Monday, January 28, 2013

Don't Worry Lance. You're Not Alone. Meet Zephyr Hopkins.

Okay. Confession time.

Hold on to your hats. This is a big one: I didn’t watch the Oprah interview with Lance Armstrong. Nope. Not a second of it. To be honest, I don’t remember what I was doing at the time.

So, what’s the deal, Jesse? Don’t you care about Lance Armstrong and what he did? Yes, I suppose I do. But I still had no interest in watching it.

I understand how much of an impact the scandal of his usage of performance enhancing drugs is to the cycling world. I understand how much those who finished second behind him—who rightfully should have won—feel slighted. I also understand the certain amount of relief that comes with unloading the truth.

How is it that I have such an understanding? Well, I guess I could say I’ve lived it to some extent. You see, a while back, I found myself in a situation where I had constructed a pretty complex web of deceit designed to create the illusion that our family finances were fine; in reality a few difficult years in sales had really taken their toll. But, even though I may not be the most masculine person in the world, I have more than my fair share of insane male pride. And I followed that male pride into the depths of what many have dubbed “financial infidelity,” a situation where one spouse hides certain financial misdeeds from the other.

What followed the rather spectacular eruption of the truth was a long period of reconciliation, some therapy, and the first steps towards rebuilding trust. It’s been a long road, but we keep heading towards better days, and for that I am grateful both to my wife, and ultimately to God.

So yeah, I guess I had no desire to sit around and relive those painful moments of the “disclosure of sin.” It can be hard to watch, hard to listen to, and believe you me, it’s extraordinarily painful to be on the talking end.

When this whole situation blows over, and we all return to our lives—perhaps we already have—I’d like to think there’s hope for our buddy Lance. His life’s not over. He has many years left to rebuild himself, rebuild his image, rebuild his reputation, and rebuild his legacy.

During the weeks after everything I had done was revealed, as a part of my self-imposed therapy, I decided to write something about it. When I first sat down at the computer, I had no idea what form it would take. Would it be a story, an essay, a blog post? I had no idea.

Initially the words and ideas wouldn’t come, and I was afraid the wound was a bit to raw to revisit my dismaying lapses in judgment. The next day, however, I was driving to visit some customers a few hours away, and I had an epiphany. I’m not going to tell you what it was, because it would ruin the story quite a bit. Suffice it to say, when I took a break for lunch, I whipped out my laptop and began writing. By the time I had stuffed a Panera sandwich in my mouth and washed it down with some iced tea, I had written almost 3,000 words. The entire three-hour drive home, I recited dialogue to myself, trying to make it sound realistic. Within a week, the story had grown to 15,000 words, which, incidentally, made it one of the longest pieces I had ever written (besides my dissertation, and no one is ever going read that thing).

I loved the story. The crises in the plot line bordered on insane, but there was an air of truth to it.

Then the story sat for four months. I just wasn’t sure what to do with it.

A few months letter, I let a few people read it, and they loved it.

Then I let it sit for an even longer time.

In December of 2012, I decided to pick it up again, dust it off, and really get it ready for publication. Thanks to a few wonderful friends and their honest opinions, I added another 7,000 words to it, tightened up the story, and ramped up the emotional impact.

And thus was born—well, more like conjured in a literary sense—Zephyr Hopkins. Am I Zephyr? No, that dude is a hot mess of epic proportions. We’re talking Greek Tragedy here. Was my situation similar? Not at all. I am thrilled that my situation was nowhere near as desperate as his.

All that being said, my heart breaks for Zephyr every time I think about him, because no matter how far I remove myself from his brand of trouble…

…Zephyr still lurks in the shadows of my heart.

Buy The Perdition of Zephyr Hopkins now for $0.99 at:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Excerpt from The Perdition of Zephyr Hopkins

Here is a short excerpt of The Perdition of Zephyr Hopkins. It is now available at the following eBook retailers for $0.99.

