1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I started my career as a volunteer teacher in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo) during 1968-70. There, I became an international filmmaker and later a multimedia producer, working for development agencies and living in or traveling to countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Russia until 2013. I had written three technical books and many journal articles during my career, for example on the role of communication in defeating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But I never had time to write creatively until I retired. After my wife and I moved to Albuquerque in 2015, I began by attending Master’s-level workshops in creative nonfiction and poetry at the University of New Mexico. That’s when I started writing my Borneo memoir, Finding Myself in Borneo, https://www.neillmckeeauthor.com/finding-myself-in-borneo and Guns and Gods in My Genes https://www.neillmckeeauthor.com/guns-and-gods-in-my-genes. I drafted short pieces for review by my professor and fellow students in those workshops, and revised them after feedback. I also joined another evening workshop at the university on writing an outline for Guns and Gods in My Genes. This was helpful in focusing the manuscript on those very themes.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
After I retired from my main career, I visited my aging mother in Ontario, traveling from our home in Maryland a few times a year. My dad, who died in 2007, was always interested in family history but never had the time nor the skills to do much research or writing. I discovered the beginnings of interesting stories in his old files, and I reached out to cousins, one living uncle, and three remaining aunts. I found many leads on both sides of the family and interviewed family members, picking up more stories, photos, and records. One cousin, to whom the book is dedicated, had done a lot of the research leading to the Mayflower connection in the US. That’s when I knew I had another book to write, but I had to do or commission a lot more research to determine if the genetic connections were correct. Many more interesting ancestors emerged as I progressed, especially through the female lineage.
I wanted to write a book with wide appeal to anyone interested in genealogy and history, or searching their own family’s roots. I decided to do it on the theme of “guns and gods” and by “gods” I mean different interpretations of religion – largely Christianity – in North American history, and my discovery of some “godly” ancestors in my genes, as well as a real “rowdy man” and some who killed and enslaved Indians in New England in the 1600s. I believe focusing on some themes, such as these, is important. There are a lot of family stories that I left out. They are entertaining but not part of the themes I chose.
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
One theme or message I would like readers to take away is that history and genealogy does not have to be boring if you reveal stories bit by bit and don’t overwhelm readers with long lists and many names of “who begat whom” in the first chapter. Besides online research, I dug up real stories of my ancestors and traveled to the places where they lived to meet historians and distant cousins who had more records and stories. I also read many historical works of interesting events that happened at the time my ancestors lived. For instance, I went to the actual location where my great-grandfather, Lafayette Haskins, was wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War. I walked beside the remains of Confederate trenches on a hill from which my ancestor was fired upon as he and his comrades were advancing up a hill. He was hit in the leg, thus ending his three years in the Union Army’s 7th Wisconsin Regiment. By going to the place where that happened, and walking down the hill into the woods, an eerie feeling came over me, allowing me to feel something of the pain and bewilderment he must have felt. This kind of experience happened many times during my travels.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
By genre, I believe you mean creative nonfiction memoir. I became involved because I have had such a rich and varied experience in life, both in my childhood and my 45-year career traveling and working all around the globe. In my mid-70s, I am lucky to have the health and good memory to write about experiences in a creative, nonlinear way. During my career, I wrote technical books and articles in my field and wanted to do something different during my final years. Creative nonfiction seemed to be a natural thing for me. I was never much interested in fiction, except for watching movies for relaxation.
5) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
1) Be prepared for very hard work. I put in about seven hours of research, writing, corresponding, and promotion per day and seldom take a day off (especially now with Covid-19 lockdown – a surprisingly good time for concentrated work since few distractions are possible).
2) Get reviews from readers and other writers before you publish, and make revisions accordingly, if you feel they are helpful. After all, readers should know. In my former communication work we call it “pretesting.”
3) If you have five or more years to wait, you can try to get a publisher. I had a couple of late offers for my Borneo memoir but the companies involved wanted to start over on the editing and didn’t want to put any money into promotion. With a good literary editor, copy editor, and designer, I set up my own publishing company, and print and distribute through IngramSpark https://www.ingramspark.com/. This company sends out your book and e-book files to many distributors: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. https://www.ingramspark.com/how-it-works/distribute. It is one way to begin no matter what age you are. You have to be prepared to put a lot of time into promotion, however. I think that is the case for any author, for about 1,000 new titles are released in all genres in North American each day.
6) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
Since 2015, I have been working on another title as well, a prequel to my Borneo memoir, the manuscript of which is presently out for review and I expect it to be released later this year. Here’s a description:
Kid on the Go! Memoir of my life before Borneo is Neill McKee’s third work in creative nonfiction. It is a prequel to his first work in the genre, the award-winning Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah. In this short book, McKee takes readers on a journey through his childhood, early adolescence, and teenage years, while growing up in the small industrially-polluted town of Elmira in Southern Ontario, Canada—now infamous as one of the centers for production of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Each chapter is set to a different theme on how he learned to keep “on the go” to escape the smells coming from the town’s chemical factory and other pollutants, including manure from surrounding farms. McKee’s vivid descriptions, dialog, and self-drawn illustrations, provide much humor and poignant moments in his stories of growing up in a loving family. In a way, the book is a travel memoir through both mental and physical space—a study of a young boy’s learning to observe and avoid dangers; to cope with death in the family; to fish, hunt, play cowboys; to learn the value of work and how to build and repair “escape” vehicles. The memoir explores his experiences with exploding hormones, his first attraction to girls, dealing with bullying, how he rebelled against religion and authority and survived the conformist teenager “rock & roll” culture of the early 1960s, coming out the other side with the help of influential teachers and mentors. After finally leaving his hometown, McKee describes his rather directionless but intensely searching years at university. Except for an emotional and revealing postscript, the story ends when he departs to become a volunteer teacher on the Island of Borneo—truly a “kid on the go!”
