Another Conversation with Dan Jolley…

Welcome back to Dan Jolley, comic book writer, game designer, and author of the Gray Widow Trilogy, the second of which, Gray Widow’s Web, released this year. You can read a little about the trilogy in my first interview with Dan, but first, I’ll let him have the floor to talk about the process of creating, especially working within a world once it’s been set up.

Q (Infamous Scribbler): This is a sequel to your first novel, Gray Widow’s Walk. What were some challenges you found in re-visiting the world of the first book? How did you overcome them?

A (Dan Jolley): I wrote the first draft of what would become Gray Widow’s Walk in 1996. After a protracted series of rewrites, shelvings, and further rewrites, the book finally became what I wanted it to be, and Seventh Star Press snapped it up. But that means I had had twenty years to work on the first book, and one year to work on the second. Basically the challenge was to make sure I could do the same work in twelve months that I had done previously in a more or less unlimited time frame. I would *like* to think, though, that over the course of that twenty years, when I was constantly working on other projects and writing prose as well as other media, that I got better as a writer. In fact, at the risk of blowing my own horn, I think Gray Widow’s Web is a better book than Gray Widow’s Walk. If I can keep that curve up, the third book, Gray Widow’s War, will outshine the first two. Fingers crossed!

Q: In your first book, you spoke of drawing on your background in multimedia creation, i.e. videogames and comics. Did you find yourself re-visiting some of those influences for the sequel? Why or why not? And if so, how?

A: The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the entirety of my career is that, in any kind of ongoing storytelling endeavor, whether it’s comic books or TV shows or novel series, the thing that keeps readers coming back, is the characters. Plot is important (I’ve heard people in literary circles say things like, “Plot is to be avoided,” and “Plot is vulgar,” which translates to my ears as “pretentious hogwash”) but it still comes in a distant second to the importance of the characters. So in the second book I’ve been walking that fine line between preserving what made people respond to the characters to begin with and letting those characters grow and develop in ways that made logical and emotional sense.

(I also think writing comic books for decades has allowed me to create some truly kick-ass action scenes.)


Q: A number of sites I follow continually predict the death of YA, the death of superheroes, the death of the female-led story, and yet all of these genres keep going strong. As someone writing at the nexus of these genres, what are your thoughts?

A: I remember a number of years ago there was a pronouncement made by a Hollywood studio executive, after a movie starring an A-list actress under-performed at the box office. The guy said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Clearly, movies with female protagonists do not perform well, so our studio will no longer produce movies with female leads.” And I was thinking, “What a load of garbage. The movie tanked because it was terrible. It would’ve tanked no matter who was the lead, *because it was terrible*. Maybe try making better movies, instead of excluding half the population?” Essentially, there’s an audience out there for a terrific story. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it’s YA, or features superheroes, or has a female lead. If it’s a great story, people will respond to it.

Of course, the flip-side of that is that now more than ever, the market is absolutely flooded with books, and the struggle for eyeballs is grueling. So there’s every possibility that you could have a terrific story that just doesn’t get seen. But that’s a function of the marketplace, not of the story’s content.

Q: What was your favorite part of this book (Gray Widow’s Web), and why?

A: Okay, SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t read Gray Widow’s Walk AND Gray Widow’s Web, please skip to Question 5 immediately. (IS Note: OR…. Go and read them both and then come back! Don’t worry, we’ll wait.)












When Tim Kapoor finally realizes what the implications of his new Augmentation are as they relate to Janey’s husband Adam—that Tim’s new ability to heal injuries means he could reverse Adam’s gunshot-induced brain damage, restoring him to full mental capacity—I’m pretty proud of that moment. Tim and Janey love each other desperately, but Tim is a genuinely good, compassionate guy, and he has no real choice other than to offer to heal Adam. And once Adam’s healed (which we don’t see yet, of course)…well, Adam and Janey are still legally married, and Adam was the great love of Janey’s life. It’s a horrible place for them to be. Plus it’s a “pure science-fiction” dilemma, since this situation could not be replicated in “real life,” which makes me like it even more.
















Q: What have you learned since starting the Gray Widow series?

