The Write Stuff – Monday, January 19 – Interview With Lisa Lenard-Cook

I have chosen to begin this year’s series of interviews by introducing my visitors to Lisa Lenard-Cook. As is the case with other authors I intend to feature this year, Lisa writes fiction and non-fiction alike. She is a faculty member at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and has taught at many other conferences, including the Taos Summer Writing Conferences and NULC in Ogden. She also teaches private classes and takes, in her words, “particular joy in mentoring both beginning & more experienced writers… I love to hear from readers and writers, and cheerfully (mostly) respond to queries.”

30colorI first encountered her work in 2010 when I read her book, The Mind of Your Story, published by Writers’ Digest Books, in which she explores how she synthesizes her experiences into something cohesive. In her book, she suggests that at least three, disparate, compelling ideas must come together before a story can congeal. In the example she gives, the first seed for one such tale involved her learning about two similar women who had developed Alzheimer’s disease and noticing the parallels in their lives. The second came while watching planes dropping slurry onto the fires near her home during a drought. When she read about wild horses starving on government land, that was the necessary final element. The three converged in “Wild Horses,” her account of a rancher whose wife develops Alzheimer’s. You will see how this theme repeats when we discuss her new novel.

The effort I refer to is a book entitled Dissonance. It has been attracting a great deal of attention as well as winning awards since its 2014 re-release. It won the Jim Sagel Prize for the novel while still in manuscript. And after its original publication by the University of New Mexico press in 2003, it was selected as a book of the year by the Tucson-Pima County Public Library, the Midland Library and the Cincinnati Public Library. In 2004, the book was both a NPR Performance Today Summer Reading Choice and the countywide reading selection for Durango-La Plata Reads and in 2005 it was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award. has this to say about her book: “‘Dissonance,’ by Lisa Lenard-Cook, is a touching novel that takes the reader from present-day New Mexico back to the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp and then forward to the present again. It is beautifully written and emotionally charged. I especially enjoyed the way Lenard-Cook uses music as a means to explore sensitive themes. A haunting and lovely read, this one.”

Congratulations on the re-release of your novel, Dissonance. Can you tell us something about it?

Using the language of music theory as a leitmotif, Dissonance is the story of a Los Alamos piano teacher who receives a legacy from a woman she doesn’t think she knows, which leads her on a journey of self-discovery.

What caused you to write it and is there a story behind the story?

I’ve found that any fiction I write, be it short story or novel, requires three seeds, which quietly mix together until a certain moment when I am quite literally compelled to write. The first seed for Dissonance was likely planted when I was young, when I read an autobiography by my friend Leslie Klein’s mother, Gerda Weissman Klein, All But My Life, which introduced me to a world far less benign than I had previously imagined. I began to notice how many people—how many of my friends’ parents, in fact—had numbers stamped on their arms.

I never intended to write a book about the Holocaust; so many good books have already been written. Nor was I (or am I) someone who immersed herself in Holocaust literature. But then, in the mid 90s, when I was a graduate assistant at Vermont College(where I earned my MFA), Juan Felipe Herrera gave a talk about the writer’s political and social responsibility. It really struck me, that talk, and, while I didn’t know it at the time, it connected to that first seed, when my daughter Kaitlin Kushner brought home a library book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, about children’s art at the concentration camp Terezín.

Then, at Christmas (1994), we were in Los Alamos at my in-laws. I started thinking about Los Alamos, then and now—the Manhattan Project, SDI, the extraordinarily smart people who live there, and how many of them are musicians. This was the second seed.

Now I happened to be reading a great deal of music theory at the time, although I no longer remember why. One morning, I was reading about the mechanism of the piano when a line came into my head: “The piano is unique among instruments for its double stroke.” While I did not know who was speaking, I did know I had better take notes. From that first line, the first draft of Dissonance was written over a two-month period in the summer of 1995. It was finished coincidentally (or, perhaps, not coincidentally) on the 50th anniversary of the bomb at Hiroshima.

The holocaust is a difficult theme for many readers. So much has been written about it and this subject evokes so many strong emotions. Why do you think Dissonance is being so well-received?

Dissonance is a book about love and forgiveness. Perhaps it is this… hopefulness… that has kept the book alive all these years.

Why was it discontinued and what brought it back to life?

There are still a few hardcover copies out there—UNM Press never remainders books, but sells them until there are no copies left in the warehouse. At the same time, because the second hardcover edition hadn’t sold out, they didn’t bring out paperback or electronic editions.

