Sunday, February 27, 2011

In the Works

I have a few writing projects in the works at the moment.  The first is a suspense novel that is in its final phases of proofreading and formatting.  I've performed a boatload of research and have spent time debating whether to take the traditional route of finding an agent or publisher for it, or trying out electronic publishing.  I'm not squeamish about self-publishing.  It's all business to me, and time is money.  I have a strong background in writing, editing and publishing, so I trust myself to do a professional job with my own work as well as the works of others.

I made the decision to take the route of electronic publishing, mainly because I want the experience.  I want to learn whatever this new process has to offer.  I know I have to do my own marketing, which most authors have to do to some extent anyway.

When I wrote the ending to my novel, I thought the rest would be easy, but the mere process of polishing the final product has been quite time-consuming.  Because I don't have an advance on a contract, I didn't make a dime for my year of effort that I put into writing the book.  It's difficult to justify that loss of that time without payment to those around you.  I can't wait to complete this project, because I'm so close, but at the same time I know that I can't let my anxiousness influence the amount of time I put into it or I will end up producing a lesser quality product. 

Also, I'm trying to write new poems so that I can have enough to submit for a state fellowship.  I've come close to achieving a fellowship in years past, and have learned that your chances of winning have everything to do with the preferences of the poet who judges the competition.  I made the mistake of not submitting one year, only to be told by all of my friends that I most likely would have won, because the judge that year turned out to be one of my favorite poets, a lady who writes in a style very similar to the style I choose to write in.  To this day, not entering the competition that year has been one of my greatest regrets.  I may not have won, but at least I would know that this poet who I greatly respect and admire had read my work.  Receiving feedback from award-winning poets is the true prize in entering such competitions.

Lastly, I am researching freelance article gigs on a regular basis in search of assignments that are up my alley.  During this process I find myself feeling disdain over requests for the same old articles that are included in magazines each month.  I may have to come up with some fresh proposal myself.  I do believe that magazines should strive for some level of consistency, but at the same time provide their readers with new information in each issue.  Otherwise, reading feels like deja vu.  I tend to not renew magazine subscriptions after the first year, because most magazines roll out too much repetition, and so many articles only scratch the surface due to either space constraints or a lack of effort to do research on the writer's part.

These are just my writing projects.  My photography projects are a whole different deal, but for the moment while my toes are cold and my body prefers to reside under multiple layers of blankets, quilts, and Snuggies, the writing projects are winning out.  Thank God for laptop computers.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Discussing Silence

Everyone Goes to Church But the Motorcycle Mechanic 

                                                                                                       by Gayle Sliva

                                          All week I anticipate
                                          Sunday morning when all
                                          good neighbors go to church,
                                          and peace is restored for
                                          both my horses and the poet
                                          in me who begs to write.

                                          We lead the three Arabs
                                          from back paddock to front
                                          pasture where, on Sunday
                                          mornings, traffic is
                                          cut down to a fraction
                                          of its normal weekday volume.

                                          Heads down, the horses
                                          graze within their
                                          acrylic white fence while I
                                          bring a chair, pen, and
                                          tablet to the shade of the
                                          poplar tree. A cool breeze
                                          caresses my bare arms,
                                          Russian Olive leaves tremble
                                          pleasantly, crickets chirp,
                                          birds gossip, and two
                                          resident cottontails meet
                                          beneath the pines to
                                          discuss silence in the
                                          wiggle of whiskers, the
                                          turning of periscope ears.

                                          Within minutes, the motorcycle
                                          engine starts up, loud as
                                          Godzilla attacking Tokyo.
                                          Again and again, it revs
                                          and roars, clawing the air,
                                          ripping jagged lines through
                                          the blue Sierra sky.

                                          Mountains crumble.

                                          The horses lose their
                                          appetites, run frantically in
                                          circles in search of an
                                          escape route from the
                                          screaming beast, and I
                                          lose the poet in me
                                          within a flock of sparrows
                                          scattering from the Willow trees.

