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Historical Perspective: Deeanne Gist on 'Fair Play' (Q&A w/ video)

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Today, Hartford Books Examiner extends a warm welcome to Deeanne Gist.

Ms. Gist is the author of the newly released Fair Play (Howard Books, $15.99), It Happened at the Fair, and several earlier historical romances. Her books have received four RITA nominations, two Christy Awards, and rave reviews from passionate readers. She has a background in education and journalism and earned a degree from Texas A&M; her writing credits include contributions to People, Parents, and Parenting magazine. Ms. Gist has four grown children and makes her home in Houston, Texas, with her husband of thirty-one years.

Fair Play was published earlier this month and has been met with high acclaim from both critics and contemporaries. Publishers Weekly praised, “Gist’s work is comical, sassy, and sweet,” while Romantic Times noted, “Gist delivers a lovely story brimming with touching emotions and carrying a message about love, commitment, and our duty to care for children that will resonate with readers.” Further, New York Times bestselling author Teresa Medeiros enthused, “Fair Play charms the heart and warms the soul. Deeanne Gist is an absolute treasure!”

From the publisher:

From the bestselling author of It Happened at the Fair comes a historical love story about a lady doctor and a Texas Ranger who meet at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Saddled with a man’s name, the captivating Billy Jack Tate makes no apologies for taking on a man’s profession. As a doctor at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, she is one step closer to having her very own medical practice—until Hunter Scott asks her to give it all up to become his wife.

Hunter is one of the elite. A Texas Ranger and World’s Fair guard specifically chosen for his height, physique, character, and skill. Hailed as the toughest man west of any place east, he has no patience for big cities and women who think they belong anywhere but home…

Despite their difference of opinion on the role of women, Hunter and Billy find a growing attraction between them—until Hunter discovers an abandoned baby in the corner of a White City exhibit. He and Billy team up to make sure this foundling isn’t left in the slums of Chicago with only the flea-riddled, garbage-infested streets for a playground. As they fight for the underprivileged children in the Nineteenth Ward, an entire Playground Movement is birthed. But when the Fair comes to an end, one of them will have to give up their dream.

Will Billy exchange her doctor’s shingle for the domesticated role of a southern wife, or will Hunter abandon the wide open spaces of home for a life in the “gray city,” a woman who insists on being the wage earner, and a group of ragamuffins who need more than a playground for breathing space?

Now, Deeanne Gist offers readers a dose of Southern comfort …

1) What inspired the idea for FAIR PLAY? Also, tell us about the inclusion of illustrations and photographs and how they are meant to augment the reading experience?

Since we spent so much time on the grounds of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair during It Happened at the Fair, I wanted to move our focus to the actual city of Chicago in Fair Play.

When I discovered the first playground ever built in Chicago was established during that time, and that it spurred a national playground movement, I knew that would be the focus of my plot.

The historic photographs at the beginning of each chapter began in It Happened at the Fair. The World’s Fair was so spectacular I was afraid my descriptions wouldn’t do it justice, so I asked my publisher if we could add photos so the reader would fully understand the magnitude of the event.

Since Fair Play was also tied to the Fair, I wanted to continue that same format. But images of Chicago’s west side in 1893 were a lot harder to come by. Fortunately, the University of Illinois at Chicago has an extensive photographic collection, which they graciously allowed me to go through and pull from.

2) Your protagonist, Billy Jack Tate, is a woman living in a man’s world. How does her name and profession symbolize her plight—and how do you hope that readers might be empowered through her experiences?

I picked the name Billy Jack because I needed our male protagonist to notice the doctor’s diploma on the wall (and assume she was a man) before he ever saw her. But as the novel progressed and the characters developed, Billy really grew into her name.

For her background, I drew on that of a real lady doctor of the time, who had been working in hospitals for seven years before branching out on her own. I fashioned the apartment Billy lived in after one where this doctor had boarded. The prejudices Billy endured are the same ones this 1893 doctor faced.

I found this woman’s story so inspiring. It made me realize that we can overcome an awful lot if we have the courage and the gumption to step out of our comfort zones and go for it.

3) You have chosen the Chicago World’s Fair as the setting for your most recent novels. How do you feel that this backdrop enhances the telling of your stories—and why were you compelled to revisit this place and time?

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was one of the most pivotal events in our country’s history. It set the standard for architecture in the upcoming century; it introduced foreign cultures to our amazed population; it wowed the world with our scientific innovations, and it gave women their first official board position recognized and approved by an Act of Congress (all before we had the right to vote).

But it was technology that claimed the day as it nipped at the heels of horses, buggies and man-powered tools. Between that and the evocative backdrop, I simply couldn’t resist spinning another tale that took place there.

4) Given that you write historical fiction, what have you found to be the key(s) to bringing the past alive for readers—and how do you endeavor to balance fact with fiction within the narrative?

(See video)

5) You recently founded the 2 Who Care contest to recognize the efforts of outstanding volunteer couples. What was the impetus for this passion project—and how do you envision yourself as spearheading philanthropic causes in the future?

I was so humbled by the work of the Chicagoans from back-in-the-day who saw a need and simply did what they could to fill it. They didn’t try to change the world. They simply tried to make an underprivileged area of their city a little bit better by building a playground. And in doing so, they sparked a movement across our nation.

There had been playgrounds before—in Boston and in New York—but it was Chicago that held the first annual convention of the Playground Association of America (which is known today as the National Recreation and Park Association). It was Chicago that put playgrounds in the minds of so many others.

It made me wonder what couples today were doing to help improve their neighborhoods. I wanted to encourage them. I wanted them to know that what they are doing might seem like a small thing, but that it can really make a difference. A big difference.

So we put together the 2 Who Care contest and asked my readers to nominate couples in their communities who are giving back. We narrowed the nominees down to ten finalists, which my readers then voted on. The winning couple is receiving the $1,000 grant of appreciation for all that they are doing. You can read about the winning couple, who are from Leesburg, Virginia, on my Facebook page as soon as I can interview them so I can share more about their selfless efforts. All of the finalists are making fantastic contributions to their communities.

As for spearheading philanthropic causes in the future, I would love to do that. And if I do, John, I’ll be sure to let you know!

***

With thanks to Deeanne Gist for her generosity of time and thought and to Nancy Berland, President and CEO of Nancy Berland Public Relations, Inc., for facilitating this interview.

Deeanne’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/deesfriends

Deeanne’s website: www.IWantHerBook.com

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