At 77 years old, Frank Rocco is reinventing himself.
The former Penn State athletic administrator recently published his first novel, “Secrets Are Forever,” an exploration of race relations set against the backdrop of college sports.
After almost 14 years with PSU, Rocco wanted to use his retirement as an excuse to broaden his horizons. He took a few courses at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State and developed a newfound respect for the power of the written word, an affinity that gradually evolved into a series of short stories and a book.
Rocco recently discussed his writing process and the road to “Secrets Are Forever.”
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Q: You were Penn State’s athletic administrator from 1986 to 2000. That sounds like a pretty time-consuming job. When were you finding the time to write?
A: After retiring in 2000 from Penn State, we moved to Virginia and resided there for several years. Upon our return in 2006 my search for involvement in activities different from what my career had presented led me to OLLI.
Q: How long have you been harboring ambitions as a writer?
A: My writing interest began and escalated several years after my retirement. My interest in writing began in 2007 or 2008 and I decided to write my book in 2012. I am now a 77-year-old author.
Q: Has there been anything from that career — experiences, people or a way of thinking — that has influenced the way that you approach your writing or the kinds of stories you find yourself pulled toward?
A: Actually, my coaching career at the high school level for 20 years and at Penn State for the years I was part of the football program provide the frame of reference for my stories. However, my stories are not sports stories or football stories. Rather they are about people whose lives are as complicated as yours or mine. The sports component will always be a backdrop to the story.
Q: You recently published your first book, “Secrets Are Forever.” How long have you been at work on it, and why was now the right time to share it with people?
A: “Secrets Are Forever” probably took two and a half years to complete after I decided I wanted to take a short story I had written several years earlier and develop it into a novel.
Q: What themes were you interested in exploring with this book?
A: My stories will not take you into outer space, place you face-to-face with a vampire or deposit you into a sexual dungeon for hours on end. Rather, my stories will be of real people, dealing with real issues from current to past recent times. Nothing is off limits; race relations will often be at the core of my stories.
Q: How did you go about getting the book published?
A: I self published. This was best for me. There are financial considerations, but one has to make decisions. At my age I could not spend months or years finding an agent who would represent me, a publisher who would think my work worthy of a major contract or navigate through the legalities of publishing a novel.
Q: What are you hoping that people take away from your book?
A: I am an emotional person. I wish my readers will come away with a satisfying feeling of having experienced a story that was real, emotionally charged and memorable.
Q: Did you ever experience writer’s block? What did you do to combat it?
A: When I feel writer’s block ... I just walk away.