When it comes to writing poetry, I practically go into a trance.  Loud noises, distractions, and interruptions are the enemy.  Often when I write, I'm in a race against time to get a first draft from beginning to end before something jerks me out of the mood.  It's important for writers to have a space where they can have control over the airwaves.  That space used to be my patio, but then the motorcycle mechanic moved in across the street, the granite counter top grinder moved in down the road, the dragster mechanic moved in way too close, and the construction foreman moved in next door, building cabinets and whatnot on his driveway right next to my barn.

Fortunately, the noise isn't as bad as it was during the big construction boom.  Back then I even had 18-wheelers turning around in my driveway several times a day, their drivers oblivious to the fact that they were terrifying my horses, causing them to cause themselves injuries in their panic, and running up my vet bills.  If a truck driver is going to pull into my driveway while I'm riding a young, green, fearful, inexperienced horse, he may as well bring a shotgun with him and shoot me, because roaring a huge vehicle with a loud engine right up to an untrained horse carrying a rider has the same result.  If you haven't read Maxine Kumin's memoir, Inside the Halo and Beyond, I highly recommend it... especially to truck drivers.  My husband had to put up a barrier at the end of our driveway, because these truck drivers didn't have the courtesy to respect my PRIVATE DRIVE - PLEASE STAY OUT sign.

For years I've watched the motorcycle and ATV fanatics clash with the horseback riders and nature lovers.  I'm fascinated by communities built specifically for people who share the same hobbies and interests.  In New Mexico there is a neighborhood specifically for pilots.  They can fly their planes to and from the neighborhood airstrip and taxi down the street into their own driveway and hanger next to their house.  In California there is a horse community where the stores have hitching posts and the land is designed to allow a harrow bed truck loaded with hay to back right up to the hay storage.  Writers' communities usually consist of one building dedicated to housing writers or a group of cabins used for a writing retreat.

I'd like to see more of this -- intelligently designed communities where rules don't necessarily have to be made and enforced, because everyone shares a similar mindset.  Quiet people here.  Loud people there.

Friday, February 18, 2011


When I was younger, the fact that I could crank out half a dozen new poems a day disgusted my other writer friends. Ironically, my favorite poet had a habit of only writing maybe a dozen poems a year, and spending a tremendous amount of time revising each one as if it were a treasured jewel that needed regular polishing to maintain its shine. I always wondered how he knew when a poem was finished.

I had a mindset back then that allowed me to see the magic in everything. I could make connections that were far-fetched, yet made perfect sense after globing them together in a poem. I miss that part of me and want to get it back.

I've put in a lot of time searching out non-commercial writer blogs and clicking the FOLLOW button, hoping that each day I might find a post within my RSS feed that inspires me. The blog world hasn't failed me.

I chose the word "unfolding" for the title of this blog, because I feel like a wadded up piece of paper tossed in a trash can that occasionally creaks and crackles as it tries to unfold itself. I can't wait to see what is written on me.

Countless times I have tried to make a living doing something I love, and every time life and the need to eat and pay bills took over. Just when I'm about to have a breakthrough, I have to go out and get a real job with a regular income. I'm there again.

I keep telling myself not to give up, but to trust in the unknown and the unformed. Have the courage to be vulnerable, and seek out fuel for transformation. Words inspire words. Bring it on.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bernard Pivot Blogfest

Nicole Ducleroir is holding a Bernard Pivot Blogfest in celebration of passing her 500 Follower milestone. You can answer the following questions and get to know other bloggers in the process.

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
A quiet trail ride in the mountains with just my horse and no one else around.

What turns you off?
People who invade my peace, quiet and privacy.  Especially people who stare.

What is your favorite curse word?

What sound or noise do you love?
The sounds of horses grazing.

