Cancer threatens a combat vet’s best friend and lifesaver

Guest post by Lisa Bonnington

Robbie spent four years as a US Marine before he became a Green Beret Special Forces medic in the Army.

Bella, Robbie’s PTSD service dog started her life as a rejected show dog thanks to an overbite. Then she became a skilled and irreplaceable service dog, a companion, a friend, and above all a life-saving member of Robbie’s family.

But the story of Bella and Robbie didn’t start there.

Several years after being honorably discharged, a deeply concerned friend tricked Robbie into going to the VA, where he was diagnosed with service related PTSD.  An account of this event is shared in Robbie’s soon to be released book The Next Mission.

Based on a recommendation that a service dog might help with Robbie’s PTSD symptoms that were becoming progressively worse, Robbie started the process to find a service animal. When he read Bella’s profile, he thought her temperament sounded ideal for his needs. Unfortunately, Bella was already scheduled for adoption to a man in Pennsylvania but that ended when the man lost his job and went through a divorce.

To meet Robbie, Bella started her second journey. She flew alone from Maryland to Atlanta with an eight-hour layover, before finally reaching her destination, Colorado Springs.  Bella arrived severely dehydrated, starving, scared, and covered in her own feces.  Lucky for Bella, Robbie’s medical training helped him deal with her health challenges and he was able to nurse Bella back to health.

Since then, the two have been inseparable.

Bella naturally and gracefully handles her responsibility as a service dog.  When Robbie’s PTSD is triggered she will place her head in his lap to take his focus off the trigger.  She will push her head under his hands, requesting a pet to give him a calming distraction.  If she hears stress in his voice, she often stands between Robbie and who or what has triggered him.

Bella is a kind, loving, gentle giant that thinks she is a lap dog.  I have never seen her aggressive unless she feels a member of her family is in danger.  She has adopted us, my boys and I, as her own.

Bella has grown into a skilled and irreplaceable service dog, a companion, a friend and above all a loved member of our family.

Recently Bella was diagnosed with Cancer in her hip.  The veterinarians and specialists we’ve met both recommended amputation of her hind quarter and possibly chemo therapy.  They also assured us that this was the best course of action and treatment to give her a chance to reach her normal life expectancy.  They assured us that dogs unlike people adapt quite easily to being a tripod.

However, this treatment comes at a very high price with the surgical estimate running between $5,000-$7,000 and that doesn’t include the expenses Robbie has already paid for x-rays, the diagnosis, medication, and the future possibility of chemo treatment.

With Robbie living on a fixed income due to his service disability, these costs are prohibitive, and we are not in a position to handle this expense.  We are now faced with the grim possibility of having to consider putting Bella down.  For anyone who has had to make this heartbreaking decision you know how devastating it can be.  To be forced to make it due to financial constraints is even worse.

We would not be able to live with ourselves if we did not exercise every possibility to help save Bella.  She has given so much of herself unconditionally, and it is our turn to take care of her.

Bella is the reason that Robbie, during very dark times, did not take his own life.  It is incomprehensible for him to consider taking hers.

I humbly ask you to consider a donation no matter how big or small and/or to share Bella’s story.  Go Fund Me: Saving Bella the Service Dog

Thank you.

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The Strongest Tree Stands Alone

“There it is, girls,” the teacher said as his group slipped through the narrow space between two large granite boulders.  Mr. Jasper heard some of the girls gasp in awe and murmur at the view spread out below them. The valley with its city stretched toward the ocean.

“It looks like purple soup,” one girl said of the carbon haze hiding most of the distant buildings and highways.

“It feels like we’re standing on another world,” a second girl says.

“Mr. Jasper, how old is it?” the youngest asked. Tiffany was fourteen and instead of staring at the view, she was looking at the bristlecone pine clinging to the steep slope near the peak of this 9,400-foot mountain. Tiff weighed about ninety pounds and stood five foot, three inches tall.

“I’ve read this tree was here before Jesus Christ was born,” Jasper replied.

