Lunch with The Standard: Selden Edwards

DEPUTY EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ANNA YOUNG sits down with this year’s Bergeron Fellow, author and teacher Selden Edwards, to discuss the process of publishing and his experiences in the print industry.

Selden Edwards was hunched over his lunch when I entered the English office. I could barely see his face. When he looked up and greeted me, I saw a nice-looking older man with a beard that some of my friends would be jealous of.

This year’s Bergeron Fellow, Edwards was an English teacher and headmaster at various private schools in the U.S. before he published his first novel, The Little Book. The story is about time travel between 1980s America and turn-of-the-century Vienna.

Edwards became involved with the Bergeron Fellowship through his friendship with former Head of School Bill Mules and his wife’s friendship with English Department Head Meghan Tally. Even before his success as a writer, he had been interested in the fellowship.

Edwards’s rise to fame was a long one. It took him 30 years and, he estimates, six increasingly large drafts of his novel before he was eventually published. Tally helped him edit the novel, working with him for days at his home on Lake Tahoe.

Words, he explained, could not describe his feelings when his manuscript was sold. “When I was in college, I played JV basketball and I always dreamed of being a star on the varsity [team] and I never got there,” he said. “[Being published] is like that. I’d been invited to be on varsity. I dreamed of it so long that I couldn’t believe [it] when it happened.”

Each time Edwards’s manuscript was rejected, he would give up on the book for a while. “But then time would pass and I’d think ‘Well you know, I’ve already got so much invested in that story,’” he said. “And I kept thinking of new wrinkles so then I got it out, dusted it off and sent a new draft out and it would get rejected [again].”

Edwards’s main focus, though, was adding to the depth and richness of the story. He believes that it eventually became perfectly substantive and that is when he started the publishing process.

The nine-month publication process he underwent seemed, as we sat facing each other over a small table in an English classroom, like a whole different world. For his first book, Edwards sat down with an editor and went through the entire 600-page manuscript looking for errors and editing. Editors looked over multiple drafts of the book before it was deemed ready for publication. “I worked for 30 years trying to get the book published and then all of the sudden when you do get it it gets very serious very fast because all of the sudden your book is going to get published and all of those little things that you thought you wanted to change, things that weren’t quite right, you have to fix,” he said.

Edwards knew right off the bat that his second book would be published and said that once his foot was in the door of the literary world, publishing a second book was much easier. He started the book by writing a 50-page summary, then a 150-page version and added onto the book in increments of approximately 100 pages until his editor said the story was ready to go. “I thought people would say, ‘He’s a one-trick pony and he had his chance and this one isn’t as good.’ All of a sudden some people were saying it was better than the first one,” he said sheepishly. “I must admit that really surprised me.”

Since the publication of The Lost Prince, the sequel of The Little Book, in which the main character travels to Vienna during World War I, Edwards’s literary career has taken off. Edwards has been active in the international literary community since entering it with the publication of his first book. “You get invited to lots of events like authors’ panels and book-related things so I run into a lot of authors,” he said. “I love that.”

As the Bergeron Fellow, Edwards came to ASL to work with students and faculty, as well as to give a lecture to the community. He spent a week working with sophomore English classes to produce their own book. As we sat together, he proudly took out a copy of one class’s book. A solid 50 pages, the book contains pieces written by members of the class as well as their own photos and illustrations. The purpose of the exercise was to teach the classes what it was like to work for a publisher, and to help them understand how each step in the publication process is dependent on the ones before it. “I knew it [making the book] was possible, and I’d never seen it done before,” he said. “But I wanted them to know about publishing rather than working for a grade and that, when you are working with a publisher, it’s a very different process.”

The Little Book, Edwards said, was the culmination of a whole life spent around books and a dream come true. Out of everything he has experienced since its publication, his favorite thing to do is simply to hold the book.

When he travels for book tours, he can usually find a copy or two in an airport bookstore or a local bookstore. He often goes into the stores and offers to sign the books. He gleefully described the way store clerks become excited that an author is in the vicinity. His eyes widened as he said “author,” and for a second I had a vision of him dressed as a Waterstones clerk restraining his delight over a literary hero walking into the room. “I sign the book and they put the sticker on it and it’s pretty exciting,” he said. “It’s beyond my beliefs.”