Author B. D. McConnell, a resident of Corvallis, Oregon, enjoys storytelling around a campfire, good friends, and chasing deer out of the garden. A graduate of the University of California at San Diego with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, McConnell has developed electronic communication systems and other unique engineering projects. In March of 2014, he published his first novel, Charlie’s Improv, a fresh and light-hearted tale of high school intrigue. Charlie’s Improv tells the story of a group of clever students who aspire to take part in the annual debate at MacKayde University, until the sophisticated actions of a cheater threaten to dash their hopes.
In July of 2014, McConnell released Kellin’s Joyride, a short story about a young man and his creative efforts to return home after a grueling night of undercover work.
Grammar school offered great escapes into reading, science and math. I thoroughly enjoyed learning and did well in most subjects; and as a recluse, received the usual labels: egghead, brain, and bookworm. One of my teachers made a book caterpillar — one round paper segment for every book that a student read. Eventually, the multicolored caterpillar wrapped around the room — half the segments had my name on them. At the age of ten, I wrote a horror story that was made into a play for the entire school. My poem, Dean the Green Bean, was selected to be set to music in an animated film (the 1968 version of a music video). Although Dean the Green Bean was submitted as a joke (my preferred poem involved the death of a seagull), the heavy bass background, corny graphics, and rap delivery style enhanced the poem and it seemed to excite everyone under twelve years old.
Who have been your biggest creative influences?
My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Hamilton. An amazing man, he encouraged everyone’s creativity. At the end of the term, after everyone left the room, I asked him to sign my yearbook. He said I was a great student, but I never smiled. I should try smiling. I gave him a sorry-looking grin, but he was right. I never laughed either. Over the next ten years, I learned how to smile and laugh. They sound like acts requiring absolutely no thought, but a novice needs to learn to use the right muscles, know when and why to smile or laugh, learn to be genuine and so much more. I studied the laughter of others and tried out different styles. Now, I want to bring smiles and laughter to my readers.
What inspired the story of Charlie’s Improv?
Three years ago, I read every Jeeves story by P. G. Wodehouse. They were lighthearted and funny. Indulging in this practice at the end of the day was like finishing a good meal with a bite of quality ice cream, but all good things come to an end. I searched out and read several other authors, a few were enjoyable, but many popular humorous stories seemed crude, non-funny, or silly. I ran out of reading material. One night, in a half-dream, a man’s voice came to me. He spoke slowly and in a foreign accent: “This is Starbus, … yes?” In my semi-delirious state, I wondered who Starbus might have been and why someone would think I was Starbus. Why might this person wake me and ask that question in such a strange manner? The entire book fell out of the answers. The Starbus line remained in the story, unchanged.
What was the most challenging part of the writing process for Charlie’s Improv? And what aspects of it did you most enjoy?
I enjoyed the creative unraveling of the story, but my writing needed improvement. Before publication, I learned writing basics and improved storytelling from six paid editors, online resources, several books and numerous edits.
The writing process can often involve a fair amount of self-editing and rewriting. How did you know that your book was finally “done”?
If I read the entire story with zero major edits, zero discovered errors, and average less than one improvement per printed page, the story is ready. Although I am better now, this requirement, plus the need to climb the writing curve, made for an insane amount of full edits on Charlie’s Improv. Of course, there must also be a few beta readers that enjoyed the early versions.
Does writing come easy to you?
Yep, whenever something more important needs to be done.
What’s the best piece of advice — writing or otherwise — that you’ve ever received?
Write for your own enjoyment. If you don’t like the story during the fifth edit, your brain calcifies, then quality and your readers will suffer. On the fortieth edit of Charlie’s Improv, I still laughed at, and sharpened, the predicaments my characters experienced. When you write for your own enjoyment, you also discover when to break rules: “THAT shouldn’t be capitalized!” says the internal grammar nazi. “True, for a serious publication, but here, that that better be capitalized,” comes the confident reply.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
For a full year, I ate nothing on Tuesdays. By the noon hour, when someone had food, even gummy worms, it looked like the most amazing and delectable stuff ever. I loved food and thought about it throughout the day. Those were the best meals I didn’t eat.
Long before that, my wife and I were dating and had no cash for restaurants, so I often bought the cheapest frozen pizza and learned to doll it up for a Friday night treat. After a few months, my skills reached an apex when it came to baking and seasoning edible cardboard. First, start the oven, it better be good and hot, next, smear oil on the underside of the frozen disk and along the outer rim. Finally, there’s never enough cheese and toppings, so add whatever is handy. One particular night, the rolling cutter pushed through the cheese and made a gentle crinkling sound, proving the crust had several fine layers of goodness and crunch. We grinned. Lightly blistered cheese sealed in juicy italian sauce and toppings. Maybe we were just young and hungry, but every bite tasted like a masterpiece in texture and flavor.
After our last pieces, we looked at the tray in sorrow. Later, I couldn’t replicate the meal and slipped into a funk. We remember that pizza and the world should know such goodness exists.
If you could go back to your high school years and do one thing differently, what would it be?
Tell myself to be less serious. I was catatonic! Public speaking, dancing and expressing myself caused great anxiety.
What has been the happiest moment of your life?
There have been many; however, add endorphins to a young body and you’ve got a great combination. At sixteen, two friends and I took a ten day bike camping trip on Vancouver Island, Canada. One morning, probably around eleven, we had been riding for a couple hours through rolling hills. My shirt was off, a light headwind blew on our faces, the sun warmed our backs. I reached the crest of a hill, while Ron and Alan accelerated on the descent. For some reason, I kicked a few strong stokes, then stood on the pedals, straightened my arms on the handlebars and freewheeled. I told myself: “Always remember this moment. Maybe I’ll be forty-five years old some day—remember this.” And I did. It helps me remember the rest of the adventure, too.
What are you working on next?
My characters continue their crazy adventures. Although Debbie Q hates Kellin, he likes her. He’s gonna figure ways to change her mind and obtain a car to take her out. Sounds simple, but then an unusual vehicle enters the scene, there’s an incident hitchhiking, and there are plans for either a mother or a magician to pay Kellin for a peculiar service.