Best-selling author Thomas Christopher Greene discusses his new thriller
Like many writers, Thomas Christopher Greene has found success takes time. His first novel, “Mirror Lake,” was published in 2003, and 11 years passed before “The Headmaster's Wife” became a best-seller in 2014.
In the interim, Greene founded a college — the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, where he serves as president — and wrote when he could.
“I published three books in six years when I started writing, and then I started the college, and my writing took a back-burner because that was a really intense process, getting a college off the ground,” he said. “Then I wrote 'The Headmaster's Wife,' which I thought was going to be a quiet meditation about grief, and I think it surprised me and also my publisher how it took off.”
On Wednesday, Greene will appear at the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe to read from and discuss his new book, “The Perfect Liar,” to be released Tuesday by St. Martin's Press. He described it is a “domestic thriller,” in the vein of “Gone Girl.” He thinks this will be “the book that will probably reach the widest audience.”
The novel tells the story of Susannah, a widow who moves to Vermont with her teenage son and new husband only to be dogged by mysterious notes, the first one of which says: “I know who you are.”
Greene's fiction, while literary, has always had a vein of the mysterious. Things are never quite what they seem and people not quite who they claim to be. This shape-shifting keeps the reader on edge, but he doesn't sacrifice character development to maintain suspense — if anything, his characterization makes the novels more intense.
In “Envious Moon,” his third novel, Anthony, a fisherman from Galilee, R.I., is swept up in an unexpected drama when he helps a buddy break into a Block Island house — but, speaking in the first person, he is not telling the story straight.
Memory and perspective are also key for Arthur Winthrop of “The Headmaster's Wife,” and Henry and Margo, the two lovers in “If I Forget You.”
“As I've gotten older and better at this, I've probably gotten more efficient in how I tell stories,” Greene said. “And also I'm more conscious of the power of surprise and structure and how you reveal things to readers, and I think that that has been a big part of the popularity of the books.”
Like many writers, Greene returns to certain places and themes. He acknowledges that in some way all of his books are autobiographical. A Worcester native, he holds a BA from Hobart College in New York and an MFA from the former Vermont College.
He prefers New England as a setting, and his protagonists often have academic jobs. Not only is Greene a college president, so is his brother David, of Colby College in Maine.
His parents, who still live in Massachusetts, take a great interest in his work. “They're big fans, which is great,” he said. As his aunt's eyes failed, his mother would read his books to her over the telephone. “So I was pretty honored by that, but part of me was like, my mom has to deal with my salty language. And she said she would just skip those parts.”
Four of Greene's books are available in audio versions, including the latest, which is narrated by Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate Tavia Gilbert. “I'm excited to hear it. I know she's going to do a great job with it," he said.
But Greene is not always comfortable listening to his books.
“This is less true of Tavia, but I think a lot of the narration that they do always strikes me as overly dramatic,” he said. “I know it works for the public. It's my own words (and) it's not how I would read it. It always sounds a little different to me.”
Greene will read from “The Perfect Liar” on Wednesday and looks forward to taking audience questions. It's his second visit to the Westerly bookstore, where he stopped to promote “If I Forget You” in 2016.
“I thought it was a beautiful store, a really beautiful store and great people, and I'm excited to go back,” he said. He will kick off the book's release at Barrington Books in Cranston, R.I., on Tuesday and stop at the Savoy the next day. On Thursday, he will visit R.J. Julia in Madison.
His duties at the college prohibit a long book tour. After he began working at the former Vermont College in 2006, he spearheaded an effort to buy the campus from Union Institute and University and turn it into a nonprofit two years later. He has led its expansion from three graduate degree programs to nine and doubled its student body. In addition to writing, the college offers programs in music, film, visual arts and design.
Somehow Greene finds time to write. Of necessity, he works most plot problems out in his head before turning to the computer.
“You have to learn to write differently when you have a job as demanding as this,” he said.
He has started a new novel, tentatively titled “The Guest House,” about an aspiring screenwriter who is taken in by a wealthy patron. “It gets probably a little creepy from there,” he said.
If you go
Who: Author Thomas Christopher Greene reads from his new novel, "The Perfect Liar"
When: 6-7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Savoy Bookshop & Cafe, 10 Canal St., Westerly
Information: www.banksquarebooks.com/westerly-store; (401) 213-3901
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