Rachel Cantor's highly acclaimed debut novel is A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World. From a Q & A at her website:
You spent some of your childhood in Rome; did you draw on those memories when you were portraying medieval Rome in the book? What’s your favorite place to visit in Rome?--Marshal Zeringue
A lot of the Roman setting did come from memory—the itinerary Sally and Leonard follow, most notably, from an unnamed neighborhood to the river, across the bridge, past the Castel Sant’Angelo, to the old St. Peter’s, down the river, past the island to the Portico of Octavia (the fish market), and on to the Theater of Marcellus. I remember taking a school trip to the Portico of Octavia when I was maybe fourteen; I loved that this ruin of a once grand Roman building had become a place of low commerce. I remembered this odd fact for decades! I’ve been similarly fascinated with the Roman Theater of Marcellus, which like the portico and so much of ancient Rome was repurposed in the Middle Ages, first as a fortress and then, in its upper levels, as a dwelling. I wanted so much to see what’s inside!
But there’s not a lot left in Rome that’s medieval, apart from some churches, so I also spent a lot of time looking over old maps, and reading books about the medieval city—its pilgrims, architecture, daily life, weapons, Inquisition, Jewish population, and so on. The St. Peter’s in the book, for example, is the old St. Peter’s, which was demolished to make room for the current basilica, of Michelangelo fame. All of the details about that old church, then, I found through research. I similarly had no idea that there had been grain mills on the Tiber or that in the Middle Ages, there were kilns dedicated to transforming Roman marble (one shudders to think it!) into quicklime.
My favorite Roman places did not make it into the book, however: the...[read on]