I got the rights back to the book in 2008, right around the time the publishing industry (and so much else) imploded. It wasn’t until I learned about Santa Fe Writers Project publisher Andrew Gifford’s efforts to reissue books in 2013 that I knew I’d found the book a new home.

Is Dissonance changing the direction of your career?

It’s certainly wonderful to have received so many kudos for the book, but in the end, it’s the act of writing itself that matters. I recently came across this, from Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. I keep it on my desk: “The more intently [the novelist] focuses on the page being written rather than the career that is developing or disintegrating out there somewhere, the better the work and the happier the… person.”

What are you working on now?

In addition to teaching, editing, and coaching other writers (my “day job”), and putting together bosque (the magazine) #4, I’m working on a new novel, Dear Lucia.

I know how busy you are and I want to thank you for dropping by to introduce us to your work.

Thank you, Raymond.

If you would like to learn more about Lisa or purchase her books, you may do so at the following:

Twitter:                                   @LisaLenardCook

Lisa’s website:              

Writers co-op website:


The Write Stuff – Monday, May 5 – Interview With Author Giacomo Giammatteo

This edition of The Write Stuff moves into different territory. When I began this series, I promised to present authors of interest. I doubt you will find anyone more interesting than mystery and non-fiction author, Giacomo Giammatteo. With so many titles to his credit and such glowing reviews about his work, I hardly knew where to begin this interview. I thought I would play it safe by asking Jim, as I have grown to know him, to tell us a little about himself. He chose to describe himself this way:

Giacomo & Slick 3andAhalf Inch

I live in Texas now, but I grew up in Cleland Heights, a mixed ethnic neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware, that sat on the fringes of the Italian, Irish and Polish neighborhoods. The main characters of Murder Takes Time grew up in Cleland Heights and many of the scenes in the book were taken from real-life experiences.

Somehow I survived the transition to adulthood, but when my kids were young I left the Northeast and settled in Texas, where my wife suggested we get a few animals. I should have known better; we now have a full-blown animal sanctuary with rescues from all over. At last count we had 41 animals—12 dogs, a horse, a three-legged cat and 26 pigs. Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar, who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy.

Since this is a bio, some of you might wonder what I do. By day I am a headhunter, scouring the country for top talent to fill jobs in the biotech and medical device industry. In the evening I help my wife tend the animals, and at night—late at night—I turn into a writer. I write mysteries and non-fiction career books. I also have a series of epic fantasies planned; the first three are written.

Jim, in brief, what is Murder Takes Time about?

Nicky Fusco thought he knew right from wrong, living by an oath of friendship & honor with his three best friends. But life took them down separate paths, and the oath was broken. Secrets were kept. Years later they are reunited and the bonds of their friendship are brutally tested, putting them on a collision course set in motion long ago.

Murder Takes Time is not a typical murder mystery or mob story. It is a thriller, a romance, and a coming-of-age story that rips your heart out. By the time you’re done reading it, you just might find yourself rethinking the definition of friendship & honor—even right and wrong.

Three boys, one girl. Friendship, honor, love—betrayal. It ends with murder.

Wow! That’s quite a concept. Since I know from personal experience that every story has a seed, what prompted you to write this one and why should someone buy it?

Many of the stories in this book are true, mostly of the kids in the early days. The neighborhood described is where I grew up.

I guarantee a good read. Literally. If you don’t like my books, or don’t feel you got your money’s worth, I’ll give you a refund or a new book. I have it posted on both of my sites. No one has taken me up on it yet.

What are you working on now?

Always a tricky question. I tend to work on a lot of things at once, and at different stages of development. So, I have just put up my second career book  on pre-order (No Mistakes Interviews), and I am doing the final edit on A Bullet From Dominic, the second book in the Blood Flows South series. I am also close to finishing the draft on Murder Takes Patience, the third in the Friendship & Honor series, and I am plotting a novella, and also the fourth and final book in my fantasy series.

Right from the start, I said you have numerous titles to your credit. That brings up the question, how do you overcome writer’s block?

Fortunately, I have never had to deal with that.

Some say marketing a book is more difficult than writing it, yet you’ve bee very successful at this. What is your marketing strategy?

When you find a strategy that works, please let me know. I have been experimenting with a lot. I can tell you what I don’t do, and that’s give books away for free in mass quantities.

Hah! Can you tell us what life experiences inspire or enrich your writing?

I guess growing up in the city in a big family and among various ethnic groups. That was a wonderful experience.

Between all of the animals and your day job, how do you find time to write? What’s a typical day?

