True Blue Cub Fans

With baseball season in full swing, the Writers-World Series is proud to feature a book about the sport’s beloved  2016 champs, The Chicago Cubs.
         Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team tells the story of divergent life paths – the roads taken, the failures experienced, and the successes reached – and how those paths all come together for a collective passion.
  Today we talk with Becky Sarwate who co-authored the book along with Randy Richardson.  “We make a great team,” Becky says. “I’m the more outspoken and blunt executor. Randy is the thinker, the ‘good cop’ and strategist. If we were players on the Cubs, we might be known as Becky ‘The Bull’ and ‘Professor’ Randy.


Names: Becky Sarwate and Randy Richardson.

Hometeam: Becky was born and raised in Chicago and lives within walking distance of Wrigley Field with husband Bob and two cats. Randy, who moved to the Chicago area from a Milwaukee suburb, lives in Evanston with his wife, son and two cats.

Position: Becky is Enterprise Marketing and Communications Advisor at TransUnion, an adjunct English instructor at Northeastern Illinois University, a freelance journalist, theater critic, blogger, political columnist and sports writer. Randy is an attorney, journalist and founding member/first president of the Chicago Writers Association.
Batting average: Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team is their first joint project. Randy is also the author of two novels, Cheeseland and Lost in the Ivy, both from Eckhartz Press
Opening pitch:
The Cubs are more than just a baseball team to those who root for them. From the heartaches of 1969 and 2003 to the pure joy of 2016, emotional ties bind fans of Chicago’s North Side ball club. Some of the team’s most famous fans, including Bob Newhart, Pat Brickhouse, Dennis Franz, Nick Offerman, Joe Mantegna, Scott Turow, Bill Kurtis, and many others, share just what it means to bleed Cubbie blue.

Considering the positions on a baseball team — such as catcher, shortstop, left field, etc. — which best describes the way you write and why? I would call myself an ace reliever. My work is quick, precise and usually effective. My sister has promoted me as the best content and copy editor in town. Randy is the experienced manager. He’s been to the publishing “big game” before and had much to teach me. He’s also a terrific, multi-tasking project coordinator. I would want him leading any team of which I am part.
Tell us about your  surprise drafting to the big leagues:  I will never forget the March 2017 late afternoon that Randy and I sat enjoying happy hour drinks at the G-Man in Wrigleyville. I was excited about Randy’s new Cubs book project with Eckhartz Press and thought myself bold in offering to serve as a manuscript reader. I was literally speechless when Randy countered with a question, “How about being co-author?” It’s an unbelievable dream moment frozen in time. I can never thank him enough for trusting me and inviting me along to share this amazing ride.
No one wins a game alone. Who’s on your team? 
 It truly took a village to bring this project from concept to reality in just 12 months. After all, neither of us is a full-time author. The team at Eckhartz Press pitched the idea for the book to Randy and supported us by offering potential interview subjects and contact information, trusted us enough not to micromanage the project, and then of course published the manuscript.
My trusted and invaluable assistant Brian Walsh did so much leg work to make many of these amazing conversations happen. Randy and I always enjoy unbelievable support from our spouses and families, as well as the twin literary communities of which we’re both members – the Illinois Woman’s Press Association and Chicago Writers Association. And finally without the enthusiasm and participation of our interviewees, who shared their many Cubs hopes, dreams and heartaches, there would literally be no book.
So what’s your game plan?
As this project is a dream come true for Randy and I, we’re thrilled to pay it forward by donating all author proceeds to our three charity partners: Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities (CBCC), Scoreboard Charities (SC), and the Chicago Baseball Museum (CBM). CBCC and SC help fund cancer research and patient care programs at Chicago-area hospitals, and supporting services to empower kids with cancer. CBM’s mission is to collect, preserve, document, research, and interpret artifacts and events which are associated with the legacy, evolution and contemporary life of Chicago baseball. All three are federally-registered 501(c)(3) tax-deductible charitable organizations.
We have a number of upcoming signings and events that will help us sell this unique book and raise all the money we can for these worth causes:

Remembering Walter


     I guess you could say Walter was my young grandpa. He was only 35 when he was struck by a train 91 years ago this month.
     Walter was headed to Irondale, Missouri, to pick up some cement. A freight train was stopped on a siding near a railroad crossing just south of town. Walter drove his small Ford truck through the crossing, not realizing the freight train masked his view of an oncoming passenger train.
     Walter left six kids and a pregnant wife. My mom, who was born four months later, never even met her father.
       I’ve imagined the train accident that took Walter’s life 100 times, but it wasn’t until I was working on my genealogy recently that I realized Walter lost his mother when he was just five years old. His sisters, 10 and 12, were probably left to care for the three younger siblings while their father tended the farm. For the first time I see Walter as a lonely, scared little boy.
        Walter knew what it was like to lose a parent. He would have hated leaving his poor kids behind.  As fate would have it, Walter’s widow Bertha got cancer and died when my Mom was 7. My mother grew up at Missouri Baptist Children’s home.  She said she turned to her heavenly father because she never knew her earthly one.
           As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend I am reminded how lucky I am to have had the love and guidance of my mother through my entire life. And I remember my young grandpa who grew up without his mother and never got to know the joy of seeing his own children grow up.

