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Author Update 2024: Neill McKee

Neill McKee is a retired teacher, international filmmaker and multi-media producer, and an award-winning creative nonfiction author. He published his fourth memoir, My University of the World: Adventures of an International Film & Media Maker, in 2023. Look for Neill on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as on To learn about his first three memoirs, read his 2019, 2021, and 2022 SWW interviews.

Neill, you’ve led a storied life. Please tell readers a little about your memoir My University of the World.
My University of the World (2023) is a stand-alone sequel to two of my other memoirs, Kid on the Go! Memoir of my Childhood and Youth (2021) and Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah (2019). All three books can be enjoyed in any order you read them. This latest memoir is composed of 28 short chapters and an epilogue that takes readers on an entertaining journey through the developing world from 1970 to 2012. The book is filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of people and places I visited and worked in, and over 200 images.

The story starts when I became a “one-man film crew,” documenting the lives of Canadian CUSO volunteers working in Asia and Africa, and covers my marriage to Elizabeth, an American I met in Japan. Her life with me and her growth as an artist, as well as our children’s lives, are also covered in this new book.

Thirteen chapters document my time as a filmmaker for Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), when I roamed the developing world and made about 30 films on many research projects in education, rural development, agriculture, post-harvest technology, fisheries and aquaculture, health care, water and sanitation—the list goes on. I wrote these stories to allow the reader to get a sense of the challenges I encountered. I kept the chapters light on technical details and full of humorous and poignant incidents. In each chapter, I also included how IDRC projects made an impact, or not.

The book also covers my time as a multimedia producer, leading teams of people in UNICEF in Bangladesh and Eastern and Southern Africa, and how my family adapted to a very different and interesting life. I ended up working for Johns Hopkins University, and then took over a project in Moscow, Russia. In my final job, I was asked to save a large project in Washington, D.C. from 2009 to 2012. By then I had learned a lot about managing people and, I must admit, sometimes I missed my years as a “lone-wolf” filmmaker at the beginning of my career.

Was it a natural transition for you to go from filmmaker to author?
During my career, I wrote three books and many articles on the role of communication in behavior and social change. But when I retired in 2013, I decided to turn to creative nonfiction writing. I submitted my first manuscript to about a dozen publishers and finally received two offers from small firms, but when I saw the contract details, I could see they were mainly interested in acquiring new titles with little or no resources for promotion. Also, despite the fact I had engaged a professional editor, they wanted to start over with that process. So, I decided to hire a professional book designer and self-publish. Either way, it was evident I was going to have to do the promotion myself. Perhaps if I was younger, I would have tried harder to seek an agent and publisher, but at my age, I didn’t think it made sense to wait. I don’t regret my decision because I have since learned that almost all authors, even if they do find a publisher, have to do or pay for most of the promotion themselves. With about 1,000 new books released every day in North America, in all genres, there is a lot of competition for readers’ attention. Fortunately for me, making money has not been a necessary objective in my new “retirement career.”

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing My University of the World?
I entered this memoir in several contests and so far have won two awards: Distinguished Favorite, Independent Press Award (2024) for Career; and Finalist, Book Excellence Awards (2024) for Autobiography. It’s rewarding to get such feedback, as well as good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads—some from people who have had no experience in international development work or film and media production. They simply enjoyed riding along with me, and some wrote that they felt they were there. Another benefit of writing this memoir was helping me sharpen my long-term memory, revising connections with old friends and former colleagues in Canada, the US, and around the world.

Do you have one place of travel that has left an indelible mark on you?
I would have to say it is Sabah, Malaysia, on Borneo Island, and the small town of Kota Belud near the coast of the South China Sea. That’s where I “found myself,” learning Malay language and teaching beautiful students, visiting their kampongs (villages), roaming around on my motorcycle, climbing Mount Kinabalu (the highest in Southeast Asia), having a few love affairs, and making my first film. It is all in my memoir Finding Myself in Borneo. That book has won three awards.

Was there anything surprising you discovered about yourself while writing your memoir?
I found that I always had a knack for creative writing but never developed it until I retired. I never kept a diary but I had a lot of stories in my head for years. I wrote up some of these at the time they happened and kept a file. I found many more in old letters to and from my fiancé/wife and family, plus official trip reports that I always tried to make entertaining, including all the funny happenings along the way. Some of my colleagues might not have appreciated such embellishments, but I didn’t care. I had the feeling I would use these someday.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Besides the creative writing, it was returning to IDRC in Ottawa, Canada, to look through a library of thousands of colored slides I had taken all over the developing world, many of which I used in the book. I also searched film archives and websites and managed to locate most of my film and media projects. This also helped to bring back my experiences over the years, and I decided to create a digital library, housing all I could find on

The videos play on YouTube and I get great satisfaction from messages I receive every week from young adults who were influenced in their childhoods, especially from my most successful multi-media project, the Meena Communication Initiative for girls’ empowerment in South Asia.

Do you have a favorite quote from My University of the World you could share with us?
That’s a difficult thing for a writer to answer, but I think the opening paragraph of Chapter One gets the reader into the spirit of the memoir:

As I rolled across the plains of northern India in December 1970, on a rickety old train, rumbling between station stops and passing many smaller ones, I soon got into the stride of things by listening to Santana Abraxas through the earphones plugged into my compact reel-to-reel tape recorder. From that time on, the song Black Magic Woman became forever embedded in my mind as a part of India. The time was magic for me because I was on the road, filming and photographing Canadian volunteers in Asia. It was exactly what I wanted to do with my life—an answer to my prayers, or I should say to my meditation sessions. I was more in touch with Zen Buddhism than Christianity in those days, like other North American youth—many of whom were hippies, or what we then called “flower children,” who traveled to the East in search of answers to life’s mysteries and their future paths.

