Top 10 Reads of the 2010s

The end of a decade is a time for reflection and, even more importantly, it’s a time for top 10 lists from your favorite blogs. Over the last 10 years, I’ve done a lot of reading, so as 2019 winds down, I thought I would look back at my favorite books of the 2010s:

7112b76okh1l

10. The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson

Yes, you read that right. I really did enjoy a book about obituaries. I loved every page of this darkly funny, deeply human exploration of the underappreciated art form of commemorating our lives in the pages of a newspaper (remember those?).

9780684801223_p0_v1_s1200x630

9. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

I first picked up Ernest Hemingway when I was in high school. I was instantly captivated by his terse, staccato style of writing and exciting themes. His early work is all about war and manly, suppressed emotions, but The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway’s last major work before his death, is his most mature work. In this short fable, he immerses the reader into the timeless struggle between humanity and nature.

81g9kdufrjl

8. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild

This unique history of the Great War contrasts pacificists and soldiers on both sides of the conflict to detail the moral complexity of the war that shattered Europe. Hochschild’s research and use of journal entries and personal letters serve to illustrate the conflict in strikingly human terms and make the issues of a hundred years ago feel as urgent as if it was happening today.

image-asset

7. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

In this mile-a-minute pageturner, Follett takes a known historical event — WWII’s D-Day landings —  and imbues it with suspense. This novel revolves around a strong cast of characters, each with their own secrets, struggling against their personal demons and each other, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

919wldrgyul

6. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven is a rare post-apocalyptic novel that gives me hope for the future. Despite the loss of life and leads to the collapse of modern society, the characters in St. John Mandel’s vision of a future years after a catastrophic plague find purpose in beauty, art, and human connection.

fahrenheit451

5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This short novel about censorship and losing touch with both our past and each other foreshadows so much of our present-day issues. It’s a book I find myself coming back to every few years and one that continues to remind me of the power of science fiction to warn us away from our darkest impulses as a species.

81pmwc0zpel

4. All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer

All the Old Knives is a slow burn, told primarily in flashbacks as two spies circle each other in a deadly game of cat and mouse in the idyllic setting of a sleepy Northern California town. Steinhauer is masterful in continually raising the stakes. It’s as tense as dinner with an old friend could possibly be and it’s wonderful.

71eidwmkyjl

3. Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón

Alarcón is one of my favorite writers I’ve discovered over the past decade. I highly recommend his short story collections, but Lost City Radio is a beautiful introduction to his incredible sense of place. In Lost City Radio, individual tragedies are set against the backdrop of an endless war in a nameless country that feels so real it hurts.

several-short-sentences-about-writing

2. Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg

As a writer, I’m a sucker for books about writing, but this one is not your average writing book. Unlike the more popular choices like Bird by Bird or On Writing (which are both excellent), Klinkenborg examines the building blocks of all writing — sentences themselves — and deconstructs the process of writing in a stream of consciousness style which makes it hard to put down and really changed my thinking about my own process.

f11fae7c-9b45-439a-a36a-6b867f4309ba-pjimage-2

1. The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

Okay, it’s technically cheating to have my last pick be three books, but the Broken Earth series blew my mind. Jemisin is a game-changing voice in science fiction today and to say anything more about her epic three-part story about converging factions in the land of the Stillness would be giving away too much. Close your browser and read it now. It’s amazing.

In the 2020s, I hope to make more time for amazing books like these. I also hope to add new voices to my bookshelf and more diverse voices in the coming years. What are your favorite books from the past 10 years? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments!

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. He’s (slowly) working on a novel manuscript and seeking publication for a pretty cool time travel short story. His previous fiction has appeared in the pages of Creative Colloquy and Grit City Magazine.

