Advocatus Quod Auctor

How Anthony Licata’s Hannibal’s Niece finally saw the light of day

Published in 2018 Illinois Super Lawyers — February 2018

Two years ago, when a longtime client mentioned over lunch that he was seeking book submissions for his new publishing company, Anthony Licata casually replied, “Well, I have one you ought to read. It’s been sitting in my closet for 20 years.”

A commercial real estate attorney and partner-in-charge at Chicago’s Taft Stettinius & Hollister, Licata, 63, had some experience with the written word. He’d worked his way through high school and college as a reporter for a daily newspaper in his south Illinois hometown of Du Quoin. At Harvard Law School, he co-authored what he calls a “little-noticed and not well-received” book about surviving the first year of his legal studies. Fascinated with history, particularly the Roman Empire, he devoured books on the era and connected with Biblical epics like Ben-Hur and Spartacus

The true-life tales about Hannibal, Roman General Scipio, and a woman they’d captured snared his attention and wouldn’t let go. In the 1990s, he says, “I began to conceive of this [book idea]. What if you could make a historical novel out of that?”

For four years, Licata hammered out pages on evenings and weekends, poring over factual accounts of period furniture, utensils and food, and creating characters that reflected the real people he’d read about. Sometimes his quest for details led to dead ends, so he borrowed descriptions of objects from the records of later decades. “There’s quite a bit of a literary license taken with various aspects,” he concedes. “I did all of that in the name of readability.”

Licata tried several times to land an agent without luck. “They said, ‘You’re a first-time unpublished author,’ and they had no interest in that,” he says. “And secondly, they said there was no interest in ancient Rome as a genre.” Licata eventually gave up and tucked the hefty three-ring binder on a shelf in his closet.

Gradually, the publishing world changed. Amazon and other self-publishing services revolutionized book-selling by making it possible for aspiring authors to print, distribute and market their creations. And, thanks to movies like Gladiator and TV shows like Spartacus, the American public grew enamored again with ancient Rome. So when Licata’s client learned that his lawyer had written a novel—part political intrigue, part love story—from that era, Licata says, “he about fell out of his chair.”

In June 2017, Chicago-based G. Anton Publishing released Hannibal’s Niece. The book also received the first Defining Karma Grant for Literature from GABE Advisors, which funds the work of aspiring writers and is run by Licata’s client. 

“Absolutely the most gratifying part is when people say to me, ‘Wow, when such-and-such happened, I had no clue that was coming,’” Licata says. “That’s very satisfying, because you put a lot of work into setting that up and making that happen.”

Writing a work of fiction isn’t all that different from practicing law, Licata adds: “I’ve been in front of literally dozens and dozens and dozens of planning commissions, city councils, different kinds of governmental bodies over the years, making presentations, putting on witnesses, telling the story that the client’s case involves. It certainly can be adversarial, because you’ve got a lot of opponents there sometimes and they’re out to kill you. I think that part of it carries over [into plot development].”

Little did Licata know that he had two books in his closet, not just one. Hannibal’s Niece was originally much longer than its current 452 pages, so Licata and his publisher decided to end the story at a logical stopping point and save the rest for a sequel.

“Now I’m starting to have a little fun with it,” he says of his literary ventures. “We kept all of my law partners and clients, and even the staff here, completely in the dark. Nobody knew anything about this until very, very recently. Some people in the firm have read it and loved it. I haven’t really had anybody who had the guts to tell me that they didn’t like it. So far, so good.

“Frankly, I’d forgotten about [the book] and given up on it, so this feels fantastic,” he adds. “Thank God I never threw it away.”

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