Working-class background serves Trafford native well for his new novel
Tom Mendicino admits he has no idea where he gets his talent for writing.
Born in Trafford and raised in Harrison City, Westmoreland County, he was a “working-class kid” whose father was a World War II veteran with a knack for mathematics, his mother a gifted seamstress.
“There was nobody in my family who was an artist or a musician or anything like that,” says Mendicino, who graduated from Greensburg Central Catholic High School in 1972. “Even as a little kid, I was a loner. I just always had a very active imagination and would make up stories.”
Now an attorney living in Philadelphia, Mendicino’s writing career has blossomed. He first dabbled in writing while in college but got sidetracked. His new novel, “The Boys from Eighth and Carpenter” (Kensington, $15) is about the bond between a pair of motherless boys, sons of a cruel immigrant from Italy. Their loyalty is tested as adults when Michael, a district attorney, has to cover for a crime Frankie commits.
Mendicino drew from both of his parents’ families — “their feuds and battles, alliances and misalliances” — for the “The Boys.”
“The childhood of these two boys is very much based on my own childhood,” he says. “The voices of most of the older men from the boys’ boyhood are based on my uncles, my father’s cousins. Almost every voice you’ll hear are men from the neighborhood, voices I can remember distinctly from my childhood.”
Mendicino was on track to become a writer when he went to the University of Pennsylvania after graduating from high school. Elaine Scarry, an English professor at Penn, encouraged him to pursue writing. An agent Mendicino was introduced to by Mark Harris, the author of “Bang the Drum Slowly,” encouraged Mendicino to submit a manuscript to her.
But when she suggested changes, Mendicino balked.
“I was 21 years old, and I wasn’t going to do that, and she, quite rightfully, had enough of me,” Mendicino says. “I really don’t know how I drifted away from (writing) for a while. I just became interested in other things and moved on.”
Mendicino moved to New York City and started working in publishing. Because he couldn’t type, he went into sales. He eventually decided to study law, “and it turned out to be something I was good at, much to my surprise,” he says.
Practicing law provided Mendicino with the discipline needed to finish a story, teaching him how to “focus and follow through” on projects. But after becoming a lawyer, Mendicino put writing aside for about 10 years before dabbling in it again. He received encouragement from a friend, Rachel Klayman, the executive editor at Crown Publishing who edited President Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” and Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”
When Klayman told Mendicino she always thought he’d publish a novel, he was encouraged to take writing more seriously.
It took “hard work, determination and a lot of luck,” Mendicino admits, to get a novel published. It helped that he had his childhood experiences to draw upon when casting about for story ideas. Even something he lacked especially informs “The Boys.”
“I always wanted to have a brother,” says Mendicino, who has a sister, Pamela, living in Greensburg. “It was something I wanted to experience that I never did, so it really did come from imagination. Their (Michael and Frankie’s) relationship was something I hoped to have in my own life.”
Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.