Wait! Before you go, please take a moment to join the mailing list! It’s 100% worth it:

JOIN THE MAILING LIST

Motivated By Rejection

firemaker-rejection-11_2019

This week, I got a rejection from a prominent science fiction journal. Rejections are common when you’re a writer trying to publish short fiction. The competition is fierce and editors can only publish so many stories. They have to draw the line somewhere, so the vast majority of responses you get when shopping around a story is: “No thanks” or “This isn’t what we’re looking for.”

I’ve received my fair share of rejections since I first started sending out my short stories. The first ten or twenty really hurt. It felt personal, even though I knew it was a professional judgment on whether the story fit a particular editor’s needs, but it always felt like a condemnation of my dream of being a writer. Each rejection that piled up felt like an argument that I wasn’t any good; that I should give up.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Maybe I grew a thicker skin to criticism or perhaps I’ve learned to distance myself emotionally from the process. But for whatever reason, I’ve come to see rejections as motivating rather than discouraging.

The rejection I received this week felt good. It’s been a busy year and quality writing time is scarce these days. This was my first rejection is over a year for the simple fact that I hadn’t submitted anything to a literary journal in so long.

So, when I got this rejection, it felt like I’d earned it. I had risked something and taken the bold step of sending a story that I’d been polishing for years out into the world. I had accomplished something and that felt good.

Rejection is never fun, but look closer. The story I sent wasn’t what this editor was looking to publish — but they still liked it — and they invited me to submit again if I write something else. As far as rejections go, this one gave me hope that I am a decent writer after all and that my work is enjoyable to read.

The same day I got that rejection, I submitted to the next journal on my list of favorite places to read contemporary scifi. They also turned it down, but I still feel like I’m back in the running and I’m more determined than ever to find this piece a home.

Rejection can feel like defeat. Or it can feel like a nudge in the right direction. It’s up to you.

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA who dabbles in filmmaking and photography. He’s (slowly) working on a novel manuscript and seeking publication for a pretty cool time travel short story. His previous fiction has appeared in the pages of Creative Colloquy and Grit City Magazine.

JOIN THE MAILING LIST

King of the Open Road

jonny and the pilot 2019

Last week, I handed over the keys to my 2005 Honda Pilot to my younger sister. It was an emotional moment, because my baby sister is now old enough to drive. It was also emotional for me because I was saying farewell to an old friend. Call me sentimental, but I have a tendency to get attached to inanimate objects, and it was hard to say goodbye to my trusty companion.

The Lone Ranger had Silver. Thor had his hammer. I had my Honda Pilot EX-L.

My Pilot was the first car I ever bought on my own. It was the car I drove to college, the car that I used to help numerous friends move, the car that defied gravity on a steep and ill-advised passing maneuver on a one-lane desert road. It was the car I took down to Oak Creek in the summer and the car I packed with friends for a drive to the Grand Canyon at 4 a.m. to watch the sunrise.

It was the ultimate road trip machine, including recent trips to Canada and the Oregon Coast. I loved that you could fill the back with camping gear and escape into the wilderness at a moment’s notice. It was perfect for our week-long, 1,800+ mile trip to Yellowstone with American Gods playing on CD.

It had the world’s loudest and least effective windshield wipers (which wasn’t an issue until we moved to Washington) and it was old enough to come with a cassette tape deck, which was only used once to play the Complete James Bond Theme Songs.

My Pilot was reliable. It never got stuck, never broke down, and never failed to start whether it was -13 degrees or 113 degrees (except for that one time at a fancy hotel when the battery and alternator died simultaneously and the valet had to jump it to get it to the parking lot…that was embarrassing).

From the faded pirate bobble head on the dashboard to the NAU decal in the back window to the mysterious scratch on the back bumper that I still can’t explain, it was and is a great little SUV.

captain flint golden gate 2019

It’s strange how a metal box on wheels can exert such a pull on the human heart, but it’s undeniable. My Pilot is a testament to the power of good design and engineering to build a thing that not only serves its intended purpose — to get people from point A to point B — but to feel almost like a living thing. Everything about it, from the rev of the engine to the feel of the steering wheel imbued it with personality.

