By Tom Reardon
Tommie Vaughn is a person of many trades, as the saying goes.
Author, singer, songwriter, mother of two, wife, bandmate … It’s hard to pigeonhole this woman. One thing, for sure, though is that Vaughn is a rock and roll lifer and over the past eight years she has published three novels about a character, named Frankie Spencer, who Vaughn admits is loosely based on herself.
On May 19, the third installment, This Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream (Wyatt-MacKenzie, 2020), makes its anticipated debut after a seven-year gap between installments.
Frankie Spencer is, in the first book, This Rock In My Heart (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2012), an aspiring singer who has had some experience in the music world prior to joining the team at Cherokee Recording Studios in Hollywood. For those who have followed rock and roll, the name Cherokee Recording Studios might ring a bell as many a classic record, including ones by Neil Diamond, ELO, and David Bowie were recorded there. Vaughn does a wonderful job of weaving real bands and music personalities into her version of the Hollywood rock and roll story.
As the books progress and Frankie’s career evolves, Vaughn takes the reader on a fun ride which culminates in a very satisfying way at the end of This Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream.
The characters are truly engaging, and readers will enjoy getting to know them, as well as rooting for them, as they work to find their place in Vaughn’s well-appointed music industry world. There are plenty of celebrations and plenty of pitfalls for Frankie and her pals, but Vaughn handles these with the aplomb of a writer with more than three books under her belt and an insider knowledge of a business that is often poorly used as a backdrop in movies, television, and books. Vaughn has really hit her stride in this third book in the trilogy.
It is highly recommended to start the trilogy at the beginning, but even those who start with book three will be able to pick up the story well and enjoy This Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream as a standalone piece.
The third book has a greater balance of dark and light imagery than the first two and Vaughn deftly handles some delicate subject matter as the characters experience the ups and downs of the rock and roll world. It is evident that Vaughn has experienced multiple sides of the music industry and people with rock and roll aspirations and/or experience will enjoy her take on this often-wild world.
We caught up with Vaughn over the phone from her home in California. Here is what we talked about …
So, I have to ask. Any connection to Phoenix for you, Tommie?
My husband grew up in Scottsdale. He went to Saguaro High School. His mother and his father both still live there so I get out there at least once every year. He still loves it and I love it, but I have a rule that I never go visit during the summertime.
That’s not a bad rule to have.
It’s beautiful, though, and really pretty. We were there in July once and I was like, “Oh my god. How do people live there?”
You’re in Santa Barbara these days, correct? It can get pretty hot there, too, right?
Yes. It’s a very nice place to be. I left Hollywood (pauses) … I think I’ve been here for seven years now. It does get hot here. Yesterday was super humid. I kind of just live in the ocean.
Since we are both musicians, I’m not going to ask what kind of music you like. I assume you like “good’’ music.
Yes. Exactly. (Laughs) I listen to everything. I like a story in my song, but at the same time, I like a good song.
We should probably talk about your writing. Did you always write growing up?
Absolutely. Yes. There is a line in “Dream On” that Stephen Tyler (of Aerosmith) sings that is my life. I have written words in “books and pages,” (laughs) I have boxes of journals.
When did you start songwriting?
I think I was making up songs when I was about five or six. We have funny recordings of me … I used to record myself singing absolutely ridiculous songs. I consider that the beginning of it all. I see it in my own children, and I think that’s where it starts. I did love creative writing in school. I always did the best in those classes because I love telling a story. I think that’s why my songs are like that. I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories. I always wrote songs that told a story.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a very small town on the coast of Oregon called Reedsport. People did not want to do what I wanted to do there. I grew up on a farm. I think my dad worried a lot about me because I was such a dreamer. Music runs in my family, but it was always a hobby for my family members. When I wanted to study more creative arts in school, my dad had an issue with it He didn’t think it was what I should do. All they wanted for me was for me to get married and have babies and for someone to take care of me because I was such a dreamer. I just went the other direction, thinking I could do anything, and I went to Hollywood.
