I’m pleased to turn over the reins today to a fellow author and soldier. Enjoy this guest post from R. A. Mathis.
The author and the soldier live in very different worlds, but sometimes those worlds collide. On rare occasions, pen and sword are both wielded deftly by the same hand.
Many veterans record their wartime recollections in straight forward narratives and memoirs, but few filter their experiences through the lens of fiction. Of these, only a miniscule fraction is ever published. This is especially true of our most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A quick search on Amazon or the local bookstore will produce an avalanche of veteran-authored non-fiction about any conflict you care to name with a pitifully small sampling of novels penned by vets. But this small band includes some literary giants such as Hemingway, Vonnegut, and Tolkien to name a few. Torch in one hand, quill in the other, these brave souls explore the cavernous depths of human nature, illuminating its flaws, virtues, and fears. They peer into the places we try to keep hidden and pull out the ugly truths that plague us as individuals and society as a whole.
I imagine many of them turn to fiction for the same reason I did. The sights, sounds, smells, stress, and emotions of combat are a lot for the mind to take in…too much, actually. Eventually, you have to switch off your humanity for the sake of your sanity. Emotion is removed from your thought process because it has to be. The shredded body of a kid killed by an insurgent’s IED isn’t somebody’s child. It’s just a thing. You think, that’s a shame. But in the back of your mind, you know it was a six-year-old boy – what was left of him. You still hear the child’s mother wailing when you’re lying in your bunk or manning an observation post in the quite of the night. You still don’t sleep. Your stomach still stays in knots. Your loved ones still hear it in your voice when you call home. You try to stuff it all in the deepest corner of your head you can find. You tell yourself, “Just get through it. You can think about it later.”
Eventually, if you’re lucky enough to make it home, you do think about it…a lot. There were questions, doubts, and guilt. Did I make the right decisions? Did I take the right actions? What should I have done differently? Could I have saved a fellow soldier? Why did I make it home? Why didn’t he?
I turned to writing as a form of self-therapy to help work through what was going on in my head. Memoirs are invaluable historical documents and may even aid their writers in venting some of the emotional steam imparted by the pressure cooker of war, but they rarely delve into the deeper, darker places of the soul. Fiction does. I was soon writing for hours a night. It was as if a dam had burst and everything I’d stuffed away in those remote emotional nooks came spilling out all at once through my fingers and onto the keyboard. Eventually, a novel began to take form. The first draft was pretty rough. The final still isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s honest.
War, like all evil, changes everything it touches. All soldiers know that going in. At least they should. All they can do is try to make it a change for the better. My own writing is a product of this ongoing challenge.
Endeavoring to join the ranks of those warrior poets who successfully picked up the pen after laying down the sword, I present my own feeble effort. It’s an attempt to convey the grit, heartbreak, uncertainty, humor, brutality, camaraderie, despair, exhilaration, deprivation, and terror that is war. My predecessors have set the bar high and it’s frustrating as hell trying to reach it. But like them, I’m a soldier. And like a good soldier, I’ll press on.
From his Amazon Page:
A jack-of-all-trades and master of some, R.A. Mathis has worn many hats as a husband, father, student, teacher, soldier, and then some. However, he has always been a writer. After graduating from the University of Tennessee with a BS in mathematics, he served nine years in the army as an armored cavalry officer, rising to the rank of captain and holding a secret-level clearance. During that time, he served a yearlong combat tour in Iraq. He has since earned an MBA and transitioned to the field of finance. Rob currently lives in Tennessee with his wife and family.