StoryTeller’s 7: Robert Vaughan’s “Novel” Approach to History

 

Novelist Robert Vaughan believes history can better be learned from reading novels because readers can interact with events through fictional characters.

With over 400 books to his credit – most under pen names – Robert Vaughn knows a thing or two about writing.

He has collected his share of awards along the way. Among them:

  • Recipient of Western Fictioneers (WF) second Life Achievement Peacemaker Award.
  • 2012 President’s Award for Excellence in Western Literature, ReadWest Foundation, Inc.
  • Spur Award: SURVIVAL (1994) Best Western Novel, written under the pseudonym K.C. McKenna.
  • Porgie Award: THE POWER AND THE PRIDE (1976), Best Paperback Original
  • Canadian University Symposium of Literature: BRANDYWINE’S WAR, for Best Iconoclastic Novel about Vietnam War.
  • Inducted into Writers’ Hall of Fame, 1998.

Among his latest works is Blood on the Plains, a story about two West Point cadets sent on a secret mission by the president.

A retired army officer, he and his wife, Ruth, make their home in Gulf Shore, Alabama. They are co-writing romance novels.

 

StoryTeller’s 7

 

1. Tell us, in a line or two, about WHEN HELL CAME TO TEXAS. And, what was the inspiration behind it? 

Author Robert VaughnI have always enjoyed stories where the lead character is more than he appears; where he has a secret background.

Ken Casey (Ded Axton) is such a person, with multiple secrets.

He is a cook….but few know he is the one called Death’s Acolyte, one of the deadliest gunfighters in the West.

He is also an Episcopal Priest, a former alcoholic, and former guerrilla fighter for the Confederacy.  Of course…his past all comes out in the final chapter.

 

2. You’ve written hundreds of books, but only about 70 under your own name. I once read an interview where you said you may have “prostituted” yourself for the money you earned as a writer but, at the same time, destroyed any legacy you’ve established. Why do you feel this way? 

Author Sara LuckI have written well over 400 books. If I had written every one of those books under my own name, Robert Vaughan would be a name that is immediately recognized.

I would have established something of value that my survivors could capitalize on after I die…(such as I am doing for others now….continuing the name of a deceased author for the benefit of his survivors).

Don’t get me wrong. I am also benefiting from this name….but with this author….and with two others, I have had seven books make it onto the NYT best seller list.

Two novels, LOVE’S BOLD JOURNEY, and LOVE’S SWEET AGONY, which I wrote as Patricia Matthews, made number one on the list.

In 1981, I sold 6 million books. In my life time, I have probably sold 40 million books, but nobody knows who I am.

Now, my wife Ruth and I are co-writing romance novels as Sara Luck.  She’s actually quite good at it, and I’m proud of her.  And though the Sara Luck books don’t have my name, Ruth and I at least own the name.

 

3. How would you describe your novels.

Nearly all of my novels are written around a particular, historical theme.

THE VALKYRIE MANDATE, is a story about the assassination of President Diem of Vietnam in 1963.

I had a very unique perspective on the story…my Vietnamese driver, Mr. Mot, was part of the military unit who arrested Diem and his brother, and he had a firsthand account of the actual murder, even naming the actual assassin, Major Ngya…(who was himself killed a few days later).

Author Robert VaughnMr. Mot even had a handkerchief, which he showed me, that had Diem’s blood. I also interviewed the priest who took Diem’s last confession.

And, because I worked in Congressman Tom Downing’s office for a short while, I had access to all the cable exchanges between the State Department and Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge.

It is my belief that people can learn history better from a novel, well researched and accurately written, than they can from straight history. That’s because, in a novel, they can actually interact, through the characters.

 

4. Your novel ANDERSONVILLE was made into a TV mini-series. Tell us how that came about? And, what other television projects have you been involved in? 

My agent was contacted by John Frankenheimer, who had been selected to direct the TV mini-series.  He wanted a book done to precede the mini-series…and he sent me the script-in-progress, that was being written by David Rintels.

Using the script as my guide, I wrote the novel….which was released about a month before the series aired. One of my biggest thrills was when my son called me from Chicago…he had seen a huge cover of my book on the side of a bus.  If this had been in the days of the ubiquitous cellphone camera….he could have sent me a picture.

I wrote a script for THE NEW ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, I did three novels based on the LAW AND ORDER series…and one of the stories was used in an episode.  I also wrote, and appeared in, the History Channel production of VIETNAM HOMECOMING.