That caught the attention of the others six. “No shit!”

“For being that old, it doesn’t look like it’s that tough.” The oldest girl, Crystal, was twenty-two. Her arms were covered with colorful, artistic tattoos. After being repeatedly raped by her stepfather and three half-brothers starting when she was eleven, she cut herself. After she stopped, the scars embarrassed her explaining the recent body art. She’d been in Mr. Jasper’s English class for four years and was on track to finally graduate this year.

“Mr. Jasper, even you look sturdier than that tree, and you are really old,” one of the other girls says.

Mr. Jasper grinned. He was seventy-four and had been a teacher for forty-three years.

“How long can one of these survive?” Tiffany asked as she frowned and glared at the girl that called her teacher old.

“The oldest one has been around for more than 5,000 years,” he said as he made eye contact with all of them. “You know why I brought you here. These trees are not only long-lived but they are highly resistant to harsh weather and bad soil.”

“They are survivors,” Crystal said, “like you are teaching us to be.”

Mr. Jasper nodded. He taught at an alternative high school that only worked with the most difficult students. All of these girls had been abused and bullied. Some were victims of rape. They all had PTSD just like Mr. Jasper. Before going to college on the GI Bill and teaching, he’d been a Green Beret and served in Vietnam for three tours.

When he discovered some of his students had PTSD, he decided to do something about it and back in the late 1980s formed what he called a survival club. This year there were no boys. He taught everyone that joined how to manage their PTSD and defend themselves when bullied. He also took them on trips into the wilderness and taught them how to survive there too.

“Well, well, look at this,” a raspy, gravel voice said.

Mr. Jasper was the furthest from the narrow passage between the boulders. He saw the girls turn and stare at the three muscular young men that had appeared in the gap. It was obvious from the gang tattoos that they belonged to one of the more violent gangs that plagued the poorest areas of the city. He’d seen them sitting in their car at the dirt parking lot at the base of the trail that led to this mountaintop. He’d also been aware that they had been following him and the girls.

“I’m in love,” the largest, muscle-bound gangster said and he was staring at Crystal who appeared to shrink as fear blossomed in her eyes.

Tiffany, who was the smallest in every way, pushed through the pack to stand in front of Crystal. She put a hand on Crystal’s arm and felt her trembling. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I’ll take care of this,” she said.

Tiffany was not only Mr. Jasper’s student, she was also one of his five foster children, currently three boys, and two girls, and she’d been with him since she was eight.

The three goons had flesh-eating grins splitting the evil looking tattoo covered faces. “I’m going to have me three of them,” one of the gangbangers said.

“Like hell you are.” And Tiffany launched herself. She took out the biggest one first with a flying leap and a foot to his groin. Twisting off of his falling body, she sliced out with a fist and hit her second target in the throat and then spinning she bounced to her feet and with her legs like coiled spring slammed into number three with the top of her head breaking his nose. Rolling off of him, she landed prone on the ground and spun knocking his legs out from under him causing him to fall hard.

Her attack took Tiffany less than three seconds.

Back on her feet, with a toothy smile splitting her pretty face, she turned to the others and said, “See what you can do to jerks like this if you listen to Mr. Jasper and learn what he teaches you?”

“Shit, girl, I want to learn moves like that,” one of the girls said. ”When do we start, Mr. Jasper?”

“Tiffany was my last hand-to-hand combat student,” he replied. “I’m too old for that anymore. She will teach you but I feel it is my duty to warn you Tiffany will not put up with laziness or smart mouths. If she says her class starts at five in the morning, don’t be late. She isn’t as patient as I am.”

“No shit, Sherlock!” another girl said.

“And you will call me Ms. Bristlecone,” Tiffany said.

That drew laughter from the others.

The three gang bangers were still on the ground writhing and groaning in pain.

“Can I hurt them, Mr. Jasper?” Tiffany asked as she narrowed her eyes. “I mean, really hurt them!”

