By Leslie Lindsay
It’s that time of year again. There’s a nip in the air, an excitement humming about campus, and perhaps the ivy is a little greener and a little more lush along those stone and brick buildings.
I am thrilled to welcome author—and president of Vermont College of Fine Arts—Thomas Christopher Greene—who prefers the less pretentious Tom—to our literary blog.
Having just read THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press, 2014), the fourth of Greene’s novels, I have to say, this one blew me away. It’s part mystery, part literary academia, and part psych thriller. Definitely a blend of my favorite genres. What’s more, it takes place—in part—at a Vermont prep school.
Leslie Lindsay: Thank you for being with us today, Tom. I found THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE compulsively readable. While overall the prose is easy reading, the subtext is complex. We definitely get that ominous vibe that something is amiss. Well, okay—it is amiss. In the opening lines, our middle-aged headmaster is wandering around outside in the buff. Was this your intention all along, or, as many things with writing, did the narrative take a life of its own?
Thomas Christopher Greene: I often find the beginning of a novel after writing the first seventy pages or so six or seven times. It’s a horribly inefficient way to write but the only one I know. So in this case, I added that beginning after I had developed Arthur’s voice, and also the in between sections where he is being interviewed by the police.
Leslie Lindsay: Let’s talk about structure. It’s a big obsession of mine of late. You do a wonderful job of creating a sort of bifurcated narrative with framing the story along the lines of now—not now—now; tossed in for good measure are some scenes in which Arthur is being interrogated. The writing just seems to flow organically. But something tells me this was carefully thought out. Can you explain?
Thomas Christopher Greene:When I start a book, I spend a lot of time thinking and living with the characters in my head. Structure is critically important, in that it is the framework for how you tell the story. That said, this idea I came across by accident—I wrote the long first piece that is Arthur’s point of view and initially I thought the whole book would be told that way. But I knew I needed Elizabeth’s point of view and the conventional way to do it would be to alternate it with Arthur’s, which is often done. But then I came across the idea of essentially telling the same story—with different viewpoints, in, as you put it, a bifurcated narrative. And once I had that figured out, the rest of the structure took care of itself.
L.L.: THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE was born of personal tragedy and grief in your own life. Oh, I can only imagine the heartache of losing a precious young baby. Grief is a tricky thing, and yet you write about it so eloquently. What would you recommend to others who are attempting to write about grief without being stereotypical?
Thomas Christopher Greene: The great thing about fiction is that it allows writers to deliberately obfuscate a story in order to find a deeper truth. In this case, I didn’t actually have the resources—emotional, mental etc—to write about my own experience with losing our daughter. But I found that through characters I could write about the emotions and feelings I had, and there was enough distance, paradoxically, to allow a certain measure of honesty. I don’t know that there is any good advice I could give someone writing about grief, just as there is no blueprint for grief itself.
L.L.: Let’s shift over to the business of writing. What is your advice to aspiring novelists?
Thomas Christopher Greene:Read everything you can. Be thick-skinned because that will carry you. Trust your own vision. And come to Vermont College of Fine ArtsJ
L.L.: Can you tell us a little about the writing programs at your college?
Thomas Christopher Greene: We have two low-residency programs, one in writing (poetry, fiction, memoir) and one in writing for children and young adults. They are widely recognized as two of the top writing programs in the country. Next fall we are also starting our first full residency program in writing and publishing.
L.L.: Can you share a bit about what you are working on next?
Thomas Christopher Greene: I’m writing a novel that for now is called SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW. It will be published by St. Martin’s Press hopefully in early 2016. It’s a story of a great unrequited love and what happens after a chance meeting on a Manhattan street.
L.L.: Finally, how can we learn more about you and your work?
Thank you so very much for being here today! We so enjoyed.
Thomas Christopher Greene
Thomas Christopher Greene was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts to Richard and Dolores Greene, the sixth of seven children. He was educated in Worcester public schools and then Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut. He earned his BA in English from Hobart College in Geneva, New York, where he was the Milton Haight Turk Scholar. His MFA in Writing is from the former Vermont College. [book cover image and author image retrieved from www.thomaschristophergreene.com with author’s permission 10.01.14. College image retrieved from http://www.wherezit.com/listing_show.php?lid=423779 on 10.01.14]