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Blogs of Writer, Artist, Photographer, & Caregiver Joanne D. Kiggins

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Location: United States

Joanne has published more than 2,500 articles and was award recipient of the 1990 Woman of the Year for Beaver County, Pennsylvania, for her accomplishments and excellence in journalism and to the community. Her co-authored book, “Unforgettable Journey,” won fifth place in the Grand Beginnings romance contest. An excerpt from her WIP, “Unearthed,” placed her fifth in the Absolute Write Idol contest. Most recently, her essay, “Perseverance,” is published in the Stories of Strength anthology in which 100% of the profits are donated to disaster relief charities. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Writer's Digest, AbsoluteWrite.com, and Moondance.org. She has a monthly freelance writing column at Absolutewrite.com. Currently, she is the sole caregiver for her 85-year-old mother.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Book Review: Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography & Creative Thinking by Julieanne Kost

Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography & Creative Thinking
By Julieanne Kost
O’Reilly Media
February 24, 2006
147 pp.
Amazon Price: $26.39
ISBN 0-596-10083-3

Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography & Creative Thinking is a photo documentary of a business trip taken by Julieanne Kost from the window seat of the airplane as she shares her personal innermost thoughts,, fears, triumphs, weaknesses and her passion for photography.

This book isn’t a how-to on digital photography or Photoshop, as the title may lead you to think, but it will stand out among photography books for the shear brilliance of photography within its pages.

The first section,The Art of Creative Thinking, describes just that. With Kost’s 18 point perspective, she explains how she works and helps open one’s mind to the tools, goals, progression, and success one can obtain with the medium of photography through exploration, discipline and control.

The center section, Window Seat, is her portfolio of airplane window seat photography. It is filled with nearly 80 pages of creativity. She captures each subject perfectly and though does not explain the digital or Photoshop process she uses, she shares a sequence of images and why they were chosen for the book.

I see color palettes and gradients. I tried once to convey perceptions of time, starting with dawn—cold, crisp, gently, awakening—moving into daytime—bright mountains, green farmland, blue water glistening, light performing a circus act through 15,000 feet of cloud layers—and finishing with sunset—a perfect gradient of white, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, deep blue, even deeper blue, and the darkest black you can imagine. This is almost like covering an entire day, but it doesn’t work if you leave one place, fly for 14 hours, and arrive the same day somewhere else just two hours later. (Maybe I’ve just discovered another wrinkle: our assumptions about time expressed through the concepts of morning, day, and night.) (pg. 81)

The Appendix is where Kost shares how she uses some of the digital photography tools and which she likes best. This section gives a broad view of imaging techniques.

If you’re looking for a how-to book on digital photography or Photoshop, Window Seat is not for you. But if you’re looking for a fascinating concept of images, insight into streamlining your digital sight, and letting your imagination run, then, Kost’s book will do exactly what she wanted.

The photograph, on page 90 and 91 that adorns this small passage below is a brilliant picture of earth and sky mixed.
. . . I wanted to walk out on the wing of the plane to look all around. (pg.91)

At a quick glance, to this reader, it looks like an image of a human heart and arteries. That pretty much explains my feelings of Window Seat: Kost has taken to heart her love of photography and used every artery available to produce a book that will not only open an artist’s eyes to the beauty of photography, but will also give that artist a taste of what it’s like to capture what no one else sees.
CLICK HERE to purchase Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography & Creative Thinking

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Book Review: Psychedelic Six by Paul Spock

Psychedelic Six
By Paul Spock
Trafford Publishing
July 11, 2006
397 pp.
Price: $38.00 trade paperback
ISBN: 1-4120-8236-6
Trafford Catalog # 05-3202

In his debut novel, Psychedelic Six, Paul Spock takes the reader into the villages of Vietnam and the foxholes of the Vietnam War with the Green Platoon through the memories of Sergeant Sylvester (Sly) Wright.

