Stories of the Old West Lawmen, Arizona Rangers

My guest interview today is with John McLaughlin, author of Our Time in the Sun and the new sequel, Red Sky at Morning. Both books are historical accounts of an Old West group of lawmen, the Arizona Rangers. John is retired from a 30-year career in law enforcement with the U.S,. Forest Service, National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

  1. John, your books are based on an Old West group of lawmen, the Arizona Rangers. Tell us a little about your background.

I retired after a thirty year career in law enforcement with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. My career occurred primarily in the Southwest where I became an experienced Law Enforcement Ranger, wildland firefighter, farrier, and animal packer. My wife and I have been married thirty-seven years and we live in Peoria, Arizona, as well as part of the year on our property located south of Silver City, New Mexico. Currently, I work for the Arizona Division of Forestry as a member of the Arizona All Hazard Incident Management Team responding to wildland fires and other emergency management incidents throughout the state.

  1. What motivated you to write your first book on this subject?

Well, my dad lived in Arizona shortly after the political demise of the Arizona Rangers, and he spoke fondly of this legendary band of lawmen while I was growing up. Later, in my law enforcement career, I worked in many of the same border areas of the state that the old Rangers frequented. I couldn’t help wondering what it must have been like for them working as law enforcement officers in a time long, long ago. After my retirement, one of my main goals was to research the old Rangers and write a historical novel about them.

  1. Have you always liked to write?

Yes, very much so. I belonged to the Quill & Scroll organization in high school and enjoyed writing for the high school yearbook. While in college, I majored in Wildlife Management and of course the ability to write reports and research papers was essential. During my law enforcement career, incident report writing and the ability to prepare criminal investigative case reports for prosecution was paramount.

  1. Are any of your characters based on real people?

Yes. Many of the characters in both novels are actual Arizona Rangers, Territorial Governors, politicians, and outlaws of that era. Most of the gunfights and major incidents the characters in the novels are involved in were actual incidents that I researched. Interestingly, in my research I found very little about the personal lives of these legendary men. And so, I created fictional characters to intermingle with the historical ones. Then I assigned these fictional characters backgrounds, love interests, family, etc.

  1. What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What made that book so special?

My mother had all six of us kids reading about virtually everything at an early age. We didn’t have a TV in the house until I was in high school. For that I am now thankful. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading almost every book I have ever picked up. The most memorable and still enjoyable today is Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright. The beautiful descriptions of the Ozark Mountains, depictions of the life and culture of the mountain folks in late 19th century, and the exciting story line he presented so enchanted me. Wright was a master at creating interesting, believable characters with whom the reader can relate and interact.

  1. What authors or books have influenced your writing?

There are so many and from varied genres, but within the western genre I would say the following: Zane Grey (I read all of his novels as an adolescent), A.B. Guthrie, Jr. (Big Sky, The Way West), Tony Hillerman, Elmer Kelton, Jack Schaefer, to name a few. Most recently, my wife and I have become fans of Arthur Upfield, a remarkable author, who wrote murder mysteries set for the most part in the outback of Australia.

  1. Tell us about your publishing experiences with both books and why you made decisions you did.

Initially, after completing my first novel, I contacted numerous agents and publishers, who quite frankly weren’t interested in new authors. It seems to me they still prefer veteran authors who are well known with no or very little less risk for them in the publishing business. This is a sin of the times! A small independent publisher became interested in the first novel and published it for me. They were very honest and easy to work with; however, independent publishers do not market your book for you as the large traditional publishers do. This particular publisher went out of business two years ago during the Recession that we are all still dealing with, and I decided to self publish both the original book and its new sequel. My son, who is an artist, had already produced the art work for both covers, and I employed him to do the graphic design work necessary for the printer. Obviously, I still have to do all my own marketing which takes critical time away from my writing. But my wife and I enjoy the travel and interaction with other authors and fans.

  1. Are you working on another book?

Yes. I’m pretty well done with the initial draft manuscript of In the Shadow of the Mountain, a novel set in the early 1970s about a Vietnam veteran who returns home from the war and works for the U.S. Forest Service in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. Hoping to find peace and tranquility, he quickly becomes embroiled in murder and deceit. I’m hoping to have it completed soon this year and contract HEIDI THOMAS to edit it as she did with my first two novels.

  1. Thank you, John. What is the hardest part of this whole process for you?

Without a doubt, the marketing is the most difficult part. I have limited experience in marketing although I’m getting somewhat better at it, and I just don’t have the time and money that is essential for getting the job done well. And I believe all the time spent marketing would be better served in writing.

  1. Besides your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

I like to read books first and foremost, and work on our five acres in New Mexico. I enjoy camping and hiking with my wife and the company of our two dogs. I like to shoot as often as I can and ride horse back. I am actively involved working as a volunteer with two organizations here in Arizona.

  1. If we were to make a movie of your life, who would you cast to play you?

I would be honored if Denzel Washington would be so kind! My wife and sons think Sam Elliott would be a shoe-in!

  1. Where can we find your books?

From my website: or on-line with, Barnes and

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