Does meditation play a role in your writing ritual today?
Well, I never got deeply into Zen Buddhism, but in my late twenties, I learned how to do Transcendental Meditation (TM) for practical, rather than spiritual reasons. My younger brother Philip had taken it up and even traveled to Spain to study at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s TM institute. In 1968, the Beatles had visited this Maharishi in India for spiritual replenishment, and by doing so, they helped spread TM worldwide. Philip taught me the basic method and gave me my secret mantra—a sound I repeated in my head for 20 minutes, two times a day, while breathing deeply, sometimes falling asleep, which was okay according to Philip. Eventually, I learned how to do this just about anywhere, even in noisy airports. Learning TM helped me survive the busy years of my career. I still use the technique for refreshing my brain cells while writing.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I chose to print and distribute through (IS), rather than going with Amazon alone. Through IS my books are available in North America and around the world on Amazon and many other platforms. Even independent bookstores and libraries can order copies. I publish in paperback and eBook formats, and two of my memoirs, Finding Myself in Borneo and Kid on the Go! were also produced as audiobooks by Lantern Audio, which distributes them very widely on many platforms as well. I promote through a growing email list, blog and review tours, and some social media channel posts, although I don’t put a lot of effort into the latter because it is evident to me that it doesn’t help much for sales, plus I am a bit allergic to simple messages, “likes,” and “congratulations,” etc., that have little substance or follow up. I find LinkedIn the most useful. I also put a lot of blog posts, interviews, links to reviews, places to buy, and awards on my author’s website:

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

2023 New Releases for SWW Authors #3

Dale A. Garratt, Larada Horner-Miller, Neill McKee, and Victoria Murata are just a few examples of the genre-diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW). Their releases couldn’t fit in the 2023 interview schedule, but look for new interviews or updates for these authors in 2024.

A list of interviewed SWW authors with 2023 releases is included at the end of this post.

The Peace Road: A high-stakes geopolitical thriller (August 2023) by Dale A. Garratt. North Korea launches a hypersonic missile that barely misses Los Angeles. The U.S. President tasks top physicist Ric O’Malley with completing a quantum computer (QC) project. Running 150 million times faster than any existing computer, this QC will bring Artificial Intelligence to a level that can stop any ICBM in the world. Ric races to East Asia to obtain breakthrough research data from South Korean and Japanese allies. China enters the conflict and attacks the U.S., while a ground-breaking plan to counter war quietly takes shape — a Peace Road. Can Ric and his team finish the QC in time to stop a nuclear war? Is building a peace road a viable option for a permanent end to war on the Korean Peninsula?

Visit Dale on his website and his Amazon author page.

Hair on Fire: A Heartwarming & Humorous Christmas Memoir (September 2023) by Larada Horner-Miller. Are you hoping to rediscover the magic of the winter holidays? Looking for traditional inspiration for your upcoming Xmas parties? Ever wondered what’s behind the twelve days of gift-giving? The daughter of a real cowboy, award-winning author Larada Horner-Miller grew up in a small rural community in southeastern Colorado. Now she uses her seventy years of festive experiences to share the true meaning of the season and how to rejoice in its miracles. Hair on Fire is a compilation of poems, prose, and helpful scripture references centered around family. Using vivid and humorous language, Horner-Miller presents tales that touch the heart and renew anticipation for the holidays.

Look for Larada on her website at and her Amazon author page.

My University of the World: Adventures of an International Film & Media Maker (August 2023) by Neill McKee. The author takes us on an entertaining journey through the developing world from 1970 to 2012. His memoir is filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of people and places he visited and worked in, and over 200 images, all of which bring readers into his “University of the World.” The story takes us to Asia, Bangladesh, Africa, Baltimore (Maryland), Moscow, and finally Washington, D.C. This is a book for anyone interested in world affairs and development, film and multimedia production, the use of media for behavior and social change, exotic travel, and interesting career choices.

You’ll find My University of the World on Neill’s website, on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

The Ranger: Magicians of the Beyond, Book Two (September 2023) by Victoria Murata. Rafe is a ranger, skilled in the ways of the forest and the creatures that live there. He’s been sent to another world along with Covert assassins. Their mission is to find the young heir to the kingdom who’s fled from the sister who once loved him. Rafe knows he will find the prince. He always finds what is hiding. But this foreign forest and its creatures don’t play by the rules. As he inches closer to finding what he’s searching for, he uncovers unexpected magical beings and a monster. This monster is an ancient creature that doesn’t behave like normal bloodthirsty beasts. This monster has been waiting for him for centuries. It wants his heart, yes, and it wants his soul.

Vicky’s books are available on her Amazon author page.

