How do I explain to my child-self that it’s okay that Nancy’s kitties have a new home?  Their new home.  The new home they need because their mommy can’t take care of them anymore.  How do I tell Nancy?  She’ll put her good face on, but I know inside she can’t help but weep.  It should be good news, but damn it, it’s not good news.  It says Nancy is dying and is too sick to take care of them ever again.

Why does she listen to my advice and proclaim me the person in charge?  I’m not, you know.  Not yet.  Until she is declared “incapacitated” by two doctors, her word goes.  But she’s deferring to me, and that scares me.  Everything scares me, and everything about this scares me more than anything I’ve ever done before.  My parents?  They were easy compared to this.

What happens if I fuck it up royally?  I almost did, just this Monday.  The nursing home wanted to send her to her oncologist 12 miles away.  By transport.  A long trip for a woman who cannot sit up in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes.  I made some phone calls and determined this was for a followup for her to continue chemo.  We’ve discussed this and it was my understanding that she was done with the injection of poisons into her body.  (But my crazy mind wants to know—is she done with chemo because she’s done with chemo, or is she done with chemo because I’ve expressed the opinion that I suspect she’s done with chemo?)  I called the rehab facility and talked to her nurse, suggesting that she talk to Nancy about whether or not she wants to go back for more chemo.  I mean, why put her through a difficult trek if she doesn’t want it anymore?  And then I hung up, proud of my kindness and hard work on behalf of my friend.

Three hours later, I sit up, like a bolt, on the couch.  If Medicare can give her a 48-hour notice for refusing physical therapy or making no further progress on it, what’s to keep them from throwing her out for refusing treatment?  I freaked out.  Multiple phone calls to multiple friends, including Nancy encouraging her to tell them she’s not sure if she wants chemo or not and maybe they should remake the appointment.

Now, we are a little more than 48 hours out from beginning the push for emergency Medi-Cal, the thing that will keep her safe in the nursing home until it’s over, and another thought occurs to me.  Why does Medicare think everyone has a family at home to take care of them, a family who can put the time and the money into their loved one when so many single, childless boomers are reaching this stage in their lives?  Nancy has no family, and I’m her only friend left in the area—another matter, this one rejection by one of her friends that left me alone and sent me reeling last week.  It’s me and no one else.  I have to get her on Medi-Cal or I’ll either have to live with her or have her live in my house.  I’m already losing it the way it is; how well do you think that is going to work?

Tuesday morning I called the man who’s going to handle the urgent Medi-Cal filing and tell him the predicament I think I’ve gotten her in.  It turns out that physical therapy and treatment options are two different animals in the Medicare zoo, and a refusal to continue chemo should not elicit a Medicare eviction notice.  And, so far, it hasn’t.

This is the hardest situation I can ever remember endeavoring to survive.  My introversion is reacting with massive exhaustion as I spend too many days in a row out amongst people whose souls continue to suck the life out of me, and my anxiety disorder, quite simply, keeps begging me to ditch the bitch and run away.  It’s tempting, believe me, but how could I?  She’s my friend, and none of my struggles can compare on any scale anywhere to the state of her life now.

Soon, I hope, with the Medi-Cal issue settled, I’ll be able to give myself a little self-care—lunch out with a friend or two, a movie, maybe even a pedicure or that way-overdue visit to my own doctor.  Not to mention a few days off after every foray out into the world.  In the meantime, I will rely on friendly phone conversations spiced up with a joke or two and the kindness of not so much strangers as that of those who have traveled this rocky path before me.

Yes, indeed, #cancersucks.

Review – The Ruins on Stone Hill by F.P. Spirit

The Ruins on Stone Hill (Heroes of Ravenford Book 1) is about a bunch of guys getting together to have adventures. Using both physical weapons and magic, they fight off orcs, giants, golems and wicked wizards, usually destroying the bad creatures in the process. It’s a bit of a romp, and as such, it’s enjoyable. Unfortunately, I look for a bit more in a fantasy novel.

