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Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Memories 02 | A.F. Grappin

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I once actually had someone ask me if I was reading Dostoyevsky on purpose. 

While that's probably one of my favorite memories of reading, I pretty much just summed up the entire memory in that sentence, and that doesn't make for a very good blog post. I could go into more detail, like how I was reading The Brothers Karamazov in the hallway of the music building in college, when I should have been practicing, or like how my music theory professor once asked me why I wasn't majoring in English instead of music, and he's the one that suggested I read The Brothers Karamazov in the first place... yeah, those were good times. But they were some years ago, and honestly, I was a completely different character then.

Person. I meant person.

Books affected me differently then. Meaning... they didn't. Not really. While I did spend much more time reading words than music at the time, I really wasn't ready to truly read or appreciate books. Stories, yes. I could appreciate stories. I couldn't appreciate the books yet. At least, not on an emotional level. I had to go through a lot of crap first, a lot of emotional breakthroughs, and one really bad relationship.

But hey, that's what made me the way I am now. So, here I am a solid 5-7 years after the Dostoyevsky thing, and here's one of my favorite book memories.

This actually happened in late December 2013. After three years of being away from the stage, I'd been cast as the Prince in a heavily abridged, edgy cut of Romeo and Juliet. Community theatre, not for pay, that sort of thing. Fortunately, I'd performed the show before, pretty much the same cut, with the same director... and I was playing the same role I'd played four years ago. Not a huge role, and I actually remembered most of my lines. The Prince gives a lot of speeches, so I really didn't have a lot of onstage time. I'd go on, give my speech in the scene, and be done for 20 minutes, until my next scene/speech.

Well, as evidenced by the whole "not practicing in the music building" thing I mentioned earlier, I have a tendency to read when I'm supposed to be doing other things. Used to be, I'd have a book and some sort of pen light. Now, I've got my glorious kindle. It was easily hidden in my costume. I'm a terrible person, I know. Offstage after my scene, I'd already have the kindle whipped out and be reading. For the bulk of rehearsals and our performances (yes, I had the kindle with me during performances-- I know, horrible person), I was smack dab in the middle of Myke Cole's Shadow Ops trilogy. Specifically, much of this time, I was reading the second book, Fortress Frontier.

I don't know if I can honestly describe the emotional highs and lows the combination of Fortress Frontier and Romeo and Juliet put me through. One rehearsal in particular, about a week before opening night, I'm sitting in the wings, reading away. We've just gotten started, and I'm waiting for my first entrance, when I go on and yell at the Capulets and Montagues for fighting in Verona streets, tell them that if they keep fighting, they'll die, yada yada yada. My character was just ticked off for the entire show. I turn it off and on like a switch, pissed, not pissed. It's fun.

Well, this day was different, because I'd just read a passage in Fortress Frontier that made my jaw drop. I mean honest-to-God, my mouth was hanging open like a screen door on a muggy Wednesday afternoon in the deep South. Fly-catching, germ-spreading hanging open. I had not seen the return of this character coming. I thought he was dead. Sure, I'd had my doubts about his death, but I hadn't expected him to be alive, not really. So that jaw-drop was part, "I didn't see that coming" and part, "I KNEW IT!" Talk about an adrenaline rush, the euphoria of some amazing storytelling.

Then I heard my cue. I had to put the book-nerd away and turn into stage-nerd. Angrier than a bull getting hemorrhoids installed stage-nerd. I had to come on stage stomping and shouting my displeasure, when all I really wanted to do was tell the rest of the cast that [SPOILER ALERT- I'm not giving this away] was ALIVE!!! None of them would have known what I was talking about; even those other castmates that were big readers hadn't heard of Myke Cole (I have since evangelized at length to them). I didn't care. I was on a high of epic proportions... and now I had to use that energy to berate some of my best friends on stage.

This sort of moment happened TWO MORE TIMES, with the same book, during the same show. I tore through Fortress Frontier, finishing it during our third performance. I couldn't have planned it better, actually. You know that sort of low you get when you've finished a book, and you've already ridden the high of an amazing ending, then it hits you that it's over, and you're just in a slump until you pick up the sequel and/or find something else to immerse yourself in?

I finished Fortress Frontier about ten minutes before my big scene, when the Prince learns that Mercutio (his cousin, though in this production we made the character my sister (yes, played by a woman)) has been killed. The Prince is torn up at the loss of family, and I was torn up at finishing one of the best books I'd ever read. It seemed to fit. Couple that emptiness with the fact that it was my BEST FRIEND playing Mercutio, and that I was looking at her "dead", and... yeah. I sort of lost it. The actress who played Lady Capulet (who I've known for years and who has known me to not be the best at acting) told me I made her feel a little ashamed of herself for the Capulet/Montague feud. I was that affected, and it showed in my performance. 

Basically, here's what I'm saying: words are power, and words are powerful. I'd never really been one to get that emotionally invested in something I was reading, or even that I was writing. My mistake. Immerse yourself. Let it in. And then, more importantly, let it out.


A. F. Grappin currently lives in Tennessee and writes in those spare moments of free time before and after the food-providing day job. Check out for currently published works Empeddigo and The Trials of Hallac, and find A. F.'s blog, home to writing articles, book reviews, short fiction, and the serial novel Mere Acquaintances. You can hear a handful of short stories on the Every Photo Tells podcast.

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