SWW Author Interviews: 2023 Releases

Marty Eberhardt
Bones in the Back Forty

William Fisher
The Price of the Sky: A Tale of Bandits, Bootleggers, and Barnstormers

Patricia Gable
The Right Choice

Cornelia Gamlem
The Decisive Manager: Get Results, Build Morale, and Be the Boss Your People Deserve

Joyce Hertzoff
Train to Nowhere Somewhere: Book 1 of the More Than Just Survival Series

Brian House
Reich Stop

T.E. MacArthur
The Skin Thief

Nick Pappas
Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico, and its Twin Mining Disasters

Marcia Rosen
Murder at the Zoo

Lynne Sebastian
One Last Cowboy Song

JR Seeger
The Enigma of Treason

Suzanne Stauffer
Fried Chicken Castañeda

Jodi Lea Stewart
The Gold Rose

Patricia Walkow
Life Lessons from the Color Yellow

R. Janet Walraven
LIAM: The Boy Who Saw the World Upside Down

Donald Willerton
Death in the Tallgrass

Linda Wilson
Waddles the Duck and
Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere

Author Update 2022: Neill McKee

Creative nonfiction author Neill McKee is a retired teacher, international filmmaker, and multi-media producer. In 2021 he published Kid on the Go!, his third memoir, that follows his early life in Ontario, Canada. You’ll find Neill on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as on To learn about his first two memoirs, read his 2019 and 2021 SWW interviews.

Kid on the Go! is a prequel to your first memoir, Finding Myself in Borneo. What do you want readers to know about this newest release?
It is what I would call a stand-alone prequel. There’s no need to read this one before my Borneo memoir. Kid on the Go! is all about the experiences that led me to an international career. It’s a journey through my childhood, adolescence, and teenage years from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, in the small (then industrially-polluted) town of Elmira, Ontario, Canada—one of the centers of production for Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. I describe ordinary experiences in a humorous way: learning to play and work, fish and hunt, avoid dangers, cope with death in the family, deal with bullies, and build or restore “escape” vehicles. I describe my exploding hormones, attraction to girls, rebellion against authority, and survival of 1960s’ rock ‘n’ roll culture and how I emerged on the other side as a youth leader. Many readers tell me they relate to parts of my experiences. My writing brings up many memories of their own, and that’s what I was aiming for.

Tell us how the book came together.
I started to write draft stories for this book when I retired from my main career in 2013. I wrote my three memoirs—Kid on the Go!, Finding Myself in Borneo, and Guns and Gods in My Genes—simultaneously, but I published this one last. After the latter book was released in December 2020, I got down to finishing the prequel. My editor, Pamela Yenser, had already completed one revision and I had feedback from about ten reviewers, so it was a matter of refining the text and sending it back to Pamela for a second look before my final edits and review by my proofreader. I probably went through 50 drafts before publishing.

My design company came up with about four cover concepts but I favored the one I designed myself—an illustration I did of me flying over my polluted hometown on a motorized scooter I made in the 1950s. My designers were skeptical, but I did a little pretest by sending about seven possible covers to 50 people for their opinions. My design concept won, hands-down, although I made a change to the subtitle so that potential readers would not think it’s a children’s book.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Actually, it was the easiest of my three memoirs to write. Except for the postscript, which contains a brief analysis of the chemical pollution in my town, this book did not require a lot of research.

Kid on the Go! is based on my own memories and some of my brother’s recollections. I’m lucky to have such a clear memory of my childhood and youth. I just had to put it all into words that would have a somewhat universal appeal, at least for memoir readers who like to explore past eras. I decided to make the book different by adding over 50 illustrations. My artist wife, and an illustrator I tried to hire, convinced me to do the illustrations myself, since they would be more authentic. That took many hours of work.

Do you have a quote from Kid on the Go! that you’d like to share?
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3:

During the summers, we explored and fished in the creek downstream from the chemical factory, where DDT, 2,4-D, and 2,4,5-T were in full production. There, we came upon acidic festering pools and creepy things, such as frogs with two heads and fish with only one eye. We didn’t try very hard to catch these fish, but if we happened to hook one, we’d throw it back in. They looked too spooky, almost ghost-like, and Mom never liked fish, anyway.

At suppertime, if we tried to tell Mom and Dad about these weird creatures of the Canagagigue Creek, Dad would chuckle and Mom would say something like, “You’re lucky to have meat and potatoes, unlike the children in Africa, so eat up all that’s on your plate.”

Any great revelations about your younger self or your upbringing while writing the book?
I think I was surprised to find how much mentors changed my life. As I grew older, I became an increasingly rebellious youth, especially in the rock ‘n’ roll 1960s when being a “hard rock” was cool—a term used for guys who slicked back their hair like Elvis Presley, wore leather jackets, drifted through school, fixed up and raced old cars and motorcycles, and chased girls.

But in Grade 12, then the second-last year of high school in Ontario, on a cold and rainy night, I saw lights on in our family’s church, which I had stopped attending. I parked my car and entered an ongoing Young People’s meeting where what I considered to be straitlaced girls gasped at the sight of me. There I met my first mentor, a student minister by the name of Bob who was studying theology and philosophy at university. We quickly became friends and I started to read books he suggested, such as Paul Tillich’s The Eternal Now, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison, and Martin Buber’s I and Thou. Bob preferred questions rather than answers to stimulate deep discussions. I’d never experienced this approach before. When I returned the next week, I was elected Vice President and then President in Grade 13, although by then I was more interested in Zen Buddhism than Christianity. Through discussion groups, debates, music and dances, I doubled attendance.

