August 15, 2012
Interview with Donald Michael Platt
Today I welcome Donald Michael Platt to my series of author interviews. Donald is the author of A Gathering of Vultures, Rocamora, and its sequel, the soon to be released House of Rocamora.
A: Rocamora, a finalist at the 2012 International Book Awards, is set in 17th century Spain during its Golden Age. My historical MC Vicente de Rocamora, 1601-1684, struggles to make his place in an empire dominated by the Dominican controlled Inquisition and obsessed with limpieza de sangre, purity of blood untainted by Jew, Moor, or recent converts.
Historically, Rocamora was the Dominican royal confessor for Philip IV’s teenage sister Infanta María and renowned for his piety and eloquence. For the first forty-two years of his life he lived in Spain, and I filled the novel with Court and Church intrigues, depredations of the Inquisition, a mystery about Rocamora’s origins, his romantic involvement with several interesting women, assassination attempts, and duels.
Q: Was there love between Rocamora and Infanta María?
A: Imagine a fifteen- to sixteen-year-old girl who had no personal contact with any young men except her brothers. Then, her elderly confessor is replaced by a young man only five years older than she. It is documented María confessed several times a week, honored Rocamora, and showered him with gifts. Their relationship is best summed by a Spanish saying: No man is closer to a woman then her confessor, not her father, not her brother, and not her husband. No portrait or written description of Rocamora has been found.
Q: How does the sequel continue the story?
A: House of Rocamora covers the last forty-one years of Rocamora’s life in Amsterdam, during which he must again make his place in a land antipodal to Spain antipodal by climate, landscape, religion, government, and religious tolerance. Does he succeed? I answer all that and more through my fiction and the following facts. Rocamora went to medical school, became a physician at age forty-six and married a twenty-five year old who bore him nine children over eleven years. One may wonder how celibate he may have been in Spain. Rocamora was one of only three Jewish physicians who received citizenship equal to Dutch Christians, a philanthropist, and a respected poet although none of his writings are extant. Through Rocamora’s second son, he established a multi-generational dynasty of physicians. All this takes place during Amsterdam’s Golden Age, which included several plagues, the excommunication of Spinoza, hysteria generated among Jews and Protestants by a false messiah, and wars against Spain and England.
Q: What made you interested in writing about this character?
A: Little-known historical individuals who led interesting lives arouse my interest. The less documentation about them, the freer I am to create character motivation and an entertaining story line unlike the well-plowed Tudors, as an example. That is why I selected Vicente de Rocamora, 1601-1684, to be the protagonist of my novels. Several anomalies, unanswered questions. and many gaps in his life piqued my curiosity. The historical spoiler at the end of Rocamora, a truly unique event, is what most motivated me to write the novel.
My research failed to discover Rocamora’s parents and lineage, why he entered the Dominican Order, how and why he became confessor and spiritual director for the Infanta, and why he left Spain when he did in 1643. I have a letter from the director of the Inquisitorial files in Madrid stating Rocamora was never arrested or even denounced as a secret Jew or later condemned and burned in effigy. In Amsterdam, there are no extant records that explain why he received citizenship equal to Dutch Christians. I did discover a tenuous relationship to the noble de Rocamoras of Valencia, caballero caste of Murcia, and documented evidence of his true attitude toward religion, all of which contributed to the course of my novels.
Q: How much historical fact is woven into your novel?
A: The historical background, personages, and events are treated factually, but the great lacunae in Rocamora’s life that I fill are fictional. One typical example: I inserted Rocamora into the comical wooing of María by Charles, Prince of Wales. Of course, I did my best to show and not tell thus avoiding info-dumping, I hope. I do have author’s notes at the end of both novels to separate fact from fiction and a list of fictional characters as well.
Q: Tell us a little about your novel A Gathering of Vultures.
A: A Gathering of Vultures is a contemporary thriller-horror novel, based on my experiences when I lived where the story takes place. Professional ballroom dancers Terri and Rick Hamilton aspire to be world champions. Unfortunately, Terri’s recurring health problems place that goal well out of reach. They travel to Terri’s birthplace, Florianópolis, on the scenic island of Santa Catarina off the coast of Brazil to vacation and visit their best friends and mentors.
Along the picturesque beaches, dead penguins and eviscerated bodies wash up, and Antarctic blasts play counterpoint to the tropical storms that rock the island. The scenic wonder is home not only to urubus, a unique sub-species of the black vulture, but also to a clique of mysterious women who offer Terri perfect health and the promise of fame—at a terrible price. Rick fears Terri is being drawn into a cult and that his own life may be in danger. Will it be too late when he discovers something even more terrifying lives beneath the tranquil, tropical veneer of the island?
Q: What was your path to becoming published?
A: I either submitted my writing though agents or personal connections with some success in film and television, but none sold my novels. In 2007, I sent A Gathering of Vultures to a startup independent publisher, and she accepted it. My publisher also loved Rocamora, and she published it in hard cover. Later she merged with Briona Glen, another startup, and they republished both novels in soft cover, Kindle, Nook, ebooks.. They will be publishing House of Rocamora in the same formats.
Q: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.
A: Born and raised inside San Francisco, I graduated from prestigious Lowell High School and received my B.A. In History from the University of California at Berkeley. After two years in the Army, I went to graduate school at San Jose State where I won several writing awards. One of my short stories was published in the college’s literary magazine, The Reed.
When I moved to southern California, I began my professional writing career. I sold to the television series Mr Novak, ghost wrote Your Hair and Your Diet for health food guru Dan Dale Alexander, and wrote for and and with diverse producers, directors and stuntmen. Options have been taken on my unpublished WWII fighter ace novel.
After living in Florianopolis, Brazil, setting of A Gathering of Vultures, I moved to Jupiter, Florida, where I wrote Vitamin Enriched with Carl DeSantis and The Couple’s Disease with Dr. Lawrence S. Hakim.
Currently I reside in Winter Haven, Florida, where I am polishing a completed novel set in the ninth century Carolingian Empire about another unusual and elusive historical personage, Bodo the Apostate, and I have a WWII fighter ace novel on the tarmac after that.
We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Q: Coffee or tea?
A: Coffee, strong and black.
Q: Ocean or mountain?
A: Ocean. Mountains give me a feeling of claustrophobia.
Q: Hiking or shopping?
A: Neither, but if forced to choose, shopping, preferably for wines.
Q: Violin or piano?
Q: Mystery or fantasy?
Q: Hester Prynne or Scarlet O’Hara?
A: Yuck, neither, but if forced, Hester, although I might wait for Pearl to reach a marriageable age. I never cared for “Queen Bee” types. I would have been an indifferent Ashley in Scarlet’s world.
Q: Love scene or death scene?
A: Love scene, but no gratuitous sex.
You can learn more about Donald Michael Platt at his website, www.donaldmichaelplatt.com,
meet his publisher Briona Glen
and/or friend Donald on Facebook:
Thanks, Donald, for visiting my blog today.