ROBERT VAUGHAN: A Life of Writing
With more than 500 books—80 percent of them Westerns—to his credit and over 10,000 fictional characters springing from his creative mind, 84-year-old Robert Vaughan of Gulf Shores, Alabama, has been named the 2022 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Will Rogers Medallion Award (WRMA).
Vaughan sold his first book when he was 19 with seven of his subsequent volumes appearing on the New York Times bestseller list, including two at No. 1. If his name is unfamiliar outside of the publishing industry, it is because he has done the bulk of his work in mass market paperbacks, has been published under 52 pseudonyms and has ghostwritten books for multiple celebrities.
His previous honors include a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a Lifetime Achievement Award from Western Fictioneers, induction into the American Writers Hall of Fame, and a 1994 Spur Award for best original paperback from Western Writers of America for his novel Survival published by Berkley under his pseudonym K.C. McKenna. As recently as this spring, his western novel The Tenderfoot from Wolfpack Publishing, spent more than eight weeks at No. 1 on three different Amazon bestseller list. Released in July his latest Wolfpack book The Lost Herd was a top 10 bestseller on three Amazon lists.
In announcing Vaughan as the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, WRMA Executive Director Chris Enss said, “Author Robert Vaughan is a classic. He is among the best and most popular Western writers in the history of the genre. His body of work is vast and worthy to be celebrated.”
Vaughan will be recognized at WRMA’s annual awards dinner Oct. 29 in the historic Stockyards District of Fort Worth. The WRMA awards, named in honor of American cowboy, humorist and writer Will Rogers, recognize excellence in literature about the American West.
Mike Bray, founder and publisher of Wolfpack Publishing and Vaughan’s current publisher, first read Vaughan’s Brandywine’s War as a high school student and has been a fan ever since. Since its establishment in 2013, Wolfpack has become one of the nation’s fastest growing publishers with more than 100 original and reprint titles from Vaughan on its list. Vaughan, who Bray calls “a real-deal, honest-to-goodness legendary Western author,” has been a perennial Wolfpack bestselling writer.
“It’s an honor and a privilege for everyone at Wolfpack to work with a talent such as Robert Vaughan, and to see him be recognized with the WRMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award,” Bray said. “With a career spanning six decades, Mr. Vaughan has contributed to the Western genre—and others—in ways that are hard to quantify.
“His love of the craft is evident in everything he’s written, and he’s been known to share all that he’s learned over the years with eager authors who are willing to learn,” Bray continued. “That aspect of the man, coupled with his incredibly impressive career, encompasses everything that the Will Rogers Medallion Award stands for.”
Though he’s written in multiple genres, Vaughan loves historical novels set in the West the most as he noted in his Wolfpack collection Random Thoughts of an Old Writer: A Memoir, “Westerns are recognized and appreciated all over the world as the quintessential American art form. What story is more American than a lone wolf with a rifle, pistol, pony and a mission to put things right? There is nothing in literature that is more representative of good versus evil than a cowboy who reluctantly dons the mantle of hero to rescue a damsel in distress, defend a small town from a corrupt sheriff, or save small ranchers from a malevolent land baron.”
He was first published on a mimeograph machine in his Sikeston, Missouri, elementary school in the sixth grade when he and a pal with help from the principal’s office wrote sports stories, book reviews and adventures of the schoolboy patrol. After high school he joined the Army, spending 23 years in service to his country, including three tours in Vietnam. Today Vaughan says, “Vietnam was but three years out of my 83 years of life … but the impact those three years had on me is incalculable.”
While in the Army, he ghost wrote technical articles for other officers and while he was assigned to the Seventh Cavalry was appointed unit historian, his favorite assignment during his military career. In that position he handled memorabilia of the Seventh’s George Armstrong Custer, including the ill-fated commander’s gloves, saber and field log book. “His penmanship, by the way, was very good,” Vaughan said and the experience of touching such a part of Army and Western history helped stoke his interest in writing Westerns.
During his military career, the writer William “Bill” Butterworth, who would become known as best-selling author W.E.B. Griffin, encouraged him in his writing ambitions and suggested he write paperback novels for the mass market. Vaughan followed that advice, wrote a paperback publisher and at 19 received his first book contract with a hundred-dollar advance and a royalty rate of half a penny per copy sold. That book on the peacetime army earned him $180 total. His second book made $150, but by his 10th manuscript he was earning $600 per book.