A: I think I’ve figured out some new and improved ways to create creepy, disturbing, in some cases nightmare-inducing antagonists. Simon Grove in Gray Widow’s Walk was truly awful—what with his screwed-up shapeshifting and propensity for sucking people’s blood out through their skin—but I think I can safely say that Aphrodite Lupo in Gray Widow’s Web surpasses him on the creep scale. She’s terrifying, she’s more damage-resistant than a Terminator, and unlike Simon, she has a real gift for picking up disciples. Plus, like every good villain, you can kind of understand where she’s coming from by the time the story’s done. (On a tangentially-related note, I’d love to see her played by Amanda Seyfried.)

Q: Anything to add?

A: If you’re looking for something a good bit less R-rated, I also have a series of Urban Fantasy Middle Grade novels out now called Five Elements. Book 1, The Emerald Tablet, came out last year, and Book 2, The Shadow City, hits stores at the end of this month. And, of course, feel free to bug me on Twitter: @_DanJolley.


Thanks again to Dan for stopping by! I highly recommend you pick up a copy of both books, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Writing & Marketing & Cleaning, oh my!

Actually, today has mostly consisted of marketing, surfing the Internet (I swear, it’s in the cause of marketing), consuming large quantities of coffee (in my Camp NaNo writing mug), and trying not to feel too guilty about the fact that my toddler cried when I dropped her off at daycare. Because I know that none of the writing and plotting and planning (and also cleaning) would get done if I didn’t, and it’s better that she has a chance to run around and play with other kids than to toss the house and then go watch TV when I finally run out of patience and need to get stuff done. But still. Ouch. The feels.

Anyway, I’ve finally come to the conclusion-slash-realization that I don’t know as much about marketing and the stuff that happens after you finish the novel than I assumed. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and SkillShare class viewing to get more information, so that I can get better. And what I’ve learned is that I have the essence of the stuff I need, I just need to distill that essence. And then communicate it.

A few things that I will be doing–setting up a mailing list, and offering a free Rick Keller story to subscribers; starting a Medium blog on various topics; setting up workshops via SkillShare, including my Write Better Fights workshop; writing a lot more words on a daily basis; and, finally, reading more. But even before I can start all of these things, I need a plan, and a schedule. And a clean sink. Don’t ask me why. It’s a thing where I can’t concentrate if I know there are dishes. Yup.

Other than that, I’ve cracked my GRE books in the hopes of re-starting my application process for post-graduate programs, gone full bore on my stash busting, and finished plotting the first third of Vegas Run. And now, it’s probably a good idea if I get back to this stuff so that I can complete today’s planned work and go pick up Ladybug from daycare. If she’s still speaking to me!

Coming Soon: Sonnet Coupled

Sonnet Coupled Cover Art

Sonnet Coupled, Roxanne’s New Adult Interracial Erotic Romance novel, releases April 25! 

ER nurse Sonnet Mendoza’s new housemate Griffith Parker proves there is more to a man than meets the eye, and shows her there’s more to life than just her career.


Sheltered and cosseted, Sonnet Mendoza abided by her papi’s wishes her whole life: no boys, studies first and always. Now an ER nurse in a busy Chicago hospital, medical school is so close Sonnet can taste it. Just like her father always wanted. Just like she can taste all the things she wants—like Griffith Parker, the man of her dreams and her new housemate.

Working “graves” in a large hospital as a security guard while attending the police academy during the day doesn’t leave ex-Marine Griffith Parker any personal time, but after meeting the beautiful Sonnet Mendoza, business as usual is anything but. Sassy, smart…and interested in him, too? Except, she’s made an art of keeping her distance, and she’s been clear that her plans don’t include him. But the heart wants what the heart wants. His wants Sonnet. He’ll put it on the line to win her.



Roxanne D. Howard is a U.S. Army veteran who has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and English. She loves to read poetry, classical literature, and Stephen King. Also, she is an avid Star Wars fan, musical theater nut, and marine biology geek. Roxanne resides in the western U.S., and when she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband and children. Roxanne loves to hear from her readers, and encourages you to contact her via her website and social media.

Welcome, Roxanne!

