Member Monday: Zachary Martin

It’s #membermonday! Check out this week’s featured member, Zachary Martin.  Read more about his journey below.

Zachary Martin
Writer

Military Service: U.S. Marine Corps

Branch/Specialty:  Infantry / Reconnaissance

So, what are you working on right now?

A novel about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What has been the most challenging part about transitioning from military service?

The military gives structure to your entire life—not always in a good way, but at least there is a framework for life and career decisions. Outside the military you face a universe of options and possibilities. Many transitioning service members respond to this overwhelming range of choices by confining themselves to work that looks like what they did in the military, and thus miss out on exciting and potentially fulfilling opportunities. At the same time, as I have learned while exploring the nonprofit space, transitioning service members face a public that may thank them for their service, but often has little idea what that service consisted of and how those experiences could enhance other enterprises. I know many veterans who have shown dynamic leadership in the social entrepreneurship world—several officers I served with have, for example, worked with the development nonprofit Nuru International, which was founded by a former officer of Marines—but I have also had people in the development sector frankly tell me “We don’t understand how what you learned from your experiences in the military can possibly relate to our mission.” What we bring to the table is something veterans need to support each other in explaining; it is, unfortunately, more complicated and nuanced than simply translating our ranks and billets into business equivalents and making our resumes read like a corporate associate’s.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before writing a new work?

It depends on what I am writing. Technical essays—which I don’t write often anymore—call for technical research and sometimes even (limited) number-crunching. I fact-check myself for more opinion-oriented essays, and occasionally dive deeper into relevant academic literature: I read much of The Collective Memory Reader, for example, for a recent piece. For fiction, I usually research details that give verisimilitude. For one story, I looked up what Ted Koppel had talked about on Nightline on a particular day in 1984, did some research on horse anatomy and injuries caused by fencing wire, and dug up a menu from the now-defunct Sambo’s restaurant chain. For another recent story, I walked to Harris Teeter, bought a pint of ice cream, and ate it all at one sitting, as one of my characters does while suffering from depression. I managed to write an entire paragraph about the not-exactly-pleasant experience of eating a whole pint of ice cream.

In the last 5 years, what is the greatest change you have made in your life that has made you a better person?

My work-life balance is the greatest change for the better. I have been married for nearly 23 years, and spent something like eight of those years deployed or otherwise away from my family. I no longer view work and life as opposing forces in a zero-sum game, but rather feel like my life and my work are an integrated whole.

What is the book you’ve given most as a gift? Or, what are the one or two books that have greatly influenced your life?

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross seems to be the book I have given the most as a gift. Tastes differ so much that it is fraught to give a book as a gift: I always tell the recipient of a book to feel free not to like it. It would be difficult for me to name one or two books that were most influential in my life. I could, perhaps, for specific time periods: The Great Gatsby or Thomas Pynchon’s V. for my high school years, for example. The book I return to most often is probably Alice Munro’s Selected Stories.

What author have you most connected with and how have they made you a better writer?

Phil Klay, former marine and National Book Award winner, was kind enough to advise me on some of my work. His most important advice was to engage the reader immediately, in the first paragraph, the first line. It doesn’t matter how good page two is if the reader puts the book down after page one.

Honestly, why did you join the Capitol Post family? And what has been the biggest impact so far?

I needed a space that was set aside for writing. It’s not just a matter of being away from distraction or competing demands on my time: it is important to me to have a time and place that serves to focus my effort, that means “I am at work.” I found this difficult when working at home—I suspect many people who work from home struggle with this: I could close the door and put on headphones to isolate myself from outside diversions, but there was no clean transition to a work mindset. I have been productive at Capitol Post because I am there to work and the simple act of choosing a desk space and setting up my computer clears my mind of anything other than my project.

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