ELLEN DATLOW, Author - Interview

This week, I’m happy to be interviewing another one of my personal favorites, editor Ellen Datlow.

(From her website:) Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for almost thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and has edited more than fifty anthologies, including the horror half of the long-running The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Ellen is currently tied with frequent co-editor Terri Windling as the winner of the most World Fantasy Awards in the organization’s history (nine). Ellen was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre.” She lives in New York.

ANTHONY: Between April and September of 2011, you’ve had four anthologies hit the market. That’s a lot of pages in a short period of time! Are you planning on resting any time soon?

ELLEN: Those anthologies were finished more than a year before they were published, and Naked City was essentially finished two years before it came out. I should have only had three original anthologies published in 2011 (I also had The Best Horror of the Year volume three) but Naked City was delayed by a year as I awaited a promised story that never came in (by a BIG name). Publicizing four anthologies within a six month period became very complicated. It was difficult for me to remember which writers were in which book. Honestly. I occasionally screwed up and set up two different signings for which I asked the wrong writers to participate—embarrassing.

I’m currently only working on one original anthology plus The Best Horror of the Year volume four so have it relatively easy this year as far as editing goes. But overall, I’d much rather be editing more than less.

ANTHONY: The anthologies seem to work in pairs. For instance, NAKED CITY: New Tales of Urban Fantasy from St. Martin’s Griffin and SUPERNATURAL NOIR from Dark Horse. From the titles, a casual browser might assume both feature gritty city-based detective tales with a supernatural angle. Aside from different publishers, what distinguishes these two books from each other?

ELLEN: The two anthologies aren’t meant to be related at all. Naked City is mostly comprised of stories reflecting the traditional definition of urban fantasy as written by John Crowley, Ellen Kushner, Peter Beagle, and Delia Sherman—fantasy that takes place in cities, with the city almost always crucial to the action. It mostly includes fantasy and some dark fantasy.

Supernatural Noir is a horror anthology-combined with the flavor of the film noir of the 40s-50s. In my guidelines I made it clear that I didn’t want only detectives as main characters and that in fact I’d prefer that writers avoid that kind of set-up. And mostly they did.


Blood & Other Cravings

ANTHONY: I can ask the same question of TEETH: Vampire Tales from Harper and BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS from Tor. Both are, on the surface, books about vampires. One thing that distinguishes these two books from each other is the target audience. TEETH is aimed directly at the YA market, BLOOD is for the adult reader. What else separates them?

ELLEN: Teeth is a young adult anthology in which vampires play a major role. Every story has an actual blood-sucking vampire in it.

Blood and Other Cravings is an adult anthology focusing on vampirism, the concept rather than the creature, even if there are vampires in some of the stories. It’s a follow up to my two vampirism anthologies from 1989 and 1991: Blood is Not Enough and A Whisper of Blood (both recently brought together in one big beautiful new hardcover edition titled A Whisper of Blood from the Barnes & Noble imprint Fall River Press).

ANTHONY: Only one of your four recent anthologies has been with a co-editor: TEETH, with long-time editing partner Terri Windling. What are some of the key differences between solo editing and co-editing?

ELLEN: With co-editing, some of the material might include stories that one editor loves more than the other. When I’m editing solo it’s completely my taste. We both approach writers and wrangle them (to get the stories in on time). We both read and choose the stories. We split some of the tasks. Terri writes our meaty introductions, I put together the bios of each contributor and compile the front matter. Depending on how strongly one of us feels about a particular story we want to buy, either Terri or I will work with the writer on the substantive editing. I do most of the line editing.

ANTHONY: You’ve worked with Terri quite often, but I think you’ve had other co-editors as well. Is there a quantifiable difference between working with Terri and, say, Nick Mamatas?

ELLEN: I’ve worked with Terri on six young adult anthologies, two adult anthologies, and three middle-grade anthologies. (For our Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror we each chose our halves independent of one another.) They were all fantasy.

The only other editor I’ve worked with has been Nick Mamatas. Nick and I worked on Haunted Legends, a horror anthology, together. Nick knows a different pool of writers than Terri and I do so it was interesting to work with some of “his” authors. Since it was our first anthology together it was also a little worrisome at the beginning as to whether we’d be on the same wavelength. Luckily we were and I’d be happy to work with him again.

ANTHONY: You’ve occasionally been accused of having a sort of stable of writers: “If this is a Datlow anthology, I don’t even have to look at the ToC, I know Authors A, B, C and D will be included.” And I’m sure other editors receive similar accusations. Do comments like that have any influence on your story choices?

ELLEN: I don’t consider having a stable of writers an negative, and it’s certainly not a limitation. It’s a fact of editing over a long period of time. One works with writers whose work one enjoys and who produces great stories –on time. So of course the editor will keep buying stories from those writers over the course of time, as long as she can –see my note in the next paragraph. I have a huge stable of writers from my seventeen years at OMNI Magazine, my almost six years at SCIFICTION, plus the twenty-five Best of the years I’ve edited.

In every original and reprint anthology I edit there are some writers whose work I use repeatedly, but there are always other writers I’ve only rarely or never before published in my anthologies. This is especially true in my best of the year anthologies. Just in the last two years of The Best Horror of the Year I published twelve stories by writers I’d never worked with before—some of whom I’d never even read before. The crucial thing to know about writers is that they often stop writing short stories once they publish their first novel, so to me it’s important to use their best short fiction while they‘re still writing it. Very few of the hundreds of writers I published in OMNI write many if any short stories today. So yeah. I’m delighted to be able to continue to publish writers like Jeff Ford, Kathe Koja, Kaaron Warren, Laird Barron, and Richard Bowes as long as they continue to produce great stories. I’d be stupid not to.