I was excited to learn that Roxanne was not only a fellow romance author and reader, but that she was also a fellow veteran. I reached out to learn more, and found that she served for six years, both on active duty and with the Utah Army National Guard. She was administrative specialist, serving in an O-6 office (that’s a Colonel for you civilians out there – the one with the bird on their shirt) in Heidelberg, Germany.

She writes: “[I]t was a great post and I really enjoyed my time in the Army. It paid my way through school, and I’d definitely encourage my daughters and anyone interested to join. The military shapes lives.”

Check out her new release at the buy links below!

Buy Links:


Barnes and Noble:



Boroughs Publishing:


Social Media Links:






Author Announcement

I am happy to announce that Boroughs Publishing Group has picked up my romantic suspense novella, Negotiating Her Release! Many thanks to Boroughs, as well as to Emmy Curtis, who was my mentor and kick in the pants while writing. Stay tuned, and I’ll be sharing more information and, of course, cover pics and more. You can also sign up on their Web site to review ARCs as well as get the latest info from them.

So, phew … that was cool! Now, I’m headed into the pre-release marketing, spreading the word, editing, and also writing the next novella in the series, so things are a little hectic.

Bonus Announcement! And not only that … our expected arrival showed up exactly a week early. Baby Jennifer decided that she was done hanging out, giving her mom heartburn, and so the day (actually night) after Valentine’s Day, dear hubby was driving exactly the speed limit to Womack Army Medical Center, where Baby J showed up after a qui16836059_10158181975435363_4915682667791615169_ock two and a half hour labor.

So … actual baby AND book baby. There are lots of things going on in the crazy world that is my life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Bullet points and productivity…

My productivity in the New Year was going well … until right around sometime last week. At that point, I got some great news that caused me to pretty much drop everything and scramble to catch up. (More on that news at a later date…)

Not only that, but I’m in the midst of preparing for a new arrival, and trying to wrap my head around all the hormones and emotions that cause me to want to wash dishes instead of write. Seriously? This is a thing?

So back to productivity. In my case, I had to kick myself and remind the old brain that I had some lists of things to do that all tied in with the goals I’ve been writing about the past two weeks.

On the left side of my computer screen is a digital sticky note with my 2017 writing projects outlined. These are broken into two categories: “For Love” and “For Money.”* Each of these projects tie into the goals that I’m working on writing up. Furthermore, at the top of the list, I’ve written a reminder to myself: Work for YOU before you work for someone else.

This is just a writerly version of the old financial management advice: Pay yourself (i.e. put your money into savings), before you pay others. And it works about half the time. Anyone who’s ever seen their bills outpace their investments knows that budgeting–whether time or money–requires discipline and sometimes is too challenging.

The good news is, if we drop the ball, we get the chance to start over. Which brings me to my weekly bullet points.

On my actual, physical desk, I have a whiteboard with a “To-Do” list of bullet points for the week. These are also divided into “For Love” and “For Money.” I’m still working on achieving that sweet spot of just enough tasks for me to fill the week with and not try to bite off more than I can chew–and yet still be accountable enough to achieve those larger goals on that computer sticky note.

I’ve been asked before, how do you get all this stuff done? One way is through caffeine and checklists, especially when it comes close to the actual execution of complicated events on the schedule.

But the other part of that is bullet points and to-do lists that keep me on track, and help me gauge that productivity. Although I did get off track this past week, I look back at my bullet points and realize that I’ve actually gotten more creative work accomplished this past month than I have in the past year. And that is saying something.

To my fellow writers, organizers, communicators, and leaders–good luck. Hope your bullet points are sound, your checklists are neat, and your caffeine is plentiful!


* Projects that I’m writing on spec count as “For Money.” Because I’m spending my own time, but the goal is that I will be shopping them in the future. Therefore, I’m working for myself, and I consider my time to be money in this case.


A(nother) Conversation with Connie Wilson…

Spring comes in flush of pink in our NC backyard.

In the past few years of hosting Infamous Scribbler, I’ve had the chance to have a few conversations with Connie Wilson, interracial romance author and good friend. With the occasion of the release of Northern Lights: Two Worlds Collide, I invited her to come by and talk about not just the book, but the process leading up to where she is today. Her story is a story shared by many in the indie publishing biz, and I hope you enjoy it!