“No, Tiff,” he said. “Just take their shoes so they have to hike back to their car barefoot. … Oh, and take their car keys and throw them that way.” He pointed toward the valley and the city hidden beneath the purple carbon haze. “If they want to drive home, they’ll have to risk climbing down the steep slope to find the keys.”

“I like that idea,” Tiffany said. She pointed to two of the other girls who were currently learning what she already knew about defending herself. “Watch my back while I take their shoes and find those keys.”

Note: This post was written from a VA writing group prompt, a photo of what looked like a single tree in a purple mist growing on the side of a steep slope.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

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Which one is the Dream

Note: This post was written by me from a writing prompt in my Vet Center PTSD peer support group. The Prompt was “Dreams”.

When his daughter told him she wanted to go fishing, he didn’t know if he was dreaming or not. She was supposed to be dead, but he didn’t want her dead.

“How am I going to teach you to fish when I’ve never done it?” he asked. “I don’t own a fishing rod.”

“Look, Dad, I’m not going to be around much longer.” Amie was nine. “Everything the doctors tried has failed. The treatments have been worse than the Leukemia.” She covered her bald head with the spread fingers of both hands. “I hate being bald. I want my hair back. I want to live my final months without the treatment pain, and I want to start by learning how to fish together. Then we can go skydiving or go skiing in South America when it’s summer here.”

“I’ve never skied,” he replied.

“We’ll learn together,” she said and took his hand in both of hers. “This is going to be fun and you’ll have pleasant memories of us doing things together after I’m gone. That’s what I want.”

Warm tears flooded his eyes. He didn’t want to lose her too. He’d already lost his wife to a hit-and-run driver when they’d been out riding bicycles together as a family. He’d witnessed it happen. He’d also seen the car’s license plate before the driver sped off, but he didn’t report that to the police. He wanted to execute the murderer himself, and he knew who’d help him. They were all in the same Marine Corps unit and had been deployed together several times to Iraq and then Afghanistan.

Wait, how could they help him? They’d all been killed in the same ambush in Afghanistan where he’d been taken prisoner by terrorists.

“Don’t go, Dad!” Amie said. “You can’t leave. We have to go fishing again.”

But her voice faded and was gone, and he opened his eyes to darkness. The air was frigid and stuffy. He tried to straighten his legs but couldn’t because the space he was in was to small. He explored it with his hands. It seemed he was in a rusty metal box that was about a foot high, two feet wide and five feet long. He tried to scream but his tongue was swollen, his throat raw, and his lips scabbed. His rectum also hurt and then he remembered how they had stripped him naked, and tied him face down to a metal rack before taking turns sodomizing him.

He heard metal screech and then the top of the metal box opened letting in blinding light. He blinked but couldn’t clear his vision. He felt rough hands grab him and drag him from the cramped box. He was slapped. He was punched. He felt blood running from his nose.  He wanted to fight back, to resist, but he was too weak.

Then they were tying him to a metal lattice and lowering him into a pit full of a brown slop that smelled like shit. Once his body was immersed, he had to lean his head back as far as possible to keep his mouth out of the crap so he could breathe.

“Dad, Dad,” he heard Amie’s voice say. “Do you hear me?  It’s okay. I’m right here with you. I’m not dead. You were rescued. You’re in a military hospital. You aren’t a prisoner anymore, and leukemia didn’t get me. Remember? And I’m not nine. I’m twenty. We’re going to get through this together. I want you back, Dad. You’re all the family I have.”

He hoped Amie’s voice was real.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

I am a Former U.S. Marine – what about you?

Recently, on another blog, I was chastised in a reply to one of my comments where I mentioned I was a former Marine.  The Blog post was about Trump wanting to arm teachers to protect our public schools. I was against that insane, stupid idea from the serial lying, Orange Dumpster who is also known to me as the Kremlin’s Agent Orange. I have no respect for Donald Trump. I despise this poor excuse for a human being.

