On Writing (and translation): László Krasznahorkai and George Szirtes


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We love the idea of collaboration, art inspiring more art, and recently picked up a book from the Cahiers Series (published by the Center for Writers & Translators at The American University of Paris). The idea for these journals is to explore new writing and translation and see how to two come together. The edition that we purchased is number 14, Animalinside, and is a collaboration between Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai and artist Max Neumann. In it, Krasznahorkai translates some of Neumann’s visuals while, in parts, Neumann is inspired to create images from Krasznahorkai’s words. The Hungarian text was then translated into English by Ottilie Mulzet.

Cahiers Series

Now Krasznahorkai is definitely not a micro fiction writer – his sentences tend to be extremely long while surprisingly navigable. But we are fascinated by the process of translating art into literature. Looking for something to illuiminate what Krasznahorkai might have gone through while “translating” Nuemann’s art, we actually came across a nugget on language to language translation. It is from a George Szirtes interview (with Bernie Langs – see full interview here). Szirtes is a “poet first and a translator second” and has a facility with language in both his poetry and translations. In 1998, he did a beautiful translation of Krasznahorkai’s “The Melancholy of Resistance.”

I think translation is an act of shadow creation or shadow boxing. It keeps you fit and informs your own technique. You are using the same creative muscles in translation as in your own writing, but you don’t have to invent everything: you just have to listen intensely, both to the original and to your own stream of language. The act of intense listening is the key to writing generally. In many ways, but far from all, I feel the translation is my work as much as the author’s, that the author is in fact one of my own potential masks. You learn the mask as a joint creation.

And this got us thinking. How much of writing is self-translation, whether it be a story you’ve written in your head a thousand times, the visuals in your mind, the feelings in your gut. And are you listening?


On Writing (and brevity): George Saunders and the respect formula


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We at the Lost Wax Collective enjoy working with micro fiction because of the way a well told micro story invites a reader to participate. When you paint a picture with a few strokes – and just the right strokes – a reader fills in what’s not there with imagination, inner world, memories. The goal is ultimately a form of intimate engagement…


But who better to weigh in on the art of brevity than one of our favorite writers George Saunders. After giving us this exercise, he touched base with us and this is what he had to say:

1. Saying things as efficiently as possible is a form of respect for your reader.
2. If the reader feels respected, she is also going to feel more drawn into the story – more intimately connected.
3. Intimate connection = power.
4. The elimination of the unnecessary or redundant makes a piece feel formed, rather than casual – and that is basically the definition of art.

Taking Cues from Art 9


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In “Lightning Bolt” by Alexandre Antigna, a poor family recoils in fear from a storm, when, in reality, it’s their poverty that is much more likely to harm them.


The storm winds up being the perfect device to reflect the family’s denial of their situation. In micro fiction, what details can you provide to alert the reader to the true condition of your characters? And how can you use an event or their superficial concerns to illustrate your real message – like in the painting which uses the glimmer of a lightning bolt to explore the effects of denial or lack of self awareness?

On Process: Bruce Ferber


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Yesterday while unsuccessfully trying to come up with an interesting post, we pored over books about totem poles, the elements of design, Paris Review writer interviews among other things. And we couldn’t get the creative motor going. Then we remembered having met a very funny writer over the weekend, Bruce Ferber. Ferber is a 30 year veteran television writer, who has left that world to embark on his career as a novelist. What struck us about our conversation with him is how he talked about his process. “For me,” he said, “It’s really important to find the play in what I do. It’s really important to have fun.” So, looking to get some fun out of this, we reached out to Ferber to get some tips on getting unstuck.

1. Change Location – Ferber used to write in his office at his desk when suddenly his office started feeling like an office. There were stacks of paper at his desk and working there felt, well, like work. So leaving his computer behind, mechanical pencil and paper in hand, he upped and relocated to his yard, his dog following him as he went. And once he got there, the break from technology and change in scenery inspired creation.

2. Change Writing Tools – Word is a straight forward software and who doesn’t use it? Well Ferber did until he found Scrivener, which allows writers to break down each chapter into a separate document. The ability to move things around easily makes editing and puzzling things together fun, rather than an argument with a cursor.

3. Pay Attention to the Signs – As Ferber started writing his most recent book, he was trying to sort things out about the character and the direction of the story, when he came across a Penny Saver advertisement for a cheap $299 per eye Lasik procedure. For some reason, this intrigued him and before he knew it, it became the jumping off point for the main character in his very funny and heartfelt novel.

