This Labor Day weekend, my family took a road trip through North Cascades National Park. Along the way, we stopped in the small town of Winthrop, WA, to grab a snack and stretch our legs after a long drive. Things went downhill almost as soon as we got out of the car.
Winthrop, it turned out, was under siege by bees. Bees were everywhere, dive-bombing us when we tried to enjoy an iced chai at an outdoor cafe, popping up unexpectedly from under the boards of the wood-plank sidewalks, and swarming us when we dared to stop in a creekside park for lunch. In the end, we gave up, packed up, and drove an hour farther into the mountains to eat in peace.
Our experience wasn’t all that unusual, but it left me wondering what would happen if a town really did get taken over by bees. How would the residents react? How would tourists rate their visit if they were constantly under threat of being stung by oversized and increasingly organized honeybees?
I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. So, I started writing. The end result was a weird, experimental little story in the form of a series of online reviews — to say anymore would be spoiling it.
I’m pleased that the editors of Creative Colloquy enjoyed it enough to publish it on their site. You can read “Reviews of Sanctuary Creek Honey Farm” now:
If you like the story, let me know by leaving a comment below. If you’re a writer in the South Sound with a story or poem that’s ready for publication, check out Creative Colloquy. They’re always looking for local scribes to feature. Thanks for reading!
A few weeks ago, I got to sit down with the friendly folks at the Grit City Podcast to chat about my work as a writer, podcast creator, and filmmaker. We talk about my podcast “The Adventures of Captain Radio,” my involvement as a member of the Creative Colloquy board and as a contributor to Grit City Magazine, and Tacoma’s amazing arts community. See the post below from Obscure Studios to listen to the episode. Thanks to Scott, Justin, and Jeff for having me on the show!
This week, you can catch Obscure Studios president Jonny Eberle on The Grit City Podcast! The Grit City Podcast has a simple premise—in every episode, the hosts sit down with Tacoma-based creatives and entrepreneurs over a couple of drinks to learn more about them and their projects. In this episode, Jonny joins the crew for […]
Don’t get me wrong, I love to write. Creative projects fill my proverbial cup. But sometimes, I just don’t have the time to devote to the practice of writing, or when I do have the time, I can’t muster up the energy to actually put my fingers to the keyboard. Am I a bad writer because I can’t get the words to flow?
I’m not a machine. I can’t flip a switch and suddenly be in production mode. That isn’t how creativity works. When the baby hasn’t been sleeping well or when I’ve spent all of my creative energy at work or when the dishes are overflowing the sink, it’s hard to even want to write.
There is a voice in my head that says, “You’re not a real writer if you avoid writing. You’ll never publish your novel, finish your podcast script, send this short story out, etc.” Maybe you’ve heard this voice, too. It’s persistent, gnawing. It’s also dead wrong.
I don’t know anybody who can write like clockwork every single day without a break. We all feel exhausted or overwhelmed sometimes. I often take long hiatuses from my creative writing, which makes me feel guilty, but it shouldn’t. Because there are days when the news is bad and the chores can’t be ignored and after all that, I just need to shut my brain off for 30-minutes with some TV. Or simply go to bed early.
I would love to be one of those highly disciplined artists who stick to a rigid schedule, churning out masterpiece after masterpiece. Maybe I’ll be a full-time writer someday and have the privilege to spend my days like that. But right now, I have so many other things that need my attention.
I don’t think that makes me a bad writer or somehow not a “real” artist. I’m human—and most of us humans need to rest when we’re tired, so we can come back refreshed, inspired, and excited to put words on the page. After all, if you’re not enjoying the act of writing, then what’s the point?
How do you write when you don’t have the time or the energy to write? 1) Aim small. Instead of writing for an hour, write for 10 minutes, or write even one sentence. It feels good to make progress on a project, no matter how small it is. 2) Maybe you don’t worry about it today. Your Word doc with its incessantly blinking cursor will still be there tomorrow. It is good to give yourself a break. Rest when your mind and body need it. Give yourself permission to focus on your to-do list and don’t feel bad about dedicating time to other parts of your life. Stephen King still has to fold and put away his laundry, just like the rest of us.
It’s okay not to write. You’re still a writer, even if it’s been days, weeks, or months since you actually wrote a word. If the desire to tell a story is still in you, then you’re the real deal.
So here’s to the working parent writers. The full-time job writers. The juggling-multiple-jobs writers. The caregiver writers. The chronic health condition writers. The gotta-focus-on-my-mental-health writers. The burned out writers. I’m with you. And when we’re ready to get back to our manuscripts, it’s going to be amazing. Until then, be kind to yourself.
