Editor’s note: The author of this obituary was a close friend of Frank Roderus for nearly 50 years. Because Mr. Roderus shunned the camera, the only photographs we have of him are of poor quality.
Frank Roderus, of Spring Hill, one of America’s most prolific Western novel writers, passed away December 17 after a short illness.
Mike Bray, a writer in Las Vegas, NV wrote online last week, “I lost a friend yesterday and the world lost one of the greatest western writers of our time.”
Frank wrote more books than the Western author whose name usually comes first to mind: Louis L’Amour. L’Amour produced 105 works. Contemporaries estimate Roderus churned out between 300 and 400 books during a 40-year career.
Many of Frank’s books remain in print: An Amazon search returns 73 results; Goodreads, 81; Fictiondb, 57; and Ranker, 45. In 2008, Western Fiction Review estimated his output at around 300 works. Current titles include Charlie and the Sir, Journey to Utah, The Herdsman, Nightwalker, and The Wrangler.
The total number of books Frank wrote probably will never be known. He often used pennames. (Western novel publishers occasionally create a character for a book series, but farm out the writing to several writers who all use the same penname. Frank was one of four writers who penned the “Longarm” series of 436 short novels and 29 “giant editions” published by Jove Books. All the writers used the penname Tabor Evans.)
“I write at least one chapter every morning,” Frank told me a few years ago. “If I finish the last chapter of a book, I write the first chapter of the next one the same day.”
He said he never wrote an outline, never planned plot points. “I get the character started in the first chapter. From then on, the character decides what to say, where to go, and what to do.”
Several years ago, Frank asked me to edit his latest book. Reporting back, I asked him, “What happened to the settler’s wife? You developed her early on; she was fascinating; then she went out in a field to look at the sunset; the chapter ended; and she never came back. Why did you drop her?” He laughed, “I guess she decided it was time to leave the book.”
In an interview with Western Fiction Review, Frank said, “My first book was a young adult titled Duster. It … was voted in second place in that year's Spur Awards. Between that original publication and later reprints, it was available in print for roughly 25 years. It never made much money but selling it was one of the biggest thrills of my life.”
I first met Frank in the late 1960s, when he was about 25 years old (he was born September 21, 1942 and named Franklin Ross Roderus). We worked for competing newspapers covering the same beats in Bartow, Florida, the Polk County seat. One day in the early 1970s, Frank announced he was moving out west to write Western novels. I said, “Frank, you’re a city boy from up north. What do you know about cowboys?” His career speaks for itself: Frank knew a lot about cowboys. And horses. And rifles. And the Old West.
When he wasn’t writing, he told me, he devoured non-fiction studies about the Old West – the two or three decades before the turn of the 20th Century. “Western novel readers demand historical accuracy,” Frank told me. “If I write that my character pushed the brass safety forward with this thumb, the facts have to be perfect. If that rifle didn’t have a safety, or you pushed it in, not forward, or if it wasn’t brass – why, my publisher will get two dozen letters. I spent more time on research than I do on writing.”
After leaving Florida, Frank joined the Rocky Mountain News, a now-defunct tabloid published in Denver, Colorado. While there, the Colorado Press Association awarded Frank their highest award, the Sweepstakes Award, for the best news story of 1980. In later years, the Western Writers of America twice named Frank recipient of their prestigious Spur Award. Western Fictioneers gave him their Lifetime Achievement Award.
Frank never sought fame. Nor money. I asked him to explain how publishers paid authors for audio books. “I think I get a nickel per rental,” he said. “Or maybe it’s 15 cents. I don’t know, actually. I’ve never paid any attention to it.” Tom Rizzo, an Arizona friend and fellow writer, quoted Frank in an interview recently: “Things just don't interest me all that much. People do. Ideas do. But things can be replaced.”
Frank leaves his beloved wife, Len, a son, and a vast catalog of literature. As Rizzo wrote in a tribute, “His words live on.”