Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Story Behind HEADMASTER'S WIFE by Thomas Christopher Greene

 The Headmaster's Wife is a significant departure from my other work. At Morrow, the branding of my career was based largely on becoming, as one editor put it, Nick Sparks for the Volvo set.
I was writing full time then and there was pressure to produce books that fit this model. In 2007, the year my last book was published, I began an effort to save a historic college campus and three nationally acclaimed MFA programs and create a new college. This effort was successful and today Vermont College of Fine Arts is widely recognized as one of the leading graduate institutions in the arts in the country. My position as the founder and the president gives me a wider platform than I have ever had for my work in the past. Because of the nature of the job, I was able to take a deep breath and reconsider my literary career and the kind of work I wanted to do.
In 2009, my wife Tia became pregnant with our second child. A routine ultrasound in her 23rd week of pregnancy changed everything. The placenta had attached in a difficult place and somehow had created a leak of amniotic fluid. We were told Tia would not leave the hospital until the baby was born and that could happen any day. The challenge was to hang on as long as possible to give the baby a reasonable chance of survival. Tia was on bed rest in the hospital for three weeks while I ran a college and took care of our three year old at home. Our daughter, Jane, was born at the gestational age of 26 weeks, and weighed one pound 14 ounces. She was immediately put on machines to help her breathe. We began our vigil.

For the next six months my wife and I took turns living in the hospital. I spent day after day next to Jane, reading to her, talking to her, and she was a miracle. She grew. She learned to smile. She had warm brown eyes and my face. But her lungs were in tough shape. The same machines that had saved her were ironically killing her as she developed BPD, a lung disease that comes from prematurity. But even with her on the machines we could hold her and there were days when it didn't seem like she was going to make it, and then days when we had conversations with doctors about what it would be like when we got home. How this would all be a bad memory, a story we could tell about this tough little baby who fought like hell to live. It was during this time that I began the book that would become The Headmaster’s Wife. I wrote next to her bed in the NICU and for the first time I felt like I was writing honestly, though I don't know how to explain that fully. I wasn't writing with an audience in mind, or anything like that--I was simply going deep into the mind of my characters and I was writing this book for Jane. I was writing what I felt as a father. Eventually we made the difficult decision to transfer Jane from Dartmouth Hitchcock in New Hampshire to Children's Hospital in Boston where one of the leading specialists in lung issues resides. Jane lived one more month and died peacefully in her mother's arms. There is no way to describe what it's like to lose a child and I could not in normal ways –except that this book became a response to her life and our grief.
People cautioned us after Jane’s death that these things can tear apart a marriage. 

We had been an amazing team for six months – My wife taking care of Jane, learning everything she could, doing everything she could to make her life seem normal. I was the tireless advocate, reading the New England Journal of Medicine and everything I could get my hands on. Becoming the first parent in the 30-year history of the NICU at Dartmouth to run the weekly Doctor's meetings. After Jane’s death we were in a fog for six months. We knew someday we would come out of it and we were determined to stay together--which we have. But I began to ask the question: what if we fell apart? I began to rewrite the book with this question in mind. When I finished this novel, I knew I had something very different than my previous work. It required a different approach to my literary career. I replaced my long time agent Nick Ellison who had a more straight commercial focus with Marly Rusoff. This book is five years in the making. It will be dedicated to Jane and all the nurses at Dartmouth Hitchcock who became part of our family.


 “Greene (Mirror Lake; Envious Moon) has created a brilliant, harrowing novel depicting the spectacular unraveling of a once distinguished and proudly successful man. He has also conceived one of the most convincingly drawn unreliable narrators that readers may ever meet, a character recalling the creations of Edgar Allan Poe…Essential for fans of literary fiction.”
Library Journal

“The book is, at its core, a trenchant examination of one family’s terrible loss and how the aftermath of tragedy can make or break a person’s soul.”
Publishers Weekly

“…this is a moving testament to the vicissitudes of love and loss, regret and hope.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A truly remarkable novel, I read the second half of The Headmaster’s Wife with my mouth open my jaw having dropped at the end of the first half.  Thomas Christopher Greene knows how to hook a reader and land him.”   
Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls

“An accomplished and artful storyteller, Greene has surprises in store as he unspools
a plot that becomes as poignant as it is unpredictable.”
Wally Lamb, New York Times bestselling author of The Hour I First Believed

“I devoured this book.  Both psychologically complex and wickedly fast-paced.”
Julianna Baggott, New York Times bestselling author of Pure

Author bio:
Thomas Christopher Greene was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. Tom has worked in a staple factory; as an oyster shucker; a speechwriter and spokesperson for a presidential campaign; the director of public affairs for two colleges; and as a professor of writing and literature. In 2006, Tom founded the Vermont College of Fine Arts, a top New England arts college, making him the youngest college president in America at that time. The Headmaster's Wife is Tom's fourth novel.

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