In the first half of the 1900s, writer Greye La Spina (1880 – 1969) was a regular fixture in such pulp magazines as Weird Tales. But while she fell into obscurity after she stopped writing, Greye is having something of a renaissance of late. Not only have her stories been reprinted in some recent anthologies, and a new version of her novel Invaders From The Dark published by Mint Editions, but a handful of her early stories have just been collected as Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Terror editor Michael W. Phillips, Jr. talks about how this collection came together, and what he hopes comes of it.
Greye La Spina
For people unfamiliar with her, who was Greye La Spina, and what kind of stuff did she write?
She was a woman who wrote for pulp magazines between the 1910s and the 1950s. She published an incredible number of stories — as many as 100 in a bunch of different genres, including men’s adventure, horror, women’s magazines, etc. In her prime, she was more successful than H.P. Lovecraft, and was very important to the early years of Weird Tales magazine. Readers loved her and clamored for new stories by her. And then, after she stopped writing in the early 1950s, people started to forget her. I’m trying with this book to get her back into the conversation about the early days of horror fiction.
What writers has she been compared to most, and do you think those were fair or somewhat fair comparisons? You mentioned Lovecraft…
Part of the reason for this book is that she’s not really been compared to anyone because she was mostly forgotten for decades. I talk quite a bit in my introduction about how she was one of the most beloved and successful writers from the first couple decades of Weird Tales, and then she kind of disappears. Only one book and one very small circulation chapbook of her work were published between 1960 and now. She’s finally getting her due and showing up in collections.
I think a totally inapt comparison would be to the person we tend to think of when we think of horror from the pulp magazines: H.P. Lovecraft. Stories by dudes, about dudes delving into forbidden secrets and bringing down the wrath of the universe on themselves, not a woman in sight. La Spina was nothing like that. I think her writing has more in common with Gothic literature. She was a fabulous writer, and the stories breeze by, and she’s interested in relationships as well as occult forces.
And what modern writers have cited Greye as an influence?
So then what is included in Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror?
I included a few short stories that were published in Weird Tales: “The Last Cigarette,” which is kind of like a very grim O. Henry story; “The Remorse Of Professor Panebianco,” about a mad scientist who neglects his wife; and “The Scarf Of The Beloved,” which seems really influenced by Poe. I also included the longer story “Wolf Of The Steppes,” which is her first and most famous work; and an essay, “On Giving Oneself Conniptions,” about scaring yourself with your own stories. And then of course Fettered, which is a short novel about a vampire.
Is there a significance to the book being named Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror as opposed to The Last Cigarette And Other Tales of Terror or The Scarf Of The Beloved And Other Tales of Terror?
I guess I was going by what I thought the convention was: you name it after the main piece or the most famous piece. Her most famous story is “Wolf Of The Steppes,” but the not particularly insightful reason I didn’t use that as the title is that it didn’t look as good when I was laying out the cover. But since 2/3 of the book is Fettered, it sort of makes sense. Makes sense to me.
Also, is there a reason it just collects stories of hers that were published in the 1910s, the ’20s, and the ’30s, and not her whole life?
It kind of evolved that way. Once I started reading Fettered, which was published in 1926 and has never been reprinted, I knew I wanted to include it. I kind of fell in love with her 1925 run in Weird Tales, which is just astounding. The stories really show off her range. And I wanted to include her best story, which is “Wolf Of The Steppes” from 1919. And at that point it seemed like it was going to be a collection of early work, so I stuck with that. I guess the essay is later, but I stumbled across that late in the game and just had to include it. I think it gives a great picture of her personality.
Does that mean you’re preparing a companion volume, something that will include her work from the ’50s and ’60s? Or just more of her stories?
Yeah, if nobody publishes the later stuff, I’ll probably do another collection built around her second serial novel, Portal To Power, and include some of the later stories. This book is part of a series I’m calling Beyond Pulp Reprints, which will be mostly collections of stories by women writers in the early pulp magazines. I think the next one is going to be dedicated to a magazine called Ghost Stories that published a lot more women than others of its type, but maybe after that I can do another La Spina. It’s tough, though, because I’ve discovered so many other great writers that I might start to feel like I’ve made my statement about La Spina and want to move on.
As you said, Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror has an essay, three short stories, the novel Fettered, and a novella, Wolf Of The Steppes. Is there a reason you decided not to publish Fettered as a stand-alone novel? Or Steppes as a stand-alone novella?
Fettered is right at 40,000 words, so I guess I could have published it as a short novel. Or maybe that’s a novella? We don’t believe in that kind of categorization at From Beyond Press.
But no, I didn’t really think about publishing it or Steppes by themselves because I wanted to do the collection so I could show off the variety that she was capable of.
So, is there anything else in Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror? You mentioned writing an intro…
Yes, I researched and wrote a bio / appreciation of her that outlines her life and career. I wanted to introduce her to readers and try to get at why she and so many other women who wrote for the pulps have been mostly forgotten. I did a lot of research (I’m a historian by training), and I think I did a pretty good job combining the biographical and the critical.
