This week I am joined by Peter Martuneac, whose ‘My Name Is Zach’ series has kept me on tenterhooks for many a reading session. It tells the story of grizzly ex-military specialist Zach as he struggles to survive in a post–apocalyptic United States. If you like intelligent, passionate dystopian fiction that mixes frenetic action with fantastic characters then these are the books for you. I caught up with Peter to talk about the books, future writing plans and the Chicago Bears!
Hi Peter and welcome to the blog. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
First, thanks for having me on your interview lineup, Stephen! Something about myself? Sure, I’m a husband and proud father of two, a Purdue University grad, and a former United States Marine. Going a bit further back, I grew up mostly in Illinois, but my family and I were also missionaries to South Africa from 1995-99, and that was a huge, formative experience for young me.
Where did you get the idea for the ‘My Name Is Zach’ series?
Ever since reading ‘The Lord of the Rings’ at age 11 I’d wanted to write stories! One early attempt was a post-apocalypse story that featured a wandering, Lone Ranger type character, but it was missing something. A few years later, I wanted to try a post-apoc story again, so I took that main character back but this time gave him a sidekick to add emotional depth, and that’s when Abby was born. I only knew I wanted the story to focus on those two and not the usual tropes like big group power struggles or love triangles. I wrote down the last chapter first and then got to work figuring out how to get there.
The relationship between Zach & Abby is very unique in the books. How did it develop in your mind?
As I said, Abby was initially just a sidekick, a character for Zach to protect and to give him more depth. But as the story progressed, I just fell in love with Abby and wanted her to be more important. So I made her older and gave her some ‘side quests’ you might call them. And so the relationship went from a hero/sidekick deal to more of a father/daughter, and that’s when I also added some conflict to their relationship as well.
Your zombies are almost a backdrop to the story of their relationship. Was this deliberate on your part?
Yes, that was intentional. Once again I already alluded to this but I just loved Abby and Zach so much that I wanted the story to focus intently on just them. Also it’s hard to be original when writing zombie fiction, and I figured a well-done father-daughter duo surviving the apocalypse is something we don’t see terribly often, at least less often than The Walking Dead type fiction. So yes, the zombies (and really every other character) are to some degree mere backdrops for Zach and Abby’s relationship.
In both books the humans are the real monsters? Can you explain that rationale to me?
Zach considers this in Chapter One almost right away, but the way he and I see it is zombies are just irrational animals, and irrational animals have to eat to survive. Sometimes that means they eat humans. So can you really hate zombies for doing what every ferret, Wolf, or hawk does?
Humans, rational beings, on the other hand have no need to harm other people. Not only that, they KNOW that it’s wrong to do so. So a rational being doing something it knows is wrong just because it can is infinitely more detestable than a mere animal acting to survive.
One of the villains attempts to justify what he does by proclaiming humans to be just animals, but of course he’s wrong. We have rationality and a duty to each other to guide our actions, and ignoring these is always a deliberate choice.
Tell us a bit about the third and final book in the series?
Without giving away too much, Abby is 22 now and almost 10 years have passed since the first zombie outbreaks. The time has finally come for the provisional American government to reclaim the lost lands east of the Rocky Mountains and Abby, due to the military skills she picked up in Book 2 and her knowledge of the lands in Book 1, has been selected to lead a reconnaissance team. So we see Abby retracing her steps as she goes on a quest to not only heal the nation but she hopes also to find healing for herself and the trauma she endured out there.
And the new ‘island’ project you are currently writing?
Ooo, yes! So this is Book 1 of a new treasure-hunter series I’m writing. It follows Conner Creed, he’s been jailed by the US government for desertion in a time of war. He’s offered a clean slate if he can use his skills to retrieve the lost Heirloom Seal of the Realm. Legend has it that the seal grants power to the nation that holds it and the US wants that. But they’re not the only ones who have picked up the trail of this ancient talisman…
How much of your military experiences came into the books?
My military experience was the biggest formative experience of my life. It shaped me in numerous ways, even caused my entire worldview to change. So it bleeds into my writings a lot, depending on the kind of story. In my Zach books and now these Creed books you’ll see it, given the main characters’ military backgrounds. But I also have a more light-hearted, family comedy book simmering on the back burner and that one won’t actually have any military characters.
What advice would you give to fellow indie writers?
Just finish your book. The hardest part of any writer’s journey is finishing the first draft of their first book because doubt and imposter’s syndrome sinks in easily at this point. I feel like many will look at their work in progress and compare it to their favorite books in their shelf and feel despair. But y’all, it’s a first draft! It’s not supposed to look like The Hobbit or Hunger Games, those are completed, edited books! So just finish that first draft, you can even leave a huge plot hole and come back to fix it. Just don’t give up halfway through!
Finally, you have a love/hate relationship with the Chicago Bears. What do you think they need most in the 2021 draft?
Oh Stephen, you’ve opened a can of worms! I could go on for hours but I’ll focus my comments on the draft. First and foremost they need to draft a strong right tackle, and fortunately there’s many of those in this year’s draft class. Doesn’t matter who they have at quarterback if they can’t protect him. So draft a right tackle first, next I’d dip into the wide receiver pool and try to steal a bargain like Darnell Mooney was. If they can hit it big in the draft, maybe they can finally win the NFC North again.
Thank you Peter. Join me next week for our next author Interview.