by Marcia Melton and Janet Muirhead Hill
In Montana, as in many rural states, summer calendars are dotted with festivals, fairs, and rodeos designed to gather communities, enjoy the weather, and show off everything from roping and riding to quilting, cooking, crafts, and books. These events beckon to writers as a place to set up a booth and meet readers.
The Fort Benton Summer Celebration is a big one. Eager to share our books and having registered months in advance, we headed out as dawn was breaking. After a long drive, we arrived in beautiful old historic Fort Benton, along the banks of the Missouri River, for the 1:30 set-up time. The temperature hovered around 100 degrees.
The air hit us like a blast furnace when we stepped out of the air-conditioned car. We trudged across the park to find our spot, marked with a big fat “0” inscribed with red spray paint on the withering grass—an omen for what was to follow? Undaunted and filled with optimism, we lugged our discount, portable gazebo across the grass to our zero and attempted to put it together.
This item had been a lucky find, purchased for only $10.00 at an estate sale. Sure it was an obsolete design, but all the parts were there and in perfect condition. Even the nylon cover with net sides looked brand new. It couldn’t have been used more than once. An hour later, still struggling to get the thing straight and secured, we realized why.
Bathed in layers of sweat from the ordeal of fighting the construction of the gazebo, lugging tables, chairs, and our overly optimistic number of boxes of books from the car, we finally had the tables arranged and ready for sales. As we waited… and waited… for visitors to come look at our wonderful books, we (and the books) began to wilt a bit.
Temperatures continued to climb even as the sun sank in the western sky to throw the canopy’s thin shadow beyond its perimeter leaving us and the books in the unrelenting glare of the sun.
When closing time finally came, we’d sold one book. Now what? The next day, Saturday, we’d start early, but our leaning, sagging shelter didn’t look like it would stand the night—not if a breeze came up. We lowered the canopy halfway, to drape over the tops of the tables, where we’d put the books back in boxes.
Grateful that neither of us had died of heat stroke or heart attack, we dragged our exhausted bodies to our air-conditioned motel room and a cool shower, hoping for a better tomorrow.
Join Marcia and Janet next week for Part 2 of their "Summer Sales Sortie".
Marcia Melton and Janet Hill are colleagues and friends in Montana. Janet is the Publisher of Raven Publishing, Inc. of Norris, Montana, publishing the works of ten authors, and is the author of thirteen fiction books for middle graders and young adults. Marcia Melton has published two middle grade historical fiction titles with Raven, The Boarding House, and Joe Henry’s Journey.