Another Life Changed by the Library

by Bill Peak

As a child I was fascinated by time, the notion that, in the distant past, the world had been full of people too, and that while these people had lived big, complex lives just like ours, they also must have lived lives entirely different and even alien from our own. As I grew older and began to write, I wondered if someday I might be able to travel to and inhabit another time vicariously, through the medium of my craft. Eventually, the germ of an idea for a novel grew from such daydreams, a story about a boy donated by his father to a monastery during the “Dark Ages.” I spent several years performing the necessary research and then I began to write. But I found the going hard. While I knew my facts and knew the story I wanted to tell, what I wrote sounded awkward to me and even amateurish. I began to wonder if I really had what it takes to be a writer.

Then Melissa was offered a job at the Maritime Museum and we picked up and moved to the Eastern Shore. For the first time in our lives, Melissa's income alone was sufficient to support us and she insisted I work exclusively on the book. I felt an awful cad, but pretty redheads have a way of getting what they want. So I wrote each day till I couldn't stand the results anymore, and then I would go to the library to remind myself that—even if I couldn't produce it myself—there, on the shelves of that remarkable institution, I could still find and enjoy great writing. Looking back on it now, I realize those first trips to the Talbot County Free Library represented an important break in my life. Of course I had read before. I had read to escape and I had read to learn. But now I found myself with uninterrupted time in which I could read for the pure joy of reading, read as one might listen to a great piece of music or savor a lovingly prepared meal. And, slowly but surely, this immersion in the art of writing changed me, my ear often supplying the next word in a sentence before my eye encountered it, the rhythms of the writing now flowing through me as a wave flows through the shallows one basks in.

Louie Armstrong used to talk about the moment when he discovered he no longer needed to play the written notes of a song in order to make music, that he could now improvise, make entirely new and unheard-of music pour from his horn as easily as he thought or breathed. I am no Louie Armstrong, but all the reading I did at the Talbot County Free Library did change the way I write. Where before I had felt like a man trying to subdue his subject with a blunt instrument, now the words flowed from my pen (or often seemed to) like thought itself: pure and revision-free. I no longer had to work at it, and I was pretty sure my readers wouldn't have to either.

In May of this year, Secant Publishing purchased the rights to my novel. Appropriately enough, “The Oblate's Confession” will be launched on Monday evening, Dec. 1, here in the place where I learned how to write it: the Easton branch of the Talbot County Free Library. I will give a brief reading, copies of the book will be available for sale (and, shortly thereafter, will also be available for check-out free of charge from the library), and my publisher has promised a nice spread of refreshments and hors d'oeuvres. I invite you all to help me celebrate the publication of a book that, in no uncertain terms, each and every one of you helped make possible. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.