Ten Questions for Ananda Lima

by Staff

This week’s installment of Ten Questions features Ananda Lima, whose debut fiction title, Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil, is out today from Tor Books. In this surreal work of literary horror, a Brazilian American woman meets the devil at a Halloween party and falls under his spell, blossoming into the writer she had nurtured secret ambitions of becoming. In overlapping stories that read like a fragmented novel, Craft takes readers between Brazil and the U.S., interrogating the line between fiction and reality, the mutability of the self, love, and more concrete, contemporary themes, such as the rise of global authoritarianism and the challenges of living as an immigrant. The book also offers a thoughtful metacommentary on the writing life, questioning the origin of inspiration and getting into the weeds of workshop dynamics, with one chapter in the form of letters from workshop members critiquing one of the writer’s stories. Publishers Weekly praises Craft: “Lima’s prose is lush and her well-constructed plots are frequently surprising. The stories, and the stories within those stories, connect to some of the cruelest portions of the human experience with uncommon warmth and wit.” Ananda Lima is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine and the author of the poetry collection Mother/land, winner of the 2020 Hudson Prize from Black Lawrence Press. Lima’s work has been published by American Poetry Review, Poets.org, Kenyon Review Online, Gulf Coast, and others. She holds an MA in linguistics from the University of California in Los Angeles and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. Born in Brasília, Brazil, she now lives in Chicago.

Ananda Lima, author of Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil.   (Credit: Beowulf Sheehan)

1. How long did it take you to write Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil
I kind of lose track of how long I worked on it. It was a long time, many years. I did a lot of work on it from 2017 onwards. But every once in a while I find thoughts related to it, images in notebooks, that are older than that. It is hard for me to track how long I spend on books and projects. It is always longer than I think.

2. What was the most challenging thing about writing the book? 
There were lots of little writing challenges along the way—and logistical problems, especially finding time. But I think a big one was understanding that I would have to really let go of people-pleasing for this book to work. It is a weird book, and its strangeness is part of what I love about it. So I had to focus on readers who were moved by the same things I was—to focus on my specific reader—and let go of some rules and expectations. I needed to let the book be what it wanted to be.

3. Where, when, and how often do you write?
I am a very chaotic writer. I think that is a mixture of personality and where life and logistics push me. I get scraps of time here and there. I write notes while taking the kid somewhere, while waiting for the bus. Then I find a long stretch here and there—say, if my family travels for the weekend and I have to stay behind—and make more progress. I don’t write every day, and I don’t have a regular schedule. I spend long periods of time during which I don’t write. Once I understood this was the way it was for me, I let go of a lot of fear and anxiety, and the process has been happier and more productive.

4. What are you reading right now?  
I have just read Fictions by Ashley Honeysett, which I loved. It is so right up my alley and strangely feels like a bit of a lost sibling for my book: It also follows a writer as she writes the stories included in the book. Now, I am so happy to be finally reading Maria Stovall’s I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both, which I got earlier this year and have been anxiously waiting to read since. I’m also super excited to be getting a preview of The Material by Camille Bordas.

5. Which author or authors have been influential for you, in your writing of this book in particular or as a writer in general?  
I never remember everyone, but here are some authors whose work has been influential in various ways (including by showing me joy and awe as a reader): John Keene, Clarice Lispector, Marlon James, Samanta Schweblin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Ben Lerner, Victor LaValle, Rachel Cusk, and so many more.

6. What is one thing that surprised you during the writing of Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil?
How much more fun the process becomes once you decide to let yourself write the book you want to write. Things were still hard at times, but it was so much more rewarding.

7. What is one thing your agent or editor told you during the process of publishing this book that stuck with you?
My editor is a generous genius with a beautiful heart. She gave me a lot of brilliant suggestions throughout. But one moment I cherish is when she very openly asked, “Where is the joy in this world?” She wanted me to think about the things that made the difficult parts worth it. That was the whole note. Such a simple question, but also so helpful. She saw the heart of this book and wanted to show me some of the joy and beauty that wanted to come out more visibly.

8. Would you recommend writers pursue an MFA?
Yes, definitely, if it fits their circumstances. I had a fantastic experience in my MFA. I think part of making the MFA more successful for you is to always remind yourself to respect yourself as a reader. That is, you can be open to feedback and listen to people. But always listen to yourself too. The feedback you receive is not always the right thing for the story, and that is okay. For me it was a way to make wonderful friends, learn a lot, get some funding, and carve out time to write. Having said that, if an MFA is not possible or is logistically difficult, it is not by any means a necessity. There are many great places out there where you can get guidance from experienced instructors that are not MFA programs. The MFA is more important if you want to take a particular academic path. But it is certainly not a requirement to write a great book.

9. What forms of work, other than writing, did you have to do to complete this book?
I did a lot of reading, about the devil and other things. But that was less research in a factual sense. It was more reading that got me inspired and fed my drive to write. I did a lot of walking as I marinated things in my head. And lots of boring logistical work—moving schedule commitments around, finding childcare, etcetera—was needed over the years to be able to get little bits of time.

10. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? 
I cannot remember on the spot. It comes in and merges with other advice in my brain. Here is some advice that I give to others and to myself: It is great to be open to listening to others and to be honest with yourself about things that don’t work. But it is also important to respect yourself as a reader. If you love something, then there is at least one reader who loves that something. And that should be taken into account too.