Constable: Fiction mirrors Cubs, political reality
In 2014, when former Hoffman Estates resident Dennis Hetzel published his first sports/politics novel, "Killing the Curse," about the Cubs in the World Series amid presidential drama, the real Cubs were in last place and Donald Trump was a reality TV show host proudly assuring "Celebrity Apprentice" viewers that "this is the nastiest cast that we've had."
When Hetzel, 64, joins a writers group at next month's Printer's Row Lit Fest to talk about his "Season of Lies" sequel, the concepts of presidential drama and champion Cubs don't seem as far-fetched.
"I rewrote the second book to reflect the reality of the new world," says Hetzel. "In the new book, the Cubs are trying to build a dynasty."
And the political angles?
"I was writing in real time as Donald Trump won the election," Hetzel says. "In fiction, you can't come up with anything crazier than what is going on in politics."
In his new novel, the Cubs trade for the Boston Red Sox's ace pitcher, Trey Van Ohmann, who creates a firestorm by endorsing incumbent President Luke Murphy of Palatine in his re-election bid against a Democrat and a third-party candidate in a political climate fraught with scandal, terror threats, religious extremism and even "fake news."
"This book is a little more sweeping because it unfolds over a Cubs season and a political season," says Hetzel, who adds that both seasons reach a climax by the end of October. The author weaves the Cubs and the politics throughout the novel. When the Republican Convention comes to Cincinnati, the Cubs are there, too, taking on the Reds.
"I ended up writing about two of the things I am most passionate about," says Hetzel. "Sports and politics."
Hetzel's father, Paul, a vending machine repairman and assistant volunteer fire chief, and his mother, Ruth, a checker at Jewel, moved the family in 1957 from a Hungarian neighborhood on Chicago's West Side to the open spaces of Hoffman Estates, where their new house overlooked a two-lane Roselle Road.
"You get your sports loyalties from your family and friends," Hetzel says, noting that his father was born in 1908, which was the last time the Cubs won the World Series until 2016. Political news was a staple of the four daily papers in town, and politicians were a big part of local TV news, he says, noting that Chicago provided him "a content-rich environment" for politics and sports.
Just 15 years old when he starting making money with his writing by covering high school games for weekly suburban papers, Hetzel graduated from Conant High School in 1970 before majoring in political science at Western Illinois University, where he met his wife, Cheryl. About to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in their home in Columbus, Ohio, they are parents to adults sons, Jon and Nate, and daughter, Lindsay. Hetzel worked as a reporter for daily papers in Illinois and Wisconsin, before becoming managing editor for the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. He served as an editor and executive for several newspapers, and taught journalism at Penn State and Temple universities before becoming a lobbyist as executive director of the Ohio News Media Association.
But his cheering interest remains with the Cubs and all the Chicago sports teams. "I still follow the Bears, and what's more pathetic than being a Bears fan now?" Hetzel says.
Since his novel, which was published by Headline Books, is a thriller with many plot twists, Hetzel doesn't want to give away too much, but he will discuss "Season of Lies" during a session from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 10, at Printer's Row Lit Fest in Chicago. He's already working on a new book with the same characters.
"I've got two working ideas for a third book," Hetzel says. "One takes place 20 years in the future, and the other is set 20 years in the past. It's like science fiction meets sports fiction, meets political thriller."