Soon Wiley ’09 marvels at how many of his selves it took to write his first novel, When We Fell Apart, released April 26, 2022.
“Something I’ve been thinking a lot about is the novel basically took seven years to write,” he said in an interview. “It’s a very odd thing to note that some sentences I didn’t ever touch, so those sentences are seven years old, and some sentences I wrote a year and a half ago. If we admit that we’re human beings and we evolve and change every day, it’s weird to think that a different person wrote the book over the course of seven years.”
The crime thriller is about a young Korean American man’s search for answers about his girlfriend’s mysterious death. The book is a “lyrical exposition on what it’s like to be biracial, with one foot firmly planted in [each of] two distinct worlds, never completely fitting in, but capable of seeing what others do not,” author Jamie Ford wrote. “A lonely, heartbreaking, spellbinding story of love, self-discovery and belonging.”
Wiley, who received his bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy at Connecticut College, described almost a lurch into trying his hand at a novel: He repeatedly wrote short stories that were too long. The move was “incredibly freeing,” he said.
Like his protagonist, Wiley worked in Seoul as a biracial expatriate. Now a high school teacher at Greenwich Country Day School, in Greenwich, Connecticut, Wiley said he learned in writing the book “that I’m stubborn, both stubborn in the sense that I don’t give up, but also stubborn in that I take a long time to recognize the things that I need to do.”
Wiley said he aimed for “that kind of perfect combination between literary but also mystery” with When We Fell Apart, which is published by Dutton, a Penguin imprint. Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and Good Housekeeping each called it one of the best books published so far in 2022.
Wiley said he hopes the message readers will be left with is one of self-acceptance.
“When we’re younger, we really want to conform. I just hope those things that make us different are viewed as strengths,” he said. “That’s what I tell my students all the time: The things that you guys wish were different about you are the things that are going to come to define you as adults.”