It Happened at the Fair: A Novel

It Happened at the Fair: A Novel

by Deeanne Gist

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451692396
Publisher: Howard Books
Publication date: 04/30/2013
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 267,691
File size: 38 MB
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About the Author

Deeanne Gist has rocketed up bestseller lists and captured readers everywhere with her very fun, very original historical novels. She has won the National Readers’ Choice Award, Booksellers’ Best Award, USA Best Books Award, and stellar reviews. With a background in education and journalism, Deeanne has written for People, Parents, and Parenting magazines. Visit her online at and at

Read an Excerpt

It Happened at the Fair

  • Just so you know . . . Cullen is hard of hearing, so when you experience a scene from his perspective, you will see what he sees and *hear* what he hears. So, the occasional jumbled word is a word that he was unable to hear correctly and had to decipher through context clues. (I didn't want you to think the book hadn't been proofread. Those misspelled words were on purpose!)

    Cullen’s eyes swelled to mere slits, his roughened cheeks itched, and a sharp line separated the raw skin on his neck from the skin protected by his shirt. It had happened every planting season for his entire twenty-seven years and it would happen for the next.

    He yanked off his gloves, shirt, and undershirt, worked the pump, then stuck his whole head beneath the water. The icy stream stung and soothed all at the same time. He dared not dither, though. Those cotton seeds rode on the breeze and any exposed skin would begin to itch within a day’s time.

    Rearing up, he combed his fingers through his hair. Water drizzled down his back, mingling with the sweat collecting between his shoulder blades. The hinges on the back-door screen squeaked. His stepmother clomped out, her plump body listing with the weight of the pail she toted.

    “You ready to throw that out, Alice?”

    She nodded, dirty water sloshing over the sides of the bucket. “I’ve got it. You get on inside. You know better than to be out here without a shirt on.”

    “A few more minutes won’t hurt.” Taking it from her, he retraced his steps, tossed the pail’s contents, and pumped fresh water into it.

    She stood at the door, her back holding the screen open. Her auburn bun sagged, as streaked with muted white as a song sparrow’s wing. “Come on,” she said. “Ya look a fright.”

    Pulling off a boot, he glanced inside. His father already sat at the head of their hand-hewn table, shaking out his napkin. Three plates balanced across its slightly slanted surface. The table had been Cullen’s first attempt at making a real piece of furniture. He’d presented it to his mother on his eleventh Christmas, prouder than any rooster in the henhouse.

    By the time he realized her other table was not only level but also nicer, she’d already passed away. She never let on, though—just stroked it as if it were made of mahogany and asked Dad if he didn’t think it was the grandest table he’d ever seen. Dad would give Cullen a wink and agree that it surely was. To this day, Cullen didn’t know what had happened to their good table.

    “Ya gonna stand out there all day or cm in so we can eat?” Dad tucked a napkin into the collarless neckline beneath his bushy black beard.

    “Coming.” Dropping his boots outside, he stepped in, plucked an undershirt from the wall peg, and pulled it over his head. At least his arms and chest still held a healthy glow. Two strips of startling white skin dissected his coppery torso, delineating the spots where his suspenders rode. Going shirtless during the plowing was not a problem, it was the planting, weeding, and harvesting that bothered him most. “Smells good, Alice.”

    The door banged shut behind her. “Made ya some bean kttl soup.”

    He suppressed a cringe. Bean kettle soup. Again. It was the third time in as many weeks.

    Shrugging into a shirt, he secured the buttons, snapped his suspenders into place, scraped back his chair, and froze. A letter from the National Commission of the World’s Columbian Exposition sat beside his plate. “What’s that?”

    Dad scratched the back of his head, fluffing his wiry curls, the same black color as Cullen’s.

    “Yer the reader in the family,” he said.

    Cullen jerked his gaze to Dad’s. “Why’s it addressed to me?”

    Alice plopped a cast-iron pot on the table. Dad handed her his bowl.

    “It’s been opened.” Cullen lowered himself into his chair, being careful to keep his hands clear of the table and envelope.

    “I had Luther read it to me,” Dad said.

    If the store clerk had read it, then the whole county would know of its contents by now. Everybody but Cullen, that is.

    “What did it say?” he asked.

    Alice served up bowls for the three of them.

    “Accordin’ to Lthr, it said you’ve been accepted as an exhibitor at the World’s Fair.”

    He wheezed in a breath, his swollen airways in as bad a shape as his face. “An exhibitor? Of what?”

    “An automatic fire sprinkler system.”

    A prickling sensation began behind his eyes. “How did they find out about my sprinkler system?”

