Category Archives: Somebody Else’s Turn

Somebody Else’s Turn — BK

It’s been a long time, but I’m excited to announce the first guest post in just over a year!

BK (yes, the BK made famous (?!) by this very blog) shares some of his thoughts on music and writing, with tips on enjoying either or both. Here’s what he has to say:

The focus of CeeBee’s blog is normally writing. As a guest contributor who is not a writer by craft, I cannot give writing tips or point to helpful books or workshops. And, as an engineer by profession, I am more a supporter of the arts than an artistic individual on my own. I do, however, enjoy music.


I play at guitar. I am not an accomplished musician. There will never be long lines outside the box office where eager fans wait to get the best seats to a BK concert or multi-thousand hits on a YouTube music video featuring my latest release. So, if American Idol or a big recording contract is not in my future, why do I play? Let me introduce you to the BK Theory of Musical Performance.

Set your level of expectation:

What I seek in playing is fun. I do not expect note for note reproduction of an Eric Clapton guitar riff. And no one will ever confuse my rendition of a James Taylor vocal with the original. But that is okay, because my goal is to play well enough so that when friends come together we can make a happy sound.

Accept your mistakes:

I was discussing guitar with a former coworker who played while he was in college but had stopped playing when he moved into the real world of jobs, student loan repayment, independent living – the adult things into which we fall at some point in life. No time to practice, fewer friends with whom to play. “But why did you stop?” I asked.

“I used to be able to play songs without missing a note. Now I make mistakes.” I guess this is an extension of setting expectations, but it is also a statement about self-forgiveness. When CeeBee and I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band a few years ago there was a moment during the show when the band had a miscommunication at a song bridge. Bruce made some comment about the band messing up and they picked up then continued the song. After the song ended Steve Van Zandt whispered something and Springsteen broke into a big smile. Stepping to the mic, he said “So Little Stevie just told me that I was the one who was off.”

He laughed. “You just heard The Boss (expletive deleted) up!” So if The Boss can make light and move on, then BK can do the same.

Make the music your own:

I cannot play exactly what Little Feat plays on “Willin’” nor what Blind Faith played on “Can’t Find My Way Home” but it does not stop me from adapting the song to my skill level. I jokingly say that I reserve the right to correct oversights in the original songwriter’s version. You may be surprised at how well your interpretation works for you. Probably one of the biggest kicks I get from playing with friends and family is when the version of a song that comes out of the jam session elicits enthusiasm and comments. I remember one jam session version of “Hotel California” done with a reggae syncopated rhythm and with Guitar Jack absolutely wailing on the guitar. When it was over, we looked at each other with an almost “Was that us?” look on our faces. Okay, maybe The Eagles have nothing about which to worry, but we really stuck it that afternoon.

There are other things. Play with family and/or friends if you can. Set the goal as fun, not perfection. Kids are especially good at this. The next time you have a family gathering you may be surprised at how enthusiastic the little ones can be.

I have been very lucky. I came from a family in which music was a normal part of life. Then I married into a family with a similar love of music. And so many of our friends enjoy playing, singing and listening that pulling out a guitar usually leads to others joining in.


How to make this about writing? Let’s try this.

Set your level of expectation:

If you write as an outlet for your inner artist, take satisfaction from meeting your milestones. You completed a short story and are happy with the results so you deserve a reward. If your goal is to be published, you probably need help from someone for whom writing is his craft rather than from a back porch guitarist.

Accept change in your choices:

I modified “Accept your mistakes” here because, in writing, you make character choices, plot choices, and dialogue choices that, after self-editing, friends’ suggestions and group critiques, you decide to change. The changes are not mistakes but the natural result of refinement during the authoring process. Writing a story or play is a living activity. The story will evolve as you proceed. That the first draft requires changes does not invalidate your effort.

BK didn’t include a writing section on making the work your own (the way he said to make the music your own), so this is CB, adding on to what he wrote:

Make the story your own:

We’ve all heard the old saying that there are no new plots. Depending on who you believe, there only three, or seven, or thirty-three plots…or some other number I’ve forgotten or haven’t come across yet.

However: we all still like stories that utilize old plots or somewhat familiar characters. An individual writer can help a story say something it never seemed to say before. That’s what keeps us looking for new novels, short stories, movies, and TV shows.

So, whether you’re a writer, a musician, a knitter, or an enjoyer (um, is that a word?) of some other avocation/vocation, keep at it for as long as it brings you joy. That is all.

Somebody Else’s Turn – Patricia Skalka

Death Stalks Door County

Patricia Skalka’s very first novel is coming out in 2 weeks.

I’m planning to attend her reading/signing event on May 16th at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park. Carpool, anyone?

