The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Fiction writer pays homage by tying his book to his alma mater.

I’ve swum, surfed and free dived around the world. But much like the lead character in my debut novel, my adventures began at Ohio State.

Born in Parma, Ohio, I studied business as an undergrad and captained the men’s water polo club at the old varsity pool in Larkins Hall. We traveled to tournaments almost every spring and fall weekends and won the Big Ten championship several times. I earned my law degree at Ohio State in 1987 before heading to California to launch my legal career.

But after 17 successful years in law, I craved a change. I sold my house and embarked on a three-year sabbatical to write, surf and travel around the globe. Thus, the tale that became my first book, The Poet’s Secret, was conceived in a hovel atop a one-table taverna in the hillside village of Avdou, just a scooter ride from the Aegean Sea on the island of Crete.

Why Crete? I was snowboarding in Utah and mentioned my writing sabbatical to a fellow Buckeye. He invited me to his family’s remote Greek village for the summer. It was the perfect getaway. Next I traveled to Bali, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia and South America, following the sea and surf and continuing to write and revise.

Ken Zak

Zak watches the sunset seaside on the island of Crete.

The Poet’s Secret follows a young lit student who, questioning eternal love, ventures to an exotic island to confront a reclusive, suicidal poet who may hold the secret and much more. Romance Writers of America selected the original manuscript as a Golden Heart Finalist in romantic suspense.

In deciding to open the novel at a fictionalized version of Ohio State, I followed the old adage of “write what you know.” As a freshman, I was lucky to score housing at Baker Hall and then lived off campus on Chittenden and eventually Summit Street. My “watering holes” in the ’80s included The Orr House, Mean Mr. Mustards, Crazy Mamas and the team’s Crow House, where we cracked a support beam or two dancing around a beer-filled glass to Zorba the Greek at our water polo parties.

Those years at Ohio State were magical and filled with adventure. The crisscrossed sidewalks of the Oval, reflections on Mirror Lake and the sound of the Orton Hall chimes still resonate within me.

I return to campus a couple of times a year, either for a football game, an alumni water polo game or just to visit friends and family. While things have changed and only ghosts of the ’80s South Campus nightlife remain, I still feel that Ohio State magic while strolling through campus. And, of course, I fly my 30-year-old Block O flag outside my San Diego home every football Saturday.

Opening my novel at Ohio State is my own small way to venerate that magic.

Book cover

Zak’s previous short fiction and poetry have appeared in anthologies and magazines. For more information on that and The Poet’s Secret, visit


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