COMING HOME – The Story of a Returning Veteran

The Public Safety Writers Association, 2022 writing contest awarded “Coming Home” second place in flash fiction. The 302-word story chronicles the welcome a Vietnam Veteran received upon his arrival in San Francisco, California. The ending is open to the reader’s interpretation.

Coming Home

I’m still running. I’m running from something; I’m not sure what. It’s time to stop running.

It could have been the reception I received at the San Francisco Airport on that cold and foggy day. I had worn the uniform for what seemed an eternity. I took a cab into the city, but it had started before then. First, the baggage handler threw my duffle bag at me, and then the cabbie acted as though I was Typhoid Mary.

I’m confused. I only did what was expected of me. Why this?

Dropped at the Greyhound Bus Depot, I was treated as a pariah. People glowered at me, most backed away. One woman spat on me after saying something about babies, a killer. I had never imagined a woman could do something like that.

The bar was the same; one drink and I walked away. I found myself standing in front of a Harley-Davidson dealer. I went in—it was different. “Hi, welcome home, welcome to Dudley Perkins.”
The man treated me with dignity. Maybe that’s why I bought an Electra Glide in blue. I threw the uniform into a Dempsey dumpster. I didn’t go back for my duffle bag.

Now five days later, I’m in Utah, stopped alongside a lonely highway. Leaning against the motorcycle, I stare at a stark rock formation in a long-dead sea bed. The trees, those with foliage, display orange and yellow leaves that shift and drop as a cold wind passes through the lonely valley. I feel as cold and lonely as the scene in front of me as I prepare to say goodbye to a world that no longer cares.

23 Comments

  1. Donnell

    Powerful George. God bless our veterans.

    Reply
  2. Barbara Nickless

    Thanks for this powerful story, George. I’ve worked with Vietnam veterans at the UCCS Veterans Health and Trauma center (where I teach creative writing) and been profoundly affected by their stories. It’s unimaginable, sometimes, how we treat our veterans–sometimes with cruelty and often with indifference.

    Reply
  3. Michelle Chouinard

    Amazing story. It taps right into what I remember my step-father telling me about returning from Vietnam. I’ve always believe it’s so important to honor the sacrifices of the soldiers fighting for our freedom even if we don’t agree with the choices our government is making. Soldiers don’t get to choose their missions.

    Reply
  4. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    many of the soldiers there were there because they were drafted. I worked with a lot of Vietnam Veterans, and they were best. They were honorable, dedicated, and compassionate. I know it was a small minority who treated our soldiers like criminals, and it was fueled by the media and activists that blamed the government. To them our soldiers were the government and an easy target.
    A black man came to one of our yard sales wearing a baseball cap that say Vietnam Veteran. I shook his hand, thanked him for his service and said I was honored to meet him. He said I wish everyone felt that way, but I would do it again if necessary. My wife and I never forgot his visit and his devotion to this country.

    Reply
  5. Jordan Bernal

    George, you put me right there with the returning Vietnam Veteran. I felt his confusion, his pain, his despair. A slice of America’s past that should never be forgotten, and never repeated.

    Reply
  6. Frederick G Yeager

    A sad story of beliefs and principles gone astray in today’s world

    Reply
  7. Lynn

    Heart-wrenching and unfortunately how many vets were treated who served during the Vietnam War.

    Reply
  8. Shelley Lee Riley

    Wow, George. Just wow! I didn’t serve, but I knew someone who did. Frank S. was special to me, as we had gone through school together. We were attending Foothill Junior College when he got called up. He was a football player, gentle and kind, and he could really take a hit. But he couldn’t take the hit that the Vietnam war delivered. The cruelty and bitterness piled upon those that returned . . . Frank, like so many others, did not deserve and he suffered greatly due to it.

    Reply
  9. Lew

    George, you put such a strong emotional impact in to such a short story. Left me wanting more.

    Reply
  10. Jen Halmo

    Wow. Very well written!

    Reply
  11. Alec Peche

    Wow, great piece. Very atmospheric despite the low numbers of words.