To me, fantasy novels offer the potential of placing a hero (male or female) on a quest that we as readers can identify with, allowing us to cheer those heroes on and celebrate when obstacles are overcome. The quest should involve something of moral or ethical value. A grail. The destruction of an object that could allow the baddest guy around to rule the world. Something worth fighting and dying for. In this book, the first quest to map a keep and potentially recover a scroll for a probably good wizard is taken on with a promise of payment in the end. To me, money doesn’t quite meet my criteria for a quest.

In addition, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot. Jumping from one adventure to the next, with little or no connection between them (save for the fact the two most important people in the town—the mayor and the wizard—are the ones sending them out) does not a plot make. Which leaves me thinking that the only plot in this is what it takes to pull this group together. And for a story about adventures, we sure skipped the third one fast. They started out, and then they were home again.

As a woman and a writer of fantasy myself, I found the stereotypes of the few female characters a bit too much to handle. Kailay, the barmaid at the local establishment, has doe-eyes for Lloyd, the big, strong, handsome human in the group.  She is “buxom” and referred to twice in three paragraphs as she is introduced as a “young girl.” That really got to me. She’s not a child (I hope). And then, when Kailay recognizes that Lloyd has eyes for another, she completely falls apart. Be still my feminist heart (and mouth). Three other women of minor prominence have equally boxed-in roles—all of them noble, beautiful, well-educated and practically perfect. And then there’s the half-human, half-orc warrior woman who shows up briefly, fights valiantly (a little Xena warrior princess there), but, being on the wrong side, cannot be allowed to survive. Now, she was interesting.

On the picky side, I found some of the language to be a little too modern. To me, a fantasy set in a typically semi-medieval world should watch the modern clichés and metaphors. I was jarred out of the story several times with phrases such as “picture perfect” (which to me implies a camera being involved somewhere).

Thank You for the Music (A Father’s Day Orchestration)

I’m sitting here tonight doing what I do nearly every night—listening to symphonic music on my Walkman while I write. And as I was writing and listening, I grew aware of my highly trained ear and its evolution. At the moment, it’s the soundtrack to the Sci-Fi* channel’s Children of Dune, the first cut, “Summon the Worms.” The piece begins softly with mournful strings and then begins to build until the strings and brass play point and counterpoint back and forth on the same theme. And then it bursts wide open with the tympani leading the rest of the orchestra into the billowing centerpiece. I play it over and over again because it, quite simply, makes my body tingle.

When I was in elementary school, my father would sometimes take me to his weekly orchestra rehearsals. He belonged to the local community orchestra which put on maybe three or four concerts a year. I would sit at the back of the rehearsal hall at the local high school with him and rejoice in the music that surrounded me. He played percussion. If it wasn’t brass, strings or woodwinds, he was your guy (except for piano and harp, of course).

The Pomona Valley Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal  circa 1958

My very favorite instrument he played was the tympani—the big copper kettledrums. I loved, and still love, that deep-throated pounding sound, almost like the beating of a heart. You have to tune those, you know. There are usually two or more in the orchestra, and they’re tuned to different notes. Each time before my dad would perform, he’d spend many minutes with his ear within millimeters of the drumhead tapping it lightly with the padded tympani mallet, and as he did so, he would turn one tuning screw a skosh clockwise or counterclockwise to get the desired pitch. (The drums typically have a range of a perfect fifth, according to Wikipedia.) And then he’d repeat the process with the other one. He loved those drums, but they didn’t belong to him. The school district owned them.

The orchestra from my father’s point of view

Dad would also let me sit with him during performances. That’s when all the hard work week after week came together in a perfect whole. I would sit on a chair just like his chair—an angelic-looking little blond girl—and watch and listen as the orchestra gave life to black dots on paper. I learned to play the piano starting in first grade, moved on to accordion and then violin along the way, but I believe that the greatest music education I ever got was sitting in that orchestra absorbing the contribution of every instrument alone and then together. I can tear “Summon the Worms” apart and appreciate its soaring due to the time I spent sitting at the back of that orchestra.

My father, my younger sister and
myself in a publicity photo for the orchestra.