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a little about the background of NL, the series and today’s release.
A (Author C.M. Wilson): The Northern Lights series will forever be my first baby. I started writing this series as wrestling fan fiction back when the internet was brand new and fan fiction wasn’t a thing yet. It started with four girls in a bed room talking about what ifs and drooling over hot guys. We wanted to write our own version of Sweet Valley High. It’s morphed into an interracial romance and what it is throughout the last 21 years.
It’s now about Carrington and Eli, two seemingly polar opposites, from completely different worlds. But they’re both deeper than they look on the outside. Eli is running from a past that keeps following him around. Carrington’s world isn’t as perfect and All-American family as it looks from the outside looking in. They some how fall in love and go through a whirl wind life together.
Two Worlds Collide is the first of the five book series. It got released on January 9, 2017, under Sharpe Pen Publishing.
I am currently working on the fifth and last installment and it’s bittersweet. I’m completing a dream. A dream that people called silly and that it wasn’t worth holding on to. I was bound and determined to prove the nay sayers wrong and I did. On the other side of the coin, this is something I’ve been doing since I was 19 years old and it’s almost over. I’ve grown up and changed right along with these characters. It has definitely been a heck of an enjoyable ride.

Q: What are some of the challenges of indie publishing and how have you overcome them?
A: The biggest challenge of indie publishing is the lack of a PR team. You have to hustle a little bit harder to get your name out there, but it can be done. Having a publisher is a little easier because you have someone else behind you, helping open avenues that you may not have known about. Sharpe Pen is more like a little family so I have others hustling with me and helping me get my book out to readers that may not have known about me otherwise.

Q:  (Trigger Warning: Miscarriage) You’ve been through some personal challenges this year, and then came out strong, finishing a novel even while dealing with life-changing events. Can you talk a little about that, and what you might have for people going through the same thing?
A: Thank you so much for asking this question. I don’t know if I necessarily came out strong but I’m definitely still working through it. April 6, 2016, I was in the hospital for a heart related issue and they told me that they couldn’t do the chemical stress test because I was 6 weeks pregnant. So, life changing event number one. I was told that I would never get pregnant, and well SURPRISE. Right from the point I found out I was pregnant, I started to miscarry. 13 days later on April 19, it was determined that her heart was no longer beating.
I started journaling the day I found out I was pregnant. The plan was to write in my journal every day and turn the entries into a book about how I handled a high risk pregnancy. Then, when Angeline passed away, I was still writing in my journal and planned on turning the entries into a book about miscarriage.
Five weeks after the miscarriage, I found myself fighting for my life because of a diabetic ulcer on my toe. I landed in the hospital for 8 days and then in a nursing home for a month. I didn’t write anything during that time because I was focused on saving my life.
Once I got out and returned to life as I knew it, I started realizing things that a woman who has never had a miscarriage wouldn’t notice. So I turned my journal entries into a book about what I went through and how I handled things in the first year after losing the baby. The book is called My Walk Through Hell; A Grieving Mother’s Tale of Miscarriage and it will come out on Angeline’s angelversary, April 19, 2017.
My advice is that there is no time limit on grief. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to grieve. No matter when the miscarriage is – early like mine was or later on – it’s still the loss of a life and all those hopes and dreams you had for that life that you carried inside your body. Do what you have to do to try to get through it. Writing about it was my outlet and it saved my life.

Q: What is unique about your books when it comes to the subject of interracial romance? Any advice for IR writers?
I don’t use the stereotypical white girl that dates black men or the stereotypical thug. My characters are just people who find love in each other.
My advice is, don’t listen to no. There are a lot of publishers that won’t take interracial romance. Write it anyway. If that’s what drives you – keep going until you hear yes.

Q: Where can people find you and your books?
A: You can find my fan page at
And my books on

Thanks for stopping by, Connie! Best of luck. 😀

Like Urban Fantasy?

Check out the Amaranthine Chronicles! Released yesterday as a three-novella box set. For more information, keep reading!

Book Information:

Title: The Amaranthine Chronicles Box Set (3 Novellas)

Author Name: Tiffany Shand

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Release Date: January 25, 2017

Page Count: 203



Follow the Tour to Read Reviews of The Amaranthine Chronicles:

The Novellas in the Box Set:

Betrayed by Blood:

In a city of lies and deception, only one thing stands between chaos and justice. For centuries, a band of outlaws called the Amaranthine has kept the peace in Ormere and hidden in plain sight whilst the Order of Sorcerers spreads their deadly magic among the city’s inhabitants.