My anonymous critic was allegedly a she, and she had never been a U.S. Marine because she pointed out in her comment that all the Marines she knew referred to themselves as inactive Marines and that she had never heard anyone refer to themselves as a former Marine.  The way she wrote her comment made it sound like I was a liar and had never been a U.S. Marine.

To be clear, I have been an active Marine, an inactive Marine, and finally a former Marine. I’ve been a former Marine for a long time and it is going to stay that way up to my last heart beat and breathe. I wouldn’t accept one million dollars to become an active Marine again, but I also wouldn’t accept a million dollars to sell my experiences as a U.S. Marine to someone else.

An active U.S. Marine is still in uniform and belongs to the U.S. government.  Believe me when I say that when you join any of the branches of the U.S. military, you basically become a slave with a wage, and my DD-214 clearly shows I was an active Marine from May 1965 to May 1968 when I was released from active duty and became an inactive Marine until the end of my reserve obligation. During the years I was in the inactive reserves, I could have been called back to active duty at any time.

That inactive duty ended on January 20, 1971 when I became a free civilian again and was officially a former Marine.

The VA says, “A person who is active duty is in the military full time. They work for the military full time, may live on a military base, and can be deployed at any time. Persons in the Reserve or National Guard are not full-time active duty military personnel, although they can be deployed at any time should the need arise.”

The U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve says, “The Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) is a category of the Ready Reserve of the Reserve Component of the Armed Forces of the United States composed of former active duty or reserve military personnel, and is authorized under 10 U.S.Code Section 1005.  The IRR is composed of enlisted personnel and officers, from all ranges of Military Occupational Specialties including combat arms, combat support, and combat service support.

“Individuals assigned to the IRR receive no pay and are not obligated to drill, conduct annual training, or participate in any military activities (except for periodic Muster activities) until ordered by Presidential Authority.  Individuals who are assigned to an “Inactive Status” are entitled to limited benefits.  These benefits include:  Entitlement to a Military ID Card, ID Cards for their dependents, PX (Exchange) benefits, Commissary benefits, and MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation) Benefits.”

My inactive status as a U.S. Marine ended forty-seven years ago in 1971. That was when I became a former Marine. Any former Marine that claims they are an inactive Marine and they are not in the IRR or the Ready Reserve is technically wrong. It doesn’t matter what they think, they are wrong if they call themselves an inactive Marine once they become a civilian again with no official, legal ties to the Marine Corps. I was once an active Marine and will always think and react like a Marine. Marines belong to a unique tribe, a brotherhood of warriors trained to kill in combat, but once we leave active or inactive duty, we are a former Marine.

My Honorable Discharge is dated January 20, 1971 … not May 17, 1968 when I left active duty for inactive duty.

Here’s why I’m writing this post. If there are former Marines out there calling themselves inactive Marines and they are not in the Marine reserves, they are doing real inactive Marines a disservice because those Marine are still in a position to be called up and sent into harm’s way on a moment’s notice, while former Marines are not in that same situation. If a former Marine wants to serve again, they have to return to active or inactive duty if the U.S. Marines will take them back.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award winning author.

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What the Active Military Really Thinks of Twitter-Fingers Donald Trump

Who is spreading lies that the majority of the active, U.S. military supports Donald Trump … Trump’s Fake News Machine that includes Breitbart, Fox News, and Alex Jones?

It looks like 70-percent of officers and 52-percent of the troops that are not officers can’t stand Trump.

“Rate Your Commander-in-Chief. A new poll from the Military Times reveals troops’ attitudes towards President Donald Trump. Overall, members of the military viewed Trump more favorably than the general public. …

“Officers tended to have lower opinions of the president; just 30 percent gave him a favorable rating, compared to 48 percent of enlisted troops. The findings are similar to results from last year’s poll, just after Trump’s election.” – reported by Foreign Policy Magazine

To U.S. military veterans and active military that deplorably support Donald Trump, I want to remind you of your oath to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. The evidence is overwhelming … Donald Trump is clearly an enemy of the U.S. Constitution.

