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Monday, June 13, 2011

Q&A Interview with Neil Cullan McKinlay, Author of From Mason to Minister

Please help me welcome Neil Cullan McKinlay for a brief Author chat at Reviews by Martha’s Bookshelf.

Q1.  I'm always interested to discover the story behind the story. Where did you get the inspiration and the courage to write From Mason to Minister: Through the Lattice?
Neil:  Two interesting words in your question jump out at me: “inspiration” and “courage”. I think that the inspiration to write From Mason To Minister came from having such a good story to tell! Not everyone enters into Freemasonry searching for God. And who would have thought that I’d find exactly what I was looking for? I wanted to tell everyone how this happened. However, I thought it would add to the reader’s interest if I painted in a bit of the background to the whole thing. So, essentially I’ve written a memoir which relates the story of how I went from being a confused non-Christian to fully embracing Christianity. The bonus part of my book is that I went from being a Freemason to becoming a Presbyterian Minister.
Now, regarding the “courage” aspect of your question, writing a book that makes many allusions to Freemasonry and some of the inner workings of the Lodge does, now that you mention it, take a certain amount of courage. Masons take oaths and vow to never disclose certain things about the Lodge. Some Masons see this as a promise to say virtually nothing at all about Masonry, while others realize that it is a promise only to conceal and never reveal the rituals and modes of recognition and perhaps some other things. This is not because Masonry is clandestine, but is simply to guard those distinctives that make Freemasonry what it claims to be, i.e., “a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.” Thus, on the one hand, “courage” was needed in the face of the possibility that Freemasons may accuse me of saying too much, and on the other, that some Christians may disparage me for not fully exposing what they think is a purely occultist organization! But, because a vow is vow, I tried hard not be for or against Freemasonry, but only to tell me story as it related to the Lodge.

I agree you had an interesting story to tell and I think you did a very fine job of balancing the disclosed history and impact of Freemasonry while maintaining respect for not revealing details of the rituals.
Q2.  Since you were writing from your personal experiences did you experience any extra special difficulty?
Neil: I think in some ways writing from personal experience made things a little easier. I only had to remember things rather than have to come up with new ideas. I guess if there was any extra special difficulty it was in the thought that, here is a man in relative obscurity writing what essentially is his life-story, his memoirs. It’s not like I’m a pop or rock star, a famous actor or some celebrity. These are the people that seem to attract most people’s attention. Having read some of the bestselling books by author Dan Brown, such as The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and, The Lost Symbol in which books he makes a lot of references to Freemasonry (especially in The Lost Symbol), I knew that many readers have a great interest in knowing what Freemasons do and want to know what the Lodge is all about. The extra special difficulty for me was in the fact that I wasn’t writing a book about Freemasonry, but rather about me searching for and finding God – in which Freemasonry played a large and leading part. If it were fiction I could make it as exciting as you like! But I had to restrict myself to fact. The end result is, I believe, that readers of From Mason To Minister will find it an interesting, informative, and most of all, edifying read.

Informative and edifying are excellent descriptor words for your memoir.
Q3.  As I read From Mason to Minister I really enjoy the easy phrasing and prose as well as the scripture references. Did this come naturally to you as “thoughts” or was it something you had to work at?

Neil: I’m happy to hear that you enjoy the easy phrasing! I think preparing Sunday sermons for years helped with the easy phrasing aspect of my writing. Part of a preacher’s job is to take complex and profound (scriptural) ideas and present them in an understandable way. This technique has spilled over into my writing. Yes, genre and intended audience must be considered, but even when writing academic papers and theological treatises, easy phrasing helps to relay the message. In other words, wouldn’t the reader rather that the writer do all the difficult work beforehand, rather than the reader having to labor hard to understand what the writer is trying to communicate? For the reader prose is a labor-saving device! Also, one of the goals of a preacher/teacher of the Gospel is to teach others how to apply the scriptures in their daily lives, i.e., to think scripturally – as in weighing up everything in the light of the whole Bible. Therefore, I find that after years of hard work on my part that scripture references now tend to come to me naturally!

