Selden Edwards is an inspiration for writers throughout the world, especially those who wrestle with incomplete manuscripts that remain – even after the passage of years – a work in progress.
Speaking by phone from his home in Carpinteria, Calif., the author of “The Little Book” (See review, facing page) claims that he has had an almost perfect life.
“My 40-year career as an English teacher and headmaster was rewarding, I have a loving family, and I live in one of the most beautiful places in the country” he says.
After a brief pause, he adds that, until this summer, there was only one thing missing.
“An important dream of mine has always been to write a novel,” he says.
When he began work on a story idea, he was a student at Stanford, Gerald Ford was in the White House and gasoline was 38 cents a gallon. The year was 1974.
“A friend gave me a copy of ‘Wittgenstein’s Vienna,’ an old Victorian-era guide book, and that led me to my basic story, which is about a contemporary character in San Francisco who after getting hit on the head, finds himself in turn-of-the-century Europe,” Edwards explains.
Because Edwards had a full-time teaching job, he worked on his manuscript only when he could find free moments such as on weekends and during vacations.
“Even though I kept polishing my drafts, I got more than my share of rejections,” Edwards confesses as he laughs and recalls that 2004 was not exactly a banner year.
“I received nine passes by publishers that year but kept my focus,” he says.
Throughout his 30-plus years of literary gestation, he did not allow anyone to read his manuscript, not even his wife and three children. That all changed in February 2007.
“When a New York agent accepted my book early last year, I was both surprised and stunned,” he says.
Not even his book being accepted by a publisher could match how startled he is by the critical acclaim it has received. “The Little Book” has been praised almost universally by critics and writers throughout the country. Many claim it isn’t just a good book but a great one that will endure the test of time.
“It is hard to categorize my book since some readers think it is a travel book, others a piece of science fiction, or a historical novel,” He says. “But it doesn’t really matter since the plot and characters seem to have connected with the public, and for that I am extremely pleased and humble.”
Even though the main character in Edwards’ book is Wheeler Burden, one of the big surprises is how strong and authentic the female characters are in the story. The author thinks there is a reasonable explanation for this.
“I have always been surrounded by strong forceful women in my life – mother, sister, wife, and daughters. In my 40-year career in education, I have, of course, worked side by side with indelible women models and I can think of dozens of women in literature and movies who have enthralled me,” he says.
Edwards believes that it is this balance of female characters with their male counterparts that give his book a literary equilibrium that translates well on the printed page.