So, to my father who’s been gone for nearly six years now, I say thank you. Thank you, Daddy, for the music, all the music. My life would falter were it not for my love of music. And while rock-and-roll is great and I love it dearly, it’s the magic of an orchestra that never fails to take me places I’ve never been before.

*That’s what the SyFy network was called when the miniseries first aired.

Applause, Applause, a Little Applause

Many, many years ago, I began collecting buttons. Not the kind you use for fastening clothing; the kind with statements on them. You know, the original memes? My first one, given to me by a guy in my senior English class in high school after the summer I first fell in love with The Lord of the Rings read “FRODO LIVES,” in dark blue letters on pale pink. Many more TLoR buttons followed—“COME TO MIDDLE EARTH!,” “FRODO FOREVER,” “FRODO FREAKS OUT,”  and my favorite, “FRODO GAVE HIS FINGER FOR YOU.” I keep those in a small cloth drawstring pouch in my Wedgewood tin along with the rest of these treasures.

The summer after high school I visited Wales, Ireland, England and France. I must have come home with a dozen buttons from that trip. My favorite is the one that reads “UNINHIBIT.” Well, it was the 60s, after all. I loaned that one to someone who never returned it (and if you’re reading this, I want it back). There were also the requisite 60s staples—“MAKE LOVE NOT WAR,” “LONG LIVE THE ETERNAL NOW,” and “MELTS IN YOUR MIND, NOT IN YOUR MOUTH.” Others that were not so common were “EATING PEOPLE IS WRONG” and “UP IS A NICE PLACE TO BE.”

I also own several political buttons, from Tom Hayden’s Senate campaign in 1976 to Kerry/Edwards in 2004. I have a great quote on a beautifully crafted piece which reads, “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got!” credited to Janis Joplin. And how about “NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO THERE YOU ARE”? Ain’t that the truth.




You can see it’s an eclectic selection (though the politics remain fairly stable). I even have one that simply says, “HERO,” in white on red.

Today I’m a hero to me. Today I can announce that I am now officially “Award-Winning Author D. Hart St. Martin” whose second book in the Lisen of Solsta series, Tainted, won the Indie Reader Discovery Award in young adult fiction. See their review. Long live the eternal now!

front cover shot - low rez (2)

Celebrate this event with me. Both Fractured and Tainted books are free for Kindle from 5/30 through 6/3/14.

*The theater cat from Archy and Mehitabel

Knock and the door will be opened

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you;
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
– Matthew 7:7-8

The above is one of the most important quotes from scripture for the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It takes on even more meaning in the light of what is about to occur on Saturday, April 5, 2014. That’s when a group of committed women will approach the Mormon tabernacle in Salt Lake City and request admission to the all-male Priesthood meeting. They do this to demonstrate their desire that women in the church gain ordination in the priesthood.

I was a Mormon once, from age twelve to age twenty. One of the most destructive things that was ever said to me was said by a local authority in the Mormon church when I was fifteen. (If you want the whole story, here’s a link to the blog about it.) I left the church and went on to fast-moving life of chasing pop stars and doing a fair variety of drugs in my twenties. I’ve since cleaned up my act. My only vices now are sugar, chocolate and coffee. But let me get back to my point here.

Here’s the thing. I had a picture of what Mormon women were like. I knew what they’d been like when I was a kid. Conservative, modestly dressed, subservient to their husbands and other men in the church, pro-life, anti-gay—you get it, right?  After sharing my story with them, they welcomed me into their inner circle. I read posts and comments that surprised the hell out of me. These women weren’t so very different from me. Raised in a culture which values family and a well-defined faith, I expected to find no free thinkers. What a dolt!

I love these lights of joy in the world. Some work outside the home; others don’t. Most are mothers; a few aren’t. Many of their husbands are surprisingly supportive, even sharing their profiles as well (ending as all the profiles on their web site end with “I believe women should be ordained”). Some have faced rejection from family. Several have experienced the pain of having their church privileges revoked because they’ve refused to denounce their involvement with Ordain Women (OW). But the one thing they have in common with one another is their absolute conviction that women in the Mormon church should receive the priesthood just as every man in the church has received it.

