Local man pens whimsical book from family tales

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 1/31/24


While he may hold down a more formal, no-nonsense job, Daniel Schafer has recently gone public with the flights of fantasy previously shared only with his family.

Schafer, the …

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Local man pens whimsical book from family tales



While he may hold down a more formal, no-nonsense job, Daniel Schafer has recently gone public with the flights of fantasy previously shared only with his family.

Schafer, the director of marketing and communications for Jefferson Healthcare, is also the author of “A Year With J.G. Buggins,” a collection of four stories published by Babylon Farm Books, drawn from tales Schafer told to his son.

“A couple of months before my son was born, I started writing stories about a badger named J.G. Buggins, who lives in a fictional English village called Windsor,” Schafer wrote online. “I wanted to write something that my son would find delightful, and that we’d enjoy as a family read-aloud.”

After sitting in a drawer for several years, those initial stories have also grown into a novel Schafer is currently editing. Four stories didn’t make it into the novel, so as a Christmas gift to his son, Schafer polished those four tales to publish them as “A Year With J.G. Buggins.”

Schafer has admitted to “no small amount of anxiety” over sharing creative endeavors that were originally intended to entertain only those within his home. He nonetheless hopes the general public enjoys reading these stories as much as he enjoyed writing them.

“There’s a long history of writers creating worlds for the delight of their children, so I’m not original in that respect,” Schafer told The Leader. “Kenneth Grahame wrote ‘The Wind in the Willows’ for his son. I wouldn’t compare the J.G. Buggins stories to ‘The Wind in the Willows,’ but like Grahame, I never intended to have this work published.”

What made the stories fun to write and read within his family was that a number of their events were based (admittedly rather loosely) on real small-town history, just as a number of their characters were based on real people once known to Schafer, including some “dear, departed friends.”

“Some of these stories are based on the years my family lived in a village in Maryland, called Uniontown,” Schafer said. “It’s a historic district, surrounded by farmland.”

Schafer described the village of Uniontown as consisting of about 30 homes and several shops, most of which have been converted to residences. Most of the buildings in the area were built between 1815 and 1850.

“The village feels like something out of a storybook,” Schafer said. “In that sense, these stories serve as a sort of embellished family history, and a connection to the years just before and after our son was born. The stories are fantastical and often absurd, and my hope is that anyone can read about J.G. Buggins and his neighbors and find things about them to make them smile.”

Indeed, Schafer suggested that J.G. Buggins lives out a fantasy that “I think a lot of us have. His life is quiet, and his community is quirky, but as with any good story, there are complications. It’s nothing over-dramatic, but the kind of thing you laugh about when it’s all over. Buggins and his neighbors are relatable, but they still manage to experience the kind of adventures that you and I may not encounter every day.”

In creating the world of J.G. Buggins, Schafer began to realize he’d generated far more material than he could possibly use in one book. While the stories in “A Year With J.G. Buggins” served as useful character explorations, the portions becoming his novel were building toward an independent story arc.

“I wanted to see how certain characters would respond in stressful or strange situations, to learn who they are,” Schafer said. “As I worked to build the novel’s narrative, those stories became unnecessary. I still thought they were fun, but the novel takes those characters on a bigger adventure.”

Setting aside Schafer’s acknowledgments that there are no guarantees he’ll finish the larger novel, he said he’s realized folks outside his family might be interested in “A Year With J.G. Buggins.”

“I always wanted the book to be printed,” Schafer said. “I wanted it to be something tangible, that you could hold, but I never gave much thought to people reading it, outside of my small community of loved ones.”

Schafer credited a friend, who he deemed “a much more accomplished writer” than himself, with encouraging him to have “A Year With J.G. Buggins” published. Even then, Schafer further demonstrated his humility, emphasizing that the book’s publisher “isn’t a fancy publishing house.”

“It exists to help writers get their books into local independent bookshops,” Schafer said.