When Brian O'Connor was an elementary school student in the 1960s, he was subjected to well-respected classic books such as "Barbar" and "Madeline."
"It's absolutely nothing that a boy is interested in at that age, and it really turned me off to reading," he said. "For a couple years, I didn't read any more than I absolutely had to for school."
With the release of his second book, the Powell Butte author wants to help keep kids interested in reading.
"Reading and writing are the basis for everything," O'Connor said, adding that when kids stop reading, they often stop writing. "I, as an author, and schools, as educators, have to reach the kids — find stuff they can read that they enjoy in order to continue their education."
He released "Forgotten Cache" this summer under his pseudonym Justin Frye. The 123-page book is geared toward kids ages 8 to 12.
The story centers around two 11-year-old boys who discover an underground tunnel that dates back to the time of the American Revolution.
"As the tale develops, it not only brings up the ups and downs and excitement of the adventure but also illustrates life lessons and how such a find also involves their family and their community," O'Connor said.
He came up with the idea for this book back in the late '90s, but he kept getting sidelined. By then, he had finished a 20-year career in the Navy.
O'Connor and his wife, Annie, eventually settled in Powell Butte. In 2016, he published his first book, "In Repose," about the legacy of the U.S.S. Arizona in Pearl Harbor.
He joined the Prineville Scribblers Writing Club and published some short stories and poetry in the club's anthologies.
"They opened my mind up to some other genres," O'Connor said.
Inspired once again to pen a children's book, he did some research on how to write for young readers.
"Kids are pretty self-centered. That's normal," he learned, noting that family and neighborhood are peripheral. "It simplifies the writing a little bit because you're writing to the kid."
Writing for the middle grades, he said, is pretty comfortable — you just write. It's not a picture book, although it does feature some artwork.
"Forgotten Cache" takes place in modern times about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia.
"The neighborhood in this story is actually based on the neighborhood I lived in in Pennsylvania," he said.
He moved some houses around and modeled them after his childhood home and those of his friends.
"This is where I put the tunnel," O'Connor said. "This is prime territory for the American Revolution, so this was a feasible story."
As kids, he and his buddies explored and had lots of adventures, so he wove some of those memories into the story of the boys who find a secret underground tunnel and 250-year-old artifacts. The discovery of the mysterious forgotten cache leads the boys on a grand historical journey that affects their entire community.
"I've thrown some life lessons in there. Finders keepers doesn't always work, but every once in a while, it does," O'Connor said. "It's better to tell your parents what's going on rather than try to hide it from them because they can actually help rather than hinder."
He self-published the novel through Bootin Annie Publishing, a pseudo company that he and his wife own, and had it printed at Maverick Printing in Bend. It is available on Amazon and directly from O'Connor.
He chose to use Justin Frye as his pen name in order to keep his adult writings separate from his children's books.
"My wife likes cowboy boots. Justin is a brand of boots as is Frye. So, Justin Frye just worked," he laughed. "It's a short name, it's easy for kids to remember, and it simplifies things a bit."
He's already working on his second book for young readers.
"It involves a family that moves from northern Virginia out to Arizona, and it deals with the kids, and they find out about kachinas and spirit animals," O'Connor said.
He plans to write a whole series of children's novels, but they will be unrelated stories.
"I want somebody to be able to pick up book two or book three down the road and read that as a story in itself and it has no bearing in book one," he explained.
O'Connor plans to reach out to local schools so more young students can read his story. He'd also like input from educators to find out if their students would be interested in his future writings.
"I don't want them turned off to reading," he said. "I know that I'm not going to get rich on these books, but if I can help get kids reading, that would be worth it."
"Forgotten Cache" by Justin Frye (Brian O'Connor)
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