Fiction writer Yocum to speak at the Rodman Library

Readers in the Alliance region will be familiar with the place names found in a novel by Robin Yocum.

Many are other blue-collar towns where industries related to the steel industry once thrived such as Steubenville, Dillonvale, Cadiz, and of course, Brilliant, Yocum’s own hometown which is also the basis of his fictional town of Crystalton.

Son of a metallurgist, Yocum never thought he would become a writer. Growing up, he dreamed of playing second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, a broken ankle in high school and exposure to writing in a journalism class led him to an outstanding career as a journalist and novelist known for his fiction set in the Ohio River Valley.

Yocum will appear at the Rodman Public Library on Wednesday, November 9 as part of the Fogle Author Series. He will lead a writing workshop at 3:30 p.m. and then give a speech and book signing at 6:00 p.m.

Separate registration is required to attend each of these events at

Yocum, who appeared in Alliance in 2014 as the author of One Book One Community, 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 #1 Barnes & Noble bestseller and a finalist for the 2017 Edgar Award and Silver Falchion Award for Best Adult Mystery.
  • “The Essay” (2012, Arcade Publishing), the book that was Alliance’s One Book One Community 2014 selection.
  • “Favorite Sons” (2011, Arcade Publishing), which was named Book of the Year 2011 for Mystery/Suspense by USA Book News.

He has also written two non-fiction books, 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-wrote with Cathy Candisky.

Yocum, who also runs 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 a as an associate sportswriter at the Times Leader at Martins Ferry, and then as a reporter at The Eagle-Gazette at 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 a senior bureau reporter. He has 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 for four years, which served as the basis for his book “Dead Before Deadline”.

Before his visit to the Rodman Library, Yocum answered some questions about his work:

Question: It says you should write what you know, and many of your books are set near your hometown. To what extent do you draw from your own experiences when writing your novels?

Answer: Not 100%, but pretty close. My books are written in the first person, so I always see and tell the stories through my eyes. Growing up in the Ohio River Valley at a time when mills and mines were booming gives me a perspective of life that has stuck with me through all those 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 helmet in one hand and a tin lunch pail. in the other. I’d like to think that I retained those blue-collar values, and I hope that comes through in my writing. In my books, I tend to idealize the Ohio River Valley when it was at its industrial zenith. This period was special for me. I realize that we will never see that kind of industrial might again in this country, which is sad. My childhood was one of freedom to roam the city streets, explore, hang out with my buddies and play sports. I was, I think, an observant kid. I frequently draw on these memories in my books. Many of my childhood and teenage friends play characters for me in my head when I’m writing a book. Of course, they don’t know that.

Have you always wanted to be a journalist/writer? What made you decide to write books rather than short stories?

No. I like to say that I was a normal child. Writing for a living was the furthest thing from my mind growing up. I wanted to play second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. During my senior year of high school baseball, I broke my ankle sliding into second base. I remember sitting on the bench with my leg in a cast and thinking, “Maybe I should have a backup plan in case this whole baseball thing doesn’t work out.” I was a terrible math student, so I assumed accounting was out of the question. I took a journalism course my freshman year in high school and really enjoyed it. It got me thinking, “I bet I could do it.” I loved the world of newspapers. When I first came to The Columbus Dispatch, I discovered that I had a knack for the investigative aspects of journalism. I spent four years on the crime scene and six years as the lead investigative team reporter. There was an afternoon around 1990 when I was working on a story and watching the clock in the press room because I was trying to wrap up and go to my son’s Little League game. I wanted to be at the ballpark more than in the newsroom, and this was the first time that had happened. I knew my days at the newspaper were numbered because I didn’t want to miss that time with the kids. That said, the whole time I worked at the newspaper, 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 uniquely mine – my ideas, my imagination, my story. I love the freedom I have as a novelist to create my own stories.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a journalist or writer?

Read whatever comes to hand. Find out how other writers create their stories. Writing is like any other skill or profession, the more you do it the better off you will become. For someone who wants to be a journalist, remember that there will always be a need for someone who can articulate a sentence. As for future novelists: don’t give up. Keep scratching. Getting published is hard, but you only have to convince one person that your work is worth publishing, and life becomes a lot easier. Additionally, an agent is crucial. Polish your work and try to find an agent. Again, don’t give up. I could cover the walls of my house with rejection letters. Was it disappointing? Absolutely. But that’s the price of admission for most writers. Keep writing.

What can people expect if they attend your writer’s workshop?

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. Each saxophone player has their own style, but the basic fingering is pretty much the same. I will teach them how I write. Basically, I’m going to show them my basic knack for writing a novel. Using this as a base, they can start a book and edit it with their personal style.

What were your favorite authors/stories growing up? Who are your current favorite authors?

I have eclectic states in what I read. I enjoy reading many different authors. As a child, I devoured everything 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,” “Catch with a glass arm.” I’ve always been a fan of Mark Twain and John Steinbeck. Among today’s authors, I don’t think there is a better writer/storyteller than James Lee Burke. Reading Burke’s books made me reassess my writing style and influenced me a lot.

How do you conceive the ideas of your novels?

You know, that’s a hard 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 this little germ of an idea that makes me think I could make a book out of it. From there, I think about the plot of the book until I design the book, including the ending. I will not put words on the first page until I know what will be on the last page. Once I have an end, it’s easy for me to create the roadmap to get there.

Of all the books 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.” First of all, it was the first book I tried to write in the first person. I felt like I made a connection with the characters that helped me with other books. Plus, I love the spirit of Jimmy Lee Hickam. That said, the book I’m working on is still my favorite. When you’re working on a book, you have to be excited about it. If you are not, the reader will be able to tell. I never want my readers to feel like I just sent it.

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