Much changed for me in school as well, where I was encouraged by my English teacher, Mr. Exley, a man only five years my senior. He was an unusual character who taught literature with dramatic gestures. He coached me on my terrible poetry and marked my essays thoroughly with a fine red pen. He also privately lent me his copy of Bob Dylan’s album The Times They Are A-Changin’ and recommended J.D. Salinger’s obscenity-filled The Catcher in the Rye (not on the curriculum, for sure!). And when I entered university, I forged friendships with people from different cultures—graduate students from Southern Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) and Egypt. The influence of these last two mentors steered me in an international direction.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I believe it was rediscovering how much each childhood and youth experience determined my ultimate direction in life. It’s not that I, nor anyone else, could have predicted it from any trend in my behavior. It’s the collective experience that counted. For instance, I write about how, very early in my life, I dreamed of living in some far away exotic and verdant land and believed the shapes on a distant hill beyond the chemical factory were African animals. I ended up living in, and working in, Borneo and Africa.

I was never much of a reader as a child. As soon as my parents bought a television set in 1953, I became glued to it. I visualized everything and I’m sure it had a lot of influence on me becoming a filmmaker. Also, as a young kid, I had little fear of venturing into dangerous places like polluted creeks where I saw those creepy, transformed fish and frogs. That probably led me to take chances in life and work in places where many people would not want to venture.

What is the greatest challenge of writing for the memoir market?
So many bestselling childhood memoirs are by people who struggled against physical or mental abuse, poverty, racial or cultural discrimination, or dogmatic parents and guardians, but somehow overcame such oppression to get a good education and succeed in life. It is a challenge to write and sell books in such a market since I experienced none of those conditions. So what could I write about that would tell an entertaining, captivating story? I had to have something to struggle against to add conflict and drama to the narrative. In my case, it was the industrial and environmental pollution I experienced in my hometown. The odors from chemical and fertilizer factories, the slaughter house, and unpleasant manure smells radiating from Old Order Mennonite farmers’ fields provide the setting for the overall theme of escape.

So far, your focus has been on nonfiction. Have you ever wanted to write fiction?
I haven’t ventured into fiction writing because I seldom read fiction. I watch movies for relaxation in the evening, while sipping some wine. I have always wanted to seek new facts and discover things about the real world in my filmmaking and writing. That’s challenging enough for one life, I feel.

After writing three books about your life, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned about publishing?
The most important lesson is that writing and publishing is only half of the task. I chose to self-publish through Ingram Spark because, at my age, I could not wait for the time it would take to find a suitable publisher. I had a couple of offers from publishers for my Borneo book, but they were not willing to put any serious amount of resources into marketing—I’d have to do that myself while they took most of the royalties. So, that’s what occupies the other half of my time. I’m told there are about 1,000 new titles published everyday in North America’s English market in all genres. A book marketing specialist said I was doing everything right: a good website with a blog and event page, interviews, a blog and review tour for each book, special publication reviews, sending out many updates to a large email list, and some social media posts. The latter is the hardest thing for me to find the motivation to do because I am not sure it sells books. I just keep trying.

What writing projects are you working on now?
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 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 issues within so many fields of endeavor to improve human life in the developing world. 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 and 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. I’ve set up a website on my main projects, including most of the videos, comic books, and other media products I have retrieved so far:

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

2021 New Releases for SWW Authors #2

SouthWest Writers (SWW) is full of authors actively working their dreams. Michael Backus, Darynda Jones, Neill McKee, and Pat Moorman are a few SWW members with new releases for 2021. The releases in this post couldn’t fit into this year’s interview schedule, but look for interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2022.

A list of interviewed SWW authors with 2021 releases is included at the end of this post.

Michael Backus’ newest release, The Vanishing Point (Cactus Moon Publications, September 2021), is about disappearance, trauma and memory, and the possibilities of redemption through a great American road trip and a peek into a mid-western childhood. It is a meditation on Karma and the way we lose and find ourselves over and over again. How did Henry Dolan end up here, heading to Santa Fe, New Mexico? The one place in the world he swore he would never set foot in again—the town where he lost his wife and daughter nearly a decade ago. Maybe it’s the eleven pounds of high-grade weed in the trunk of his car that he can’t sell anywhere else. Maybe it is something much deeper. It is time for him to finally meet his daughter and reckon with the harm he caused. Cadence, now ten, helps Henry open his long locked-away heart, exposing the wounds he has kept concealed. In healing, he finds a mysterious connection between his daughter and his own tragic childhood.

The Vanishing Point is available on Amazon.

Darynda Jones released three books in 2021 with a fourth set to publish in mid-December. In Beguiled (Betwixt & Between Book Three, February 2021), newly indoctrinated witch Defiance Dayne discovers there’s more to life after forty than she’d ever imagined possible. Especially if one is a charmling with enough magics to make her a target for every power-hungry warlock out there. When one of them sends a hunter to town, she knows it’s time to take her talents seriously before the hunter takes her life. The Gravedigger’s Son (1001 Dark Nights Press, May 2021) is a Charley Davidson Novella that follows demon hunter Quentin Rutherford and private investigator Amber Kowalski as they try to stop a supernatural entity before it kills again.

A Good Day for Chardonnay (St. Martin’s Press, July 2021) is book two in the Sunshine Vicram series. All small-town sheriff Sunshine Vicram really wants is one easy-going day. The kind that starts with coffee and a donut and ends with take-out pizza and a glass of chardonnay (or seven). Before she can say iced mocha latte, Sunny’s got a bar fight gone bad, a teenage daughter hunting a serial killer and, oh yes, the still unresolved mystery of her own abduction years prior. Moonlight and Magic is the fourth book in the Betwixt & Between series. Available for pre-order, it will release on December 17, 2021. Darynda also has several other books on pre-order set to release in 2022.

