Readers from the Alliance area will be familiar with the names of places found in a Robin Yocum novel.
Many are other blue-collar towns where industries related to the steel industry once thrived like Steubenville, Dillonvale, Cadiz, and of course, Brilliant, Yocum’s own hometown which is also the basis for his fictionalized town of Crystalton.
The son of a steelworker, Yocum never thought he would be a writer. Growing up, he dreamed of playing second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, a broken ankle in high school and the exposure to writing in a journalism class has led him to an exceptional career as a reporter and a novelist who is known for his fiction set in the Ohio River Valley.
Yocum will appear at Rodman Public Library on Wednesday, Nov. 9 as part of the Fogle Author Series. He will conduct a writing workshop at 3:30 p.m. and then give remarks and sign books at 6:00 p.m.
Separate registration is required to attend each of those events.
Yocum, who appeared in Alliance in 2014 as the One Book One Community author, has six works of fiction to his credit, including:
- The Sacrifice of Lester Yates (2021 – Arcade CrimeWise), which was a finalist for the 2021 Dashiell Hammett Award for outstanding crime writing.
- A Perfect Shot (2018 – Seventh Street Books)
- A Welcome Murder (2017 - Seventh Street Books)
- A Brilliant Death (2016 - Seventh Street Books), which was a Barnes & Noble No. 1 bestseller and a finalist for both the 2017 Edgar Award and the Silver Falchion Award for best adult mystery.
- The Essay (2012 - Arcade Publishing), the book that that was Alliance’s 2014 One Book One Community selection.
- Favorite Sons (2011 - Arcade Publishing), which was named the 2011 Book of the Year for Mystery/Suspense by USA Book News.
He also has written two works of non-fiction, including Dead Before Deadline . . . and Other Tales from the Police Beat (2004 – University of Akron Press); and Insured for Murder (1992 – Prometheus Books), which he co-authored with Cathy Candisky.
Yocum, who also heads Yocum Communications, a public relations and marketing consulting firm he founded in the Columbus area in 2001, got his start as a professional writer as a journalist, first as the associate sports editor at The Times Leader in Martins Ferry, and then as a reporter at the The Eagle-Gazette in Lancaster.
The Bowling Green State University graduate joined The Columbus Dispatch in 1980 and worked at the paper for 11 years, including six years as the senior reporter on the investigative desk. He won more than 30 local, state and national journalism awards in categories ranging from investigative reporting to feature writing. Before joining the investigative team, he covered the police beat for four years, which was the basis for his book Dead Before Deadline.
Ahead of his visit to Rodman Library, Yocum answered some questions about his work:
Q: It is said you should write what you know, and many of your books are set near your hometown. How much of your own experiences do you draw from when you are crafting your novels?
A: Not 100 percent, but pretty close. My books are written first person, so I’m always seeing and telling the stories through my eyes. Growing in the Ohio River Valley in a time when the mills and the mines were booming gives me a perspective on life that has stuck with me all these years. I grew up in a place where every man I knew, including my father, grandfathers and great grandfathers, went to work every day with a hardhat in one hand and a tin lunch pail in the other. I would like to think that I’ve held onto those blue-collar values, and I hope that comes through in my writing. In my books, I tend to romanticize the Ohio River Valley when it was at its industrial zenith. That time was special to me. I realize that we will never again see that kind of industrial might in this country, which is sad. My childhood was one of having the freedom to roam the streets of town, explore, hang out with my buddies, and play sports. I was, I believe, an observant kid. I draw on those memories frequently in my books. Many of my childhood and adolescent friends play characters for me in my head when I’m writing a book. Of course, they don’t know that.
Q: Did you always want to be a journalist/writer? What made you decide to write books instead of news?
A: No. I like to say that I was a normal kid. Writing for a living was the furthest thing from my mind when I was growing up. I wanted to play second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. During my senior year in high school baseball, I broke an ankle sliding into second base. I remember sitting on the bench with my leg in a cast and thinking, “Maybe I should have a back-up plan in case this whole baseball thing doesn’t work out.” I was a terrible math student, so I assumed that accounting was out of the question. I took a journalism class my junior year in high school and really enjoyed it. It made me think, “I bet I could do this.” I loved the newspaper business. When I got on the Columbus Dispatch, I discovered that I had a knack for the investigative aspects of journalism. I did four years on the crime beat and six years as the senior reporter on the investigative team. There came an afternoon about 1990 when I was working on a story and watching the clock in the newsroom because I was trying to wrap it up and get to my son’s Little League game. I wanted to be at the ball field more than I wanted to be in the newsroom, and that was the first time that ever happened. I knew my days at the paper were numbered because I didn’t want to miss that time with the kids. With that said, all during the time I was working at the paper I knew I wanted to write books. I was interested in fiction because I wanted to take a blank sheet of paper and create something that was uniquely mine – my ideas, my imagination, my story. I love the freedom I have as a novelist to create my own stories.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a journalist or a writer?
A: Read everything you can get your hands on. See how other writers create their stories. Writing is like any other skill or craft, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. For someone who wants to be a journalist, remember that there will always be a need for someone who can put a sentence together. As for would-be novelists: Don’t give up. Keep clawing away. Getting published is difficult, but you only have to convince one person that your work is worthy of being published, and then life gets much easier. Also, an agent is crucial. Polish your work, and try to land an agent. Again, don’t give up. I could paper the walls of my house with rejection letters. Was it disappointing? Absolutely. But it’s the price of admission for most writers. Keep writing.
Q: What can people expect if they attend your writer’s workshop?
A: My stellar sense of humor on full display. Beyond that, I’m going to give them information that I hope will help them launch and finish a book. Writing is an art, so there is no rigid formula for writing a book. Every saxophone player has their own style, but the basic fingering is pretty much the same. I’m going to teach them how I write. Essentially, I’m going to show them my basic fingering as it pertains to writing a novel. Using that as a foundation, they can start a book and tweak it with their personal style.
Q: Who were your favorite authors/stories growing up? Who are your favorite authors now?
A: I have eclectic tastes in what I read. I like to read a lot of different authors. As a kid, I devoured anything written by Jack London – Call of the Wild, White Fang, Sea Wolf. I loved sports and read a lot of Matt Christopher books – Crackerjack Halfback, Catcher with a Glass Arm. I’ve always been a fan of Mark Twain and John Steinbeck. As for today’s authors, I don’t think there is a better writer/storyteller than James Lee Burke. Reading Burke’s books made me reevaluate my writing style and influenced me greatly.
Q: How do you conceive the ideas for your novels?
You know, this is a difficult question to answer, because I really don’t know. How can you explain your imagination? Every book begins with what I call a “launch point.” It’s that tiny germ of an idea that makes me think I could wrap a book around it. From there, I just think about the book’s plot until I’ve conceived the book, including the ending. I won’t put words on page one until I know what’s going to be on the last page. Once I have an ending, it’s easy for me to create the roadmap to get there.
Q: Of all the books that you have written, is there one that is your favorite?
Another difficult question to answer. If you made me pick one, I’d probably say The Essay. One, it was the first book that I attempted to write in first-person. I felt like I made a connection with the characters that helped me with other books. Plus, I love Jimmy Lee Hickam’s spirit. With that said, the book I’m working on is always my favorite. When you’re working on a book, you have to be excited about it. If you’re not, the reader will be able to tell. I don’t ever want my readers to feel like I was just mailing it in.