by | May 5, 2022

Who is this character? What’s his motivation? What does he want? What does he fear?

How far will he go?

So who is this “D.C. McElroy” character, anyway?

Dan in 1985

Germany, 1985.

Born Dan Conover on the Chicago Southside to a preacher and a teacher in the Civil Rights Movement. Grew up hippie on college campuses. Tear-gassed by riot police at 6. Moved to a rural Southern commune at 13. Family fell apart at 15. Went from “vocational education” student to Advanced Placement classes to North Carolina Governor’s School in his junior year of high school. Lived alone as a high school senior and went to college at 18 on the Pell Grant. Dropped out at 20 when Reagan cut it.

Drove a cab, cut fairways, joined the Army and got married at 21. Armored cavalry tanker and West German “Border Operator” at 22. Sergeant at 23. Tank commander at 24. UNC-Chapel Hill journalism student at 25. Part-time paste-up clerk at The Chapel Hill Newspaper at 26. Named best writer in the graduating class at 27, then skipped graduation to start reporting at a mountain tri-weekly. Son born weeks later.

Rose through the ranks: Investigative reporter and columnist, then small-town-daily City Editor at 29. Recruited to The (Charleston, SC) Post and Courier as State Editor at 31. Sunday-edition editor at 33. The youngest City Editor at a Top 100 American newspaper by 35.

Then tragedy, disaster, shame and poverty. Freakish and untimely deaths in the newsroom. The entire masthead replaced by toxic schemers. Separation, divorce, and a sleeping bag on the floor of an unfurnished apartment.

Followed by a comeback: City Editor marries Design Director. Blended family with four kids moves into a historic-district apartment at 36. Manhattan writers’ workshop with Orson Scott Card at 37. Homeowner, Phobos Award and first published short fiction at 38. First foray into blogging at 39. First-time novelist, roving feature reporter and active new-media blogger at 40. South Carolina Press Association’s Journalist of the Year at 41. Produced the newspaper’s first podcast and blog at 42. Multimedia fellow at UC Berkeley, interim Web Director in Charleston, and active new-media conference panelist at 43. Turned down a staff position at NYU, returned to Features and launched a new section. On top of the world at 44.

Then collapse. Budget cuts, layoffs and backstabbing in the newsroom and across the industry. Took the first buyout at 45, two months before the Global Financial Crisis begat The Great Recession.

Freelance days, Charleston.

Hustling: Freelance assignments, conference gigs, airports and a fulltime consulting job in the Midwest. Airports, trains, rental cars and hotels at 46. Trying and failing to re-invent an American news industry that only wanted to cash out. Fed up and worn out. Full-time bike shop mechanic at 47.

Rediscovered thanks to a blog post one year later, from $10 an hour to $10k a month overnight. Familiar airports and hotels, but a new idea: Machine-readable facts embedded in news stories. New mission, new company. Investors, technologists, West Coast partners.

A pipedream, like the Social Media “Revolution That Failed.” Done and dusted at 49.

Started over again at 50. Published four novels as eBooks. Launched a news site covering local soccer. Hired midseason as Director of Marketing and Communications for Charleston’s fading but historically significant pro soccer team at 51. Turned things around. Revived the team’s image and broke the all-time attendance record at 52. Tech-bro millionaire bought the club in the offseason, laid him off and drove the club straight into the ground.

Fifty-three years old. Battered, bewildered, beaten and broke.

At Black Sheep Manor.

Left Charleston for his wife’s family’s unused ancestral farm in the foothills and started over. Again. Took a deep breath. Cut trails. Turned dirt. Started his first garden and the first book in a new fantasy series at 54. Sold his first commercially grown organic produce at 55. Completed his first trilogy at 56. Gave up on finding a literary agent at 57. Picked the pen-name “D.C. McElroy” and self-published that trilogy at 58. Published the fourth book in the series at 59.

That’s who he is.

What does he want?

A growing international audience for his work, and a world that isn’t run by the worst of us for the enrichment of a few of us.

What does he fear?

That it’s already too late.

How far will he go?

As far as necessary.