4. Reward Yourself – In line with changing loaction, Ferber likes to travel to find new places to write. He is admittedly not a Coffee House writer but he likes to explore the local hangouts wherever he goes. So for him, getting some work done in a cabin or a motel that’s out of town only means that he will get the reward of checking out the nearest bar or coffee shop.

Ferber told he us he doesn’t actually get blocked. “I just find the act of writing a tortuous process,” he said “unless I’m free and relaxed – that’s where the “make it fun” thing comes from. Then, once I get a bunch of pages written I can go back to the computer without feeling like its slave.” Well, we’ll take any advice we can get about turning something so difficult into a good time…And, speaking of good time, if you’re looking for an easy read with lots of heart, check out “Elevating Overman.” You won’t be disappointed.

Taking Cues from Art 8


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Here is another Caravaggio for inspiration, “Salome with the Head of John the Baptiste.” In this painting, Salome holds a plate with John the Baptist’s head – something she requested, while the executioner and a maid look on.


It almost looks like the maid is growing out of Salome’s neck, like Salome is quickly losing her youth as she accepts the severed head. The juxtaposition of youth and old age, in what almost seems to be a transition, is striking. Is this a metaphor for loss of innocence?

How can opposites be drawn in micro fiction to indicate something deeper? When using this kind of imagery, how do you deliberately craft a layer that can be peeled back to reveal meaning?

Artist Inspiration: Henri Matisse


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Matisse_Harmony in Red

Henri Matisse’s above “Harmony in Red” initially started out as “Harmony in Green,” then became “Harmony in Blue” before he settled on the red you see here. The painting went through a few incarnations before he figured out how to project an image that felt complete to him, in which everything worked to tell one story. “A work of art,” he once said to a French review in 1908, “implies a harmony of everything together.”

How do you find harmony in your micro fiction? Are you willing to try different things until the piece comes together as a whole? Can you let go of wonderful sentences – like Matisse did to what was surely an exquisite blue – because they do not serve the piece? We always like to think about the “Harmony in Red” example when editing our work. Matisse was brave enough to paint wildly different colors onto his original canvas until he came up with the right one. So if something doesn’t feel quite right with a piece of writing, we can be brave enough to explore another draft and try a different voice or point of view or alternate image. It may be just the thing that realizes what it is you’re trying to say.

Artist Inspiration: Miriam Pérez


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diversidad inter

Miriam Perez.
0.50 x 0.68 x 0.40 m.
Photo. Antonio Gonzalez.

As the Lost Wax Micro Fiction Collective, we recently decided to search for images of lost wax sculptures and came across Mexican artist Miriam Pérez. The movement and life she captures in these intricate figures immediately struck us. They dance, they emote and they make the viewer feel. (click on the above image for a bigger view and visit Peréz’s website for more) And the question for us is how can you do this same thing with words? How can you make your characters jump off the page? In micro fiction, how can you capture someone mid-moment so that the reader feels the before and after of that time? With Pérez’s sculptures, while you only see certain figures gliding mid-air, you know the jump and the landing.

While Pérez’s creations inspire us, her view on art is equally as compelling. The first quotation is from her website and the second is from an email she sent us. Don’t they make you want to create?

Miriam Pérez on art:
I believe art has to communicate at first sight, at first touch, the same way the breeze or the sun touches your skin, or a smile or a tear touches your soul. My work is based in the effort and joy of movement, the struggle of life and how it reflects in the human soul and form. Life is movement and so is art.

I think we need art to move our souls, to make us sensitive to all the things in this world in order to make it better. We are not to waste energy trying to justify art without a core. Empty.

Musician Inspiration: Leonard Cohen


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One thing that we at Lost Wax strive for is unearthing the root meaning of a piece so that ideally the core of the work touches something in the core of the reader. No one is better at finding the exact arrangement of words that shoot into the soul than singer/songwriter, Leonard Cohen. In a 2012 Gaurdian UK interview with Dorian Lynskey, here is what Cohen said about the process of writing:

I think you work out something. I wouldn’t call them ideas. I think ideas are what you want to get rid of. I don’t really like songs with ideas. They tend to become slogans. They tend to be on the right side of things: ecology or vegetarianism or antiwar. All these are wonderful ideas but I like to work on a song until those slogans, as wonderful as they are and as wholesome as the ideas they promote are, dissolve into deeper convictions of the heart.

When you start with an idea in micro fiction, do you spend enough time going beyond the original concept?