    “I told ’em.” Dad took a spoonful of soup, chewed the ham, and swallowed.

    “Told them? How?”

    “I sent in an application fer ya.”

    The headache that had danced along the edges of Cullen’s skull began to make inroads. “You can’t read or write well enough to do that.”

    Dad shrugged. “Got me some hlp from the preacher.”

    Cullen started to rub his forehead, then stopped when he encountered tender skin. “And why would you do a fool thing like that?”

    “Watch yer mouth.”

    “I want to know why, Dad.”

    He leaned his chair back on two legs. “I found the World’s Fair ad for exhibitors underneath yer mattress last spring when I took it outside fer Alice to beat clean.”

    Moisture began to collect on Cullen’s neck and hairline. “So what? The entire world’s been reading about the fair since it was awarded to Chicago in ’90.”

    “The entire world ain’t hiding it under their mattress.”

    “I wasn’t hiding it. I just, I don’t know, didn’t have anyplace else to put it.” Even to his own ears, his excuse sounded feeble. “Besides, I forgot all about it.”

    “I looked at it again when I got hm today. Its edges are frayed and it’s been opened and closed so many times the paper is splittin’ along the creases.”

    Cullen placed his arms on both sides of his bowl. “Look, Dad. I’m a farmer, just like you. Just like Granddad. And just like Great-Granddaddy before him. A little boy who mourned the loss of his mother rigged up that stupid thing.”

    “A little boy who became a man overnight.”

    “It’s nothing but a toy.”

    “Ya spent years perfectin’ it.”

    Cullen fisted his hands. “And it didn’t help one iota when I spent heaven knows how much of your harvest money installing it in the cowshed. The thing still burnt straight to the ground and very nearly caught the barn on fire.”

    “Ya fixed that when ya added them fusible joints.”

    Cullen slammed his fist, rattling the dishware and causing Alice to start. “I’m not going to the World’s Fair, Dad. I appreciate the gesture. I know your intentions are good. But I’m not going. Especially not now. It’s the planting season, for crying out loud.”

    Dad’s chair thumped to the ground. “Don’t ya thnk I know what time o’ year it is? I may not read so well, but I can sure tell the difference in the seasons.”

    Closing his eyes, Cullen tried to calm himself. But his pulse was ticking, his breath was coming in spurts, and the prickles behind his eyes had turned into hammers. “You’re missing the point. I meant no insult.”

    “Then at least give me enough credit to see when a fella ain’t cut out for farmin’. Look at ya. Ya can’t see in the spring. Ya can’t breathe in the summer. And ya can’t hrdly stay standing during the harvest. Never have, never will. You know it. I know it. And yer mama certainly knew it. Why do ya thnk she spent so much time givin’ you all that book learnin’? So you could hide ads under yer mattress while ya killed yourself in the cotton fields?”

    Cullen surged to his feet. Dad made it to his just as fast.

    Alice rapped her spoon on the table. “Sit down. Both of ya. I spent all day on this soup and if ya don’t eat every last bit, I’m gonna make nothin’ but mush for a month of Sundays.”

    A bird preparing for nightfall landed on the windowsill, pecked at the curtains, then took off with a chirp. One of the dogs out front barked, the others responding in kind.

    The tension eased from Dad’s shoulders. “Beggin’ yer pardon, Alice. We’ll be glad to sit down. Cullen, tuck yer napkin in.”

    He sat, stuffed his napkin in his collar, then shoveled mouthful after mouthful of the soup into his mouth. The sooner he finished, the sooner he could escape to his room. He was reading The Farmer’s Encyclopedia and had just gotten to the section on tongueless plows.

    He could feel Dad’s gaze but refused to acknowledge it. Swallowing was an effort, though. He cursed himself for even saving that ad. He didn’t know why he had. He certainly didn’t expect anyone to ever find out about it.

    Heat began to rise up his neck. Had Dad told Luther about the ad? Did the whole county know about it?

    Dad cleared his throat. “Luther said the folks runnin’ the fair turned away all but a third o’ the applicants. That to be chosen is not only a grt honor for ya but for all o’ Mecklenburg County.”

    He kept his head down. “I’m not going.”

    “I’m asking ya, son. Fer me.”

    Dropping his spoon in the bowl, Cullen whipped up the envelope, yanked out the letter, and shook it open. He skimmed it, quickly finding what he was looking for, then held it up for his dad. “Did Luther mention exhibitors are responsible for the costs of transporting, handling, arranging, and removing their exhibits?”

    “He did. He also said them fair folks weren’t chargin’ ya fer the space.”

