Local reporter turned author speaking at Thurber House

A former Columbus Dispatch reporter turned author will speak at Thurber House this evening for the second installment of its 2011 Summer Literary Picnic series showcasing writers with ties to Ohio.

Robin Yocum will give a reading from Favorite Sons and talk about his inspiration for the novel, which opens on a steamy summer morning in 1971 in an Ohio steel mill town.

That day, four teenage boys, one of whom is the book’s narrator, Hutch Van Buren, climb the hillside west of Crystalton, Ohio to search for arrowheads. Atop Chestnut Ridge they encounter Petey Sanchez, a 17-year old with severe mental, emotional and psychological problems. During the altercation that follows, Petey is struck in the head with an Indian maul, killing him instantly. Panicked, the four boys conspire to keep the truth behind Petey’s death a secret. Even when a local ne’er-do-well goes to prison for the murder, they remain silent.

Fast forward to 2004. Van Buren is the prosecuting attorney in Summit County, Ohio and a candidate for state attorney general. He is leading in the polls by a wide margin, but the truth about that fateful day 33 years earlier comes back to haunt him.

Essentially Favorite Sons explores how childhood secrets can lead to adult tragedies, says Yocum.

A Columbus resident since 1980, Yocum is proof that a writer need not live in New York City or L.A. to score a book deal. In fact, Favorite Sons, is his third book. (His first two are nonfiction: Insured for Murder, published in 1992, and Dead Before Deadline…And Other Tales from the Police Beat, published in 2004.)

What is needed, though, is persistence.

“I could paper an entire wall with rejection letters,” Yocum says.

In 2008, he began mailing three queries a day to various editors, publishers, and literary agents. (He got their names and addresses from a single book, the name of which escapes him now.) He did this for months, or “up to the Ms,” he says, before Colleen Mohyde at The Doe Coover Agency showed interest.

Her secretary, Frances Kennedy, had taken Yocum’s 10-page excerpt from the slush pile (a publishing term for heaps of unsolicited manuscripts) and passed it along, thinking it had potential. Mohyde read it and requested three chapters from Yocum, liked what she read, and asked for the whole manuscript. Mohyde was never able to find a publisher for that particular book, but she had better luck with Yocum’s next manuscript, which he finished late last summer: Favorite Sons.

The book’s official release date was June 1 and, so far, the book has gotten good reviews, Yocum says.

Of course, not every book is met with critical acclaim. Therefore, “you can’t go into this being thin-skinned,” Yocum says.

He also doesn’t recommend quitting your day job to write full-time. (Too risky, he says.) Instead Yocum recommends writing during downtime.

He practices what he preaches, doing public relations and marketing during the workweek at his firm, Yocum Communications, and hammering away at his latest manuscript at night and on weekends.

Thurber House’s Summer Literary Picnics are held on the side lawn of Thurber House at 77 Jefferson Ave. Catered dinners are available or guests can bring their own. Readings begin at 7 p.m.

Tickets for the catered dinner and reading with Yocum are $25; the reading alone is $15. For information and ticket purchase, call Thurber House at 614-464-1032, visit Thurber House in person, or purchase online at ThurberHouse.org.