Friday, December 01, 2017

Forgotten Books: On A Silver Desert: The Life of Ernest Haycox - Ernest Haycox Jr.

I always enjoy reading about writers, and that inspired me to pick up a copy of ON A SILVER DESERT: THE LIFE OF ERNEST HAYCOX, a biography by the Western author’s son Ernest Haycox Jr. I’ve never been a big fan of Haycox’s work, although it’s grown on me in recent years. I’ve found that I really enjoy his early pulp novellas, more so than his later novels, which he regarded as more serious and ambitious. But you know me—give me a bunch of ridin’ and shootin’ and fightin’, and I’m happy.

Although I’m more interested in Haycox’s work as a writer, Haycox Jr. does a fine job with the family history and in painting a vivid picture of his father’s personal life to go along with the professional. I learned a lot about Haycox and his career that I didn’t know, and perhaps most importantly, this biography makes me want to read more of his work.

The one thing in the book I’d take issue with is a comment in the foreword by Ronald L. Davis which mentions that the Western Writers of America referred to their annual awards as the Erny (after Haycox) until they changed it to the Spur Award. I don’t believe this is right at all. I seem to remember reading that there was some discussion among WWA’s membership (at the time, many of them were founders of the organization) about calling the award the Erny, but that never got off the ground and it’s always been the Spur (and not the Golden Spur, another common mistake that people keep repeating).

One quibble in a lengthy book admittedly is pretty minor, so I don’t hesitate to give a high recommendation to ON A SILVER DESERT. (The title comes from an early Haycox novel, THE SILVER DESERT, which I’ve read and enjoyed.) For anyone interested in the history of Western fiction or in the life of a professional writer in the first half of the 20th Century, it’s well worth reading.


Walker Martin said...

Most of Haycox's pulp work appeared in the two main Doubleday pulps: SHORT STORIES and WEST. I consider BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON to be his best novel and it's a fine portrait of life in the US cavalry. Wikipedia has a good entry on Haycox listing his short work and novels.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like something I might be interested in. I've not read a lot of his work but have generally enjoyed it.

George said...

I'll have to track down a copy of ON A SILVER DESERT. Love the title!

Anonymous said...

Love this book, and I love Haycox's writing, both novels and short stories.

Neil A. Waring said...

Sounds interesting, I have read quite a few writer life stories and always enjoyed them. I have read enough of his work that I remember looking him up to find out more about him. Would love to find a copy of Silver Desert.