The Road to "Tales"
It took four years to get Tales from the Road into print. Buildings can be designed, built, and occupied in shorter time. Marriages have been started, consummated, and ended in that amount of time. That’s four complete seasons of baseball. Needless to say (yet I’m still saying it), creating that book took a long, damn time.
However, the timeline wasn’t necessarily a bad nor good thing. It just was.
It allowed for the story to grow and adapt.
It also allowed for its authors to do the same.
In early 2014, my girlfriend suggested I talk with Bill Bancroft, a fellow member of the local chapter of Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). My girlfriend was the organization’s paid executive and she knew everyone. I was one of those members who recognized some people but wasn’t well-connected. Even though I ended up the President of the organization for a year, I still didn’t know everyone. I don’t build deep connections with most people like my girlfriend does. She learns about people and listens to everything they say. It’s her gift.
Bill’s wife had passed away in 2011 and it devastated him. He left BOMA for some time but had returned while working for a new company. According to my girlfriend, Bill had shared with her a dream of writing a book about his years playing drums in various bands.
When I first learned that Bill was a musician, I thought it was a funny concept. Straight-laced Bill Bancroft was a musician? The guy with short, gray hair? The guy who always dressed in suits and ties?
My girlfriend said it was true and swore she saw Bill play, in an impromptu moment, when he was invited on stage by a local band. She said he was an amazing drummer.
I really didn’t believe her story, but I agreed to meet with Bill nonetheless. I figured the worst that could happen was I would drink a couple beers with a nice guy.
Besides, I was battling my own creative demons and was looking for any excuse to start writing again.
Several years prior, I’d gotten involved with a local writing group. At first, it was a great experience. It was led by an author with some pedigree who I looked up to as a mentor, a friend, and a sort of father-figure. He had a commanding presence and was a fantastic writer. The guy was also exceptionally smart.
What he wasn’t, though, was good at encouragement.
In the many years I worked with the group, almost every time I submitted a piece of work, he began a critique of my writing say, “You know what your problem is…” He said it so often about my work that it became a running joke.
He often said he liked my writing style but mercilessly picked it apart when given the chance. He would occasionally pick me apart as well. I would frequently return home after the group meetings feeling less worthy as a writer and questioning why I even attempted putting words to paper.
Over time, my writing output decreased, and I eventually didn’t want to submit something for review.
I left the group on non-speaking terms with my mentor and friend in 2013.
For the next year, I struggled to write anything new. I could barely come up with any story ideas, let alone write one.
Creatively, it was a frustrating and lonely place to be in.
Enter Bill. We met at a local bar and chatted over a few beers. He told me a number of anecdotes – some of which made me laugh and some which made me say, “Holy shit.”
These were his ‘tales from the road’ and, according to Bill, he had a ton of them.
He said he’d collected these stories while gigging with several bands. Friends and family had heard them over the years and many had suggested he write a book. His late wife, Becky, once recommended that he recorded the anecdotes, so he’d have a log of them. Bill did just that. While he worked out of town with his day job, he’d recount stories into a handheld recorder.
When I asked how many tapes he had, he said, “Over a dozen.”
He quit recording them when his wife passed away.
After agreeing to co-author his story, Bill delivered me his first few tapes. He had done his best to record his story chronologically. The tapes were made in a conversational manner with Bill telling his story to a silent friend. He would share an anecdote, often laughing in the middle of the story. He’d frequently say, “That reminds me of another time –” which would send him down the road with another tale often years later.
I’d sit in my home office, headphones in my ears, clicking Stop, Start, and Rewind on my micro-recorder until I transcribed all the information from those tapes. It was a long process, but one I remember fondly. It was like listening in on a secret communication between friends. I doubt Bill ever thought someone like me would transcribe his tapes, so the way he told his stories was raw and real.
The meetings with Bill were like drinking from a fire hose – the information was fast and furious. Sometimes it was hard to keep up. I scribbled notes as quickly as possible then ran home and incorporated them into the story. I would then have to return to our next weekly meeting for further clarification until the story was completely dialed in.
