It’s my joy and honor to bring to you a character interview from one of my most recent reads, Sam Mattas from Shadows In The Mind’s Eye by Janyre Tromp. Janyre released her debut novel last month, and I am so excited to introduce you to the hero of her book.
Before we meet Sam, allow me to introduce you to his story.
Charlotte Anne Mattas longs to turn back the clock. Before her husband, Sam, went to serve his country in the war, he was the man everyone could rely on–responsible, intelligent, and loving. But the person who’s come back to their family farm is very different from the protector Annie remembers. Sam’s experience in the Pacific theater has left him broken in ways no one can understand–but that everyone is learning to fear.
Tongues start wagging after Sam nearly kills his own brother. Now when he claims to have seen men on the mountain when no one else has seen them, Annie isn’t the only one questioning his sanity and her safety. If there were criminals haunting the hills, there should be evidence beyond his claims. Is he really seeing what he says, or is his war-tortured mind conjuring ghosts?
Annie desperately wants to believe her husband. But between his irrational choices and his nightmares leaking into the daytime, she’s terrified he’s going mad. Can she trust God to heal Sam’s mental wounds–or will sticking by him mean keeping her marriage at the cost of her own life?
Debut novelist Janyre Tromp delivers a deliciously eerie, Hitchcockian story filled with love and suspense. Readers of psychological thrillers and historical fiction by Jaime Jo Wright and Sarah Sundin will add Tromp to their favorite authors list.
CC: Hi Sam! It is so great to meet you. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers?
SM: My name is Samuel Mattas. I was born on a peach orchard just north of Hot Springs, Arkansas. I was a coxswain for a Higgins boat. Despite what you may think of me now, Mama raised me right. I’m a good man. I ain’t afraid to work hard, I’m loyal, and I want good things for my family and the world.
CC: How do you think other’s view you?
SM: Used to be that folks thought I was reliable, stable. Now they’re pretty sure I’m crazy. But I ain’t and I aim to prove it.
CC: It’s hard to come back from war. I’m sure you will prove yourself to them. You’re married to Annie. How would you describe her?
SM: Annie was always the Judge’s princess, and I was little more than riff raff. Respectable enough, I suppose, but trouble nonetheless. And she was royalty. You know? So I always knew her—always dressed in lace and patent leather shoes. Her mama must’ve spent hours a week washing the dresses and polishing those shoes because Annie was always finding some way to smudge dirt on herself. Course she’d want to be clean the next second, “How dare that dirt cling to me!”
But the first time Annie met me, she was still a little tike. Me and my best friend, Doc, were out on the little pond north of the soldier’s hospital. Wasn’t far from the Judge’s house, but enough away from the springs that the pond froze clean across. The whole world was white, even the breaths puffing from our lungs. We was all wrapped in woolen sweaters, ours underneath and Pop’s on top. I’d pulled off branches for everybody and we were hitting a ball of fabric scraps across the ice, hootin’ and hollerin’ like the devil himself was after us. Having the best time we’d had in I don’t know how long.
She come sneaking out of her house a little red cardinal hopping where she wasn’t supposed to. I’d already started across the ice to warn her about the soft edges when she went through the ice. I must’ve been thirteen maybe fourteen. She was still a near baby. Blue as anything by the time I fished her out and sputtering, too. Back then, there wasn’t no way I was going to the Judge’s house. So I wrapped her up in one of my layers and hoofed it home. All the while praying she didn’t die of exposure before I got there.
Mama fixed her up and sent my sister to the Judge’s to let Mrs. Layfette know we had her little girl safe and sound. Annie had the grandest time playing paper dolls with Mary. I do think Mary was Annie’s first ever friend. I don’t know why Mrs. Layfette started letting Annie come to our place. I suppose it might have been Mary was painfully polite and Mama always had a soft spot for Annie’s Ma. I think she saw what was going to happen even back then.
I was still helping up at Papaw’s orchard then so I didn’t see her much after that. And then one day this drop-dead gorgeous woman walked through the door while I was stuffing myself with one of Mama’s sandwiches and I regretted that I hadn’t taken the time to brush my hair, shave, or even change my clothes yet that day. But Annie, she didn’t even seem to notice. Still looked at me like I set the moon in the sky. I just want to do right by her. And I don’t know if I ever will. So much has changed. I don’t even know who I am no more let alone who Annie is.
CC: My heart just rends for you both. I feel like I’ve gotten an extra bonus story just in your answer. While we saw some of in the book, this really paints the full picture. I can see why Annie looked at you like you set the moon in the sky.
What’s your biggest fear?
SM: There’s a part of me that wishes I could go back to before…to be “normal.” But that feels like I’m betraying everyone I left buried on some beach in the Pacific. I want to be what Charlotte Anne wants, what my daughter Rosie needs. I just don’t know if I got it in me anymore. And that scares the daylights out of me. I’m used to being able to do everything.
But I don’t want to be nobody’s charity case either—least of all Annie’s dad, the Judge. There’s too many strings attached to that. I’m strong. I can work.
Still I see Annie looking sideways at me. She knows who I was, who I want to be. But the good Lord knows I ain’t what she expects no more.
Course there ain’t nobody who can tell me what I should feel unless they’ve been in a place where it was kill or be killed. Honestly, I want to forget what happened over in the Pacific. Everything the good book says makes a good person a good person is blown to smithereens in war. You go in one person…and come out something different. Sometimes I wonder if the Sam Mattas that used to be is dead and gone, sucked under the waves. All that’s left of me is some ghost haunting the people that mean the most. Ain’t no way to live. That much I’ll tell you. All I want is I protect my girls…keep them safe. How am I supposed to keep them safe when their greatest danger is me?
CC: I just want to hug you, Sam. That is all so relatable, and I wish I could make it all better for you.
On a happier note, what is one of your happiest memories?
SM: There wasn’t much extra growing up, but Mama always made sure Christmas was something special . . . even if the only present we had was the shoes we got the month before. Karo nut pie, peach preserves and fresh bread, and usually Pa would carve up one of the hogs. Meemaw and Papaw would stay the whole day in the big house, but we’d decorate the grandparent cottage up right too. My siblings, Mary and Peter, and I, we’d sometimes take an old barrel out on the pond and row it like a rich man’s boat. Only the good Lord knows how we didn’t drown in that thing. Life on the farm wasn’t easy, but Mama always made sure it was good.
CC: I really think it’s the simple things in life that make us the happiest, and I can see why those Christmases were your most cherished memories.
Do you enjoy family gatherings?
SM: My family’s together most all the time. A farm up in the Ouachitas ain’t the easiest way to make a living so we help each other out. Annie’s family . . . what’s left of it anyway, can stay in Hot Springs where he belongs. The Judge chose his family a long time ago and we’re safer without him in our lives.
CC: I understand what it is to have everyone living together, and on having family members that it would be better to be without. Thank you so much for joining us. I really can’t wait for people to read your story and find out exactly what is truth, what is fiction, and how your family survives all that is thrown at you.
More about Janyre Tromp:
Janyre Tromp is a historical novelist whose loves spinning tales that, at their core, hunt for beauty, even when it isn’t pretty. She’s the author of Shadows in the Mind’s Eye and coauthor of O Little Town (releasing Fall 2022) and It’s a Wonderful Christmas. She’s also a book editor, published children’s book author, and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her family, two crazy cats, and a slightly eccentric Shetland Sheepdog.