Guest Blog Post: The Margaret Fishback Papers by Kathleen Rooney


85-year-old Lillian Boxfish is out for a stroll — of over 10-miles! New York City!! New Year’s Eve, 1984!!! Alone!!!! In the middle of the night!!!!!

Wondering and worrying how the best-seller historical fiction novel would end was plenty to keep me turning the pages of “Lillian Boxwood Takes a Walk.” All the more enticing is that author Kathleen Rooney modeled Boxwood after the country’s real-life highest-paid advertising woman of the 1930s, Margaret Fishback.

Here, with Rooney’s permission for Happiness Between Tails to re-publish her article from this site, she describes the inspiration behind her book…

Kathleen Rooney, poet, professor, and author of “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.”

The Margaret Fishback Papers by Kathleen Rooney

Back in May of 2007, thanks to a tip from my best-friend-from-high-school Angela Ossar, I got to be the first scholar ever to work with the newly acquired papers of the poet and advertising copywriter Margaret Fishback at Duke University’s Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History in Durham, North Carolina. I didn’t know it at the time, but Fishback would end up being the model on which I based the protagonist, Lillian Boxfish, of my second novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, which would end up coming out just slightly less than 10 years after my visit to Fishback’s archive.

Through an internship she held as part of her Library Science degree program, Angela got to be one of the first archivists to process and organize the Fishback materials. As she did so, she quickly realized that Fishback — a proto-feminist who was, at one point, the highest-paid advertising copywoman in the world, as well as a successful and well-published author of light verse — was a figure after my own heart. I love re-examining and rediscovering unjustly obscure figures, so getting a travel-to-collections grant from the university to check out the Fishback material was pretty much a dream come true.

While I was there, I connected with Fishback — her joy in her job and the identity and satisfaction she clearly found from her employment, as well as how she balanced creative pursuits and family demands with monetary ones — immediately. But it took me a long time to figure out what to do with my newfound encyclopedic knowledge of her life and times. In that spirit of not-quite-procrastination, here’s one of the poems from her 1932 collection I Feel Better Now, called “Getting Down to Work”:

Now, almost exactly a decade after I first worked with her archive, my novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk — based loosely on what I learned at Duke back in 2007 — is coming out from St. Martin’s Press. I hope that it will call more attention to this overlooked person and her role in shaping advertising as we know it. As the divisional copywriter at Macy’s, where she first worked in 1926, she revolutionized the house style and the style of advertising generally by adding humor to her ads. The humor of the ads is present in the poetry as well, even as it tends to take a slightly more world-weary and melancholy bent, like in this poem “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow,” also from I Feel Better Now:

Fishback’s books, as one can probably see by the fact that these are photographs of photocopies, are sadly long out of print and almost impossible to get a hold of.

But some of my most treasured acquisitions from my research that are now part of my own archive here at home include bound Xerox copies of every single one of her poetry collections, as well as her etiquette guide and guide to motherhood.

Her etiquette guide came out in 1938 and is called Safe Conduct: How to Behave and Why

And her guide to motherhood came out in 1945 and is called Look Who’s a Mother!

Both of these books, as well as each of her collections of witty verse, including her final one, Poems Made Up to Take Out, dating from 1963 —

— are delightful examples of Fishback’s voice.

Without the spirit and intelligence I found while doing my research in the papers of Margaret Fishback, I would never have been able to create Lillian. These photocopies — along with everything else I discovered in the Fishback archive roughly one decade ago — make me so happy to have gotten the chance to unearth her exceptional life and work thanks to Angela.

