Debut Author at Age 67
An exclusive Authorlink interview with Selden Edwards,
by Ellen Birkett Morris
Selden Edwards knows the story of his success is a rare story. "I am aware of how unusual my circumstances are – having a debut novel at 67 and being totally unpublished but writing all the time," he observed. Add to that a book deal in the high six figures and a well publicized roll out of his first novel, The Little Book.
Edwards began The Little Book in 1974. A friend was reading Wittgenstein's Vienna by Allan Janik and Stephen Edelson Toulmin. Edwards became intrigued. That book paints a vivid portrait of turn of the century Vienna and the great minds who gathered there.
I think the book took so long to get picked up because it is hard to categorize. |
The Little Book tells the story of Wheeler Burden, a 70s rock star, who finds himself transported to 19th century Vienna and finds himself in the company of those great thinkers.|
"I was the porch of a cabin at Lake Tahoe and we started talking about the fact that if you could time travel there you could have seen the child Hitler on the streets. And, if you did, would you kill him?" mused Edwards. Vienna would become a backdrop for Edwards's expansive novel, which incorporates figures such as Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, and Mark Twain into a novel that includes time travel, history and a bit of romance. "I think the book took so long to get picked up because it is hard to categorize. It is barely a time travel story (since the "how" of time travel is not the focal point); there is a touch of romance and a ton of history in it. I looked at the Library of Congress classifications and all of them are in there," said Edwards.
His success is the result of over thirty years of writing, numerous revisions and a passionate dedication to an intriguing story idea that would not leave Edwards alone.
I loved that story. I could put it aside, but I couldn't get it out|
of my head.
"I loved that story. I could put it aside, but I couldn't get it out of my head. I'd be driving along adding characters," said Edwards.
The book manages to incorporate Edwards's passions and life experiences from the world of private school to baseball to psychology. Like his protagonist, Edwards grew up on a farm in Northern California and spent two years at a boarding school in Boston. He worked as an English teacher before becoming a headmaster of several prestigious private schools.
A lover of history and literature, Edwards read fifty books that helped inform the novel.
"I was always reading, but never took a note over the 30 years. It was all in my head, like a movie," said Edwards. Like many writers, he contends that the work done in a writer's head before sitting down to the computer is vital.
He wrote a draft of the novel in the 1970s that was rejected, and four years later he wrote another draft. He would end up with numerous versions of the story, including one draft that attempted to avoid time travel all together. The writing and rewriting allowed him to imagine scenarios where he could meet and talk with famous people featured in the book including musician Buddy Holly.
"I was painfully aware that no one wanted to publish it." |
He was challenged by the books rejections to make the make the book more compelling.
"I was painfully aware that no one wanted to publish it. I tried to add suspense and things that would make people want to read it."
It took several rewrites and 15 years for Wheeler Burden's father, Dilly, to show up as a character in the book. Edwards wrote a scene where soldiers attack a gathering crowd and wanted to give Wheeler someone to converse with so he had him run into his father.
"I finished the book each time. This went on for 30 years. The book got better each time as I added more characters and details," explained Edwards. Not surprisingly, Edwards describes himself as a "total revision guy." "I write five sentences before I get one good one. I don't worry about the perfect word. I just get it out."
As recently as 2005, the book was rejected again, for a total of nine rejections, before Edwards decided to hire free-lance editor Patrick LoBrutto to help him polish the manuscript.
"It was hugely important. Pat helped me make it a better story and knew people in the trade," said Edwards.
LoBrutto passed the novel on to Scott Miller, an agent at Trident Media, who sold the book to Dutton.
"I kept the first draft of the story|
and I'm very glad it didn't
get published. . ."
Ben Sevier, Edwards's editor at Dutton, worked with Edwards on making sure the protagonist was clear to the reader, arranging details and cutting sections that got in the way of the flow of the story.
"I kept the first draft of the story and I'm very glad it didn't get published," said Edwards.
He is now at work on another part of the Wheeler Burden story. "I have come to see this story as a trilogy," said Edwards. "It will take me a year to write this novel, what took me thirty years on the first one," he said.
A graduate of Princeton and Stanford, Selden Edwards is a former English teacher and was headmaster of several prestigious private schools during his career in education. The Little Book is his first novel.
About Regular Contributor|
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.