Eugene T. Sawyer

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Eugene Taylor Sawyer (November 11, 1846 – October 30, 1924) was a newspaper editor and author of dime novels, particularly for the Nick Carter series. In an interview given in 1902, he confessed to having written over 75 examples of that genre, most anonymously. The New York Times referred to him as "The Prince of Dime Novelists" and the Washington Post as the "King of Dime Novelists", though others were actually more prolific. Still, Sawyer claimed to having written three 50,000-word novels in the space of one month, and on another occasion, finished a 60,000-word novel in just two days (while his wife brewed coffee round the clock).[1]

Sawyer is one of four authors most commonly associated with the Nick Carter series (the others being John R. Coryell, Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey, and Thomas C. Harbaugh, though as many as 23 may have written both the books and magazine stories).[2] As Time magazine noted in Sawyer's obituary, these particular four died within the space of a single two-year period (three in 1924 alone).[3] Given that Dey committed suicide and Harbaugh died penniless, Sawyer is notable for having been seemingly buoyed rather than crushed by the experience, and for balancing the serial novel-writing with newspaper work and other more ordinary creative pursuits.

Biography[edit]

He was born on November 11, 1846 to Henry K. Sawyer in Bangor, Maine. Sawyer claimed to have been influenced at an early age by the oratory of Hannibal Hamlin, Stephen A. Douglas, James G. Blaine and other local and visiting politicians. At 12 he was promoting and managing "barn entertainments" and in 1864 (at age 18) he set out for California via Panama. He finished his education at San Jose Institute, then tried his hand as a miner, druggist, and rancher before settling on newspaper work. In 1875 he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle, but switched to the San Jose Mercury-Herald, where he eventually become Managing Editor. He was inspired to write dime novels by reading them, and was most influenced by the books of Ned Buntline.[4]

Besides the Nick Carter series, Sawyer wrote for the Log Cabin and Diamond Dick series. He once related that while Nick Carter paid $50 for a 25,000 word novel, Log Cabin paid twice as much (but required twice the length). He also published some dime novels under his own name, with titles like Manton Mayne, The San Francisco Detective, The Maltese Cross, The Oyster Pirates, The Tiger's Head Mystery, and The Black Riders of Santo, or, The Terror of Wood River.

In addition to his voluminous output of fiction, Sawyer produced at least two non-fiction works, the History of Santa Clara County, California (Historic Record Co., 1922) and The Life of Tiburcio Vasquez, about a famous local outlaw. He was also a playwright and actor in a San Jose amateur dramatic club.[5]

He died in 1924.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "The Spiritual Massage", New York Times, Aug. 23, 1902, p. BR8; "Books and Men", New York Times, July 26, 1902, p. BR12; Interview with Sawyer in The Bookman, v. 15, no.6, (August 1902), reproduced in Pearson, Dime Novels (Boston: Little Brown, 1929); "King of Dime Novelists" Washington Post, Nov. 15, 1903
  2. ^ Jess Nevins' Nick Carter Page at the Wayback Machine (archived November 20, 2007) (accessed June 3, 2008) lists 23 authors who "had a hand" in the series, though most were likely writing magazine stories rather than novels.
  3. ^ Obit., Time, Nov. 10, 1924
  4. ^ Eugene T. Sawyer, History of Santa Clara County, California (Historic Record Co., 1922), p. 372
  5. ^ Frank Bacon, Barnstorming (San Jose Historical Museum Association, 1987), p. 228

Bibliography[edit]

Edmund Pearson, Dime Novels (Boston: Little Brown, 1929)