The author employs vivid descriptions, dialogue, poetic prose, historic poetry, analytical opinion, and over a hundred photos and illustrations. For example, in a detective-like investigation he takes the reader back to the scenes his preacher grandfather encountered in Newcastle, Wyoming, during 1905-06-then a town with a two-story brothel across the street from his church, as well as a sheriff who owned a saloon with a dance hall, and carried a gun with 20 notches on its handle. McKee visits some of the exact places his ancestors fought and were wounded or killed. He describes encounters with exuberant historians clad in period costumes in ancient forts, and humorous interactions with actor-educators playing the part of Pilgrims at the reconstructed Plymouth Plantation. He takes the reader on serendipitous happenings, such as meeting a distant cousin who’s a flower farmer in Western New York State and who has studied their mutual family history in the US and England, dating back twenty-eight generations to the Norman invasion. Throughout the chapters, McKee discovers the importance of following female lines of descent in genealogical research. He also documents socio-religious values and trends, the history of settlement and its impact on North America’s indigenous people, as well as the increasingly strict gun control in Canada, compared to the opposite in USA.
Print Length: 352 Pages
Genre: Historical Travel Memoir
About the Author
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/
—- Interview by Nicole Pyles
WOW: First of all, congratulations on your book Guns and Gods in My Genes. Can you tell me how you ended up writing this book?
From the time I was a kid, I was interested in history, especially stories of the Old West. In fact, at about the age of eight, I discovered my maternal grandmother was born in Wisconsin in 1876, at the time Jesse James and his gang were still robbing trains. I became a filmmaker and multimedia producer instead of a story writer, but during my 45-year career in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and more recently Russia, I always lacked the time to write stories that came to my head. After I retired in 2012, I began writing Finding Myself in Borneo
, the story of my first job after university. (It has won three awards and gained over 25 five-star reviews.) During 2013-15, I visited my aging mother in Ontario, traveling from my home in Maryland a few times a year. My dad, who died in 2007, was always interested in old 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 in person, picking up more stories, photos, and records. That’s when I knew I had another book to write. Also, by getting my DNA tested on Ancestry.com, it matched with distant cousins who had additional stories, records, and photos.
WOW: That’s amazing how you discovered all of that! How was your approach writing this book different from writing others?
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 both the Borneo memoir and 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
. This was helpful in focusing the manuscript on those very themes.
The writing process for my Borneo memoir did not depend on more travel—I had old letters, photos, and a good memory. But I decided for Guns and Gods in My Genes, I would need to travel to make it really resonate with readers, for I had never been to all the places my ancestors had lived. I decided that going to the actual locations where they lived, farmed, prayed, preached, and fought in wars would make the stories come alive. Besides the discovering, on-the-spot, new traces of and insights into my ancestors’ lives, as well as the histories of those places, I was able to meet historians, genealogists, distant cousins, and even actor-educators playing the parts of people who lived at the time of my ancestors. For instance, at the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA, I met the brother of my ancestor who came on the Mayflower in 1620. His name was Edward Fuller, but he died in the first winter. (I descend from a son who came in 1640.) In my in-depth humorous conversation with his brother, Samuel Fuller, the colony’s quack doctor, he declares, “Did you know that snot is brain poop?”
“No,” I replied with a smile. “Do tell me more.”
“I saw it with my own eyes, I did. Brain poop coming out of my brother’s skull. I believe such conversations, vivid description, historical analysis and interpretation, lyrical prose, and some old poems I discovered, bring my ancestors back to life, in a way.
WOW: I completely agree! That conversation piece definitely makes me smile. What was your revision process like?
After I had completed most of the travel in 2018, I began writing the chapters and as I proceded, I did an exchange review with an Albuquerque writer friend on chapters of her book. We’d meet periodically for coffee and go through each other’s work and leave written comments on our manuscripts. When my manuscript was complete, I probably revised it about 20 times before submitting it to my literary editor Pamela Yenser
. She input many possible changes, comments, and wrote some examples of her suggestions which I accepted, rejected or adapted, but usually in my own words. I probably did another 20 revisions after that and then sent it out to about 10 people for comments – writers, family members, and people I met while traveling. With their suggestions, I probably read and revised it another 20 times and then send it back to my editor who suggested further changes. After that, I worked with my copy editor/proofreader and revised it at least 10 more times before sending it to my copy editor/proofreader and then after another 10 pass-throughs, to my designer. It was the most difficult book I have written so far, due to the desire to get everything accurate. I did a fact-checking process with genealogists at the New England Historical Genealogy Society, Boston, and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Plymouth, MA. I met the proof needed to join the Society.
WOW: What an impressive process! I LOVE the cover of your book. Were you involved in that process in any way?
Yes, I was very much involved. But the initial idea came from my first designer, who pulled out of the project. My editor wasn’t available for the second round so I went ahead and sent it to my designer first, then sent the page proofs to my editor. Big mistake! I would advise writers not to do that, because I ended up sending it back to my designer with so many changes to the page proofs that she opted out, overwhelmed with other work. I wanted the book published in time for the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower in December 2020, so I contracted The Book Designers
in California who did a great and speedy job. By then I knew what I wanted and they gave me three variations. They managed to incorporate photos of some of my actual ancestors on the cover, along with other symbols of what the book is about: guns, churches, villages, Native Americans—even a dream catcher that comes up in one story.
WOW: It’s so beautiful! Why did you decide to self-publish?
Neill: I call it “indie publishing.” I am in my mid-70s and creative nonfiction writing is like a second career to me. I don’t have five or ten years for a publisher to pick me up. I don’t have to worry about making a living at it, to tell you the truth. Hopefully, I might be able to cover expenses, someday!
After I completed my Borneo memoir, I submitted the manuscript to about eight publishers. Two wanted to publish it but also required their editors to work on it and didn’t promise to put any significant amount of money into publicity. So, they would have taken over three-quarters of my royalties and left me to pay all expenses on the promotion side. That didn’t seem smart to me. With around 1,000 new English titles released per day in North America, I realized I would have a better chance of expanding my readership by myself. So, I set up and registered my own company, NBFS Creations LLC, and hired a good designer. I published through IngramSpark, a company that prints and distributes on demand, and also distributes
ebook formats to many retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, AppleBooks, Indigo in Canada, etc. I believe it is the best way to reach readers around the world, and also to make your books available to independent book stores and libraries, if they can order from the Ingram Book Catalog.
WOW: I do love the independence that indie publishing gives! What are you working on next?
Neill: 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:
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: I love it! It sounds so interesting and fun, and I can’t wait to read it. Thank you so much for your time, and have fun on the tour!
— Blog Tour Dates
February 15th @ The Muffin
What goes better in the morning with coffee 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 7th @ A Week of Genealogy
Margaret will be reviewing Neill McKee’s 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!
***** Book Giveaway Contest *****
To win a copy of Guns and Gods in My Genes
by Neill McKee, please enter via Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. Giveaway ends February 28th at 11:59 PM EST. We will announce the winner the same day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!
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