WESTERLY — Thomas Christopher Greene, the founding president of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, is such a busy man it seems kind of wild to think he finds time to write novels. But he does and he has. The author of six novels, including the bestseller "The Headmaster's Wife," his fiction has been translated into 11 languages and has won many awards and honors. In 2007, when he founded the Vermont College of Fine Arts, a top fine-arts college, he became the youngest college president in America at the time.
Born and raised in Worcester, Mass., Greene is the sixth of the seven children of Richard and Dolores Greene. He was educated in Worcester public schools and attended Suffield Academy before heading off to earn his bachelor's degree in English from Hobart College, where he was the Milton Haight Turk Scholar.
He has worked as an oyster shucker and a pizza delivery man, he worked on the line in a staple factory, as a deputy press secretary for a presidential campaign (Mike Dukakis), was the director of public affairs for two universities and is a professor of writing and literature.
In 2003, his first novel, "Mirror Lake," was published to critical acclaim. His second, "I'll Never be Long Gone," followed two years later, and his third, "Envious Moon," was published in 2007. His writing has been called incandescent and poetic and has been nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His first novel was named by Waterstone’s in the UK as one of the 30 books to be rediscovered, alongside books by Kurt Vonnegut, Jose Saramango, Alice Hoffmann and others.
In his latest thriller, "The Perfect Liar," readers are introduced to what seems to be a couple in a perfect marriage — until it is threatened by the deadly secrets the husband and wife are keeping from one another.
Susannah, a young widow and single mother, has remarried well, to Max, a charismatic artist and popular speaker whose career took her and her 15-year-old son out of New York City and to a quiet Vermont university town. Strong-willed and attractive, Susannah expects that her life is perfectly in place again. Then one quiet morning she finds a note on her door.
"I KNOW WHO YOU ARE," it says.
Max dismisses the note as a prank. But days after a neighborhood couple comes to dinner, the husband mysteriously dies in a tragic accident while on a run with Max. Soon thereafter, a second note appears on their door: "DID YOU GET AWAY WITH IT?" it asks.
"The Perfect Liar," told through the alternating perspectives of Susannah and Max, has, according to critics, "a shocking climax that no one will expect."
Greene, who will visit Westerly's Savoy Bookshop and Cafe next week, was kind enough to answer a few questions ahead of his book talk at Savoy.
1. Did you always know you would one day be a writer?
I wasn’t one of those people who grew up knowing he wanted to be a writer. That came later, during a break from college, when I got the literary bug and began thinking of trying to do this for a living. I was always a reader, though, and always a storyteller, and coming from a big Massachusetts family — one of seven kids— I learned early on that you better be compelling if you want to have a voice at the table.
2. Can you tell us a little about your influences and inspirations?
Writing books, for me, has always been a way to tell stories to people who aren’t in the same room as you. To the extent I have something that drives me, it’s a belief in the power of stories to help us understand the world. What inspires me are acts of empathy. I confess to being a soft touch: Nothing moves me more than unselfish people doing kind things to others.
3. Do you have a specific writing routine/discipline?
Because I’m a college president as well, I don’t have the luxury of time I once had as a writer, so I have learned to live with a novel in my head and then write when I can, and try to write efficiently. So I don’t have set times when I write, or a particular discipline to it, but I prefer writing in noisy, public places, coffee shops and restaurant bars. I have one bar in particular where I live in Montpelier where I write most nights, and people know to leave me alone if my fingers are moving on the keyboard.
4. Can you share a few of your favorite writers/authors?
Andre Dubus, the late short story writer, father of Andre Dubus III, who is an amazing writer and a friend, is someone I return to over and over for how he uses language. I’m a huge fan of Anne Enright, the Irish writer. And I rush out and buy any book Donna Tartt writes, but those only come out every ten years ....
5. Why thrillers?
I like bending genres. I think my best work are the books that do many things at once. But thrillers in particular interest me because people behaving badly are just so much more fun to write about.