Retired mechanic tries hand at writing

What started as a series of letters about a wily fox, penned to encourage a seven-year-old relative to read, has turned into a published book for a Louisa County man.

Daniel Burruss’ letters to Jade Cox, his wife’s cousin in Kentucky, were not like the typical letters grandparents and other elders send to their younger relatives. Rather than tell Jade about his life in Louisa, Burruss made up a tale about a talking fox, the hunter who captures him, and the comical adventures that follow.

“She’s an exceptional little girl,” Burruss said. “I started out writing to her twice a week, until her parents said it was interfering with her schoolwork. Then I switched to one letter a week, and timed it to arrive on Friday.

“At the end of each letter, I’d ask her what she thought would happen next,” Burruss said. 

After writing numerous letters, Burruss realized he could combine his notes into a longer story. The result was “Larry and the Red Fox,” a chapter book written for an audience aged eight to 13. Burruss decided to send his book to a publisher, Fulton Books Inc., and plans to donate any profits to a children’s charity. Burruss also painted the illustrations in the book.

The character Larry is named for Burruss’ nephew, who, like his namesake in the book, likes to hunt and enjoy quiet time in the woods. A pivotal scene early in the book involves Larry spotting a fox sunning himself on a rock. Burruss said the real Larry really did come upon a fox on a rock, though what ensues in the book may not be true to life.

Burruss was educated decades ago by Louisa County Public Schools. He suffered from dyslexia as a child, so English was a tough subject. He still has trouble with grammar, he said. A retired teacher he knows helped him get that straight as he wrote the book. In addition, Burruss was hard of hearing.

“I’ve done this in spite of my problems,” Burruss said. “As a child I could never read the assignments. The only thing that got me through school was that my teacher would go over everything in class.”

Burruss went on to a career as a mechanic at Phillip Morris in Richmond, fixing machines that make cigarettes. As he grew older, he wished he could do something creative to help children like his wife Gladys, who worked as a behavioral counselor working with emotionally disturbed children. 

With his book, Burruss has certainly turned in that direction.

“I do have a bit of pride in being an author,” he said.

It has cost Burruss about $3,000 to publish the book, which is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other publishing outlets. He hopes to donate profits to programs that help children with medical conditions such as muscular dystrophy.

Aside from learning his way around the written word, Burruss encountered other obstacles familiar to aspiring authors as he prepared his book.

“I’ve had so many roadblocks—I had to pay a guy after my computer crashed to try and recover a section I’d lost.”

After the book was published, Burruss sent a copy to Jade, but he didn’t sign it as many authors do.  

“I’m still very uncomfortable being asked to sign,” he said. “I can’t spell my own name half the time.”

Burruss is now at work on his next book, though he doesn’t know whether he will invest in publishing this one. The book’s key character is a crow. Burruss said he’s already written some 2,000 words.