Richard Wiley’s new collection of short stories revels in the characters of his hometown
interview by Sheila G. Miller
Richard Wiley grew up in Tacoma and went to college there. Then he left—living in Japan, Korea, Kenya and Nigeria, and teaching English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for more than twenty-five years. But he found his way back home. Wiley’s new short-story collection, Tacoma Stories, is a love song to his hometown and to the people who make it special. The premise of Tacoma Stories begins in the first story—sixteen people share green beer in Pat’s Tavern on St. Patrick’s Day 1968. The rest of the stories share snippets of those people’s lives, from 1958 to 2016. Wiley, who has written eight novels, put out his new collection of linked short stories in February, and already has another novel in the works.
You split time these days between Tacoma and Los Angeles—what’s kept you coming back?
A lot of people love their hometowns, and I am one of those people. I grew up there, and it really infused and informed my imagination when I was a kid. I had a great time when I was a kid there, and I’ve always felt more at home there than I did anywhere else. My elementary school had one class for every grade, so I went to school with the same kids all the way through. I spent a lot of time fishing and swimming and running around on the beach and playing in my imagination and with my friends. It was a really wonderfully free time to be a kid. It could’ve been Omaha for all I knew, if I’d had the same engagement with nature and with the outside world as I did in Tacoma. It doesn’t have to be Tacoma. We bond with what we bond with, and I did with Tacoma. I’ll probably end up dying there. Hopefully not too soon.
You’ve written a bunch of novels. Which is harder—novels or short stories like this book?
A novel is harder. I’ve had a lot of short story writers try to tell me they’re harder, but that’s nuts! Novels are tough. The problems you create in a novel are bigger and more sophisticated than the problems you create in a short story. I’m not putting down how hard it is to write short stories, but they’re short. That’s the operative word, and even if it takes you six months to write a thirty-page story, it’s not six years. I’m getting to the age where I don’t have a lot of decade increments to work on future novels. This book was a lot of fun. I published seven of the stories elsewhere, then I wrote the rest of the collection. Some of those earlier stories I had to rewrite to tailor to fit the concept of Tacoma Stories. But I wanted them all to stand alone—they all had to stand alone as good stories, as opposed to leaning on the fact that they were in a linked collection.
What’s next for you? You said you don’t have a lot of decades left for novels.
These days it takes forever to get a book out. I spent about two years waiting for Tacoma Stories to be published, so I wrote a novel. That one is now with my agent, and I hope that the current publisher, my publisher for Tacoma Stories, will buy it. We’ll see. It’s my third Japan novel, called Cornelius, On Love. It’s sort of a treatise on love from a person named Cornelius, who I made up. It takes place in 1972 Kyoto. I did two other Japan novels, but I’ve always wanted a trilogy. Two didn’t feel like enough. One does—one feels like enough, but not two.