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Inspired by family history, resident writes novel

by | Jun 14, 2024 | Featured

Sal Tocco wasn’t a writer.

“Outside of high school essays? Absolutely not!” he said with a laugh. “I was a business executive.”

Originally from upstate New York, Tocco started his career as a CPA and then went into general management. He spent the next few decades in the corporate world, moving around the country for his job and eventually relocating the family’s residence to Hopkinton in the early 2000s. But in his mind lived an idea for a story.

The inspiration had struck during a conversation with an elderly relative, who mentioned a 19th-century ancestor had been a cardinal and almost became pope.

“I said, ‘That’s pretty interesting.’ But she said, ‘Well, don’t get ahead of yourself — in the next century, we had another relative who went a different route: He was in the mafia!’ And I thought, ‘Wow, a cardinal and a crook, what a story that would be!’ So that was the impetus for the title.”

“The Cardinal and the Crook” book cover

Sal Tocco’s debut novel is called “The Cardinal and the Crook.”

Tocco carried the idea in the back of his head for 30 years, planning to write the novel after retirement. COVID arrived at about the same time he exited the workforce, providing plenty of opportunity.

“I’d always said, ‘Someday I’m going to write this book,’ and COVID was the perfect time for it. We got shut down, and I started writing,” he recalled.

The result is “The Cardinal and the Crook,” a riveting story of John and James, twin boys abandoned at birth and adopted by a priest who choose dramatically different life paths. It’s set in modern-day Massachusetts, and Tocco blends crime, religion, perseverance and heart-wrenching choices with a shocking conclusion sure to leave the reader gasping in surprise.

Tocco wrote the entire manuscript longhand, which he said helped him to think it through as he was writing. He also employed a bit of advice he’d learned in an online creative writing class: “Write it as if you’re remembering it,” he said.

Asked his biggest challenge, he reflected, “I can honestly tell you, it never felt like a challenge. Well, getting started was the challenge — but once I started, it never felt like work. I was on a constant high the entire time, including the revisions!”

He noted the strong support he’d received from his family: Rosalia, his wife of 47 years, “was there for me every step of the way,” he said, adding that he’d dedicated the book to her. His son Stephen brainstormed and sketched the idea for the cover art, and daughter-in-law Lauren was a source of encouragement. Son Christopher and his wife, Stephanie, both conservatory-trained actors, will be narrating the soon-to-come audiobook version.

Tocco also gave kudos to the editorial staff at his publisher, Bublish: “They were wonderful, they gave me great feedback.”

As for plans for a second novel, “I’m noodling with a couple ideas,” he shared. “When I talk with a reader, I ask them what they enjoyed, and who was their favorite character. And that’s going to help me decide — do I do a prequel, a sequel or a spinoff? But I’m thinking it’ll be a book that dives more deeply into one of the supporting characters.”

Tocco said the experience has been gratifying, adding that although sales have been slow (it’s available on Amazon.com) to start for the first-time author, his motivation was not to sell copies.

“It was a story in my head, and I wanted to get it done,” he said. COVID, while obviously a terrible thing, helped facilitate just that — and it isn’t lost on Tocco that it’s illustrative of the point of the book itself.

“That’s the whole underlying message,” he emphasized. “Terrible things can happen in our lives. We can allow them to make us victims and bring us down and become apathetic, or we can use them as stepping stones to get better and stronger.”

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