Vacations, Wine and a Confederate Submarine

Melissa and I took a little break last week and went to Seabrook Island, S.C. It’s just outside of Charleston, so we took a day to visit the history of downtown – Rainbow Row, The Battery and White Point Garden.

However, by far, the most fascinating part of the day was our visit to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, which houses the Confederate submarine, the H.L Hunley.

On the night of Feb. 17, 1864, the man-powered Hunley made the first successful submarine attack in the history of warfare when it detonated a bomb in the hull of the USS Housatonic off the coast of Charleston. The Housatonic sank in minutes; the Hunley never returned from its mission.

The late adventure author Clive Cussler funded a mission to locate the sub. It was discovered in 1995 and raised in 2000. Since then, researchers have been painstakingly working – with dental tools – to preserve the Hunley, which is on display in an underwater tank.

The remains of Lt. George E. Dixon, the leader of the mission, and his seven crew members were found entombed in the sub. In 2004, thousands of people turned out for the funeral procession through Charleston to their final resting place at Magnolia Cemetery.

If you’re in the Charleston area, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the museum. I guarantee it will be worth the trip. In the meantime, you can visit the museum’s excellent website at www.hunley.org.

A Visit to the Vineyard

We made a side trip on our way south and stopped by my favorite winery – Stony Knoll Vineyards in Dobson, N.C. This is a former tobacco farm that has been in the Coe family for 125 years.

Van Coe began converting from tobacco to grapes in 2001.

Very nice people and great wine. My favorite is the Chambourcin.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by. The vineyard is located at 1143 Stony Knoll Rd. in Dobson. You can check them out at www.stonyknollvineyards.com.

A Nice Tribute to Our POW/MIAs

Over the weekend, I went to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to watch my daughter’s University of Tennessee-Martin volleyball team play in a tournament at Western Kentucky University. (Yes, I’ve been logging a lot of Interstate miles lately.)

I was touched by the display WKU has for our soldiers who were prisoners of war or missing in action. It is a single black chair with the POW/MIA logo, with black stanchions cordoning it off. The display includes a plaque that reads:

Since World War I, more than 92,000 American soldiers are unaccounted for. This unoccupied seat is dedicated to the memory of those brave men and women for the sacrifices that each made in serving this great country.

Meet WKU’s Big Red

It was my first visit to WKU. It’s a beautiful campus.

On a less somber note, the WKU mascot is called “Big Red.” You may have seen Big Red on the commercials for the old Capital One College Mascot Challenge.

While at the tournament, Big Red stopped down to visit my granddaughters. You can see by the photo that Cali was excited to meet Big Red. Cami . . . not a fan!

Buckeye Book Fair Set for Nov. 6

I was accepted to participate in the Buckeye Book Fair on Saturday, Nov. 6.

If you’re a book fan, this is a great book fair. This year it will be held at the Greystone Event Center in Wooster, Ohio.

Here’s a link to the authors and illustrators who will be participating in this year’s fair.

Official Release of The Sacrifice of Lester Yates

T-minus six hours until the official release of The Sacrifice of Lester Yates.

This book has been in the works for about 12 years. It stemmed from an encounter I had when I was a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch in the 1980s. I was working on a series on wrongful convictions and one of the interviews took place at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. While I was there, I took a tour of the death house and saw a panel on which were three buttons – red, white and green. On execution days, three prison guards would each be assigned a button. On the warden’s signal, each would push their button, but only one sent the fatal jolt into the condemned. That, I believed, was the genesis of The Sacrifice of Lester Yates.

I started work on a novel about a prison guard who comes to believe a death-row inmate was wrongfully convicted. I created the crime for which the accused would be convicted: Four boys somewhat accidently kill another kid, then conspire to cover it up. I became very interested in the plight of those boys, so the entire direction of the book changed. That novel became Favorite Sons.

Not long afterwards, I began work on a sequel. However, I couldn’t get any traction with it, so I put it away. A few years ago, I dusted it off and tried again. This time, I moved most of the action from Columbus back to the Ohio Valley, and things fell into place.

I hope you enjoy it.

The Columbus Dispatch reviewed The Sacrifice of Lester Yates on Sunday and had nice things to say.The review said, “a well-paced, well-written thriller. . . Yocum has a gift for characterization. . . The Sacrifice of Lester Yates is a good read – full of bantering dialogue, plot twists and a sense of place.”

Here’s the link.

Local author’s thriller set in Ohio full of plot twists and turns (dispatch.com)

The Akron Beacon-Journal recently printed a review that said, The Sacrifice of Lester Yates (is) an exciting political thriller. Yocum ramps up the tension as Hutch tries to beat the clock . . . with conspiracy that goes in unexpected directions. The investigation energies him and adds to the suspense as Hutch uncovers more dirty secrets, corruption and abuse of power.

I did a fun Q&A with Bowling Green State University’s alumni blog. It’s called: 5 Questions.