For all of her books, visit her website at and her Amazon author page.

Kid on the Go! (August 2021) is Neill McKee’s third work of creative nonfiction. The memoir is a standalone prequel to his award-winning Finding Myself in Borneo. In this new book, McKee takes readers on a journey through his childhood, adolescence, and teenage years from the mid-40s to the mid-60s. 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. The author recalls his exploding hormones, attraction to girls, rebellion against authority, and survival of 1960s’ “rock & roll” culture, emerging on the other side as a youth leader. He 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.

Visit and his Amazon author page for all of his books.

Pat Moorman’s debut mystery novel, Mad Beach, was released in September of 2021. For Claire Chapman, life in Florida in the 1970s is anything but boring as she spends her days managing the employees of a Publix delicatessen and finessing the art of dealing with some of the deli’s quirkier customers. And though her work-life may be hectic at times—especially around the holidays—she’s happy, spending her nights at home with her cats, wondering what shenanigans her beloved husband, Matt, will get into after work. But when her normal life takes a sudden turn following the disappearance of one of her employees, Claire is determined to find out what happened to her, not knowing the potential cost.

Mad Beach is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

SWW Author Interviews: 2021 Releases

Jeffrey Candelaria
TORO: The Naked Bull
Marty Eberhardt
Death in a Desert Garden
Melody Groves
When Outlaws Wore Badges
Holly Harrison
Rites & Wrongs
Robert Kidera
BR Kingsolver
Soul Harvest
Marcia Meier
Face, A Memoir
Victoria Murata
The Acolyte
Barb Simmons
The War Within: A Wounded Warrior Romance
Gina Troisi
The Angle of Flickering Light

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

Author Update: Neill McKee

Author Neill McKee is a world wanderer from Southern Ontario, Canada, who now makes his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Following the release of his award-winning Finding Myself in Borneo (2019), he published a second travel memoir in 2020, Guns and Gods in My Genes: A 15,000-mile North American Search Through Four Centuries of History, to the Mayflower. You’ll find Neill on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as his website Read his 2019 SWW interview to learn about his first memoir.

What would you like readers to know about your newest book?
My travel memoir starts in 2017 in Ontario, Canada, as I uncover the stories of my rather religious McKee Scots-Irish ancestors in Canada (Chapters 1 to 3). In Chapter 4, I follow the trail of my maternal grandfather, John Addison Neill (my given name is my mother’s maiden name), who enters the USA in 1899, becomes a Methodist minister, and marries a woman in Wisconsin by the name of Effie Jane Haskins. Chapters 5 to 7 are about my grandparents’ adventures as they move west to Nebraska and Wyoming, still very much a part of the Wild West during 1895-1907. The remainder of the book (Chapters 8 to 17) takes the reader deeper into North American history as I discover the stories of my great-grandfather, Lafayette Haskins, in the Civil War. Other ancestors fought in the American Revolution, The French and Indian War, and King Philip’s War, which involved a bloody struggle between some of my Puritan ancestors in New England and the Native Americans they displaced, enslaved, indentured, or killed. Throughout the book, I compare American and Canadian early settlement, the role of religion, wars, the rule of law, and gun control.

What sets this book apart from other travel memoirs?
Many people search for their roots on or other websites, and in libraries. Often, they end up with pages of family trees, which may be of interest to a few cousins but make most others’ eyes glaze over. I took a different approach and traveled to the places my ancestors lived, farmed, struggled, fought, and prayed, so that I could meet distant cousins, uncover new stories, take photos, and gain insights on the memoir’s theme: the conflict between guns and gods in my genes. I also had a personal challenge to answer that adds some tension: Should I, a peaceful Canadian writer in his 70s living in New Mexico, also become a citizen of gun-happy USA? Throughout the book I use vivid descriptions, historical analysis with some of my own interpretations, dialog, accounts of on-the-spot detective work, lyrical prose, uncovered ancient poems (and one of my own on a “Rowdy Man” ancestor in Connecticut), and 116 photos and illustrations. The pages are unencumbered by tables and chapter notes, which are placed at the back.

When did you know you wanted to write this second memoir?
During my 45-year career in international development, I lacked the time to properly write the stories of my adventures in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and more recently Russia. 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.) Simultaneously, 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, I matched with distant cousins who had additional stories, records, and photos.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I had to verify some genealogical links, which, with my own skills in genealogy research, proved challenging. So, I hired researchers at the New England Historical Genealogical Society (NEHGS), Boston, to do the refined work. I tracked down all the birth, marriage, and death certificates I could find, but NEHGS found some missing links and submitted my application to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Plymouth, Massachusetts, and it was accepted. I also visited the Mayflower Society in Plymouth for help in verifying other New England ancestors of interest — many through female lineage.

Tell us more about how the book came together.
When I began the genealogical search on the Canadian side of my family in 2013, I only had a few records and stories from my father and cousins, but did extensive interviews with my only living uncle. On the US side, I had quite a few leads from a now-deceased cousin to whom I dedicated the book. These were anecdotes, website stories, etc. and a lot from and other records. My cousin had done a great job, and between 2013 and 2015, I put these all together in two 200-page documents — one on my paternal side and one on my maternal side. They are more traditional genealogical accounts and, although I knew they would be interesting to my extended family, I wanted to write the story of our ancestors in a way that would be of interest to a much wider audience.