After losing her fiancé in bust gone wrong, Amaranthine Agent Kaylan Avilion returns home to discover that Elijah didn’t die but instead was changed by the twisted guards of the Order, who seek to find a dangerous artefact tied to Kaylan’s past and the murder of her family. When her sister goes missing and a foe from their past remerges, Kaylan knows she must save Freya before she’s poisoned by the very people who took Elijah away from her. But how will Kaylan react when she learns Elijah’s secret and can they come together to stop the Order’s plan in time?

Dark Revenge:

Darkness is sweeping through the city of Ormere as unnatural creatures stalk through the streets. People are dying and time is running out as a new evil threatens to take control of everything. The Amaranthine Order has been decimated leaving only a few of its people left to fight the coming terror.

Stunned by her sister Freya’s betrayal and plot to take over the city, Kaylan must do everything she can to find out what Freya plans to do when she finds an infamous book linked to the murder of their family. A book considered so dangerous that the last High Lord erased its location from history, the Amaranthine Chronicles are said to contain the darkest of all magics.

Kaylan is happy to finally have her ex-fiancé, Elijah, back in her life but he’s not the man she once knew and loved. After being turned into a shapeshifter, Elijah struggles to control his inner beast and his lingering feelings for Kaylan.

Can Elijah and Kaylan come together to stop Freya and uncover the secrets of the book before it’s too late?

The Final Battle:

Darkness has claimed the city of Ormere and death has become a certainty for anyone stalking its empty streets. The government is in ruins and lawlessness ensues.

After their last encounter, Kaylan and Elijah barely managed to thwart her sister, Freya’s, latest attempts to find and use the elusive Amaranthine Chronicles. But in her desperation to receive ultimate power, Freya will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Even if it means destroying the last of her family.

Kaylan and Elijah must work on their fragile relationship and put their personal feelings aside to find the book and stop Freya before it’s too late. But with their allies growing thin, and a gang of ruthless shapeshifters close on their trail, will they finally find the book and stop Freya before time runs out? And will Kaylan have to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her city and the man she loves?

Meet the Author:

Tiffany Shand started writing short stories when she was a child. After doing a creative writing course in her teens, she discovered her love of nonfiction writing and is now a freelance writer and professional editor.

She writes both non-fiction for writers and fiction, and is the author of the urban fantasy Excalibar Investigations Series. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find her reading.

Tiffany lives in Essex, UK with her family, two very spoiled cats and a hamster.

Tiffany’s Blog

Tiffany’s Author Website




Goals, Step Two – Getting SMART

Welcome back to what is apparently going to be a little mini-series on setting goals. Last Monday, I wrote about goal setting from a place of desire–start with what you want. Get to the heart of the matter.

(Apparently, use italics to emphasize those things…)

How do we get from here to there? How do we set goals that move us from the heart to the head, and then eventually to the point of publishing those goals, both as an internal azimuth and an external document, i.e. business plan.

Keep in mind, at this point, we’re still at the strategy level. Why? Goals are strategic. Plans are tactical. We’ll get to those, eventually, but it’s hard to plan effectively if you don’t have strategic goals to focus what you’re trying to do.*

With that, one of the best models I have found is the SMART model. Namely, goals should be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-Based.

While this model covers everything a specific goal should include, it doesn’t prescribe a set way to write it, or go about forming it. So whether you, like me, are setting personal business goals, or whether you are working with a team to develop project goals, the goal-setting SMART model is flexible and expansible.

Last week, I sat down and wrote out a list of one- to two-word phrases that encapsulated what I want to do with Infamous Scribbler. These came from the heart, and required no further explanation–at least to myself: Entertain, Coach/Mentor, FOCUS: Veterans, Challenge, Money.

Let’s take a look at the “want” words, and see how they can be used to write draft SMART goals.

“Entertain” is pretty darn generic. While I do desire to entertain people through my fiction, this word encompasses so much in its definition that it will be hard to nail it down to its specifics. However, I’m not willing to give it up, just put it aside.