Way back in November, while insanely sleep-deprived from caring for a one-month-old, I made a fateful—and you might say crazy—decision: I decided to take a crack at writing a novel.
This was far from my first attempt at writing a novel. My computer’s hard drive is littered with abandoned first drafts I had every intention of finishing. I can come up with ideas at the drop of a hat, but following through on those ideas has always been a struggle for me. This time, something was different.
Every day in the month of November, I wrote. And I don’t mean I sat down at my computer with a steaming mug of tea and no distractions while I worked on my masterpiece. I was working full-time, caring for my newborn daughter, and supporting my exhausted spouse as we survived the early days of parenthood. There was no extra time for this creative endeavor. So, I wrote in the middle of the night while rocking a baby to sleep, tapping a story out one-handed on my phone in the dark at 3 a.m., and praying to the autocorrect gods that my words would be intelligible.
November came and went. I kept writing. The Google Doc I was working in groaned under the stress as the novel grew. Soon, the app was crashing every third or fourth time I opened it. But I pressed on, determined to see the project through.
In February of 2022, my wife went back to work and I took leave to spend time with our daughter. So, nap time became writing time. In between juggling parenting and housework, while making sure the dog was getting her walks and putting out a fiction podcast, I soldiered on.
Last week, I typed the final line of the first draft of my novel, bringing my story to a close. I’m taking a break before diving into the next phase: editing. For now, I can at last say that I did what I set out to do. I wrote a novel. At just shy of 100,000 words long and chronicling the ups and downs of a family entangled with the Las Vegas Mob over the course of six decades, it’s no small feat.
Several years ago, I set myself a task of completing a manuscript by the time I turned 30 years old. I missed that deadline by a couple of years, but I proved to myself that it was possible. And having done it once, I’m pretty sure I could do it again. That’s a good feeling. I’m well aware that there’s so much more work to be done. This is only the beginning. But I’m choosing to bask in this pause between the first round of labor and all the tinkering still to come to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.
If there’s a message to other artists in my experience of these past few months, it’s that it is never too late. If you’re contemplating a daunting creative project, go for it. Don’t wait for the perfect time, because it will never come. Take the leap. Write it down. Pick up the paintbrush. See how far you can go.
I’m pleased to share that I have a new short story published this month on Creative Colloquy’s website. It’s a piece of flash fiction written in response to artist Steve LaBerge’s installation “Touching Down in Tacoma,” which was a part of the Tacoma Light Trail, an exhibition of light art in downtown Tacoma. For a few weeks this winter, LaBerge transformed the lobby of the historic Pantages Theatre into an alien landscape with a lone illuminated figure sitting beside a suit of some kind and a board of multicolored squares. Also included was an ethereal song provided by the Puget Sound Revels.
Looking at LaBerge’s piece, I was struck by the whimsy and the melancholy in the scene. With that in mind, I set out to write a short story incorporating the various elements of the installation and trying to imagine who the lone figure was and what they were doing there in this bizarre, otherworldly place. The resulting story is “Victorious,” about the last survivor of a devastating future war in the final moments of a world about to end. It appears in this month’s fiction and poetry published by Creative Colloquy, alongside a poem by Erik Carlsen.
Before reading the story, I invite you to look at “Touching Down in Tacoma” and listen to the music. Then, head over to Creative Colloquy to read the story. I hope you enjoy it!
Let me start out by saying that I didn’t intend to create a podcast. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always enjoyed podcasts, having been a fervent Radiolab listener for more than 10 years, and I regularly recommend shows like 99 Percent Invisible, Levar Burton Reads, The Moth, and Imaginary Worlds to anyone who will listen. But I never thought I would make one. These shows were highly produced works of art. Coming from a film background, I knew how much time and energy that takes to pull off.
But then, the whole world changed.
A deadly pandemic upended my daily routine. I was out of work, alone at home, for days…and then weeks…and then months. I read a lot, but I also dove headlong into every podcast I could find, sampling from genres and formats I never knew existed. I listened all the time—in the shower, while weeding the garden, out walking the dog—trying to shut out terrifying reality with comforting voices in my ears.
All that listening dredged up an old idea. Back in college, I used to joke with my friend and frequent collaborator Will McDonald that someday we were going to make a black-and-white sci-fi B-movie called Captain Radio and the Mutant Mole People from the Eleventh Dimension. For years and years, it was nothing more than an inside joke. Then, in the fall of 2020, something clicked and I realized that Captain Radio wasn’t a movie at all, but a 1930s radio show.