Perhaps that’s why cars have held a special place in the American psyche for over a hundred years. We care for them, we collect them, we fill them with memories. We spend so much time with them that it’s hard not to feel a connection with our favorite machines.

And while it’s sad to think I won’t be climbing behind the wheel every day, I’m glad to pass it on to someone who will appreciate it. Because at the end of the day, the best thing a machine can be is useful. It’s time for it to retire to warmer climes. There’s a poetry to the fact that in the process, it will complete a 100,000-mile round trip to the city and state where I first test drove it 10 years ago. Now it can help make memories for my sisters.

The road is long, but I have the feeling its journey is just beginning.

IMG_9688

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA and is currently in the market for a new chariot of mythic proportions to fill with memories. You can read his short fiction on Creative Colloquy and follow him on Twitter.

The Making of a New Short Film: “As Seen On TV”

Still frame from As Seen On TV. Copyright 2019 Obscure Studios.

There was a time in my life where I could call up a couple of friends with a wild idea, grab my handheld camcorder and make a short film in an evening or a weekend. It was a freewheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of filmmaking that prioritized creative freedom over everything else — including scripts, plot, lighting, sound — and it’s what allowed Obscure Studios, the film company I founded and ran with a few friends, to rack up well over 100 videos in just two years.

After moving from Arizona to Washington and away from my cadre of usual collaborators, filmmaking took a backseat to my writing and other creative pursuits. Last year, with the 10th anniversary of our minor hit, Reilly’s Dorm, looming, I had the chance to travel back to Northern Arizona. There, I carved out a couple of hours with my go-to partner in crime, the incomparable Will McDonald, to write and shoot a brand new short film.

We were a little rusty, but five years between short films can do that. We cooked up a story outline at my favorite coffee shop and the next morning, filmed the opening and closing scenes of the film in the Airbnb where we were staying and the woods behind Will’s house. That afternoon, we set up shop in the basement of Theatrikos, Flagstaff’s community theater and a longtime support of Obscure Studios. We rigged up a lighting setup, cobbled together a campy alien costume for me to wear, and filmed the scenes that make up the heart of the film, as well as a quick promo video.

And that’s all we had time for. We left straight from the theater to catch our flight back to the PNW and dove into a remodel of our house a few days later. It wasn’t until January that I remembered the footage that was waiting on my iPhone’s hard drive.

Over the course of a few weeks, I pieced together the shots we’d captured that summer day. I was pleasantly surprised to see how good most of it was and how well the pieces fit into place. I played around with audio effects to give my voice an unearthly quality, tossed in a couple of visual and lighting effects, and added a 1914 public domain recording of “Stay Down Where You Belong” by Arthur Fields, slowed down to 10% of its regular speed as the soundtrack (I had originally planned to perform my own synthesizer music, but I quickly remembered that I’m not very musically talented, so only a few notes made it into the final cut).

Overall, I’m really happy with how “As Seen On TV” turned out. Much of the credit goes to Will, a fantastic actor who’s immediately likeable on screen and blessed with impeccable comedic timing. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my inspiration: my lovely wife who said, “You and Will should really make a movie while we’re in town” and provided both an unplanned cameo and makeup/special effects assistance with the alien goo (aka dish soap).

Filmmaking is one of those things that demands so much time and attention to detail that you always feel exhausted at the end of a day of filming or editing. But, as soon as you see the final product, a dose of endorphins convince you that the sweat and tears were all worth it and all you want to do is make another and another. Making “As Seen On TV” makes me want to break out my camera and tell more stories, so don’t be surprised if you see more in the coming months and years. I feel a renaissance coming.

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. Incidentally, Tacoma would be an amazing setting for a noir thriller, don’t you think? When not engaged in cinematic plotting, you can find him on Twitter. Learn more about Obscure Studios on our fancy website.

