I’m off to celebrate Thanksgiving and send everyone my very best for a wonderful holiday. As a special treat today, I’m welcoming Neill McKee to my blog to introduce his new book. Thanks for joining me today, Neil.
1. What other authors are you friends with? Have they helped you become a better writer? If yes, has it been their support or feedback or something else that’s been so valuable?
I got into creative writing late in the game, after a long career in filmmaking, media production, and writing in international development. The first author who helped me was Diane Thiel, a professor in the English Department at the University of New Mexico. She allowed me to join a couple of her graduate seminars. I loved her style of teaching and the feedback I received from her and other students. I have also shared my work with Gayle Lauradunn as it develops, and she gives me good feedback, chapter-by-chapter. In return, I give her feedback on what she is writing. Then, when I am ready, my literary editor, Pamela Yenser weighs in, and she offers many great ideas, some restructuring, shortening or lengthening. She also does a first pass at copy editing. These women are all recognized poets and authors in their own right. After reviews by about 10 readers, both male and female, I send my manuscripts back to Pamela for a second pass. I’d say my manuscripts go through at least 50 revisions before I send them to my proofreader—also a woman.
2. What do you hope readers will take away from Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth?
I hope that readers take away that it is possible to write an interesting childhood and/or youth memoir even if you had loving parents, supportive siblings, and haven’t suffered from abuse, neglect, discrimination, war, terror, etc. So many top-selling memoirs are written by people who have beaten all odds and risen to a successful life, accomplishing great things. But many more of us have stories worth telling if we dig into our memories and let our creative juices flow. It does help to have an antagonist to fight against. In my case, it was my Canadian hometown’s polluted environment in which I lived from 1945 to 1965—a chemical factory that produced insecticides and herbicides, the latter employed in the making Agent Orange for the American Army’s use in Vietnam. Although few people in town knew about that ugly fact at the time, we all knew the place often stank from by-products of that factory, as well as a fertilizer plant, a
foundry, and more—all proud signs of the post-war boom. The pollution provided conflict in my stories to use the theme of “escape” by just about any means possible—finding various routes out of town, fishing, hunting, building or renovating “escape vehicles,” working on my dad’s farm in the summer, dreaming about girls and sex instead of paying attention in school, confronting authority in my teenage “rock n’ roll” years, being introduced to philosophy and Zen Buddhism in senior high school, taking “existential leaps” out of airplanes, going out West to Calgary, Alberta for clear air, big blue skies, and mountains to complete my B.A., and finally leaving Canada in 1968 to be a volunteer teacher in Sabah, Malaysia, on the verdant Island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.
3. What was the biggest culture shock you experienced as a young man in Borneo?
Kid on the Go! is a stand-alone prequel to my award-winning travel memoir Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah. You’ll have to read that book to find out about all my culture shock experiences. But let me say that my biggest culture shock was discovering Asia’s different attitudes on gender. In the last chapter of Kid on the Go! I describe my life at the University of Calgary where I was a psychology major. I also joined the drama gang and acted in plays for the first time in my life. Some of the expressive women in the group were really an attraction for me. A few of the guys were gay or were trying to figure out their gender identity. I became a kind of counselor for them, even though I had no credentials.
In Asia, I found that gender was not such a black-and-white thing as it was in North America, at the time. The first night in Singapore I had an interesting conversation with a stunning transgender woman in an open-air restaurant. During my second day in the small Sabah town where I lived for two years, a Malaysian male teacher colleague took my hand while showing me all around, town meeting people—a natural gesture between male friends in Malaysia. He introduced me to Buki, the transgender hairdresser-barber in town, whom they called a setangah-setangah (half-half). She was hilarious and respected as the story-teller and unofficial town historian. Those experiences were wake up calls for me on how accepting and tolerant my new multiethnic multireligious
(Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Animist) home was compared to what I had left behind in North America. 4. Do you have more travel memoir stored and waiting to be written? If so, can you tell us a bit about that next book?
When I was stationed in Borneo, I made my first 16mm documentary film and that led to my career. The story on how that happened is in a chapter titled “Borneo through a New Lens.” I have completed over half of the first draft of my next manuscript on my career as an international filmmaker and multimedia producer, working for two Canadian development agencies, UNICEF, Johns Hopkins University, and an agency called FHI360 in Washington, D.C., where I was director of a communication project with 150 staff and a large budget.
During my career, I lived for four years in Malaysia, four years in Bangladesh, seven years in Kenya and Uganda (East Africa), and my last overseas posting was in Moscow, Russia during 2004-2007. Besides that, I traveled to about 80 countries on short-term assignments. All this has given me significant experience in learning about the issues within so many fields of endeavor to improve human life in the developing world: volunteering during your youth; the role of science and technology in agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture; finding solutions for delivering health care, clean water, sanitation and hygiene; empowering girls, women, and young people to take charge of the their lives, while attempting to change the behaviors and social norms that restrict them from reaching their full potential. I think there’s a good story here. I’ve set up a website on my main projects, including most of the videos, comic books, and other media products that I have been able to retrieve, so far.
My challenge is to write about my career creatively and coherently in a way that will entertain and educate—that is, make readers smile, wonder, and think about the present state of our planet. I am also including thoughts on what was achieved or wasn’t achieved in the projects I documented or created, my advancement in skills, personal development, marriage and family life, and memories of many of the people I met in my travels and those who influenced me and propelled my way forward.