    Reply
  12. Mary

    What a gift you have, George. What a powerful story. Congratulations on being recognized for your great writing skills.

    Reply
  13. Michael A. Black

    Good story, George. I can see why it won the award. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a veteran of the Korean War. He said we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and went to war. After WW II they welcomed the GI’s back as heroes. They were indifferent to us after Korea, and they despised the Vietnam vets for no good reason. After the Gulf War soldiers and marines were given a hero’s welcome home again, and then were heroes again after the 9-11 attack as went to war again. Now, after twenty years or so, the public seems to have slipped back into the indifference stage. (Note the lack of outrage at our disastrous pull-out from Afghanistan. It was a year ago this week that it began and I’ll be able to bet nobody reading this can recall one name of the 14 members of our military who lost their lives.) Things run in cycles, but one thing’s a constant. Our military personnel bear the brunt and pay the price.

    Reply
  14. Kaye George

    I did know a few vets who got spat on and cussed out, but not all of them. My hubby served during Vietnam, but was sent instead to S Korea. Good atmosphere in the story.

    Reply
  15. John Taylor

    Well done, George. Personally, I never experienced the disdain and hatred you depicted in your story, but I’m certain it took place often enough to leave some veterans feeling like outcasts. One minor editing suggestion. You failed to use a question mark after the short sentence, “Why this.”

    Reply
  16. Violet Moore

    This story rings true. It touches the soul.

    Reply
  17. John Schembra

    Great story, George. I was lucky- I didn’t experience much of that. Congrats on the writing awards!

    Reply
  18. Lisa Towles

    Wow, what impact George. Great writing and so powerful

    Reply
  19. Rhonda

    Great job! Definitely evoked lots of emotion.

    Reply
  20. Victoria Kazarian

    A poignant slice of experience that rings true to what I’ve heard from Viet Nam vets. I love your description of the Utah landscape—I can see it in my mind. Well done, George!

    Reply

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RHONDA BLACKHURST – Writer – Certified Life Coach – Indie Author Consultant – Coffee and Dark Chocolate Connoisseur

Rhonda Blackhurst is a die-hard indie author and enjoys empowering and educating others in the process. She has ten published novels: The Inheritance, a Hallmark-style fiction stand-alone; seven in The Melanie Hogan Mysteries; and the Whispering Pines Romantic Suspense.

In her day job, she has worked in the law enforcement arena in the victim witness field and as a paralegal for the past 20+ years; she recently took an early retirement from the Adams County District Attorney’s Office.

In addition to being an author and indie author consultant, she is a certified life coach with a program called “Rise From Victim to Victor—How to Make What Happens to You, Work for You.” She enjoys running, biking, hiking, spending time at their Arizona house, and anything outdoors. She, her husband, and their very spoiled Fox Face Pomeranian reside in a suburb of Denver.

What brought you to writing? I began writing at an age when no one realized where it would take me—four years old, and unfortunately, it was with crayon on the knotty pine walls of our family home. I didn’t draw pictures. I actually wrote what I thought were words because I apparently had something to say. And it’s never stopped. I spent endless hours sitting on the dock by the lake we lived by or in our fishing boat, dreaming of worlds and words. I wrote a lot of poetry back then. In Jr/Sr High School, I saw the movie Absence of Malice with Sally Field and Paul Newman, and from there, I was determined to be a journalist in New York City. To start, I wrote a few articles for the city newspaper about school events. I got derailed a bit in college, and when my babies were little, I wrote two novels with pen and paper. I still have those manuscripts in boxes. After moving to Colorado, I began writing as a stringer for the local newspaper, but my heart was in fiction. After my last child left home, I began taking writing seriously, joined writers’ groups, and published my first novel in 2012.

What are you currently working on? This past April, I published the last book in a cozy mystery series, Shear Misfortune, in The Melanie Hogan Mysteries.

When a fitness center is a locale for both health and murder,
exercise enthusiasts must weigh their odds of the outcome.

