In the mainstream book industry, the catch-phrase “the writer’s art” has been replaced by something a little more succinct: “Hurry up and wait.”
Richard Platt, an Ocean Beach playwright and author, knows the game pretty well. One publisher kept him on tenterhooks for 11 months as it made plans to produce his debut novel and then dropped them without explanation. About a year and a half and a zillion firms went by before Tyndale House Publishers released “As One Devil to Another, a Fiendish Correspondence in the Tradition of C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.” But released it was in April — and Platt, who’s been writing for about 10 years and calls Lewis his patron saint — has plenty to say about the industry and its direction, even as more manuscripts see the light of day than ever before.
“The Screwtape Letters,” published in 1942, centers on a series of 31 letters between devils Screwtape and Wormwood, with Screwtape advising his protégé on how to undermine the newfound hope of a guy called The Patient. The Patient is killed in a World War II air raid and goes to heaven, with Wormwood taking the heat for letting his soul slip through the devils’ fingers.
Platt’s “One Devil” mimics Lewis’ voice and uses similar exchanges, this time between Slashreap and Scardagger, to address items like today’s sexuality, modern technology and how man, despite the devils’ best efforts, maintains a sense of hope in a world gone mad.
The late Clive Staples Lewis, a Belfast native and a renowned novelist, poet and essayist known for his “Narnia” children’s series, died in 1963 at age 64 and was a major figure in illustrating the role of Christianity in everyday life. His philosophy isn’t lost on Walter Hooper, a world authority on Lewis, who in an hour-long phone conversation told Platt he found the manuscript “stunning” and even quoted passages back to him. A breathless Platt then suggested to his wife that she simply wouldn’t believe what Hooper had had to say.
“She said, ‘You’re right,’” said Platt. “‘I don’t believe it, and nobody else is going to believe it either. You better get him to write it down.’” Subsequently, Hooper wrote the book’s preface.
Platt, a regular contributor to the literary quarterly Slightly Foxed and a finalist for a 2012 San Diego Foundation fellowship for his one-man play “Ripples from Walden Pond: An Evening with Henry David Thoreau,” had written “One Devil” in 35 days, finishing in November 2009. Then, the real work began, sometimes amid a lack of response altogether.
“The waiting game,” Platt said, “is the toughest part of being a writer. People always say that if you’re going to be a writer you have to be able to handle rejection. That’s true, but it’s much worse than that. The days you get rejected are the good days, because someone actually noticed you’re alive. You’ll spend most of your life being ignored completely. The first trait a writer needs isn’t discipline, like you always hear. It’s fortitude.”
Perhaps that fortitude has diminished in the digital age. For a price, self-publishing services can edit, package and market your book at the drop of a hat, leaving the author’s accountability in question.
“The question is never, ‘Is it good?’ but ‘Can we sell it?’” he said. “So the trend is toward mediocrity.”
Meanwhile, he continued, the jury is still out on the book’s sales potential, as it’s only now beginning to reach its intended audience. The wheels grind slowly in that part of publishing too, even as the latest Great American Novel rolls off somebody’s copy machine, published on demand.
But Platt is consumed with all things Lewis, calling him the greatest man of letters of the 20th century. In part, “One Devil” is dedicated to his memory — and surely, amid all that greatness, the true author in Platt can’t bring himself to do less.
The illustrated, 192-page “One Devil” is available at amazon.com and any bookstore.