Right: Michel Sauret self-published his book “Amidst Traffic” in November.

by Megan Trimble
On his way home from work one day, Spring Garden resident Michel Sauret came upon congested traffic at the Northside ramp and a family of nine from Ireland, stranded next to a large white van.

“We got to talking and it turns out they were traveling all around Central America and came north to Pittsburgh because one of the daughters liked Pirates. They wanted to see our team play. I almost thought the father was pulling my leg because it was such a strange story and turn of events,” he said.

This random encounter, among countless others, led to the inspiration of Sauret’s book, “Amidst Traffic” – a fictional collection of 22 short stories dealing with the interconnected encounters of strangers that Sauret self-published from his Spring Garden home in November.

At 22-years-old, Sauret was deployed to Iraq for a year as an Army journalist. As a result of his writings on Iraq’s reconstruction with the Army Public Affairs, that same year Sauret received the Keith L. Ware Award for Army Journalist of the Year, an army-wide honor.

A year later, after graduating from The University of Pittsburgh’s writing program in 2009, Sauret found himself discontented with the themes of existentialism that he read among the contemporary fictional works for class.

“We had to read these beautifully written stories where we began to care about the characters and the prose, only to find out that the whole point to reading the story was that there was no point,” Sauret said. “ I don’t believe that life is meaningless. I actually believe it has tremendous amount of meaning, all as a result of the people we impact and as a result of interactions with strangers.”

Today, Sauret, 27, is a self-published author, an award winning army journalist, owner of a photography company and a resident of the Northside who uses his writing to challenge existentialism and encourage people to discuss differing beliefs.

“I had a chance to talk with the [Irish and atheist] father about politics and faith, and we couldn’t have disagreed more. And, yet, it was one of the most respectable conversations that I can think of between two people who disagree on everything,” Sauret said.

Faith plays a large role within the collection of short stories.

Sauret blends his Christian faith with his writings that have been inspired by his deployment, college, individuals he’s met and other experiences over time. Throughout all of them, the idea that people are all interconnected is prevalent.

One story depicts a random shooting at a diner, a detail that arises in multiple other pieces. Sauret explores atheism, the idea of God’s larger plan and other faith-related issues through the shooting and other characters and events within the novel.

“Christian fiction oftentimes becomes cookie cutter, and I am trying to battle poorly written thought provoking texts, as well as, unsatisfying well-written ones,” he said. “In the end I hope that I can create a balance that creates discussion.”

The stories within the collection can be read separately, and some have been published prior to the collection in this way, but are connected through different details. Each, Sauret said, highlights the struggles and pains that humans face.

Another story focuses on a tattooed drug addict struggling with a sense of self. Looking out the window, the woman sees a man walking through traffic and immediately relates with him.

The image of the man and the connection that the woman feels, reflect the novel’s overarching message as the title of the collection.

Although none of the stories are set specifically in the Northside, where he lives with his wife, 14-month-old son and two dogs, Sauret said that Pittsburgh is the backdrop within a handful of his works.

He draws inspiration from meetings he holds at local coffee shops, conversations he’s had about writing and publishing with different individuals – like the barista he met at Crazy Mocha who is working to publish as well – and the families he meets during his wedding and picture shoots.

“People around here are so receptive and it is easy to strike up a conversation with people in the area,” Sauret said. “There are so many coffee houses, delis and little shops, that if I want to get away, I can take my laptop and spend a few hours and not feel like I am in a city environment. Then again, I can also look down my road at home that is more industrial than a typical neighborhood, which provides a bit of the texture of the city. It’s a great place for different photos, scenes and inspiration.”

And that inspiration can be shared.

“Sometimes you inspire even your family members in ways that you don’t expect,” Sauret said of his younger sister who works as his publicist.

With help from his sister and personal writing skills for the story, photography skills for the cover and company ownership experience, Sauret said that he was not worried that he could produce a published book. The completed collection does not provide readers with all of the answers, but instead works to inspire them to undertake productive and respectful discourse – a goal he feels is in reach.

As he pursues future publishing opportunities, Sauret continues to balance a full-time job as a public-affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Reserve in Coraopolis, raise a family within the Spring Garden community and work as an advocate and resource for those foraying in self publishing. In the end, it all comes back to the themes within his book.

“Oftentimes, to be found you have to be lost first. It is all about our connections with others–the impact we have on strangers and the impact they have on us,” he said.