I started writing. Soon, I had dashed off three scripts bursting with rocket ships, ray guns, robots, mad scientists, rapid-fire dialogue, melodrama, and (of course) a valiant hero. It was silly stuff, popcorn fare of the highest order, but it felt good to write something hopeful in the midst of a global catastrophe. I needed the escape, and I suspected others did, too. So, I pitched the show to Will and asked him to come along as the star and co-producer. For some crazy reason, he agreed. Together, we assembled a talented voice cast from across the country, many of whom we knew from Theatrikos Theatre Company in Flagstaff, AZ.
After a lot of work finalizing the six-episode story, organizing recordings, learning my way around Audacity, creating sound effects with random objects lying around my house (wine glasses, bags of rice, and a wet sponge among many others), the first episode dropped on December 31, 2021. Chapter 4 is out now and as we rocket toward the season finale in a couple of weeks, I’m proud of the work we’ve done and hope listeners have enjoyed coming along for the ride as much as we’ve had fun putting it together.
If you’re interested in checking out the show, you can find The Adventures of Captain Radio in all the usual places you consume podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you enjoy the show, please take a moment to leave a rating and review telling others one thing you liked about it — that helps us immensely. You can also buy merchandise featuring artwork and quotes from the show, or you can skip all of that and make a monetary donation on Ko-Fi to help pay the bills. You can learn more on the Obscure Studios website if you’d like to dig deeper.
I didn’t set out to become a podcaster, but here I am. I’m so excited to be sharing this spacefaring journey with you. Thanks for listening.
Against all odds, for the first time since I started making birthday resolutions well over a decade ago, I accomplished all of my goals last year. To be sure, most of them were pretty vague: take better care of my body, write more short fiction, and read to expand my horizons. My thirtieth year of life did not go as planned, but despite the many personal, professional and existential crises that threatened to derail me, I accidentally did everything I set out to do in 2020.
When the pandemic shut everything down, I found solace in my daily walks around the neighborhood. And when Jura, our puppy, came to live with us, those walks became longer and more frequent. At one point in the fall, I was averaging almost four miles a day and feeling better, stronger, more energetic.
After a months-long creative rut (during the aforementioned existential crisis of living through a global pandemic), I started writing. My output this year was more than it has been in years. I published three short stories and one article in various journals and periodicals, which still feels like an incredible feat. I also dove into a long-neglected project of editing a collection of linked short stories I wrote with some friends back in our high school and early college days. In it’s final, printed form, it will be over 500 pages long and will commemorate a wonderfully formative and creative time in our lives.
Finally, I set myself the challenge to read and learn more. Just one week before COVID-19 upended the world, I completed my Strategic Communications and Public Relations certificate. Throughout the year, I read heaps of books — over 4,000 pages worth of fiction and nonfiction. Along the way, I learned a lot from journalists and academics by reading probably hundreds of articles throughout the year touching on subjects as diverse as systemic racism, geopolitics, history, and quantum mechanics. This year, I was reminded of why I love books so much and how much comfort the written world can provide during times of stress and uncertainty — whether it’s through new information or pure escapism.
So, how do I plan to top those birthday resolutions this year? It won’t be easy. But I hope to use the momentum of last year to catapult myself to new heights in the year to come. Because what is the past if not a booster rocket, lifting us into a higher orbit in the future? Here’s what I’m resolving for 2021:
This is a tough one for me. Last year was personally difficult. I lost my job, lost out on vacations and events and seeing friends. Even though I’m an extroverted introvert by nature and don’t mind spending time along at home, there were times when I was so worried about the future that I couldn’t imagine a scenario where anything got better, ever. I realized that I wasn’t taking very good care of myself. I may have been attending to my physical needs — sleeping, eating, exercising — but I was neglecting my mental well-being. Things eventually did get better, but I know that I need to do a better job of caring for my whole self, physically, mentally, and emotionally. That will mean knowing when to stop doomscrolling, when I need to talk to my spouse, and setting healthy boundaries for myself. 2020 was a wake-up call I intend to answer.
Follow My Creative Whims
Last year, I wrote a lot and broke out of my shell a bit more as a writer. I started to incorporate more speculative elements in my fiction and people seemed to enjoy that aspect of my work. In the past, I’ve often kept my pieces intended for publication rather grounded, but letting go of reality (or at least, loosening its grip on my creative freedom) allowed me to follow my instincts in exciting and unexpected directions. I also experimented more with stories that comment on timely issues, like the pandemic and climate change. This year, I resolve to trust my writerly intuition; to worry less about what someone else might define as “literary” and worry more about what kinds of narratives make me want to keep reading. If I enjoy writing it, chances are someone will enjoy reading it.
