Current Fiction Student A. J. Bermudez Publishes Debut Story Collection

Current fiction student A. J. Bermudez (Fiction ’23)’s debut story collection Stories No One Hopes Are About Them was released today by University of Iowa Press! The collection, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, has been called a “sly and sharp-edged collection” by The A.V. Club and a “must-read” by Publishers Weekly.

Current program administrator Annaka Saari (Poetry ’21) was able to interview A. J. about the collection in advance of its release. Read below to hear more about how A. J. approached the creation and organization of the book.

Annaka Saari: Stories No One Hopes Are About Them is your debut story collection. What was the most challenging thing about bringing it into the world?

A. J. Bermudez: Money. I’m not saying Maslow got it exactly right, but no one who’s stressed about buying groceries concurrently shines as a recreational author. My partner’s been extraordinarily supportive, and I’ve caught a few breaks, but the most significant challenges are almost always logistical. This collection unfolded in stolen pockets of time, unlikely windows of opportunity, and over far longer than I would have liked. Betting on the value of one’s own work––particularly in a world that often seems dead-set on the privilege of rejection, especially with regard to experimentation and invention––can be difficult. The writing, as such, is the easy part. If we want really, really excellent fiction in this country, moving forward, we need to make it easier for writers to get there faster.

AS: How did you approach the assembly and organization of Stories No One Hopes Are About Them? Did you enter the project knowing that you wanted the collection to address certain themes, or did through lines emerge as stories were written and placed next to one another?

AJB: This is such a great question. Certain themes are definitely persistent––I like that University of Iowa Press calls out “power, privilege, and place”––and I think the collection is true to this while being, in many respects, all over the map. I didn’t initially set out to compose a collection, but it became clear along the way that this was sort of what was happening. I’m thankful, for example, that the Alpine Fellowship understood “The Lady Will Pay for Everything,” which is essentially The Birds underwater, to be a work of eco-horror, or that Gertrude Press recognized the intrinsic queerness of “The Body Electric” without any on-the-nose evidence. In the end, there were things I was going for, thematically, and others that just happened. Organizing the book was sort of like orchestrating a family reunion––these things all go together, however tenuously––and assembly was like making a seating chart: just try to make sure no one gets hurt and everyone has a good time.

AS: In addition to writing short stories, you’ve also worked as a filmmaker, a boxer, and an EMT. How, if at all, do you think these other pursuits (within and outside of the arts) had an effect on the way you crafted the characters and narratives in your collection?

AJB: Another great question! Vis-a-vis filmmaking, I’m a major believer in cross-disciplinary writing. In screenwriting, for example, you’re never allowed to say what a character is thinking. And every character has to count, because eventually you have to pay them. Studio notes––while viscerally kinder than workshop notes, at times––are the perfect training ground for editing, elevating, and holding things loosely. With regard to boxing, I’m not going to say (at least not on the record) that writers should punch and get punched, but both things have been valuable for my writing practice. And perhaps the best lesson of EMT training is that writing isn’t life or death. It can, however, help remind us of what is. There’s one EMT in Stories No One Hopes Are About Them, in the final story of the collection. Alas, no boxer characters in this volume. Maybe in the next one.

Those interested can purchase a copy of Stories No One Hopes Are About Them at this link.


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