Join the mailing list today!

The First Thirty Thousand Words

Boardwalk, Yellowstone National Park. Copyright 2018 Jonny Eberle.

At my core, I’m a short story writer, a factor that has been both a blessing and a curse as I set out to write a full-length novel. At the 30,000-word mark, just over one-quarter of the way to my goal, it hit me that I was attempting something new. Up until this point, I could’ve taken what I’d written so far and turned it into a very long piece of short fiction; one of those short stories without an ending that thinks its clever for leaving the reader hanging for resolution. But moving past 30,000 words in my manuscript, that easy off ramp is disappearing in the rear view mirror.

A novel is not a short story that didn’t know when to quit. Short stories, well told, are like diamonds — small, multifaceted, and complex, but contained. They’re defined by the surprising depth and tension that comes from expertly working within the constraints of the form to make each and every word matter.

A novel is not like that. I don’t even have a metaphor to describe it, because I’m still discovering the differences. I’ve noticed that my writing style has started to change as my word count grows. I’m thinking more about the big picture and how scenes need to echo forward and back through the narrative. Three plot points aren’t enough to sustain the whole thing from beginning to end. Instead, I’ve felt the need to add three or more complications to each scene to maintain forward momentum.

There is no going back. I have to see this through and continue to see how the form forces my hand, as well as where I can push back to subvert it in small ways. I guess the best metaphor at this point of naïveté is a whirlpool. The farther in I venture, the more I am pulled in. It is a terrifying thing to see the scale of an unfolding novel reveal itself in bits and pieces, but it also gives me hope that I can charge ahead into the next scene and the next chapter until I at last reach the end.

Thirty thousand words down; 65,000 or so to go. Wish me luck.

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. When not obsessing over his novel manuscript, he can be found on the Twitterverse. Watch his new short film, As Seen On TV, on YouTube or Facebook.

Join the mailing list!

The Birthday Resolutions Achieve Excellence

This year, I'm focusing on reaching my highest potential as a human being. No biggie.

Back in college, I read a lot of books by dead, old, Greek guys and I was surprised by how much their search for knowledge and meaning struck a chord with me. Aristotle in particular wrote that the highest achievement a human can reach is arête. This word is often translated as “excellence” or “moral virtue,” but my Classical Political Thought professor argued that a better translation was “reaching one’s potential.” To the ancient Greeks, living a life of significance wasn’t about being perfect, but about being the best person that you were capable of being.

As I turn another year older, I’ve found myself thinking about how I am working toward my arête, my greatest potential. With that in mind, I’m channeling Aristotle today as I write my annual list of birthday resolutions. Here we go:

Live in the Balance

This past year has been insane. My wife and I bought a house, remodeled said house while living with my in-laws, traveled to eight states, drove 2,000 miles, and dealt with personal setbacks. 2018 was a year of extremes. My hope for 2019 is to find peace. There will still be projects to do and tumultuous storms to weather — there always are — but I would like to see smoother sailing this year, with fewer unexpected twists along the way. My hope is to take time to enjoy the little things and to make space for much needed rest after a year of constant activity.

Run a 5K (for real)

Last year, I finished a 5K and it felt pretty good. But I ended up walking a fair portion of the course and after the race, I stopped running. Now, months later, I’ve let the endurance I built up slip away. I’m increasingly aware that my physical fitness is well worth the investment of time and sweat. This year, I’d like to recommit to that goal with the intention of running again and this time, running the whole thing from start to finish.

Carve Out Time to Write

Two years ago, I set myself a goal to complete a novel manuscript by the time I turn 30. It’s been a difficult challenge. I spent a year not really knowing what I wanted to write, and last year, personal and professional upheavals made it impossible to create a regular writing routine. I have roughly 75,000 words to write and less than 365 days in which to get those words onto the page. This year, I need to get serious about my writing and carve out dedicated time to get the work done.