About Kathleen Rooney: she is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her most recent books include the national best-seller, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte (Spork Press, 2018). Her World War I novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is forthcoming from Penguin in August of 2020, and her criticism appears in The New York Times Magazine, The Poetry Foundation website, The Chicago TribuneThe Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay. Follow her at @KathleenMrooney
Do walk in your city for fun?…

Guest Blog Post: “Let’s get to Business: A Checklist for How to Become an Indie Author” by Shabnam Curtis


Picture by Andrew Neel @andrewneel
Picture by Andrew Neel @andrewneel

Combining creativity with business can be challenging. Author/blogger Shabnam Curtis is one heck of an organized writer! Here she generously shares her detailed and well-researched gameplan for self-publishing success of her book, “My Persian Paradox: Memories of an Iranian Girl”…

This Spiral Life

independent pic

Picture by Andrew Neel @andrewneel

(1121 words – 8 minute read) Independence has been the magic word through out my life. Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be independent. I’ve tried hard and succeeded in so many aspects of my life; immigration, finance, job back in Iran. But, I have been a paycheck lady ever since I came to the U.S. Every now and then I thought about becoming a freelancer again but didn’t seriously pursue it. I was not and am not ready for the financial risk. But a few years ago, I noticed an inside revolution and strong desire, demanding to create something new other than a freelance project analyst. The uprising in my heart took me home; I began writing my memoir.

Writing my memoir taught me develop more critical thinking skills, approaching the society from not one but many different viewpoints. In short…

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Guest Blog Post: How I Got Published (Big Time) by Lance Akiyama


How does an author get their book published by a big company, as opposed to doing it on their own? Hard work and good fortune figured into how a big-time publisher of how-to books reached out to Lance Akiyama. Together, they’ve put out four books (including a revised version of one) by him about how to make cool stuff from rubber bands, duct tape, and more.

Do you have first-hand experience? I’m gathering a following of fiction lovers who might enjoy my soon-to-be-published books, “Flamenco and the Sitting Cat,” and “Tango and the Sitting Cat.” Other authors have posted on Happiness Between Tails about their book experiences here and here and here and here and here and here.

Read on for Akiyama’s post about how he got published. He notes that non-fiction vs. fiction call for different methods…

Lance Akiyama, author of "Duct Tape Engineer" and more.
Lance Akiyama, author of “Duct Tape Engineer” and more.

My process for getting published was pretty unusual. I had created a series of free project tutorials on Instructables.com, which ranks pretty well if you search Google for ‘engineering projects for kids.’ At some point, my publisher’s editor had a book idea for a series of gadgets that were powered by rubber bands and made from household items. She went searching for someone who could realize that vision, found my work, and offered me the book deal! I don’t think many people have offers to become an author just drop into their inbox, but that’s how it happened.

DIY project books are a bit different than publishing a novel. There’s no outline phase. Instead, there’s a tinkering phase; I had to experiment with about 30-40 project ideas before settling on 20-ish and then spending more time fine-tuning those ideas so they could be easily recreated at home by the reader. The editing phase is more focused on the clarity of the step-by-step instructions rather than the plot or character development. And finally, I had to take hundreds of pictures in my tiny home studio. Well, ‘studio’ is a generous term. Really it was a folding table with a cloth backdrop that was set up in my bedroom. But eventually all the pieces came together, and the publisher’s design team polished up all the content into a great-looking layout!

The next few books followed a similar pattern: my editor had an idea, asked me if I wanted to author the book, and then tinkered & wrote & produced all the materials. But after 4 books plus one revised edition, I think I’m ready to take a break from writing!

Cover of "Duct Tape Engineer" by Lance Akiyama.

About Lance Akiyama: he’s an avid tinkerer, and voted Most Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse. He currently holds a full-time position as a science curriculum developer for Galileo Learning, an innovative summer camp company. His mission is to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and artists with hands-on projects that make kids think, “I can’t believe I made that!” Contact @ MadeForSTEAM.com/contact

Hope for Novelists and Other Writers by da-AL


Do you have an elevator speech? Book writers are told that they need an ‘elevator speech’ — a one-minute pitch for when they inadvertently meet their star-maker. It’s also useful for talking about one’s book with everyone else.

Theoretically, that is. My elevator speech rarely gets past the first floor.