Patricia has another Chicago-area event on May 22nd at Women and Children First in Chicago. For a more complete list of her upcoming appearances, check out her events page.

I met Patricia at the Chicago Writers Conference last fall. She qualifies as one of their success stories. It was exciting to meet her and talk about what she went through to get her book published. I haven’t seen her in a few months, but she was still kind enough to write this guest post, called “A Box of Books”.


A box of books

My box of books arrived last week. Ten copies of Death Stalks Door County, a book that represented so much. Hundreds of hours of work; one draft after another, written, revised, discarded. Sometimes forgotten. More than once shoved aside and dismissed. And then finally resurrected and reread. I was about to chuck the whole project when I realized that I really liked the story and the characters and that I was the only one who could tell the tale because I was the only one who knew it. And it was this sense of obligation to both the story and the characters that prompted me to persist.

Fast forward almost another two full years and I have a box of books – my book — and the sweet joy of knowing the hard work was all worth it.

Death Stalks Door County is a literary mystery; there are deaths, of course, but equally important to the discovery of the killer’s identity and motive is the protagonist’s journey of self discovery and self redemption. Dave Cubiak is a tortured soul; he comes to Door County to escape a past drenched in grief and guilt and finds himself haunted by both.

Publishers Weekly calls the book a “tight, lyrical first novel” and Kirkus Reviews says it’s an “atmospheric debut with enough twists to tempt puzzle aficionados.”

I’m delighted by the response thus far and hope others get as much satisfaction from reading the book as I got from writing it. Death Stalks Door County introduces The Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries.

Waiting for the box with copies of the first book, I wrote the draft of the second. And there’ll be more, as Dave Cubiak continues his journey.

Somebody Else’s Turn – Jez Layman

Today on CB’s MoJo we have a special treat—a guest post. I met Jez Layman through Naperwrimo and The Writing Journey. I’ve known for some time that Jez writes fast. She won the coveted Hat of Word Wars in November 2013, for winning multiple word wars at a Woodridge Public Library write-in.

Since November, I’ve had the opportunity to read some of her writing and learn something else: Jez writes well. You do not, however, have to take my word for it. She’s won several writing contests, and she graciously shares some of her experiences below.


Jez Layman

Earlier this week, I was notified that I had won Sound and Scribe’s Flash Fiction contest with an untitled piece, which you can read here. I was intrigued by this contest and its unique prompt, which was to listen to a specific song (in this case, “Bangs” by Bricks+Mortar) and write a story up to 500 words on any topic inspired by the song. For my piece, I wrote what I would describe as an almost dystopian survival story, which wove in lyrics from the song. I was a little surprised to hear I had won this contest because I had spent maybe a maximum of fifteen minutes on this piece, and most of that was looking up and reading over the lyrics multiple times (it’s not a song I had heard before the contest). I did not hear of this contest until its last day, but flash fiction is my passion, as well as my strong suit in writing, and writing something to a specific theme (broad as it was) seemed a lot easier than figuring out which of my previous pieces would be best for submission, so I took a chance and entered. What I appreciated about this contest in particular was the ease of submission, which was through tumblr, a social media website I frequent daily, and the rules were straight forward. The host contacted me shortly after the end of the contest and the prize was sent to me early the next morning—a very quick turn-around! I certainly intend on entering next month as well, and highly suggest others doing the same.


Like flash fiction itself, this contest was pretty quick-and-easy for me, and done with no prior preparation. This is not the case for all fiction contests. In fact, it’s quite rare. I’m not very likely to enter long-term or long form contests, but I did enter and win 1st place in the OPUS fiction contest in 2011 with a short story called “The Damsel,” which is about a professional Damsel in Distress. This was part contest, part conference, and I was asked to present my work to a live audience after winning, which I did happily. I cannot commend live readings highly enough to writers. The feedback is immediate and you can gauge the interest of the readers immediately. I received quite a few laughs from that piece and was happy to hear that my jokes and allusions hit home the way I had intended. This contest was different from Sound and Scribe not only because of the live reading and length of the piece, but because I had entered a pre-written piece. I prefer to submit my writing for publication, rather than to contests, but I had been asked personally to submit to this contest and I felt very confident in this particular short story. That’s the number one thing I think writers need when submitting to contests with pre-written pieces: confidence. These pieces should be written, adhere to the rules of the contest, be edited multiple times (and read by a second party, if possible), and fit the theme of the hosting entity or the specific contest.


To all submitting to contests or publications, I wish you luck.

 Would love to hear more about people’s experiences with writing contests, either via the comments section or whatever way you usually contact me. Ditto if you have questions for Jez.