Posted September 15, 2014 by in Interviews

Author Interview with JT Sawyer


I, like many sci-fi lovers right now, am on a zombie apocalypse kick and I stumbled on a new author. JT Sawyer currently has three books out in his First Wave series about a biogenetic virus that has been released from the lab and quickly infected much of North America. Those lucky enough to survive the infection are completely unaware that this is only the first wave of the virus. Ex-military specialist Travis Combs is on a three-week river trip when the sh*t hits the fan and he must help his travel group figure out what is going on and show them how to survive in this new world. Sawyer has filled his books with fast-paced action scenes and educational survivalist skills.


RS: As a desert survival guide in Arizona with Ancient Pathways, you have decades of experience offering wilderness survival skills instruction to groups of outdoorsy folks. What attracted you to this way of life?

JTS: Thanks for asking. From an early age, I was always fascinated with how humans lived on the land using only their hands, lots of tribal teamwork, and an intimate knowledge of what the natural world could provide. I also had the good fortune of being in a Boy Scout troop for three years, starting when I was eleven. Our Scout Masters took us on trips in all manner of weather and instilled in me a sense of what could be done with a few simple tools, like an ax and a quality knife, and a solid foundation in the basic woodsmanship skills. This served me well later when I spent a four-year period after high school living in the mountains, forest, and desert, wherever I could find teachers and ply my trade. I was working youth rehab programs and summer camps to fund my way. I only needed fuel for my vehicle and enough for food staples so life was very simple and I tried to apply Thoreau’s words of “driving life into a corner” to see what material items I really needed and how I could use my skills on the land to feed myself. Some outings were glorious, with plenty of wild game and berries, and other times saw me crawling into my shelter with my stomach rumbling. An African bushman once said that once you learn your foundation skills, the land then becomes the ultimate teacher. I have to agree, though, she doesn’t give grades; it’s pass or fail!

Eventually, after working on many wilderness therapy programs and living in the wilds around the country, I decided to go back to college and earned my BA in Anthropology. I started my survival school in 1989 to share the skills I had learned over the years and have been teaching ever since. So to go back to your question, I’ve always been drawn to simpler times when we relied more on our hands, some select tools, and a familiarity with what the wilds can provide.


RS: Having written multiple survival books as Tony Nester, you have chosen to write your First Wave series under an assumed name. How did you decide on the name JT Sawyer?

JTS: I have always been a fan of the show Lost and thought the character of Sawyer was the most complicated and had the most development as a character so I opted for that as my pen name. I tacked JT onto the beginning to provide more of a ring. At the suggestion of friends and colleagues, I decided to have a pen name for my fiction to separate it from my nonfiction survival books under my real name, Tony Nester.


RS: How long had ideas for The First Wave been bouncing around in your imagination before you decided to publish?

JTS: For probably seven years. I used to teach desert survival courses at Joshua Tree National Park for years and on my long drives home through the desolate stretch between the town of Twentynine Palms and Flagstaff, a stark landscape conducive to the mind wandering, I would ponder what would happen if there was ever a catastrophe rendering our infrastructure and technology inoperable and I had to get back home on foot. After spending years teaching survival courses for the military special operations community and also having numerous people in my courses with backgrounds in medicine and epidemiology, I took all of this dormant matter congealing in my brain over the years and put it into the layout of my First Wave series.


RS: Your lead character in the First Wave series, Travis Combs, has extreme survival and combat skills. Is he a completely fictional character? Or have you based him on personal experiences?

JTS: I have had the great honor of working with some of our nation’s finest warriors as well as allies. I filed away a lot of their stories, humor and anecdotes in my head and let this play out in the character of Travis Combs. Like a lot of veterans I knew, he’s a devoted family man who’s tired of the endless deployments and horrors he’s faced and only wants to get back home to his son, the talisman that pushes him forward across the wilds of Arizona while taking care of the others under his wing. The survival information in the book comes from 21-day to 9-week programs I have taught where we are out in the field for extended periods of time and out of touch with the “other world’s” events.



RS: The First Wave series features a zombie virus manufactured in a lab and released into the world. So far, you have published three books, subjecting your cast of characters to countless terrors. How many books do you anticipate there will be in the series?

JTS: The response to the books has been very pleasing. I will definitely be doing a fourth book that will tie together more of the elements revealed in the previous books and introduce some new players along with more involvement with Travis’s son and people in their mountain hideout. I’ve been surprised by how many women have emailed me about how much they enjoyed the female characters and the blend of practical skills and mystery. It has been a fun ride and I plan to continue the adventure with the next book being out this winter after my teaching season winds down.


RS: Who would you list as your top three favorite authors to read for enjoyment?

JTS: Like most writers, I have a voracious appetite for books and read across genres. My favorite authors are T.C. Boyle for his wit and absolute command of the English language, Jonathan Maberry for his memorable characters and atmospheric writing, and Elmore Leonard (I’d rather go without water in the desert than part with any of his books. Whenever I am stuck on character development or dialogue, he’s the man I seek out).

Rachel Storey

Software engineer by day, bookworm by night. I love reading. I love writing about reading. I love talking about writing about reading. I joined Bookkaholic to have great conversations about literature, so please feel free to leave comments and discussions.