You and I previously spoke when you edited a short story anthology called This World Belongs To Us: An Anthology Of Horror Stories About Bugs, which was the first anthology you had edited. I would think editing an anthology, and dealing with living writers, is different from editing a collection of short stories by a writer who’s not around anymore. In gearing up to assemble Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror, did you look at any other posthumous short story collections to get an idea of what to do, and what not to do?
For one thing, there’s not as much “editing” on this one in terms of fixing grammar and suchlike. The stories were already published, so unless I came across a typo in the original, I just left the texts as they were. It was more about locating and selecting than editing.
Though I did look at Valancourt’s Women Of Weird Tales, which I had read before, just to see what other people were saying about women of this particular time period.
What’s interesting is that, a few weeks ago, Greye La Spina’s novel Invaders From The Dark was republished by Mint Editions. I know you had nothing to do with it, but have you read this novel, do you know what it’s about?
I have read it in serial form. It first appeared in Weird Tales over three issues in 1925, and then was released as a stand-alone novel by August Derleth at Arkham House in 1960. He was a big fan of her work. But I’m serious, La Spina’s first couple years in Weird Tales were second to none. I read it on the Internet Archive, which has I think every issue of Weird Tales. It’s a love triangle involving an occultist and a werewolf who are after the same guy. It’s written as a found manuscript kind of thing — one of the women involved in the story gets in touch with La Spina and asks her to publish it. It’s really good.
And have you seen this new edition? I’m curious if they did anything cool with it.
I haven’t seen it but I’ve seen the listings. It’s too bad that it’s so expensive: $25 for a paperback of a public domain work without any extras and a wallpaper swatch as a cover. Maybe I should reprint it in a cheaper edition with a quality introduction and a couple of other stories thrown in. There was also an edition from 2007 that I think was cheaper. But even as a bare-bones reprint, I’m glad it’s accessible, since the original 1960 edition from Arkham House is so expensive.
So, are any of the stories in Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror similar enough to Invaders From The Dark that if someone likes that book you’d suggest they buy yours, and vice versa?
Well, the most obvious one is “Wolf Of The Steppes,” since they’re her two major werewolf stories. They’re really different, though — Invaders is much more like a Gothic novel, in that it deals with this love triangle. In fact, it was republished as Shadow Of Evil by Paperback Library in 1966 as part of their Gothic line, complete with a cover showing a woman running away from a creepy house. And Fettered is similar in a way, because while it’s a vampire novel, it’s very much about these relationships between potential romantic couples; the brooding doctor is in love with the young woman protagonist but is married to the vampire who is after both the young woman and her brother.
Hollywood loves making movies based on scary stories. Do you think any of the stories in Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror could be made into a good movie?
I think Fettered would make an excellent movie. It has this great rural setting, two cabins on a river at the edge of a terrifying forest. La Spina’s descriptions are very vivid, so I could see how all of the scenes would play out on screen. And unlike the other stories, they wouldn’t have to pad it to make it feature length.
And if some studio wanted to adapt that story into a movie, who do you think they should cast in the main roles, and do you have any thoughts about directors?
Oh, this is fun. Anya Taylor-Joy [Last Night In Soho] should play Gretel, the vampire. She’s almost the right age, and she’s basically who I pictured when I was reading the story. I can totally picture her with a mouth full of fangs. For Dr. Armitage, I don’t know, I need a slightly younger Joshua Jackson [Dawson’s Creek], because I think the doctor is older than the other characters but he needs to be a combination of gruff and sensitive. For Ewan, the painter who pretends to be a tough guy, let’s go with Tom Holland [Spider-Man: Far From Home], who will always look like a teenager playing at being an adult. And for Bessie, let’s go with Freya Tingley from the TV show Hemlock Grove. She needs to be tan (La Spina is a bit obsessed with her being “brown,” but I’m pretty sure she just means tanned and outdoorsy) and believable as Tom Holland’s fraternal twin.
The director should be Karyn Kusama, who directed Jennifer’s Body and is an executive producer on Yellowjackets.
So, is there anything else people need to know about Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror?
I really want to emphasize how readable these stories are. I think people have an idea of what horror from this era was like, and that image is of H.P. Lovecraft hitting readers over the head with his dictionary of obscure words for frogs. La Spina’s stories fly by. And they’re all pretty different from each other. Lovecraft had one basic story that he’d write over and over again, but these are all different themes and styles. And honestly, I think the conflicts in her stories are very relevant today. They’re about men trying to control women and their bodies.
Finally, if someone enjoys Fettered And Other Tales Of Terror, what short story anthology of another somewhat unknown horror writer would you suggest they check out?
I’m going to cheat and recommend the British Library Tales Of The Weird reprint series. They do both themed collections (math-related stories, bug stories, etc.) and single-author collections. They’re a great introduction to this time period, and to authors you might not have heard of. I really loved their Mary E. Wilkins Freeman collection Shadows On The Wall. She was earlier than La Spina but she has a similar interest in domestic spaces and rural horror.