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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
, 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
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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