 

5. Every now and then, someone comes out of the woodwork eager to put the Western in front of a firing squad. But fine Westerns keep being written. A two-part question: (1) Why should someone who has never read a Western do so? How would they benefit? (2) What’s the biggest misconception – among readers – about Westerns?

(1) Jory Sherman once wrote a brilliant piece about the Western, and how it is the true American art form, a morality play of good verses evil, and there is nothing I could say that could possibly add a thing to that.

I know this…the Western is Americana, but it is certainly not limited to Americans.  I met fans of the genre when I was in Germany, I know there are fans in Great Britain, and I have sold them in England, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Japan, so they are there too.

(2) I think a lot of readers….who haven’t read Westerns…may not understand the scope and richness of the stories.

Some may remember the “B” Western Saturday Matinees and equate them with Western novels.  But anyone who has read Frederic Faust (who wrote as Max Brand, and was killed in Italy during WWII) Owen Wister, Louis L’Amour, or Jory Sherman, knows that a well-written Western can have the depth and richness equal to any work of literature.

I realize I’ve become somewhat of a Jory Sherman PR person in my responses, but I truly believe that his name deserves to be mentioned in the same category as the others.

 

6. If you were to able to invite three writers from different genre to dinner, who would they be and what one – and different – question would you ask each one? 

Well, I met Pearl Buck, Norman Mailer, Eudora Welty, and Joseph Heller, and I have known WEB Griffin (Bill Butterworth) for well over fifty years. Bill is the person who got me into writing in the first place, when I published my first book way back in 1957.

The most fascinating writer in American History is, I think, Ernest Hemingway.  I look a little like him….and for a while I was doing a one-man Hemingway show at writers’ conferences and civic events.  If you are talking about living writers….I can’t limit it to three.  I know too many of them.  If this is “what if” question, and I can talk about any three writers:

(1) Ernest Hemingway – I would ask, “Why did you do it?  You were doing some of your best writing . . .your marriage was strong. . .you had legions of fans.  When you killed yourself….you left a huge hole in the American literary scene.

(2) Margaret Mitchell – I would ask,  “Why didn’t you write faster?  Those who love GONE WITH THE WIND would have loved to see something else from you.  And, are you as disappointed with Alexandra Ripley’s SCARLET, the sequel, as most of the rest of us were?

(3) James Jones – I would say, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is the best book I have ever read, and I have read it at least ten times, if not more.  As an old soldier, every word you wrote in that book resonates in my soul.   (I would not be rude enough to say that nothing else he ever wrote came close.)

 

7. When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time? From your Facebook posts, I get the idea you enjoy classical music. What other interests do you have?

I love classical music, yes, and I love football, particularly college football, and especially Alabama.  (I have been an Alabama football fan since I was 9 years old.)

I like to cook, and once had a once-a-week cooking segment on local TV show in Phoenix.  I enjoy public speaking, and accept invitations at the drop of a hat.  I used to love flying, but it is too expensive for me to fly enough to keep myself safe so I have let my license expire.

My wife, Ruth and I don’t vacation, as such….we relocate for long periods of time in places like Oregon, Wyoming, and Chicago.

Where we live now, on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama, is the result of  having relocated here for several months, back when I was doing my Write On The Beach seminars…inviting writers from all over America to come spend a week on the beach with me, while we worked together on their project.

I probably had over 300 writers show up during the fifteen years I did that . . . and at least 100 of them went on to be published.  I enjoyed that, but I don’t do it anymore because as I got older, it got harder to do.

-tjr-

 

 

 

 

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3 comments to StoryTeller’s 7: Robert Vaughan’s “Novel” Approach to History

  • Cheryl Pierson

    WOW. I am in awe of you and your writing accomplishments. This is just phenomenal. I really enjoyed your interview and learning more about you. My husband was a Viet Nam vet, too, so I will take this opportunity to also say thank you for your service to our country. What an impressive feat, to write all these books, whether under your name or someone else’s! That’s something to be very proud of!
    Cheryl

  • One of the best things about being a writer is that you’ve provided countless hours of enjoyment and escape for your legion of readers, no matter what name is on the cover. I’m amazed. You’re an inspiration to those of us who struggle to get a scene right–while I’m doing that, you’ve probably knocked out a whole book that’s superb.

  • […] One of those writers is Robert Vaughan, who has sold 40 million books, mostly in the western genre. He was interviewed about his under-the-radar career recently and he’s pretty frank about his lack of […]

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