I had not thought about the skills you learned in preparing sermons but that makes good sense and I think I spotted that even more so in the later portion of the book.
Q4.  Could you please share one surprising thing about your experience writing this book, or about something else related to your career as a writer.

Neil: I hope this is not too subtle or cryptic, but in my book I mention that I had attended church for a brief spell in my late teens. The only thing I can remember from any of the preacher’s sermons was a funny anecdote he told about an astronaut. Then later on in the book I relate how the painting of an astronaut my big brother Fearghas had painted (it’s on the book’s front cover) had been used by God in my conversion. The surprising thing is that I hadn’t drawn the connection between these two astronauts till after I had received and had read a published copy of my book. This seems to me as if God has a sense of humor! It was as if God had used the preacher to plant the astronaut image in my mind with the purpose of revisiting it later in my life to use in my conversion. The first astronaut is back on earth speaking with friends about a place with no atmosphere. The second astronaut is adrift in the atmosphere with no friends, gasping for air and crying out to God. Yes, “Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there.”

Oh yes - I definitely think God as a wonderful sense of humor!
Q5. Do you have any rituals that help you get in the mood to focus and write?

Neil: As reading scripture before praying helps to get me into a praying mood, so reading other people’s work helps to get me into a writing mood. I usually match genre for genre when it comes to my reading and my writing. If I’m writing fiction then that’s what I’m reading. No, I’m not seeking to emulate others, but only to educate myself. I guess it’s a case of input producing output. But, I suppose boiling the kettle and pouring myself some green tea to sip while writing sounds a bit more like a ritual. Each sip is as a pause for a moment’s reflection.

*smile* I drink lots of green tea during the winter but not so much now that it is summer.
Q6. Was your family supportive of this book effort?
Neil: All our kids are married and have left home. I would on occasion bounce ideas off of Dorothy just to get her thoughts – which she was happy to give. My biggest support came from my eldest brother Fearghas. With Fearghas living in Scotland and me living in Australia there were plenty of email exchanges. Fearghas gave me a great deal of encouraging support.

I caught in the book that you seemed to have a particularly strong relationship with Fearghas. So nice to have that support not only from a friend but a friend who is a brother in fact and in Christ.
Q7. Do you plan to write any other books in the future?
Neil: Try stopping me! I currently have a few book-sized manuscripts looking for the right publishers. It’s a great shame that very few publishers accept unsolicited material. However, I do understand the great tomes of manuscripts they would have to wade through to find even one worthy of publishing. I suppose becoming published helps put an author in a privileged position to get the ear of potential publishers. At the moment I’m trying my hand at writing a historical fiction piece with the emphasis on fiction. In it I get to experiment with some theological principles, such as, e.g., will the aging process be slowed down in the future (optimistic Postmillennial) Millennium? (See e.g. Isaiah 65:17-25, verse 20 in particular).

Your fiction manuscript sounds interesting too! Best wishes on those publishing efforts.
Q8. Do you have any advice you would share with other aspiring authors?
Neil: I know I’ve already mentioned that there’re few publishers accepting unsolicited material, but aspiring authors should try hard to find and approach publishers suited to their genre. Finding the right publisher is like falling in love and getting married, it’s a two-way affair. You need to be prepared to woo them. And be prepared to listen to their advice without feeling threatened. Whereas writers are focused on writing, publishers see the big picture which includes returns on their investment. 

Good words of wisdom. I think many author's get a real shock when they finally get their book completed and they not only have to find a publisher but then they realize that they have to promote as well.
Q9. What do you hope your readers will get from reading this book?
Neil: I hope that readers will want to pick up the Bible and read it, and that they will see God displayed in the handiwork of the things that He has created in the light of what they read. I hope that those readers who already know God will know a closer walk with Him after reading my book, and that God will be pleased to use my book (as one little source) to challenge those who don’t know Him to seek Him in His Word!

I will say a hearty "Amen" to that.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts today and your memoir for reading interest.
My review post and Giveaway of this interesting book will be posted tomorrow, June 14.

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