Author Ron Baxley Jr. at the ZenDen in Port Royal, where he’ll appear at Spring Fest on April 30. Photo by Tony Kukulich.

In his introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, author L.Frank Baum said the story was written solely for the pleasure children today, and it aspired to be “a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.”

It’s been almost 125 years since Baum’s classic was first published. It would be hard to argue that he missed the mark. Baum would go on to publish 14 books in the popular Oz series. The 1939 MGM file, The Wizard of Oz is called by the U.S. Library of Congress the “most seen film in movie history.”

The magic in Baum’s work is not that he wrote a single, popular children’s story. Rather, he created an entire world, a universe unto itself. Authors, filmmakers and playwrights continue to return to that universe for inspiration, and an untold number of works have built upon the legacy that Baum created.

All of which brings us to Ron Baxley Jr., a native and current resident of Barnwell, South Carolina who has distinguished himself among artists plumbing the depths of the Baum universe.

“I write books that continue the L.Frank Baum series,” explained Baxley. “There were 14 original Baum books. They’re in the public domain. I take those and I put my own spin on them. This is a southern, satirical spin on the Oz series.”

Baxley will be making a local appearance at the ZenDen’s Spring Fest planned for Saturday, April 30 in Port Royal.

“He has been here for the last couple of years doing Book Fest and the spring and winter festivals called Spring Fest and Winter Fest,” said Susan Stone, owner of the ZenDen in Port Royal. “Ron usually brings his dog Ziggy with him, the star of his writing. He gets to talk to the kids, he gets to talk and sign books for people when he’s here as author. He’s just a pleasant man. We like having him around. I’ve dedicated a whole wall to local authors so we can celebrate all these amazing people. You can’t throw a rock in this county without hitting some talent.”

So far, Baxley has published two novels in his O.Z. Diggs the VIIth series which follow the adventures of O.Z. Diggs, a descendent of the original Wizard of Oz, who shared the same name, sort of.

“He’s got this really long name, the middle part of which is an acronym for pinhead,” Baxley said.

For the record, the full name of the original Wizard of Oz is Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Issac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs.

“He has written some really enjoyable stories,” said Jack Gannon, co-founder of Ridgeland-based YBR Publishing. “We published “O.Z. Diggs Himself Out,” and it was a great twist on a Wizard of Oz universe story concept. It was a concept that was really, really different. We went with it, and he’s done magnificent sales with that first book. As he has said to us and told many others, he had such a wonderful experience at YBR, he decided to bring all of his future works to us.”

Writing has long been a part of Baxley’s life. He started as a child writing and illustrating stories based on his action figures. He progressed to poetry and by high school was submitting his work to publications, which resulted in the publication of a skit. By the time he was in college, his poetry also started to appear in poetry journals.

Following the wishes of his parents, Baxley entered Clemson University and studied computer science before realizing that his strength was more closely aligned with the humanities. He finished an undergraduate degree in English at the University of South Carolina, Aiken, and that led him to a 15-year career in education. Baxley returned to Barnwell in 2015 to be closer to his family, and he currently is writing as a correspondent for The Augusta Press and the Orangeburg’s Times and Democrat.

Like many, Baxley’s introduction to Baum’s work came via the annual showing of the MGM film on television. But it was a computer adventure game based on Baum’s first two books in the Oz series that really captured his attention and sent him down the proverbial rabbit hole.

“Oz became a spiritual touchstone for me, something that I could always feel like was home, not my actual true home,” Baxley said. “My home was more in Oz than being no place like home.”

Published in 1999, The Talking City of Oz was Baxley’s first book set in Oz. It eventually went out of print , but with the help of a friend, Baxley made the book available online at no cost. Ten years after it was originally published, the book caught the attention of the wider Oz community.

“It was discovered by Mark Baum of Chittenago, New York, the birthplace of L. Frank Baum,” Baxley said. “He invited me to the Oz-Stravaganza Festival. It took a decade and me doing a lot of other things before I started going to Oz festivals and conventions. One thing I tell people is that there’s no such thing as an overnight success. I’m not the hugest success in the world, but I have had a lot of small success along the way. It was just fortuitous that he happened on that PDF online. Some of it is luck sometimes.”

One recent success for Baxley was being named one of five finalists in the Best Novel/Novella Category for the 2022 Palmetto Scribe Awards. This year’s winner will be announced next month in Charleston at Atomacon, a family friendly, science fiction and fantasy convention in its seventh year. No matter the outcome, Baxley will have a table at the convention and will be participating in panel discussions.

In addition to the two O.Z. Diggs books, Baxley has published a children’s book and a graphic novel, all of which have been well received.

“His graphic novel and his children’s book both won five-star awards,” Gannon said. “Both of his novels won four-star awards from our review company, Readers Favorites, LLC. The graphic novel also won an international finalist award put out by Readers Favorites, so that’s actually a double award-winning book.”

Baxley continues to contribute to the Baum universe. There two sequels planned for his graphic novel and another installment in the works for the O.Z. Diggs series.

“Ron is a very entertaining writer,” added Gannon. “He makes some wonderful twists on his approach to the literary universe of L. Frank Baum. He brings so much to our label that we really enjoy having him with us. He’s a great person to have with us. He’s a great guy to know.”