Local writers talk about their place to create
Three prolific Central Ohio writers invite you into their workspaces, created in comfortable niches of their homes that allow their creative energies to flow freely into the novels and poetry collections that they publish. Here, mystery writer Robin Yocum, young adult novelist Kristen Orlando and poet Darren C. Demaree share their spaces and their stories.
Photos by Tim Johnson
A Comfortable Chair
My stories have always begun and ended in a chair. And not just any chair. For words to flow, I need the ability to lounge.
I require a semi-ridiculous level of comfort while I write. I don’t think I’ve written a single word at a desk or in pants that didn’t have a stretchy elastic waistband. (It’s a wonder I was in real clothing for this photo.)
I wrote most of my first novel, “You Don’t Know My Name” in our home in New Albany (where much of the first book in my trilogy takes place) sitting in a La-Z-Boy. My husband would play classical music and watch football on mute while I typed out the book that landed my first contract with Macmillan. And, as wonderful as that chair was to me (and as kind as it was for my spouse to sacrifice play-by-play banter for tranquility), when we built our home in Dublin, I knew I wanted a quiet, serene space that was all my own. And, of course, I needed a comfy writing chair.
We found the off-white linen chair while picking out furniture for our new home. When I sat in it, I knew it was the perfect cozy space where I could write for hours. I wrote nearly every word of the second book in my young adult trilogy, “You Won’t Know I’m Gone,” sitting in that spot. I spent so much time in that chair, there’s a divot in the ottoman from where I rest my feet.
The main character in my series is a teen spy who has lived all over the world. My fascination with travel and exotic places comes through in my writing, but also in the décor of my office. My husband and I are both huge lovers of maps. You can find them all over our home, including an intricate, hand-painted map of Europe from the 1600s.
I love our collection of one-of-a-kind antiques among our mass-manufactured furniture. Some of my favorites include a collection of antique books that I’ve found over the years in both bookstores and basements, thanks to Grandma and Grandpa (Estelle and Joe) Hutta for never throwing things away. And the best $70 I ever spent was on an early 19th-century birdcage found in the dusty attic space of a Florida antique store. I adore these pieces and like to think about the people who owned them. I imagine what their lives were like, how they lived, how they died. I appreciate that each has a history, an untold story that inspires me while I sit in my cozy chair and write my own.
Kristen Orlando is a young adult novelist whose first book, the spy thriller “You Don’t Know My Name,” resulted in a three-book contract with Macmillan called The Black Angel Chronicles. Her second novel in the series, “You Won’t Know When I’m Gone,” went on sale in January.
A Room with a Door
A writer needs a writing space.
A writer with six grandchildren and number seven on the way really needs a writing space.
I have a great little office at my home in Galena. It serves double duty as the office for my public relations and marketing consulting business, Yocum Communications, and the niche where I craft my novels. Because I spend a lot of time on the road with the communications business, it’s important to have a comfortable space where I can concentrate on my novel writing.
It was not difficult staking out my small space. All I had to do was cede complete control of the rest of the house to my wife, Melissa. She said that was only fair.
I have surrounded myself with the items that I most treasure: photos of my family, books, memorabilia and a trophy case full of treasures from a time when my life’s ambition was to play second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The focal point of the room is a 4-by-8-foot sign that my late father set up at the corner of Penn and Market streets in the Eastern Ohio town of Brilliant each fall. That was the location of Yocum Sohio Service, and the football schedule of the Brilliant High Blue Devils was painted on that sign.
One corner of my office is dominated by a Victorian-era display case filled with books, photos and memorabilia that includes a CD by Peter Noone of the pop band Herman’s Hermits, who signed it, Mr. Yocum, you’ve got two lovely daughters, referencing his hit song, Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, and the cowbell my grandfather rang to celebrate Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918.
The display case, itself, comes with a great story. My son Ryan was giving me a tour of his fraternity’s meeting room on the third floor of the Heidelberg University administration building. I mentioned that it was a nice case and he said, “We’re tired of looking at it. As soon as all the students leave for the summer, we’re shoving it out the window.”
I couldn’t believe it. Well, yes I could. They were college kids. I offered them $150 and they jumped at the offer. That would buy a lot of beer. They even hauled it to my truck, using the stairs instead of the window.
We just moved into this house last year, so there are still some must-haves for the office, the most important of which is a door, which will become critical as the number of grandchildren continues to grow.
Robin Yocum is a former Dispatch reporter and the Edgar-nominated author of the critically acclaimed novels, “Favorite Sons,” “The Essay,” “A Brilliant Death” and “A Welcome Murder.” His next novel, “A Perfect Shot,” is set in the Ohio River town of Mingo Junction and will be released April 3.
A Safe Space with Warmth
A writer’s ecology can be a truly immense thing, but at the center of it there is always a nook. This is a space carved out of wood, not with any sharp instruments, but by warmth, a constant presence that has worn through the hard place that was once there. The hope is that by creating a space that only you can properly fit in, you will be safe enough to work on the difficult pieces of any project. It takes confidence and a feeling of safety to ever really experiment or twist the tether of past successes into something new and challenging. A place that can do all of that for a writer is hard to come by, is earned, and once obtained, there is a slight feeling of invincibility that comes with being in that place.
My work place is in the basement of the house we live in, near one of the ravines in Clintonville. It’s in the basement because the office I had when we first moved in was turned into a nursery roughly nine months after. It stayed a nursery for my daughter for several years, then it became a nursery for my son shortly after that, and when he grew out of his toddler bed the room was annexed into a craft shop for my wife and an art room for the kids.
At that point, the basement had become my nook. I had written there for six years already and had published my first three books. Since the establishment of the craft room upstairs, I have written and signed contracts for nine more books. This place is my place, and the poetry I write here has found an energy and a music that makes me incredibly proud.
This place has a computer that we bought with money that was gifted to my wife and me at our wedding. It has a large pile of poetry to read for inspiration. I really only read prose on vacations. It has a large set of shelves with a collection of the print journals and magazines where my work has appeared. The only book on that shelf that has been written by any Demaree is the collection of nature poetry my daughter wrote when she was 7, and it is displayed proudly in front of those literary journals.
There is a picture of my wife and me on our wedding day. There is a picture of the first pitch ever thrown at what is now Progressive Field in Cleveland. There is a baseball and a glove on the shelf for the times when I need to recline in my beaten-up chair and try to fix the mapping of one of my sequences. To my right is a mouse pad the kids made me that says, “Don’t Work Too Hard.” The desk I write on is worn down, is scratched up, and I have no idea what’s in any of the drawers.
Darren C. Demaree is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently A Fire Without Light (2017, Nixes Mate Books). His eighth collection, Two Towns Over, was recently selected the winner of the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press and is due out in March. He is the managing editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.