In 2015, after my wife and I settled in Albuquerque, I began writing stories for the book. That year, I also joined a graduate workshop in creative nonfiction led by Professor Diane Thiel at the Department of English, University of New Mexico. At the same time, I worked on Finding Myself in Borneo, and some of my submissions were on that subject. The feedback I received in these sessions was invaluable. I joined Professor Thiel’s 2016 workshop on writing poetry, as well, and also attended SWW workshops, which helped with both books.

For Guns and Gods in My Genes, I carried out the real travel research during the summers of 2017 to 2019, when I clocked 15,000 miles through Ontario and 22 US states. Besides going to the very places where my ancestors lived and died, I visited many historical museums and societies to dig up more facts and stories, and to uncover mistakes other amateur genealogists (like myself) had made and put on The receptions I received from local historians and museum curators were overwhelmingly positive.

Who are a few favorite “characters” you discovered from among your ancestors?
By following female lineage (Neill/Haskins or Hoskins, Robinson, Stevens, Gallop, Thacher, Conant, Fuller), I found real rascals and Indian fighters, as well as some fair and saintly people in my genes. For instance, Reverend Thomas Thacher, first pastor of the Old South Boston Meeting House, was a reformist and “Renaissance Man.” And Roger Conant, founder of Salem, Massachusetts, argued against the increasingly fanatical Puritans — people who brought us the infamous Salem Witch Trials. I also take readers into the foundations of, and myths about, the Puritan Pilgrims and their worldview through two visits to the recreation of “Plimoth” Plantation, Plymouth, MA. There I meet and humorously dialog with educator-actors playing the roles of real Pilgrims such as Samuel Fuller, the colony’s quack doctor and brother of my ninth great-grandfather, Edward Fuller, who came on the Mayflower with his unnamed wife in 1620. (They died in the first winter, but I descend from his son who came to New England in 1640.)

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
The discovery through travel was the most rewarding, especially meeting like-minded people with a similar interest in preserving and documenting history. For instance, when I met the people who own the great Haskins house in Windsor, Connecticut, built in 1750, they immediately welcomed me and showed me all around the property, telling me more stories about the place. My former training in communication research helped me uncover myths and mistakes people make by not checking and triangulating facts. In my memoir, I document how this happens and how to avoid it. I also loved listening to many books on US and Canadian history, usually while walking and making notes. I have a pretty full library and, besides the 21 pages of chapter notes, I include a suggested reading list at the end of the book.

Any “Oh, wow!” moments when doing research for this book?
There are many “wow! moments” in my book. Here are two:

  • On top of a hill in Virginia I walk along still-visible trenches used by Confederate soldiers in the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864). I then take an eerie walk down the hill into the woods where my great-grandfather, Lafayette Haskins, a 20-year-old foot soldier in the 7th Wisconsin Regiment (a part of the famous Iron Brigade) received a gunshot in the leg from the Confederate trenches above. (This was his last battle of his two years in the war. He had also endured more dangerous episodes of sickness in rudimentary, unsanitary hospitals.)
  • Through perseverance, I keep asking locals in a small town in western New York, if they know possible descendants of my Stevens ancestor who fought in the American Revolution. The clues I gather finally lead me to an 82-year-old flower farmer who, 25 years ago, had researched his whole ancestry through 25 generations and documented it all in a thick binder. He invited me in for a cup of coffee and a long chat, and this distant cousin and I still keep in touch.

Do you have a favorite quote from Guns and Gods in My Genes?
Here is a short lyrical prose piece from Chapter 6 (“Reverend Neill in the Aftermath of Wounded Knee”), when my maternal grandparents lived in Nebraska during 1904-05. It demonstrates how slim a chance any of us have of being born:

The Prince Albert Suit Coat, 1905: My grandpa Neill, a Methodist pastor, preached one Sunday morning in Rushville, Nebraska, then left for his other churches, 20 miles away. Warmed by a buffalo coat, he drove his sleigh pulled by Indian ponies through drifting snow, arriving in time for evensong. Realizing he’d forgotten his Prince Albert suit coat, with two more sermons to preach on Monday, back he and his ponies went in the cold calm moonlight. Opening the door, he found the house so still, his family breathing in deadly vapors. Grandma had dampened down the coal stove too soon. But Grandpa pulled her and their four children outside — all saved by love for that coat, his mysterious pride.

When writing memoir, is a writer’s responsibility to the truth of the facts or to his perception/feelings about what occurred?
I believe a memoir writer must pay attention to both truth and perceptions/feelings. It is even more important to follow the facts carefully in writing a historical memoir like this, where much has been written about the time and places in which the writer’s ancestors lived. I did extensive research and reading on North American history. But obviously my background, education, perceptions, political leaning, and temperament determined some interpretations in creative nonfiction. If these factors did not play a part in what I wrote, the book would have turned out as a dry piece of academic writing, possibly of interest to a few historians and genealogists only. I hired Pamela Yenser, SWW member, as my literary editor for this book (as well as my Borneo book). She helped a lot with methods of marrying facts and creativity. I tried to rise to the challenge of writing a book which would have wider appeal in both Canada and the US.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I have simultaneously been writing a memoir about my own beginnings in Ontario, Canada, which incorporates some of the stories that are not used in Guns and Gods in My Genes. It also connects with my Borneo memoir. It is presently being sent out for reactions and pre-publication reviews. Here is a brief write-up:

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.” 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-and-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 afterword 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!”