I hope to complete this book by the end of 2022. In the meantime, I also want to begin a new writing project, probably involving travel through New Mexico and America’s Southwest. That project is gradually taking shape through reading and thinking about the history, ethnicities, and cultures I have encountered here.
In his new book, McKee takes readers on a journey through his childhood, adolescence, and teenage years from the mid-40s to the mid-60s, in the small, then the industrially-polluted town of Elmira, Ontario, Canada—one of the centers of production for Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
McKee’s vivid descriptions, dialog, and self-drawn illustrations are a study of how a young boy learned to play and work, fish and hunt, avoid dangers, cope with death, deal with bullies, and to build or restore “escape” vehicles. You may laugh out loud as the author recalls his exploding hormones, attraction to girls, rebellion against authority, and survival of the 1960s’ “rock & roll” culture—emerging on the other side as a youth leader.
After leaving Elmira, McKee describes his intensely searching university years, trying to decide which career path to follow. Except for a revealing postscript, the story ends when he accepts a volunteer teaching position on the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia.
About the Author
Neill McKee is a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has written and published three books in this genre since 2015. His latest work is Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth, a humorous and poignant account of his growing up in an industrially-polluted town in Ontario, Canada, and his university years. This memoir is a stand-alone prequel to his first travel memoir Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah (2019) on his first overseas adventures in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo), where he served as a Canadian volunteer teacher and program administrator during 1968-70 and 1973-74. This book won the 2019 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award for Biography–(other than a New Mexico/Arizona subject) and a Bronze Medal in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards (Ippy Awards).
In late 2020, McKee also released Guns and Gods in my Genes: A 15,000-mile North American search through four centuries of history, to the Mayflower—an entertaining account of how he searched for his roots in Canada and the US, in which he employs vivid descriptions, dialog, poetic prose, analytical opinion, photos and illustrations. In this work, McKee slowly uncovers his American grandmother’s lineage—ancestors who were involved in almost every major war on North American soil and others, including a passenger on the Mayflower, as well as heroes, villains, rascals, and ordinary godly folk. Through his search, McKee exposes myths and uncovers facts about the true founding of America.
McKee, who holds a B.A. Degree from the University of Calgary and a Masters in Communication from Florida State University, lived and worked in Asia, Africa, Russia and traveled to over 80 countries on assignments during his 45-year international career. He became an expert in communication and directed/produced a number of award-winning documentary films/videos, and wrote many articles and books in the field. McKee is now busy writing another travel memoir on his career. He does readings/book signings and presentations with or without photos. He prefers lively interactive sessions.
Follow the Author Online
You can find more about this author on other blogs that are hosting him.
November 8th @ The Muffin: Join us as we celebrate the launch of Neill McKee’s newest memoir, Kid on the Go. Come by and read an interview with the author, find out more about his newest book, and enter to win a copy for yourself.
November 10th @ Quiet Fury Books: Visit Darcia’s blog today where she features an excerpt from Neill McKee’s memoir Kid on the Go!.
November 12th @ Choices: Visit Madeline’s blog and read Neill McKee’s guest post on surviving the 1960’s Rock n’ Roll culture.
November 15th @ Bring on Lemons: Visit Crystal’s blog today and read her insights into Neill McKee’s memoir Kid on the Go!.
November 15th @ Katherine Itacy’s Blog: Stop by Katherine and read her review of Neill McKee’s memoir Kid on the Go!. You can also enter to win a copy of the book for yourself too!
November 17th @ Beverley A. Baird’s Blog: Join Beverley as she features a guest post by author Neill McKee on issues on writing about your hometown.
November 20th @ Sweet Silly Sara: Visit Sara’s blog and read her review of Neill McKee’s memoir Kid on the Go!.
November 24th @ Beverley A. Baird’s Blog: Visit Beverley’s blog again and read her review of Neill McKee’s memoir Kid on the Go!.
November 26th @ StoreyBook Reviews: Visit Leslie’s blog where she shares an excerpt of Neill McKee’s memoir Kid on the Go!.
November 30th @ Author Anthony Avina’s Blog: Join Anthony as he interviews Neill McKee, author of the memoir Kid on the Go!.
December 2nd @ The Mommies Reviews: Visit Glenda’s blog today where she reviews Neill McKee’s memoir Kid on the Go!.
December 4th @ Mother Daughter Bookclub: Join Cindy today when she reviews Neill McKee’s memoir Kid on the Go!.
December 5th @ Fiona Ingram’s Blog: Join Fiona today when she shares Neill McKee’s guest post on writing a memoir in a youth’s voice but with present-day adult reflections.
December 7th @ CK Sorens’ Blog: Make sure to stop by CK Sorens’ blog today and check out a feature of Neill McKee’s memoir and enter to win a copy of the book too.
December 8th @ World of My Imagination :Join Nicole as she shares her thoughts about Neill McKee’s memoir Kid on the Go!. You’ll also have the chance to win a copy for yourself too.
December 10th @ Jill Sheets’ Blog: Join Jill as she interviews Neill McKee and features his memoir Kid on the Go!.
December 12th @ Author Anthony Avina’s Blog: Visit Anthony’s blog again as he shares his thoughts on Neill McKee’s newest memoir Kid on the Go!.