COMING WEDNESDAY: Writers-World Series continues with “Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team.”

Writers-World Series


Writing books has become the new American pastime. Print-on-demand  publishers and online marketing have made it possible for everyone to tell  their tale. But with so many good authors in the writing game, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

       That’s why this summer I’m offering the Writers-World Series, the inside track on authors of interest. The series starts today with Denise M. Baran-Unland, a journalist from Joliet, Il., who has written a vampire series set in a fictional Michigan town. 
       Programs! Programs! Get your program here!


Name: Denise M. Baran-Unland
Home team: Joliet, Il. (for Denise) Munsonville, MI ( fictional setting for the BryonySeries)

Position:  Features writer and editor, The Herald-News, Joliet

Batting average: The BryonySeries vampire trilogy (“Bryony,” “Visage,” and “Staked!“), The Adventures of Cornell Dyer chapter book series (“Cornell Dyer and the Missing Tombstone” and the soon-to-be released “Cornell Dyer and the Necklace of Forgetfulness“)  Bertrand the Mouse children’s series (“Bertrand and the Lucky Clover,” “Bertrand’s Christmas Surprise,” “Bertrand’s First Book of Numbers,” and “Bertrand Gives Back” ) Also, “Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles from ‘Bryony,’” a collections of recipes from the Victorian era and 1970s. All proceeds are donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties.

Opening pitch:  A ’70s teen trades her blood with a Victorian vampire for a trip back into time as his wife . Consequences follow.

       Note: The Adventures of Cornell Dyer spinoff series involves one character from the second book in the  BryonySeries vampire trilogy and the Bertrand the Mouse series features red herring from the third book.

Considering the positions on a baseball team — such as catcher, shortstop, left field, etc. — which best describes the way you write and why? I’m sitting in the stands trying to figure out how the game is played. Couldn’t participate in sports as a child due to severe asthma, so I spent most of my time reading, writing, and observing others from the sidelines. As a result, I love reading (and writing) character-driven novels.

Tell us about your grand slam: I have a few loyal friends who found my books by chance and have remained loyal since the release date of the first book in 2011. Those are my home runs, for sure. But without a doubt, the “grand slam” is my one super fan, “Rose,” who took a chance on the first book  (“Bryony“) in 2013 after seeing my blog posted online. She later told me she didn’t expect much and wound up leaving a glowing review on Amazon. She promptly ordered the second book (“Visage“) and left a glowing (and the book’s only) review on Amazon and then waited impatiently for the third book (“Staked!“), ultimately leaving a glowing (and only) review on Amazon.

         Rose also sent a copy of “Bryony” to a bestselling author with whom she has a decade-long correspondence.  He has not read the book yet, but it’s on his reading list, and he wrote me a letter this past summer letting me know it. He also sent me one of his books, which I’m currently reading.

          Rose is my biggest cheerleader and biggest motivator. She constantly urges me to continue and increase marketing and promotion. She sends long messages about what she likes about the books and creates little memes based on the characters. She’s called the series “a masterpiece,” and said she won’t stop pushing me until the series is a bestseller.

         I’m not a natural marketer . It took two years of Rose’s unwavering exhortations before I considered doing anything of substance. So while I don’t have the lofty goals for my series as Rose does, I set my hand to the marketing plow for this reason: to find the other Roses, whether they are five readers or five billion. Rose has said the BryonySeries is one of the few series she has ever read multiple times and that it ranks as one of her favorites. So I work hard at positioning the books in the universe so readers like Rose can find them.

At a book event in Joliet are author Ralph Carey, store owner Jan Staley, and authors Allie Rios, Denise M. Baran-Unland and Sue Merrell.

