PERU — Anne Easter Smith danced around Richard III, King of England, as a protagonist in her five previous well-regarded novels.
She told the history of the House of York from the perspective of a fictional mistress, his sister, his illegitimate niece, his mother and his brother's mistress during the Wars of the Roses.
HOUSE OF YORK
“In This Son of York,” published by Bellastoria Press, Smith finally released Richard's story after he literally surfaced in a Leicester car park in September 2012, some 527 years after his death at the Battle of Bosworth that made him the last king from the House of York.
Smith, an award-winning author, will give a book talk to launch her sixth and last in her House of York series at 4 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 21 at the Peru Free Library.
Books will be available for purchase.
Smith was into a macabre tale of a 14th century Portuguese love story when the bones of the last Plantagenet king was found in an archaeological excavation of the lost site of the former Greyfriars Church in Leicester.
“I thought I was finished with the Yorks,” Smith, a Newburyport, Mass. resident, said.
“I was several chapters into this Portuguese book when they found Richard's bones. He was dug up for me. I was just overcome. My very good friend here who has been my editor for the last two books she said 'You've got to write your Richard book.' I said, 'I've already written my Richard book that's 'A Rose for the Crown.' She said, 'No that was Kate's book.' Richard was just the love interest.'”
FINDING RICHARD'S VOICE
Then, Easter-Smith started to think about writing about her muse.
Once they confirmed through DNA, it was in fact Richard III, it was a fait accompli.
“I think one of the reasons I had not written his story in his voice before I was too chicken,” she said.
“When I embarked on being an author I decided that I didn't really know how to get into a man's head. So, I was too afraid to do that, and mind you, I still don't know how they think. That's why I wrote what I thought was Richard's story through Kate. But of course, Kate wasn't with Richard all the time and not very much at all. So, I really hadn't told Richard's story.”
After “A Rose for the Crown,” “Daughter of York,” “The King's Grace,” “Queen by Right” and “Royal Mistress,” Smith's craft was honed and she felt brave enough to write from a male perspective.
“Once we found the bones and they were analyzed, there were new facts that came about Richard that we hadn't known before such as he had scoliosis,” she said.
“The scoliosis bit was really fascinating because he was supposed to be a really fine warrior. One wondered how he could with that disability.”
A serendipitous occurrence involves a young man, Dominick Smee, who lives in Leicester.
“Who happens to be a mad historical person, and he is a re-enactor at the annual Battle of Bosworth re-enactment they do in Leicester,” Smith said.
“He happened to be on duty at the trench the day they found the skeleton. He was in full armor. They thought it would be nice publicity to have the people guarding the archaeological dig be in 15th century armor.”
When the University of Leicester Archaeological Services found Richard III's skeleton, Smee could not believe it.
“It ends up he has the same degree of scoliosis as Richard,” Smith said.
“It was adolescent-onset scoliosis. Richard did not have it when he was born. So, he would have had a perfectly normal childhood. He would have looked perfectly normal. Dominick was very kind, and we Skyped a couple of times. He talked to me about all of his feelings about having this happen to him, which I could incorporate into my book.”
Her challenge was creating a real character, a real person and not a caricature.
“Because so many people know Richard from Shakespeare's monster,” Smith said.
“That he was murderer, a usurper, a hunchback and all of that. I don't believe he was. I've done 50 years of research. Tells me there was nothing in this guy that would have murdered his nephews. That was just not in his character. That made me start thinking about how to write this book.”
She wanted a real man, not someone who would come across as a saint, even though she is a member of the Richard III Society.
“I wanted to create a man who is very complex, and I do believe that he had no wish to be king,” Smith said.
“And that's a very controversial idea for historians because most historians think he was out for the crown from way back when. I wanted to put together a man when it came to him having the crown I wanted all the readers of my book to know that he really didn't want it.”
The last two years of the 32-year-old monarch's life, filled with betrayals and anxiety, was another illuminating piece of the puzzle.
“His nine-year-old son died of an illness,” Smith said.
“They don't know what of. His wife died of TB a year later. So what they discovered from analyzing the bones was for the last two years of his life, which was exactly his two year reign, he was drinking heavily. All of these things I think he was under unbelievable stress.”