    “Even still, do you have any idea how much it will cost just to transport the equipment?”

    Dad scratched his chin beneath his beard. “Seein’ as the railroad will let ya carry a hundred pounds fer free, I reckon it shouldn’t cost ya nothin’.”

    “Nothing but the packing crates, the fare to and from, my room for six months, my meals for six months, a suit that fits, city boots, extraneous expenses, and who knows what else.”

    Dad raised his brows. “Since ya seem to know so much about it, maybe ya oughta be tellin’ me how much it costs.”

    “I have no idea.”

    “Well, I do. Somewheres around three hundred dollars.”

    Alice took a quick breath.

    “Then why are we even discussing this?”

    “Because I already paid it.”

    Alice whipped her head toward Dad.

    “Paid it?” Cullen’s body flashed hot, then cold. “Are you out of your mind? No. That’s, that’s . . . crazy.”

    “Well, it’s all arranged. Marty down at the train station took care of it fer me.”

    “Where did you even get that kind of money?” It wasn’t his business, and under normal circumstances, he’d never have had the gall to ask. But these weren’t normal circumstances.

    “I had a little tucked away from when the cash was rollin’ in back in ’90 and ’91.”

    “A little?” Cullen’s lungs quit working. Try as he might, only a quiver of air would go through his pipes. “That’s a whole year’s harvest,” he rasped. “It’s way too much. And you know it. Especially with cotton prices as shaky as they are right now.”

    “Pshaw. We’re fine.”

    Alice pushed back from the table, her expression tight, her movements jerky.

    Cullen grabbed the napkin from his neck. “Well, I’m not going. You’ll have to tell them you changed your mind.”

    Dad took a deep breath. “Life’s an unsure thing, son. You know that firsthand. Sometimes, ya just got to rch out and grab it, right by the tail.”

    “What about the crop?”

    “Dewey’s boys said they’d hire on.”

    Cullen’s jaw slackened. “You’ve already asked them?”


    “What about Wanda? We’re supposed to get married.”

    Dad studied him. “Ya set a date?”

    “Well, no, but we’re going to. And it’ll be sooner rather than later.”

    Dad folded his napkin in half, then in half again. “Forever’s a long time. A few months on the front end or the back end won’t make much difference.”

    “We’re not talking about a few months. We’re talking half a year. We’re talking the planting, the weeding, and half the harvesting. We’re talking clear to November.”

    Dad hooked his thumbs in his suspenders. “I know how long the fair runs.”

    His nostrils flared. “What if I went all the way up there and nobody wanted it?”

    “Then ya can come on home and be a frmr. You’ll be no worse off than ya are now.”

    “You’ll be three hundred dollars poorer! The economy is in a mess and farming is as unreliable as a woman’s watch. I had no idea you even had a cushion like that. The last thing you want to do is spend it on something so frivolous.” He paused. “I can’t take it, Dad. It’s too much. I’d never forgive myself if it was all for nothing.”

    “I’m gifting it to ya.”

    Alice slammed a coffeepot onto the stove.

    “I’m gifting it right back,” Cullen said.

    Dad dragged a hand down his face. It had been a long time since the two of them butted heads.

    “I know you mean well, Dad, but children are always saying stupid things. Things like, ‘I want to be a sheriff when I grow up’ or ‘I want be the president’ or,” he lowered his voice, “ ‘I want to be an inventor.’ It means nothing. It’s silly talk.”

    “Not if that’s what they’re destined to be.”

    Feeling all the bluster leave him, he allowed his shoulders to slump and played his final card. “I’m going deaf, Dad. Even if I manage to find investors, once they learn I can’t hear like a normal person and that I belong in an asylum, they’ll withdraw their offers.”

    Alice twisted around, her face stricken, her hands crinkling her apron.

    Dad’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tensed. “Yer not goin’ deaf and ya don’t belong in a madhouse. So maybe you have a lttl trouble hearing every single word a fella utters. Ya get by just fine.”

    “When things are nice and quiet I do, but it’s getting worse. Especially if there are other—”

    Dad held up his palm, effectively stopping him. “Madhouses are fer crazy people. There’s nothing wrong with yer think box. You’re more book smart than over half the county.”

    “Nobody cares about book smarts once they find out there’s something wrong with you. Just look at Ophelia Ashford. She went blind after staring at the sun and her parents shipped her off to Blackwell’s lickety-split.”

