Donald Michael Platt is Penmore Press’s senior author, celebrating his 90th birthday June 24th in 2022. He is the author of A Gathering of Vultures, an adventure into horror; The Sorceress and The Skull, a gothic romance; and four historical fiction novels: Bodo The Apostate, set in the 9th century; Rocamora and House of Rocamora, set in the 17th century; and Close to the Sun, a World War II tale of fighter pilots—British, American, and German.
Donald Michael Platt is a gentleman of the old school: considerate, courteous, humorous. His historical fiction novels are remarkably vivid, character driven accounts of the times, grounded in painstaking research.
CW: So, Donald, most authors have written much more than is ever currently in print. how many books have you written over the years?
DMP: In the late 1950s through the 1990s I wrote perhaps a half dozen unpublished novels, between writing screen and teleplays (sold to the TV series Mr. Novak, and one episode was directed by Ida Lupino). Several books I wrote as a “with” co-author. Vitamin Enriched, pub.1999, is the autobiography for Carl DeSantis who founded Rexall Sundown Vitamins, starting in his garage and later selling the company for 1 billion, 800 million dollars. I also was a “with” for Dr. Hakim, Head of the Sexual Dysfunction Unit at the Cleveland Clinic, for his book The Couples Disease, about the causes, prevention, and cure for sexual dysfunction, pub. 2002. And there was the ghost assignment for a health food guru, Dan Dale Alexander, for the book Your Hair and Your Diet.
Between 2007 and 2016, six of my novels have been published and are currently at Penmore: A Gathering of Vultures, finalist in the horror category for Indie Excellence Book Awards; Rocamora, finalist in Historical Fiction International Book Awards; the sequel House of Rocamora; Close to the Sun, which was a three times Finalist in Historical Fiction with International Book Awards, Indie Book Awards, and Indie Excellence Book Awards; Bodo The Apostate, and The Sorceress and The Skull. I have also written a trilogy-concluding sequel, Rocamora Rising.
CW: When did you start writing, and what inspired you to start?
DMP: After I was honorably discharged from the Army, I thought I might go to the University of London and get my PhD there in History. Back then, tuition was $500, which included room and board for three quarters, with no need to earn a Masters before a PhD. I thought I’d get a high school teaching credential, teach high school and save for a few years. I went to San Jose State as a Social Studies major, but I needed a minor and chose English. I took a Creative Writing course and my stories earned As. I also joined the school’s creative Writing club, Pegasus, and had a story published in their magazine, The Reed. My final semester there in May 1959. I entered the Senator Phelan cash awards Literary Contest. I won 1st and 2nd in Plays, 1st & 2nd in Essays, and 1st and 3rd in Free Verse, We vets were shut out of short stories because the judges wanted stories set in the USA, and we submitted stories set in Europe or Asia.
CW: Are there any of your books of which you are especially fond?
DMP: If forced to choose, I suppose it Rocamora, Man of Masks. I first encountered this interesting historical personage in a book at about Spanish and Portuguese Jews during the days of the Inquisition. For the first half of his adult life, Rocamora was a Dominican confessor and spiritual director for the sister of King Philip IV in 1623, when he was 22 and she 16. He disappeared from Court in 1643, reappeared in Amsterdam, still a Dominican. Jews were forbidden to convert Christians, yet Rocamora declared he was a Jew, circumcised himself, and took the name Isaac Israel. He went to medical school, earned a license to practice, and in 1647 he wed 25-year-old Abigael Touro. They had nine children over the next 11 years, and he become an esteemed physician, earning citizenship equal to Christians—a very rare occurrence.
CW: Writers of historical fiction are usually depicting actual events, but as novelist how do you exercise creative and poetic license?
DMP: I enjoy filling gaps in historical characters’ lives through logic and playing detective. When necessary I create fictional characters to further the story.
CW: Have any events of your own life made it into your stories? Are you ever a cameo character, like Alfred Hitchcock or Stan Lee?
DMP: Only in one novel have I taken events based on my experience. That is in my contemporary horror novel, A Gathering of Vultures, based on our extended visit to Ilha de Santa Caterina in Brazil.
CW: What were your favorite books to read growing up, and who are your favorite authors?
DMP: Starting at about age 8, I collected books about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. From there I discovered authors Sabatini, Costain, Shellabarger, Yerby, Payne, Marshall, and others. I even read Forever Amber at age 12, which my mother purchased.
CW: When you write, do you have a process that facilitates story telling and character building?
DMP: I always make a tentative story outline and cast of characters. For historical fiction I seek books such as Daily Life During Spain’s Golden Age and The time of Charlemagne to add flavor to my writing. Over the years, I have used two great sites that no longer exist: The Scholar’s Bookshelf and Questia. I needed more humor when writing about the Historical Bodo the Apostate and asked Questia “What made people laugh during the time of the Carolingians?” I received access to published books and monographs that had everything I wanted.
CW: if you could live your life over again, are there any careers or adventures you’d wish to try that you didn’t get around to this lifetime? What would you do differently?
DMP: Because my mother’s 1st cousins were physicians and dentists, and my father had a cousin also a physician, plus a brother-in-law dentist, I was expected to go pre-med or become a lawyer. I should have rebelled and done what I chose in grad school, be a History/Social Studies major or Theater Arts ,and instead of Cal go to UCLA and write both novels and screen/teleplays. I was diverted from going to University of London by a lapse in judgement regarding whom I wed, which on the plus side after divorce landed me my writing assignments in Hollywood, writing for producers Harry Joe Brown, Albert J. Cohen, Sig Schlager, and Al Ruddy. I also wrote a script for Paul Stader, Sr., stuntman, stunt and second unit director, and double for Cary Grant.
CW: Lastly, what manner of “god” are you to your characters?
DMP: Excluding historical personages, I create them and decide if and when they die. With the historical characters, the story, era, and characters themselves all dictate both the dialogue and narrative.
CW: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.