Bake the Perfect Loaf of Bread
A few years ago, probably as a result of binge-watching the Great British Baking Show, I started to learn how to bake bread. I made some progress and had a few good bakes, but this year, I want to take it to the next level. Not to merely bake something adequate, but to create a flavorful, crusty masterpiece to rival the best bread I could buy at my local bakery. I declare this the year of pre-ferments, long rises, kitchen scales, proofing baskets, and steam-filled dutch ovens. This year, I shall bake the perfect loaf of bread. So say we all.
For the first time in a long time, I have no preconceived ideas about what this next year of life will bring me. Last year has taught me that the status quo can change in an instant. The year ahead is filled with challenges I can’t begin to anticipate, but I hope to face each one with courage, determination, and a sense of wonder.
It’s been 38 days since the COVID-19 pandemic became real for me. That was the day I started working from home, the day most businesses in Washington closed their doors, the day my knuckles started to crack from the sheer amount of handwashing I was doing, and the day that the numbers of the sick and dying starting to skyrocket across the country. It was the day that I realized this was not an isolated, regional outbreak. This was going to change our lives.
A week later, when we ventured out to pick up a pint of local ice cream, we walked by a string of empty businesses with boarded-up windows. It was a Friday night and yet no one was out. It was surreal, like a scene from an apocalyptic story; the kind I usually enjoy reading and writing about.
Rarely do we actually have the awareness that we’re living through history as its unfolding around us. But this is different. For over a month, I’ve lived with the heightened awareness that these days will come to define this chapter of my life; that someday, our homemade face masks will be in museums to teach children about the great pandemic of 2020. I thought, early on, that I would take copious notes during this time and I might even be able to write about the epidemic in real-time, producing a defining work of fiction based on true events.
That’s not what happened.
It’s been 38 days since I’ve been able to write coherently about anything. Instead of tapping into an endless fountain of inspiration unleashed by the chaos around me, the well has run dry. I’ve barely been able to answer my emails and text messages. I’m not even close to being in a space where I can write something insightful about the current situation.
A lot has been made about the fact that Shakespeare wrote some of his finest plays while in quarantine. But Shakespeare lived in a very different world. The plague was a fact of life, an illness that recurred every few years in Elizabethan England. It may have been disruptive, but it was also a part of everyday life in a way that the coronavirus is not in our world.
Far from an excuse for downtime that’s conducive to creative output, COVID-19 is putting us through trauma as a slow-motion disaster rips its way through our fragile society. Psychologically, most of us (myself very much included) are dealing with grief — and it’s hard to focus on anything else.
So, as I’ve sat safely in my house, in a good neighborhood where I feel safe walking around, with a fast internet connection and streaming services at my fingertips, with the luxury of going to the grocery store every other week and having food delivered when it’s too much to cook after a long day of telecommuting, I’m still processing. I think I’ll be processing for a while. While I’m processing, I’ll waver between hope, despair and exhaustion.
Only once I’m done processing do I expect to have the capacity to write the way I used to. I hope the day comes soon when we’ll be able to step out of the shadow of grief and into whatever comes next.
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.
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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.
I don’t know about you, but I’m always writing stories in my head. A snippet of interesting conversation, an observation on the street, a song on the radio — my brain will wheel off on a creative tangent. I hear dialogue in restaurants. I imagine plot twists on my drive to and from the office. I don’t know what causes it, but I have always been wired for story.
I’ve heard that sculptors can see the finished piece in a hunk of raw marble and that composers can hear melodies that don’t yet exist. I think a writer’s brain must work the same way, because whether I have time to address the thought or not (more often not), these stories ricochet around in the echo chamber of my mind all day, every day. I can’t help it and even if I could turn it off, I wouldn’t want to.
It’s like having second sight. For everything that crosses my path, I can invent a backstory, a character or an entire fictional world from out of nowhere. I carry around a notebook in a vain attempt to capture it, but 99% of the stories that flicker, unbidden, into existence escape me a moment later. Those that I do manage to hold onto for any length of time are often difficult to transcribe without losing some of their organic sheen. When I’m lucky, a story that I thought I’d lost will return and stay long enough to become tangible words on a page. Those are the ones worth waiting for.
I don’t tell you this to make myself seem like I have a special ability. I don’t. I might pay more attention to it, but I think we’re all wired this way. It’s what sets humanity apart — our imagination. We all have the power to see or hear things that never were and make them real. But you do have to slow down to give it time to work. What are the moments that cause you to ask, “What if?” What would happen if you allowed yourself room to answer that question? That’s all that writers do differently. Anyone can do it.