  • Wake up about 7, feed a few of the animals. (we have a sanctuary with 45 animals).
  • Drink coffee.
  • Work in my day job, headhunting in the biotech/medical device industries.
  • More coffee.
  • Feed animals at noon.
  • Back to headhunting.
  • More coffee.
  • Feed more animals at around 5-6 PM.
  • More coffee.
  • Eat dinner around 8:00 and then start writing.
  • Write until about midnight or so. Start all over the next day.

 A few quick questions. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Italy. No question about it.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

Knowing that picking yourself up is required. That’s what must be done.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Do you have any pet projects?

Continuing our work with animals that need help.

What makes you laugh?

Almost anything. But especially little kids and animals.

What are a few of your favorite authors?

Alexandre Dumas, Luciano DeCrescenzo, Frank Herbert, John Sandford.

I enjoy multiple genres, as well. Alright, Jim, before I share an excerpt from Murder Takes Time with our visitors, as well as links to more of your work, let’s try a lightning round.

 The one thing I cannot do without is:

Coffee/espresso, garlic, pasta. (I can’t limit it to one)

 In one or two words, what is your defining trait?


Hard copy or ebook?

Doesn’t matter.

Vice? Virtue?

Coffee, garlic, pasta.

Hah! I think I see a pattern here. Favorite book:

The Count of Monte Cristo

Favorite movie:

The Phantom of the Opera (2004 version)

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

If you like a book, tell someone about it.

I asked Jim to provide a brief excerpt from Murder Takes Time. Here it is, for your enjoyment:

 Murder takes time Final-a

GG: Murder Takes Time

Published 4/15/2012


Chapter 1

Rule Number One―Murder Takes Time


Brooklyn, New York—Current Day

He sipped the last of a shitty cup of coffee and stared across the street at Nino Tortella, the guy he was going to kill. Killing was an art, requiring finesse, planning, skill—and above all—patience. Patience had been the most difficult to learn. The killing came naturally. He cursed himself for that. Prayed to God every night for the strength to stop. But so far God hadn’t answered him, and there were still a few more people that needed killing.

The waitress leaned forward to refill his cup, her cleavage a hint that more than coffee was being offered. “You want more?”

He waved a hand—Nino was heading towards his car. “Just the check, please.”

From behind her ear she pulled a yellow pencil, tucked into a tight bun of red hair, then opened the receipt book clipped to the pocket of her apron. Cigarette smoke lingered on her breath, almost hidden by the gum she chewed.

Spearmint, he thought, and smiled. It was his favorite, too.

He waited for her to leave, scanned the table and booth, plucked a few strands of hair from the torn cushion and a fingernail clipping from the windowsill. After putting them into a small plastic bag, he wiped everything with a napkin. The check was $4.28. He pulled a five and a one from his money clip and left them on the table. As he moved to the door he glanced out the window. Nino already left the lot, but it was Thursday, and on Thursdays Nino stopped for pizza.

He parked three blocks from Nino’s house, finding a spot where the snow wasn’t piled high at the curb. After pulling a black wool cap over his forehead, he put leather gloves on, raised the collar on his coat then grabbed his black sports bag. Favoring his left leg, he walked down the street, dropping his eyes if he passed someone. The last thing he wanted was a witness remembering his face.

He counted the joints in the concrete as he walked. Numbers forced him to think logically, kept his mind off what he had to do. He didn’t want to kill Nino. He had to. It seemed as if all of his life he was doing things he didn’t want to do. He shook his head, focused on the numbers again.

When he drew near the house, he cast a quick glance to ensure the neighbors’ cars weren’t there. The door took less than thirty seconds to open. He kept his hat and gloves on, walked into the kitchen, and set his bag on the counter. He removed a pair of tongs and a shot glass, and set them on the coffee table. A glance around the room had him straightening pictures and moving dirty dishes to the sink. A picture of an older woman stared at him from a shelf above an end table. Might be his mother, he thought, and gently set it face down. Back to the kitchen. He opened the top of the black bag and removed two smaller bags. He set one in the fridge and took the other with him.

The contents of the second bag—hair and other items—he spread throughout the living room. The crime scene unit would get a kick out of that. He did one final check, removed a baseball bat from the bag, then sat on the couch behind the door. The bat lay on the cushion beside him. While he stretched his legs and leaned back, he thought about Nino. It would be easy to just shoot him, but that wouldn’t be fair. Renzo suffered for what he did; Nino should too. He remembered Mamma Rosa’s warnings, that the things people did would come back to haunt them. Nino would pay the price now.

A car pulled into the driveway. He sat up straight and gripped the bat.

For more of  Giacomo Giammatteo’s work:

Online sales links:


Barnes & Noble:







Website, blog and online social accounts: