I am extremely happy today to be joined by Robert Vaughan whose newest book, The Tenderfoot, garnered him the Best Historical Western Novelist and Best Novel award from True West Magazine. Robert has won numerous awards and accolades including being inducted into the Writers Hall of Fame in 1998. Robert has had an amazing life and has been an active author for over 50 years.
Robert, thanks so very much for joining us on ViewsonBooks.com. It is an honor to be chatting with you, and you are an inspiration due to your prodigious bibliography and overall career.
Would you mind telling us a little bit about your background, where you went to school, your military service, etc.
The draft was in full swing when I graduated from high school, and every young man realized that we would have to deal with it. Rather than face the draft, I joined the army, and discovered that I very much liked it.
Before my first deployment to Vietnam, I was in Korea as an NCO, then after-receiving my appointment to Warrant Officer. I did three tours in Vietnam, the first two tours as an aircraft maintenance and recovery officer. When one of our aircraft went down, I would put a recovery team on the ground at the site of the crash, and they would rig the downed bird so that it could be snatched up and carried away by one of the large helicopters.
I got a tremendous satisfaction in flying helicopters during combat missions, and received the Air Medal with the “V” devise for valor. Like writing, flying had always been a boyhood ambition for me. During WWII there was an Army Air Corps training base in my hometown, and the sky was always full of the blue and yellow training planes. I’m sure that’s where my love of flying first developed.
I retired from the army after 23 years. I served tours in Korea, Germany, and three tours in Vietnam, and I used my experience to write several books about the army, and Vietnam. The two most successful books were BRANDYWINE’S WAR, and BRANDYWINE’S WAR, BACK IN COUNTRY. These were picaresque novels about helicopter flying, (in the vein of CATCH 22 and M.A.S.H, and one of the things I most appreciate has been the feedback I have gotten from so many pilots and aircrewmen who served in Vietnam. As far as my education is concerned, I have two years of college at William and Mary, attending while I was still on active duty, using the army’s Operation Bootstrap program.
After your military service did you decide to immediately turn your talents into writing novels? And what were some of those early novels about?
I actually began writing while I was still on active duty, and sold my first book when I was 19. Many of my earliest books were men’s adventure stories. I also began ghost writing romance novels for several best selling authors whose names I can’t reveal because of contractual arrangements.
Before we go any further, how many books in total have you written? And can you provide us with a breakdown of Westerns, penname books, non-Western novels?
I’ve actually lost count as to how many books I’ve written, though it’s north of 200. I’ve written more Westerns than any other genre, under my own name, as well as sharing house names with several other writers. In addition to the Westerns, Men’s Adventure, and Romance novels, I’ve written several books with war as a theme, including books about the Vietnam War, the Korean War, WWII, WWI, the Spanish American War, the Indian Wars, The Civil War, the Alamo, and the War of 1812.
One of my personal favorite series is THE AMERICAN CHRONICLES. This is a series of novels about the 20th Century, with a single novel dedicated to each decade in the century. As an aside here, though I have been lucky to receive a few honors and awards in my writing career, the most touching came from a reader. She was an older lady, and she wrote me a letter thanking me for writing THE AMERICAN CHRONICLES. “My husband recently passed, but he wanted me to write you, to thank you for THE AMERICAN CHRONICLES. We both read the books, and through these books, we were able to relive so much of our lives together.”
Did you have any favorite novelists growing up, and were you influenced by any other Western authors? And what is your favorite Western novel, other than your own?
My favorite novel is FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones, because the army he portrayed, though 12 years before my military career began, was very much like the army I knew. As far as Western authors are concerned, I was introduced to the genre, when my dad bought a collection of Zane Grey books. My favorite Western novel is SHANE.
Did you make a conscious decision to devote most of your writing to Western novels? And, why was that?
I have always loved Westerns, and wanted to write them from the start of my writing career. However my first agent was very much against that, and he urged me to write in other genres. It wasn’t until our association ended, that I was able to begin writing Westerns.
You have written over 200+ Western novels, how the heck do you keep everything straight and not repeat plots and characters from past books? I must tell you, I am absolutely amazed at your western novels!
It’s interesting that you would ask that. I have read a lot of Louis L’Amour’s books, and from time to time I have read a scene very much like one from another of his books. I think it goes without saying that any author has to deal with this. For instance, I have to guard against how a character enters a saloon. Almost every time, he puts his back to the wall and studies everyone else to see who might represent a challenge. Also, if I like a particular description I might use it again, unless my wife catches it in editing. And, finally, I have created several thousand characters, and I have a tendency to reuse names. My favorite bad guy’s name is Angus Pugh, but my “editor” has forbidden the use that name for at least the last 15 books.
