Hope your week started off well! Two weeks ago was a publication date of Jump, the latest novel of Michel Sauret. I liked it so much, as you could read here, that I reached out to Michel and asked him for an interview. To my big joy he agreed and we spoke about Jump, Michel’s inspiration and much more.
Michel, you are well-known as army journalist. Do you think your experiences in Iraq have influenced your work as indie author?
Ha! I don’t know that I could say I’m well known. I doubt many journalists or writers outside of the Army have ever heard of me. But I can thankfully say that I’ve had a good bit of success and accomplishment in my Army writing career.
I’m very grateful for the opportunities the Army has given me to tell the stories of Soldiers, their lives and service to our country. Thankfully, however, the Army hasn’t really provided me with much inspiration or material in my personal/fiction writing. I say that because I believe most good stories are about tangible conflict, and the Army hasn’t brought that kind of trauma to my life.
From my deployment in Iraq, I wrote only two pieces. One was a short story called “Blessed are the War People,” which was a reflection on what it means to be blessed in our lives. The title is a play on Jesus’s sermon on the mount when he said “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The other piece inspired by Iraq was an essay titled “The General’s Backup Seat,” about the roles we play in our lives in our various job titles, pondering whether some lives are worth more than others because of the titles we hold.
I would actually say that my passion for writing fiction has influenced my Army writing more than the other way around. My creative writing studies at the University of Pittsburgh have allowed me to really see my Army journalism through questions about what matters in stories. The most important question we can ask in writing a story is, “What is at stake?” That’s a question my good fiction professor, Jeff Martin, taught me.
However, I will say the Army really given me a sense of drive and discipline, which are absolutely necessary as an indie author. Publishing an indie title requires hard work, perseverance, belief and – of course – quality. The Army has given me a lot of tools that are not necessarily beneficial to my writing style, but they were incredibly helpful in my dedication to publishing, overall.
In your latest book Jump, the main character is reflecting about God’s intentions, exploring his own doubts. Is faith something you struggled with?
I think any Christian will easily identify with the doubts, questions and sinful struggles that Christopher experiences. I think we (Christians) sometimes project this personality of unshakable auto-bot faithfulness, making other people think we believe and follow everything the Bible says without question, but in truth doubt is part of that faithful struggle. We are called to repent and believe. Usually, it’s our very desire for sin that makes it the most difficult to believe. Because we love sin – every one of us, Christians too – our doubts in God’s promises, call and commands, exist.
I would even argue that our doubts in God and the Bible are not primarily intellectual challenges. What I mean is that it’s not intellectualism that suddenly brings doubt to a person. Belief is always a matter of the heart first. It’s a moral battle that gravitates to the mind. The mind – for better or worse – follows the heart’s desire, and as a result we make intellectual arguments to defend what we believe or don’t believe. But if the heart is wicked, a wicked mind will follow, completely veiled in intellectual piety and false promises.
How much of the novel is autobiographical?
You know, very little of this book actually came from personal experiences in my life. There is a moment when Christopher goes to a priest for confession, and the whole scene is meant to reveal how contrived and inconsistent it is to confess sins to a man for absolution rather than going to God directly with a repentant heart. Yes, there are times when we must confess our sins to people, even to our pastors, but as David declares in Psalm 51, “against you, you only (God), have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.”
Actually a good bit of the book is based on stories that my friend, James, told me about his own journey of faith, but the majority of the novel is a fictional fabrication.
I was surprised by your criticism of some church communities. What means church to you personally?
I take on a Biblical understanding of Church (with a capital “C”). The Church is not a building or a sanctuary or a location where people gather and spend time in community. If that were the case, then any building could be called a church, even a bar. The Church is the body of Christ, meaning His people and followers around the world. We gather together in a church building not for our benefit, but for God’s glory.
Unfortunately, many congregational churches (little “c”) have failed in properly honoring God and his character to his people. The most obvious failures are church leaders who rob congregations of their money for shallow ambitions, such as building huge church buildings filled with sound systems that are more of a distraction from worship than they are tools to assist us in worship.
Yet, that’s not where most of the criticism is directed in Jump. The real damage churches are doing is when they’re not fully equipped with dealing with people’s hurts, so they offer cheap man-centered solutions to God-centered problems. The real Church admonishes one another in love to be faithful to God, and calls believers to forsake self for the sake of Christ.