    “Miss Ashford’s parents are the ones who should be locked up, not her. But quit changing the subject. I’ve already wired them folks up in Chicago and accepted their invite. I’ve found ya a boardin’ house and paid fer yer room—nonrefundable, nontransferable. I’m not asking ya anymore. I’m telling ya. It’s why yer mother learned ya. You may be able to let all her hard work—her life’s work—go fer nothing, but I’m not.” Lifting up one hip, he pulled a ticket and a bulging envelope from his pocket, then slid them across the table. “Yer gettin’ on the Richmond & Danville in one week’s time. Yer goin’ to Chicago. Yer stayin’ at a boardin’ house called Harvell. And yer gonna give this thing a chance. The best chance it’s ever had. I’ll see ya in November.”

    The anger simmering inside began to bubble again. He could not believe this. Swiping up the ticket, the money, and the letter, he stood. “Fine. I’ll go. And I’ll fail, like I always do. Then I’ll come back and we can put this thing to bed once and for all.”

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for It Happened at the Fair includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Deeanne Gist. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


    Cullen McNamara didn’t set out to be an inventor. He had long ago settled on a life of farming, but his debilitating allergies to cotton—and a tragic history with his mother—continued to steer him toward his idea for inventing an automatic fire sprinkler system. With the support of his father, Cullen attends the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and finds more than just a platform for his invention. A beautiful lip-reading teacher quickly turns his world upside down, and everything he thought he knew about himself—and life—changes.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. In It Happened at the Fair, we are introduced to a hard-of-hearing farmer with severe allergic reactions to his crops. What are your first impressions of Cullen McNamara? Why do you think he was so resigned to a life of farming, even though it made him miserable?

    2. Cullen’s father manages to persuade Cullen to attend the fair after confessing he has paid the nonrefundable money for Cullen’s travel expenses and fair fees. Despite Cullen’s protests, do you think he was privately happy about this? Why or why not?

    3. Describe Cullen and Wanda’s relationship. How does he view his girlfriend? Why is he hesitant to set a date for their wedding?

    4. Adelaide Wentworth, the beautiful lip-reading teacher at the fair, is hesitant to trust Cullen at first. Even when he proves his loyalty, she suspects he is lying. What makes her so distrusting? How do you think that defined her character?

    5. Della is forbidden from teaching sign language to her pupils because if they were to engage in it, they would be branded as different and therefore less than. How do you feel about that stigma? How has the stigma changed since the 1890s?

    6. One of the overarching themes of the culture of America during the World’s Fair appeared to be assimilation—if you weren’t one of us, you were against us. Beyond the sign-language stigma, in what other ways did this culture manifest?

    7. Wanda accused Cullen of not being honest when he wrote the letter to break their engagement. She said he should have done it in person and that two more months wouldn’t have mattered. Did Cullen do the right thing in writing Wanda to break off their engagement? Should he have waited and done it in person? Should he have written earlier? What else could he have done?

    8. The backdrop of the World’s Fair adds a certain ethereal magic to Cullen and Della’s relationship. How do you think things would have developed under different circumstances?

    9. Cullen refuses to retaliate against or reprimand the manual sprinkler salesman, even though he feels certain Bulenberg sabotaged his shed demonstration. How would you have reacted in Cullen’s position? Why do you think he refused to address it?

    10. Why do you think Cullen chose not to tell Della when he met her that he was engaged? Do you think he had feelings for her from the very beginning?

    11. If someone had lied to you about having a fiancée, would you forgive him under the right circumstances?

    12. Vaughn advised Cullen that he should not disclose his loss of hearing to potential clients since it had no bearing on the reliability of his sprinkler system. Yet Cullen felt this might be lying by omission, especially if he knew the client would object to working with someone with a disability. Who was right—Vaughn or Cullen? Why?

    13. Discuss the author’s note. Had you wondered if her descriptions were real? Is the Chicago World’s Fair an event you wish you had been able to attend?

    14. What were your favorite descriptions from the fair?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. The Chicago World’s Fair wasn’t just about celebrating inventions—it was about celebrating America and its innovations. Choose a local museum to attend with your book club, preferably one focusing on North American history. If there are multiple museums in your area, make a day of it.

    2. Pick three buildings as themes and ask everyone to bring something fun or unique, old or new, that would have gone in one of the “buildings.” Set up three tables and label each with its “building” name and have everyone put their items on the tables as they arrive. For example, “Art Palace” would have paintings, sculpture, music, etc. The “Woman’s Building” would have cooking, lace and tableware, shoes and clothing, and household items. “Horticulture” would have plants, seeds, gardening tools, etc. Be sure to make time for everyone to share why they chose the items they brought.