When did you go to Hollywood?
I landed in Hollywood in 2000 and I immediately got a job at Cherokee Recording Studios. That part of the book is very real. I had been in a band earlier than that, I joined a band in San Diego. I first moved there (San Diego) to live with my mom in college. I went there during my junior year and I never went back (to Oregon). After I joined the band, I knew I was done for and I knew I was going to have to move Hollywood, and I just did. I got the job at Cherokee studios. It was the smartest thing I ever did, really, because it introduced me to every person I’ve known in Hollywood, I learned so much about the recording process, about everything, about all aspects of music.
How long did you work at Cherokee?
I worked there for almost three years.
I think people outside of the music world might not realize how long that actually is. Music years are kind of like dog years, right?
Yes, definitely. Living in Hollywood, we saw people that would come in and after two weeks, they left. Hollywood has a way of eating people up and spitting them out, especially people from little towns who were chasing their dreams.
I think I was one of the lucky ones. I found my people. I never felt more accepted as an artist. I found my crew and we just went for it. It was a great time. It was a very real time.
So, the Franklin Girls characters from your book trilogy, that’s based on your real group of friends?
Oh yeah. Some of the characters started from a real person, but a lot of the things that happened to them (in the books) did not happen to them. I like to put that out on the table. Certain things happened to me, but I’m not Frankie (Spencer, the main character in the trilogy). She’s a lot of the good parts of me, but certain parts of me are in the other characters as well.
But yes, the Franklin Girls are real, and they are powerful women, and they are out there doing it.
Reading the books, it seems like the characters are based on folks that you know pretty well.
Maybe. (Laughs). These books are not rocket science. These books are rock and roll. Hopefully you get a little bit of insight into the industry and into the mind of artists. I have an absolute fondness for musicians. They are the most beautiful people. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and they play to the beat of their own drums.
You’re not wrong, but there is some drama in the music world, too.
Someone said to me, I think it was after the second book (This Roll In My Soul) came out, “Wow, everyone seems to get along really well (in the book). There’s more drama in the music industry.” I was like, “Well, maybe, in the business side, but the musicians that I know get along pretty well. We all just hang out and jam and laugh a lot.”
I tried to give people a little bit more drama, though, in the third one.
There was some very realistic drama in the second book, though, when (the character) Eva got more attention than her band mates. I thought you handled that really well because it does happen in bands a lot that jealousy occurs when one member gets more attention than others.
Yes, absolutely. You see it a lot. Truthfully a lot of the times, when people have that je ne sais quoi, that quality, it’s not something they put on. It’s natural. Eva wasn’t trying to hurt anybody. She just is that (person). People just responded to her (in the books) in that way. I think having her go through that gave that human aspect for people to see that sometimes the person up front isn’t all that happy that they are getting that attention either.
When you first started this journey with your main character, Frankie, did you see this as a trilogy?
I thought of three books from the very beginning. I kind of knew what was going to happen, but I always thought it would be a trilogy.
You did an excellent job of developing the characters through the three books, but you really hit your stride that way in book two. Not too bad when the first book in the trilogy was also your very first book, correct?
Oh, thank you. Book one was all about establishing (the characters).
I have a completely different perspective, though than readers who started this journey with you back in 2012 when the first book came out. I binge-read all three, so it felt like one long, great story. It was great to see how your writing developed. Did you feel like you were growing as a writer through this process?
I hope so. Truthfully, the third book was so hard for me to get to because I had so many other things in my life. The characters would start haunting me in my sleep and I knew I had to finish book three. Book two came out so quickly. I don’t know if it was because I knew my time was up. I was pregnant with my daughter and raising my son and trying to play music at the same time.
I had to get the story out. It was alive inside of me as much as my daughter was. I think book two just flew right out of me. I hope I’ve gotten better. I can still read back and find mistakes. The story is there, and that is the most important thing to me. You go through so many edits, and you still find mistakes. I really do feel like the books just kind of became their own entity, and they kind of came alive inside of me. The more I could just get out of the way and not think about things too much, it’s weird to say, but I had many a day where I would read over my writing and go, “Wow. That happened?” and not remember doing a part, but I guess it was supposed to be there.
