Saturday, August 25, 2012

Guest blogger: Robin Yocum

We at Fine Print are very excited to bring a series of posts by local authors. We have asked them to share their thoughts about their favorite book, something they've read recently, or the role reading has played in their lives. Robin Yocum was born in 1955 in Steubenville, Ohio, and grew up in the in the Eastern Ohio village of Brilliant, a river town that was either named after a glass factory, or because a nail factory once lit up the night sky with a brilliant light. No one seems to know for sure. Robin received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University in 1978. After two years at the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette and the Martins Ferry Times Leader, Robin spent eleven years as a crime and investigative reporter with the Columbus Dispatch. He received numerous writing awards, including those from the Associated Press and the Press Club of Ohio. His first novel, Favorite Sons, was named the 2011 USA Book News Book of the Year for Mystery/Suspense, and was a Choose to Read Ohio selection for 2013-14. will be one of the local authors at A Tasting With Friends at Benham's Grove on September 13. For more information on this event or to buy tickets, check out this page.

I receive two frequent questions from readers:  How do you get started? and  Where do you get your inspiration?
Favorite Sons had its genesis in my days as the crime beat reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. I was doing a series of stories on wrongful convictions and traveled to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville to interview Death Row inmate Johnny Spirko, who had been convicted of murdering Betty Jane Mottinger, the postmistress of tiny Elgin, Ohio. Spirko was no angel, but there were serious problems with his conviction.

Following the interview, I toured the Death Chamber, the focal point of which was Old Thunderbolt, the then-nearly 100-year-old electric chair that dominated the center of the room. Connected to the Death Chamber was a small, rectangular room, just large enough for a panel and three men. On the panel were three buttons - red, green and white. On execution days, at the superintendent’s command, three guards would volunteer to push a button, only one of which delivered the electric to the chair.

Without casting aspersions, I wondered who would volunteer for such duty.

When I sat down to write my novel, this singular act was at the center of my story, or what I refer to as the “launch point.” My original premise was to write a book about a grizzled prison guard - nicknamed “The Button Man” because he frequently volunteered to push the button at executions. He was to befriend a Death Row inmate, who he ultimately believes to be innocent.

With that in mind, I created the crime for which the Death Row inmate was to be convicted. Four chapters later, the premise of the book turned. I liked the characters I had created. They were young and trying to conceal a murder. I decided a better book would be one that focused on these boys as they dealt with life while trying to keep a terrible secret.

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