- 1 -
2:01 PM
Zephyr Hopkins, cursed with that name since moments after his birth, inhaled until he felt his chest would burst. Vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and colors—and perhaps even creeds—whizzed through the busy intersection. Zephyr’s gaze drilled with meditative focus on the orange stick figure encased behind a wire mesh, warning anyone who might consider jaywalking with an incandescent glow. A single tear forced itself from the corner of his eye, and scalded as it trickled down his cheek, changing course every time it encountered another whisker.
Across the street, the “DON’T WALK” figure disappeared in deference to his next door neighbor: the cheery, backlit-by-white-light “WALK” figure, depicted mid-stride in a happy-go-lucky stroll. An impatient glut of humanity flowed around him, plunging him into the crosswalk. A few less-than-friendly nudges and a disgruntled “Hey buddy” attempted to pull him from his trance, but Zephyr Hopkins was astray in a turbulent whirlpool of echoes of the past few months.
it’s nothing personal…
…come as quickly as you can…
…don’t be mad…
…lay it all out for her…
Wispy strands of thin, jet-black hair fell over his forehead and in front of his eyes. He brushed it away with a quivering hand as his right foot ventured a few inches forward.
Or a few feet.
Or a few miles.
It was becoming so difficult to tell.
The familiar chime that announced the end of the “WALK” signal blared its clarion call from all four corners of the intersection of Fifth and Main, jolting Zephyr back from his oddly peaceful oblivion and into his heartrending circumstances. He surveyed the scene in the span of a fraction of a second. All four directions of traffic halted while the all-way red light insured everyone was out of the intersection.
So many cars full of so many people. A mother fidgeted with her smart phone while tapping her fingers on the steering wheel, ignoring her gaggle of children with the deftness of an experienced soccer-mom. A middle-aged man in a sharp tan suit and expensive-looking sunglasses checked himself in his mirror before taking both hands off the wheel to smack some sense into an unruly patch of hair above his left ear. An early-twenty-something leaned over to kiss his girlfriend, perhaps lingering a bit longer than public propriety would normally dictate.

- 2 -

10:43 AM

“Zeph, can I see you in my office, please?”

Zephyr peered across the sea of cubicles and saw Collin Nordstrom motioning in that hey-buddy-but-I’m-not-really-your-buddy method he had become so efficient at oozing. The general rule that a company’s best salesman usually makes the company’s worst sales manager was not wasted at Xoreon, manufacturer of the highest quality digital x-ray machines. Collin had managed to win Salesperson of the Year eight of the last nine years, and lost in 2008 for no other reason than four months of scattered absences while his wife battled breast cancer like some fierce hospital-smock-wearing warrior princess. Everyone had been happy to chip in and cover Collin’s territory, less because they liked Collin, but more because they adored his wife Carla.

When the position of National Sales Director became available, it was a foregone conclusion that Collin would be offered the position, and he would subsequently decline. Much to the amazement of the entire sales team, despite Collin’s protests that he would never join the management team, he snatched up the offer with lightning speed and assumed his new role in his new digs. He traded his humdrum cubicle for a real office with a real door that actually closed. He installed mini-blinds on the floor-to-ceiling windows on the interior wall of his office, and frequently kept them closed.

Zephyr stood up and acknowledged Collin with a nod. A fastidious note-taker, he grabbed his pen and legal pad. He slid his uncomfortable black office chair—carefully crafted in some impoverished Asian nation from particle board, low density foam, and scratchy tweed-like fabric—under his desk and strode deliberately toward Collin’s office.

Annual performance review time. Everyone knew it, and everyone expected to be called into Collin’s office for his inaugural round of reviews. For the most part, Collin and Zephyr had always been on cordial terms; however, since his promotion, tensions bubbled to the surface when Collin criticized Zephyr’s peculiar brand of fussiness over the minutest details. “Lighten up,” he’d say, forcing Zephyr to stifle an untoward retort.

Zephyr stepped over the threshold, and Collin motioned for him to take a seat. The strangely suggestive, curvaceous edge of the desk had an unnerving effect on Zephyr, forcing him to struggle to discover a position that would allow him to sit and write in relative comfort. After a few rounds of pushing and scooting and sliding and nudging, Zephyr found the sweet spot and readied himself for a slew of useless tips for improvement in the coming year.

