Novelists Can Be Extreme Researchers
Character, setting, time, technology, government, transportation, diet - you name it, we writers need to know it. In trying to understand the who, what, when, why, where, and how of even the simplest action my character may take, I research their life story, their motivations, aspirations, fears, weaknesses and strengths. If I don’t know how they will react to a seemingly impossible challenge I set for them, how can I expect you to believe their story, let alone care what happens to them? The same holds true for a setting.
For example, the ‘eternal city’ of Rome is critically important to events in my novel, SAINT. It is both a character and a setting. More importantly, Rome and its nearly 3,000-year history are a metaphor for SAINT’s theme: we must question inherited knowledge to ensure that it communicates accurately through us to those who will follow us. Facts can be shaded, revised, reinterpreted to suit short-term purposes. When this happens, it disserves future generations. Truth must be understood and protected, or we can become victims of corrupted versions of it. Rome is a living laboratory where truth of every kind is on display.
Rome is where SAINT begins and, after Peter travels far and wide throughout the novel, where it climaxes. I wanted to bring Rome and Romans alive so, following extensive research, deep reading and more than a year of writing, I went to Rome and discovered still more. Rome pulses with important advances in arts, literature, business and, in the case of The Vatican, religion. It has it all. As I experienced the sights, sounds, smells, touch and rich tastes of Rome, my characters - and Rome itself - leapt off the page. Fiery and irrepressible Peter, smart and beautiful Giuliana Sabatini, conflicted Cardinal Cosa, determined Jurgen Rindt, the witty and elegant Nula Gatti and other characters were authentic, surprising, flawed and inspiring. They were truly human. And Rome was both timeless and exuberantly present.
Ten Facts About ROME That May Surprise You
While all these discoveries did not make it into the novel directly, they influenced the characters at important moments in their lives. Rather than risk losing these compelling discoveries, I’d like to share them. Here are some facts about Rome that you might be interested to know:
- Rome is a city that from earliest history has built over itself. Walk down any street today and you’re likely walking over millennia of history – farmsteads, walls, tombs, temples, monasteries, courtyards, huts, wells, roads, statues – as much as 60 feet deep. There truly is an underworld in the eternal city, some of it still undiscovered.
- Vatican City, which guides the spiritual lives of the largest religion population in the world (2.17 billion Christians) is the smallest country on earth. This independent city-state occupies just 100 acres and is completely surrounded by its border with Italy.
- St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican stands directly over a city of the dead dating from Imperial Rome. The altar rises directly over the tomb of St. Peter, which was not discovered until excavations during World War II. Peter’s bones were conclusively identified in 1968.
- By law, cats are allowed to live without disruption in the place where they were born. Hundreds of wild cats live happily in and around the Colosseum and the Forum.
- The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican has the same dimensions, as described in the Old Testament, as the temple of Solomon on Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
- The majority of Vatican City’s 600 citizens live abroad.
- Rome was the first modern city in which its population reached 1 million people . . . in 50 BCE! No other city of the world matched this record until London in the 1800s.
- There are 280 fountains and more than 900 churches in Rome.
- Rome’s official mascot is a she-wolf that cared for the brothers Romulus and Remus, who were the legendary founders of Rome in the eighth century BCE.
- The first shopping mall in the world was built in Rome by Emperor Trajan between 107-112 ACE. It was a multi-level mall in which Romans were able to shop for all kinds of groceries and goods.
What an amazing city. Revisiting Rome in this way is fun.
If you know other interesting facts about Rome or the Vatican, share a comment below. Are you a writer? Tell me about where your book takes place.
Join my mailing list if you would like to receive occasional news about my novel SAINT. You might also like to read my novel, BEYOND THESE WOODS. Watch this space for news about a new novel coming soon.