    3. Give each person a card with one of these words written on it: eat, love, hurt, help, more, please, thank you, daddy, mommy, cheese, meat, banana, cereal, cookie, drink, juice, milk, hot, cold, all done. Have them make up a sign for their word and try to communicate it to the group. If the group is a little shy, this can be less intimidating if done in pairs, but it is hilarious when done as a group. If there is someone who knows sign language, have that person demonstrate the real signs afterward. If not, here’s a link to an animation of each sign: Sign demonstrations can also be found on YouTube, so feel free to make up your own list of words to play with.

    4. In honor of Cullen and Della’s romance, have your book club make their favorite hot cocoa recipes for your next meeting. If the weather is warm, experiment with frozen hot chocolate instead!

    A Conversation with Deeanne Gist

    What was the biggest motivating factor that made you want to write about the Chicago World’s Fair?

    I’m always drawn to events in our country’s past that are strangely absent from our history classes. Why the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition has been left out, I don’t know. Especially since it was such a pivotal event for us. 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 which lent itself to so many possibilities, how could I resist?

    What was your favorite detail to write about?

    All of them were my favorites! So much so, I had a horrible time trying to decide which details to leave out. I read thousands of pages about the fair, its exhibits, and its programs. All of them fascinating. All of them worthy of being included. Some that I found particularly interesting were among the applications submitted for exhibit space.

    One hopeful wanted to make a suite of apartments beneath the waters of Lake Michigan. Someone from England wanted to be placed on exhibition as the Messiah. A father of an “infant prodigy” wanted his baby to introduce the leading orator at the dedication ceremonies. And a vendor of cosmetics wanted to “varnish” half of a “wrinkled hag’s” face with his products and at the end of the fair reveal her features (on that half ) to be “sleek and smooth.”

    How did you come up with the idea to delete parts of words in dialogue between Cullen and other characters?

    When I write I try to get deep into my character’s “head” so that the reader will experience what the protagonist is experiencing. Therefore, if Cullen couldn’t hear a word and had to figure it out by context, then by default, so did the reader.

    Do you think it effectively demonstrated what kind of context clues Cullen had to struggle with to understand someone?

    Golly, I hope so. It was difficult to find just the right balance. I needed to show his struggle with hearing—and it needed to escalate—yet I didn’t want to irritate the reader, especially the fast readers who were bound to get tripped up by the abbreviated words. Trying to find that line was definitely a challenge.

    What do you think about the views of the oralists and manualists from that time period?

    I was amazed at how the debate was symbolic of a much deeper struggle going on in America. Keep in mind that only twenty-eight years had passed since the end of the Civil War and each generation was still feeling its aftereffects. Because of that, divisions within the nation were not only suppressed, but also considered downright dangerous.

    Before the Civil War, the motivation for teaching sign language was to teach the deaf about Christ. At that time, society was extremely concerned with a person’s soul and inner being. After the Civil War, the motivation for teaching lip-reading was to make everyone more homogeneous, less different. Ever since, our society has become more and more focused on outside appearances and less concerned about the inner essence of an individual. Explains a lot about today’s culture, doesn’t it?

    Which side would you have been on?

    It’s so hard to project what I’d have done at the time. The oralists really did believe they were doing something benevolent for the deaf community. With hindsight, however, it seems that teaching both oralism and manualism would have been the thing to do.

    Della seemed to be ahead of the curve when it came to women’s rights. Did you intentionally write her character as more feminist?

    There were many feminists at the World’s Fair in general and in the Woman’s Building in particular. In May, women held a “World’s Congress” at the fair. It marked the second greatest international convention of women. (The first had been in Liverpool ten years prior.) Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Clara Barton were among the speakers. The newspaper reported: “The hall of Washington was a sea of bonnets, with here and there a scared-looking man peering between them.” (Ha. I love the newspapers from back in the day. So hilarious.)

    So with that in mind, I felt I needed to have Della in-the-know as far as the feminist movement went. So that’s why she might have appeared “ahead of the curve.” (Great question, by the way.)

    Was it true that an automatic fire sprinkler system would have helped prevent the Cold Storage fire?

    I can only guess at this since I’m neither a fire investigator nor a fire-prevention expert of any kind. But it seems to me that it would have put out that initial fire in the cupola, doesn’t it to you? If not, it seems that it might have bought the firemen more time. I just don’t know. What do y’all think?

    Is that the event that inspired the idea for Cullen’s invention story line?

