Today we welcome Amanda Matti.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Amanda Matti: I am an Iraq War veteran. I served six years in the U.S. Navy as a Russian Linguist and Intelligence Analyst, including a 2005 deployment to Iraq where I met my husband who was a local Iraqi interpreter working for U.S. forces. I now work FT as a Marketing Coordinator for a travel company in San Diego, CA and I also volunteer 20+ hours a week for the nonprofit organization No One Left Behind, which helps Afghans and Iraqis who worked as translators for the U.S. military on the battlefield resettle in the U.S. I also have two beautiful little girls and help my husband with his real estate business.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
My debut book was A Foreign Affair (October 2016) which is my Iraq War memoir chronicling my deployment, how I met my husband and the Hell we went through in our fight to be together. My second book is entitled Voicing the Eagle and tells my husband’s true story of going from a college student at the University of Baghdad to being recruited right off his neighborhood street by the U.S. military to serve as an interpreter. He spent six years stationed in various American military camps across Iraq, suffered several combat injuries, helped interrogate detainees, worked for a Marine Civil Affairs Unit in Fallujah, helped translate for US Army Drill Sergeants training the new Iraqi Army and eventually landed a position as a translator at the new Iraqi National Intelligence Service in Baghdad’s Green Zone. I wrote both of these books as they both tell a very unique side of a war that has been extensively documented.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Amanda Matti: I am currently on hiatus – LOL Soon after publishing my first book I became quite heavily involved in a local non-profit that assists former interpreters from Iraq and Afghanistan so that is currently where I’ve been devoting all of my free time and energy. It is all-consuming but a labor of love.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Amanda Matti: Since both of my books are very personal and deal with heavy subject matter there were numerous sections that were difficult to write about. Having to write detailed scenes chronicling your own husband’s combat firefights, injuries and emotional and physical pain is really tough – it was sometimes even more strenuous than writing about my own experiences in a warzone. There were numerous occasions where I had to shelf both of my books for weeks or even months at a time until I could get myself in the proper frame of mind to dig as deep as I needed to in order to properly convey the scenes to the reader.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Amanda Matti: Although my books are autobiographical I still did a lot of research to confirm dates, locations, unit names, etc… Also, memories are often fuzzy – especially memories forged in a warzone – so I did my best to find news articles and other corroborating evidence to confirm details of my own stories as well as my husband’s accounts. I also read just about every Iraq War memoir written between 2003 and 2007. Just to get a feel for what writing style best captured the feeling and tone of being in Iraq while also holding the reader’s attention. It is also sometimes difficult for a writer with a military background to convey a military story in layman’s terms so that non-military readers can comprehend and understand what’s going on. I tried real hard to do that – but that was probably one of the most difficult aspects of writing my books.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Amanda Matti: I definitely prefer non-fiction over fiction, but I do enjoy an occasional “A Thousand Splendid Suns” novel here and there.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Amanda Matti: I began writing my first book for stress relief, so although many people encouraged me along the way, there was no single person who made me decide to sit down and go for it. Due to my circumstances and being under investigation as part of a National Security case, I could not discuss my situation or my issues with anyone. I felt like I was in a pressure cooker and I was scared to death. Not only was a scared to death that I’d end up serving years in a military prison, I feared for Fadi’s life as he was stills tuck in Iraq with multiple insurgency groups literally trying to personally hunt him down. I was going crazy inside my own head, so I knew if I didn’t find a way to release the stress I’d explode. So, I started writing. I wanted the world to know my side of the story – our side of the story.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Amanda Matti: People often tell me I have a very easy reading style of writing. I try to make the book read as if someone is telling you their story in person over coffee. I find this to be the most engaging, although not the most literary acclaimed style. But I think it works well for contemporary non-fiction.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Amanda Matti: I’ve never written on strict routine – I tried to rein myself in, in the past, and try to adhere to a writing schedule and it absolutely crushed my creativity and motivation. I write when the mood strikes me whenever and wherever it strikes me. Sometimes its everyday for three weeks straight, sometimes I go three months without writing a single word.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Amanda Matti: My ultimate (and distant) goal is to someday write a novel. Non-fiction is easy – you’ve got the story and the characters, you’ve just got to tell it. I am consistently amazed by fiction authors who can create an entire world and characters out of thin air. I’m not sure I could do that which is why it is a challenge that looms at the back of my mind and intrigues me.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Amanda Matti: Don’t give up! I think everyone gives this advice though so let me elaborate. I think many people who start out writing a book and then shelve it for a little while feel that if they’ve been away from it too long there is no point to go back to it. Take it from me, you can shelf it and it’s not going anywhere and isn’t depreciating. There were 6 month stretches (or more) where I didn’t even open the document on my computer that held my first book. I also think novice writers make the mistake of sitting down and trying to write a “book”. You can’t think of it as a huge project like that. You have to sit down to write a sentence, maybe a paragraph or a few paragraphs – you can only focus on it in small pieces like that or you will become overwhelmed and ultimately give up. You can’t say, “Today I’m going to write a book.” You have to instead say, “Today I’d like to write a paragraph and see where it goes tomorrow.”
