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Q&A with Dennis Hetzel, Local Author

Written by Chris Alexis

Many young professionals in Central Ohio – and around the world – dream of writing books and finding their work on shelves for all to see. One Columbus resident, Dennis Hetzel, recently published his first novel and fulfilled that dream. We talked with him to collect advice for YPs looking to follow a similar path to publication.

Hetzel is the Executive Director of the Ohio Newspaper Association. He is also President of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government. He began his journalism career as a weekly sports editor in the Chicago suburbs. Hetzel would go on to be a reporter, editor, general manager, and publisher at several newspapers, including the Cincinnati Enquirer and the York, Pa., Daily Record, where he was editor and publisher for 13 years.

His first novel, Killing the Curse, is a must-read for any sports fan, especially those who love the Chicago Cubs. The fictional page-turner follows a crazed Cubs fan who will do anything to make sure his team wins.

CYP Club asked him a series of questions to learn a little more about becoming a published author.

Q: Tell me about developing this story and why you felt compelled to spend so much time and effort on this idea.

A: I love sports, the Chicago Cubs and politics, so the concept of a sports-political thriller with the Cubs was a natural. I had a lot of encouragement from Rick Robinson, my author friend who helped greatly with the book. We hatched the idea on a drive from Frankfort, Ky., to Northern Kentucky when I was the Kentucky general manager for the Cincinnati Enquirer. The germ of the idea basically was this: “What if the Cubs, the most iconic failure symbols in pro sports, actually made it to the World Series, and what if there was a fan who would do ANYTHING to make sure they won?”

Q: How long did it take you to write Killing the Curse?

A: It was a several-years process. I wrote a lot of it at our vacation home in Holden Beach, NC. I don’t mind editing and rewriting in after-work hours, but I find it difficult to start with blank pages after working 8 or 10 hours or more at my day job.

Q: Can you describe the co-writing process?

A: If I manage to do a second book, I think I can make it go faster. I’m about 20,000 words into a sequel and kind of stalled right now, so maybe that is wishful thinking! It wasn’t as hard to work with a co-author as people might think. Rick and I are very compatible. I would say the book is about 85% mine and 15% Rick’s writing. However, he was hugely important not only as a writer but an adviser since he is an experienced, published author. I really became a better writer by doing this.

Q: What real-world advice would you have for young professionals who want to become published authors? What are the steps they should take after finishing a story?

A: You have to do it as a passion project and accept it is quite a long shot that you will be a financial success. The quantity and quality of the competition is brutal. You need to be both good and lucky. I had the great advantage of having a connection (Rick) with a respected independent publisher who was interested. Even with that, I doubt that the money I will make from the book will amount to much. (Hey, you never know.) There are a lot of resources with good advice on how to make pitches to agents and publishers. Most writers don’t want to spend a lot of time marketing and promoting, but that is a simple reality. You need to embrace this if you want anyone but a few close friends and family to read your novel. Minimally, you’ll need Facebook and Amazon author pages and a good e-mail program with as many contacts as you can identify.

Q: Have you had any support as a novelist in Columbus?

A: A number of friends and professional connections have been quite supportive. (State Auditor Dave Yost even bought one for his Kindle.) A special shout-out goes to my local friends, Josh Hahn and Heather Dugan, who were draft readers. On the other hand, my experiences with book stores in Columbus reinforce just how hard it is to get a commitment for a book-signing event.

Q: Has your career in Columbus helped you as a writer?

A: Absolutely. A big part of my job is government relations/lobbying, so I am living in the world I write about as a novelist every day at work.

Q: Can you discuss the work-life balance of your day job and being an author?

A: It’s hard. You can’t isolate yourself from your family and friends, and there always are everyday things that need attention. I also am somewhat ADD, so I’m easily distracted by less taxing pursuits, like watching an episode of “Game of Thrones.” On the other hand, when you write fiction, everything you experience offers something to teach you.

Q: Do you think the fanaticism of Cubs fans relates at all to how people love the Buckeyes here in Columbus?

A: I think it’s different. I might get in trouble with this answer. Buckeye fans have earned their swagger, but it can feel kind of over-the-top, frankly, to those who don’t share their passion. There is a “more-sad-than-mad” character to frustrated Cubs fans. They understand what “humble” means and look forward to having some of that swagger. The media markets also are very different. Columbus is a big small town when it comes to sports. In Chicago, there is a lot more for sports fans to talk about than the Cubs. One reason I root for the Blue Jackets to become successful, besides the fact that I like hockey, is that I think it would be healthy for Columbus in several ways.

Q: Is there any other advice you'd like to give young professionals?

A: Follow your passions; never stop being intellectually curious and think outside yourself. The boomers (like me) really are leaving the country in a dysfunctional mess, particularly on the national stage. I’ve already apologized about that to my sons – who are YPs in Texas and Florida. The YP generation faces daunting challenges and incredible opportunities. It certainly won’t be boring. We can’t give up.

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