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Chasing the Dream

Robert Downes - May 18th, 2006
Brad Platt has a great setting for his new book, a cool title and a potboiler plot. Now all he needs is readers to make his dream of the writing life come true.
Deadstream is Platt’s first novel, the product of five years of interior monologues, sketching out the characters, crafting the plot, writing, rewriting and rewriting again. He’s shared his work at a prestigious writer’s workshop, parsed his prose and pared his tale into a hoped-for trilogy. He’s sought criticism from a writing coach. He’s put his money where his mouth is to get his book published. He’s hustled hard with the press to get reviews, and he’s pushing his book’s distribution.
There is, in short, a great deal of work to be done in getting a first book published, not to mention the hope of a bestseller; but no one can say that Platt hasn’t gone the extra mile on that score.

THE TEST
But hustle without talent comes to naught if the goods don’t deliver. So we give Platt’s book the browser’s test. That involves opening the book to a random page, stabbing a finger at a paragraph and reflecting on whether it’s got the juice to keep us reading or if we’ll move on.
Turns out it’s pretty good: sort of like Cormac McCarthy-meets-Loren Estleman. Tough-talking prose from hard-boiled characters in a back-of-nowhere, rural setting way up yonder in Northern Michigan. The characters are as charged up as crickets on a hot grill -- no one’s sitting on their hands in Deadstream -- and Platt sprinkles on the “f” word like sugar on cornflakes, a noteworthy change from the nice-nelly conventions of Northern Michigan writing. The browser gets the impression that it would be a good idea to read Deadstream to find out how the book comes out. It passes the test.
Score one for Platt’s field of dreams.
“I’ve always been a big reader,” Platt says of his odyssey. “I’ve always loved literary fiction and the classics. I’ve had an insecurity issue as to whether I was a good writer -- it seemed like a really big risk writing a book. I’ve only started letting people know that I’m a writer in the last year.”

PAYING DUES
Platt, 35, is a partner in the new Century 21 Northland real estate office in Traverse City. A native of Saginaw, he grew up in the Houghton-Higgins Lake area where the vast Deadstream Swamp is located. The swamp provides the locale for his book as well as a metaphor for undercover agents involved in a clash with drug smugglers in rural Roscommon County.
Platt graduated from Central Michigan University in 1994 and spent the last six years in Chicago before moving back to Northern Michigan in January. It was in Chicago that his dream of the writer’s life began to gel.
“I took up wriiting seriously seven or eight years ago,” he recalls. “I knew I had good stories to tell and I started studying at the Writer’s Loft in Chicago. Once a week the members would read and critique their work. It was a very eye-opening experience.”
Jerry Cleaver, the founder and coach of the Writer’s Loft, gave members of the group some good advice: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Platt took those words to heart and has the additional quality that’s essential to any artist: he’s driven to be creative even if there’s no payoff.
“The story was just something I constantly thought of in my spare time,” he says. “I tried to create good, full characters and think about how they would react in certain situations.”
He adds that writing the book was, “a solid five-year process.”
“I spent a lot of time just conceptualizing the story; writing, rewriting, taking it to class and conceptualizing what didn’t work. I wanted it to be perfect.”
Eventually, push came to shove with getting Deadstream on paper. “Last year was crunch time. I definitely worked every day, typically late in the evening with no distractions from 9:30 until 1 a.m. just locked in a room typing.”

THE SETTING
The stage for Deadstream is a small fishing town in Roscommon County.
“Deadstream is a real place just west of Houghton and Higgins Lake that’s the largest unbroken swamp east of the Mississippi,” Platt says. “It’s the headwaters of the Muskegon River and I’ve always liked the area and the name.”
Platt has a love of the outdoors, camping and fly fishing. Growing up in the area, he was well-acquainted with the swamp which borders each side of I-75. It seemed a natural setting for his book which follows a familiar theme in American literature of a small town hiding ugly secrets beneath a pleasant facade.
In the process of writing Deadstream, Platt realized he had enough material for a much larger book. “The novel was so consuming that I decided to make ‘Deadstream’ the first of a trilogy,” he says. “The next book will continue the character line. It’s a very dramatic story.”
Platt’s day job is the real estate firm he launched in March with his wife, Julia Lilley, and their partner Jason Kudary. That, and trying to distribute his new book keeps him pretty busy.
He’s heartened, however, by the fact that his book has sold 600 copies since December thanks to good word-of-mouth and he was recently awarded an honorable mention in an independent book publishers’ contest. All that remains is getting Deadstream in the hands of readers; check it out at local bookstores.
The Plot:
Set in the late 1980s in a small fishing town in Roscommon County, Deadstream involves a character named Brendon Castleman who returns home to find his mother’s body, the apparent victim of a suicide.
Brendon’s quest to come to grips with his mother’s death involves him in a local power struggle. FBI special agent Joseph Deacon arrives in Roscommon County to investigate a local cop’s involvement in drug trafficking. “Tension, betrayal and corruption bubble beneath the surface of this bucolic town; a place where drug smugglers and undercover agents coexist, each dangerously aware of each other.”
 
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