Well, there you have it, my three step process for achieving my highest potential in the coming year. What are your resolutions and how do you keep yourself on track? Sound off in the comments!

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. His recent short story, How to Steal Copper Wire, was recently reprinted in Grit City Magazine, Volume Two. You can find him on Twitter or hanging around with literary types in seedy libraries.

Join the mailing list! You won’t regret it.

An American Failure: Confronting Urban Homelessness

Nashville alley. Copyright 2018 Jonny Eberle.

Last week, while attending a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, I had a chance to walk around the downtown area. Traveling alone has always been something I’ve enjoyed. I can give myself permission to wander without any destination in mind — it’s a great way to get immersed in a new city. Without anyone else to distract my attention, I was also freed up to observe the details I might otherwise gloss over.

Nashville is a beautiful city with amazing music on display seemingly everywhere, a thriving food scene and fascinating history. But like so many urban cores in America, it also has something else — a homelessness problem. In the span of four blocks, I passed two people panhandling, one person sleeping on the steps of a church (appropriately named St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows), and one person loudly talking to himself.

It was overwhelming. My first instinct was to ignore it, as most of us do, as I typically do on any given day. But then I changed my mind. I decided that instead of pretending that a homeless person wasn’t there, that I was going to notice them. I was going to make eye contact and acknowledge their existence.

That night, on my way to an event after the conference, I heard someone say, “Please, sir, will you stop a moment?” I stopped. A woman was sitting in the doorway of a closed office building. There were tears in her eyes.

“Please,” she said. “I am thirty-eight dollars away from making rent this month. I have three kids and five grandbabies at home. Can you spare anything?”

I asked what her name was. It was Antoinette. She told me that she was selling newspapers to raise money — one dollar per copy. I told her that I would gladly buy a copy. I told her that I would be happy to buy one from her. I gave her a dollar and let her know that I hoped her luck turned around. She thanked me and I continued on my way.

The newspaper was a short tabloid filled with short articles by homeless people in Nashville, telling their stories. Side note: For my readers in the Tacoma area, please check out One Person’s Trash, a similar publication that is written by the homeless and sold around the city. It’s an amazing concept that helps a lot of people. Please support them when you can.

Today, I find myself thinking about Antoinette and wondering if she was able to get enough money to pay her rent or if she and her family were going to end up on the street. And I’m thinking about how many of us — myself included — blissfully ignore the tragedies playing out on our streets every day and every night.

Maybe she was putting on act. I have no idea. We tell ourselves that people begging on the street are scamming us; it makes it easier to pass by without engaging them because we believe that we’re wise to the scheme. But what worries me is the possibility that some percentage (and I suspect it’s high, though I have no data to support it) of the people asking us for money really are at the lowest point in their life and have no other choice. That’s been eating at me all week.

It easy for those of us with the luxury of a roof over our heads and enough money in the bank to cover our basic needs to pretend that there isn’t a problem, but there is. Our cities are blighted. Poverty is all around us, but it appears to be most concentrated in our urban cores. This will only get worse as we react to suburbanization and downtown areas are subject to the forces of gentrification (and the increased cost of living that comes with it).

Giving a dollar to every person you see on the street will not solve this epidemic. Corralling the homeless into a tent city or another central space away from view will not solve this epidemic.

As a society, we have failed. The problem isn’t confined to Nashville. In every city in America, people are sleeping in doorways tonight. That should not be normal. We have failed to provide a safety net for our neighbors when they hit hard times. We have failed to prioritize affordable housing, accessible physical and mental healthcare, job placement and training, livable wages, good public education, veteran support, and strong communities that don’t let their residents fall through the cracks.

We are all at fault and it will take a concerted effort by all of us to create solutions to this vast array of problems. We are all one stroke of bad luck from finding ourselves without a job, without enough money to pay our bills, without a safe place to sleep. We owe it to each other to do better.

