Jim DeFelice worked alongside U.S. Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle to write his memoir American Sniper. Kyle, who was killed in 2013, left behind his wife, Taya, and two children. DeFelice partnered with Taya Kyle to cowrite her own memoir, American Wife, due out May 4. We talked to DeFelice about the experience of working with both Kyles on their respective books.
How did American Wife come to you? Did Taya approach you? What were your initial thoughts on participating?
The seed for American Wife was planted before American Sniper even came out, before the world knew who Chris and Taya Kyle were. Chris and I talked about somehow convincing Taya to do a book on her own about life with a Navy SEAL, kind of a “The Care and Feeding of a Navy SEAL.” Time passed quickly and we never got a chance to do that. Taya had been an important part of American Sniper, and we worked together after Chris died, first to finish American Gun and then to pull the memorial edition of Sniper together. She also started giving some inspirational speeches, which I gave her a few notes on.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, we started talking about writing a book together, talking about her experiences and the difficult process of grieving and carrying on. She initially wanted to talk about other people she had met with Chris and afterwards, but it became clear that her story would give the work more focus. I think she came to understand that she can inspire others, and the book would tie into the work she was doing with the foundation and the talks she was giving.
My only concern was the emotional toll it would take on her. I still worry about that.
What was the writing process like? How did the two of you work together?
We basically talked for hours just about every day for months, usually over the phone though occasionally in person and via email and text. We would talk about what she’d been through, everything from day to day routines to raw emotions. We skipped around a lot, but basically we covered every aspect of her life, with Chris and before and after.
Ordinarily I do the bulk of my research in person, but I think we knew each other so well by this point that it was just as easy and effective over the phone. That also gave us flexibility schedule-wise. Ironically, when we were in the same place – a speech or some other event – there were generally so many other things going on that we couldn’t get much work done on the book, even though we would set aside time for it.
Did you learn anything in cowriting this new book that shed light on American Sniper?
Taya had been such an integral part of American Sniper that this book really just felt like an extension of that. Of course, I was there for some of what we write about. But what has always amazed me was the depth of love that Chris and Taya felt toward each other, and how they both fought so hard to keep that love alive. I still remember the first time they talked with me about their marriage, tears rolling down their eyes. And I remember watching them walk out of the airport the first time they landed in New York, before they spotted me – you could see the unconscious understanding between them, comfort and assurance in each stride.
How did this experience differ from your other writerly endeavors, including American Sniper?
I don’t believe I’ve cried while working on a book before.