Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Fair Play 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.
The only “mannish” thing about Dr. Billy Jack Tate is her name. A female doctor in the 1890s, Billy graduated at the top of her class and won’t let anything—or anyone—stand in her way. When Billy lands a job as a doctor at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, she is already a successful surgeon and finds herself one step closer to her own medical practice. But after her chance (and revealing) meeting with the rugged and very traditional Texas Ranger Hunter Scott, a reluctant romance blossoms, and Billy is forced to consider a future without medicine—or without Hunter.
When Hunter discovers an abandoned infant in the White City exhibit, his and Billy’s search to find its parents leads them down a path of discovery, hope, and loss as they help erect a playground for underprivileged children on the West Side of Chicago. As Billy and Hunter pursue their common goal, their passion and respect for each other grow, and the two must decide whether love is more important than having it all.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Dr. Billy Jack Tate, a female doctor in the 1890s, firmly believes women are just as capable as (if not more than) men. What events or circumstances may have shaped her beliefs? What kind of challenges would a woman with these attitudes face in the late 1800s?
2. One of Billy’s strategies for being successful in a male-dominated profession is to make men forget she’s a woman. Is this a good long-term strategy? Why or why not?
3. What are your first impressions of Hunter Scott?
4. Describe Billy and Hunter’s relationship at the beginning of Fair Play. How does discovering and spending time with Joey change the dynamic between them?
5. Would you describe Billy as a feminist? Why or why not?
6. How does Hunter perpetuate female stereotypes? What about male stereotypes?
7. In Fair Play, Billy often defies gender stereotypes and expectations for her generation. Can you think of any examples in which Hunter does not meet similar cultural expectations of how a man should act?
8. Do you think Billy was fair in her terms for her marriage to Hunter? Do you think her terms would be perceived differently if she were the man in the relationship?
9. Hunter and Billy’s mutual interest in creating a safe space for children to play on the West Side nurtured their burgeoning romance. Why do you think both were willing to sacrifice their jobs to make this happen?
10. Ownership is a significant theme in Fair Play. What are some examples of characters who believed they owned something or someone? How do those examples differ, and why were they important to the characters’ development?
11. Billy’s encounter with Kruse and his friends reminded her of how physically weak she was compared to some men. What do you think ultimately made her decide not to report them to the police? How do you think this changed her views on women’s capabilities compared to men’s?
12. In Fair Play, we are introduced to people of many nationalities, professions, income levels, and circumstances. Why was diversity so important in the plot? How was it a driving force behind Billy and Hunter’s relationship?
13. Billy and Hunter’s romance demonstrated that compromise is an Essential element of a successful, loving relationship. Do you think their compromises for each other in the end were balanced? Why or why not?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Billy and Hunter’s romance centered on pursuing their passions, and building a playground was one of them. Pack a picnic basket and take your book club to a park for the day—preferably one with historical significance!
2. The Woman’s Congress at the Chicago World’s Fair featured some of history’s most influential women, such as Susan B. Anthony. Assign famous female figures to each book club member and have him or her recite a brief biography, as well as any quotes or clips from World’s Fair lectures.
3. Fair Play often focuses on children who are forced to grow up too quickly due to circumstance. Ask each book club member to bring in memorabilia from his or her childhood—a toy, a photograph, a journal entry, anything. Take turns describing what these items represent in your development into adults and how growing up in the 1890s might have shaped you differently.
4. Names and identity are important themes in Fair Play. Have each member research his or her name and its meaning. Discuss how these names may have impacted their identity or choices.
A Conversation with Deeanne Gist
1. This is your second novel taking place at the Chicago World’s Fair. What made you want to revisit this place and time in our country’s history?
While writing It Happened at the Fair, it was impossible to include all the wonderful tidbits I learned about the fair. And there were some I so desperately wanted to include—like the fact that the Board of Lady Managers put on a contest asking for women architects to submit plans for the Woman’s Building. Then a twenty-one-year-old girl fresh out of MIT won! Can you imagine having that as your very first job?
So I asked the publisher if the next two books could have a tie-in to the fair. And they said yes—on the condition that the fair be a secondary character, not a primary character like it was in the first book. Thus, we briefly visit the fair in Fair Play but a majority of the novel takes place in the city of Chicago. Book Three of the series will also have a tie-in to the fair, but it will be set in New York for the most part.
This will allow the reader to read these books in any order they like, since they are all stand-alones and don’t build on each other.