As a fledgling author Vaughan never forgot Butterworth’s encouragement and throughout his career has been generous with his time, support and advice to other writers. “Bill is the one who convinced me I could write. I tell aspiring authors that the most important thing they can do is write a book. It might be a terrible book, but at least they will get past the great obstacle of actually getting a book done. Then do the second book, and because the obstacle of actually doing a book is behind them, they can free their mind to make this one a really good book.”
Today he considers “my work ethic and writing discipline” as his strongest assets as a writer. His writing career has spanned the evolution of modern writing technology, starting on a manual typewriter, changing to an electric typewriter, upgrading to an IBM Selectric, then 16 years later converting to an Apple computer.
While his tools may have changed, his love of writing and the research behind it has driven his career. As a Western writer, he is known for staying true to the history of the times.
“I have written several historical novels, and I am of the belief that historical novels written with accuracy as to specific events teach history better than a regular textbook,” he said. “That’s because the reader is able to interact, through the fictional characters in the story, with the authentic figures of history. If the story is well told and the reader is fully involved, he or she is traveling through time to relive the events.”
Since he was a boy, Vaughan through his reading has lived through centuries of events. The first book he ever owned was Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Growing up during World War II, he read all the Yankee Flyer books by Al Avery, the Battleship Boys by Frank Gee Patchen and the Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope. Then he moved on to his father’s entire set of Zane Grey Westerns and today reads three Westerns a week, his favorite contemporary authors writing about the west are C.J. Petit, Peter Brandvold, James Reasoner and C.J. Box. The late Jory Sherman was the Western author “who had the most influence on me.” Said Vaughan, “Jory was an exceptionally talented author. He was also my friend, and I miss him.”
Vaughan’s favorite novel is James Jones’s From Here to Eternity, which he has read at least 10 times. Of his own books, he favors Cade McCall: Army Scout, the fifth book in the Western Adventures of Cade McCall series as his favorite. “That is a book about two little girls, captured by the Indians, then released on their own. They were 7 and 5, and survived for an entire month, in the wild, by themselves,” Vaughan said. “The story about the girls is true, and may well be, the most amazing thing I've ever heard.”
Through his writing the history of the American West has come alive through the characters he created, the men and women of every race who found love and drama on the frontier. His characters, both Texan and Mexican, fought at the Alamo; rode with Custer and the Buffalo Soldiers; or roamed the West, robbing banks, holding up stagecoaches and trains, facing each other down over smoking six-shooters in the streets of Fort Worth, El Paso, Lincoln County, Tombstone, or Cheyenne, and some stood on the gallows as a rope was placed around their necks.
For the breadth of his work, his affection for the American West , his thorough research and his commitment to teaching frontier history through his fiction, Robert Vaughan is the 2022 recipient of the WRMA Lifetime Achievement Award.
Will Rogers Medallion Finalists Named
Authors from 24 States Honored
FORT WORTH—Creative works by authors from two countries and 24 states have been named finalists for the 2022 Will Rogers Medallion Awards (WRMA) celebrating excellence in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and photography of the American West.
Named in honor of American humorist, social commentator and performer Will Rogers (1879–1935), the WRMA gold, silver, bronze and copper medallions will be presented to the finalists during the 2022 awards banquet Oct. 29 in the Fort Worth Stockyards. WRMA annually honors creative works in 18 categories.
In addition to the medallions, the organization at its October ceremony will honor Wolfpack Publishing’s bestselling author Robert Vaughan with WRMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to the literature, history, culture and traditions of the American West and its peoples. Vaughan has published more than 500 works in multiple genres, but primarily westerns, under his own name and various pseudonyms in a writing career spanning six decades. In addition to his own writing, the Gulf Shores, Alabama, resident over the years has given generously of his time to help scores of other writers sharpen their skills and fulfill their publishing dreams.
The 2022 WRMA finalists come from the United States and Israel. The WRMA honorees represent the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming,.
In announcing the finalists, WRMA Executive Director Chris Enss said, “It’s wonderful to see such enthusiasm for writing about the American West. This year’s list of finalists represents a love for the genre from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Memphis, Tennessee. Will Rogers once said, ‘Ability is all right, but if it is not backed up by honest and public confidence you will never be a successful person. The best man can do is to arrive at the top of his chosen profession.’ The 2022 WRMA finalists represent those who are at the top in the profession of Western writing.”