It was a slow process, but we stuck to it and accomplished our goal.
When we completed our first draft of the book, we held it up with pride. The look on Bill’s face was priceless. His dream was becoming a reality. My goal of getting back into a writing groove had been more than accomplished.
Bill had a friend, a female writer, who graciously offered to read our first draft. He sent it to her with high hopes. It was a bit early to send it to others for input, but that happens when you’re excited about a project.
While she read it, we continued to work on the book, tightening it further and adding new stories and details. Bill was always good for emailing or texting me “I just remembered –” along with some recalled tale. I loved those moments.
Unfortunately, when we received his friend’s comments back, she eviscerated us – not the writing, but the subject matter. She couldn’t believe the things Bill had written about and it completely changed the way she viewed him.
She had never read a rock and roll biography before and would not likely have picked up a book whose tagline was “sex, drums, and rock & roll.”
Looking back, we should never have asked her to be an early reader. She was not our audience. Regardless, he had asked for her opinion, which she gave in spades, and it sent Bill into a deep funk.
He’s a good guy who is sensitive by nature. Her words deeply cut him, and he wanted to distance himself from the project that he was so excited to see get off the ground.
We put the book into limbo and went about our lives.
Bill’s hiatus was good for me, though.
I had found my writing mojo again and attacked a different project – a new crime fiction novel. The idea came quickly, but the writing felt clunky. It was like riding a bike with underused muscles.
Working with Bill took a lot of the weight of my creative muscles since it was his story and I was simply cleaning it up, organizing it, tightening it, etc. It was like working out with extra-light weights.
Writing a story of my own meant I was pulling everything from the ether and putting it on the page. It felt good to be doing it, but it was slower and harder than I remembered. I’d been out of practice of creating my own visions.
It didn’t matter, though. I was writing again, and in my mind, that was what was important. Too much time had gone by without putting my words to paper.
Months passed before Bill reached out to talk about the book. He had moved past the comments of his friend and wanted to reengage with the writing process.
While we had been on hold, I asked a female friend of mine to read it. She was also a writer and close to Bill’s age. She played percussion professionally as well. When she finished the book, she gave it some positive criticism. When I asked her what she thought about the subject matter, she shrugged. She’d seen it before, she said. She’d been around the music scene in the ‘70s, so she knew all about the kind of behavior. Anyone who is offended by the behavior of rock bands shouldn’t read the book, she said.
I passed along that feedback to Bill and he brightened. It reinforced what we already knew - the first reviewer wasn’t our target audience. Quite frankly, neither was my friend, but she knew about the subject matter enough to look at it dispassionately.
The first feedback had set us back months. We set about making up for lost time and tightened the book further. It felt like we were making headway over the next few months.
Then Bill asked his family to read it. His wife, Sue, was an avid reviewer and she gave us great feedback multiple times. However, the rest of Bill’s family didn’t take as much interest in the book as he had hoped. He thought they would be excited to see what he’d created. Unfortunately, they weren’t. The story touched a part of their lives when their father was on the road and not as involved as he should have been. Bill discusses this in the book and it’s a painful realization he came to later in life. Unfortunately, his family probably didn’t want to know certain things about their father or relieve those earlier years of their lives.
For writers, when we create a new piece, we hope those closest to us will want to read our work. They can hate it, if they will tell us how to make it better. “Please fix those spelling errors,” “You have a point of view problem,” or “I don’t get what was occurring in the third chapter,” is better than completely snubbing the work. If someone ignores the work that we’ve labored so hard to create, that’s a stab to the artistic heart.
This again set Bill back emotionally. He questioned the project and asked that we hide it on the shelf once again.
I returned to my own writing, but this time I was on fire. By now, I’d started Building-Income, a real estate/personal finance blog that allowed me to get on a soapbox occasionally. This was a great outlet for creativity and it spurred another idea for a crime fiction novel, The Side Hustle.
The previous book I mentioned was finished and I set aside a very rough draft to the side. I pushed headfirst into the new novel and had it almost complete when I ran into my writing friend, Frank Zafiro.
