Linguistics alumna Ananda Lima on her fiction debut, ‘Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil’

Published: June 4, 2024
Portrait of Ananda Lima with additional reflected portraitsAnanda Lima (Photo: Beowulf Sheehan)

Lucy Berbeo | June 4, 2024

Ananda Lima still sometimes laughs when she says the title of her forthcoming book, “Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil,” out loud.

“I was lucky to have my editor behind it,” Lima said. “It’s whimsical but also a nod to the book’s engagement with metafiction and autofiction. The writer character in the book is an immigrant woman from Brazil, like me, but then there’s the devil to throw a wrench into a purely autofictional reading — to make people wonder.”

Like the book, Lima herself has many creative facets. Originally from Brasília, she first came to UCLA as an undergraduate on a study-abroad program. She returned to earn a master’s in linguistics in 2008 — meeting her husband, who was then a graduate student in the math department — before completing an M.F.A. in creative writing at Rutgers University–Newark. A distinguished poet whose 2021 collection “Mother/land” was awarded the Hudson Prize, Lima is also a translator and an accomplished photographer.

“Craft,” her first foray into fiction, hits bookshelves June 18. With the devil as a central character, the collection of surreal, interconnected stories traces the journey of the fictional author at its heart — referred to only as “the writer” — through time, place and the immigrant experience.

Now based in Chicago, Lima will return to Los Angeles this summer on tour with her book, appearing at Skylight Books on July 2. In an interview, she spoke about her fear of horror movies and the joy she has found in writing fiction and offered her advice for aspiring writers.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I’ve written since I was young, but somehow I didn’t make the connection that what I was doing was what writers did. It was much later in life that I understood that I was in fact a writer. In my early 20s, I thought of myself as a future academic — a linguist — which is what brought me to UCLA. I had a most beautiful time, and I was in love with linguistics, but at some point I realized there was something else for me. It was only later that I understood it was writing.

Cover of Ananda Lima’s ‘Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil’

Some of my early influences were wonderful, daring, brilliant Brazilian writers like Machado de Assis and Clarice Lispector. Other early influences: American popular movies of the ’80s and ’90s, [filmmaker Pedro] Almodóvar, and storytelling in my family — my aunts telling each other stories.

Can you describe the journey of writing “Craft”?

I was writing a novel that I abandoned before writing “Craft”; there was something in it that wasn’t working for me, and it had become a struggle — even though, maybe, that novel would have had wider appeal, as it was a more straightforward story.

So I started writing “Craft,” and decided to let myself do what I wanted: I followed what I was most interested in, rather than what I thought would work for some wide audience out there. And it became so much fun. It surprised me how much more fun it was, even when it was hard. Writing this book strengthened my own tastes and joys, both as a writer and as a reader. I learned to tell myself, no matter how it goes, I know there is at least one reader for this because it’s working for me, and I’m a valid reader too.

Was there anything daunting about including the devil as a living, breathing character in your book?

Yes! The devil is a multifaceted figure with a rich history and a political role throughout the world. It was exciting to learn more about it, but I really had to tell myself not to try to put everything I read into my devil. I had to decide very firmly to let him be his own character, no matter how many interesting things I read.

The literary magazine Electric Literature recognized “Craft” for its exploration of women and embodiment (or disembodiment). Can you talk about how this theme appears in your work?

I loved seeing the book’s inclusion on that great list — it’s a more subterranean theme in [my book], and I love that they picked up on it. I think these bigger themes of the devil, writing and immigration are like a lattice that supports less visible, intersecting themes. For example, there is a small moment where the writer sits next to a manspreader wearing some iconography that makes her guess he is a certain kind of person who probably dislikes immigrants. The writer is both an immigrant and a woman sitting next to him; there is no way to fully separate the two.

What inspired you to weave references to various horror movies into the narrative?

The funny thing is that I’m such a wimp when it comes to horror movies. Maybe because I watched them way too early in life? I don’t know. Even though I am afraid of them, I think there is so much brilliant work in horror.

So these days I’m constantly reading summaries to try and experience the stories but also be able to sleep at night — and go to the bathroom without a family member standing outside the door! I did watch “The Fly” and “Gremlins 2” as a child, though, and I think they’re hilarious and brilliant. Especially “Gremlins 2” — that movie is wild. They did exactly what they wanted to do in that movie; it’s so postmodern and fun.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be patient with yourself as a writer, and be very patient with the process of publishing — everything takes a lot of time and steady, continued work. Learn to separate the value of the work itself from external things like a career, publishing and accolades; sometimes the two overlap, but sometimes they won’t.

There will be a lot of rejection. Be honest with yourself when things need more work but don’t always assume a rejection means the work is not great and ready.

Respect yourself as a reader — your likes and dislikes are just as valid as anyone else’s, no matter what prevalent opinions might be. With that in mind, strive to write something that you would love as a reader. Find joy in your work, in the writing, in the revision — even in the puzzles and struggles. That joy and love for the work will keep you going.