So do me a favor. On Saturday, around 4 p.m. MDT, say a little prayer and think a good thought for my friends who are attempting to gain access to a meeting which even non-Mormon men can attend but Mormon women in good standing cannot. They’ve been told by the church to not step on Temple Square (where the tabernacle, the temple and several other church buildings are situated). They’ve been told they will not be allowed to be there. They’ve been told by the church to gather with the anti-Mormon protestors across the street, but that’s not where they belong. They all love the church, and they aren’t there to protest. They are simply showing up to request permission to enter as equals to the men. Is that really so much to ask?

Mormon Women Opening Pandora’s Box

I was going to hold off on posting this, but then I read this article online about how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) disciplines people utilizing committees made up exclusively of men, with the spotlight on the disciplining of women. This so disgusted me that I decided I had to speak my piece or explode.

I used to be a Mormon. I’ve written about this before and the fact that Mormon women are denied the priesthood which all Mormon men expect to achieve by the age of twelve.

Recently, I shared my story with a group of wonderful women, women who seek priesthood for all in the LDS church. They have welcomed me into their inner sanctum where stories are shared privately, and I will not betray that trust. But here’s what pains me about this more than anything else.

These women have an atypical attitude about many things compared to other Mormons. They believe LGBT individuals should have ALL the rights that heterosexuals have, something that the church chooses not to acknowledge. (They allow LGBTs into the fold, but only if they don’t practice their “deviant” behavior.) They find fault with conservative politics (most Mormons being ultraconservative).  They question the authorities in the church, and that is a definite no-no.

The LDS church brings its children up in a somewhat cultish fashion. “We have the only truth on the planet,” they claim, “and don’t you dare do or say anything to the contrary.” The church authorities claim direct guidance from God. And these women pray for the revelation that will open the doors to the priesthood for them.

There has been some pushback from above. In some cases, local authorities (and yes, they are called “authorities” by everyone in the church) have tried to discourage participation but have done nothing punitive. In others, punitive actions have been taken—such as taking away church assignments and denying temple recommends—in an attempt to quell what is perceived by some as Satan’s handiwork.

It’s not that these women are innocents, eyes wide in shock at the repercussions. But they are surprised when a place they had deemed safe from childhood morphs into a place not quite as safe anymore just because they’ve questioned the status quo. Have they never heard of Sonia Johnson? (Sonia Johnson was an upstanding Mormon woman who supported the ERA back in the 1980s. She spoke before a Senate committee which included Senator Orin Hatch of Utah. She had the audacity to answer truthfully about equal rights for women to this LDS man, and she ended up excommunicated for standing up for all women’s rights.)

I worry about these new friends I’ve made. They are wonderful, wise women, sincere in their desire to understand why God hasn’t stepped in to encourage the men at the top to at least consider opening the priesthood up to women. I worry because they continue in their faithfulness, and I fear it is possible that before all this is over, they will find the church that had once embraced them has abandoned them to find faith on their own.

I don’t want to see them turned into orphans. They deserve much better than that. I wish—oh, how I wish—I could fly in on their behalf, an adult Katniss Everdeen, arrow aflame in my bow, strike at the statue of the angel Moroni at the top of the temple and take the slings and arrows flung back in outraged defense. My skin is tough; I haven’t been a Mormon in over 40 years. These men who claim guidance from heaven can’t touch me the way they can touch my brave friends.

But for that very same reason—my lack of participation in the church for so long—this isn’t my fight; this is their fight. However, nothing will stop me from cheering them on from the sidelines, wiping their tears, cleaning their wounds and holding them in my arms when the burden grows heavy and threatens to overwhelm them.  May the God they rely on bless them all.

Craft versus Crap

Last week I made the mistake of critiquing something online that was written by someone I hardly know.  This person didn’t ask me to critique it; it was only a general call for comment on a small opening paragraph in first draft.  Now, personally, I think sharing a first draft is like sharing an uncooked pie—hard to cut and even harder to get out of the pie tin.  In addition, the person didn’t know me or my work—I don’t have a “name” or reputation—and had no reason to trust a word that I wrote.  And I wrote plenty.  (When will I learn?)