    Believe it or not, I had already decided on his invention before I read about the fire. My inspiration came from looking through a giant book of the fair. It had thousands of pictures. One of them was of an exhibit of fire extinguishers. It struck me as interesting that fire extinguishers were so cutting-edge that they’d inspired not only an exhibit, but also a photograph for the book. When I found out about the Cold Storage fire, it was as if it were meant to be. I refer to those types of happenings as a “God-thing.”

    Wanda’s speech is riddled with grammatical errors and irregular pronunciations. Was her speech reminiscent of country dialect during that time, or was it used as a device of contrast to demonstrate how differently educated she and Cullen were?

    LOL. Girl, don’t ya know we still talk like that around these parts?

    I hear that dialect ever’ day o’ my ever-lovin’ life.? I will admit, however, to wielding it in order to juxtapose the two characters.

    Della seemed very mature for being twenty years old. Do you think women were “forced” to mature more quickly in that time because they married younger? Or was Della simply special?

    Oh, golly. Now you’re making me tell all my secrets. I don’t really know. I do that with all my female leads, because, I mean, who wants a dimwit as a heroine?

    What is your favorite genre to write?

    So long as it happened in America, I enjoy writing about it. I’ve written in time periods ranging from 1644 to 1903. I do seem to have an affinity for the turn of the century, though. But then, I like the mid-1800s too. The 1600s were pretty tough to research. Not a lot of records from Pocahontas’s day. Don’t know if I’d want to tackle that time period again.

    Do you ever miss writing for magazines?

    Not for a minute. Not even for a second. The journalism simply supported my “fiction habit.” Writing novels is definitely my first love.

    What is your favorite thing about writing love stories?

    That initial spark of attraction between a man and a woman, and the push and pull of emotions during the courtship are my favorite. That’s such a fun time. I love to recollect those times in my own life when my man was courting me thirty years ago. A good portion of our courtship took place in Norway because we were oil brats and our parents lived next door to each other. During the summer, when the sun stayed in the sky until 2:00 a.m., Greg would take me to the golf course to teach me how to play golf. He’d take me out there only at 11:00 p.m. because it was totally empty and he didn’t want me holding up any other players.

    One of those times, I brought a tripod and camera with me. I set it up and took pictures, then made him do silly things such as pretend he was hitting a ball from the boughs of a tree or I’d laid him low with a golf ball to the head. I’ve attached a picture for you. (Note the golf ball resting on his eye.) LOL. He would NEVER do something like that now and is so embarrassed that he did it then. Hahaha. Love those times.

    Do you prefer writing historical novels over modern-day?

    I much prefer historicals to contemporaries. Things were simpler, more charming, and the dresses were downright yummy. I also find it intriguing that the things they struggled with are so relevant to what we still struggle with today.

    Do you have plans to write another book?

    Of course! I’m already deep in the research phase. For a sneak peek at the main characters, download my eShort, Tempest in the White City, from your favorite online store. For even more info, you can sign up for my newsletter at Then you’ll be privy to all kinds of secrets and exclusives!

    Will we be seeing Cullen or Della again?

    They might make a cameo appearance in my 2014 novel, but I won’t know for sure until I finish writing it.