This next paragraph is the oath of office for the President of the United States.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award winning author.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

PTSD is a Never Ending Challenge and when help arrives “Don’t Let Go”

I turned twenty-one in Vietnam. There was no cake with candles, no presents, no party, no happy birthday songs, but I remember the tracers from thousands of armed Marines lighting up the night from the 1st Marine Division’s perimeter, and that display of destructive, brutal power was not a celebration of me turning twenty-one. It was from combat.

When I returned from Vietnam in 1966, I had no idea I came back with a permanent illness that later in the 1980s became known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Combat vets aren’t the only victims of this disease. Rape victims, child abuse, domestic abuse of women, someone who grew up the target of lying, cruel bullies and trolls just like U.S. President Donald Trump (Trump is not the vicitm. He is the bully. He is the troll.), victims of muggings, survivors of accidents and brutal acts of nature.

Imagine my surprise when fifty-one years later, a twelve-year-old girl sang her way into my life through YouTube and offered me a lifesaver that helped me manage my PTSD better, and she probably will never know it.

PTSD is all about how our body reacts to fear.

From 1966 to 1982, I never talked about the combat, the snipers that almost took me out, our own troops firing on a patrol I was with on our way back to base camp, the mortar rounds that rained down on our tents, the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and grenades that maimed and killed others in my company, the ambushes, the recon missions, the rocket attacks that left one Marine in my unit headless, and the regiment/division sized field operations.

I was a field radio operator and in the field, through that radio, I carried on my back, I passed on orders that killed hundreds of armed Vietcong. Marine Corps training is intense. When we leave boot camp we are different from the child that arrived.  When we leave, we are trained killing machines.

When I was honorably discharged from the Marines and went to college on the GI Bill, that PTSD I didn’t know I had was behind the heavy drinking. I often say that between 1966 and 1982, I drank enough hard liquor and beer to fill a swimming pool.

My first step on the road that led me out of the darkness of PTSD managing me was an accident. I was thirty-six and my health was falling apart from all the booze, beer and bad food. Someone I worked with was a vegan and her husband, raised a vegan, helped me get off the liquor and change my lifestyle. Once the booze was out of my system and I was eating better, the vivid flashbacks of combat lost some of the intensity that woke me at night drenched in sweat and ready to fight with an unsheathed, razor-sharp USMC KA-BAR that I kept under my pillow and a loaded 45-caliber automatic pistol in an easy to reach drawer.

I came to the conclusion that the booze and bad diet made the flashbacks worse so I stayed sober and stuck to the healthy vegan diet Greg and his wife helped me transition to.

Decades later, after I retired from teaching high school English and journalism, I discovered that the VA offered counseling to help combat vets manage their PTSD. I’m in a group now and most of my friends are combat vets who also work hard to manage their PTSD.

I’m seventy-two and a thirteen old girl I’ve never met and probably never will meet has helped my PTSD demons to take a few steps further back. By definition, this young woman is a child prodigy, and I wrote about What does it take to become a child prodigy? for one of my other blogs in an attempt to understand what was happening to me because of her and her songs.

When she was twelve, she won America’s Got Talent by singing songs she wrote. She was signed by Columbia Record and Simon Crowell to a record contract. Her first album has only five songs on it. Her next album, with more of her original music, will be out November 3. I already have a copy of her first album and have preordered the longer one.

Perfectly Imperfect, her first shorter album, reached #9 in the U.S. and #11 in Canada. This child prodigy’s name is Grace VanderWaal. Something about her and the songs she writes and sings is helping me manage my PTSD better, and I’ve been trying to understand what that is, and I think I’ve figured it out after watching her first almost hour-long concert a half dozen times. It’s the themes of her songs and her nonverbal language. Studies say that nonverbal language is 70-percent of communication. Her fans call that being genuine. Some critics and a friend of mine have called her an old soul. I think it is her nonverbal language that makes her genuine to some and/or an old soul to others.

I don’t think she is an old soul. Grace is unique because of a number of factors. One was the family environment she grew up in. Her mother, father, and I think especially her older sister, are a big part of who she is.  Genetics also plays a role in Grace being a child prodigy. Child prodigies are unique as I explained in What does it take to become a child prodigy? Another factor is that some of her songs are about bullies and in interviews, Grace has mentioned that she was a target of bullies in grade school. I was also a target of bullies when I was a child, and that is probably the reason I went into the Marines to make sure no one ever messed with me again.

In “Clay”, one of her original songs, she sings,

“Your silly words
I won’t live inside your world
Because your punches and your names
All your jokes and stupid games
They don’t work
No they don’t hurt
Watch them just go right through me
Because they mean nothing to me
I’m not clay”

In another original song, Gossip Girl, Grace touches on this topic again.

Grace is thirteen now and this month she went on her first concert tour starting with the Austin City Limits Music Festival. If the full concert is still available through Red Bull TV, you can access it through the next link. I tune in to this concert every evening because her songs and her performance help me sleep better. I think that is because of the combination of her genuine joy at performing for a huge crowd of fans that love her and the themes of her songs.

Austin City Limits Music Festival
Red Bull TV told me this video is only available for a limited time. If you click the link, I hope it’s still there.  Red Bull TV said they aren’t allowed to sell a DVD of this concert, so I sent an e-mail in an attempt to reach Simon Cowell and see if his record label will offer it on DVD soon.

Grace’s next video is a song called “Escape My Mind”, and Grace performed it live in Austin for the first time.

“Escape My Mind” is another original song, and I understand what Grace means because I can’t escape my mind either, but Grace is helping me to at least escape the PTSD demons tattooed in my mind for a few hours while I’m sleeping and that is a first. I hope it keeps working. I think the joy Grace feels while she sings and receives the love of her fans is the reason for whatever is happening to me, and I hope she never loses that genuine joy for her music and life as her career grows. If she manages to keep hold of that unique genuineness, I’ll continue to be her fan, but thanks to my PTSD, I’ll probably never attend one of her concerts, because crowds are a trigger for my PTSD, and I work hard to avoid those triggers. That’s why I want to buy a DVD of Grace’s first concert.

The Grace in this concert, and all of her previous performances is still the genuine thing, and that helps me feel better about life. It’s all about escaping the demons even if it is only for a few hours at a time. Like I said in the title of this post, if help arrives, “Don’t Let Go!”

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award-winning author.Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

Transitions from War, from combat to active living

Mike Ergo was a Marine rifleman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines from 2001-2005 and deployed to Iraq twice. Coming home from combat was rough. His body returned, but his mind and spirit were still in Fallujah for many years. … Triathlons, trail running, and endurance challenges like GORUCK have help him to overcome the sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety that are a part of PTSD.

The Biggest Race of My Life by Mike Ergo

“Lindsey Schmidt from Ironman’s PR firm reached out a few months ago to say they heard my story. Ironman wanted to get me on a cool, new veteran podcast to talk about why I race. It would be a chance to talk about the Marines on my jersey that keep me moving towards the finish line. I agreed to do the interview.  I wrote an eBook  about the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Finally, a chance to talk to a larger audience about a great way to deal with PTSD!

1927897_52180045766_8469_nMike Ergo is on the left

The interview started out great (listen to it here). We talked about how I went into the Marine Corps, ditched the band and joined the infantry, and shipped out to Iraq. He asked me what house-to-house fighting was like in Fallujah. Chaps was there in 2007 and has walked the streets of the former Baath Party hub. And of course, we chatted about how triathlon has helped me deal with the demons of PTSD and turn it into something positive. So Chaps throws the verbal jab and I take the bait.” …

This post is continued on Mike’s Blog Transitions from War from combat to active living – Reconnecting with Mind, Body, and Spirit

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, the host of The Soulful Veteran, is a former U.S. Marine (1965 – 1968), Vietnam Veteran (1966), retired public school teacher, journalist, and award winning author.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.