Because this book is about your rock and roll world, I noticed that you kind of mix things up here and there and reference real bands and artists but also have fictional bands and artists as well. Why is that?
I have Henry Rollins and Johnette Napolitano in the first one. I talked to people and asked if it was okay if I used these stories and they were fine with it. I don’t say anything bad about anybody, but I liked keeping it like you are almost reading a non-fiction book. I think it helps make it seem relevant with the times. It’s very much about a time in history and the bands of that time fit in with it.
(Author’s note: There is a running joke in the book where the main character, Frankie, is friends with a man who is the son of a famous rock star, but she doesn’t know who the famous rock star is. The character’s name is Raymond Blackmore)
I like putting in some of the real bands to give it more flavor. Now, Raymond Blackmore, I said “Blackmore” to throw (the reader) off. I’m totally messing with (the reader) here. I’ve never met Richie Blackmore, so it is just a last name, but I did it purposefully.
As a reader, I’m talking to Frankie throughout the three books, saying “Richie Blackmore, come on, Frankie!” But now you’re telling me that you were just messing with me. Not cool, Tommie.
(Laughs) Yes, I did that on purpose.
Raymond is a great character.
He’s awesome. He is one of my favorite characters in the books. He was so fun to write. He’s so pompous, but he’s so damn likeable.
I was pretty upset with you about the ending.
I’m not surprised.
It’s a great ending, don’t get me wrong, but I spoke out loud to the book when I got to a certain part. I believe I said, “What the fuck?”
My husband would walk in my office and I was just bawling. I knew what had to happen, but when I started it, I didn’t know if I would have the guts to write it. I also struggled with the last chapter. I cried for a week and a half.
There is a decidedly different tone to book three from the first two books. You get a lot more serious in This Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream. You handle some difficult subject matter well, and I’m being vague to avoid spoilers here.
I think the characters, what I really wanted to do with these books, was to give people an inside look (at the music world) and I wanted the reader to be able to become very attached to the characters, to humanize the characters, so I could show the weaknesses of the characters. I also wanted the characters to be as real as possible. Darkness is just as much a part of rock and roll as the light is. I knew I would have to show this in the third book.
I went through a lot in the six years (between book two and three). I became a mom again, lost my father, and I realized I had been so focused on keeping these two amazing children alive, that I had kind of forgotten about myself. I started my band (Wall of Tom) again. Once the music came back to me, the whole story came back. I remembered Frankie. I remembered what it was like to get up on stage.
I think that allowing myself so much time between the books helped me to be a better writer for these characters and to take them places that they needed to go that maybe I wasn’t brave enough to take them before.
Life has a way of impacting our art.
Absolutely. Musically, bringing the music back into my life, the music and the books go hand in hand. I do write about other things, but this story had to come out this way. Some of my friends, the Franklin Girls, that I based some of the characters off, they said, “I never did that!” and I just laughed because I told them that it wasn’t really their life. I had to do these things to tell the best story I could tell. I am so happy with this book, and I can’t believe I’ve had to wait this long to let it go.
So, what is next now that the trilogy is complete?
What I’m focusing on now is a series. I want a good TV series. I think these characters are so likable to the screen. As long it was done well.
I could totally see that.
It would have to have Dave Grohl being an executive producer or Cameron Crowe.
Who would you cast as Frankie Spencer?
Originally, I thought of Lady Gaga, but there is a beautiful dark-haired girl, Demi Lovato, that I thought of recently. She has that human quality to her, she has some fragility, but she’s a powerful singer. You can see there is more inside of her than she is giving off. Frankie has to be very likable. You want to root for her.
To get the book, please visit tommiev.com/books. You can check out Vaughn’s band, Wall of Tom to hear some of the songs that are talked about in the books. While not a soundtrack, per se, to the story, some of Frankie Spencer’s songs are actually real-life Wall of Tom songs.