Thomas Lisenbee was born in 1938 in the small, southeastern Kansas town of Girard. population 2500; a town where Charles Lindbergh’s sister and Jane Addams’ sister and niece once lived, where William Jennings Bryant once snoozed away a heavy meal on the Turner’s front porch, where Eugene V. Debt’ Socialist newspaper The Appeal to Reason was published, whose most famous citizen at the time was the man who had arrived in town in 1906 be its editor, a man who some say invented the paperback book whose proclaimed mission was to make available to the downtrodden quality titles of everything from Shakespeare to Schopenhauer: a venture so successful that his Little Blue Books imprint — price: five cents—sold more than fifty million.
Both Tom’s parents were musicians. His father, formerly a professional theater violinist in Kansas City during the Roaring Twenties, was the director of instrumental music for the Girard City Schools. His mother, who sang and danced. taught choral music, speech and Spanish. When his father started him on the violin when he was only three, Tom objected. -What’s the matter, son,” his father said, to which Tom replied: It doesn’t sound good.” -What do you think you can make sound good.” his bemused father said. “A cornet,” Tom said and he wasn’t kidding. Music became his profession in 1960 and remained his faithful muse until sometime in 2001. Maybe it was the post 9111 blues, maybe it wasn’t but sometime shortly after that horrendous day it came to him that while he’d played quite enough trumpet he wasn’t altogether through: he wanted to write a novel. And why not? God knows he’d read enough of them. He’d been over thirty years in the opera pit for goodness sake and what do opera brass sections do during those long tacets? To say nothing of the late night subway rides! And it wasn’t as if he’d never tried his hand at writing. Before he’d learned to read and write, he dictated a play to his mother starring all his stuffed animals; there was that phony account he’d written of being tied up for a day to the trellis on their fmnt porch that he earned him an A in eighth grade English class; later the autobiography he wrote in the twelfth grade.
As for unabashed fiction, how about all those phony titles of books written by authors who never existed made up to him get through Humanities class at dear old KSTC: to say nothing of the bad poetry he wrote from 1961 to 63 while living in Tulsa Oklahoma that he was too shy to show to anyone; and hadn’t his first wife been a married woman when he fell in love with her? Isn’t a tendency to adultery a prerequisite to being a writer? Plus in Ireland. he’d rubbed shoulders— if only in abstencia— with some of literature’s best: had tea with Brendan Behan’s widow, played chamber music with Sam Beckett’s cousin, knew Yeats’ son, gave his autograph to Yeats’ ten year old granddaughter who she was a fan of his trumpet playing; and most importantly of all, once been in his cups in an Irish pub not five bar stools removed from Ireland’s reigning besotted poet of the day, Patrick Cavanaugh. True, while Tom doesn’t have a MFA, he does have a MM. All this, plus a computer with a spell check, he was ready to write.
But he knew better than to start out cold. He began by translating a few of Isabelle Allende’s Eva Luna stories from Spanish to English. That under his belt, he tried a few of his own then hit the wall: POV, Tone. Voice. Plot. Character Development and the grim reality that first drafts always stink. But just as there were essential way stations for developing a musical career so, too, it was to be with writing. His quest for the how-to’s led him to the Upper Delaware Writers Poetry Collective and Mary Green; to Kythe Heller, to Julia Fierro and the Sackett Street Writers; and poems that refused to stay poems became a short stories, and a short story that refused to stay short became the basis for his novel, Pioneer Street—begun in 2004, hopefully to be finished the spring of 2010. “Someday”. for Tom is right now. Someone somewhere once said: if you’re lucky, you’ll live long enough to become the person you are supposed to be. To which Tom adds: amen. Two wives, two kids, four grandchildren: ah sure now, life is good. Done right, it all comes out music.