The book opens with an introduction and the first few paragraphs slams the reader smack into action with mortar shells and bullets cracking and popping above the heads of soldiers cowering in a canal of foul smelling water. Then, at bullet speed, you’re uniquely swept past nearly forty years after the war when Sly takes his grandson, Bobby, on a fishing trip.

Bobby tells Grandpa Sly that he studied about the war in school,
but didn’t understand it.

With Grandpa Sly as the narrator of the story, he tells Bobby of his time spent in Vietnam. A story he’d never before told, not to his wife, his parents or his friends.

As the fishing trip ends the story begins and Spock goes behind the scenes of the Vietnam War, into the minds of the soldiers, into the lives and villages of the Vietnamese, and into the hearts of the people.

American money (greenbacks) are worth ten to twenty times their value in Vietnamese money. … A whole family living for a month on five American dollars. More than the different people, the climate, the terrible smells or anything else, that fact drove home the part that he was really in another country halfway around the world. It truly boggled his mind. (37)

The homes were constructed with a weird hodgepodge of materials including cut logs, handmade planking, plywood from old crates, grass thatching, corrugated metal and cardboard. Some of the lettering from the crates was still legible; Sly saw ‘Laundry Soap’, ‘155 mm Artillery HE’, ‘Wire Concertina’, and ‘C-Rations’. (308)

Spock depicts the lay of the land with just enough description to envision the surroundings, the soldiers, and the people affected by the war, while adding humor in just the right places.

Below them, Sly could make out rice paddies, dikes, rivers, canals, and small patches of sparse forest. He could also see some people here and there and an occasional draft animal that he knew must be water buffalo. The visual aspects that struck him were the flatness, the reflective water, and pervasive green color of the land. It reminded him of a giant white on green chessboard. (60)

One of the first soldiers Sly meets before he’s deployed had finished his tour and just left the Phong Ding Province and the Alpha Company where Sly was assigned.

“Welcome to Vietnam Sergeant, or maybe I should say welcome to war. You’re going to earn that C.I.B. sooner than you think. I’m Corporal Paul Kelly from Seattle, and I’m so short, I can sit on a dime and swing my legs. I leave for home tomorrow. I’ll tell you anything you want to know for one of your unfiltered Camels.” (24)

Kelly advised Sly about medicinal treatments, what to do, what not to do, who to trust and who not to trust.

“Another thing I’ll tell you don’t trust any of the Vietnamese, I think they’re all spies for the Viet Cong. And probably the most important thing to remember is that this isn’t some game; these people want to kill you. Just wait until the first time you’re shot at, you’ll know what I mean. (25)

Sly is all too happy to meet a soldier who’d made it through battle and on his way home. Kelly’s humor appealed to Sly, and it isn’t until Sly is cowered in a foxhole that he is thankful he’d listened to the homebound soldier. Kelly’s advice saved
Sly’s life more than once, and the last piece of advice Sly didn’t listen to got him home safely to his family.

Sly ends up in charge of the Green Platoon in the Alpha Company; a platoon with a big headed, finger jabbing captain and twenty toothy-grin, gap-tooth young men,
who were considered losers.

The LT is another story; he’s trippin’ all the time, even when he’s not on anything. I think he took one trip too many, and he never came back, but he’s still sharp and isn’t dangerous. (87)

Now Sly was thinking the Dirty Dozen would be a huge step up from this motley group, and decided that he had to get out of the bunker and do something to clear his mind.

Roma’s smile was fake, like someone told him to say ‘cheese’, and Sly saw that most of his teeth were crooked. Roma had dark brown eyes that were almost black, and there was a weird, intense look in his eyes, not a drugged look, but a look of insanity. This guy definitely needs a checkup from the neck up. (90)

McFee was another twenty-year-old with red hair, and blue eyes. His freckles and gap-toothed smile, combined with his ‘aw shucks’ manner reminded Sly of Alfred E. Newman from Mad Magazine. (95)

One of those twenty men included Tan, a Chieu Hoi, who was a defector of the Viet Cong and was assigned to the Alpha Company as a scout for the Army. American soldiers
considered Chieu Hoi an enemy. Sly didn’t. Tan and Sly become friends against the advisement of others in the platoon.

