It can happen to you, even if it takes 30 years
This summer, retired English teacher and first-time novelist Selden Edwards published “The Little Book,” a not-so-little tome just over three decades in the making. It tells the heavily researched, time-traveling story of Wheeler Burden, rock star, philosopher, inventor of the Frisbee. To do so, it flits back and forth between 20th century California and Boston and fin de siècle Vienna, featuring cameos by the likes of Buddy Holly and Sigmund Freud. "Right in 1897 in all those different areas — music, art, psychology, politics — there was an explosion in Vienna that created the 20th century," said Edwards, who lives in Santa Barbara. "I lived through a transitional time also. I grew up in the 50s. Our parents had just survived the Great Depression and a world war, and they wanted to keep a tight lid on everything, they wanted things controlled. Their children got restless and it exploded, similar to what happened in Vienna." Jacket Copy asked Edwards to explain the circumstances behind the writing of his novel.
Jacket Copy: Why did “The Little Book” take 30 years to write?
Selden Edwards: Well, I didn’t intend it to. I wrote the first draft in 1974-75 and sent it out to publishers, and it got rejected. I got depressed and put it away. But I liked the story and I thought it had promise. About every three or four years, I’d do another draft. I kept adding more complexity, more characters, and I kept reading books about Vienna. I think it was a manic-depressive thing—when you’re in the middle of writing, you’re feeling pretty good; then it gets rejected and you feel bad. That’s what it was, manic-depression.
JC: How did the book evolve during that time?
Selden Edwards: Originally, I just thought about traveling back in time, and meeting a young Hitler. I wondered about that, if you’d be able to strangle this little kid. I thought I’d write a thriller or mystery. But it was much more interesting to create a character who goes there, rather than one who lives there. I began to think of it like Kafka’s "Metamorphosis," where Gregor just wakes up a bug; there’s no explanation.
When I wrote the first draft in 1974–75, Wheeler Burden was 33, because that’s the age I was. The next time I pulled it out, Wheeler was five years older. Then the next time, he was five years older than that. I think my novel changed as I changed. I’ve got a whole different point of view on life now.
At some point, I realized that Wheeler's in Vienna to help [love interest] Weezie [Putnam]. She’s stuck and needs to do some self-examination, but she’s held back by her fears. And her fears come from her abusive childhood. She has to explore that, and Wheeler is going to be the lantern. He does that in a very patient and loving way. Those are sensibilities that came to me much later. As I got older, I realized that teaching is about freeing people.
JC: What are you working on now?
Selden Edwards: I’m working on another novel, and it’ll be finished when I’m 97 (laughs). I’m working on a follow-up [to “The Little Book”]. There’s a lot of this story that’s left to be told. I’m feeling very good about it. This time, there are people who are eager for me to get going on it.
— MIndy Farabee
Photo: JoAnn Carney