Like most newspapermen and women, I've always had an itch, a belief, that writing fiction would be liberating from the hard rules of journalism where accuracy and truth trump every other purpose. Until I actually sat down in 2004 and started work on what became "The Romeo Boys," I didn't fully appreciate that persuasive fiction is also much harder to create.
I am an unreformed child of the 1960s, meaning I find myself still rooted in the optimistic and also darkly traumatic cross-currents of that decade and the 1970s as well. It was a time we could jubilantly celebrate Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon while also watching police bludgeon civil-rights and anti-war protesters. My own life had that kind of schizophrenia to it -- a happy color blindness on baseball fields and in school hallways only to see my black friends turned away from other doors for the whispered reason, "C'mon, Pete, you know my mother doesn't let colored people in the house."
I was lucky to be the child of a U.S. Air Force officer who moved his family from state to state and even overseas. That gave me a sense of our great big world and its exotic colorings and atmospheres. When you are a 10-year-old American boy in jeans and sneakers, and find yourself face to face with a dirt-encrusted Turkish boy who is probably wearing the only shirt and pants he owns, you get an early, searing lesson in privilege and good fortune.
Journalism became my career because I couldn't imagine any other vocation where I could use my two strongest academic skills -- writing and my love of history. I completed my journalism degree at the University of Colorado in late 1976 and then set out looking for work. Sidetracked into being a bookstore clerk for a time, I rebelled one day by warning myself that if I didn't find a newspaper job immediately, I would be sucked into the vortex of bookstore management forever. So the following morning, I found myself across the desk from a chain-smoking small-town editor who lectured me for 30 minutes on how foolish I was to want a job in newspapers. I didn't listen and by 5 p.m., I had a reporting job at a nearby weekly and never looked back.
Newspapering has taken me from riding with dog catchers to covering White House press briefings, from murder trials to closely watching as Army medics trained brand-new soldiers in the harsh reality of battlefield medicine. Much of my career has been spent under the vast, blessedly dry blue skies of Southern Colorado. Not surprisingly, it's the setting for "The Romeo Boys."
After more than 30 years in newspapers, I still enjoy the adrenalin jolt when news is breaking and there is a great story in my notebook waiting for me to shape into a compelling narrative. These days, I have a sense the clock is winding down on my time in a bustling newsroom, which makes me savor those moments all the more. A wise old editor once said newspapers pay poorly enough you will always be guaranteed good company.
But writing "The Romeo Boys" was an education in itself. In fiction, there are no unnecessary words. Every sentence has be to load-bearing and move the reader forward. Now that I better understand it, it's a lesson I intend to use in other stories, too.
I hope you enjoy "The Romeo Boys." It was a pleasure to tell.
The Romeo Boys: A Rock 'n Roll Odyssey
by Peter Roper
Published: June 14, 2014
» Coming of age
Hoping they'll never be caught, Bobby Masters and his imposter band work cowboy bars and tiny college dances during the summer of 1964, pretending to be The Romeos, a popular group with a real hit record. But fate, along with a go-go dancing sorority girl, turns these young men and their notions of love and the future upside-down in this coming-of-age story.
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