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    It Happened at the Fair: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This was a great story. I couldn't put it down. As usual, it had just the right amount of sexual tension (nothing inappropriate - I would let my young teenage daughter read it) which is why I LOVE Deeanne Gist's books. The story line was not predicatble and very sweet. However, I do have one complaint. The garbled words with the letters left out were very annoying. I did not realize they were there on purpose until I read the author's notes at the end of the book. I had contacted Barnes and Noble for a refund thinking that it was a Nook glitch
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I love reading Deeanne Gist's books. They make me smile!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I truly enjoyed both the story and the history. Definitely read the authors notes about the history.They added to my perspective as I read.
    CrowesNest More than 1 year ago
    As usual Deeanne has delivered! I love her books. They are a great,easy read that is so enjoyable that I can't seem to put them down. Now all I have to do is wait for at least another year for her to write the next one. If you start reading this book, make sure to have your chores done. Nothing will get done while you read!
    ruthhill74 More than 1 year ago
    When I first picked up this book, I wondered why on earth I was reading another "sappy historical romance." I am so glad that the author proved me wrong! I was absolutely enthralled by this book to the point that I did not want to put it down. The story was somewhat predictable at times, but it was different enough that I was intrigued. I fell in love with Della and Cullen, and I wanted to see how the author drew everything together at the end. And she did draw it together extremely well. I really appreciated several things about this book. First, it was clean in every way. The Christian message was there but not too strong. I think the sovereignty of God was there, and it was clear that both characters could not have made it without their faith in God. Secondly, the historical accuracy of the book was a bonus. The author explains at the end how she took a lot of creative license with the story and historical facts, but the gist of the story about the World's Fair was true. She took no more liberties than most historical fiction writers do. I had not realized what a big deal the Chicago World's Fair was. Nor had I known of the lip-reading movement amongst the deaf--or at least not the extent of it. If you like clean historical romances, I invite you to check out this wonderfully sweet book for yourself. I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.
    Broadwayphan902 More than 1 year ago
    This book truly is amazing. It is seriously one of the best books I have ever read.It has made me experience so many emotions and it was so informative of so many subjects, I cannot even believe how well-written it is. I completely love the two main characters, Della and Cullen. Typically, I don't care about the hero and heroine as much as I do in this book, but they are amazing. I completely "fell in love with" Cullen just like Della did. Cullen is a cotton farmer from North Carolina who is allergic to cotton. He is great at inventing things, and when his father buys him an exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to display his automatic fire sprinkler system, he reluctantly goes. Della is a lip-reading teacher for young children, and her school moves to Chicago during the fair to display what they teach. The Machinery Building that Cullen's display is in is extremely loud. Coupled with his already failing hearing, the noise makes it impossible to interact with his possible clients. Finally, Cullen gives in and begs teacher Della to give him lip-reading lessons, which prove to be very hard for him because he finds himself having trouble concentrating while staring at the pretty young woman's lips. The history and all the research Dee put into it made me become absolutely obsessed with the Chicago World's Fair. I want to learn way more about it now after reading this book. Also, the start of every new chapter included a real photo from the fair. How awesome is that??? Seriously, this book is one of the best I have ever read. Words cannot describe how amazing it is. Go, buy a copy, and read it. You will not regret it.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I love Gist's work. However this book read more like your 8th grade Social Studies book complete with pictures and all rather then a novel. Every now and then a few of the cute, romantic scenes that characterize Gist's typical pieces or work were interlacd between the thorough history of the Worlds Fair. History buffs may enjoy this book however this was one of my least favorites.However I do admire all of the research that Gist had to have done to describe the world fair so accurrately in her book. Nevertheless it was a difficult read to get through and the pictures were unnecessary.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I am, in general, a fan of Deeanne Gist. However, I feel some of her best works are her earlier ones, though, and this novel affirms that feeling. I really appreciated the historical climate and situation of the 1893 Worlds Fair. The amount of detail poured into the book was done tastefully and I did not feel like it distracted from the story. The problem lies more with the fact that there is very little story. Punctuated by extremely short chapters that rudely segment any sense of flow - the plot cannot fill an entire book - let alone one of this length. We have no significant over-arching conflict that propels the story forward. All we have is tiny snippets of Cullen struggling with being pseudo-engaged, yet attracted to a woman who is not his fiancee. Even in that, though, we have very little understanding of why the financee exists in the first place - or why the relatively loveless "understanding" has not been rectified before this. This takes away significantly from the feeling of tension we should have. His struggle with his invention at the fair is a plausible one - but still done so lightly (and briefly) that it cannot fill the pages it aspires to. Della is an even more poorly drawn character. There are few scenes that really help us dive into who she is or how she is feeling about Cullen and her struggle with teaching sign-language to the deaf is not explained well enough for us to feel the real conflict. The entire book just...lacks. And the passion and tension Gist is known for almost entirely gets slammed into the last few pages of the book. It's an awkward transition. But, well, the entire book is a bit awkward. I was happy for a one-time read because of the vivid description of the fair but the pleasure, unfortunately, ended there.
    Nikki_F More than 1 year ago
