What if you met your 23-year-old self in a dream? What would you say? No matter how young or how old, there’s a part of us all that wishes we could go back and tell ourselves what we should have done differently. It’s a desire award-winning author James L. Rubart explores in his new novel, The Five Times I Met Myself (Thomas Nelson).
Q: The Five Times I Met Myself explores the main character’s desire to go back in time and change certain decisions. Was the idea behind the book driven by any of your own regrets?
Actually, no. While my novel Memory’s Door was definitely driven by my own regrets – and having to figure out how to deal with them – The Five Times I Met Myself was more driven by hope for the future. I don’t think it’s ever too late to start living with freedom. I don’t think there’s any brokenness God can’t breathe healing and life into. So while my main character, Brock, does deal with regret, in the end this is a story about restoration and great hope going forward.
Q: What would you say to your younger self if you had the opportunity?
Wow, you’re not trying to make me get vulnerable, are you? Such a great question. There are many things I’d say, but I’ll mention just three for the moment. I’d tell myself to take more risks – that you’re never ready to take them, so just “jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down” (Ray Bradbury). I’d also tell myself to stop worrying about what anyone else thinks: about you, your dreams, your life, who you should be or shouldn’t be. Worrying can be such a deterrent from living a life of freedom. Finally, I’d tell myself this life is shorter than you can imagine when you’re young, so live like it.
Q: Why did you choose to make dreams such a big part of this story? What is lucid dreaming?
Dreams are powerful. Sometimes we know exactly what they mean, and they speak to us deeply. Other times we never figure them out. But haven’t we all told a friend, “Wow, you’re not going to believe the dream I just had”? I think most of us are fascinated with dreams. Plus I wanted a way to have my main character talk to himself in a way that didn’t involve time travel. This isn’t science fiction, so I wanted to discover a way for the older and younger Brock to connect that could actually happen in real life.
Lucid dreaming is simply being conscious or aware you’re dreaming. Most of the people I’ve talked to about lucid dreaming have had this experience. After researching lucid dreaming, I discovered it can be a powerful tool, among other things, to help people overcome their fears, bring emotional healing and find a new level of creativity in their lives.
Q: What does the Bible teach us about dreams?
The Bible teaches that sometimes dreams are much more than our subconscious minds working out the events that happened during the day. Sometimes God uses them to speak to us and to shape significant events in our lives and the lives of others. In the Old Testament Joseph had dreams that changed all of Egypt. In the New Testament, God told Joseph not to divorce Mary in a dream. Acts 2:17 says, “In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.'” I believe God is still using dreams to change the lives of his children.
Q: How seriously do you take your own dreams? Have you ever had a dream that changed your life?
I take them very seriously. I don’t think it happens all the time, but there are times where God will speak to us through a dream.
In fact, I’ve had a number of dreams that changed my life. I’ve gotten story ideas from dreams as well.
Q: Much of Brock’s validation in life has come from his work. Do you think that’s common in this day and age?
I think it’s common in every age. We are tempted to look outside ourselves for validation: money, friends, accomplishments, success, awards, children, spouses. We search for validation in many things other than God that will never fill us in the end. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had, it wasn’t to crash the guy’s party. Jesus simply knew if the guy hung onto to any of his things (in his heart), it would ultimately drain him of all true life.
Q: How will readers be able to relate to Brock’s efforts to reconnect with his wife in midlife, after years of drifting apart?
I think for readers who might have drifted apart from their own spouses there will be one of two reactions: Either they won’t want to face the light the book shines on their relationship, or they’ll get a massive dose of hope and encouragement for healing – life will be infused back into their union.
Q: Has sibling rivalry ever been an issue in your family like in Brock’s?
A great many of my own experiences find their way into my novels, but not in this case. I was watching the reality TV show Survivor a few seasons back where two brothers were on the show together. I saw massive amounts of pain between them and, at the same time, huge amounts of love for each other. All that pain and love were mixed together and painted an intriguing portrait of brothers who loved and hated each other in equal measure. Fascinating, and I think quite common between siblings. So that dynamic made it into the novel.