But this is not about my woeful and misbegotten critique.  It’s about respect for the craft.  Any craft—painting, acting, architecture, dancing, singing, writing, whatever—anything that requires experience, practice, time and the input of others who know what they’re talking about.  Shortly after I posted my lengthy critique, encouraging this person to get some more practice in, get input from a writing group, etc., before attempting to publish, I got slapped hard (my name wasn’t mentioned, but unlike my private critique, this was public) for being “mean and vicious.”  Condescending and arrogant I’ll accept, but mean and vicious?

Anyway, I swore off critiquing online where my tone of voice and my facial expressions can’t be included in the picture and where they don’t know me from Eve so who am I to say anything negative.  Then I moved on with my life.

Last night on American Idol, I watched as three very talented, very experienced and very committed judges (Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban) gave magic golden tickets for the next stage of the competition to contestants they felt had a chance and denied the same to those they felt either needed to practice more to try in another year or needed to reconsider their life choices.  They rejected these people (the ones the show followed through the process) in as gentle a way as they could while still being honest.  Most of the rejects came out of the audition room in tears, hugged their friends and family and appeared to pretty much get on with it, some vowing to work on improving and then return to try again.

A couple, however, got pissed.  The following are not direct quotes, but they capture the essence.  “That Harry Connick is stupid.  He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”  “I’m the best American Idol contestant ever.  They’re idiots for turning me down.”  The gist was that these people hadn’t been listening.  They didn’t care about craft; they cared about fame.  And that’s the stupidest way to approach the creative life where fame is rare and fleeting and the work and the process should be the real reward that you seek.

My advice to this person I insulted badly was to learn the craft and then finish the book (with all the hard work that entails, not to mention the writing) and only then to consider getting it published.  I see too many books shot up to the magical place in the sky where electronic books go to live that haven’t been rewritten once, nor have they been proofread or edited by anyone other than the author.  This gives all of us indies a bad reputation.  Yeah, what you, the unwilling-to-trust-the-process author, do is screw it up for those of us who struggle with commas and “just” and “only” and why-would-the-character-do-that-when-they’ve-never-done-it-before dilemmas.

So please, I beg of you, do this one thing when you choose any creative endeavor.  Give a shit.  It matters.

A Cover, A Cover–My Kingdom for a Cover

When I set out on the journey to share Lisen of Solsta’s journey with anyone who would listen, I really had no idea what I was in for. All I could see was that independent publishing meant I didn’t have to write any more query letters, that no agent or publisher would send me one of those one-size-fits-all rejection letters ever again, and that the control was all in my hands.

Well, not quite.  Self-publication requires a multitude of skills beyond just writing.  Here are a few of them:

  1. More-than-amazing proofreading skills and the patience to do it just one more time.
    Or…the money to pay someone else to proofread it for you, someone you trust or someone a friend knows and trusts.
  2. A knowledge of what Word can do and the willingness to follow the suggestions on your print-on-demand (POD) publisher’s web site in order to make the print copy look professional.
    Or…the money to pay someone else to format it for you, after which you must make sure they formatted it to your specific instructions and it looks the way you expected it to look (unless they have a logical explanation for why they did it differently, of course).
  3. An average intelligence in order to fill out the forms for the POD publisher, making sure the name of the book is correct, you’ve included all pertinent authors and contributors, and have chosen tags that will call others to your book when they search.  (And don’t forget your cover artist as one of those contributors—see #4 below).
  4. The artistic expertise to create a stunning and seductive cover.
    Or…the money to hire someone to collaborate with you, listen to your ideas and then bring them to life.

It is this last item I have opened up Word today to address.

I wrote my first book, Fractured, with a great deal of care. I rewrote it and rewrote it, submitting it over and over to the writing workshop I trust with my life, and when I’d reached the magic moment of READY, I did everything listed above.  Except for the cover.  I used a template from my POD publisher and a painting that was in public domain.  It wasn’t a bad cover; I did a fairly good job at it.  But it wasn’t the sort of cover that attracts young people, and my book was YA fantasy.

