SIKESTON - You can take the writer out of Sikeston, but it appears you can't get the Sikeston out of writer Robert Vaughan.
Vaughan's latest historical novel, Touch the Face of God, includes references to a small town in the Midwest many readers may mistake for a fictional place - Sikeston, Missouri.
While Sikeston doesn't play a large part in the novel, the town in the book doesn't just share the name - it is Sikeston as it was in 1943, from the Country Club and the Daily Standard to the Honor Roll board at American Legion Park listing residents serving abroad in the armed forces during World War II.
"I do that quite often - I put Sikeston in a lot of the books," Vaughan said. And he comes by the details honestly. "I was born and raised in Sikeston, Missouri - graduated from Sikeston High School."
Having written nearly 250 books over the last 45 years, Vaughan has explored a wide variety of genres - military drama, westerns, histories, men's action and adventure, mysteries, police procedural, humor, literary, mainstream and even romance using female pseudonyms.
Historical fiction remains his favorite, however. "You learn more history from a good historical novel that is truthfully written than you do from true history," Vaughan said. Well-told historical novels allow the reader to "observe it from inside," he explained, rather than through conventional history's "two dimensional window."
"Touch the Face of God," which tells the story of a B-17 bomber pilot and his new love, Emily Hagan, is the first of three World War II historical novels Vaughan plans to release. The second, "Whose Voice the Waters Heard," slated for a spring release, will be about submarine warfare in the Pacific. The third book will detail the experiences of an infantryman.
The books are not a trilogy and do not share characters, but do share a common theme: the strength and importance of faith and family in times of war.
While the books were conceived before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the resulting war on terrorism has made the themes explored in the books quite timely.
"There will never be another war like World War II," Vaughan said. The current war or terrorism has brought back, however, "a sense of patriotism and pride and honor," Vaughan said, which has been long absent among our nation's citizens - especially in regards to military action. "They feel what we are doing is just and right - and it's been since World War II that we've had that same feeling."
Vaughan is a veteran himself having served 20 years in the military, including three tours in Vietnam.
He joined the service after high school. While most people would find military life to a full-time occupation, Vaughan managed to simultaneously pursue his life-long desire to be a writer, beginning first with technical articles and aviation school lesson plans.
"I had always wanted to be a writer. I can't remember when I did not want to write," he recalled. "I just made it a point - I'd come home and write until I went to bed." By age 19, he had completed and sold his first book.
Vaughan soon was in the rhythm of producing four to six novels each year. "I made very little money from those books - $300 was a lot of money for a book in those days," Vaughan said. "I don't think I could have continued without having a base level of income which the Army provided for me. And I loved the Army."
Since retiring from the military, Vaughan has supported his family solely as a writer and maintains that same dedication to his craft today keeping a self-imposed quota of 20 pages each day.
"I would love to write one book a year and make the same money as six books a year," he said, but added that has no trouble maintaining his prolific writing pace along with keeping speaking engagements and book promotions.
After leaving the service, Vaughan returned to Sikeston where he lived until 1996 when he moved with his wife, Ruth, to Gulf Shores, Ala.
Vaughan still returns to visit his hometown and had planned to return for a SHS Class of '55 luncheon this week but was offered an opportunity for a radio interview Friday afternoon on KMOX in St. Louis, "the best book radio station in the country in my humble opinion."
"I can't pass that up," he apologized, "but I will be thinking of them."