Before we get into The Tenderfoot, could you tell us a little bit how you came to write the novelization of the highly acclaimed TV movie Andersonville?
My agent at the time had a relationship with the director, John Frankenheimer, and so arranged for me to do the novelization. I was also given carte blanche to expand the novel somewhat beyond David Rintels’ screen story.
Now, back to The Tenderfoot, could you give everyone a brief synopsis of the book and whether you have based any of the characters on yourself or people you know?
When Turquoise Ranch hand Curly Stevens went into Flagstaff to meet a new employee arriving on the train, his first impression of Rob Barringer is of how big and strong the tenderfoot is. Rob’s eagerness to learn and his willingness to take on the most difficult jobs wins everyone over, including ranch foreman Jake Dunford, and Melanie Duford, his beautiful daughter.
Rob is well-educated, and his demeanor and intelligence catches the attention of Melanie, causing him difficulty with ranch manager Lee Garrison, who believes he has an exclusive right to Melanie. Garrison makes life difficult for the ranch hands, and Rob in particular.
When Jake Dunford makes a public accusation that the ranch manager is stealing from the ranch, Garrison reacts by firing everyone, but it is Garrison who is in for a big surprise.
I haven’t used anyone as a model for any of the characters in this book.
Did you have to do a lot of research for this book? And to take it one step further, have you had to do extensive traveling out West to help with your storylines in other books?
I have done a lot of traveling through the West, and I’m sort of in a constant research mode, so I can’t say that I devoted any particular research to this title.
For a novelist, all books are their babies, but do you have one or two favorites out of all you have written? If so, why or why not?
My two favorite Western novels are THE TENDERFOOT, and CADE McCALL, ARMY SCOUT. The latter book is based on two real characters, little sisters, under ten, who are captured by the Indians, then abandoned in the desert. Those two little girls survived, on their own, for an entire month.
My overall favorite novel is probably THE VALKRIE MANDATE, which is a particularly well-researched novel about the assassination of Vietnam President Diem. Parts of this book were read into the Watergate Hearings.
The January 2023 issue of True West Magazine lamented the demise of Western novels, what do you think happened to the genre? And your thoughts on moving the settings of Western books and movies to the era from 1950 to present day?
I think part of the problem with Western novels losing popularity, is the very powerful anti-gun lobby. When I was young, I, and all my friends had cap gun and holster sets that we wore, and played cowboy. In addition we had BB guns until we were 12, and by the time we were 12, we had .22 rifles, or shotguns that we used for hunting. I’m not sure you can even buy a cap gun and holster set today, and there have even been examples of young people being punished, for drawing pictures of guns in school.
When you sit down to think of writing a new book, do you care as to what era the book is set, and have you written any Westerns set in modern day?
I tend to like setting my books from the Civil War until the end of the 1880s. And yes, I have written a couple of modern era Westerns, TEXAS PROUD, is set in early, to mid-20th Century, and it deals with the discovery and development of Texas Oil fields.
What is next for Robert Vaughan? Going back to the Turquoise Ranch in Northern Arizona and Rob Barrington for a new novel or moving on to another setting?
My most recent novel is A RAMBLING MAN, following the character of Lucas Cain, who is a bounty hunter. I have just finished, and I am editing, another Lucas Cain book.
What is your writing process? Do you have a specific writing schedule or do you write as the spirit moves you?
I write every day. I could no more not write, than go a day without brushing me teeth. I write, because I must write. I’ve heard described as a Divine Discontent, and I think that fits.
Has your writing been affected in any way due to Covid?
Covid has had no impact on my writing.
You currently reside in Alabama, but if you could pick one place out West to live or travel to what would it be and why?
I have a beach house in Gulf Shores, AL, and we generally spend the winter down there, and the summer in Manchester, MO, which is a suburb of St. Louis. We only spent two months down there this year, though, and are back in Missouri.
When we were younger, we would find a place out West and spend some time there. We were in Oregon twice, the first time we stayed for three months in the Blue Mountains, 23 miles from four nearest neighbor. The second time we spent an entire year on the McKenzie River. Once we spent the summer on Jim Mountain in Wyoming, and it, too, was quite remote. We have also spent some time in Phoenix, AZ.
I want to thank you for taking time to chat with us here at ViewsonBooks.com. And I want all my followers to read The Tenderfoot. I guarantee that if you try it you will want to read more and more of Robert’s books. The era that Robert writes about is sadly lacking in today’s school curriculum, and thanks to Robert for helping keep this era alive.