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

2020 New Releases for SWW Authors #4

Joseph Badal, Sarah H. Baker, Neill McKee, Jodi Lea Stewart, and several authors in the Corrales Writing Group represent the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW) with new 2020 books published in a variety of genres. The releases in this post couldn’t fit into this year’s interview schedule, but look for interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2021.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a list of interviewed SWW authors for books published in 2020.

Joseph Badal’s 2020 release, Payback (Suspense Publishing), is his newest standalone novel. When Bruno Pedace learns that his investment banking partners are setting him up to take the fall for their own corrupt practices, he does what he has always done — run away. But the documents he takes with him put a target on his back. He changes his name and, for nine years, goes underground, until an assassin tracks him down in California and badly injures him. Befriended by Janet Jenkins, a courageous woman who works in a battered women’s shelter, Bruno, for the first time in his life, with Janet’s help, fights back. He constructs an ingenious financial scheme to get payback for the crimes perpetrated by his former partners.

Visit Joe’s website at and his Amazon author page.

After publishing more than 20 novels, Sarah H. Baker has released the first in a speculative fiction series, Promise Me Tomorrow: Book 1: The Prisoner (August 2020). More than three generations after the collapse of civilization and decades of Utopian peace, New Village is suddenly attacked. Villagers are killed and precious supplies are stolen, but one of the injured bandits is left behind. Kole, Protector of New Village, can’t turn her out; she won’t survive. If he allows her to stay, will he be able to keep his children and the other villagers safe? All her life, Shylah has fought for everything: scratch, cover, her very life. But in this strange place, marks work together, and they even take care of their mutts. Won’t Bryce be pleased when he comes back to get her? Now she knows their secrets. They won’t survive a day.

Visit Sarah’s website at Promise Me Tomorrow can be found on Amazon.

In Guns and Gods in My Genes (December 2020), Neill McKee 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 and a trail that heads south and west into the United States. 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, he reveals 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.

Guns and Gods in My Genes can be ordered from Albuquerque bookstores (such as Organic Books and Bookworks), as well as from Neill’s website at and Amazon.

Jodi Lea Stewart published her sixth book, TRIUMPH: a Novel of the Human Spirit, in September 2020. 1903: Deep in the Louisiana swamps, five-year-old Willy is kidnapped by a Vodou Priestess. One day, he will fight bloody battles in France and come face-to-face with the horrors of Vodou. In bustling New Orleans, bachelor Jack — a former Texas Ranger — has an encounter with a young beauty hiding in his hotel room. What she wants and needs will change his life forever. 1958: St. Louis, two girls of different races, Mercy and Annie, meet in the fifth grade. Together, they secretly explore St. Louis via bus and streetcar, encountering cultural prejudices at every turn — including from within one girl’s own family. The turbulent times and the Civil Rights Movement will test the girls’ loyalty and affect their choices on the way to adulthood. In a saga spanning from 1903 to 1968, compelling characters navigate the stormy paths of life in New Orleans, St. Louis, and Texas until they all collide in a startling and dramatic way.

Visit Jodi’s Amazon author page.

Kale is a Four Letter Word (Artemesia Publishing, September 2020) is the sixth anthology published by the Corrales Writing Group (members Chris Allen, Maureen Cooke, Sandi Hoover, James John Tritten, and Patricia Walkow). Kale has invaded our culture as the go-to food for healthy living, appearing everywhere on restaurant menus, in grocery stores, and in beauty products like soaps and scrubs. For some, the vitamin load and beneficial fiber cannot outweigh the bitterness and texture of this member of the cabbage family. For those people, kale has ignited a passionate response, often reflected in internet memes and T-shirt slogans. This collection of short stories shows kale in a new light. A couple of tales are horror stories about kale’s effect on a life; another one describes a speculative history of kale; one is a murder mystery where kale plays an unusual role; and one is a fantasy about kale’s rivalry with cauliflower. This book also features delicious kale recipes.

Visit Corrales Writing Group’s Amazon author page.

SWW Author Interviews: 2020 Releases

Connie Flores
Our Fascinating Life: The Totally Accidental Trip 1979
Sue Houser
BR Kingsolver
Knights Magica
Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy
Manfred Leuthard
Broken Arrow: A Nuke Goes Missing
Shirley Raye Redmond
Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God
J.R. Seeger
A Graveyard for Spies
Lynne Sturtevant
Hometown: Writing a Local History or Travel Guide and The Collaboration Kit
Patricia Walkow
New Mexico Remembers 9/11

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Neill McKee

Author Neill McKee hails from Canada but lived and worked around the world for 45 years as a teacher, filmmaker, multi-media producer, writer, and program manager. After settling in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2015, he dedicated himself to chronicling his experiences in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and (more recently) Russia. Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah is his first book in the memoir genre. You’ll find Neill on Facebook and Twitter, and on his website

What is your elevator pitch for Finding Myself in Borneo?
Finding Myself in Borneo is an honest and buoyant chronicle of my adventures during 1968-70 while teaching secondary school as a Canadian volunteer in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo). It’s a journey through vibrant Asian cultures in an exotic land: adjusting to life in a small town, learning local customs, how to teach and how to speak Malay language. My book documents many adventures, for example: climbing the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, having a love affair, navigating Borneo’s backwaters to make my first documentary films, and hilarious motorcycle journeys with my American Peace Corps buddy. It also covers my second two-year Sabah sojourn and other return trips which offer readers the opportunity to match the early anecdotes to what in fact happened to the land and people who touched my life as a young man.

