Not many writers can discuss Daryl Dixon, the crossbow-toting stud on The Walking Dead, and the Veil of Veronica, a Christian relic, with equal erudition and intensity. In fact, Linda Stasi, author of the bestselling historical thriller The Sixth Station and a columnist for The Daily News in New York, is probably the only one.
Stasi, who is currently working on a sequel to The Sixth Station, tentatively titled Book of Judas, visited Jerusalem to research the new novel, large parts of which will be set in Israel.
Stasi, who was the television critic for The New York Post and a former colleague of mine, is picking up her new novel where her last and very controversial book left off. The Sixth Station told the story of the trial of Demiel ben Yusef, accused of being the world’s most dangerous terrorist by some, and the savior of humanity by others. Tough New York reporter Alessandra Russo finds herself in the center of the storm and must get to the bottom of the true story of ben Yusef’s life, discovering that she is descended from a mysterious Christian sect herself. When she unravels these secrets, all hell breaks loose, and it seems to that the Apocalypse may have begun.
“I’ve had this feeling since I was a kid, that the end of the world is not necessarily going to be the zombie apocalypse we all love so well,” says Stasi in a recent interview. Stasi is referring to The Walking Dead, of course, the show she has praised so highly she has been offered a zombie cameo by the producers. “I think there would be a period of gradual decay, gradual decay collapse and chaos. The environment would be a factor, tsunamis, that kind of thing, that could be the beginning of the end of days.”
But while Stasi is fascinated by Christian prophecy, don’t mistake her for a religious fanatic. “I was raised a very loose Catholic, more agnostic than Catholic,” she says.
In early April, she married Sid Davidoff, a lawyer, lobbyist and aide to former mayors, in the first wedding ceremony performed in City Hall by Mayor de Blasio. Davidoff, who is Jewish, has relatives in Israel who are biblical scholars and are helping Stasi with her research.
“It’s very interesting that this book idea would come to me,” says Stasi. “I spent six years researching The Sixth Station. But when I started, I didn’t know much about the Bible or anybody’s religion, including my own.”
The idea for the project came to her when she and Davidoff took a trip through Turkey several years ago.
“At first, he said, he’s Jewish and it’s a Muslim country, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this.’ I said, it’ll be fine. We came to Ephesus [an ancient city in Turkey that was an important center for early Christians], and we had a college professor showing us around. All she wanted to do was to take me to the various religious sites. All I wanted to know was where did she get her knockoff Chanel purse.”
They compromised. “She said she would take me to this place called the House of the Virgin Mary, and then she would take me to see the knockoff purse place.”
But Stasi was taken by surprise by her fascination for the Virgin Mary site, which was buried for over 1,800 years and is believed to have been the home of Jesus’ mother after the crucifixion.
“I wondered, what was Mary doing in Turkey?” says Stasi. Discovering the answer to this question started her off on a journey through six countries – in addition to Turkey and the US, her research led her through Israel, Italy, Brazil and France – and several archaeological digs, where she learned little-known facts about early Christianity.
“Book two, the sequel, starts out in Jerusalem,” she says. “In the Garden of Gesthemane,” where Judas is believed to have betrayed Jesus.
Back in New York, her heroine Alessandra is coping with what looks a lot like the Apocalypse and dealing with a harrowing threat to someone she loves. The piece of the puzzle that will help her save this person is located, of all places, in a safety deposit box on Long Island, where Stasi grew up.
“This is a true story. There was a Gospel called the Gospel of Judas found in El Minya, Egypt, the same place where all those Islamic protestors are sentenced to executed...
It was put up for auction but no one bought it and it ended up rotting in the same bank branch in Hicksville, Long Island, where I had my first bank account.”
Once again, “I found myself deep in the middle of another thing I didn’t mean to get involved with. I realized that she has to find out what those pages mean, that they may in fact contain esoteric teachings of life and death and that this could save the world.”
She will be back in Israel soon to do more research and possibly visit a cave or two, all in the interest of sending her feisty forty-something heroine – “My publishers said, ‘Can’t you make her 20 years old? She has so many flaws!’” – on a journey that “is kind of a circle that takes us back to the origins of Judaism.”
While Stasi has certainly done her share of Internet research, “as an author I’m a journalist. I can’t just come up with a story and then write it. I have to see it. I have to see what the cobblestones look like.”
Which is why readers of The Sixth Station will be waiting to see just what Stasi comes up with next.
And why her Walking Dead zombie cameo may have to wait a little longer.Find out more about Linda Stasi on her website, TheSixthStation.com.