year-old baby and a photography business. Plus we are moving to Chicago in a few months so writing has been almost non-existent lately. But I’m not afraid because I know myself. I know that once I set myself on schedule again, I’ll persevere and complete my next novel without problems.
6. Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?
I really have to be in the midst of writing to think about my story. When I walk away, I have a hard time developing plot ideas or characters or even dialogue. Once in a while, a bit of inspiration will appear out of nowhere while I’m not writing, but usually I have to immerse myself and I become pretty antisocial. I don’t really get bothered by “writer’s block” because I’m always doing something. If I have to take a break from writing because my mind isn’t in it, I’ll find something useful to do instead.
7. Q: What’s the best thing about being an author?
There really isn’t anything good about being an author other than the false allure. We like to pretend we are these clever magicians with mystical power of words and invention, that we can change worlds (or at least create them) … but really we’re just delusional. Think about it. What other profession allows people to create lies, perfect them, believe in them and convince others that they are real. Plus we are constantly looking for attention, praise, justification of our worth. Authors are pretty odd creatures. But we love what we do. We just love it. So even though we are constantly seeking glamour and praise, in reality we start this profession called writing because the desire is inside of us and we want to express it.
8. Q: What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a Christian novel called “Jump.” It’s a bit inspired by John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” and written as a desire to explore modern Christianity and man’s perversion of it. We have so many denominations and so many contradictions of practice in today’s Christianity that I wanted to take a novel’s approach to that question and create a character who would go on a journey of faith. This novel scares me because it’s going to force me to do some serious biblical research and soul searching and additionally it’s going to require me to call out “false” Christianity in our modern world. And who am I to do that? I don’t even have a seminary degree. So hopefully if this novel turns into a Goliath, God will provide me with more than a slingshot to bring it down.
9. Q: What advice would you give to aspiring young writers?
Stop. Now. While you’re ahead. Find something else. Don’t do this terrible thing called, “Becoming an Author.” No, no, I’m kidding. I say if you want to be a writer, do it because you have a personal desire. Do it even if you had NOBODY read anything you wrote ever. Do it and pretend like there’s never going to be any money or praise in it at all (which is mostly true). If you still want to write out of internal desire and not out of some false external idea, then push through. Learn quality writing and don’t settle for cheap sentences. Write every sentence like you had to fight an editor for it. Don’t muddle through a scene. And don’t be lazy. There’s nothing wrong than a lazy writer. Man, I’m starting to sound pretty nasty right now. That’s what writing can do for you kids!
10. Q: Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
My favorite short story author is Richard Bausch, though I haven’t read much of his stuff in a few years. I’m trying to explore and discover as many independent authors as possible at this time. My favorite novelist is Cormac McCarthy. He writes so simply and yet every word he puts to paper carries such weight and emotion and complexity. It’s an amazing experience to read his work.
11. Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
In 2008 I deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army public affairs as an Army journalist and got to cover stories of all kinds about Soldiers working overseas to rebuild a country in the midst of war. For that work, I received the Army Journalist of the Year award and received a coin by Honorable Pete Geren, who was the Secretary of the Army at the time.
Telling the stories of Soldiers is always a very emotional and touching subject for me. Every time I see Soldiers being welcomed home or returning to their families after a long deployment, I feel it in my heart. I know how it is, and I feel like I’m reconnecting with my own family, my fellow citizens every time.
To get recognized and awarded as a journalist for telling their stories for a year is always really touching when I think about it.
12. Q: If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
Right now I actually have a short memoir out titled “Child, Hold Me” which revisits the loss of a baby my wife and I experienced when we were dating in college. The book is intended to give a male, compassionate perspective to the topic of miscarriage, pregnancy and even abortion. It’s tough to expose your real life events so openly to the world and publish it for people to read. I don’t think I could ever write a full-length memoir about my life. There’s too many sins that I wouldn’t want anyone but God to know about.
I would like to thank Michel for taking the time to do this interview. If you would like to learn more about Michel Sauret and his books, visit his official website, check out his books on Amazon, and follow him on Facebook.
Casey Sean Harmon