Thursday, June 21, 2018

Interview with sci-fi novelist Ted Neill

Novelist Ted Neill is here today and he’s sharing a little bit about his new young adult sci-fi fantasy, Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombies.

Globetrotter and fiction writer Ted Neill has worked on five continents as an educator, health professional, and journalist. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and he has published a number of novels exploring issues related to science, religion, class, and social justice. He wrote his most recent young adult novel Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombies after living and working at an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS in Kenya. The children he met there requested stories featuring people and places that reflected their own culture and their own world. Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombies was written for them and anyone else who might enjoy fun, adventure, and zombies, lots and lots of zombies.

Welcome, Ted. Please tell us about your current release.
Jamhuri, Njambi, & Fighting Zombies is zany romp through the African countryside to a fictional city modeled after Nairobi, Kenya. It’s full of talking animals, magic realism, surly teenagers, and zombies. Writing it provided me a fun opportunity to tackle some issues around race and poke fun at wazungu (white people) like myself who head to Kenya with a lot of good intentions but a whole lot of ignorance (not to mention arrogance).

What inspired you to write this book?
Years ago, while I was just starting out my career in global health in Kenya, I lived and worked at an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS. At the time I would read to them before bed each night. They loved Harry Potter, however, they often asked for books “like” Harry Potter but with kids more like them. At the time, writers such as Nnedi Okorafor were not really on my radar or available where we were living in Kenya, so I decided to write the kids some stories myself.

Excerpt from Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombies:
From Part Three: How to Fight Zombies

The main road led right to the city center. Anastasia found herself hiding behind bushes and trashcans when other cars passed. Two Ministry of Health trucks went by in a convoy with police cars, as well as two more private cars. They all turned down the road leading to one of the only hypermarkets that remained open. It had high walls around the parking lot, so it had been able to keep its customers safe. It was the open-air markets that had been closed since early in the plague, since they had no walls themselves. But with the plague continuing, the zombie numbers growing, Anastasia wondered again how many more supply trucks would be able to enter the city to resupply even the hypermarkets.
When she reached the heart of downtown, Anastasia continued to jog, the backpack bouncing on her back, the machete growing heavy in her arm. No messages, no missed calls on her phone. No one had noticed she was missing. She spied a few people on foot. A tight bunch of men with sticks and machetes: a community-watch, patrolling for zombies. She hid behind some bushes until they had passed, as they would likely have sent her home if they had caught her. To her astonishment, she saw one man in running shorts, a headband, and earbuds jogging down the street. He had nothing in his hands to defend himself! He did have a nylon belt wrapped around his waist with little bottles of colored athletic drinks. He was white—of course—which made perfect sense to Anastasia. Foreigners often fell into two categories: those who walked about terrified of Africa, with bottles of bug spray, sunblock, and mace, and those who felt invulnerable and acted like they had no sense whatsoever. This man was clearly the latter. As he neared, she could hear the music blaring in his headphones. For him, she felt obliged to give up her hiding place and step out onto the sidewalk to warn him of the danger he was in, but he swerved around her, shouting, as if to hear himself over his music, “Sorry, me don’t have any change to give you, little girl.”
He padded away on his expensive running shoes. Anastasia rolled her eyes. “Me don’t have.” At least he was headed in the direction of the community patrol. Perhaps they would see him and talk some sense into him.
White people.

What exciting story are you working on next?
A number of projects. I have the sequel to Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombie cooking. It will be called: Zombies, Fratboys, Monster Flashmobs. . . and other Frightening things I found at the Gates of Hell Cotillion. I’m also working on the next book in my Elk Rider series. However, the next two books I will publish will be my memoir Two Years of Wonder, which recounts my years living at the AIDS orphanage in Kenya, followed by a novel called Reaper Moon, which is best described as a post-apocalyptic-race-war-thriller. That last one is a bit darker than some of my other titles. I’ve told my mother she is allowed NOT to read it.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
At about age 8, I distinctly remember walking down the hallway into our kitchen to tell my parents I would be a writer when I grew up.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I do write full time, but that does not mean I write ALL the time. One of my mentors once told me the time you spend NOT writing is just as important as the time you spend actually writing. He meant giving yourself time to develop ideas. Sometimes that means reading other writers, watching films, listening to music or being out in nature for me. But social and racial justice are also very important to me so I volunteer at a place called the Recovery Café, a refuge for people living with mental illness, addiction issues, homelessness, or all three. I also facilitate classes on race, reconciliation, and racial justice—a lot of which amounts to educating fellow people of privilege (mostly white people like myself) about things such as white privilege and they can be a help for the cause of racial justice and restoration. Those things feed my spirit and let me get away from the keyboard to give ideas time to develop.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have a couple superpowers, some good, some bad. I can ALWAYS pick the SLOWEST line anywhere: the grocery store, customs and immigration, the bank, Starbucks, wherever. Even if it looks shorter, if I get into THAT line, it WILL slow down. It’s kind of extraordinary. My good superpower is that from my years traveling internationally I can pack for a trip for weeks, across a number of climates, in just a matter of minutes and in a bag smaller than you could ever imagine.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
The best advice I ever heard was to always be kind, to treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping, and always have a mountain to climb.


Thanks for being here today, Ted!

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