What sound or noise do you hate?
The sound of too much testosterone trying to act cool by revving loud vehicle engines.  Oh, and doors slamming.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

What profession would you not like to do?
A medical receptionist answering too many phone lines, putting people on hold when they have emergencies.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
"Go back.  You have so much more to do."

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    Revision Checklist

    Here's a little set of guidelines I put together years ago to help myself and other writers.  Most of this advice was learned from years of poetry workshops.  Feel free to print it out for your own use.  --Gayle


    • Pare out words that have no purpose.
    • Pare out lines that have no purpose.
    • Pare out poems that have no purpose.
    • Pare out clich├ęs.
    • Pare out unoriginal ideas.
    • Pare out each determiner, such as “the,” “a” and “an” that is not necessary.
    • Pare out possessives that are not necessary.
    • Pare out excessive modifiers.
    • Pare out redundancies.
    • Pare out contrived language.
    • Pare out contrived images.
    • Pare out explanatory passages, unless the explanation is particularly unique and poetic.
    • Pare out or replace weak openings.
    • Pare out or replace weak endings.
    • Pare out or replace weak middles.
    • Replace passive verbs with active verbs.
    • Replace present participle “ing” verbs with present tense verbs. (ie. Bleeding to bleeds)
    • Replace prepositional phrases with tighter language.
    • Replace excessive use of alliteration.
    • Replace titles that do not draw you into the poem.
    • Replace titles that give away your ending.
    • Replace epigraphs that tell it all.
    • Replace rough transitions.
    • Replace common language with musical or poetic language, and pay special attention to the combinations of vowels and consonants.
    • Check spelling.
    • Check punctuation.
    • Check for consistency of tense.
    • Check for consistency of voice.
    • Check for unintentional repetition of words.
    • Check line breaks for best pause effect.
    • Check information to verify its authenticity.
    • Check for clarity.
    • Check for double meanings you may not want.
    • Check for balance.
    • Check for irregular rhythm.
    • Check for best usage of stanzas.
    • Check ethics of content. Is there something you wrote that could hurt a reader?
    • Consider combining nouns with verbs not usually used with those nouns, such as “night leans.”
    • Consider changing to a different point of view. (ie. First person to third person)
    • Avoid creating a falsified antiquity.
    • Stick to only those languages you have mastered.
    • Aim for subtlety or revise toward the mystery.

    Saturday, February 5, 2011

    The Impact That Throws Us Head First Onto Poetry Road

    "I'd like to see a show of hands for the poem you thought was best... and you can't vote for your own." Mr. Gold, my sixth grade teacher, leaned on his podium with the first half-smile I'd seen in weeks. Each student had just stood to read his or her original poem, and the result seemed to please him. His eyes traveled slowly from head to head up and down the rows, his voice called out the name of each student. Everyone waited for someone to raise his or her hand, but so far not one poem received any votes. 

    I was in the fourth of five rows, I could feel my name around the corner, a freight truck in the oncoming lane. Susie, behind me, would get all the votes. Everyone wanted to be Susie's friend because no one wanted to be beat up by her. My name hit me along with a sudden slap of hands into the air above our heads. I stared around the classroom, stunned, as Mr. Gold took in the count of votes.

    "Oh no, my poem was stupid," I said in protest. I thought for sure this was some kind of conspiracy formed for the sole purpose of picking on me. 

    "No, it wasn't. It was good," I heard Susie say, followed by several similar comments from her many friends.

    "It was quite good," said Mr. Gold. 

    I looked around, studying faces for a glint of deceit, listening for a snicker under clasped hands. I had just read a poem about being in love with a dead race horse. How could anyone think that is good? Yet a strong feeling of sincerity occupied the room. I began to let the sweetness of it all expand inside me as the class continued the voting process. This was the first time in the seven years of my elementary education that my peers showed any approval toward me. I finally had a taste of popularity, and just in time for junior high school. 

    Many years later, when I was a wild high school student, not popular but a loner who like to cause trouble, a self-sensitive girl who spent her evenings writing poems by her window when she wasn't out turning the town upside-down, I answered my door to find a little Girl Scout selling cookies. 

