On a Silver Desert

on-a-silver-desert_ernest-haycox-jr_spur-award_biographyWinner of a Spur Award from Western Writers of America, this first-ever biography of Ernest Haycox is by his son and namesake.

Haycox was probably the best writer of popular Western stories during the 1930s-40s; the most skilled as well as the most successful in terms of mass appeal and income. But he was not content just to turn out formula fiction, even though he raised its quality enough to progress from the “pulps” (pulp-paper magazines like Western Story) to “slicks” such as Colliers and Saturday Evening Post. A better title for this biography might have been borrowed from Dickens—Great Expectations—for Haycox aspired to greater recognition. His goal was to raise his craft to an art; write complex and vital drama, not melodrama; and produce real novels, not just magazine serials reprinted as books. He never quite reached this goal, even with his two most ambitious novels, published after his death. But of the several movies made from his stories, one—Stagecoach—has become a classic. And he blazed a trail for today’s writers of quality Western fiction, like Elmer Kelton and Larry McMurtry. Until Haycox, editors were content with Zane Grey and stereotypical plotting, plus endless (and sometimes mindless) action. Haycox not only added depth in description, characterization and motivation, but also authenticity of scene, for he was a close student of Old West history.

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