Monday, May 27, 2013

Robert Vaughan: When Hell Came to Texas #western

When Hell 
Came to Texas

Romancing The West is pleased to host one of the most prolific authors today, Robert Vaughan.  He's written several hundred books in many genres under dozens of pseudonyms and was awarded the 2013 Western Fictioneers Lifetime Achievement award.  Why?  Because he's written several hundred novels (a couple hundred westerns, two dozen romances, and other genres), a couple NYT Bestsellers, his novel Andersonville was made into a TV mini-series,  he wrote, produced, and appeared in the History Channel documentary Vietnam Homecoming.  That's just skimming the surface.  

He's a US Army vet, helicopter pilot, and served tours in Vietnam, Korea, and Germany.  On this Memorial Day, I'm especially thankful for his and others' service and protection.  He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, The Bronze Star with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal for valor with 35 oak leaf clusters, the Army Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

RTW: Welcome, Robert.  We're all eagerly waiting for you latest release (May 28!), so please give us an overview of When Hell Came to Texas.

RV: In the days after the Civil War, a solitary rider traveled the open frontier—but he wasn’t alone, for Death seemed to travel with him. Or maybe it was the Devil himself who gave him the lethal pistol shot that earned him the name “Death’s Acolyte.” And when the stranger with the scarred face, Ded Axton, one-time Episcopal Priest who now calls himself Ken Casey, turned deadly gunfighter to revenge the killing of his family....Hell Came To Texas.

RTW: What is it about Ded Axton that made you write his story? Tell us the process you went through to conjure up his character.

RV: I've always enjoyed stories about someone who is more than they appear to be...someone with a mysterious past. And I thought that the story of a one-time priest, turned gunfighter would be an interesting concept.

RTW: If a person who had never read a Western (any sub-genre) asked you for a recommendation, which of your novels would you recommend and why? What scenario brought the story alive for you?

RV: Other than this one, of course, I would recommend any of my Hawke series, which has a similar scenario, in this case a concert pianist turned gunfighter. Yeah,like I said, I am intrigued by that theme.

RTW: You’ve written a bazillion books—how many? And how many of those are under Robert Vaughan? Many readers don’t know about house names or ghostwriting, so please explain that part of the publishing industry.

Robert Vaughan, Author
RV: I'm not sure exactly how many I've written...somewhere between four and five hundred, probably closer to five hundred, under about 80 pseudonyms. Probably no more than 60 or 70 under my own name. That is a two-edged sword, I can't complain about my ghost-writing, I've made good money in a profession that I love, but I can't help but think, sometime...that I have prostituted myself for money, and I have destroyed any legacy I might have built. At this point in my life I look back and see it as just one of those many turns I wish I could take again.....such as getting married and losing my appointment to West Point.

RTW: Why must Ded Axton take this particular story journey? What does he have to prove?

RV: Ded has 5 journeys:

1) He gives up his West Point commission to fight for the South then, after the war, he is forced to betray his friends when they continue on the outlaw trail. That sends him into the depths of self-loathing and alcoholism.

2) At the very bottom...he recovers, goes to seminary and becomes a priest. He marries a good woman, has a child, and a wonderful and supportive church. But his one-time friends break into the church, kill his family and several parishoners.

3) He gives up the priesthood...goes on the quest for revenge, becomes a bounty hunter, then, when an innocent child is killed, he goes on a new path.

4) He assumes a new name, wanders around from place to place taking jobs as a cook, trying to start a new life.

5) In the end, he is forced back into a life of violence.

RTW: Which sets up the excerpt for us!

Excerpt of
When Hell Came to Texas
by Robert Vaughan

The shadowed interior of the saloon gave the illusion of coolness, though it was an illusion only. There was no sun, but the air was hot, still, and redolent with the sour smells of beer and whiskey and the stench of sweating, unwashed bodies.

Ded Ackerman put a nickel down on the bar and ordered a beer, then, as he was waiting, turned to survey the saloon. A cloud of tobacco smoke hovered just under the ceiling, and two, scantily clad bar girls moved among the half dozen tables, laughing, flirting, and teasing the dozen or more men into buying more drinks.

A graduate of Stewart Theological College in Clarksville, Tennessee, Ded had been circuit-riding Episcopal supply-priest before hostilities broke out between the North and South. He gave up his ministry to join the Confederacy, a cause which he ardently supported. But, by participating in the bloody savagery that ensued, Ded found himself unable return to the life he had before the war; in fact, were he to go back to the priesthood, he would consider it an act of heresy,. There was nothing left for Ded, but to ride the outlaw trail, and that is exactly what he did.

In the beginning Ded limited has activity to stealing from the Yankee army. After all, how could this really be considered a crime. Hadn’t he done this very thing during the war? And while the Confederacy may have surrendered, he had not. But when those pickings ran slim he expanded his operation. He started robbing stagecoaches, but he was very careful never to rob any individuals. If the stagecoach was not carrying a money shipment, he let it go, telling the passengers to get back on board, and even wishing them “a pleasant trip.”

There were times, however, when the outlaw trail led to violent confrontations and, Ded, who had developed quite a talent with the pistol during the war, honed his skills even further. He had never killed any of his robbery victims, but he had killed men who were trying to kill him, mostly bounty hunters who were looking to collect on the ever increasing price that was placed on his head, most in face to face gunfights. However, he had not killed as many as his growing reputation intimated.

The bartender put a beer in front of him. “Mister, are you the one they call Death’s Acolyte?”

“That’s not a name I answer to,” Ded replied.

The bartender smiled, broadly. “It is you, ain’t it? I knew it. I seen you up in Sweet Water, when Cody Mathis called you out. He drawed first, but you still beat him, and you plugged him dead center.”

Ded didn’t respond, instead he took his beer to a table that was near the black iron stove, cold now because it was summer, though the smell of last winter’s fires still hung around it.
Available May 28:

RTW: Fabulous excerpt, and we can read the whole book soon!  What’s next? Is When Hell Came to Texas a part of a series?

RV: Well, my next book, the only one I can mention here, would be one of the romance novels my wife and I write jointly, as Sara Luck. (Ruth's grandmother's name) It comes out the same week as When Hell Came to Texas. The title is Marci's Desire and it is a story about Fort Yellowstone at the end of the 19th Century. [RTW Note: Both these books can be pre-ordered through Amazon.]

RTW: Thanks so much for agreeing to visit and share your new release with us.  It sounds spectacular!  Anything else you’d like to add?

RV: I appreciate the camaraderie and mutual support of all the Western Writers. We are a band of brothers and sisters in a very exclusive society.

And we appreciate you.  Thanks so much for giving us so much reading entertainment. What a special gift!


  1. A great post, Jacquie and an excellent and interesting interview, Dick. What an output! And a great excerpt.


    1. Keith, it's always an honor to have a guest like Robert Vaughan. Thanks for dropping by!

  2. What a prolific writer you are! I have read many of your books, and look forward to both WHEN HELL CAME TO TEXAS and MARCI'S DESIRE. Thanks for sharing with us.

    1. Same here--two books released in one week! Now that's a busy family. :)

  3. Now that Louie and Elmer are gone, Robert Vaughn is "the Western." And I know of no human who's more diligent and productive. My congratulations to this icon of the American Western.

  4. Sounds great. Looking forward to reading it.


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