Smith started to think about writing the book in 2013 and finished it 2016.
But it was not a straight flurry as family obligations interrupted her process.
The publishing process was even more circuitous.
“For me what was devastating, I could not sell this book to any editor in New York,” Smith said.
“The reason being that medieval was out of fashion in historical fiction and certainly not with a male protagonist.”
The Tudors were out.
Roman and Greek, don't even try to sell it.
“They want World War II,” she said.
“Go to Amazon and ask about World War II books, historical fiction. There are thousands of them.”
Early 20th century books about Hedy Lamarr, Coco Chanel or Grace Kelley are in vogue.
The musical “Hamilton” launched a voracious interest in the Founding Fathers.
“The day I finished my first draft of the book, and I told may agent, 'It's done. Please let us sell this book,'” Smith said.
“She called me, and she said, 'I've been meaning to tell you. I can't sustain myself in this agenting anymore, and I've taken a job in a bank.' I lost my agent.”
Several of Smith's friends told her to call their agents, reputable agents in historical fiction, who talked to her, gave her wonderful feedback but told her they could not sell her book in this market and could not take her on.
“'Unless, you write me a World War II book first, and then I may be able to sell the Richard one as a two-book deal,'” she recounted.
“I said, 'Well, I don't want to write a World War II book.' I'm not passionate about World War II. For crying out loud, I was born in World War II. It's not history. It's my life.”
Simon & Schuster let Smith go after “Royal Mistress,” which was published under its Touchstone imprint that phased out historical- fiction authors with the exception of Phillipa Gregory, who has segued from the Tudors and the Plantagenets to the 18th century.
“I'm not that kind of writer,” Smith said.
“I don't live to write. I just live to write about Richard III and his period. That's really all that's motivated me to write.”
A fellow author who had been with Touchstone, too, referred her to Bellastoria Press, a small boutique publisher in Western Massachusetts.
The Bellastoria Press, two women authors formerly with Harlequin, decided to start a publishing company for women authors who were orphaned by their publishers.
“It's printed by IngramSpark,” Smith said.
“They are the biggest book distributors in the country, but they also do printing.”
Bellastoria did all the formatting, designed the interior, did the E-book stuff, secured the book's IBSN number.
Easter-Smith paid for the copy editing.
Sanford Farrier, a Newburyport friend, did the cover and refused to be paid.
Bellastoria doesn't do any marketing.
“This has been the nightmare of small press publishing,” Smith said.
“Sitting on my computer and doing social media, which I'm not very good at. I'm just starting a virtual-blog tour with all these historical-fiction bloggers.”
WAR OF ROSES' RIFT
Everybody assured Richard III would garner interest with the mega-success of “Games of Thrones.”
“The TV series doesn't seem to produce readers,” Smith said.
“It's just viewers. 'Game of Thrones,' the first few books he wrote, he based it on the Wars of the Roses.”
Since Richard III's bones were found, there has been a resurgence of interest in him, especially in England.
“That's why it was kind of validating to me to get that review from an English blogger,” she said.
“That reassured me that I know my history. The story of a five-time published author with Simon & Schuster not being able to sell a sixth book. They would buy it, and nobody else would buy it because of the subject matter that was not that far from her first five books.”
Richard III's remains, after a court battle between Leicester and York, were carried in a procession to Leicester Cathedral and reburied there on March 22, 2015.
“I watched the procession of his carriage going through Leicester,” Smith said.
“Twenty thousand people came to Leicester to file past his coffin in the cathedral from all over the world. He was a rock star for about two years. It was all about Richard. I just couldn't believe I couldn't sell this book. It was very strange to me.”
Her former agent was convinced she could sell Smith's books in England and was never able to.
"They perceived me as an American," Smith said.
"Well, she published in America so she must be American. I tried selling this book to a couple of English publishers and just didn't get anywhere. You can get it on Amazon in the UK. I think it should be a movie. Richard has not been done in a movie. Other than Shakespeare's play, Olivier did it, and then Ian McKellen did one where he was a Nazi Richard. I need someone to write a screenplay. That's what I need."
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