Collin flashed a wan smile. “Zeph, would you mind closing the door?”

Irritated that he would have to repeat the comfort-seeking ritual again, he sighed sharply. He arose and pushed the door shut with no particular urgency. He returned to his seat and fidgeted until he could sit and write while sacrificing neither comfort nor efficiency.

“Zeph, I don’t think you’ll need to take notes during this meeting. It’s going to be pretty brief.”

Well, now that’s merciful. Maybe he’s finally realized if he just leaves me alone to do my job instead of offering his occasional vapid sales-motivation platitudes, next year will be even better than this year.

Zephyr sat back in his chair, distressed by the absence of activity for his hands. Deciding that folding them in his lap was the most reasonable placement, he interlocked his fingers loosely, locked eyes with Collin, and expended minimal effort to feign a warm smile.

Collin looked away and fixed his eyes on a blank spot on the wall. “I don’t really know how to tell you this. So, I’ll just come out and say it. I’m afraid your position here is no longer available.”


Within the deepest recesses of Zephyr’s mind, his internal time-keeper short-circuited. Milliseconds dragged on for hours, minutes for seconds, then seconds for years. An impossible feeling of slippage commandeered his senses as the room spun in sporadic, random jerks and tilts. He watched as Collin appeared to be praying, eyes closed tight enough to crinkle the crow’s feet that framed his eyes. However, when he watched Collin slowly lift his eyelids, he realized that everything was moving in extreme slow-motion, and he was merely catching the tail end of a blink.

After hours—or seconds or years, who knew?—time seemed to right itself and Zephyr’s jaw unlocked. Little better than a whisper, he managed to blurt out a few words.

“What? I don’t—I mean—what?!”

“Well, as I’m sure you are aware, your performance has suffered a bit since you made the decision to take occasional leave to attend to your mother. I was very clear that I expected you to perform up to expectations in spite of those interruptions.”

Confusion twisted Zephyr’s features. “I’m not sure what you mean. I met my quota for the year. How is that not performing up to expectations?”

“While it is true that you met your quota, you were the only team member that didn’t exceed it by more than twenty percent. Obviously the market is booming, and simply performing to the minimum acceptable level is, as of right now, unacceptable.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” His voice picked up a few decibels along the way and beads of sweat formed along Zephyr’s crooked hairline. “How can performing at an acceptable level be unacceptable? Isn’t that, by definition, acceptable?” Zephyr looked from side to side, half-expecting to see all of his co-workers hiding in the office, ready to burst out laughing at what he could only assume was a vicious, mean-spirited prank. “What’s going on here?”

“I’m sorry, but what’s done is done. You will be expected to have your desk cleaned out by the end of the day, although under the circumstances, I’d say sooner is better. Oh, and please turn in your corporate credit card to accounting. Jackie in HR will also have some paperwork for you.”

Zephyr shook his head, ramping up the velocity from purposeful movement to wild, chaotic oscillations. He broke free from the dizzying motion and snapped his head up. “Now wait a minute. You remember when Carla had cancer and you took all that time off? We all pitched in to help you. Don’t you remember that I won you the big account in The Research Triangle? How could you even think of doing this to me?”

“I recognize all that everyone did for me during that incredibly difficult time, but those were very unique circumstances. Caring for elderly parents is not something that qualifies, at least in my book, as a reason to take so much time off work.”

A special blend of hatred, vexation, and an overload of caffeine erupted into physical action. Zephyr charged across the desk, grabbed Collin’s tie, and yanked it forward. Immediately realizing he had made the treacherous march across the Rubicon, Zephyr resolved not to make this desperate situation a waste of time. “Now you listen here, you mealy-mouthed, sorry excuse for a human being. If we hadn’t helped you out during that time, you wouldn’t even be in the position to fire me. You better count your lucky stars that, one, I’m not a violent person, and two, I’m not vindictive, or right after I’d smashed your face into this desk I would pick up the phone and let Carla know about your ‘special friend’ in Detroit.”