Here’s the link: 5 questions with Robin Yocum ’78 (bgsu.edu)

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I enjoy March because you can finally see some light at the end of winter’s tunnel – the longer, warmer days. Melissa has started planning the garden and I’m looking forward to the first buds on the trees. When I was a kid, this is when I would start oiling up my ball glove in anticipation of getting out on the diamond. It also was a time when the outdoor basketball court at the Lincoln Junior High in my hometown of Brilliant, Ohio, was the hub of activity for young men. Call your own fouls. Games were to 40, switch baskets when a team hit 20. Winners stay, losers walk, the next five guys in line take the court. Between games, we’d walk over to Homer’s Corner Market for an RC Cola.

I had a short story accepted by Mystery Weekly Magazine. It’s about a woman who kills her mob-enforcer husband. No publication date yet. I’ll keep you posted.  I just finished another short story. It’s in the editing phase. I usually have a lot of ideas for short stories, and I work on them between novels. It’s a fun diversion.

The Sacrifice of Lester Yates will be released April 27. It received a nice review at librarything.com – 4.5 stars. The reviewer called the book, “exceptionally satisfying.” The novel was supposed to be released April 6, but it was pushed back three weeks because of a COVID outbreak at the printing company.

I did an interview recently with Erin Moriarty for the television show, 48 Hours. She is working on a story that I covered for the Columbus Dispatch when I was the crime reporter. Not sure when it will air, but I’ll keep you posted.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope this message finds you happy and healthy. I think we can all agree that it’s nice to see 2020 in our collective rear view mirrors.

T-minus three months and counting until the April 6 release of my next novel, The Sacrifice of Lester Yates. Janice Kiaski, the community editor of the Steubenville, Ohio, Herald-Star recently did a very nice article about me and The Sacrifice. Here’s the link: https://www.heraldstaronline.com/news/local-news/2020/12/suspenseful-political-smart/

It you like my novels and fiction set in rural settings, check out the Bell Elkins series by my former Columbus Dispatch colleague, Julia Keller. Julia won a Pulitzer Prize as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune. She’s an incredible writer and has created an enduring character in Bell Elkins, who is a prosecutor in the fictional Acker’s Gap, West Virginia. (Julia grew up in Huntington, West Virginia.)

It’s been a rough six weeks for the Yocum family. My younger brother, Matthew, died Dec. 7 of cancer. He was only 61, and died just 10 days after being diagnosed. My brother had an amazing life. In August of 1983, Matt fell out of truck while working at the Cardinal electric generating plant in our hometown of Brilliant, Ohio. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was life-flighted to Pittsburgh where doctors gave him a one-in-a-thousand chance of living through the night. He spent five weeks in a coma and six months in rehab, learning to walk and talk again. He survived and thrived. Was he a pain in my rump at times? You bet. He was my little brother, after all. That was his job. I will dearly miss our shared history, tossing back draft beers at Roosters, and sharing stories of our childhood and hometown. Rest in peace, my brother.

“The Last Hit” featured in Best American Mystery Stories 2020

On Tuesday, the Best American Mystery Stories 2020 was released by Mariner/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. My short story, The Last Hit, which originally appeared in The Strand Magazine, was one of 20 stories selected for the annual anthology. The legendary Otto Penzler once again served as general editor of the series, which Kirkus Reviews called, “highly regarded” and “a stellar collection.” C.J. Box, who creates the Joe Pickett series, made the final selection of stories. It’s humbling to have a story included alongside such great writers as Jeffery Deaver and James Lee Burke. Many thanks to Otto and C.J. for the honor.
Here’s a link to the Kirkus review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/…/best-american-mystery…/

It is the second anthology in which one of my short stories appeared this year. The first was The Satin Fox, which appeared in Columbus Noir, which was released in March. If you’re a fan of short story mysteries, both anthologies are excellent reads.

Today is Nov. 6 – five months until the release of my next novel, The Sacrifice of Lester Yates.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A lost piece of West Virginia history found in Ohio

Thanks to everyone who signed up for my email updates. I hesitate to call this a blog, because there is a certain expectation of regularity associated with a blog. I don’t know if I’m up to that challenge. If I have something that I think you’d be interested in hearing, I’ll pass it along. It might be book related, it might not.

Since those are standards, let me start off with a non-book story.

About 15 years ago, my friend Ken Farmwald and I started a company to buy, fix-up and sell houses. On a good day, we do it for a profit. As we were cleaning and doing the demolition at a house this summer, we found a nickel wrapped in a tiny piece of paper, on which was written, “This 5¢ piece was on the eye of Susan Heflin Cooper after death. Arlie has the other 5 cent piece.” After finding the note and 1901 coin, I did an internet search for Susan and located her grave at the Gnats Run Cemetery near Pennsboro, West Virginia.

Susan was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, in 1817. She lived to the age of 90 and died in Pennsboro on Christmas Eve, 1907. 

As a novelist, I am fascinated with the mystery of how this fell out of the hands of the family and ended up amid so much trash in a house in Columbus, Ohio. However, as a former newspaper reporter who liked his stories wrapped up tight, I find it maddening not to have those answers.

A friend did a little research on an ancestry site and believes that Arlie was her son.

I donated the items to the Ritchie County, West Virginia, Historical Society, which is located in Pennsboro. They operate the Old Stone House Museum, where hopefully the coin and note will find a new home.

Today is Oct. 6 – exactly six months until the release of my next novel, The Sacrifice of Lester Yates. Pre-order your copy through my new site here.