No one wins a game alone. Who’s on your team? It’s a big team full of talented artists who cross market each other. Here’s the roster by seasons:

Bryony:” Kathleen Rose Van Pelt (cover art and illustrator), Stephen Tuplin and Josh Seigers (book trailer, music video, and other video promotional pieces), CAL Graphics (book cover, graphics), Serena Diosa (formatting), and Karen Bonarek, Tommy Connelly, and Dulcinea Hawksworth (marketing), Sandy Costa (introduction)

Visage:” Matt Coundiff (cover art and illustrator), Vicki Thompson (editor and introduction), Colleen Robbins (editor),  Dragon Alexander and Sean Czaja (book trailer), CAL Graphics and Sarah Stegall (book cover, graphics, formatting)

Staked!” Christopher Gleason (cover art and illustrator), Vicki Thompson  and Colleen Robbins (editors), CAL Graphics (book cover, graphics), Sarah Stegall (formatting and copy editor), Tom Hernandez (introduction)

Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles from ‘Bryony:'” Sarah Stegall (project lead, copy editor), Kathleen Rose Van Pelt (cover art), Matt Coundiff (interior illustrations), Serena Diosa (formatting), Rebekah Baran (copy editing). Plus many recipe contributors.

Snowbell:” Christopher Gleason (cover art), Sarah Stegall (cover design, formatting)
Adventures of Cornell Dyer series: Sue Midlock (cover art and illustrations), Rebekah Baran (cover design and formatting)
Bertrand the Mouse series:  Sarah Stegall (concept design), Rebekah Baran (cover designs and formatting)
Miscellaneous: James Onohan (pianist and composer for the official BryonySeries theme song and CD “The Best-Loved Compositions of John Simons,” Valerie Burkholder (creator of the BryonySeries homemade soy candle line in five scents), Michelle Roberson (creator of the BryonySeries K-cup holders), and Sarah Stegall and Rebekah Baran (web design and maintenance)

So what’s your game plan? This year, it’s to schedule one event a month. So far, I’ve hit home runs (except April, but I had four events in March. And I took a couple days off work in early April to focus on writing).
For upcoming events and more about the series, visit the Fetes and Feasts page at

This is only a test


        Today’s news on my favorite radio station was interrupted by a rude, insistent buzzer. The repeated, off-key tone was vaguely familiar. It was followed by an easily recognizable announcement.
        “This has been  a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This was only a test. If it had been a real emergency…”
         The announcement continued to list possible emergencies such as a tornado or a nuclear power plant accident and assured us that in a real emergency this irritating buzzer would be followed by helpful safety information. I had read that there was going to be a test of the tornado alert system so I should have been expecting the sound.
          Yet the alarming buzzer brought back memories of my teen years, back in the ’60s, when such alerts would come on the radio at least weekly and television ended every day with the test pattern. Now those days of the “cold war” seem so safe compared to today.
          The buzzer also reminded me of my divorce in the 1980s. I faced a series of traumas in those days, my son’s health, financial problems, even typical homeowner hassles like a thunder storm surge that destroyed my only television. Every time I would face one of these traumas I would hear that buzzer in my head and the announcer saying “This is a test. It is only a test. Had it been a real emergency…”


           How long has it been since you felt like cheering for our country?
           Join me over the next two weeks watching the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. I’m enjoying cheering for America, even when figure skater Nathan Chen falls twice. But these bright, young athletes bounce over moguls and spin through the air on their skis and suddenly the bloated national budget, Russian investigation and thoughtless tweets are forgotten. 
        I’m not just cheering for my country. I’m getting caught up in the surprising performance of Israel’s figure skaters, or the romantic artistry of the Italian team. I’m tickled by the moxie of the Jamaican luge team, and warmed by the North and South Korean athletes working together.
        Okay, maybe Friday’s opening ceremony was overly sentimental and dramatic. I know the threats of nuclear annihilation don’t disappear with a parade of smiling faces and waving flags. But it’s like Camelot. For one brief shining moment all the fighting and hateful rhetoric is drowned out by applause and fireworks. 
         When Korean pop stars sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” with the whole auditorium waving lights I could imagine for a few minutes that world peace is possible. I know the Olympics don’t have a peaceful history. I know terrible attacks have happened before and are possible again, but no matter what happens in the days and weeks and months ahead I will always remember that beautiful moment.

Pacify as needed

“Improvise,” said the man at the kayak store. It was the third stop in a fruitless afternoon of seeking a replacement  part. The day before I had taken out my kayak on the first adventure of this year’s winter in the Keys. When I returned I discovered the black rubber stopper in the drainage hole was practically rotted through.
         I bought the cheap kayak seven years ago at Kmart, but I discovered they don’t have replacement parts. My second stop was Home Depot which stocks a wide variety of black rubber stoppers, but the ones with a handle to pull the stopper out were too large.  That was the same problem with the replacement parts for the better quality boats at the kayak store.
          So I decided to take the clerk’s advice. Back in Michigan I have a daisy bottle stopper that would probably do the trick. I was in Dollar Tree to make some other purchases so I looked for a bottle stopper. No luck. I was roaming the store trying to find something else that would work, when I spotted a pacifier.
           “Baaaa” my son used to call it. For most of his first two years “Baaa” could satisfy every need. Hunger. Fear. Loneliness. We lost Baaa once when we were traveling. The baby cried so much we went from store to store looking for the special Nuk brand. Finally we found one and my son was instantly satisfied.
           Could Baaaa satisfy a disgruntled kayak?
     Perfect fit, and the color even  matches!