“Coach/Mentor” is more specific, in that I can point to a specific definition of the words, as well as to some specific actions that I am currently undertaking. Right now, I volunteer with a local writing group (and in fact, have just raised my hand to assist in a co-leadership position.) I also have a few clients that I been working with, and enjoying my time working with them. I think I can work this “heart” word into an actual goal.

“FOCUS: Veterans.” Right now, what I want to do is help service members and veterans tell their story. This desire comes from a place of often not seeing myself and my experience reflected in the accepted veteran stereotypes and narratives. What I would like to do is work with veterans who have a desire to tell their stories and contribute to a richer fabric of military service narratives. Hmm … that sounds like it’s getting pretty specific. And starting to touch on the rest of the SMART model.

“Challenge.” We’re back to the general, generic, not very well-thought out strategic desire. Again, I’m not necessarily going to throw this one out, I just need to do some serious thinking about what I mean by “challenge.”

“Money.” I can think of some very specific money goals, and for the purposes of my business plan, I will attach some numbers to my goals. But what I truly mean by this is that, Infamous Scribbler and Scribbler Coach should be treated like a business. I need to remember that businesses won’t survive if I work for free for everyone, and that charting growth from year to year is a good thing when it comes to determining which marketing and sales efforts are growing, and which are not.

This post is getting a little long, and giving me some food for thought about what I actually want, and how to get there. From examining my “desire” words in the light of the SMART goals model, I see that I have a couple of very helpful “wants,” and a couple that need revising or re-thinking.

I invite anyone to drop me a line as to whether or not this process is helpful. And, if you’re looking for someone to bounce ideas off of, drop me a line at infamous_scribbler ~at~


~ ~ ~

* This is especially true when you have a group of people who may be more experienced at planning and execution of specific campaigns, but who are used to doing so either in isolation, in reaction to circumstances rather than an overall goal set, or in accordance with goals handed down from higher.

Goals, Step One – What Do You Want?

Goals. What are they? How do they help us? Why do we need them? Why are they so hard?

If you’re reading this then, like me, you’re probably running up against a circumstance where you have to sit down and write a set of goals from scratch. Or perhaps you’re refining your goals, in preparation for submitting a business plan or grant. Perhaps you’ve read through some of the literature and seen the acronym “SMART,” and thought about what it truly means to make a goal:

Timely & Trackable.

And perhaps, also like me, you’re staring at a blank screen trying to figure out the best words to capture those goals.

Let’s start from the beginning. Grab a scrap of paper, or a large whiteboard, or have someone take some notes on a computer. You can do this by yourself, or in a large group of people. Focus on the question: WHAT DO I/WE WANT?

Here’s the time for opening your brain and shutting off your inner critic. Limit yourself to one- or two-word phrases that answer that question. For example, when setting goals for my business I wrote:

FOCUS: Veterans

There were a couple of other keywords in the list, but you get the idea. This is the kernel of what I want. These are the seeds of my goals.

Chances are, the larger the group, the more discussion and wading and culling you will do during this goal-setting process. The thing to remember is, these are the words that are coming from you heart. This is what you want when you’re not overthinking it. These words will likely end up incorporated in the rest of your eventual business plan or organizational map, as well as your SEO optimization, future planning sessions, etc. Think of them as the focus and compass of your strategy (goals) that will inform your tactics (targeted measures to achieve those goals).

After you’ve got your goal keywords written out, then comes the next step–transforming WHAT you want into HOW to get it. It’s not a process that happens overnight. In fact, I recommend that any organization re-visit its goals and plan (the WHAT and HOW) on an annual basis to stay on track. Goals change as organizations grow and thrive, and what you might want when you’re starting out may change once you hit that measurable and trackable benchmark. Perhaps one goal is no longer relevant, or you find out you weren’t specific enough to use it to generate tactics.

Take a moment to think about what you want. Write down your keywords. Make them loud and proud, in the largest letters you can. And if you need someone to bounce some ideas off for the next step, hit me up at infamous_scribbler ~at~

Good luck!

It’s all story …

Last night, I had the good fortune to be invited to a rehearsal for Sweet Tea Shakespeare‘s production of Antony & Cleopatra, opening January 5 at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, NC.

