by Linda Stasi
It began on a visit to the House of the Virgin Mary in Turkey when this spiritual agnostic (me) got hit over the head with signs that made me realize that a novel about fictional saints created by the Vatican had yet to be written. That was the beginning of a very long road leading to the publication of my first novel, The Sixth Station.
To paraphrase the deathbed quip of actor Edmund Gwenn who said that dying was easier than comedy, may I add that living is easier than writing fiction?
I say that with all due respect, (to whom I don’t know), since I know better than most about the horrors of real life, having been a New York City tabloid columnist and reporter since, well, since Jesus was in swaddling Pampers.
I’ve seen it all, from natural disasters to the unnatural ones created by humans. I’ve talked to murderers, stalkers, heroes and villains. Writing about them, about the world, about real life—no matter how horrific it can be—is like being an emergency room doctor or nurse. You get used to it and try to make sense of it.
Making something up from whole cloth (no pun intended since The Sixth Station is about the Veil of Veronica) is so much harder. But inside every reporter is a novelist waiting to break free.
Thing is, once you get caught up in it, there’s no escape. It’s the opposite of breaking free. It’s akin to being kidnapped by your muse.
Writing The Sixth Station took me six years and through six countries.
I traveled with an exorcist priest from the Vatican, hiked a 5,000-foot mountain twice, stayed with monks 300 miles north of Rome, and a cloistered nun in the mountains of Manoppello, Italy.
Through parts of France, I was escorted by a motorcycle gang.
That visit to Turkey had changed my life—and my idea about what I needed to do with my life. I had to stop procrastinating and begin to write fiction.
But my first novel was so exhausting I wasn’t sure I had another one in me. Then, two weeks after promoting The Sixth Station was done, I was lying on the couch of a house we’d owned for 12 years, when I spotted a book on the shelf that I’d never seen before: I, Judas by Taylor Caldwell and Jess Stern. Taking it down, I saw that it was well over 40 years old. No one in my family had brought the old book into the house, and having lived there for a dozen years I knew I hadn’t done it. I was sure I had never even seen the book before.
A few days later, my daughter and I went to Princeton, New Jersey for a girls’ getaway weekend. Wandering into the Princeton bookshop, what did I spot on the front table? Reading Judas by Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King. That made it two “signs” from Judas in three days.
It got weirder. I learned that the actual Gospel of Judas, a 2,000-year-old codex had been found in al Minya, Egypt in the 1970’s. Then the ancient document had been lost … and found …. and lost again on the black market—only to turn up moldered and nearly beyond repair in a safety deposit box in Hicksville, Long Island.
It got even stranger. The codex was found in the Citibank branch there—the very place I’d had my first-ever bank account and the branch in which my parents had theirs until they died.
How could I not investigate? How could I not find out what was calling me—even though it involved more crazy travel—and more wild adventures—such as climbing down into a 3,000-year-old burial tomb in the “basement” of a distant relative’s home in the desert in Israel. That, you just can’t make up.
The muse was now in full control, and I sometimes felt like I was just along for the very wild ride. The resulting novel, Book of Judas, was published last week.
LINDA STASI is a celebrated columnist for the New York Daily News and an on-camera host on NY1 Spectrum TV 24/7 news channel. Named one of 50 Most Powerful Women In New York, Linda has appeared on such programs as The O’Reilly Factor, The Today Show, The View, Chris Matthews, CBS Morning Show, and Good Day New York. An award-winning columnist, she is also the author of five nonfiction books. Her second novel, Book of Judas—a sequel to her first novel, The Sixth Station—was published in September.