WOW! WOMEN ON WRITING TOUR
Guns and Gods in My Genes
Tour Begins February 15th
Neill McKee, author of the award-winning travel memoir Finding Myself in Borneo, takes the reader through 400 years and 15,000 miles of an on-the-road adventure, discovering stories of his Scots-Irish ancestors in Canada, while uncovering their attitudes towards religion and guns.
His adventure turns south and west as he follows the trail of his maternal grandfather, a Canadian preacher who married an American woman in Wisconsin, and braved the American Wild West from 1904 to 1907, finding a two-story brothel across from one of his churches and a sheriff who owned a saloon and dance hall, while carrying a gun with 20 notches, one for each man he had killed.
Much to his surprise, McKee finds his American ancestors were involved in every major conflict on North American soil: the Civil War, the American Revolution, and the French and Indian War. In the last chapters, McKee discovers and documents his Pilgrim ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower, landing at Plymouth in 1620, and their Puritan descendants who fought in the early Indian Wars of New England.
With the help of professional genealogical research, he tracks down and tells the stories of the heroes, villains, rascals, as well as, the godly and ordinary folk in his genes, discovering many facts and exposing myths. He also lets readers in on a personal struggle: whether to apply for Canadian-United States dual citizenship or remain only a Canadian.
Print Length: 352 Pages
Genre: Historical Travel Memoir
Guns and Gods in My Genes is available to purchase now on Amazon.com.
About the Author, Neill McKee
Neill McKee is a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His first travel memoir, Finding Myself in Borneo, won a bronze medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards, 2020, as well as other awards. McKee holds a Bachelor’s Degree, from the University of Calgary and a Master’s Degree in Communication from Florida State University. He worked internationally for 45 years, becoming an expert in the field of communication for social change. He directed and produced a number of award-winning documentary films/videos and multimedia initiatives, and has written numerous articles and books in the field of development communication. During his international career, McKee worked for Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO); Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC); UNICEF; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; Academy for Educational Development and FHI 360, Washington, DC. He worked and lived in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, and Russia for a total of 18 years and traveled to over 80 countries on short-term assignments. In 2015, he settled in New Mexico, using his varied experiences, memories, and imagination in creative writing.
Find him online at:
Author’s website: www.neillmckeeauthor.com/
Blog Tour Dates
February 15th @ The Muffin
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Grab your coffee and join us as we talk to author Neill McKee and celebrate the launch of his blog tour for his travel memoir, Guns and Gods in My Genes. You can also enter to win a copy of the book yourself!
February 17th @ Choices
Join Madeline today as she spotlights Neill McKee’s travel memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
February 20th @ Bring on Lemons
Turn lemons into lemonade by visiting Crystal’s blog today, where you can read her honest review of Neill McKees insightful memoir, Guns and Gods in My Genes.
February 22nd @ CloudsGirls27 Reads Books
Join Melissa as she reads Neill McKee’s memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
February 24th @ Author Anthony Avina’s Blog
Come by Anthony’s blog today where he interviews author Neill McKee about his memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
February 25th @ What is That Book About
Michelle spotlights Neill McKee’s book Guns and Gods in My Genes.
February 26th @ Lisa Haselton’s Book Reviews & Interviews
Visit Lisa’s blog today where she interviews author Neill McKee about his book Guns and Gods in My Genes.
February 27th @ Boots, Shoes, and Fashion
Join Linda as she treats us to an interview with author Neill McKee and chats with him about his memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes. She also shares some insights about the book!
February 28th @ Lilly’s Book Wonderland
Join Lilly as she shares her insights into Neill McKee’s fascinating travel memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
March 1st @ World of My Imagination
Light up your imagination when you visit Nicole’s blog today! She shares her insights into Neill McKee’s memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
March 3rd @ Joy Neal Kidney’s Blog
Make sure you stop by Joy’s blog today and read her review of Neill McKee’s memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
March 3rd @ Memoir Memoir
Visit John’s blog today and you can read his review of Nell McKee’s memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
March 5th @ A Storybook World
Deirdra spotlights Neill McKee’s profound memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
March 8th @ Memoir Writer’s Journey
Join Kathy as she reviews Neill McKee’s memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
March 11th @ The Frugalista Mom
Join Rozelyn as she reviews Neill McKee’s fascinating memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes. You can also win a copy of the book too!
March 12th @ Memoir Revolution
March 14th @ Author Anthony Avina’s Blog
Join Anthony again when he reviews Neill McKee’s memorable memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
March 15th @ My Writer Blog
Join Carole as she reviews Neill McKee’s memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes.
March 16th @ Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire
Set your reading list on fire with Mindy McGinnis as she spotlights Neil McKee’s memoir Guns and Gods in My Genes. You also have the chance to win a copy of this fascinating book!