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Amanda Matti: That they’ve been inspired by my story. I’ve been so lucky to hear this from numerous readers and it never gets old. It is the best thing in the world.
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Amanda Matti: Excerpt from Voicing the Eagle– W&B Publishers, October 2017
“Take cover!” Major Warren screamed as echoes of AK-47 and small arms fire rung out across the field. The Marines hit the ground as bullets rained down on their position from an indeterminate location. Sergeant Juarez and the unit’s translator, Fahdi, dropped to the ground, but it was too late. Before Fahdi’s knees hit the grass, he was struck with a searing pain in his chest and was knocked back several feet. In an instant, he was flat on his back staring up at the crystalline blue sky. It felt like he’d been hit by a truck. The air was sucked out of his lungs and he gasped to catch his breath. Sergeant Juarez threw his body protectively over Fahdi’s in an attempt to shield him from further wounds, but as Juarez’s weight fell on top of Fahdi it made it even more difficult for Fahdi to get the air he desperately needed back into his lungs.
Once Fahdi finally caught his breath he noticed the blood. “I’ve been shot!” he screamed. “Get off of me!” Fahdi struggled to push the massive Marine Sergeant off of him. Fahdi was wearing body armor but from the pain he was in and the blood he saw he was sure the bullet had gone through it.
“Stay the fuck down!” Sergeant Juarez yelled back.
“I’m hit! It went through!” Fahdi continued to yell and squirm under Juarez’s weight. Due to the immense pain and trouble he was having to breathe, Fahdi feared the bullet had struck one of his lungs.
Sergeant Juarez sat up and straddled Fahdi, holding him down so he could survey the damage. “Where are you hit!” he yelled.
“My chest!” Fahdi blurted. Blood was smeared all over the front of Fahdi’s uniform and across his body armor. “Oh fuck! Oh fuck! I’m bleeding bad!” He was in a lot of pain but actually relieved because he knew the pain meant he probably wasn’t dying. Sergeant Juarez ripped the Velcro straps from Fahdi’s bullet proof vest and pushed the armor up over his head. He ran his hands up and down Fahdi’s chest and stomach and across his shoulders.
“There’s nothing! It didn’t go through. You’re fine.”
“But I’m bleeding!” Fahdi argued.
“No you’re not. I am,” Juarez replied in a surprisingly calm tone.
Fahdi looked and saw Sergeant Juarez’s uniform near the top corner of his right shoulder was ripped. Blood was seeping from the area and dripping down his arm. He’d been grazed by a round, perhaps the same one that took Fahdi down. When he’d thrown his body over Fahdi’s he bled onto him – actually covering Fahd in more blood than himself. “Shit dude, you’re hit!” Fahdi said, now shifting his focus from his own injuries to Sergeant Juarez’s shoulder wound. “We’ve gotta’ get you to a medic.”
“It’s fine. It looks worse than it really is. I only got grazed,” Juarez said as he grabbed Fahdi’s vest and looked at it. His finger found the indentation where the AK-47 round that took Fahdi down was embedded deep into one of the vest’s chest plates. “See,” he said pointing it out to Fadhi, “the bullet that got you is right here. Put your vest back on, we’ve got to catch back up with the Major.”
Fahdi pulled the body armor vest back over his head and strapped it on. He glanced down and noticed the bullet was lodged in the area right over his heart. Holy fuck – I’d have been dead.