Bunny rabbit outfitted person reads paper.
Ryan McGuire of Gratisography is a smart bunny.

But I love my books, which is why I keep at them. My two novels are in the final edit phase as I build an audience of followers (that means you, dear reader) who I hope will be interested in them when they’re self-published. They’re narrated by a 40-year-old woman, in the form of letters to a deceased grandmother.

“An epistolary novel: written in the form of a series of letters.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The Hope Part of this Post: This video reminds me of me pitching my book — and Maria Keogh Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” did great!

Here’s part 2 of her pitching (this time to another very successful author), which is also shown comically yet realistically…

Semple’s book is so successful that Cate Blanchette is starring in a movie version of it!

What’s been people’s reaction when you tell them about your books?

Guest Blog Post: My Road to Getting Published by Geoffrey Simpson


The story of how author Geoffrey Simpson, who just released “The Three Hares,” got his first book published — in his own words…

Geoffrey Simpson, author of The Three Hares
Geoffrey Simpson, author of The Three Hares

On a gloomy January morning, the air was heavy and uninspired. I read an article about ancient symbols—a distraction from those about politics, rife with propaganda. One symbol, with three rabbits chasing one another in an infinite circle, struck a chord. A whirlwind flooded my conscience.

Although I’ve never written before, a few story ideas were tucked away for a rainy day. That same morning, I began to plot. That same gloomy day was the beginning of an adventurous journey to becoming an author. 

Three months later, manuscript in hand and an intent to self-publish, an author friend of the family strongly encouraged me to find an editor. I hadn’t planned on investing in this project, but I also never expected to write a novel. 

As an author, I’ve transitioned through two distinct phases. There was pre-Janet, and post-Janet. As you probably assumed, Janet Fix, owner of thewordverve inc., agreed to become my editor, mentor, and inspirer.

With a polished manuscript and newfound confidence, I changed course from self-publishing and sought an agent. A thrilling adventure began, but as the queries went out, the feedback was unanimous. “Unfortunately, I’m not the right agent for this project.” Not a single manuscript request came forth.

Discouraged and circling back toward self-publishing, I spoke to Janet the Inspirer. She, who wasn’t just an editor, was transitioning her business from hybrid to traditional publishing, asked me to join Team Verve.

Twelve months after that gloomy January morning, Janet became my publisher, and there’s no looking back. Today, Janet is editing the sequel to The Three Hares, and I am writing the third installment of this five-book YA adventure/mystery series. It is this partnership/friendship which has made all the difference.

Cover of Geoffrey Simpson's book, The Three Hares

I’ve got two novels I’m writing. What are your experiences with traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?

5. Ever been told…? by da-AL


Ever been told that the ultimate tragedy (and crime) for a girl or a woman is not to be regarded as physically attractive?
Ever been told that the ultimate tragedy (and crime) for a girl and a woman is not to be regarded as physically attractive?

Guest Blog Post: “My Personal Path to Self-Publishing” by Lisa Kentgen, Ph.D.


When it comes to publishing, deciding which route to take can be a challenge.

For the traditional route, once an author writes a book, they sign on with an agent or publishing house. The author shares a hefty percentage of the sales, in exchange for the agent doing everything involved in getting attention and sales.

A self-publisher keeps all the money — but does everything, including possible hiring of an editor and book designer, buying advertising, etc.

New York City psychologist, Lisa Kentgen, Ph.D., debuted, “An Intentional Life: Five Foundations of Authenticity and Purpose,” June 2018. Here how she went about it…

Cover of, "An Intentional Life" by Lisa Kentgen

Turning down a book contract was a painful decision. My book emphasizes listening to your internal voice. My voice told me I wouldn’t be happy signing a contract that didn’t feel mutual. The morning after making this decision the idea for my next book came to me. I then knew self-publishing was the right path.

Two things were clear. 1) I would create a publishing imprint to house this and future books. 2) I would be intimately part of the process.