And it bombed.  Big time.  Fractured was named an IndieReader.com Best Indie Book of 2013, but I think I sold no more than a dozen copies.  I did get 5-star reviews from everybody who read it, but they were all friends and family, save for that IndieReader.com review (also 5 stars).

There was a disconnect.  Great book, no response from potential readers.  What was the problem?  I’ve written before about how even the larger details of marketing elude me, but I do keep getting myself and my books out there.  No, the disconnect was that adequate-but-uninspiring cover.

So…I hired a cover artist—a good one.  I had her start on book 2 (Tainted) so I could get that one published.  She did a wonderful job.  See?


A couple of weeks after Tainted’s publication, my artist, Aidana WillowRaven, asked how we were doing in sales.  Nowhere.  I hadn’t wanted to look because I knew it wasn’t doing that well.  Who’s going to buy the second book in a series if they haven’t read the first one, and clearly few people had read the first one.  I came clean with Aidana and said that things might go much better if we got the first cover done and out there.

So now I’m on the line.  The new cover for Fractured is finished and available on Kindle.


Gorgeous, isn’t it?

The paperback is another story.  Between typos in the back cover copy due in part (only in part) to making modifications too quickly to proof it properly and my dear POD publisher’s digital proofer somehow making the cover look like a printer somewhere had run out of ink, I’ve had to submit the thing, so far, a total of three times.  Aidana remained loyal and committed to getting it right and spent most of an entire day on my project when she could have been moving on to other work.  Heaven and the Goddess bless her.

Here’s my point.  Spend the money on a cover artist.  Find someone you can work with, someone who cares, someone who will put their arm on your shoulder and tell you they are your collaborator and they want it to be perfect as badly as you do.  In the beginning, I couldn’t afford this, and many who read this won’t be able to afford it either.  But spend as much as you possibly can.  Go as high as you can to get the best you can afford.  Look for sales, look for discounts, whatever it takes.  Because a book is like a beloved child, and first impressions do count.  If it’s truly good enough to publish, it deserves the very best you can give it.

A Young Woman of Consequnce

Hadassah has a problem.  She’s a vampire who fell in love with a human, but all we learn about that in this first book of the series is that her father intervened and killed the young man a year ago.  Now Haddie learns that her vampire brother, Damian, loves Madelyn, a human, and Haddie decides not to let the same thing happen to her that happened to her beloved Fletcher.  What follows is a chase between Devin, Haddie and Damian’s uncle, and the vampire siblings with their human.  Haddie even enlists the help of the Huntsmen whose primary goal is to eradicate the world of vampires, an interesting alliance which will undoubtedly grow ever more testy in future volumes.

Fanged Princess by Elisabeth Wheatley is a remarkable novella.  Written by a young woman, still a senior in high school at the time of its publication, the book excels at not only telling an exciting, riveting story but also at providing the reader with insights into the characters that few girls of Ms. Wheatley’s age can achieve.  Her writing style impressed me, and her care and attention to punctuation and grammar as well as her well-honed narrative style raises her work to a professional level not often seen in self-published work.  All I can say is that in the case of this Texas gal, home schooling worked.  Both Hadassah and Elisabeth are young women of consequence, and I highly recommend Fanged Princess to anyone seeking a quick paranormal diversion.

Open Letter to Indie Authors

A blunt, not precisely concise, but enlightening piece cautioning indie authors to act like professionals. Great nuggets of golden advice regarding publishing and promotion.

Jena Gregoire - Home

Open Letter Graphic

1/6/2014 – AN UPDATE ON THE UPDATE – I have been approving 100% of the comments left on this post.  I haven’t hidden a single thing.  I have received exactly FOUR pieces of negative feedback on this open letter, three of which were about my use of profane language.  Due to this, I feel it necessary to issue this warning:  I say ‘fuck’ a lot.  If you don’t like it, take a hike because you’re not going to like what you’re about to read.    Sorry to be a bitch about it but this is MY blog.  That’s like going to someone’s house and ragging at them because of the way they do something in their own home.  Had I posted it on YOUR blog, you’d have the right to complain about it.  Instead, you’re posting the comment just to have something to say.    


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