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: Paranormal Geezer-Lit Mysteries by Mike Befeler

Anytime, especially n-o-w, is an excellent time to start something! In 2001, when Mike Befeler was 56, he set out to become a novelist. Since then, he’s authored 17!!!! books, including mysteries, a thriller, and a biography of a World War II veteran!

In this post for Happiness Between Tails, Mike discussed geezer-lit. Here he explains the ones he’s written that interlace the paranormal…

Photo of Mike Befeler
Geezer-lit author Mike Befeler

“Writing Paranormal Geezer-Lit Mysteries” by Mike Befeler

Most of my published books are geezer-lit mysteries, featuring older characters. A number of years ago, my agent suggested I consider writing a paranormal mystery. I read several and decided I would give it a shot. The result was The V V Agency, a paranormal private investigator mystery that introduced a new type of shape-shifter called a transvictus.

Then I decided to blend a paranormal mystery with older characters, and The Back Wing was born…

A normal person ends up in the back wing of a retirement home with aging witches, vampires, werewolves, and shape-shifters. And don’t believe the myth that vampires don’t age. They get older, move into retirement homes, lose their teeth, and gum people on the throat.

Needless to say, I enjoy writing humor with quirky characters. The sequel, The Front Wing, will be published this month.

 I love stories where older characters aren’t merely life-savants who are sentenced to die by the end of the tale. What do you think about how older characters are usually treated in fiction?

Happy Birthday, Anne Tyler! with a Guest Blog Post by Angela Bell

Anne Tyler deserves all the chocolate cupcakes she could ever want for her birthday!
Anne Tyler deserves all the chocolate cupcakes she could ever want for her birthday! Photo: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

“If I waited till I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.” Anne Tyler, novelist.

Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors! Who is yours?

For those of you unfamiliar with Tyler’s novels, she won a Pulitzer Prize and has been nominated repeatedly for more. She’s remarkable for writing about life’s nuances that we might otherwise miss. Too often, we’re so busy “doing” that we miss “living.” We can miss ourselves and each other.

Enter Tyler to remind us that each day is happy and sad, selfish and loving, smart and goofy, and everything in between. Families might offer connection. When they make us feel unbearably isolated and misunderstood, we can find solace in friendships and in families of our own making. Now in her late 70s, Tyler writes as prolifically as ever. Several of her stories have been made into Hollywood films and TV movies. Her books and her deeds illustrate how each of us is as vibrant as we choose.

Born in Minnesota and raised by Quaker parents, she was socially and culturally thoughtful from the start. I’m a soon-to-be self-published novelist. Like me, she married a Persian man. They were together until his death and had two daughters, now both accomplished artists.

Tyler has always been media-shy. That must be how she gets so much writing done! Where she lives in Baltimore, Maryland, businesses offer tips on where to see the homes of each of her characters. For more about her, there’s this and this. Fortunately, we also have Wikipedia’s Anne Tyler page to celebrate her — along with writer/blogger Angela Bell’s guest blog post…

Hashtag Retired

I try to be open to new writers and each year read a few debuts or authors I’m unfamiliar with, sometimes on other’s recommendations, sometimes at a writer’s or publisher’s request. Still, for me, there is a clear gold standard reserved for those writers who, over decades of wonderful books, always satisfy me, challenge or teach me, make me laugh, or bring me to tears.

I began reading Anne Tyler in the late 1980s, at the urging of my late dear friend Gerry. Incidentally, my then teen-aged daughter fell for her then, too. Anne Tyler persists today as one of our country’s great novelists. My list of favorites includes but isn’t limited to The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, Saint Maybe, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Digging to America, Ladder of Years, The Beginner’s Goodbye, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. My most recent…

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Missing Dear Mooshie Cat by da-AL

The world is better for having had Mooshie Cat in it.

Dear, dear Mooshie, you are sorely missed. Time with one’s loved ones is never long enough, but how very much I wish I’d had just one more time with you to say goodbye, to thank you for being such an incredible little mate.

You were the spiritual mother of my husband. I know this because you took your self-appointed role quite seriously. That first meeting, you signaled to my soul-mate that he was yours. You reached your arm clear to your armpit, past the shelter cage bars, to swat at him. Repeatedly. Moreover, you sent your angel/employee (who also worked for Southeast Area Animal Control Authority (SEAACA), to urge us that your days were numbered.

You arrived home cuddled in my honey’s arms. You lay in his lap for hours, your locomotive purring tireless. As soon as you made it clear that you were family, you’d stand on your hind legs to slam a hefty (albeit with claws sheathed) kangaroo one-two punch at your sister, whenever your human son would pet her for even a second.

Now your spirit, whether in heaven or reincarnated, must be playing soccer. You’d command your ‘son” (you considered me a lousy player) to lob crumpled paper balls your way, for you to whack-whack-whack them across the room and back to him.

Eventually, you graduated to batting crickets — then mice — then small birds. I doubt our local tiny critters mourns your loss as we do. Your later choice to retire to my mother’s bed must have cause them to celebrate. Not so for my mother’s gentleman cat who you evicted from his formerly cozy stead.

Until all but the last few weeks of your seventeen-ish years, despite your loss of all but one tooth, your appetite was vigorous. From Cheerios and crackers to olives and cucumbers, you enjoyed everything so long as your beloved people dined on it too.

Your long-departed sister, for whom you had neither patience nor fondness,  allowed anyone to pet her. You, unlike her, saved your affection for just your intimates.