ANTHONY: We’ve talked in the past (mostly on your livejournal) about the importance of story placement, especially in the lead-off and concluding positions of an anthology. Is there ever pressure from a publisher to ensure Author X gets the lead-off, even if you personally feel the story is more appropriate for the middle of the book in relation to the rest of the stories you’ve accepted?

ELLEN: No –that’s generally my decision. Twice, in-house editors have suggested a switch, but when that happened it had nothing to do with who the writer was but the feeling that a different story would work better as the lead. And thinking it over I concurred.

ANTHONY: How intimately do you work with writers before a story is officially accepted? Have you ever initially accepted a story and then through the editing process realized that it wasn’t going to work out?

ELLEN: I never accept a story before I’m certain that it will work out. If I love a story but feel it needs too much work to buy outright, I’ll ask the writer if she’s willing and able to work with me on it (setting out what I see are the problems). If she is, I’ll make it clear that until we’re agreed on the revisions and I see the rewrite I can’t commit to taking the story (giving specific suggestions and asking specific questions about the trouble spots). But if I and the writer put that much time into rewrites I know that ultimately I will take the story.

When I was a lot newer to editing I had a few experiences in which I requested rewrites but the writers didn’t “hear” what I was saying–they made changes I didn’t ask for and in so doing made their story worse. Which is why I’m much more careful now how I ask for rewrites and try to be very specific.

Also, because I’m not working on a magazine/webzine with a slush pile, I usually work with writers whose work I’ve solicited. That means I’m familiar with their work and hope we’re on the same wave length. Going back to your questions about “stables”–that’s the advantage of working with writers you’ve worked with before. You know that you can work with them, saving a lot of time and energy on both sides.

ANTHONY: You’ve said in recent interviews that all of your anthologies are “invitation only.” I can’t resist asking: how does one go about getting invited? Or, to phrase the question more seriously: what catches Ellen Datlow’s attention these days that might cause you to invite a writer to a future anthology?

ELLEN: By me noticing your fantastic stories when I read for The Best of the Year. And since I skim so many sf/f/h/mystery short stories (and some non-genre) being published in a given year, I’m pretty aware of new writers as well as the more established ones.

ANTHONY: Speaking of the future. I see that one of your and Terri’s classic anthologies, SNOW WHITE, BLOOD RED, was recently reissued. Are there any plans to continue the Adult Fairy Tale series?

ELLEN: We’re very pleased that Snow White, Blood Red has always done so well. It sold 72,000 in mass market pb which is amazing for an anthology. It was in print for over ten years and it’s great that it’s in print again from Fall River Press.

I grew tired of reading so many re-told fairy tales after six volumes of adult tales and three of middle grade (for children). The sub-genre exploded after we did ours. I don’t know if there’s much of a market for new anthologies on the theme any more– I’m not convinced we could sell a new one these days. Black Thorn, White Rose, and Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears are both currently in print from Wildside Books. What we’d love is for the last three volumes to be reissued, as they’ve been out of print for awhile.

ANTHONY: What else are you working on at the moment?

ELLEN: Terri and I recently finished a young adult anthology called After: Dystopian and Post-apocalyptic Tales that will be published by Hyperion next fall. And we’re working on an adult Victorian Fantasy anthology for Tor. And of course, The Best Horror of the Year volume four, my bête noir.

ANTHONY: Finally, can you tell my readers about the Fantastic Fiction readings at KGB in New York City?

ELLEN: It’s a monthly reading series started in the late 1990s by writer Terry Bisson and Alice K. Turner (former fiction editor at Playboy), originally pairing genre and mainstream writers at the KGB Bar, an east village institution (in New York City). I took over for Alice in spring 2000 and when Terry Bisson left for the west coast in 2002, Gavin J. Grant began co-hosting with me. Matthew Kressel took over for Gavin in 2008 and we’ve been co-hosting ever since.

ANTHONY: Thank you for taking the time to chat, Ellen! Always a pleasure!

* * * * * *

I somehow managed to not ask Ellen my usual closing question (“What is your favorite book and what would you say to convince someone who hasn’t read it that they should?”), so I’ll mention that my favorites of Ellen’s anthologies are The Beastly Bride, co-edited with Terri Windling, and Naked City.

You can go to Twitter to follow @ellendatlow, and you can find Ellen on her own website.

I’m also happy to announce my first Interview Giveaway! Ellen and her publisher, Dark Horse Books, have been kind enough to provide me with a copy of SUPERNATURAL NOIR to give away in conjunction with this interview.


Supernatural Noir

SUPERNATURAL NOIR is a “masterful marriage of the darkness without and the darkness within … an anthology of original tales of the dark fantastic from twenty modern masters of suspense,” including Gregory Frost, Paul G. Tremblay, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Elizabeth Bear, and Joe R. Lansdale.

To be entered to win the book, leave a comment on this post sharing the name of your favorite Ellen Datlow-edited (or co-edited) anthology. Winner will be picked at random from all comments left here by midnight Tuesday, November 29th. That’s one week from today, folks! Comments are screened, so you won’t show up on the post right away, but rest assured I will approve all comments that are not obviously spam (and I do seem to get a lot of that) and chose from all eligible comments!