 I am writing the first draft of Inn the Spirit of Murder, book one in a new cozy mystery series, The Spirit Lake Mysteries, and having a ball with it. It stars Andie Rose Kaczmarek, the Spirit Lake Inn owner and a life coach, who has a feisty nun as a sidekick. It contains a bit of paranormal activity and all the colorful small-town characters. New ideas for books in the series keep popping up as I write—a writer’s dream! I’ve worked in the law enforcement arena in some capacity—mostly as a paralegal and in the victim witness field—for the past 20+ years. I was immersed in the darkness of the world where there are often no winners in the end. Writing cozy mysteries was my way of being able to leave that darkness in the evenings while I wrote and tied up the ending of the story with a pretty red bow. Cozies give me hope because the good guys win in the end, something I didn’t often see in my day job.

How do you come up with your character names? Naming my protagonist and antagonist is perhaps the most indecisive part of my writing. But when I finally decide on a name, it solidly clicks. In the Abby series (The Whispering Pines Mysteries), the name Abby brings to mind both vulnerability and strength. I have no foundation to hang that on, but it’s such a strong connection in my mind that it’s become a fact. Her ex-husband’s villain in that series makes it his mission to track her down, so he is appropriately named Hunter. In the Melanie Hogan mysteries, I chose the last name of Hogan because one of the most famous governors of Minnesota was Hulk Hogan (Jesse Ventura), and it just seemed to fit. The protagonist in my new series, Andie Rose Kaczmarek, I struggled with the most. I think I changed the first name several times and went back to the first name I chose. And at this point, even if I wanted to, there’s no going back because she’s a character in the last book of the Melanie Hogan Mysteries, which is already published. However, her last name solidly clicked because Kaczmarek is Polish for “Innkeeper.”

Has an association membership helped you with your writing? A resounding Yes! I think writers’ groups are essential to an author. Just being in the same room as a bunch of creatives is energizing. And learning from one another is such a huge benefit. Writers are one of the most giving, helpful groups of people I’ve known. I’ve met so many who are willing to share what they know and help in any way they can. The first writing group I belonged to was Northern Colorado Writers, and theirs was the first conference I attended. They hold a special place in my heart. I’ve added Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. I’m currently President of Sisters in Crime—Colorado Chapter. I strongly encourage writers, no matter where they are on their writing journey, to get involved in whichever groups they belong to, as well as conferences. Volunteering is the best way to get full advantage of the experience.

Do you have any advice for new writers? There is only one solid rule—write! You will never be a writer if you don’t eventually stop thinking about it and write. And don’t let anyone “should” on you. Your path is uniquely yours. For every person who says you must do it one way, there’s another who will disagree. Your path is your path. Have fun with it!

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ― Louis L’Amour

Connect with me at:

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    I really enjoyed reading your philosophical approach to setting things right in your fiction writing. As you said, working with victims and seeing the dark side of our society can take its toll. It’s great you’ve found a way to cope and be creative at he same time. Thank you for your service and your work with victims.

    Reply
    • Rhonda Blackhurst

      Thank you so much, Michael! Working with victims has been a calling. 🙂

      Reply

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KASSANDRA LAMB – To Bark or Not To Bark – K9s for Veterans

In her youth, Kassandra Lamb had two great passions—psychology and writing. Advised that writers need day jobs and being partial to eating, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe populated by her fictional characters. The portal to this universe (aka her computer) is located in Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.

Service dog trainer Marcia Banks tackles a locked room mystery in a haunted house. She has trained a dog to clear rooms for an agoraphobic Marine who was ambushed during combat. But the phantom attackers in his mind become the least of his troubles when Marcia finds his ex-wife’s corpse in his bedroom, with the door bolted from the inside.

All my books are mysteries, but I like variety, so I tend to explore different subgenres. I have one completed series of traditional mysteries, one series of cozy mysteries that is winding down, and I have started a new series of police procedurals. I’ve also written some romantic suspense stories under the pen name of Jessica Dale.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Some behave, but many do not. My main characters tend to behave most of the time. An exception was the main character of my cozies, Marcia Banks (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha). I originally gave her a few neuroses, so she’d have some things to overcome during the course of the series. The main one was a longing to “be normal,” as she had been teased as a kid over her name and because she was a pastor’s kid. Plus, she’s licking her wounds after a short but disastrous marriage. But then she decided to throw a strong resistance to commitment into the mix, which drove her love interest a bit crazy for a very long time.