Beforehand, director Jeremy Fiebig warned that this rehearsal would be less of a full run and more of a chance to get into the nitty gritty of some last details and choices in various scenes. This sounded like a great opportunity to watch a bunch of creative people hone their craft, and perhaps derive some insight into how people tell stories in different media.

First, Fiebig eased the Company’s way into rehearsal by adding a small bit of choreography to one of the pre-show songs, then moved onto another song, a cover of The Great Divide by Humming House. Drawing in the ensemble, he and music director Jacob French worked to fine-tune the arrangement, ensuring that each note was where it was supposed to be.


Cast members William Collier, Joyce Borum, and Cerina Johnson rehearse a pre-show song for Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s production of Antony & Cleopatra.

This process reminded me a lot of my own approach to editing, or to re-entering a story to continue it when I’m writing. You need to rev the engines a little to warm them up before pulling out onto the highway. I think of it this way–if you’ve ever had to pull into traffic on I-95 with a manual transmission Jeep Wrangler, you derive a new appreciation for the acceleration lane. In the case of creative work, warm ups with low-hanging fruit, whether a song or a few edits on yesterday’s word count can get you up to speed and cruising along.

Also, it was fun to listen to.


Jeremy Fiebig, right, gives direction as he works through a scene with the actors of Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra, opening January 5.

Once the actors and crew had warmed up, the cast began a deep dive into Act II, Scene II. As they progressed through the scene, the process started to seem very familiar. The underlying question seemed to be, in two parts:

  1. What was the goal of this scene?
  2. What was the actual goal of this scene?

On the surface of it, this scene is a reconciliation between Caesar and Antony, consummated by the agreement of Antony to marry Caesar’s sister, Octavia. And yet … surely Caesar, that calculating intriguer, knows that this marriage would force Antony to continue to give service to the repair of their relationship while inserting a wedge through Antony’s true desire, Cleopatra. Thus, Antony would be weakened in his power plays, even as Egypt would be weakened in its regent’s desire for the Roman, and while there remained the risk of violence between the two Empires, it would ever be Caesar and his sister with whom the Roman populace sided against the luxurious barbarians and that traitor, Antony. And yet … how could Antony say no to this offer?

How devious! How delightful…

As writers, this is what we strive for–to present one set of conflicts/goals/resolutions, and yet have these aspects mask the deeper, hidden desires of the actors in the story. In sum, we must as writers and readers look beyond the obvious goal to find the actual goal.


Sharyn Beal, as Cleopatra, learns of the news that Antony (Jeremy Fiebig) is set to marry another woman. Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra opens January 5.

One last insight before this blog post goes too long, or I just devolve into a monologue on how cool it is to watch STS behind the scenes (which it is, by the way…)


In one of the next scenes, the Messenger (William Collier) brings news of Antony’s pending nuptials to Cleopatra (Sharyn Beal), who takes it with all the grace and poise of an extremely petulant toddler. The Messenger escapes the room with his life, but is re-summoned by Charmian (Cerina Johnson), who gets him back in the room to give her all the deets.

The first time Charmian leads him in, she pushes him from behind. The second time the actors ran through the scene, Fiebig suggested a different approach. This time, Charmian–an attractive attendant on the Queen–coaxes him in with smiles until stepping aside and abandoning him in front of the still-seething Cleopatra.

What is interesting here is how this one small yet very deliberate choice COMPLETELY changed the energy of the scene. The small, comedic reprove heightened the frustrated tension of the rest of the action, ensuring that the energy didn’t remain the same throughout the scene, but rather ebbed and flowed in natural progression.

As writers, we have to be aware of these ebbs and flows, as well as the fact that everything that happens in a story is a deliberate choice. We shouldn’t be afraid of diving into the minutiae of presence and timing, and giving full attention to what might seem like minor moments. Are we pushing our audience into a scene? Or are we luring them in with promises made of smoke and mirrors?

In all, this evening was the perfect chance to watch a group of storytellers come together to bring a narrative to life, and to gain insight into the creative process. I’m looking forward to seeing the play when it opens January 5.

For tickets, contact Sweet Tea Shakespeare at (910) 420-4383. The show runs weekends through January 21.