One of the Masters of Zombie Fiction Is an Active-Duty U.S. Navy Officer
An interview with J.L. Bourne, author of the 'Day by Day Armageddon' novels
If you enjoy stories about the walking dead you have probably encountered the work of J.L. Bourne, the pseudonym for an active-duty naval aviator and intelligence officer who penned the Day by Day Armageddon series of novels. He’s also author of the book Tomorrow War, which chronicles life in a dystopian United States after the nation’s infrastructure collapses and the government imposes martial law.
Like many in the military, Bourne has rural roots and a humble beginning. Born and raised in Fayetteville, Arkansas, he grew up hunting, hiking and camping in the hills around his home. He worked in a hardware store and at a saw mill before enlisting in the Navy when he was 19 years old as a “slick sleeve” E-1 radioman.
His tours of duty included Japan and other locales in the Western Pacific. Bourne completed his college degree while on active duty and decided soon after to apply for Officer Candidate School. OCS accepted him for training in 2003, when he earned his commission.
Since then, Bourne participated in four Operation Iraqi Freedom detachments before becoming an intelligence officer. Currently, he is stationed in Florida instructing young naval officers in the fine art of commanding a mission. Bourne plans to retire from the Navy in 2017.
Bourne keeps his actual identity a secret — a decision he made to keep his literary career from complicating his military career — but he spoke to War Is Boring about how his experience as a warrior influences his writing, real threats that remind him of the dangers found in the fictional world of the zombie apocalypse, and whether we will ever know his true identity.
Above — Gage Skidmore/Flickr photo. At top — Simon & Schuster illustration
WIB: Why zombies? What about them fascinates you?
Bourne: Well, to be honest, I wrote Day by Day Armageddon to fill a void. In 2002, there was sort of a lack of good fiction in the genre so I decided to give it a go myself.
WIB: Did you always want to be a fiction writer, or did the desire to write come late in life?
Bourne: I never wanted to be a fiction writer. It just sort of happened.
WIB: How does your military experience influence the stories that you tell?
Bourne: Life experience of any type definitely plays into a writer’s ability to make fiction. I’m no different here. “Write what you know” is the advice you hear from experienced writers, but the more you know, the more you can actually write about. Get out there and live life. Sail around the world. Get a crazy job overseas. Live.
WIB: You make some “hat tips” to books and movies during the course of the Day by Day series. For example, you mention the movie The Omega Man and Robert Heinlein’s novel Tunnel in the Sky. Were those favorites of yours? Did they influence your story telling in any way?
Bourne: Those were always favorites of mine and I wanted to mention so that maybe someone might pick them up and enjoy them like I did.
WIB: The president calls you to the White House and tells you that a zombie outbreak has struck the United States. He asks you for advice as both an author and a naval officer about how the U.S. can counter the threat. What advice to you give the commander-in-chief?
Bourne: I ask the president to be excused from the meeting. If the outbreak is already here, it’s not time to talk. It’s time to load mags and go underground.
WIB: Are you the main character “Kil” in the Day by Day series? There seems to be a lot of similarities between the fictional character and J.L. Bourne.
Bourne: No, I’m not the main character, but “Kil” and I have a lot in common.
WIB: What worries you more, a zombie outbreak or the people who look forward to a zombie outbreak?
Bourne: The people that look forward to it, most definitely. Not eating or drinking, and walking 25 miles a day, and evading the undead, wouldn’t be fun. Reality is a lot less entertaining than playing the “what if” game with the power-grid up.
WIB: Is there a real-world national security threat to the United States that reminds you of the fictional threat posed by the zombie menace?
Bourne: Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is a threat I’m keeping an eye on. Many people just drool and promptly scream “SKYNET!” when someone brings it up, but I feel that it’s an credible threat to our existence and deserves more than a movie-trope reference.
How can you out-think or outmaneuver a future intelligence that is immeasurable and can calculate every move ahead of you on a chess board? Let’s say, for instance, that we eventually put an A.I. in charge of DNA analysis searching for genetic defects in humans because of the immense processing power required for gene sequencing. What if it decides to implement its own “unnatural” selection protocols and selects docile traits over hostile traits to facilitate a future takeover?
We can’t even dream of the threats A.I. might pose because our brains are too small to outwit a 1,000 I.Q. intelligence. I’m with Elon Musk on this one.
WIB: Do you ever see people in the military reading your books? If so, what is that experience like?
Bourne: I’ve seen my books out there quite a few times. It’s pretty cool but I never say anything. I’m not huge on putting my picture on the back cover of my books or bragging about being a writer. It’s still an honor to see my books in the wild in military hands or otherwise.
WIB: Do you have any projects in the works?
Bourne: Yes. I am working on Day by Day Armageddon: Ghost Run, the fourth book in the saga. This one is my favorite of the four and I think my readers will enjoy it.
WIB: Will you ever reveal your true identity?
Bourne: I don’t think anyone really cares who I am and I don’t really see a reason to put myself out there like that. I love my readers, but I don’t want people showing up at my door and I don’t want the Navy to have a freak-out session. It’s best I stay in the shadows for now.