Minor characters often assert themselves and insist on bigger parts in the stories. I had two minor characters do this in my Kate Huntington series. One, Skip Canfield, wooed his way both into Kate’s heart and into a main character role.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use some of both. If I’m only going to have good things happen in a location, I’ll probably use a real place. The last two of my series are set in Florida, where I live now. Locals get a kick out of seeing a location name and being able to say, “I know where that is,” or “I’ve been there.”

But if I’m going to have negative things happen, such as corrupt cops, I make up a location. I’ve added three fictitious counties and a fictional city to the Florida map, so far.

What is the best book you ever read? Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, by Bebe Moore Campbell. It is set in the 1960s and 70s when I was a teen and young adult, and it addresses race relations in a very human way.

Ms. Campbell captured the thoughts, feelings, and internal conflicts of all of her characters, including the extremely bigoted white males! She handled the multiple points of view so well that I was inspired to try that approach in my Kate Huntington series. (I’ve since switched to one point of view, usually first person, in most of my stories.)

What are you working on now? I’ve started a series of police procedurals, and I’m really enjoying that new challenge. The protagonist was a secondary character in my Kate Huntington series, a homicide lieutenant who becomes increasingly frustrated with big-city politics (the Kate series is set in the Baltimore area) and with riding a desk instead of being out on the street. Judith Anderson takes a job as Chief of Police of a small city in Florida, figuring if she’s in charge, she can be more hands-on. In Book 1, Lethal Assumptions, she’s only eight days on the job when she finds herself chasing a serial killer.

I’m currently writing the first draft of Book 2, Fatal Escape, which deals with human trafficking and domestic abuse. But since I’m used to writing cozies (which are supposed to be “clean”), I’m trying to keep the gore and swearing to a minimum. I don’t want to offend my loyal readers.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I usually do, especially in a full-length novel. Often the subplot is about the main character’s love life. My favorite kind of subplot, though, is one that ends up tying into the main plot at the end of the story.

In Fatal Escape, Judith’s love interest is the sheriff of the next county over. She calls him Sheriff Sam inside her head. She already has a drowning case on her plate—that could be a suicide or murder—when she gets a call from Sam to come to a murder scene on the boundary line between their two jurisdictions. They have a funny little back-and-forth in which each is trying to give the case to the other one.

Sam finally takes the case since Judith’s already got her hands full. But later, it turns out that the two cases are linked. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers, but I can hardly wait to write the chapter in which they make the connection. Every time I think about it, I want to rub my hands together and laugh diabolically.

Landing Page link https://misteriopress.com/bookstore/to-bark-or-not-to-bark-a-marcia-banks-and-buddy-mystery/

WEBSITE: https://kassandralamb.com

FACEBOOK:  https://www.facebook.com/kassandralambauthor

INSTAGRAM:  https://www.instagram.com/kasslamb/

BOOKBUB PROFILE:  https://www.bookbub.com/profile/kassandra-lamb

Buy Links:

AMAZON:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B3WNQY1Z

NOOK: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/to-bark-or-not-to-bark-a-marcia-banks-and-buddy-mystery-kassandra-lamb/1141653124

APPLE:  https://books.apple.com/us/book/id6442979080

KOBO:  https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/to-bark-or-not-to-bark-a-marcia-banks-and-buddy-mystery

GOOGLE PLAY:  https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=UHh4EAAAQBAJ

FACEBOOK

Cozy Mystery Book Promotion  –  https://www.facebook.com/groups/411905245685888/

Get Cozy with a Cozy Mystery – https://www.facebook.com/groups/6187961084/

Cozy Mysteries 24/7 – https://www.facebook.com/groups/329691697186568/

Murder and Mayhem Cozy Mysteries – https://www.facebook.com/groups/170170699796894/

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8 Comments

  1. Donnell Bell

    I’m digging into To Bark or Not Bark tonight. I’m excited to read about the corpse inside a locked room, and very excited to read your police procedurals.