Q: Is the kind of hope and restoration many are looking for possible without actually being able to go back and change something from the past?
Without question.As I mentioned earlier, this life is short. If you believe this is all there is, then I understand why people would despair. However, I’m one of those who believe in an afterlife, where Jesus says all things will become new. He doesn’t say all new things. This is important. He says all things new. All things. All those moments of pain and longing and regret will be made NEW. A good new. A tremendous new. Restored. Redeemed. Made right. Jesus came to restore that which was lost. I think there’s going to be a lot of celebrating of the things that will be restored in the coming kingdom. As for the present? There’s no point in looking back. It’s gone. But we can start living each day, this day, this moment, with hope and a determination to change our actions, to make choices that bring life to ourselves and those around us and to step into freedom in a way we never have before.
Q: Your desire to become a writer was inspired by one of the greatest Christian thinkers in modern history. Tell us about that.
I’m 11, and my mom buys my sister and me The Chronicles of Narnia for Christmas. I’m tearing through the books, falling massively in love with Aslan, and there’s this moment when I get to the final pages of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that blows my mind.
Remember the scene where Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy they can’t come back, but that He’s also in their world even though he goes by a different name? My little 11-year-old pea brain explodes when I realize Aslan is Jesus, Jesus is Aslan. Even at that tender age, I realized that telling a story about Jesus was much more powerful than learning facts about him. In that moment I started to dream that someday I might have the chance to immerse people in stories the way Lewis had done with me and show them Jesus and God in a whole new way.
Q: Describe for us your secret writing room, where you wrote The Five Times I Met Myself.
This will be painful since my wife and I recently moved, and I had to give up my writing room! We lived in a house built in the late 80s when the style was to have a 20-foot ceiling in the entryway with a chandelier hanging down.
Picture an elevator shaft going up to the second floor of our house when you first walk in. I always thought all you’d have to do is build a floor to get a secret room. The walls, ceiling, and even a window were already in. So I did it. The room was accessed through the back of my youngest son’s closet. You stepped through a little door into our attic, and about ten feet into the attic, you stepped through another small door that led into the writing room. I have a photo of it on my website: http://jameslrubart.com/about/.
Turns out the folks who bought our house are James L. Rubart readers, so they could truly appreciate the secret room. On top of that, they’re aspiring writers themselves. It’s fun to know the legacy of writing in that secret room will continue.
Q: What are some of the strongest influences on your writing?
My wife isn’t a big fiction reader, but she’s brilliant at nuance and relationship. She shapes my novels to a greater degree than she realizes. I ask her if something rings true or not, and she’s always spot-on with her counsel. Extremely grateful for her.
Q: It sounds like you and your wife have a great relationship. Other than her, tell me about two or three of the other most important relationships in your life?
Without question I have to mention our two sons, Taylor and Micah. I dedicated The Five Times I Met Myself to them by saying, “What dad could be prouder?” So true. I’m crazily blessed because Taylor and Micah are not only seriously outstanding young men, they are two of my best friends.
Q: What message do you hope readers to walk away with from The Five Times I Met Myself?
I believe there’s a part of us all that wishes we could go back and tell our younger selves what we should have done differently, whether we’re 20 or 40 or 60 or 80 years old. We wonder how our lives would have turned out if we’d made different choices. And we want hope and restoration and freedom in the midst of examining those choices we did or did not make.
I wanted to explore those questions and give readers the chance to search through those questions in their own lives. By the end of the novel I want to offer hope and restoration for the choices they would or wouldn’t have made if they had the opportunity to do things over.
Andy Andrews describes the book as being life-changing. That’s exactly my hope: that people’s lives would be changed after reading The Five Times I Met Myself. I’ve had people say my books are not fluffy reading, that they stick with people months and years afterward. I hope that’s true. I want my stories to seep into people’s minds and, more importantly, their hearts and help them step into greater freedom for a long, long time.