The Pitt News recently published a feature article on Amidst Traffic. Quinn Keaney, the journalist, did a great job articulating my intent for the book and adding a good amount of context and personality to the piece.
Story after the break…
Pitt grad applies degree to find religious connections in book
Over the course of a single day, countless tiny connections are made between people as they make their way through their respective daily routines. Commuters bump into each other on the way to work, drivers cut each other off in traffic, and the simplest “hello” can change someone’s entire life.
For most people, these moments pass by meaninglessly, ephemeral blips on the path to something more important. For award-winning Army journalist, author and Pitt graduate Michel Sauret, they were enough to inspire an entire novel.
“Amidst Traffic” is a collection of 22 interconnected, faith-driven short stories, each featuring an average “nobody” whose decisions and lifestyle briefly affect the lives of others.
“The title of my book is a metaphor in the way that we live our lives in the midst of traffic, in the blur of other people moving all around us,” Sauret, 27, said. “Sometimes we don’t realize just how connected we are to them.”
From a man digging a hole in his backyard to a woman who covers herself in tattoos because she can’t remember anything, the web of stories featured in his book is vast and varied. Each story, most of which were written while he attended Pitt, can stand on its own to the point where some have been previously published in national and international journals and collections such as Brand magazine and Best New Writing 2008. Sauret manages to weave the individual tales together with the underlying theme of theology.
“One of my favorite stories from the collection is ‘The Staring Game,’ about a man who decides to start staring at people to get a feel for how it is to play God — to watch them and judge them,” he said. “People tend to get uncomfortable when someone’s staring at them, but that’s what God does, observes us all day long. A lot of times, that’s why people don’t like the idea of him — they don’t want to be watched or judged at all.”
While attending Pitt as an English major, Sauret read books in class such as “City of Glass,” “The Stranger” and “White Noise,” all of which deal with existentialist ideas. Nowhere did he find an assigned novel that put Christian themes in a positive light, so he set out to create one himself that would inspire intelligent conversations between believers and non-believers without ramming ideas down anyone’s throat.
“All of those novels have such great, rich literary prose, but at the end of the day, all they teach their reader is that life is essentially meaningless,” he said. “I’m baffled by an author’s desire to write an entire novel for that reason, and I see it as completely counterintuitive and counterproductive.”
Sauret’s foray into the Christian literary world is a homegrown effort — he decided to publish “Amidst Traffic” without the help of a large commercial publishing house. Aided by his sister, publicist Marta Sauret; his friend, editor Michael O’Brien, and his photography company, One Way Street Production, he was able to produce the content, cover art and promotion with little commercial assistance.
“It’s funny, because Michel has always been the way he is,” Marta Sauret said. “He has always been dedicated, driven, insanely organized, and just a non-stop hard worker with whatever project he puts his mind to.”
Born in Rome, Sauret moved with his family to Pittsburgh when he was 10 years old, and even when they later moved to Texas, he knew Pittsburgh was the ultimate place for him. His collegiate fate was sealed when he received his acceptance letter to Pitt during basic training for the Army.
His time in the military, including a deployment to Iraq in 2008, prolonged his education time beyond the typical four-year student period, but the extended time allowed Sauret to pick up stories and inspiration for “Amidst Traffic,” as well as an award for Army Journalist of the Year.
Publishing a book is a difficult task, and Sauret credits his bravery entirely to the experiences he had with Pitt’s English program.
“After serving, Pitt really invigorated me to want to go back to writing,” Sauret said. “The quality of the writing department and the caliber of the professors there is something that sometimes doesn’t get the credit it truly deserves.”
Thanks to a non-traditional background that allowed him to see the world and an unbelievably positive experience at Pitt, Sauret has enough material to last him into his next stab at a novel, called “Jump.” The novel is about a boy who grows up in a fundamentalist Christian home, attends the University of Pittsburgh and then goes on a journey of faith.
For now, “Amidst Traffic” is his No. 1 priority and continues to offer a positive message to readers.
“I think, if anything, the reader should walk away with this lesson: Dwell in and appreciate the moment,” O’Brien said. “The book is filled with them.”