    A great historical romance set at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Cullen McNamara is a farmer with severe pollen allergies.  He can barely breath while working in the fields.  Scared his son will die because of this, Cullen’s father forces him to take his automatic sprinklers to exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  There, Cullen realizes his secret partial hearing loss will keep him from finding buyers for his product.  Desperate to pay back what was spent on his trip and save his father’s farm, Cullen seeks out a young lady named Della who teaches lip reading to deaf children.  “It Happened at the Fair” is Deeanne Gist’s new historical romance. The character development in this novel was fantastic.  Cullen is a gentleman.  Learning about what was considered proper and moral conduct between unmarried men and women was incredibly interesting.  Della is a strong, great female character.  She is so kindhearted and passionate about her teaching.  It was interesting to watch her grow and change as the novel progressed. My favorite aspect of this novel, however, was the strong background and period detail.  Not only does the novel include pictures of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, but also on behavior, propriety, and the attitude toward anyone who was different.  Learning that deaf or hearing-impaired people were actually locked up and thought of as insane was unbelievable.   The novel took a bit to get going, but once it did it was a worthwhile and interesting read.  The romance and relationship between Cullen and Della was a great addition to the story.  This is definitely a novel I would recommend. I received this book through Goodreads First Reads.  This in no way influenced my review.  I was not compensated for, nor required to, write a review.
    VicG More than 1 year ago
    Deeanne Gist in her new book "It Happened at the Fair" published by Howard Books takes us into the life of Cullen McNamara and Della Wentworth. From the back cover: Gambling everything--including the family farm--Cullen McNamara travels to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with his most recent invention. But the noise in the fair's Machinery Hall makes it impossible to communicate with potential buyers. In an act of desperation, he hires Della Wentworth, a teacher of the deaf, to tutor him in the art of lip-reading. The young teacher is reluctant to participate, and Cullen has trouble keeping his mind on his lessons while intently watching her lips. Like the newly invented Ferris wheel, he is caught in a whirl between his girl back home, his dreams as an inventor, and his unexpected attraction to his new tutor. Can he keep his feet on the ground, or will he be carried away? I like history and Deanne Gist has captured the history of the Chicago World's Fair and then some. The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition was a magical place. The White City was made up of structures built especially for the expo-buildings that would set the standard in architecture for a century to come. Exhibition halls overflowed with the latest innovations welcomed by a throng of people from all around the globe. Ms. Gist blends romance and historical fiction to bring the past alive through her extensive period research. You will find yourself not only caught up with the exciting backdrop of the fair, but the blossoming romance between Cullen and Della. And, at this Fair, you will also encounter President Grover Cleveland, Alexander Graham Bell, Helen Keller, and Ann Sullivan, actually attendees of the legendary fair. Great characters and a great romance. I really liked "It Happened at the Fair" and look forward to more stories from Deeanne Gist. If you missed the interview for "A Bride In The Bargain", a different series from Deeanne Gist, and would like to listen to it and/or interviews with other authors and professionals please go to Kingdom Highlights where they are available On Demand. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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    AnneMarieG1 More than 1 year ago
    Wonderful! Deeanne Gist is one of my favorite authors and for good reason. Her historical research is meticulous, her characters are believable and worth rooting for, and her plots are fun, romantic and interesting. Throw in an engaging, charming writing style and It Happened at the Fair is yet another winning book by this author. I loved it.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Laura_Pol More than 1 year ago
    This was such a fun adventure to read about by Deeanne! I am purely amazed at how she describes so wonderfully and realistically! I felt like I was at the fair, but I just couldn't touch anything (which would have been so cool)! My favorite part of this novel was by far the detail of everything! It would have been amazing to see some of the events and exhibits that Cullen and Della saw! I was really appreciative of Dee including pictures at the beginning of almost every chapter so I could have a real-life picture/drawing of the fair! The only thing I was bummed about was how fast I felt the ending was! The novel has a slow moving pace which I was content with, but when a certain event happens (which will remain nameless) it quickens a lot faster then I expected! It really caught me by surprised and made me feel that the ending was too rushed for me to really enjoy! However beside that, I loved this novel! I thoroughly enjoyed Cullen and Della as well as their outings! I learned so much about an important part of the history of America that I would strongly recommend this novel to history lovers! It left me wishing I could travel back in time and thanking God for the wisdom He gives men! I give It Happened at the Fair a 4.5 out of 5 stars!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Fact filled but was a very slow read, didn't keep my attention for very long. Found to be a book that you could put down and come back to days later.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The story was very predictable...I did like the history of the Chicago World Fair. Kept waiting for the characters from "Tempest in the White City" to be integrated into the story. Very disappointing.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Read the first chapter. Was probably one of the worse chapters I've ever read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I read this book a while back, and honestly I found it boring. There was no plot, and it just seemed to drag on forever! I usually love Deeane Gist's books, but this one was sadly lacking. If this is your first time reading Deeane Gist, and you didn't like this book, I would definitely recommend reading one of her other books. One of my personal favorites is "Bride in the Bargain". Don't give up on her; she's usually a great author... this book just flopped :)
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Kind of boring.
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Plus what is called spiritual label in our library. Enjoyed fair scene cause lived in chicago and subs. I do not see why free book reviews honest are always five stars. This is a quick cozy read but not a pulitzer prize M.A
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed this book and rhe characters. The world fair was such a unique setting. I liked all the information the author had about it. I think it'd be great if the author did several books that used the Fair as the setting. Or even if she just did a nonfiction companion book that shared all the intersting stuff she found while researching.