Satisfied that he had not only sealed his fate in an air-tight tomb, but had also scared the living daylights out of his now former boss, he scrutinized Collin’s face for any hint of dread. The corners of Collin’s mouth rose with unhurried intention, waltzing towards his cheekbones. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re trying to somehow leverage that knowledge against me. Well, as it happens, I’ve got some bad news for you. I told Carla about Dayna over a year ago and we’re working through it. So, as I see it, you don’t have any cards left to play now, do you?”

Blood and rage surged through Zephyr’s veins and set his cheeks on fire. His fingernails dug into the palms of his hands, punching through the surface layers of skins and drawing tiny crescents of blood on the otherwise pale canvas. He stood statue-still for a few seconds, contemplating screaming, punching, kicking, and crying, but decided against all of the above. He straightened his back, unclenched his fists, composed himself, and opened the door to make a semi-graceful egress.

Collin spoke up, assuming his hold-on-to-your-hat-because-I’m-about-to-teach-you-something-really­-important timber. “Oh, Zeph. Seriously, it’s nothing personal, man. It’s just business.”

Everyone in the general office area took notice as Zephyr slammed the door behind him with force enough to rattle the windows of Collin’s office.

The Perdition of Zephyr Hopkins is now available at the following retailers for $0.99.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Knowing When to Call it Quits

I'm not Jon Acuff, but I can tell you that there comes a time to "quit."

Wow! The title of this post feels weird. Of course, I chose the title because it sounds ominous, akin to the header of a literary suicide note that ends with "goodbye, cruel writing world." Well, you can rest assured that this is nothing of the sort. Yeah, I know it's been six months since my last post. I've been busy starting up a publishing company, for crying out loud! 

Jeez, back off!

Realistically, that's not an excuse, but rather an informative explanation. I could have kept you, faithful reader (maybe even "readers?"), in the loop, after all. That would have been the proper thing to do.

So, hey! Guess what? I'm writing again, albeit on a limited basis. Let's just say that whenever I can find the time, I'm opening up one of my four manuscripts in development and punching a key or two on my keyboard. It's gratifying, even if I can only write five hundred words at a time. Each precious word is a brick, a cog, a critical piece of the machine that will eventually be a finished manuscript.

Last week, T. Marcus Christian, one of the authors over at eLectio Publishing (that's my publishing company by the way), wrote a blog post about "editing." It's really good; you should check it out. One of the many great points he makes is about knowing when a manuscript is finished. And while he comes up with a couple of good rules about "knowing when to call it quits," I think the number of ways to discern if a manuscript is ready are as varied as the number of writers on the planet.


I am your father. No you're not! Shut up! No, you!

I'm a geek. Okay? Do we have that out of the way?


While I was only a year old when the first Star Wars movie came out (I know you're doing the math), by the time The Empire Strikes Back was released, my wonderful parents saw fit to tote me along (as a four year old) to the theater to witness the shocking revelation that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father. Truth be told, in my four-year-old brain, I thought such a notion was ridiculous. Darth Vader was a robot, right? I wasn't quite able to wrap my head around cyborgs yet.

In fact, I remember having a pretty heated exchange with a friend at Sunday School the following Sunday. I mean, how could he be so stupid as to believe that nefarious galactic super-villain? That Vader guy just oozed deception, didn't he?

[SPOILER ALERT...Oh, who am I kidding?] Yeah, well, turns out I was wrong. By the time Return of the Jedi came around and all was revealed, my Sunday-School-spat was long forgotten, and I had tacked on another three years to my age. I had pretty much resigned myself to Darth Vader being Daddy Skywalker.

That was okay. The movie was great. It ended beautifully.

And so came the end of one of the most sweeping sci-fi epics the world had ever seen.

Or so I thought.


It was a menace, all right.