2. You are known for writing strong-minded, whip-smart female leads. What was your inspiration for Billy?
I knew I wanted to use the Woman’s Building as my initial backdrop. As I researched it, I discovered it had an infirmary staffed completely by females. Immediate possibilities began running through my mind. I wondered how an alpha male would feel if he collapsed in the Woman’s Building and found himself faced with a woman doctor. That was the moment both Billy and Hunter were conceived.
3. What kind of research did you conduct to learn Texan catchphrases circa 1893?
That part was easy. I live in Texas, where those kinds of phrases have been passed down for generations and are still alive and well. Maybe not so much in the urban areas, but certainly in the more rural ones. It was great fun to include some of my favorites.
4. Did you discover any surprising facts about famous female figures from the late 1800s/early 1900s while you researched Fair Play?
I really enjoyed learning about the president of the Board of Lady Managers, Bertha Palmer. I’d never heard of her until I began studying the fair. She was married to a real estate magnate who was one of the founders of Marshall Field’s. He was twenty-three years her senior, but it was a love match and he placed great store on her business acumen. Each evening they’d sit together and he’d go over all his business transactions of the day, then ask for her input—an unheard-of practice at the time.
He sold his shares of Marshall Field’s to his partners, and built a lavish, opulent hotel as a wedding gift to Bertha. Thirteen days after it opened, it burned to the ground during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. They lost everything. Bertha was instrumental in working “behind the man” to rebuild not only Palmer House Hotel, but their fortune.
5. How much do real people in your life inspire the development of characters in your books? Does Hunter, for example, have anything in common with your husband?
All of my characters are fictitious, but I’m sure my life’s experiences influence how I write certain characters. My husband is definitely an alpha Texan with a dry sense of humor, a touch of bravado, and a fierce instinct to protect those who are weaker. When you’re married to a man like that, it’s not very hard to write heroes who are attractive on the outside and even more attractive within.
6. Billy wants to “have it all,” to borrow a modern cliché, when it comes to having children and a career. Do you believe that’s possible for today’s woman? Do you think men are faced with similar challenges?
As I contemplate this, it seems to me that each person—man or woman—is so uniquely different that it would be impossible to give a blanket answer. One thing that continues to amaze me, though, is that women a hundred years ago were struggling with the same thing women today struggle with: balancing work and home. Or for those who were full-time homemakers, they often struggled to find an outlet for their more marketable talents while still fulfilling their obligations as wife and mother. It is every bit as delicate a balance today as it was then. It’s one I personally wrestle with on a continual basis.
7. What is your writing process usually like? How easy (or difficult) was it to write Fair Play?
My writing process seems to be getting harder instead of easier. When I first started writing, I would research for six months and write the book for six months. But as my career has matured, additional tasks have been added to the process: speaking engagements, social media, book signings, short stories, travel, events, blog tours, etc.
Before I was published, I’d see other authors doing those things and it all seemed so glamorous. But what I have found is, it is very difficult to meet all the expectations and still have time to write the book—especially with my dyslexia. With each new project, I try to come up with a new game plan. Ways I can manage my time so that I don’t get caught at the end of the process with way more book to write than I have hours in the day.
I’ve yet to find that magical formula. Ten weeks before Fair Play was due to be turned in, I worked eighty-hour weeks. Not quite the “balance” I was striving for!
So, if I don’t do quite as many public appearances as I did last year, quite as many blog posts, quite as many online interviews, it’s not because I’m snobbish. It’s because the most important thing I can do for my readers and my family is to put my backside in that chair and write the book.
8. Cullen McNamara from It Happened at the Fair made a cameo appearance in this novel. Will we be seeing Cullen, Della, Hunter, or Billy in any future novels?
I don’t know. I haven’t finished the next book yet! But if I can find a good spot, I’ll definitely include them. It’s something that has to kind of unfold as I go. But if they don’t make an appearance in the next book, it’s always possible they’ll show up in some other book.
For instance, Texas Ranger Lucious Landrum from Love on the Line walked onstage for a quick scene at the end of Fair Play. Had you asked me back in 2011 when that book came out if Lucious would be making any cameos, I’d have probably told you no.
In the same way, characters from my 2006 book, The Measure of a Lady, unexpectedly popped onto the pages of my 2009 book, A Bride in the Bargain—two totally unrelated books.
So I guess the best answer is . . . you never know. (And neither do I!) ?