A legal thriller was a logical first book for author Robin Yocum, who for years worked as a police reporter for The Columbus Dispatch and later wrote two nonfiction books about the cases he covered.
In his latest book, however, Yocum breaks from his crime-writer roots.
The Essay, which was released earlier this month, follows a high school student in rural Vinton County.
Jimmy Lee Hickam, the book's main character, comes from a family known for troublemaking. His father's a drunk and his brother's in prison, Yocum said. No one in his family has graduated from high school.
Jimmy Lee shocks the town by winning the county's essay-writing contest, but no one believes he penned the winning work, with the exception of his English teacher.
"It's a really wrong-side-of-the-tracks kid who enters the competition and wins, and the majority of people don't think he's capable of doing it," Yocum said. "(His teacher's) trying to show him another way. This dysfunctional family is kind of, intentionally or unintentionally dragging him back."
Yocum said he wrote The Essay before he wrote his first novel, Favorite Sons, which was released in 2011. The Essay was nearly published in 2008, when the publisher who had expressed interest in the novel fell victim to the economic downturn.
Another publisher purchased Favorite Sons, and the success of that book led its publisher to pursue The Essay, as well, Yocum said.
With The Essay, Yocum said he was glad to break with his background in crime writing.
Yocum, a Westerville resident, said the concept of the story appealed to him because he liked the thought of a downtrodden character fighting against his family's past.
"I liked the thought of the kid not accepting his lot in life. Everyone just assumed that Jimmy Lee wasn't very smart because he was a Hickam, and Hickams were always trouble," Yocum said. "Even though he was very smart, no one knew that. When he creates this essay, it makes it all that much more astonishing.
"There are people who come from modest means who succeed."
Yocum hopes to follow The Essay with a third book, which he will be working with his agent on early next year.
Like The Essay, the novel doesn't follow the model of any of Yocum's other books and takes place in an Ohio town during a 1926 coal mine strike.
Yocum said he likes to explore different subjects with his writing, focusing on the story rather than the genre.
"I think there are a lot of just good stories. I want to be a good storyteller," Yocum said. "There's a lot of opportunity out there. I want to explore it."
Yocum will celebrate the launch of his book with a reception and reading at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Thurber House.