Novelist Richard Wiley has come home to Tacoma, and he’s got some stories to tell.
His new book, “Tacoma Stories,” is a collection of short stories all based in his hometown. It came out Tuesday.
The book is his ninth in a 40-year-long career. He won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his 1986 novel, “Soldiers in Hiding”.
“Tacoma Stories” is his first collection of short stories.
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“I was a little burned out on novel writing,” he said. “Novels are a lot harder. And a lot longer.”
Wiley, 74, moved back to Tacoma in 2015 after being away for decades. He retired from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as an English professor.
“Tacoma Stories” is dedicated to “the hardworking people of Tacoma.”
“I wanted to do something about Tacoma,” is how Wiley explains the impetus for his book. For inspiration, he drew from his youth and then let his imagination take over.
“I got to thinking about my hometown and all the various machinations of life in a place like Tacoma,” he said. Like others who leave their homes, he had filed away those stories as he made his life elsewhere.
When he was 21, Wiley worked at Pat’s Tavern, now called Magoo’s Annex on North 21st Street in Tacoma.
“Becky Welles used to come in there,” Wiley said. “One day, she brought her father in. I had skipped work to go to Westport with my friends. I missed meeting Orson Welles.”
Rebecca Welles was the daughter of Orson Welles and actress Rita Hayworth. She moved to Tacoma to attend the University of Puget Sound and ended up staying. She died in Tacoma in 2004 at age 59.
“I got to know her very well,” Wiley said.
Like Welles, Wiley attended UPS.
The first story in the book, “Your Life Should Have Meaning on the Day You Die,” is set inside Pat’s Tavern and includes Welles. It also slyly introduces 16 characters who show up in their own stories as the book unfolds. Those stories take place from 1958 to 2016.
“The architecture of the book is that everybody who was in that bar is in one story or another and sometimes in many stories,” Wiley said.
Readers will connect with the many of the locations in the book: The running track at the YMCA, Cloverleaf Pizza, the lighthouse at Browns Point.
“It’s a place-driven collection of stories,” he said.
The characters narrate in the first person but none are Wiley, he said, and none are real people. Welles and other real people are background characters.
“Mostly, I made them up out of whole cloth,” he said of his main characters.
Many of the stories are comedic.
“Anyone Can Master Grief but He Who Has It” follows a retired UPS professor who accepts a dinner invitation only to end up meeting the wax likeness of a former object of desire.
Other stories take a darker turn.
In “The Women,” a man reads a newspaper story about the childhood home of notorious Tacoma serial killer Ted Bundy being for sale. The man and his wife decide to buy it. They soon have misgivings.
“That was the hardest story to write,” Wiley said. “I just couldn’t stand writing that story. I really like the story, and I’m proud of it. But, writing the names of those women down was excruciating.”
Though both Bundy and Wiley went to Wilson High School, Wiley was three years older and never knew him.
Wiley splits his time between Tacoma and Los Angeles.
Public Appearances for Richard Wiley
▪ Feb. 15, 7 p.m., The Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave., Seattle
▪ March 2, 2:30 p.m., Tacoma Public Library, Kobetich branch, 212 Browns Point Blvd. NE, Tacoma
▪ March 9, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Pacific Northwest Shop, 2702 N. Proctor Street, Tacoma