Ananda Lima has been busy since graduating from the MFA in Creative Writing program at Rutgers-Newark in 2019. She is a poet, translator, and fiction writer born in Brasília, Brazil, now living in Chicago, IL. She's the author of the poetry collection Mother/land (Black Lawrence Press), winner of the Hudson Prize. Her work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poets.org, Kenyon Review Online, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, The Common, Witness, and elsewhere. She has been awarded the inaugural WIP Fellowship by Latinx-in-Publishing. She has an MA in Linguistics from UCLA and an MFA in Creative Writing in Fiction from Rutgers University, Newark. Craft: Stories I wrote for the Devil is her fiction debut.
We asked her to share her thoughts about the book and writing process below.
What inspired you to write this book?
There were many different things that inspired it, and it is lovely to see how over time those sources of inspiration brewed and amalgamated together. There was an undercurrent of thinking about narrative and story: the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and our histories, the stories that I experienced growing up in Brazil and later immigrating to the US (what is shared, what differs), the use and manipulation of narratives in the political sphere. This was always in the background but became very present when I was working on these stories. I worked on early versions of some of the stories while doing my MFA in Creative Writing at Rutgers-Newark, and we were thinking and talking a lot about the craft of writing and how stories work. At the same time, I was feeling overwhelmed by the narratives in the media, social media, and daily life as an immigrant during the Trump years. It was as if someone turned up the volume on those narratives. They were always already there, but it was harder to have some respite from it (even temporarily, having some moments to breathe). They became very loud and almost inescapable, and so did their effects on people’s lives.
Then came the Devil. I always found the Devil an interesting character: the Devil’s many faces: in folk work in Brazil and across different countries; its representation in popular culture and fiction (including one of my favorites in The Master & Margarita), also how strange (and hard to trace) the logic behind this created being (and how this complicated logic touches on ideas of the problem of evil, free will, etc). At some point, as I worked on the stories, I started reading, for fun, some fascinating work about the history of the figure of the Devil, including books by political theologian Adam Kotsko, who traces how the figure appeared (in the Christian context) and evolved over time.
I was thinking a lot about demonization and how the devil, or the demonization of a group, is offered as a simple spreadable explanation for when things are bad (especially when an alternative explanation would suggest changes in the behavior of people with power). As a writer, I have learned that sometimes there are certain ideas, images, or stories that stir something in you, you can call it “a spark,” “an itch”, a “tickle” or your favorite metaphor. It is an internal stir where you know that investigating that idea, image, or scene in writing is going to be fruitful. You feel where the heat is, what is going to be propulsive to you as a writer. Over the years, I have recognized that feeling. And I began to feel that way about the Devil. I knew I wanted to write about it, but I wanted to leave the theory and history to the scholars who do it so well. Rather than reproducing or trying to translate what I learned from them into fiction (which would turn out lousy), I wanted to take that stir, the inspiration, and have fun with it. This is how the Devil story first came to be.
Somehow all of that and other sources of inspiration all came together in the book, which is a beautiful and very fun thing, the magic of fiction.
Can you briefly describe what the book is about? Who should read this?
The book is a collection of linked short stories with two parts intertwined: the stories themselves (which can be read independently and stand-alone) and a meta layer of the writer of those stories, who meets the devil again and again throughout her life. In the story layer, there are surreal elements, for example, a story on the ghost of a person who is not yet dead, an immigrant eating Americans who are dispensed from vending machines, excursions in hell, heaven, and purgatory, and, of course, the Devil. But it is also grounded in real life: love, loss, navigating the morality of one’s choices, being tokenized by the job that sponsors visa. It is a strange book (which to me is a very good thing), with unexpected turns, but also full of heart. For people who enjoy literary fiction, or surreal stories, or think about the different ways to understand America, or storytelling. People who like trippy stories, meta, or auto-fiction will probably really enjoy those aspects of the book too. But it is also for those who just want to read a good story.
It is so fun to see my work come out as horror, because I am such a wimp: I cannot watch horror movies for example, as it gives me nightmares for months. Sometimes when I watched them in the past, I couldn’t be alone at night (I even have had to ask family members if they could please stand outside the bathroom when I needed to be there, as I was too scared to be alone). There is so much amazing work in horror today, and I find myself reading summaries, or watching or reading slowly during the day. So it is so fun to see I have a book cross-listed as horror.
