In Yocum’s A Perfect Shot (Seventh Street, Apr.), former high school basketball legend Duke Ducheski disappears after running afoul of the mob in his small Ohio Valley hometown.

How did you come up with Duke and his loyal friend Moonie?

Duke Ducheski is the high school jock who never grew beyond his press clippings. I wanted to create a character who cherished the memory of those days, but wanted more from life, even if he wasn’t sure how to get there. Moonie was inspired by a high school friend—fun-loving, good-hearted, and loyal. But he couldn’t quite get out of his own way. The most common phrase I heard come out of his father’s mouth was: “Oh, Jesus Christ, what were you thinking?”

Did you know their fate from the beginning?

I know my characters’ fate before I start writing, so I try not to get too attached to the ones who won’t be around at the end.

What was most personal about this novel for you?

Sharing the first 18 years of your lives together in a small town creates a special bond. Those relationships transcend time and space. I rarely see the guys I grew up with anymore, but they’ll always be my buddies from the valley and, like Duke, I treasure the memory of that time.

The extent of organized crime depicted in this small rural Ohio town was surprising. Was that realistic?

Absolutely. When the steel mills were booming, organized crime had a strong presence in the valley. The mob ran the gambling and prostitution. Water Street in Steubenville was lined with brothels. I could get football spot sheets in my high school. I’m not sure I even knew it was illegal. It was everywhere and accepted. I dated a girl in high school whose dad worked at the bookie joint that was my inspiration for Carmine’s Lounge. My dad hated that.

What was it like for you to grow up in a town like the one in the novel?

Growing up, I didn’t know an artist or a writer or a musician. Nearly every man I knew left for work with a tin lunch pail in one hand and a hard hat in the other, my father included. When my dad came home from the steel mill, the only white you could see were his teeth and two round circles where his suction goggles had been. His directives to me were pretty simple: Don’t sell yourself short in life, and get away from the mill.