Peter Roper


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.

Smashwords Interview

What's the origin of "The Romeo Boys"?
Put a bunch of rock 'n roll musicians around a table and inevitably they start one-upping each other with wild stories about life on the road -- the good gigs, the dumpy clubs where their sound systems caught fire, crazy women who hid in their vans, crazier husbands who came after them, chiseling club owners....the list goes on.
Having hung around musicians for much of the past 30 years, I thought I'd heard most of those tales until a newspaper colleague enthralled me one afternoon by recounting the summer of 1966 when he'd played in an "imposter" band all across West Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and even Montana, where Red Man-chewing cowboys tried to give the foursome unwanted hair cuts with sheep shears.
Maybe it speaks volumes about my naivete, but I'd never imagined that any band would have the nerve to try and pass themselves off as another, real-live group that actually had a record on the radio. What guts. What craziness. What idiots to try and pull that off!
The longer I thought about that story, the more it begged to be told in some form -- and so you have "The Romeo Boys."
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first story of mine published, "Song For A Summer Night," I wrote on a dare -- a dare with myself. Surprisingly, it also was about a musician. In the summer of 1979, I was spending quite a few evenings each week warming a bar stool and listening to a terrific country-rock band, Fall River Road, that was extremely popular in the Colorado Springs region. They did a cover of "Orange Blossom Special" that can still make me smile, just from memory.
At that time, a local university literary anthology was advertising for stories and poems from Western writers. It wanted "voices of the West" or something just as pretentious. What the hell, I told myself? I'd write a story and see if I had any juice for fiction. Hang around a band long enough and, even from a distance, you become aware of the personal trials afflicting them. In Fall River Road's case, it was the question of whether to take the big leap and try for Nashville glory or to just stay put and enjoy small-town fame. And that idea, of a successful singer coming home to play a reunion show with his small-town friends, became my story.
Which the anthology editor gobbled up and called brilliant. That was nice to hear, but the story wasn't brilliant, of course. You can still find it in Writers Forum 6, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. While my tale has all the overwrought weaknesses of a beginning writer, you should know that volume also contains several early poems by Yusef Komunyakaa, who later received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Yes I'm standing in reflected glory. Damn straight.
Read more of this interview.


The Romeo Boys: A Rock 'n Roll Odyssey
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 106,690. Language: English. Published: June 14, 2014. Categories: Fiction » 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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