Recipients (with multiple awards in parentheses) by state or country are:
Arizona: Sally Harper Bates (2), Chino Valley; Jan Cleere, Oro Valley; and Heidi M. Thomas, Chino Valley.
California: Chris Enss (3), Grass Valley; Harlan Hague, Stockton; Peter Hiller, Carmel; and Howard Kazanjian, San Marino.
Colorado: J.v.L. Bell, Louisville; James Bailey Blackshear and Glen Sample Ely, Grand Junction; John Hafnor, Fort Collins; Charlotte Hinger, Fort Collins; E.S. Jameson, Durango; Darby Karchut with illustrations by Wes Karchut, Colorado Springs; Nancy Oswald, Cotopaxi; and Randi Samuelson-Brown, Denver.
Delaware: Susanna Lane, Lewes.
Florida: G. Wayne Tilman, Ellenton.
Georgia: Mark Warren (2), Dahlonega.
Idaho: Julie Weston, Hailey.
Indiana: Larry Sweazy (2), Noblesville.
Israel: D. László Conhaim, Tel Aviv.
Kansas: Ron Schwab, Manhattan.
Kentucky: Susan Page Davis, Dexter.
Minnesota: Candace Simar, Pequot Lakes.
Missouri: Betty Lynne McCarthy, Buffalo; and Richard Prosch, Jefferson City.
Montana: Emily Crawford Wilson with illustrations by Jeanne Bowman, Great Falls; Steph Lehmann, Helena; John L. Moore, Miles City; Tom Petrie and Brian Dippie, Great Falls; and John Phillips, Darby.
Nevada: CJ Hadley and Carolyn Dufurrena, Carson City.
New Jersey: Nancy Plain, Short Hills.
New Mexico: Deanna Dickinson McCall, Timberon; Pamela Nowak, Albuquerque; and David G. Thomas, Las Cruces.
Oklahoma: John J. Dwyer, Waukomis; and Dove Morgan Schmidt (2) with illustrations by Sabra Arnold, Depew.
Oregon: Debra Whiting Alexander, Eugene; Shanna Hatfield (2), Freewater; Jane Kirkpatrick, Bend; and Anne Schroeder, Grants Pass.
South Dakota: Bill Markley, Pierre; Bruce Roseland, Seneca; and David Wolff, Spearfish.
Tennessee: Greg Hunt, Cordova.
Texas: Will Brandon, Spur; Natalie Bright, Canyon; S.J. Dahlstrom, Lubbock; Patrick Dearen, Midland; Preston Lewis, San Angelo; Carol A. Lipscomb, Fort Worth; Max McNabb, Ropesville; Phil Mills, Jr., Hudson Oaks; Charles Williams, Rowlett; Reavis Z. Wortham, Prosper; and Lori Bates Wright, Waxahachie.
Utah: Marleen Bussma (2), Dammeron Valley; and Rocky Gibbons, Central.
Washington: Blaine Harden, Seattle; and K.B. Taylor, Lacy.
Wyoming: Mary Fichtner with illustrations by Roslan Fichtner, Cheyenne; Craig Johnson, Clearmont; and John D. Nesbitt, Torrington.
For a complete list of the winners with their qualifying works and publishers, please visit the WRMA website at https://www.willrogersmedallionaward.net/copy-of-2022-wrma-finalists
The 2022 WRMA medallions will be presented in October in the following Western categories: Biographies/Memoirs; Nonfiction; Traditional Fiction; Modern Fiction; Romance; Mystery; Inspirational Fiction; Short Stories; Young Readers Fiction, Young Readers Illustrated Fiction; Young Readers Nonfiction; Young Readers Illustrated Nonfiction; Cookbooks; Maverick; Written Cowboy Poetry; Recorded Cowboy Poetry; Photographic Essays; and Humor.
The awards were established in 2003 to honor the legacy of Indian Territory and Oklahoma native Will Rogers who began his career as a cowboy and trick roper who gradually evolved into a nationally beloved humorist, social commentator, syndicated newspaper columnist and Hollywood actor. Through its awards program, WRMA seeks to encourage, enhance and expand creative works devoted to the deep legacy of the American West and its peoples. Since its creation, the WRMA honors have become among the most prestigious in the field.
Entries for the 2023 WRMA competition will open November 1 at https://www.willrogersmedallionaward.net/entry-form.