Psychedelic Six tells more than a war story, it shows the poor conditions in which the Vietnamese lived and how they survived. And it was Tan who taught Sly and the rest of the platoon about the ways of the people and the war tactics of the
Viet Cong. Sly and other American soldiers soon realized Tan was not their enemy, but an ally who could help them, if they trusted him and his knowledge.

From the rice paddies to the busy villages the soldiers make their way into hot zones and the jungle of swamps that soon became their battlefield.

‘Baroom, barroom!’ The high explosive rounds landed almost simultaneously about ten years apart and the second round scored a direct hit on the pagoda. The two VC were torn limb from limb and died instantly. And where a beautiful
religious shrine had once stood, there was now only a large pile of smoking rubble. (130)

Sly noticed there wasn’t any boat traffic on this area of the river, and realized there weren’t any other signs of people along the riverbank. There were no cleared areas for growing and no villages visible, only the endless green and brown
jungle being sliced apart by the Mekong River. (278)

Nightmare or reality, had Psychedelic Six not been billed a novel, this reader would have thought the events were as real as the pages of the book.

Spock’s characters, the antics he puts them through, added with the humor he strings through this serious story makes for a good read about a bad situation. The ending is as unique as the beginning and the entire novel is full of characters one can reach out and touch.

Psychedelic Six is about the Vietnam War, but it’s also about love, courage, trust, growing up, growing old and the wisdom one gains during life’s battles.

Psychedelic Six at Trafford Publishing Company.

Psychedelic Six will soon be available at Amazon.com, Borders.com,
Barnes and Noble, and Baker and Taylor.

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Book Review: An Inverted Sort of Prayer by Chris F Needham

An Inverted Sort of Prayer
By Chris F Needham
Now or Never Publishing
May 2006
360 pp.
Price: $21.95 trade paperback
ISBN 0-9739558-0-5

An Inverted Sort of Prayer is narrated by main character, Billy Purdy, an Indian and ex-professional Canadian team hockey player, whose stardom sends him on an abusive rocky road of steroids, drugs, alcohol, sex, and sordid rendezvous’ to find himself.

Purdy is just as dangerous off the ice as he was on, as an enforcer.

So there you had it: a good in the room kind of guy with traces of blood in his urine splitting time between the press box and the penalty box. Sometimes I think my entire life has been spent in some box. (pg.14)

Purdy strives to be unnoticed, yet thrives to be recognized for his stardom—and you can’t have it both ways. This leads to him spending as much time boxing himself in, in life’s situations, as he’d spent in the penalty box during games.

He’s constantly trying to find himself once his career has ended, only to have his “friends” lead him further into abusing drugs and alcohol. He’s as much a star and failure in the local bars, as he was on the ice—placing himself within a cocoon or box to keep from getting close to others.
Even realizing what steroid, alcohol, and drug abuse had done to him, he didn’t stop.

. . . booze is very different than juice. Juice takes discipline, while booze is the escape from any discipline and, in the short term anyway, manifests itself almost exclusively in the spirit—thus that particular nickname, I take it. Juice, on the other hand, proceeds as a muscular dialogue, teaching the user facts of general validity, and the abuser the facts of life. I have learned nothing from the use of alcohol. But I have learned a great deal from the abuse of steroids. I have seen strength and power doled out in weekly syringes and monthly cycles. And I have experienced the shrinking of the body and the agonizing self-loathing of withdrawal—followed by the growth and associated pleasure when juice-thirsty muscles drink from the vial. The continued use of steroids, the discipline and the addiction to that discipline, exists as a self-stoking fire, a nuclear reaction at the muscular level contained only by the user’s reluctance to strap yet more horsepower onto an already overburdened chassis. For the juicer, when he stops growing he starts to die. (pg.39>

For Billy Purdy there was no stopping. It was difficult for him to accept that he was no longer the enforcer of his trade and more difficult to accept that even out of the box and off the ice, he was a heavyweight and his own worst enemy.

