It has been my pleasure to have recently had two visits with a charming
lady whose name may be familiar to devotees of WEIRD TALES and fans of the science fiction
pulps of the thirties - Amelia Reynolds Long. Miss Long wrote six stories that appeared in
WEIRD TALES from 1928 through 1936, and also had stories published in such pulps as
AMAZING STORIES, ASTOUNDING STORIES, STRANGE STORIES, CLUES, and many others.
Miss Long now works as a curator at the William Penn Museum in Harrisburg,
PA., where she has been for the past sixteen years, and I visited her in her office there.
It did not take long for me to realise that this was an extraordinary woman, an authoress,
poetess, editor, and curator whose varied career has already spanned five decades and
shows no sign of slowing down. What's more, she even rolls her own cigarettes!
Amelia Long was born in Columbia, Pa., and moved at the age of six to
Harrisburg, where she has lived ever since. She had just graduated from high school when
she sold her first story to WEIRD TALES, "The Twin Soul." Her penchant for the
genre of the weird was a result of her reading Poe as a child, as well as Lamb's TALES
FROM SHAKESPEARE, of which her favourite was of course MACBETH. Her first break in science
fiction was a story she sold to Leo Margulies at AMAZING STORIES where, in 1932, one of
her best known tales, "Omega," appeared. She also sold stories to Hugo
Gernsback's Wonder group, and her "The Mechanical Man" was published as #7 in
the Gernsback Science Fiction Series. Her stories also appeared in William Crawford's
fanzines, MARVEL TALES/UNUSUAL TALES.
"After I had been writing for a while, I got an agent. He asked if he
could handle my work, and I thought I'd give him a try, and he sold to SCIENCE WONDER a
story that they had rejected from me three months before." It seems a good agent can
always help. When I asked Miss Long if she felt that being a woman had held her back in
the pulp market, she replied: "I don't think being a woman held me back with any of
the science fiction magazines, but I'll tell you where it does hit you -- on the
translation rights of certain countries, especially the Spanish-American countries...if
they know something is written by a woman, they'll simply give your initials and make
believe you're a man. That used to annoy me. I know there was always that buggaboo of a
woman writing for a man's magazine, but in WEIRD TALES and the science fiction magazines,
I don't think it ever did make much difference. I know it never did in my case, and I
don't think it did with any of the others."
Her story, "The Thought-Monster" (WT March 1930), was one of the
few original WEIRD TALES stories to be adapted into a film, FIEND WITHOUT A FACE. Forrest
J. Ackerman sold the property for Miss Long, and she saw it with some friends in
Harrisburg. "It was on a double bill they had here -- mine and a Boris Karloff movie,
the title of which I can't remember, but it wasn't one of his best. But then if it had
been one of his best, mine would have looked so much worse!"
As the thirties came to an end, Miss Long began to tire of science
fiction, and became more involved with the mystery story. "I stopped writing science
fiction and the weird story right around that time, because science fiction had hit the
comic strips and I felt that it was sort of degrading to compete with a comic strip."
At this point she decided to try writing mystery novels. A few years before she had
written one based on the Lindbergh kidnapping, but the Lindbergh child's body was found
just as Doubleday Doran was about to publish the book, and it was shelved. Though Miss
Long wrote mystery shorts during the thirties, she became disenchanted as the hard-boiled
school began to take over the genre: "A lot of mystery writers resented that
hard-boiled school; I know I did myself. My agent tried to get me to write it, and I said
I simply can't do it. To me the real mystery story is the mystery story with a good
puzzle, and is not necessarily steeped in blood, and a lot of the mystery writers felt the
same way. There was quite a division of thought there for some time."
Preferring Agatha Christie over Dashiell Hammett, Miss Long feels that
Christie contributed more to the mystery novel than any author since Poe. Following in
Miss Christie's illustrious footsteps, Miss Long wrote THE SHAKESPEARE MURDERS in 1939,
which was published by Phoenix Books. This was rather successful, and she continued to
write mystery novels for such publishing houses as Ziff-Davis, Arcadia, and Phoenix.
However, she found herself the possessor of a jinx which almost ended her writing career:
"It seemed that every time I used a place or a character as a basis
for a story something happened. A woman that I had met in college asked me to write a
story placed at her husband's old home up in State College called Meadowside. I went up,
and it was a picturesque old place. There was a place on the landing where there was a
little door that led into a back attic, and every time either my friend or I would pass
that door we'd get the cold shivers. We never heard that anything had happened in that
room, we just had the feeling that something had. I wrote the book, the book came
out in the summer, and late that fall her husband's mother, in trying to smoke some ham in
the smokehouse, let the place catch fire and burned the whole house down. Then I wrote
MURDER GOES SOUTH placed in New Orleans at the time of the Mardi Gras. The book came out
in the fall -- next spring no Mardi Gras -- we were at war. This sort of thing kept up;
people that I would use for models in my stories would drop dead! It had me scared. The
worst thing happened when I wrote MURDER BY SCRIPTURE at the request of my editor, since
THE SHAKESPEARE MURDERS had been pretty successful. It was based on a series of murders in
the Bible in which a reference to a passage in scripture would appear applying to someone,
and within the next 24 hours that person would die. The book was doing okay, but shortly
after it came out a child was kidnapped in Chicago, and what happened? The family started
to get Bible references. I was scared silly. I thought, has my book given someone ideas?
And I thought if that child were to be killed I'd quit writing. But it was found that the
Bible references were a hoax and were not sent by the kidnapper at all, but it was some
prankster who may or may not have read my book. Anyway, the child was found and all ended
happily. But I was a little wary after that of using actual people or places...during the
war I was thinking of doing one in which Hitler would be a character and let him
drop dead, but then he committed suicide and saved me the trouble!"
In the late forties Miss Long hit a dry spell. "All writers get dry
spells," she said, "but I seemed to have run out of juice entirely." She
had enough fiction that she had written previously to last into 1951, and managed to
channel her literary talents into editing college textbooks at Stackpole Books in
Harrisburg. At last she turned to poetry. She had been interested in the field ever since
the early thirties when she had her first submitted poem, "Lucifer's Reply,"
placed in "Kaleidograph" where it took first prize in a contest. She became
deeply involved in poetry, and it remains her chief interest. She is quite active in the
Pennsylvania and New Jersey Poetry Societies, going to state and national conventions,
judging poetry contests, and helping young poets to refine their skills. Her interests in
poetry have precluded any remaining interest in science fiction, although she picks up a
paperback anthology occasionally. She seems to feel, like many of us who love the old
pulps, that the magic has gone out of science fiction:
"I think a lot of it has become too abstract. They don't say
anything. Someone made a remark in one of the letter departments of either AMAZING or
ASTOUNDING that the trouble with science fiction is that after you have made the great
journey, the exploration of other planets, the awesome quality is gone; you can't catch it
again. And it's true. Unless you can come up with something startlingly new, your theme is
dead. And with a lot of them the theme was dead before they started...there's no spirit to
many of them. You can't write entirely from the head -- your stuff becomes cold. On the
other hand, if your write simply from the standpoint of emotions, your stuff becomes
either too saccharine or just plain emotional. You've got to have a mixture of the two,
and that holds true not only with science fiction, but with everything."