Why did you want to share this part of your life with the world?
It was a dramatic change from what I had known and, therefore, a story worth telling. Kind of a “sea change” or “hero’s journey” for me worth imparting to others, I believe. Borneo couldn’t be more different from Canada. I grew up in a small Ontario town with a good deal of chemical pollution. The chemical factory there manufactured DDT and the herbicide 2,4-D, as well as Agent Orange for America’s Vietnam war in the 1960s. I had always dreamed of escaping to a cleaner, greener world full of sunshine and less stinks. When I was posted to Sabah through CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas), I discovered Borneo was the third largest island in the world—a land with a mysterious sounding name and reputation, mainly due to what western visitors had written about it (Joseph Conrad being one of the first). Borneo was no disappointment. I loved it despite the many challenges and conflicts I faced. But that was really part of the fun.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I didn’t keep a diary, as advised by CUSO (an NGO slightly older than the American Peace Corps), but I did write detailed letters home and to friends. I made carbon copies of some of these, and my mother kept many for me knowing I would want them someday. I had no plans to write a memoir—too busy with my career. But I’m blessed with a good memory, especially of those formative years and experiences. I also had old photos which triggered memories.

Tell us how the book came together.
I had written the draft of what became Chapter 6 in the 1990s. People who read it, loved it, and encouraged me to write more. It wasn’t until I fully retired that I had time to study a new genre (outside of technical communication books and articles) and try my hand at it. In 2014, I attended a creative nonfiction evening course at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland where I started drafting pieces of my book and got feedback. After moving to Albuquerque in 2015, I enrolled in a graduate-level workshop in creative nonfiction at the University of New Mexico. That’s when I began to write, revise, get feedback, and revise again. I also attended presentations and workshops at SouthWest Writers, which continually gave me new ideas. After about 25 revisions (and a year into the process), I thought I had a pretty good manuscript. It was only then that I hired a good literary editor for in-depth feedback. Boy, was I wrong about being finished! It took me over a year, and at least 25 more revisions, to finally complete the manuscript for publication in mid-2018. I had submitted earlier drafts to about 10 publishers and received lots of rejection letters. After two “strange” offers from commercial publishers (they wanted to have full control but put up little or no money for publicity), I decided to self-publish through IngramSpark. I hired a good book designer and marketer and took control of the process myself.

Is there a scene in your book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
Yes, probably in Chapter 4 when my Peace Corps buddies and I take LSD and go to see the movie Camelot with Chinese subtitles. The whole experience opened up my senses, broke down barriers in my perception, and made me see the land I was living in as a much richer and more magical place. Since we were reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings at the time, we noticed many of the features of North Borneo were similar to Tolkien’s Middle Earth. We created the North Borneo Frodo Society and gathered members from all around the world, including Prof. Tolkien himself—one of only two such societies he patronized according to letters we received. The myths of Borneo and Middle Earth become humorously paralleled in Finding Myself in Borneo. Maybe good for an animated film!

What makes Finding Myself in Borneo unique in the memoir market?
There are other memoirs and travel books on Borneo but most of them are based on “Wild Men of Borneo” or adventure travel themes. Many of these reinforce stereotypes of the land and its people. P.T. Barnum was the first to come up with the wild men theme in the 1800s through his freak show promotion of a couple of little people from a Ohio farm. My book is based on entertaining stories of what it was like to live in coastal Borneo in a multi-cultural society with ancient traditions. I cover some history, politics, and religion of the place, but in a lighter, entertaining way to help explain the overall story arc. My book is different in that it covers my 40-year relationship with the land and its people, not just the impressions of a single journey or sojourn.

What was your favorite part of putting the project together?
I enjoy writing the most and sharing my work with reviewers—trying to understand how my words are perceived and how I can improve. Writing this memoir has also connected me with a lot of people who have lived in Borneo as volunteers or have traveled there, or who want to go there. It has also re-connected me with many old friends and colleagues from around the world.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
A number of readers and reviewers have said that my writing is refreshingly honest.

While you were writing Finding Myself in Borneo, were you ever afraid you were sharing too much of yourself? If so, how did you move past this feeling and continue writing?
At first I did not tell the whole truth—such as losing my virginity and the other sexual experiences and attractions. I wondered if readers would be turned off. I also wrote guardedly about people about whom I had something negative to say. But I was persuaded to just change names and other details of these characters and write from my heart. This helped me construct a story about how I found out who I really am and what I should do with my life.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I spend six to seven hours each day writing, researching, revising, and communicating or promoting. It’s a huge amount of work if you want to do it well. I’m writing two other memoirs at present. One is on my childhood and youth, with a theme of “going elsewhere”—escaping the polluted town I grew up in. At the end of the book I leave for Borneo, so it’s a prequel of sorts. The other project is a travel memoir on searching for stories of my ancestors in Canada and the US. It’s an entertaining account of finding (through my maternal grandmother from Wisconsin) that I have ancestors who fought in just about every American war, beginning with the bloody wars with Native Americans in New England in the 1600s. I travel to the places where they lived and battlegrounds where they fought. I found out my ninth great-grandfather was a passenger on the Mayflower. I previously thought of myself as just a peace-loving Scots-Irish Canadian.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a  speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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