    Reply
  2. Jackie Layton

    Police procedurals sound fun!

    Reply
  3. Vinnie Hansen

    My friends are conjoining here. Kassandra, meet my Drop-In writing friend, George. George, meet my misterio press cohort, Kassandra.

    Candace, I’m also not a big cozy reader but I’ve enjoyed what I learned about dogs and training dogs in this series.

    Reply
  4. Valerie

    I’m in awe that you can do multiple genres. I’d never be able to write cozies because I can’t keep my characters from using the f bomb. LOL. Thanks for the interview, both of you. Loved learning more about my SinC sister.

    Reply
  5. Candace

    Enjoyed the interview. I feel inspired to sample all your sub genres. I’m not a cozy fan, but I am a dog fan.

    Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you’re adept at blending your knowledge of psychology into your writing. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Kassandra Lamb

      Thanks, Michael. And thank you for stopping by!

      Reply
  7. Kassandra Lamb

    Thanks so much, George, for having me over to chat today!

    Reply

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STEVE RUSH – Writing Crime Scenes: Authenticity and Credibility


Steve Rush is an award-winning author who won joint first prize in the 2020 Chillzee KiMo T-E-N Contest and was a finalist in the 2020 Page Turner Awards.

His experience includes tenure as a homicide detective and chief forensic investigator for a national consulting firm. He was once hailed as “The best forensic investigator in the United States” by the late Joseph L. Burton, M.D, under whom he mastered his skills and investigated many deaths alongside Dr. Jan Garavaglia of Dr. G: Medical Examiner fame. Steve has investigated 900+ death scenes and taught classes related to death investigation. His specialties include injury causation, blood spatter analysis, occupant kinematics, and recovery of human skeletal remains.

Do you write in more than one genre? In addition to my latest release, Kill Your Characters: Crime Scene tips for Writers, I write suspense/ thrillers and have three nonfiction books in the Christian market.

What brought you to writing? I began writing after reading multiple novels and watching the masters unfold stories page after page. A homeless man’s murder prompted me to write my first novel (Façade, written pseudonym Shane Kinsey) after I identified the deceased by skin removed from his thumb. (In the novel, a killer uses skin from a dead man’s thumb to leave a bloody thumbprint at his murder scenes.) Wings E-press was accepted and published in 2010. I was hooked.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write at home ninety-nine percent of the time. I shut off my surroundings and become a spectator in my characters’ world. The other percent is in a hotel/condo while on vacation or a weekend getaway. I get involved to the extent I have no clue of anything happening around me.

Tell us about your writing process: I am a pantser. I tried to outline and found myself deviating from my notes more and more. I have an idea of story and denouement and write as the story unfolds in my thoughts. I like to ask “What if?” and go from there.

What are you currently working on? I am writing about a high-school senior who lost his parents in a fire-bombing.

Who’s your favorite author? Dean Koontz

How long did it take you to write your first book? Several years writing while working a full-time job that required travel across the U.S.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? My latest book is all about killing characters, so, yes, I kill characters when necessary to advance the story and keep the others honest.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Stephen King. The first novel of his I read left me wondering if he is a writer I should continue to read. I read The Green Mile and others and believe King is in the top five of the best-writer list.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? No.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Both.

Do you have any advice for new writers? I will elaborate below. Add suspense. Increase tension. Write what you know.

Writers and editors differ in opinion when it comes to book-length fiction. They suggest we turn off our self-editor and get words on the page. Edit the work after we have a first draft. While the advice works well in most cases, some authors prefer to edit along the way. One author reviews and edits the writing done in a previous session. Another author edits while writing. (Both are New York Times best-selling authors.)

Some authors are outliners; others are pantsers. I am a pantser. I find editing along the way works best for me.

