Interview: Ananda Lima Launches Fiction Debut With Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil

Ananda Lima's fiction debut, Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil, launches at Women and Children First this Friday, June 21. Filled with double meanings, a very meta perspective, rebellions and magic, and the Devil himself, Lima has put out a story collection that reads like a novel and will leave you wanting to break some of your own rules and have a bit of fun. I spoke with Lima about her entertaining and profound debut, trusting herself as a writer and reader, and the absurdity of our current times.

Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil, is not quite a novel, not quite a short story collection. It also feels not quite like fiction at times with its layered meta aspects. It is a fun, disturbing, and important read, weaving in themes that spark emotion and conversation, how did you manage to seemingly do it all in under 200 pages?

Poet, fiction writer, and translator, Ananda Lima.
Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan.

Thank you so much. I think also being a poet may be related to how I approached it. I love to play, and layering meanings, letting shades of meaning exist, and working with what is said explicitly in the text and what happens in the spaces in between text as the writing reverberates in the reader. There is so much that can happen off the page, in the mind of the reader, shared references, layers of meaning, sound, that connect with the reader’s experience of the world and of this time too. I play a lot while I am writing, that is where the joy is for me, and I think that play and exploration ends up resulting in a lot to be there on each page.

In multiple stories there is mention of needing to break something to set it free, for example, in one of the workshop critiques in Idle Hands, there is mention of learning the rules of writing first before you are able to break them; in Rent the characters have to smash the piano to set the ghost free. What did you break to set your own writing free? 

I think I had to break an earlier version of myself that was much more worried about the rules, about not looking like I didn’t know what I was doing, and about pleasing everyone. I now understand that not every reader (including teachers and workshop participants) is into what I am interested in, and that is okay. I let go of those concerns and now I write more freely and I am able to please myself as a reader in that way too, and allow an openness for me to surprise myself, which is a wonderful thing.

Throughout the book, characters explore feelings of otherness and belonging, loneliness and longing culturally and politically in both Brazil and the United States. Why was it important for you to ground the more mystical and fantastical elements in this book with these feelings and two places that you are familiar with?

I think there were a lot of different reasons that came together to motivate this impulse to go beyond the real (the fantastical, mystical, absurd).

One thing is that life today feels so absurd.  Times are always hard and there have been difficult things going on forever. But I feel like we are in a phase of a particular kind of bad right now, that is also absurd. Because things get normalized, we are used to what we see in the news, we are even used to things that are deemed shocking or outrageous to come to us on a daily basis. It feels like the shock cycle has desensitized us. But sometimes I do pause and notice how absurd things are. It feels like we live in a satire sometimes. That made straight up biting satire a little difficult as a writer, at least for me. I needed something with more compassion, more loving than that biting satire. But I still needed that sense of the absurd there. That brought some of the fantastic into the stories, to exist in that space that is absurd but also has heart.

Another thing is that I feel like sometimes the themes in the collection can be so huge (both on the difficult end, like systematic marginalization, and on the beautiful end, like art and awe). Having the surreal and fantastic elements opened up space for me in the stories as not to be stifled by these themes. It allowed me to let these themes live in the fabric of my stories, but for them not to be dictated by them.  The surreal and the fantastic helped me allow the stories to be what they wanted to be.

Another big reason is just that the devil, ghosts, little people coming out of a vending machine, that stuff is also just a lot of fun!

Expectations are not met in this book, in the best of ways. We expect the Devil to be evil, to cause mayhem, but he is the opposite. The writer in the book is expected to write about certain topics and themes and yet breaks the mold. Was this book your own writing rebellion?

I love these questions. Yes, in a way it was a loving rebellion. It was a rebellion against what I was told I could and could not do as a writer. I have been so lucky in my development as a writer, having many generous teachers and fellow students who helped me so much along the way. But I also feel like sometimes some people take the rules of writing as some gospel that came from the heavens, rather than general guidelines of possibility, which happen to be also influenced by culture and time. After participating in so many writers workshops (a process that can be very helpful but it can also be unhelpful in some cases) it took me a while to really understand that it is so important I respect myself as a reader and as a writer. So if I like something, if something moves me and is interesting to me, that means at least one person likes it and that is as valid an opinion as anyone else’s. I feel like the rebellion and joy of that realization is definitely in this book. 

There is also a rebellion against the ugly narratives we are all bombarded with daily (including those involving hatred for immigrants and many more). Those are always there, but they have been so loud. It was rebellion in my holding onto love and art and awe while existing in this space.

Your book tour has two Chicago events, the book launch party on June 21 at Women and Children First in Andersonville and June 22 at Barbara's Bookstore on State Street. What are you most excited about taking your fiction debut on tour?

I am so excited to visit many different cities around the country on a book tour, to be in conversation with amazing writers I admire and connect with readers. But the events in Chicago are what I am most excited about. I love Chicago, I lived in so many cool places, but Chicago has my heart and is my favorite. I love the community here, who has been so welcoming and generous to me. So I am super excited to celebrate the launch here.

Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil is available through most bookstores and the publisher's website.

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Picture of the author
Caroline Huftalen

Caroline L. Huftalen is the food editor at Third Coast Review and columnist behind Dear Cinnamon. Her reviews and interviews can also be seen on Huftalen is the founder of Survivors Project, Inc. which raises awareness for domestic violence by sharing stories of survival. A graduate of the University at Buffalo and the Savannah College of Art of Design. Huftalen lives in Chicago with her family and is currently writing a novel.