I pitched him a new idea for a story that was too big for me to write alone. Suddenly, I was overflowing with creative concepts! Frank loved the story idea and we quickly crafted the book. It came out beautifully and we found a publisher in Down & Out Books. Charlie-316 is one of the best stories I’ve ever been a part of and I can’t wait for it to hit the market.
Three previous books that had sat on the shelf of despair (that place where I had relegated my previous novels to go before) were pulled down and reworked. I was in super creative mode.
During this time, Bill called again and said he wanted to start working on the book once more. I jumped at the opportunity to meet. I loved Bill’s story and had invested so much time and emotional energy into his book that I wanted to see it cross the goal line.
I told Bill if all we ever did was print a couple copies for him and me that would be fine, but we needed to see the project to the end. He agreed, and we pushed forward.
We made the commitment to self-publish the novel as it seemed the most natural vehicle for the project. Bill could take the books with him while on the road with his band and sell them along with their other merchandise.
Months went by with little tweaks here and small edits there. The book kept getting tighter, but we’re weren’t adding anything new. Time was slipping by and we weren’t pushing ourselves to get it across the goal line.
In late 2017, I read Grant Cardone’s The 10X Rule and in the book the author talked about goalsetting. He made a point to say we must set large goals and go after them with all our efforts.
I approached Bill and pitched that the idea we needed to commit to a publishing date with the book. If we didn’t actually set that date, we would always find a reason to push it off. Things, both real and imaginary, would forever get in our way.
He agreed, and we set a date of May 1st, 2018 to publish our book.
Once we set that date, suddenly everything took on an air of importance and the pace of the project quickened.
We set up a Facebook page and immediately began promoting our work.
A funny thing happens when you say you’re writing a book. A lot of people will say things like, “That’s nice,” or “Good for you.” Some even say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book” and then they’ll ask how you’re doing with yours. It’s a lot of fluffy bullshit because no one believes you’re going to pull it off.
However, when you commit to a publication date, those same people sit up and take notice.
The book that Bill had talked about for years was suddenly real.
Former bandmates called Bill and asked that he be careful with their pasts. They had families and jobs now, they said. They were worried how people would look at them if they knew what they did as teenagers and in their early twenties.
Bill was rightly confused – some of these stories were almost forty years ago. Had their friends and family not known they were in bands? Did they think they were in a religious monastery during that period? Or perhaps a traveling cult where piety and veganism were practiced while touring?
A former lighting guy wrote Bill. The guy had not spoken to Bill in over thirty years but saw a post on Bill’s Facebook page. He wanted to let Bill know he was concerned how he would be portrayed in the book. Seriously? He was a lighting guy – the book wasn’t about him. Besides, we hadn’t even mentioned him.
The book was never really about the lighting guy nor the bandmates, it was about Bill and his experiences on the road. He laid bare his drug use, his failings as a young man, and his path toward redemption as a husband and father.
Each one of these guys could have taken the time to write their own story, but they didn’t. Some wanted to discourage Bill’s effort and take away his dream of writing a book. Several offered feedback, though, which was greatly appreciated and taken in the spirit it was given. They were true friends and Bill appreciated it.
In the book, the young men in those bands were my idols – out on the road, playing music for hardly any money with no 401k and no medical plan. They were doing it for the love of the music, for the love of the band, and for the feeling of being free.
Even in the moments of shamefulness or embarrassment, these young men lived a wild life that so many cannot comprehend, and others try to pretend does not exist in this world. It’s something the rest of us can only learn about by hearing the stories of people like Bill.
Bill is a true friend now. You share a lot of personal shit when you go through something like this. You end up telling far more stories than will ever go into a book and could ever be connected to the story. He shared his dreams and fears as well as his hopes for his kids and grandkids. He talked about his love for his wife, Sue. Bill’s a good guy who lived a crazy life on the road when he was younger and gave it up to have a family.
That’s his story.
We all have story.
Tales from the Road is available now. You can order it through your local bookstore or online at your favorite retailer. Or just follow one of the links in this article.