Mine was a dying trade. The heavyweight, it seemed, an endangered species. Gone were the glory days of the gallant enforcer. Gone were the days of respect and pride upon the blades. These days it was all corporate boxes, television revenues, bottom lines, and faggot hockey. These days anyone could play the heavy and make it pay in spades. (pg.77)

It was after he’d been suspended indefinitely that he realized his life was a shambles and his friends weren’t really his friends.

His bartender friend, Chris DeBoer, youngest offspring of the late prime minister, announced that he had written a book.

“So what made you decide to write a novel?” I asked in a spirit of eager curiosity and chatty candour, at which point Chris took a deep breath and answered:

“Same reason anyone writes a novel. Prestige.” (pg.78)

“So you, what, wrote some sort of nasty novel about women, is that it? Well no wonder no one wanted to publish it. Plenty of books never get published. The vast majority of books never get published.” (pg.86)

But DeBoer’s friend, Melanie, told Purdy it was going to be published.

”But not by a Canadian publisher,” she intoned, as though I was an infant or an idiot or perhaps, I held out hope, an idiot savant of some sort.

“No offence, Chris, but six weeks isn’t really a great deal of time to output a finished manuscript, former prime minister’s son or not.”

“Look,” I said, shuffling forward in my chair,” “everything else aside, have you ever considered the fact that a book written by a bartender tends to beget its failure to be published? Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps those concepts are not entirely mutually exclusive?”

“Look, the publishers up here rejected it for all the wrong reasons, just as you knew they would.”
“What, and the Americans accepted it for all the right reason?”
”Actually no, they accepted it for all the wrong ones,” Chris said.(pg. 81)
I must admit I was altogether thrown by that. And in truth it suddenly occurred to me that I was asking all these questions under the mistaken notion that these people had something to gain from their contribution.
”I must be missing something here,” I said, “because this really makes no sense whatsoever.”

”Well there’s something else you should probably know, Billy. Something the others—don’t.”
“Good Christ, there must be.”
“I took it word for word from your father’s book.”
Lovestiff Annie? Are you serious?”
He looked at me a long time. He was waiting for me to say no, I suppose.(pg.82)

From this point, Needham has Purdy perusing nearly every bar in Canada along with his so-called friend DeBoer and a number of other shady characters who help contribute to Purdy’s abuse.

Needham’s characters and description are so real; the readers will find themselves sitting on bar stools, sniffing the stagnant smoke-filled, booze-infiltrated air.

As mentioned, Mitch was overweight, not so overweight as to mention it twice perhaps, but in my mind still overweight, with small, soft, almost feminine hands forever fluttering up around his chubby face, receding jaw and cauliflowered ears, one hand telling the story, the other hand underlining all the important words. Penance, no doubt, for the sin of being a pimp, Mitch always seemed to be sporting some rather large oval sweat stains under the arms of his dress shirts, and his soft feminine hands (devoid, like the rest of him, of any and all suspicion of bone), when not fluttering up around his ears, were either aggressively engaged with his chubby, sweating glasses of overproof run and Coke or else squeezing the last vestiges of life from a perpetually dying smoke. (pg. 92)

Needham has Purdy gallivanting with DeBoer; following him, keeping an eye on him, and discussing the book. He takes the reader on a tour—from one Canadian bar to another, and when he and his friends run out of bars in Canada, they leave on journeys to peruse other watering holes. They skipped from bars in New York, San Jose, Vancouver, Prague, a stopover in Amsterdam, a “milk-run” from Los Angeles to Mexico City to Guatemala City, Costa Rica and ending in Puerto Limon for the Columbus Day festival.

Purdy loses DeBoer during one trip and catches up with him at the festival and spends a few days with him before he gets ready to leave for home to handle the release of his book. I’ll leave it to the reader to read what happens there.

