More than twenty years ago my brother handed me a book of short stories called Bad Haircut. “You have to read these,” he said. “My friend Tommy Perrotta wrote them.”
I hadn’t known Tom at all, but I vaguely remembered my brother hanging out with a bespectacled, red-headed kid who was whip smart and the bane of many a teacher in our school. He was also a feisty football player, despite being one of the smallest kids on the team. And he’d done the impossible for a kid from a blue collar area like ours—he’d attended Yale and taught at Harvard.
When read the stories, I was struck by the authenticity of Tom’s voice and the accessibility of his work. They were about people like my mom and dad, my classmates and friends, the people who ran the small businesses in my tiny home town. They featured teachers and postmen and a guy who drove a hot dog truck. They were characters I knew and recognized; they lived in houses like mine and had jobs like my Dad’s. They were stories about me.
I’ve been following Tom’s career closely ever since, ridiculously proud of this home town boy who showed me how it’s done. Part of the reason I finally sat down and wrote my first book was Tom’s example. If Tom can do it, I thought, so can I.
Several years ago the librarian in my home town convinced Tom to come back and do a reading. She had planned and plotted for a year, and kept the whole thing under wraps until the very last minute. Seats were at a premium, but they weren’t filled by literati. Instead the audience was made up of senior citizens, Tom’s old friends from high school, his former football coach, and a few starry-eyed teenagers, my son included. He read from Little Children, answered questions about the movies, and reminisced about eating Italian food from the local deli. It was hard to reconcile this funny, self-deprecating man with the famous author who writes for the Times magazine and rubs elbows with Kate Winslet. For a couple hours that night, he was just Tommy, back home to hang out for a while.
Sure, I'd love to emulate Tom's career. Who wouldn't want such extraordinary success? But more importantly, I'd also like to emulate Tom's sensibility--eyes on the stars, feet on the ground, heart in the right place.
A previous version of this post appeared on Red Room.
Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, was selected as a Best Cozy of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. The second book in the series, The Wedding Soup Murder, is scheduled for release in September. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives in central New Jersey, with her husband and two of her three sons.