Words on the Wise


      If you had to find three wise men in today’s world, who would you pick?
         The Biblical Magi were “from the East.” In today’s vernacular might mean someone from an Ivy League school. Somebody like former President Barack Obama who graduated from Harvard or the presidents Bush who both graduated from Yale. Or maybe we should consider a king on a whole different level, like Amazon entrepreneur Jeff Bezos who earned two degrees from Princeton: electrical engineering and computer science.
         Since the job requires following a star, maybe we should look for wise men among the top astronomers. Maybe somebody like cosmologist Stephen Hawking. His best-selling book “A Brief History of Time” is almost as mind-boggling as his ability to excel despite ALS paralysis.  Maybe we need a young, healthy astronomer like Brian Cox, a former rocker turned BBC science personality. Or maybe we need to turn to a wise woman like NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who did the trajectory analysis for astronauts like Alan Shepherd and John Glenn and was one of the characters in the movie “Hidden Figures.”.
         But isn’t wisdom more than quantum physics? King Solomon used his wisdom to make wise choices, good judgments.Assuming age brings wisdom, maybe we need somebody like 84-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the oldest judge on the US Supreme Court. Or perhaps we should rely on the wisdom of a church leader like Pope Francis who has been called upon to make all sorts of judgements lately for the Catholic Church.
         Does wisdom imply wealth? If someone were wise wouldn’t they know how to be rich? Like Mark Zukerberg who figured out how to build an international backyard fence and make billions off of our desire to gossip.
        Or should we look for the ability to communicate, to speak and write wise words? Someone like linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky who is known for stating simple truths such as “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
        Or how about Lin Manuel Miranda who figured out the right words to make an unsung hero like Alexander Hamilton  come alive for Americans of all generations and races. 
        Wise can mean many different things. There are even negative connotations like “wise guys” and “wise crack.”
         So I leave this Christmas conundrum in your hands. Post the names of three wise men living today. And have a very Merry Christmas.


Flood warning!


           In Iceland they call it Jolabokaflod or Christmas Book Flood.
           Books have been the gift of choice for Christmas since WWII when currency restrictions limited imported giftware. Now Iceland publishes more books per person than any country in the world. The Iceland Publishers Association puts out a catalog every year. When the catalog shows up in every mailbox, the excitement begins. People select the titles they think will please each person on their list. 
            Christmas gifts are usually opened on Dec. 24 and everybody spends Christmas Eve reading. It’s a tradition!
             This year I am taking a tip from Jolabokaflod. Each day in December, on the Sue Merrell Books Facebook page, I will recommend a book by a local author. There’s a flood of good stories out there, something perfect for everyone on your list.

Miles and marketing


I’m part of the lunch bunch generation. Meeting for lunch was the way we made business connections when I was working. Now that I’m retired, it continues to be my primary way to connect with friends.  That is until fellow author friend Janet Vormittag came up with a more healthy option.
         Janet is currently riding a wave of success with her latest book “You Might Be a Crazy Cat Lady if…”  Last spring she asked me to meet for lunch to discuss book marketing ideas. It was quickly apparent this was going to take more than one session, so Janet suggested meeting at Johnson Park and discussing marketing ideas while we walked up and down the wooded hills.
          Over the summer we talked and walked at least once a week. We read and discussed “Online Marketing for Busy Authors” by Fauzia Burke,  which influenced changes in our Websites and Facebook pages. We came up with totally off-the-wall ideas such as my traveling shoe posts and her Crazy Cat Lady parties. We signed up for book events such as the Pumpkin Fest in Montague and the Trail of Michigan Authors in Muskegon. We both did radio interviews with Zinta Aistars.We even explored a new walking trail in Ottawa County.
        Now the trees have turned, the leaves have fallen, and this morning we sought refuge from the cold wind by walking at the mall.  No doubt we racked up more miles than book sales, but the walks impacted more than our Fitbits. This weekend Janet is featured at the Novi Pet Expo, an idea we discussed on our very first walk back in May. And next weekend I’ll participate in the Local Author Jamboree at The Book Nook and Java Shop in Montague, something that’s been on my bucket list for years.
     To paraphrase Robert Frost, we have miles to go before we rest, miles to go before we rest.