In his debut novel, Needham does a bang up job bringing his characters to life. The dialogue flows so naturally, it makes you feel part of the conversation.
The long paragraphs of description, which led from one page to the next, along with the need to know why Purdy would let DeBoer get away with plagiarizing his father’s book, kept me reading to the end.

An Inverted Sort of Prayer, takes you on a tour of civilized and uncivilized behavior, and Needham’s writing will have you feeling the frustration and failures of his characters. It’s worth reading to the twisted end, even if you’re not a fan of hockey, alcohol, drugs and sex.

CLICK HERE to purchase An Inverted Sort of Prayer

Needham has written six novels, of which An Inverted Sort of Prayer is number four, but actually his first published novel. Needham says, “the first three are very, very bad and, if we’re at all lucky, shall never see the light of day.”

Chris Needham is working on book number seven, under the working title “Fonduing with the Feldmans.” The final draft of Needham’s second published novel,”Falling from Heights,” is due out in Spring 2007.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Back to Nature -- Doves, Groundhogs, Beetles and Cones

Mourning Dove in a Basket
You know me. I simply can’t quit taking pictures. While I was visiting with my daughter in May, I spotted a Mourning Dove nesting in her hanging basket. She seemed quite calm as the camera snapped a few shots.

Later, when she flew off to greet her spouse, I peeked in the basket and found she’d left a few eggs. Angel tells me that she’s hatched them and she was able to get pictures of the babies. I’m still waiting on her to e-mail the photos to me.

Baby Groundhogs on the Driveway
I’ll bet these little critters are offspring of the “treehog” in my earlier post.

When I first saw them from a distance, they almost looked like porcupine.

I just had to get up close and personal to make sure they weren’t. They were really young, and naïve. They didn’t flinch or move when I walked up to them.

Beetles and Things That Poke Out of the Ground

Yesterday was beautiful and filled with more yard work. Two Feather mowed the lawn in the morning while I continued the never-ending task of pulling weeds from the flowerbeds. Later in the evening, my dog was running around the yard and I noticed her creeping up to something in the yard. She jumped back and ran then crept back up to it again. I watched, wondering what she’d found. There was something white sticking up in the grass.

I’ve never seen anything like this. Within three hours of the lawn being mowed, beetles had built this amazing looking cone. I know this is some type of ground beetle, but I haven’t found what type yet.

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Yard Work and Sprucing Up the Yard

During my absence at AW and my blog, and in between all my other running I’ve discussed lately, I’ve been trying to weed, clean, prune and otherwise spruce up my mom’s yard to give us both something nice to look at besides weeds.
Here’s the before picture of the barn area.

I won’t begin to tell you how many scratches I have from the thorn bushes. They’re gone now! We fixed the concrete block wall that had fallen down and had topsoil brought in.

Now I’m waiting for the wildflowers to bloom, so I know which plants are flowers and which are weeds that poked through the ground.

This is the front of Mom’s house after I weeded and before I put mulch in. There's a bed on each side of the porch, but I'll just show this one.

The old wagon wheel had “almost” seen better days. Its spokes were falling out and the old paint was peeling off.

With a bit of wire and a bucket of paint, the old wagon wheel doesn’t look so bad now. After weeding, we spread mulch in the bed. What a difference a lot of hard work makes, huh!

Can't forget to show you the flowers in the donkey planter.

I forgot to take a picture of the flowerbed in the center of the circular driveway before I started. Here’s what it looked like after the pruning, weeding, planting and mulching.

I've been adding flowers here and there.
Here’s what it looks like now.

We bought mini roses for Mom on Mother's Day, so I planted them in the new and improved flowerbed. Here’s the pink and yellow mini roses I planted in front. They’re doing great in this mulch.

So now you know what I do on beautiful days when I'm not writing in my blog, working on my column, writing book reviews or taking pictures of wildlife.
Mom loves sitting on the porch and looking out at her flowerbeds now.

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