Creating a publishing imprint meant establishing an LLC. Its mission is broad enough to cover other professional activities, like public speaking, so that my writing will be an essential part of my professional life.

Photo of author Lisa Kentgen by Todd Estrin Photography
Photo of author Lisa Kentgen by Todd Estrin Photography

There are reputable companies, like Girl Friday Productions, that help authors from concept to final production. I believe they quoted me $16,000. I chose not to go with this sort of company because I had a manuscript that already was far along and, also, it means not taking the lead in creating my team. Establishing my team meant spending hours finding a top quality editor, cover designer, and interior designer.

I was fortunate enough to find a developmental editor who is the vice president of a publishing company. She had me reduce my manuscript by 30%. She told me that while I don’t like telling people what to do (I am a psychologist) – as a writer I needed to be more directive. After a major edit, I hired another editor to polish the final manuscript.

For book design, I chose Reedsy, an online company that has wonderful professionals for hire. Inexpensive cover designs cost around $500. For an experienced, artistic designer it is closer to $1000. My cover designer was so good that I persuaded him to do my interior design which cost about $2000.

I learned the hard way that what makes for a beautiful physical book creates complications for the ebook. (Suggestion: Make a copy of the interior before getting fancy!) Creating the ebook to look like the physical copy proved difficult. I had no way to assess the actual skill level of designers. The first person misrepresented their experience, and I paid $450 for something I couldn’t use. The next person charged $500 and what I wanted took more time than estimated–so we negotiated a higher price.

My experience creating the audiobook with Brickshop Audio in Brooklyn was a pleasure. The audiobook, with production help, costs $250 per finished hour. My 55,000-word book (on ACX) cost $1650.

I recommend my path to authors who enjoy creating a business and who have the time and desire to address countless creative details. It means a lot more work upfront, but having finished products closer to your vision. I am excited to take what I have learned to new ventures!

Quote by Lisa Kentgen: Living with intention you understand that your interests are intimately bound to the well-being of others.

Dear readers, share your experiences below with self-publishing vs. traditional publishing…

Guest Blog Post: “How to Be All Classy and Shit,” in DGGYST’s exact words


Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com

What’s classy to you? Here’s how ‘Damn, Girl Get Your Shit Together: Unsolicited Advice for Shit You Didn’t Know You Were Doing Wrong’ defines it…

Damn, Girl. Get Your Shit Together.

I have been thinking a lot about class lately. My thirtieth birthday is right around the corner and I have really been trying to hone my style. I’ve always been horrified by my mother’s butterfly bedazzled bell bottoms and the ever presence of “big gulps, tractors, and pink camo” in my sordid memory bank. But what makes someone classy? The internet has nearly convinced me that the whole of classiness is kept in the human cuticles and if they aren’t on point, I should just hang myself with a length of the Confederate flag while standing on a crate of Pabst.

Not one to believe everything the internet tells me, I thought about real life. Who was the classiest person I know?

For me, that person is my dear friend Betty. Betty is a landscaper and ironically has the most mangled cuticles I have ever seen. When she comes by…

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Guest Blog Post: “Buy My Book!” in the exact words of Bookshelf Q. Battler


Supporting writers, as well as readers, is our mission, here at Happiness Between Tails.

A more direct sales pitch has yet to be found than that of blogger and book writer Bookshelf Q. Battle

Bookshelf Battle

Hey 3.5 readers.

BQB here.

Just a regularly scheduled begging session, asking you, my beloved 3.5 readers, to buy my book, “BQB’s Big Book of Badass Writing Prompts.”

It’s 99 cents.  Honestly, other than a trip to the nudey bar, this is the best value you’ll ever get for a dollar.

I mean I don’t want to spell it out, but if you walk up to a nudey bar and wave a single dollar bill around, a stripper will show you her hey-nanner-nanner.  At least, they usually do.  I can’t guarantee they will.

But you’re upstanding citizens who don’t frequent such terrible places.  So check out my fine book.  You know you want it.

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