MONTPELIER — Thomas Greene likes the chaos of life, and its unexpected adventure. He lets it surround him, infiltrate him as he works. The writer can be found in public spots, tapping away at the keyboard, weaving stories we can't put down.
Like “The Perfect Liar,” which came out this week. It is Greene's sixth novel, and a bit of a departure from his other works. This one is a tangled thriller told against the backdrop of Vermont. (Local readers of the novel will swear they saw the interaction take place at some pretty high-profile locales.)
Writer Greene's other job? He is the president of Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, which regularly generates its own crop of writers, poets, musicians and artists.
And yet in the hectic pace of academia in small-town Vermont, Greene, 50, continues to find time to tell compelling tales with unforgettable foils for characters. (To that end, he is declared here as “writer” first and then “college president” on the side.)
This latest story of secrets and deceptions has its own back story.
Greene sold it on an idea.
“I had lunch with my publisher three years ago; (the story is) someone gets notes on a door; and they are wondering who the notes are for, very threatening,” he explained. “They bought it. But I hadn't written it yet.
"This book works on a number of different levels,” he said of “The Perfect Liar."
It's a page-turner in the contemporary sense (think “Gone Girl” or “ The Girl on the Train”) but it also is a tongue-in-cheek critique of the contemporary art world.
“I think people behaving badly are fundamentally interesting,” Greene said during a recent interview.
But the fulcrum of the story pivots on hand-written notes left as clues.
“It's an analog way of threatening somebody when we live in such a digital age,” Greene said. “In some ways, that makes it more scary and interesting.”
Greene looks at his evolution of storytelling as a natural progression.
“When I was a graduate student … I was only writing short stories. … But I realized my talents were more toward being a novelist,” Greene said. “That surprised me.”
His first book, “Mirror Lake,” was published in 2003.
“I feel I have grown up as a writer in public,” he said, referencing his other novels. “The thing I have learned as I have gotten older and better at this is that you need to be riveted to the page. I think I have become more plot-driven as I've gotten older, and more sophisticated as I do it.”
Critics agree. Early praise for “The Perfect Liar” has come from across the board.
Various critics — both local and nationally — are likening this novel to some of the better thrillers of the last few years, including “Gone Girl,” which launched author Gillian Flynn into stardom and fandom.
“These books are really reaching a national and international audience,” Greene said of this particular style of storytelling.
His last book, “The Headmaster's Wife,” was also critically acclaimed but more for its genre-bending themes, and the cycle of despair associated with infidelity and despair.
“The Perfect Liar” is straight-up drama.
Greene said getting reviews and the attention of readers is easier in the digital age. He can connect far more easily through review sites, and even social media, to generate a buzz about his work. And while he has a publicity team working on his behalf, the internet has been the accelerant necessary to draw attention to his work.
“It's a direct contact,” he said. “Nowadays ... you can talk to readers directly.”
Greene appreciates the connection to the world around him; the relevance of human interaction.
He writes on his laptop, often in public. (If you see his fingers moving, let him work. If he's sitting idle, you can approach him.)
“I like what's going on around me,” he said.
He pulls energy from it. He does not outline his books. He moves characters organically, from Point M to Point N.
And in the case of “The Perfect Liar,” the ending came from outside, not from within.
A movie producer, who was interested in the project, offered a plausible outcome.
“It was brilliant,” Greene said. “So I went there; I went with it.”
There are no guarantees this story will star Ben Affleck in the future, but it's not implausible. There has been interest in movie rights.
The mystery, as they say, continues.
“The Perfect Liar” is in bookstores now and available online.
A book launch party is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m. at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier.