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Petaluma writer Tom Walsh’s dreams come true

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What does Penngrove offer your family?

“The best of both worlds - country living without being far from town.” Nodding towards the sheep grazing outside, Tom adds, “We have a little elbow room and can experiment with farming.”

There’s a “secretive novelist” hiding out in Penngrove.

After working for a major utility company (aka PG&E) since he was 18, and then running Petaluma’s popular Pizicato Pizza near Whole Foods, Tom Walsh finally decided to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer.

“Just in case things didn’t work out, I wrote secretly in the mornings and evenings and didn’t let my wife know about it,” he says. “Even when I finished, I wouldn’t let her read it — saving that chore for my oldest daughter.”

The result is “Bless Me Father,” published last May by Melange Books. It’s a mystery about a crime-solving priest.

Raised in parochial schools in San Francisco’s Mt. Davidson neighborhood, Tom explains, “They say to write what you know, and being raised in an Irish Catholic family, and schooled by nuns and brothers, I know quite a bit about the Church hierarchy. I was asked to be an altar boy the same time the Latin Mass was officially retired, and observed firsthand how several of the controversies created by ‘top-down’ decision making were handled. I was about nine or ten when I started to become disenchanted with the Church.”

Tom’s disillusionment didn’t mean he was prepared to leave the familiar surroundings at the prestigious Archbishop Riordon High School.

“My senior year, we moved to Marin County, and Terra Linda High was culture shock personified,” he recalls. “Riordon was an all-male school, and I was on several top sports teams. Then, suddenly, I’m the new kid who doesn’t know anyone, has to prove himself all over again, and is floundering with how to react to all the girls on campus. I have to admit, I acted up a bit — cutting school to attend concerts by The Beach Boys or John Fogerty.”

When asked how he knew he could write a novel Tom answers, “My sixth-grade teacher told me I could write well, and I vividly recall how the English teacher at the College of Marin asked everyone who went to parochial school to raise their hand the first day of class. ‘You are the only ones likely to get an “A” in this class,’ he told us. It seems the nuns hovering over us to make sure we dotted our “i”s and crossed our “t”s taught us important skills. I was always writing reports at PG&E and wrote the police beat for the Novato Patch for a number of years, so I know how to write with a deadline.”

In addition to giving him a chance to write, working at PG&E proved a wise career move for Tom.

“My supervisor encouraged me to return to school and get my AA degree, and the company paid for me to go to night school and earn a degree in business administration,” Tom says. “The VP asked me to join him as a special assistant, and we looked after seven functions in the company. But when PG&E went through bankruptcy, we were both made redundant. I used the severance package to buy the pizza franchise.”

Tom was sure the idea for his novel was a good one — “A shared confession sends Father Damien Dolan on a ‘who-done-it’ quest to find the murderer of retired priests,” he recites — a belief that was confirmed when he received offers from two different publishers in the same week. Now that it’s on the stands, Tom thinks the book will earn a strong following, locally and beyond.

“It’s based upon stories about the Church straight from the news,” he says, “so “Bless Me Father” has a built-in audience.”

(Contact Gil at gilmansergh@comcast.net)

What does Penngrove offer your family?

“The best of both worlds - country living without being far from town.” Nodding towards the sheep grazing outside, Tom adds, “We have a little elbow room and can experiment with farming.”

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