Suzanne by Leonard Cohen
Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy
But that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

George Saunders Writing Challenge Results


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GS_micro exercise

If you haven’t tried the George Saunders micro fiction exercise yet, do. It’s fun, expands the creative mind and winds up being quite revealing. Among many things, it shows the power of repetition. Below are a few of our results. Each story is exactly 200 words and has used 50 different words.

Again, you’ve got to try it, if you haven’t. And send us what you come up with. We’d love to put it up on the site! 



“The system has failed” the auto warning system reports. The warning would repeat until the meltdown commences. “The system has failed.” He shuts down the main frame and starts it again. The only way to fix the corruption. “The system has failed.” He knows he has only seconds left. He shuts down the main frame. “Meltdown imminent,” the auto warning system reports. He starts the mainframe again. And waits. Seconds pass. He waits and hopes. The auto warning system reports “The system has failed. Meltdown imminent,” One chance left. He starts the backup computer. The backup computer failed during the drill. The meltdown drill he has failed again and again. And the backup computer now failed. “The system has failed,” the auto warning system reports again. He has failed again. “Meltdown is imminent,” the auto warning system reports. He shuts down the main frame and the backup and starts it again and it has failed and meltdown is imminent. He thinks of his wife and his kid. He can’t leave. “The system has failed,” the auto warning system reports. The warning would repeat until the meltdown commences. He thinks of his wife and kid. He can’t lave. “The system has….”
– D. Dan Murphy


They met at the tree every day for a year. Branches to the sky and they sat grass talking a green summer. He was the pastor’s kid, a mannered type, all clean with words and such. So clean, his hair smelled of cinnamon soap. He was white like the book angels she learned. So white. Clean white and days the tree seemed bent to touch him. So they sat and met with words, the tree all bent. A white day, sky white, they met like branches, tangled and green. Not clean. Not clean. Not like the book angels learned to him. And she tried for a year to soap the summer clean, to soap the green, the sky bent and white. So white. The mannered pastor’s kid was gone. His words gone. Not his hair. Not the cinnamon she smelled every day. His cinnamon kid. White kid, bent hair, all bent. The book angels seemed to touch his kid, the white book angels she learned to him. And they sat at the tree, the branches bent to touch him, the sky with angels talking, and his kid, his white kid, talking words to the angels, talking words to the sky.
– Molly O


A peculiar fellow came to my door as I was about to leave for work. In his hands was a glimmery object that was hard to make out. I was ready to tell him to get lost, but I was drawn to the object.
“Sir, what do you have there?” I said. 
“An object beyond your wildest dreams,” he said.
“Well then, do show,” I said impatiently.
“Uh uh, not so fast,” said he.
“Well, make it fast.”
“Then tell me a dream,” he said.
“I was lost and a glimmery object was hard to get. Not hard, but fast. It was the wildest object. Impatiently and peculiar it was. There was a hand with peculiar dreams. I got lost as I was about to leave to work.”
“Uh, was that so hard?” he said.
“There, I said it. I’m ready now. You have said so.”
“Uh, then now you leave!” he said.
“What now? Before I tell you to get lost.”
His hands came to the ready, the object I was impatiently drawn to was about to be at the ready. “A door to your wildest dreams. A door to look to the beyond.”
My door to the beyond!
– Bradford Smith

Writing Challenge: George Saunders


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We are super excited to announce today’s special guest post: a writing challenge from the amazing George Saunders. Saunders is a highly skilled story-teller and insightful teacher. We recently reached out to him to see if he could give us an exercise that we could do as well as share with our readers. Well, we are all in luck, he sent back something truly fitting for the micro fiction writer…

Needless to say, we were psyched to get this and have already had tons of fun with it. Try your hand at it, the results are fascinating! And please send us what you come up with. We will be posting some responses next week.

George Saunders Writing Exercise
Write a 200-word story (not 199 and not 201) but you can only use 50 words. Start writing the story while keeping track of the word count at the bottom of the page. That is, if you write “The cat had an attitude” then, at the bottom, you would write

1. The
2. cat
3. had
4. an
5. attitude

…and would have thus used 5 of your words.

For some reason (I really don’t know why) this exercise produces rising action and humor and compression – even for writers who normally go on and on and don’t know how to do plot etc.

It’s best to put a time limit on it (20 mins) and make it so that everyone has to read theirs aloud at the end.


Incidentally if you haven’t read Saunders’ Tenth of December we suggest you click the title and purchase the book straight away. There are plenty of other titles to explore, but this one is a great place to start.


The cover of ‘Tenth of December’ and author George Saunders.
(Chloe Aftel / Random House)