Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Guest Interview: William Peak, Author of The Oblate's Confession, Part I

I love spotlighting new releases for Library Journal and hearing the latest trends. Sometimes I'll admit I think...oh another_____ book. That's why I'm thrilled when I see new topics, issues, and time periods on the upcoming list. When I saw a book on the Dark Ages of church history, I was intrigued. William Peak is a librarian and newspaper columnist who released his debut novel this winter. The Oblate's Confession is based on over a decade of research of a lesser known but important figure in church history the Venerable Bede. William has some thoughts to share on writing and publication. Tomorrow we will run part II of Peak's guest interview, so be sure to return for more answers and a short excerpt from his release.

Q: How would you describe your journey to publication?

A: Arduous? Interminable? Truth be told, I'd pretty much given up all hope of anyone ever purchasing my novel when, out of the blue, a publisher approached me after reading one of my poems in a literary review. I sent him my manuscript, he read it, sent me a healthy cash advance, and the rest, one hopes, will be history. 

But that unexpected and extremely welcome approach took place seven long years after I had completed writing The Oblate's Confession. It's a hard world out there for anyone hoping to get a piece of serious fiction published today and be paid for it. Certainly I know of no tried and true path to successful publication (unless, of course, you've already been published and your work sold millions). 

I was fortunate. I have little doubt that untold numbers of excellent writers toil away unpublished and miserable today...and I fear that many of them will forever remain so. My heart goes out to them.

Q: What are the advantages you've found to publishing with a smaller house (Secant)?

A: Well, as this is my first novel and my first publisher, I can hardly claim to be an expert on small publishers, but certainly my experience with Secant has been a happy one. Though I have to tell you, when Secant's principal, Ron Sauder, first approached me about publishing my work, I was so gun-shy from all the rejections I'd experienced over the years that I feared it might be some sort of scam. I told myself the minute this guy asks for money, I'm out the door. 

Even after the check for the advance cleared and I could see the new balance in my account, a part of me worried that anything published by such a small company must inevitably look cheap and amateurish. But I was in for a surprise.  

Ron hired an entire stable of artists and designers to create maps and illustrations for the book, design its cover, pick its type and font size, and lay it out. I firmly believe the result to be a thing of beauty. And I love the paper the text is printed on. The stuff is so thick and creamy I can use a fountain pen at book-signings and the ink never runs into the surrounding paper. 

Add to this Ron is a joy to work with, that he truly loves my book and is doing everything he can to promote it, and you can see why, at least as far as my own experience is concerned, I can heartily recommend the advantages of publishing with a smaller house.

Q: How were you inspired with the idea for The Oblate's Confession?

A: A number of different paths led me to the writing of my novel. First, I became interested in contemplative prayer and wanted to learn everything I could about its earliest forms of expression. My research led me to the desert fathers and early monasticism. Reading about early monasticism, I discovered the Venerable Bede and his magisterial work, A History of the English Church and People. Within the covers of that book, I found material enough for several novels. Which played into another interest of mine. Ever since I was a child I have dreamed of time-travel. In imagining the world of a 7th century monastery into existence, I realized I would finally have the opportunity--however vicariously--to travel to and inhabit a time and place entirely different from my own. It is my hope that The Oblate's Confession will similarly transport its readers.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals?

A: Most definitely. All of my life, whenever I've had to move into a new house, the first step in making that house my home has been to find the room that will serve as my study. It must have a window with a view, and it must have room for my books. With the walls lined with books and a good view of nature outside my window, I can set up my desk and begin to write. 

A cup of coffee is necessary. To avoid having to get up for a fresh cup in the midst of some writerly struggle, I always bring a thermos of hot coffee with me to the study. And morning too is part of my routine. As a writer, I identify with the Appolo-like Gawain, whose strength increases as the sun rises, and decreases as it descends.

Q: What was the best writing advice you were ever given?

A: You know I have been fortunate in the guides I have had to the writing life. James Boatwright at Washington & Lee. Richard Dillard and Cronan Minton at Hollins. My father, who was an excellent writer and storyteller. While at Hollins, I used to go camping up in the Jefferson National Forest with Annie Dillard and Steve Pett. Annie won the Pulitzer Prize that year for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and Steve is no mean writer himself. 

(Julia: OK, this pre-published writer is getting quite green-eyed at the mention of Ms. Dillard! Talk about mentorship!)

But oddly none of these--so far as I recall--ever gave me the one piece of advice I always tell would-be authors: read. Read everything you can get your hands on. A writer who doesn't read would be like a pianist who doesn't practice. When he wanted to write, he would find there was no ink in his pen. It is from reading--massive, unending amounts of reading--that we gain the fluency required to write. 

Stay tuned for tomorrow's part II as William will share more about his research methods, inspiration, and character creation...as well as an excerpt from The Oblate's Confession.

Also, don't forget to check out Secant publishing homepage.

To buy William Peak's novel, The Oblate's Confession on amazon




Laurie Tomlinson said...

Welcome to The Alley, William! Annie Dillard? Wow! Can't wait to read tomorrow's installment!

Julia M. Reffner said...

I know, I'm seriously jealous, Laurie...I wanna hike with Annie although I might be completely dumbfounded :)

Pepper Basham said...

What an insightful post, William. Thank you for visiting us today! and Tomorrow!
I love finding nuggets of inspiration in obscure places.
And I'm starting out with small publishers too.