Whatever method you choose, the most crucial aspects to remember when writing inciting incidents, especially crime scenes, are authenticity and credibility. This is where more-than-a-few writers see a stop sign. How can we write what we know if we don’t know it?

Facts support our efforts. I learned this from the cases I investigated as a homicide detective and forensic investigator. They prompted me to write, Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers.

Facts paint images we want readers to see as if everything happens in their presence. We show readers how to kill. We show how to collect evidence, how to investigate deaths, and how to put together a case for prosecution. Each endeavor must embrace appropriate facts.

Elements of story direct readers where we want them to go until a twist of facts proves otherwise. This includes misdirection. Some facts inserted in the story alter the outcome. Details in fiction reflect real-world situations. Unbelievable instances in life frequently prove to be true, although many come as a surprise to us. When readers see events as too easy and convenient, skepticism turns focus away from our story.

The next step begins when the protagonist arrives and examines the scene. Choices rest on their training from that time forward. The difference between a protagonist’s competence and incompetence depends on their level of expertise. That expertise, or the lack thereof, comes from the facts we give them.

As writers, we share ideas visualized in our minds. We invite our audience to see our inciting incidents. We reveal bits and pieces of the story, one scene after another. We perform our job well when we grab their attention and keep them reading.

True-to-life facts support and give credibility to our stories. What better way to intrigue our readers?

Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers

There’s a dead body on the floor, and your detective character has to learn every detail about the crime in order to solve the case and bring the murderer to justice. If you’re not an experienced forensic investigator, how can you describe the manner of death accurately so that the evidence means what you want it to mean?

Kill Your Characters by former detective and forensic investigator Steve Rush gives you the tools you need to pass the inspection of all the armchair detectives (and more than a few real ones) out there. Discover your ultimate empowerment source for writing the page-turning inciting incident you have always wanted to write. Become a master and save hours of research effort searching elsewhere for accurate information.

This book will help you answer: How did your character die? What were the circumstances of the murder? What weapon did the killer use? What evidence was left behind? How can you build a rock-solid case against the suspect?

Kill Your Characters will help you answer these questions and more with facts to back up your fiction. When plotting the next murder scene for your story, you may run into obstacles such as how the detectives determine the time of death or the forensic evidence left by a gunshot wound. Steve Rush’s extensive experience is accumulated in a series of writing tips that will significantly improve your story. Kill Your Characters is for any author looking to elevate their murder scenes with credible and authentic details.

Order your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1947521780

https://www.steverush.org

https://www.linkedin.com/in/steve-rush-a20302149/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5217876

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    Great summary of writing advice, Steve. I look forward to reading your books. Best of luck to you. I’d love for you to do a presentation at the PSWA Conference some time.

    Reply

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Sand Creek – Betrayal, Rape and Murder

Public Safety Writers Association members can submit their work to an annual contest. The winners are revealed at the annual conference. This year’s winners were announced on July 17, 2022. I was delighted to learn that the poem I had submitted, “Sand Creek,” was awarded second place.

Sand Creek

The First People trusted you
to protect, and
to feed our people.
You betrayed The People.

You stole the food the Great White Father sent
to nourish The People,
our children, our future.
You betrayed The People.

Instead, you raped our women
beheaded our children.
You failed the Great White Father.
You betrayed The People.

Your soldiers murdered The People.
You murdered The People.
You failed the Great White Father.
You betrayed The People.

We died for your sins,
When you murdered the people.
You failed the Great White Father.
You betrayed The People.

 


To learn more about the Public Safety Writers Association, visit https://policewriter.com

 

6 Comments

  1. Jim Hasse

    Good one, George! Very moving. It is heartbreaking what history gave us.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thanks, Jim. I miss our regular
      critique meetings.

      Reply
  2. Linda Todd

    George. Your poem conveys so much meaning and sadness and anger. You earned the award. Congratulations.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Linda, from an awesome editor, this means a lot.

      Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Wow, George. Great poem and a fitting tribute to your American Indian heritage. Thanks for sharing it and congratulations on winning the award.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Mike, this praise from such an inspirational and successful author makes me feel great. Thanks

      Reply

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