You touched also Christian’s taboo of homosexuality. Should this issue be brought more to light, or what was the reason you’ve decided to include it in your novel?
This is a difficult point to answer without having a lengthy conversation in person, but let me address it the best I can here.
Let me begin by saying that I myself never struggled with homosexuality, but I have struggled with an addiction to pornography from an early age. I can’t recall exactly how old I was when I first watched a porn video, but I had to have been eight or nine years old.
When I was ten years old, my family moved from Italy to the United States, and I began watching porn when I was a boy still living in Rome. I was hooked from the beginning. So I use our move as a general reference point to determine my age when I first watched it. My addiction became even more increased when we finally got Internet in our home in Pittsburgh. I must have been twelve or thirteen by then.
At Pitt, I took an entire course on sexuality that focused on authors who explicitly talked about their homosexual lives, fully embracing it as part of their identity. In most of these books, the authors talked about how they became sure of their gay sexuality from an early age, usually as teenagers or younger.
Even though I can’t speak on homosexuality from a personal life experience, I see such a distinct connection between how deeply rooted our sexual desires are. I can say I “fell in love” with pornography as early as age eight or nine, but that doesn’t make me who I am. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to embrace my love pornography. In fact, pornography has time and time again destroyed my ability to think clearly about women, manhood and – most importantly – my relationship with God.
In Jump, I tried to take an allegorical approach. Here Christopher is not only addicted to pornography, but homosexual pornography. I wanted to tie the two into a single message. The sexual desires you have don’t make you who you are. In fact, most of the time, our sexual desires destroy us – gradually and painfully – from the inside out.
The idea of “sexual liberty” plays itself out in other aspects of the novel through various characters, to include a college scene where a young girl’s virginity is up for grabs over a game of beer pong. Our “sexual liberty” often enslaves us, ironically, and it turns us into objects of our own desire rather than subjects of God’s desire for us.
You were brought up as a believer. I wonder whether you think young people are going through similar stages regarding their faith, as Christopher does?
Even though I grew up in a Christian/Catholic home, I had spouts of sinful rebellion most of my youth, especially in high school and college. I would probably say that I became a believer in college, even though I grew up and was raised by two parents who love God.
I have met a few Christians friends who simply can’t point to a specific moment when they became believers. They grew up in pious, God-loving homes and have always believed. Sometimes, when my wife, Heather, and I share our life stories with them, they say they wish they could have had a “pre-Christ” life experience, so that they could have a better assurance of loving God now. In other words, they wish they had something to compare their lives against, in a sense.
When they say this, I have to laugh. I wish I had it the opposite. I wish I could look back in my life and not remember a time I didn’t love God deeply and faithfully. I wish I could look back in my life and never have been tempted by pornography. I wish I could look back and have never known the college drinking and sexual promiscuity I committed.
The reality is that we are all sinners (even Christians who have always loved God), and therefore we all battle with the question of faith and doubt in some matter or form. That’s why I think Jump really strikes a nerve with most readers.
What would you say to your readers or those, who are considering reading your novel?
This is a dark and raw book that doesn’t hold back on the reality of sexual sin, but I assure you it’s not overtly graphic. And it definitely doesn’t indulge in the pornographic or sexual materials it grapples with. In writing this novel, I battled with finding the right balance on how graphic the book should be and how much ought to be subdued, instead. I think, overall, the novel strikes just the right balance it needed in order to be effective in its ultimate redemptive goal.
Also, in spite of its very critical messages, I honestly believe most readers (Christians and non- Christians alike) will enjoy this read. All kinds of readers have told me they’ve found the story to be very powerful. So many readers have found a personal connection with the characters and their struggles.
I’m humbled by such a response. In a time when hundreds of thousands of books are being published each year, I was worried about producing a book that people might think was trite or canned. I’m very encouraged by such a strong and positive response this early into the book’s release. It may be that other Christians will find it deeply offensive, and maybe too close to home (or too close to church) in its criticism.
This book is not meant to convert anyone. But I do hope the novel causes readers to reflect, and drives them to Scripture for ultimate answers for the questions we all have on our minds.
Thank you a lot for your time, Michel!