    This could have been a wonderful opportunity for me, since my mother had appointed my brother and I to be responsible for chasing off the peddlers. Just the week before, my brother thoroughly impressed my mother by scaring off a couple of Bible bangers while opening the peephole and speaking in a possessed voice reminiscent of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. However, before I could conceive a creative idea on how to get rid of the girl and somehow still obtain a package of Thin-Mints, she spoke up with a seemingly omniscient gift.

    "Did you used to be in Mr. Gold's class?" she asked.

    Feeling nervous that this girl not only knew where I lived, but knew my sixth-grade teacher, I mumbled a yes.

    "I thought so. He talks about you all the time."

    "What?" I said, sensing fear rising in me, searching for something I'd done wrong that Mr. Gold might still remember. It was the spit wads, he must be using me as an example of what happens to students when they fling spit wads.

    "I saw your soap box derby racer in your garage. He talks about your cars and he reads your poems to us."

    "No way," I said, challenging the girl as if it were all a lie. She's picking on me, I thought. In one short conversation and the mention of Mr. Gold, I had shrunk down to the size of this little Girl Scout standing on the step before me.

    "Would you like to order some cookies?" she asked.

    I took her order form from her and signed up for three boxes of Thin-Mints and one box of those peanut butter cookies. Then I thanked her kindly and wished her luck, warning her that my brother was at the next door neighbor's house, and she just might want to skip selling cookies over there.

    Thursday, February 3, 2011


    Welcome.  My name is Gayle Sliva and I am a writer, among many other things.  I got my start in publishing back in college when I wanted to prove a professor wrong.  Circa 1985, after taking two classes with a creative writing professor who consistently awarded me with nothing less than A's, this same professor told me I would never be able to publish my short stories, because they weren't "good enough."

    I immediately submitted several short stories for publication in literary journals, and they all were accepted for publication.  Much to this professor's credit, though, he did say as an aside that I "might" be able to get some of my poetry into circulation.  I remember thinking at the time that I didn't care about poetry.  My passion was with short stories.  However, I eventually became addicted to poetry and did wind up publishing poetry in literary journals around the United States and England.

    In 1989 I joined a group called the Ash Canyon Poets, based in Carson City, Nevada, and met with this eclectic set of characters every Friday night for about ten years to critique poetry.   I owe them credit for the majority of my growth as a poet.  During that time, I taught poetry at seminars and in workshops to both children and adults.

    At one point I had a job that required me to take over a newspaper column.  The editor of the newspaper tried to talk me into leaving the agency I worked for and to write full-time for her newspaper.  I remember telling her that I wasn't interested in journalism.  My heart remained with the creative writing genres.  Years later, I thoroughly regretted my actions and wished I had accepted the job.  I got so interested in news reporting that I started blogging.  I took it to the hilt by attending events, taking notes and photographs, interviewing people, and blogging about it all.  I did it for free simply because I loved the whole process.

    My husband, who was an actor, award-winning poet and playwright at the time I met him, coached me in writing screenplays.  For a while there, I was completely consumed by writing for the theater and movies.  We had special software and books galore on the subject.  However, before I could complete any of these projects, life always got a hold of me and I had to go out and get a real job.

    And yes, I started many novels as well, but the way my life and finances were going, getting 80,000 words down on paper before all hell broke loose and pulled me away from my keyboard became impossible.  However, I recently finally did complete a novel with the help of lousy economic conditions, and hope to publish it soon.

    At one point I had grand plans to start my own publishing business.  I knew exactly whose work I wanted to publish.  I had one memoir and two poetry books lined up.  Then our toilet overflowed and we had to take all the money that I set aside to start the publishing business and direct it toward replacing our entire septic system leach field.  Life stinks sometimes, but if it comes down to me having to choose between my porcelain throne and poetry, well, let's just say I'm sitting pretty.