You made us feel truly special, dear Mooshie. You, our lovely girl, were the most special of cats. Rest in peace, beautiful soul.

Mooshie the Wonder Cat.

Dear reader, here and here and here is more about Mooshie. Do you have a non-human friend you miss a lot?

Guest Blog Post: Rita Rigby’s art by Mark Rigby

Rita Rigby

Of all the abundant beauty and wonder I experienced on our visit to New Zealand and Australia — from New Zealand’s Auckland / Rotorua / Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters of the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / and Hamilton Gardens — to Australia’s these exciting birds and these / stunning views / delicious eats / this and this wildlife at Currumbin / some beasts and beauty in Brisbane / and enjoyed Sydney this much and that much, as well as the purring there — my very favorite part of the trip was meeting terrific family in Gold Coast!

An inspiration at any age, cousin Rita Rigby is lovely and vigorous of mind and body. She’s both fun — and a talented artist! After dinner, on the final night of our visit, she (and her granddaughter, Roshan, too!) played the piano for us! In this photo (from left to right: Mark, me, Khashayar, and Roshan), we’re treated to an impromptu performance by Rita! Read on for a little about Rita and her artwork contributed by her son, Mark Rigby…

Rita Rigby Playing Piano

* * Rita Rigby’s art by Mark Rigby * *

Rita was born in 1927 and grew up in a small Queensland country town called Kilkivan. She loved the country life, which is reflected in her paintings. During her school years art was her favourite subject which has remained to this day.

art by Rita Rigby

Two men (drovers) on horseback are herding sheep in the country where I grew up.

art by Rita Rigby

This is an old Eucalypt tree that is synonymous with the countryside that Rita grew up with. It was struck by lightning with regrowth branching out from the main truck.

art by Rita Rigby

The background to this painting is Mount Warning, a significant landmark on the border between Queensland and New South Wales. It was named by Captain Cook, an English explorer who discovered Australia in 1770, to warn of the dangerous river bar near this location. The man is cutting sleepers to construct a railway in the early settlement times.

Do you like to paint?

Guest Blog Post: The Reinvention of Lee Gale Gruen

Think it’s too late to write a memoir or to take on a new career? Actress/author/blogger/lecturer Lee Gale Gruen describes how, since she retired, she’s reinvented herself many times over…

Self-reinventor Lee Gale Gruen

When I retired from my 37-year career as a probation officer, and I found myself with nothing meaningful in my life and decades looming. I mistakenly enrolled in an acting class at a senior citizens’ program, thinking it was a play discussion group. When I was forced to perform in a scene in front of the class, my lifelong stage fright kicked in. However, my shaky voice strengthened as I became completely immersed in my character, unaware of the sea of eyes watching and judging me. What a high! I became hooked on acting.

After my mother died, my outgoing, charismatic father, Marvin, became depressed and withdrawn. “Come with me to my acting class, Daddy” I blurted out to cheer him up. After some convincing, he agreed.

Midway through the class, the teacher called on Marvin to perform an improv with another class member. He really hammed it up and later asked me, “So, when are you picking me up for our next class?”

That started us on a magical journey attending the class together for three years, bonding more than ever. I wrote the humorous Dad/Daughter scenes we performed in the class showcase every six months.  The audience members loved us; Marvin loved the attention; and I loved acting and making him happy. All six scenes are included in the book.

I transitioned into the world of professional acting.  As my fledgling second career started going uphill, my father’s health started going downhill.  I shared all my new acting experiences with him at the nursing home where he resided in his final years.

My book (available on Amazon.com) is an inspirational father/daughter bonding story with a twist: both of us were seniors at the time.

For more about Lee Gale Gruen and her book…

Email:  gowergulch@yahoo.com

Acting website:  LeeGaleGruen.com

Book website:  AdventuresWithDadTheBook.com

Public speaking video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cen-dN6SUU&feature=youtu.be

Author interview video:  youtube.com/watch?v=FIUm9e7NRKc

Blog: Reinventing Myself in My Retirement:  LeeGaleGruen.Wordpress.com

Old/New, Out/In: North Carolina Museum of Art by da-AL

North Carolina is far more than pine trees and the ‘pottery capital of the world.’ Noteworthy art fills the North Carolina Museum of Art’s two buildings — as well as its outdoors.

Khashayar with Awilda and Irma, 2014, by Jaume Plensa.
Intriguing from all angles, Khashayar with Awilda and Irma, 2014, by Jaume Plensa.

Over the single week that my husband and I visited a dear friend in North Carolina, we gravitated back to the fascinating museum. There was so much to see that we went back one, two, three, four days (plus we had fun here) and now…

Madonna and Child Sheltering Supplicants under her Cloak, 1470, by Peter Koellin.
Madonna and Child Sheltering Supplicants under her Cloak, 1470, by Peter Koellin.

 

Tippy Toes, 2007, by Alison Saar.
Tippy Toes, 2007, by Alison Saar.

 

Portrait of Madame X Dressed for the Matinée, 1877-1878, by Mary Stevenson Cassatt.
Portrait of Madame X Dressed for the Matinée, 1877-1878, by Mary Stevenson Cassatt.

 

Portrait of a Lady, circa 1610, British School.
Portrait of a Lady, circa 1610, British School.

 

The Kiss, modeled 1881-1882, cast at a later date, by Auguste Rodin.
The Kiss, modeled 1881-1882, cast at a later date, by Auguste Rodin.

When is the last time you took the time to admire a great work of art?…