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. Follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his monthly newsletter for exclusive content and recommended reads.

The First Ten Thousand Words

Lean-to on the beach. Astoria, OR. Photo copyright Jonny Eberle.

This year, I committed to writing a novel. This week, I crossed the ten thousand word mark. After months of working on my premise, dreaming about the plot, and writing dialogue in my head, it’s starting to feel real. So, I thought I would share how I’m feeling at various stages of the process.

The first ten thousand words of a novel are a wild thing. You don’t know if it’s friendly or dangerous, predator or prey, but you can feel it breathing and you know that’s alive and beautiful. No one else has ever seen it before — you are the first to lay eyes on it. It is yours and yet still untamed, belonging to no one but itself. You find yourself drawn to it. You need to understand it.

The first ten thousand words are the unwrapping of a package that’s secured with glue and tape and twine and layers of sturdy paper. Each layer reveals another layer you didn’t know existed and only slowly do you start to get glimpses beneath the brown paper at the glistening thing within. You want nothing more than to unwrap the whole thing now, but you know that it will be more rewarding to take your time and inspect each facet as it comes into view.

The first ten thousand words are the planting of a flag on a desolate shore. Passersby scoff at you, but they can only see the sand. They cannot see the possibilities. They cannot see the city that you will build here. They cannot imagine how something so great can start out so humbly. You build a home on the desolate shore. Someday, it will seem small, but not today. Today, it is a palace.

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. His latest short story, The Disappeared, appears in Creative Colloquy Vol. 4, which you can find at King’s Books in Tacoma. Follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his monthly newsletter for exclusive content and recommended reads.

The Birthday Resolutions Ride Again

Approaching another year with caution, as one does. Photo by the incomparable Stephanie Eberle. Copyright 2017.

Resolutions are funny things. Every year, I make myself a series of promises and every year, I break most of those promises. And yet, I keep making resolutions on my birthday, because while I’m not good at fulfilling them, I still find value in the tradition — in aspiring to do better and be better each year.

This year, as I dive headlong into my late-20s, I’m making three resolutions and if I’m lucky, I may even keep them this time. Hope springs eternal.

1. Complete the first draft of my novel

Astute readers of this blog will probably recognize this one. Last year, I laid out an ambitious goal to write a novel by my 30th birthday. In my original plan, I was going to finish the first draft last year and, well, it didn’t quite work out that way. So, this year I’m going to attempt a new first draft, this time based on a different premise that I’ve been cooking up. With my self-imposed deadline looming, I’m giving myself until November to complete the draft (around 100,000 words). This is a monumental undertaking, but I’m excited about this idea and I’m determined to get it finished.

2. Learn to Accept My Limitations

As I get older, I like to think that I also get a little wiser and a little more humble. I used to think that I could do it all. It turns out I don’t have unlimited time, boundless energy and barrels of talent that I used to believe I possessed — and that’s okay. I have obligations that I must keep; relationships that I must nourish. I can’t follow every harebrained idea that pops into my head. This year, I want to continue to learn how to reel myself back in. Limitations are necessary and by respecting my own limits, I’ll have to be more discerning in my endeavors. From now on, I want to devote my resources to doing a few things exceptionally well, rather than taking on multitudes poorly.

3. Enjoy the Process

In writing and in life, I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to either dwell on the past or start imagining the future. I like spending time reflecting and dreaming, but I don’t want to be so distracted from where I am in the present. I’m writing a novel. I’m young and living in a vibrant, interesting city. These are the years to soak in my experiences and savor the details so that I can draw on them later. I cannot write about fictional lives without living my own life. I want to remember that this year and enjoy the process of accumulating stories.

What are your resolutions for this year? Let me know in the comments!

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. Today is his birthday. His latest short story, The Disappeared, appears in Creative Colloquy Vol. 4, which you can find at King’s Books in Tacoma. Follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his monthly newsletter for exclusive content and recommended reads.