I was in graduate school in Columbia, Missouri, in 1999 when The Phantom Menace came out. I approached the whole idea of a prequel trilogy with all the skepticism that it deserved (and it did deserve some skepticism, didn't it?).

Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier, I'm a geek. I stood in line for a midnight showing on the day it came out, accompanied by some buddies of mine from the Chemistry Department. After many endless rounds of cribbage on the sidewalk in front of the theater, midnight arrived. We filed into the theater and then we sat for what seemed like an eternity, trying to digest the garbage that someone decided to pass off as an entry in the Star Wars universe.

Now, I know I'm going to get a load of flak for this, so just chill out. I'm not insulting your mother. (Unless your mother is Jar Jar Binks. In that case, I'm totally insulting your mother.)

The Phantom Menace blew. I mean it blew hard. From the ridiculously precocious future Darth Vader to the insipid Jar Jar Binks, not even the presence of heavy-hitters like Ewan MacGregor, Liam Neeson, and Natalie Portman (rising star that she was) could rescue the movie from its own absurdity. The whole Star Wars universe became a caricature of itself.

It became clear to me that George Lucas should have just left well enough alone. The original trilogy, while not necessarily profound, was a work of sci-fi genius that had sparked decades of discussions, musings, wonderings, and daydreams of the multitudes of fans.

While it is true that the further installments were certainly better than The Phantom Menace, nothing could quite pull the prequel trilogy out of the mire.

And for me, that eternally tainted the whole Star Wars franchise.


"Zephyr Hopkins. I am your father!" No, seriously.

So why on earth am I talking about Star Wars in a post that at least seems to be about editing. Well, here's the thing: one of the most difficult things for me to do is decide when I've got a completed manuscript. And for me, there's no hard and fast rule. My best-selling short story, Rumspringa, was complete (from first word of first draft to final "SAVE" of the submitted draft) in just over four hours. Another short story I wrote floundered for nearly two years before I was finished with it.

All that to say, for me, completion is a "feeling" above all else. Perhaps even a "whisper from the heavens." Who knows? All I can say is that whether it is the first revision or the eleventh, at some point, I look at the manuscript, and I get this intangible this-seems-about-right kind of feeling.

So it is with my upcoming release, a novella titled The Perdition of Zephyr Hopkins. I completed the first draft in March of last year. I went back through it shortly thereafter and made sure all the events were congruent from start to finish (inconsistencies drive me nuts). And then it sat for about four months. I shared it with a few trusted folks. They loved it. Then I let it sit for another four months.

In the midst of my busy-ness with eLectio Publishing, a few weeks ago, I felt the irresistible draw back to Zephyr and his messed up life (we're talking really messed up). It beckoned to me, as if to say, "Hey, man! I'm almost done over here. So, why don't you just invest an hour a day for a couple of weeks and shine me up?"

And that's what I did. The result is a few thousand more words, a few gaps filled in, and a very tight story about a man who can't seem to stop making horrifying choices. When you read it (and you will, won't you?), you might find yourself feeling sad for Zephyr. It might make you angry with him. You might feel sorry for the poor fool. I feel all of those things as I read and re-read.

But I can feel it coming. I can imagine it now. In the next few days, Zephyr's going to look up at me from the pages that hold his oppressive circumstances, and say, "Hey, buddy. I think it's time. Let's do this."

And I will. I'll put Zephyr to bed. Or, rather, unleash him on the world.

I'll quit and move on to the next thing.


Side note...

Oh, George Lucas. If only you had quit and moved on to something else.

My inner seven-year-old wouldn't have died a little bit that day in 1999. I have a feeling he's going to suffer even greater tragedy ahead.

JESSE S. GREEVER is "The Accidental Author" and CEO of eLectio Publishing, a digital publisher for Christian authors.  

Greever is also a co-author of the book, Learning to Give in a Getting World, and numerous fiction titles from Untreed Reads publishing.

His first fiction novella, The Perdition of Zephyr Hopkins, will be released as a self-published eBook in late January 2013.

You can become a fan of Jesse on Facebook at or follow him on Twitter at