I think horror is such a great genre for both escapism but also to deal pretty directly with the horrors in real life. It can be strange and at the same time have conventions that are expected and hence can be played with in very fun ways. I love it even though I usually can’t deal with it sometimes as a reader or movie watcher.
Craft is a little bit of a mixture, a literary collection with elements of horror, playing with fabulism, and auto-fiction. I think the horror comes in through my reimagining of some horror figures (the devil, the ghost, the monster), but also mostly through the eerie, the uncanny present in the stories.
Have you ever witnessed or had anything surreal or supernatural happen to you?
I am a weird person, because I am very secular, not mystical at all. Yet I am terrified of horror movies, as I mentioned before (i.e.: I 100% don’t believe any of those things I watch exist, yet I feel terrified). So I don’t believe anything supernatural has happened to me, but when I grew up, people in my extended family believed in a lot of things. I had several aunts who were spiritists, so it was not uncommon for us to be all together and for them to say things like “a spirit has just visited us” and for another one to say “I know, I have felt it too.” As I was a kid at that time, I just accepted it as true. I remember later, when I was a little older, a friend’s aunt found out I was not baptized (I believed I was only not baptized because my parents were not very organized). She was super concerned the Devil would come to bother me, that I was somehow vulnerable to him, as if baptism was a sort of vaccine and I was unvaccinated (which looking back I find so fun, given this book). By that stage, I didn’t believe it anymore. So I just thought it was nice that she cared about me, but was not afraid myself.
It is fun for me to think about how and when that transition from believing what my aunts said was true to not believing might have happened... and that in a way, I did have these experiences, when I assumed that what adults believed was real. The experience was real even though the ghosts weren’t.
Your other books have been poetry. What made you decide to work on a fiction project?
The two feel different both in the writing and reading. There is, of course, the density, how much, and how you are expected to guide the reader. I explore different materials in each genre. I think they enrich each other in indirect ways. I love working with the different constraints and expectations. A funny thing is that when I first told anyone I wrote things, I thought of myself as a fiction writer, and that is what I would say when people asked what I wrote. But poetry came to me when I wasn’t even reaching for it. Now with more experience, I consider myself a poet first, but I love being a fiction writer too.
How was the process of writing this book different than writing poetry?
I think poetry can be a little more mysterious for a longer time as you write it. Both because the conventions and expectations of poetry are more open and because the unit is smaller, you can write for a while, finishing poems before having a clear idea of what the book is. I surprise myself too when I am writing fiction and don’t necessarily know where a story or the whole book is going when I sit down to write. But in both poetry and fiction, the idea of what the book is going to be starts to build, and at some point you begin to think about the book as a whole and how the individual units (poems, scenes, stories, or chapters) will work together. You start getting an idea of where you might be going and what you need to get there. For me that happens earlier in fiction than in poetry.
Another difference is that when you are writing a poetry collection, the work is often interacting with the world along the way. Many single poems can be out in the world, published before you finish the book. With stories, that happens at a slower pace (with novels even more, you may have nothing out in the world until the book comes). Even if you publish the stories individually, the time scale and volume is different. There is a little less sharing along the way with fiction, so the world you are creating in your book feels a little bit more private. It can be lonely, but it can also be magical to have this secret world with you.
What do you want readers to take away from reading this book?
I want them to feel and to be moved, to experience joy, to have fun (I had so much fun writing this book), even if they feel a little unsettled at times in the process. I want them to know they are not alone in feeling unsure and unsettled in the absurdity of our times. And that we can make room for joy and awe, even if they have to live alongside with sorrow and uncertainty.
And finally, what are your top three favorite horror books and what do you love about them?
Favorites are always hard: I don’t know if I can pick the top three. But let me mention three books I loved or that I am reading right now: The Changeling by Victor LaValle’s , Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez (translated by Megan McDowell), and Extended Stay by Juan Martinez for the amazing imagination, beautiful writing, and storytelling.
Craft: Stories I wrote for the Devil is now available for pre-order wherever books are sold.
Author Photo: Beowulf Sheehan